Thursday, February 9, 2006

Sly & The Family Stone Tribute - Another View

This was an email sent to me by a friend of mine and fellow musician who is a definitive Sly & The Family Stone fan, as am I. It was wonderfully written and QUITE profound and I thought it was definitely something other folks need to read, so I am posting it here today:

you know me about as well as anyone and you know how I absolutely REVERE these people. Not just for the music they made but for the choices they made in regards to their lives , careers, etc.

They weren't always the RIGHT choices but as MEN they made them and lived with the consequences..everybody else and their opinion be damned.

I've never told you about some of the personal one on one moments I've had with Sly Stone. The first being when I was 11 years old. This mans vision of a racial utopia ( black/white - male/female all together living and loving as one) was brutally shattered by the end of the sixties when all of the assassinations (JFK, MEDGAR EVERS, MALCOLM X, MLK, RFK, etc.) had shattered everyones trust and belief in not just the government, but in each other.

Remember you used to hear Tom Jomes, the Temptations, The Carpenters, and James Brown all on the same radio station. by the end of the 60's everything has become formatted and all of a sudden there were "black" stations and "white" stations, and you all of a sudden had to cross over.

What does this have to do with Sly? Well when you see your vision shattered by circumstances out of your control, and you realize that we're NOT all EVERYDAY PEOPLE...well all you have left are your vices and your demons, the thing about vices and demons is that the toll they take on your pysche as well as your soul is incalcuable. And there's NO coming back from that. The years of drug abuse (and Slys appetite was voracious) have robbed Slys body of the nutrition it needs hence his stooped posture. It's also robbed him of his voice which was more Ray Charles than most people realize (just listen to his riffs on "Hot Fun In The Summertime". As for his coiffure, I wish he'd just gone bald and wore a hat. He looked like the bass player for the Plasmatics who if you remember was a brother that wore a blonde mohawk.

Sly Stone and the music he made is just as important as the beatles, led zeppelin, and any of the rest of those white boys that they constantly shove down our throat. Sly Stone is not a punch line - he wrote the words "..different strokes for different folks..." and that phrase is now an integral part of the english language.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say..I wish he hadn't shown up and just left us with the memories.

The line up was ridiculous, Steven Tyler looked embarassed. And even though Sly hasn't been seen since his late 80's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it's been THIRTY years since he's performed with the original Family Stone. There on stage was Cynthia/Jerry/Sister Rose/Greg/ and his brother Freddie/ (Larry Grahams absence was inexcusable-I don't give a fuck what the reason was), but there was no mention or acknowledgement of the fact that the Band was right there behind all of those other musicians (Randy "American Idol" Jackson, Patrice rushen, Nile Rodgers, etc.).

All in all it was a sad state of affairs but heroes die hard. I will never let them be dissed/forgotten by the white media NOR by us who should know better. Black people have social and historical amnesia unlike any other race of people and we're so quick to diss or make fun of those who came before us and paved the way. Beyonce got to where she is on Arethas back, Prince has all publicly stated that he's where he is because of James, Sly and Jimi, it's WE who need to remember.

if this rant was too long, I can't make any apologies because I haven't even touched the surface of how I REALLY feel about the state of our culture and our music.


- JB

'Nuff Said Ya'll.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

On the Road Again - Iowa

Well, today I took another state off my "50 States In the Union To Visit" list. Tonight when Kyla and I were shipping back the promotional materials to JMS, we had to take them to the Fedex/Kinko's in Iowa. Iowa is a lot like South Dakota, which is a lot like Nebraska, which is a lot like Washington State. Of course Kyla was hungry (lol) and we decided to have Mexican food for dinner. We wound up at a restarant called "Pancho O'Reilly's (WTF???) or something silly like that...I can't remember the exact name, I just know it was a combination of a Mexican name and an Irish one. So like I said earlier...the black people in these towns are very scarce...So imagine my surprise when our waitress turns out to be (Drum roll please.....) African....I mean AFRICAN...from the freaking Ivory Coast!!! She was even wearing one of those awful frosted porcupine-y wigs that the immigrants seem to love. Her name was Stella and she was an absolute doll (Dark chocolate with absolutely flawless skin). She came to Iowa to go to college (again...WTF????) and just never left. Anyway, after having an absolutely ghastly meal (I will be farting for the REMAINDER OF MY FUCKING LIFE!!! Off of whatever the hell that was I was eating)and liquorless margarita's (I swear...if they put a quarter of a shot in those can have my first born), we haul ass back to our truck (It's VERY COLD and beginning to snow) and head back to the hotel. I go back to my beloved jacuzzi and IT'S STILL COLD!!!! I am so bummed and to top it all off......

ALL I CAN GET HERE IS RERUNS OF FLAVOR OF LOVE!!!! They are still running the first episodes and I am fiending for my weekly fix.

In the words of Miss Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze's character in "Too Wong Foo" case you don't know):


BTW....Kyla is hungry again.

Monday, February 6, 2006

On The Road Again - South Dakota Style

The JMS tour has taken us to North Sioux City, South Dakota...which of course should NOT be confused with Sioux City, Iowa or Sioux City, Nebraska (all of which are 10 minutes from each other...go figure.) Anyway....I am on the tour with a little lady named Kyla who must weigh a good 100 pounds soaking wet but she eats every damn hour or so...I have never seen anyone so little put away so much damned food!!!...she's cool people though and we have been having a ball together. So we went to the Wal-Mart in the college town of Vermillion, South Dakota. We pull up in the parking lot and if there are 50 cars in the lot....that's a lot. Now people THIS IS WAL-MART!!!!EVERYONE goes's like the Grand Canyon in there....COLD AND EMPTY. I have read every magazine in Wal-Mart and am now resorting to reading Star Jones' Shine....which is actually turning out to be more interesting than I thought. I have been up every aisle in the store and I am about to go crazy. I am the only black person in the entire town...I SWEAR.

There ain't shit out here but cornfields and white people.

I get back to the hotel and go straight to the jacuzzi and guess what? The jacuzzi water is COLDER THAN THE water in THE DAMN POOL!!!! Arrrggghhhh!!! Not to mention it's like 30 degrees here and I am sitting in the lobby of this hotel with so much shit on I feel like an eskimo. I am patiently awaiting for the arrival of the maintenance man to adjust the thermostat on the jacuzzi.

I cannot WAIT to get back to New York.

Friday, February 3, 2006

On The Road Again - Spokane, Washington

Today I am in Spokane, Washington. I picked up a gig with Just My Size's Bra fitting Tour (or something like that)...anyway my home girl T-Boogie got me the job when she couldn't get the time off her regular job. I am supposed to be going to different Wal-Mart stores to help fit and measure women for the correct bra size. Anyway, they have us staying at a Hilton Garden Inn, which is actually pretty nice. I have never been to the state of it's kinda cool for me. Well once we check in and I ask about the provisions and amenities of the hotel...I realize that they have a fitness center, a pool and Oh my LORD!!!! A Jacuzzi!!!! I LOVE JACUZZI'S!!! I joined NY Health & Racquet Club around the corner from my former job JUST SO I COULD SIT IN THE JACUZZI EVERY DAY AT LUNCH TIME!!!! Anyway, I am absolutely amped about getting in and go up to my room to unpack when I realize (GASP!) I forgot to pack my bathing suit and when I inquire at the front desk...they show me the two EXTREMELY MATRONLY LOOKING bathing suits they have AND they want $45 damn dollars for them. This SHOULD have ended my jacuzzi dreams but of course it did not.
So I look through my bag and decide that if I have to get in that jacuzzi butt ass nekkid...I'M GETTING IN. I then go downstairs to see if it's crowded and to my's completely deserted. Cool...I say to myself and rush upstairs to change. I come back down in like 5 minutes wearing........(Drum roll please)

My Black Lace Bra and a high waist body shaper that I got from Lane Bryant...I kid you not.

I figure it's cool because the place is empty and it's like 8pm. No one was even walking in the section of the hotel where the pool is. I read every rule on the giant rules & regulations list posted in the pool area. Of course there is nothing on it about bathing suits being I am home free. I turn on the jets and get in and of course it's absolutely lovely. So lovely that I lay back, close my eyes and lose myself in the warmtth of the water jets. I am so relaxed that I take off my glasses and when I open my eyes again...THERE'S THIS FAMILY OF FIVE PEOPLE COMPLETE WITH CHILDREN STANDING THERE LOOKING AT ME!!!!!! I am totally horrified. However, not horrified enough to get my butt out of that water. Anyway, I take another look and realize that they are all fat too and wearing t-shirts and shorts so I don't feel too bad. Of course the timer on the jacuzzi is preset for 15 minutes a clip so I had to keep getting out of the water to turn it back on. I just KNOW they saw this ridiculous ass get up I was wearing but to their credit and my relief they didn't say a word nor did they stare at me like I was crazy.

We are at this hotel until Sunday and then we fly to Omaha, Nebraska for another couple of days.

You can believe I will be buying a bathing suit at Wal-Mart tomorrow.

By the way, I have never been to Nebraska either, and the store we are working out of is in Sioux City, South Dakota....yet another state I have never been in before. I think I'm gonna try to visit every state in the union before I die. And no, waiting in the Denver, Colorado airport for a 3 hour layover does NOT Count as a visit to the state of Colorado.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Freddie Sawyer.....My Dad

Tonight, I washed my stepfather's hair for the first time in my life.

I know that sounds like a "Yeah...AND??" statement, but you have to understand, my stepfather and I have had a relationship that could be described as tumultuous at best. We never really got along with each other when I was growing up. I didn't like him and I believed he didn't like me either. My parents, as I now call them have been together since I was about 6 years old. At the time I was still waiting for my birth father to notice me and I resented my stepfather's presence in my mother's life and I didn't try to hide it in the least. To his credit "Freddie" (as I have always called him) did try to fill in for my dad. When my father promised to do things with me (like take me to a "Father-Daughter" dance at my school) and I sat in our kitchen dressed and waiting for him to show up....As the hour for the dance neared, Freddie realized that my dad (who by the way is named Fred also) wasn't going to show and volunteered to take me. I refused. In my adolescent mind he wasn't my daddy and I wanted my daddy to take me. Needless to say...I didn't attend that dance or any others like it. There were many more events like this in my life and my stepfather was always willing to fill in...and I never allowed him to.

Freddie was like most fathers back then, he was a strict disciplinarian. He would not tolerate disrespect from his children or ANY children for that matter. Quite frankly, he scared the shit out of most of my He wasn't one for pulling out the belt...he left that distinct honor to my mother. But he could be VERY creative with his punishments. Because I was older and very active in school (and probably because my mom was aware that we didn't really get along), my younger sister and brother were mostly on the receiving end of this creativity. If they misbehaved (and they misbehaved A LOT!) he would make them stand in the corner..for hours...on one foot. Or like the time he caught my brother smoking and made him smoke an entire cigar. My brother was sick as a dog and I don't think he touched a cigarette again until he was damn near grown. At one point my mom was working a second job at night and he would baby sit us, we already knew what we having for dinner if he had to cook...Franks and Beans...He LOVED that shit! I always tried to eat at my friend's house if he was Oh..he was tough and he would punish you for the slightest transgression. Lol...I can remember my sister and brother spending ENTIRE SUMMERS in the house on punishment...But my sister and brother were always doing some shit they had no business doing. He was good at doling punishments but he was never really big on bestowing praise...and I am guessing that he tried to raise us the way HE was raised and perhaps showing affection may have been a sign of weakness in his mind. Most people back then raised their children the way they were do what you know. No matter, he did his job well...we made it adulthood safely and without too many speed bumps. We respect our elders and the words "please" and "thank you" are in our vocabularies and we use them on the regular.

Freddie was a tour and road manager for some of the most successful groups of the 60's, 70's & the 80's. Because of his job, he wasn't home a lot (and for were grateful). I was a budding musician myself and because of Freddie, I got a healthy dose of ALL kinds of music. Our house was filled with music, he started his career as a singer and in the early days there were always people in our house, singing and harmonizing acapella. I absolutely loved those times in my life. Because of Freddie, I acquired a really good ear and a fond appreciation for really good singers and really good music. On Saturday mornings we could be found cleaning up the house to the sounds of Sam Cooke, Jackie DeShannon, Dionne Warwick, The Impressions, The Swan Silvertones, Clyde McPhatter, The Moments, Jackie Wilson, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, The Coasters and of course...ANYTHING on Motown. Freddie used to play a song by Al Green called "Back Up The Train"...he played this song so much that I grew to detest him..and even now I don't particularly care for Al Green's music. To this day the song "Get On Up" by The Esquires and their follow up single "And Get Away" (Yeah...I KNOW...I am really reaching in the back of the crates with those songs!) are two of my all time favorites. He even recorded a single with my mom's best friend, Miss Gigi, called "Daddy Love"...The song did really well in the local markets in the south. I have always loved that song and I swear one day I am going to record it as my own personal tribute to him.

He DID travel a lot, he was a great tour manager and thusly...always in demand. He toured with The Crown Heights Affair, BT Express, Ray, Goodman & Brown and even Rob Base at the height of their careers and because he was so successful at what he did, he took very good care of us. I remember as a teenager, sometimes he would take me backstage to some of these shows and introduce me to these groups. He was a sharp dressed man and he and my mother made a very striking couple. While we weren't wearing name brand anything...we were still poor...we were always clean and he and my mom made sure we were always well dressed and well nourished. He made sure that we always had the Merriest of Christmases and I can't recall a single Christmas that we got up and there WASN'T a ton of gifts under the tree. He took us on summer vacations to his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. While he wasn't vocal with his love but as I became and adult I understood that his taking care of us the way he did (especially, since I wasn't his child), was his way of showing us that he did love us.

I think that because I was so reluctant to embrace him that he stopped actively trying to win my love and just accepted the situation for what it was. But he always made sure that I had everything that I needed and for that I will always be grateful. He was my family's protector and we were ALWAYS safe. My mom always said he was a tough one...mean if he had to be. He was good with his fists and could roll with the best of them. He took shit off of NO ONE and if you were gonna dish it had better be prepared to take it as brother learned that the hard way.

My brother had grown up to be a tall, lanky young man...and you know the time always comes when we as children...moving into adulthood..start to smell ourselves and think we can push up on our parents. Well, one day my brother decided to take a swing on Freddie and got his jaw broken for his trouble. I think it broke his heart to have to do that to his only son...but by brother never stepped to him like that again.

As I grew older and fell into my life and my career, I watched my stepfather soften a little with age and the advent of grandchildren and I grew to love him in my own way. With each and every successful step in my career, he would strut around like a proud mom would tell me stories about him walking around with magazine articles about me and my pictures in his briefcase bragging about his daughter.

My stepfather, the man I spent half my life hating...came by to keep me company when I was bedridden for three months recuperating from foot surgery. He came when my own father and my friends didn't. It was an enormous gesture of love on his part and one that I will never forget. He was at my mother's side beaming with pride at my screening party for Mo'Nique's Fat Chance..The biggest success in my career to date. He was so proud of me that he was grinning from ear to ear, and he watches the DVD of the show whenever my mom pulls it out. A few years ago when I felt like my music career was on a treadmill...he pulled me to the side after watching me perform and told me point have an enormous talent..but you are squandering it. I took his words to heart.

A few years ago when he was around 60, Freddie was mugged by three men in the subway station at 14th Street after he cashed his paycheck. A proud man, he refused to give up his wallet and proceeded to beat the shit out of two of the three attackers...they managed to overtake him and brutally assaulted him before taking his wallet. When my mom called me and I rushed to their home, I barely recognized this bloodied, beaten and swollen man that I had known all of my life. I was instantly filled with rage and I wanted his attackers dead...and I still want them dead today. My mother was hysterical because he would not lodge a complaint with the police department..and he refused to go to the hospital for treatment. As a result of these actions...these three motherfuckers got off scot-free. It was at that moment that I not only realized that he was no longer a young man but I finally understood just how much he means to me...he IS my father...always has been. It broke my heart to see him vulnerable like that ...just broke it to pieces.

After that incident, I realized that I had never told Freddie that I loved him. Today, I make it my business to say it to him as much as possible. Because of the head trauma sustained from his assault, Freddie had to retire from his job and is now in the mid stages of Alzheimer's disease. Alicia Keys called my mother's house and begged him to manage her first tour for her first album...because of his illness he had no choice but to decline, but the fact that she called him personally is a testament to just how good he was at what he did. I believe in my heart that the beating he took in that subway tunnel accelerated the progress of the disease. It affects his memory but it really affects his speech. He is very gentle now, almost docile at times and he is always telling me how pretty I am and how proud he is of me. He constantly tells me how much he loves me too. We are closer now that we ever were when I was a child. He laughs a lot more now and still ever protective, he clings to my mother. He has good days and bad days and I know that inevitably at some point he may not even remember who I am, so I try to see him as much as possible.

One of the effects of Alzheimer's disease is that sometimes it's victims will not bathe as frequently as they used to, often believing they have just bathed a little while ago. So tonight, when my mom asked me to wash his hair for her, he was very resistant...but in the end he allowed me to do it and wound up enjoying his scalp massage. By the time I got home my mom called and said he was very relaxed and had gone to bed.

I don't know why this made me happy but it did.

Today as his disease progresses, I realize that I am very protective of Freddie. I take him to his doctor's appointments and afterwards we have lunch together. He gets a big kick out of it when people recognize me on the street. I desperately want my career to blossom both financially and creatively so that I can take care of the two people in my life who have always taken care of me. I want to do it while he can still remember it because I know that eventually the time may come when he may not. I realize now that God will always step in and give you what you need...even if YOU don't know you need it. I needed a father when my birth father didn't have the time or the inclination to be one and God gave me Freddie. For that I will always be thankful. I want him and my mom to know that I appreciate all that they have done and sacrificed for me to become who I am today. I want to thank him for the beautiful gift of music that he unknowingly gave to me and I want him to be here to share in my success and all of the fruits that come from my labor. Most importantly, I want him to know that I love him with all of my heart.

I really do.