Legendary Status: Jimi Hendrix’s last “New” Project, Ernie Isley, Miriam Makeba, Teena Marie and Bobby Womack.

Last week I got the headaches of life.

A migraine and then subsequent smaller ones that hit a brother when the climate changes.

Not that I’m interested in sharing my sickness situs with you; this ain’t no pity party, people. It just threw me off the schedule that I had set for myself. But that’s life; you take the, uh, stuff it gives you, toss it together and make some kind of salad and smother it with your favorite dressing, right? Handle that.

I missed a milestone and the born days of four important people in Soul, R&B and Pop music but their impact on the musical and cultural landscape compelled me to write about them. It’s an incredible group.

First up, Jimi Hendrix & Ernie Isley.

With People, Hell and Angels, the last of  his (mostly) original posthumous recordings, Hendrix takes his final bow.

On Tuesday, March 5th, the estate of Jimi Hendrix released People, Hell & Angels,  reportedly the last release of original studio recordings left behind by the legendary guitarist when he tragically died at the far too young age of 27.

The 12 track project was recorded from 1968-69, after The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding) had broken up. Recorded at his Electric Ladyland studios, this set is purported to be intended as a follow-up to the trio’s final release (which his studio drew its name from) a collection of blues/rock cuts that shows the legendary axeman’s fingerings would influence future

According to Hendrix’s longtime engineer Ed Kramer, who also serves as producer for the posthumous releases, Hendrix used the studio as a laboratory, to flesh out ideas, mixing and matching musicians and sonic concepts to achieve the sound he was hearing in his head. He experimented with percussion, horns, a second guitar and other The revolving roster included Buddy Miles and Billy Cox (who briefly formed The Band of Gypsies), saxman Lonnie Youngman, percussionists Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan and Jerry Lee on guitar. Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield, CSNY) is credited as bassist on one track.

The project is a confluence of styles, soul, rock, r&b and isn’t a primer for someone just getting into Hendrix. With its’ different arrangements and versions of some earlier cuts, People … is more of an addition to a collector’s vault.

Though this is the final release of original recordings there is a trove of filmed Hendrix performances set to be released as live concerts and docs in the coming years making sure music fans will continue to be experienced for generations to come.

Soul & Pop Legends Ernie Isley, Miriam Makeba, Teena Marie & Bobby Womack celebrated B’Earthdays last week.

Ernie Isley, Hendrix’s former band mate, fast friend and fellow fret phenom celebrated a b’earthday this week, turning 61 on March 7th.

Isley and Hendrix were actually in the Isley Brothers group together in the early 60’s before the Isleys forged their ridiculous blend of funk, soul and rock that would result in their historic Hall of Fame career. Hendrix didn’t do bad for himself after leaving, ultimately becoming  – arguably – the most influential if not famous musician of all time.

Long before The Black Rock Coalition, Fishbone, Living Colour or even Lenny Kravitz, The Isley Brothers were my and many others first introduction to what would be later classified as “Black” Rock (we’ll vivisect that historically ignorant oxymoron at a later date … trust me).

Take their memory searing melodies, sinfully superlative songwriting and lyrics, a muscled musicality for your ass and combine those eternally essential elements in a cacophonic cauldron with the twin tridents of Ron’s angel-falling-from-heaven-tenor/falsetto and the soaring cries of Ernie’s six strings and you have the stuff of legends, begetting the hybrid Rock & Soul.

The Isleys had blown my prepubescent mind the first time I heard them, like some musical microdot and Ernie played a pivotal role in the process: he was the group’s psychedelic pusherman. For decades following Jimi’s death, Ernie has continued their shared aural assault on that thing that ties your ears to your soul, clad in a head scarf, mirrored shades and tight ass leather or denim. His guitar playing is one of the main reasons an Isleys’ show felt like a blend of a pentecostal revival and back alley brawl.

I’ve been on an Isley Brothers bender for a while, lately. Here: get you a taste:

Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa                                                     

South African singer, Apartheid activist and cultural icon Miriam Makeba was born on March 4th, 1932. Most famous for the songs “Click Song” & “Pata Pata” in the 60’s, she rose out of the racist oppression of her homeland to become the first singer to take African music to the masses before the genre Afro Pop was even a thought.

After becoming an international superstar she endured exile from her native Johannesburg that would last for more than three decades after her passport and her citizenship were revoked. Despite this and other trials and tribulations (she suffered a commercial blacklisting after marrying Black Panther and militant activist Stokely Charmichael, nee Kwame Ture in 1968; her concerts were cancelled and her recording contract torn up) she recorded and toured for the next forty years with such musical luminaries as (her former husband) Hugh Masekela, Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone and experienced a renaissance when Paul Simon invited her to tour and record with him on his Graceland project. She also touts an impressive filmography, starring in Sarafina! and a host of other starring roles and docs, some centering specifically on her life.

In a tribute to her cultural importance not only to her native South Africa and her fight against Apartheid and also human rights on a global scale, Google released a doodle by artist Mike Dutton on what would have been Ms. Makeba’s 81st B’Earthday. It was lovingly fitting to the woman they called “Mama Africa”. She passed on November 9, 2008.

Teena Marie, The Ivory Queen of Soul  

Soul & R&B singer Teena Marie was born on March 5, 1956. She was a torchbearer for Motown in the 70’s and early 80’s continuing the tradition set in the 60’s when the hit factory set the standard as the powerhouse that produced the soundtrack for an American era.

The diminutive diva was atypical as far as her physical presence was concerned: barely over 5 feet tall with blonde highlighted brown  ringlets, the doe eyed singer gave new depth and definition to the term “blue eyed soul”, famously attributed to white soul-singers. But still, Motown released her debut album Wild & Peaceful in a shroud of mystery with no pictures accompanying the album art, a somewhat stunning reversal of record company standards employed when they tried to cross a Black act over to the mainstream in the 50’s & 60’s.

With Rick James as her auteur (for a period) and Motown behind her (again, for a period) she would release a string of successful albums – Lady T, Irons In The Fire and Square Biz. Hit singles “Behind The Groove”, “I Need Your Lovin'” and “Square Biz”, which featured Teena rapping, kept her on the charts. But it was and remains her ballads that would cement her place in the annals of soul singers and in the hearts of African American fans. “Fire & Desire” & “Portuguese Love” (both with James), “Out On A Limb”, “My Dear Mr. Gaye” and “Casanova Brown” are just a few examples of her seminal slow songs.

She left Motown (citing the catch-all “creative differences” explanation, filing a lawsuit that would result in landmark legislation) and signed with Epic, releasing a rack of hits. After her major label run ended, her recording career stalled, but Ms. Marie never stopped singing, writing and performing from her soul. She released several albums over the last decade of the new millennium, becoming an Adult Urban radio staple, and scored a Gold album with La’ Dona, the most successful release of her career, chart-wise. She passed away on December 26, 2010, but she left a legacy and a trove of classic hits, as well as a new album, Beautiful.

Bobby Womack, The Last of the Great Soul Singers              

Simply put, Bobby Womack has put his stamp on a ridiculous number of musical genres: soul, r&b, gospel, doo wop and country, among them.

A singer/songwriter nonpareil, Womack has been recording for parts of 6 decades. Starting out as a singer in the Sam Cooke-led gospel outfit, The Soul Stirrers, he became a force in music as a solo singer and songwriter scoring such hit as “Harry Hippee”, “Across 110th Street” ,”A Woman’s Gotta Have It”, “I Wish He Wouldn’t Trust Me So Much”, “No Matter How High I Get”, “Love Has Finally Come At Last” and, perhaps most famously “If You Think You’re Lonely Now”. His combination of blues, soul and country sung with his distinctive gravelly alto has made everything he’s sung always seem profoundly personal.

I had the pleasure of talking to Mr. Womack on a cross country flight back in the 90’s coming back from the West Coast. He was extremely gracious, surprised and unbelieving that I not only knew who he was but also knew his music. We talked for more than an hour before I excused myself and went back to my seat. I was convinced he would’ve talked to me for as long as I wanted, but I excused myself having already taken up so much of his time and not wanting to get on his nerves.

In 2010 & 2012, he was introduced to a new audience with appearances on The Gorillaz‘ singles “Stylo”, “Cloud of Unknowing” and “Bobby in Phoenix”  from the albums Plastic Beach & The Fall, respectively.

Last year, Mr. Womack released his 29th album, The Bravest Man In The Universe, his first collection of new material in more than 13 years. Not long after the album was released it was announced that he had prostate cancer which he beat. Early this year, after he complained of having trouble remembering song lyrics and people’s names it was announced that Mr. Womack was diagnosed as suffering from the early stages of  Alzheimer’s disease.

To hear his long list of hits you should tap into a streaming service or YouTube for some of his live performances. TV One’s Unsung did a great job telling his story. You should be able to find it via your local cable provider’s on demand services. His influence is undeniable.


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