HEY FELLAH! What? In the capital of the nation, we were livin’ the limo sensation. Yup, all fired up and ready to go go, Tony Blackburn, Steve Walsh, James Hamilton and Island Records’ Adrian Sykes arrived two weekends ago amidst magnolia blossom and sunny blue skies in springtime Washington DC to be whisked by ludicrously luxurious dove grey and white 1985 Lincoln Town Car (smoked windows, concealed lighting, TV, ice box and push-button liquor dispenser!) to the equally luxurious brand new hotel where the Jacksons stayed, The Regent, a short walk from Chelsea-like Georgetown. The action we were there to observe however took place in seedier surroundings. Our host, Max Kidd, with his brothers runs a computer company in NE Washington, using the back rooms for his independent promotions of labels like Total Experience, his own DETT/TTED go go logos, and as rehearsal space for the go go bands. His concept of time seems somewhat Jamaican, appropriately enough as Island’s boss Chris Blackwell sees the long established but still local ghetto-bounded Washington go go scene as another reggae, and as well as now distributing Kidd’s labels is financing a film about the scene (working titles ‘Movin’ And A Groovin’’, ‘Good To Go’) which won’t start shooting until the summer. This movie cannot help but break go go nationally in the States on a par with hip hop, but in Britain by the time it’s released it’ll have to revive our interest in a music which, despite differences of nuance, is frankly limited in range. Island are carefully staggering release of the best records while other less committed companies have already rushed out whatever product they can get — so, the big question here is, can the best records sustain and increase our interest? It’s hard to get a straight answer as to why DC’s ghetto groups stripped down to percussive African roots, although doubtless lack of finance contributed, as exemplified by the Junk Yard Band, all just kids, caught playing on Saturday in the street outside the downtown American Art And Portrait Gallery Building, beating out their go go funk on cut-off plastic bin bottoms mounted on conical roadwork warning beacons and milk crates. Go go as “found art”? These kids could be huge, incidentally, if marketed like New Edition. That Saturday night there were three venues offering more sophisticated go go, Cheriys with Rare Essence, Pump Blenders and more (none Max’s so unvisited), the sparsely decorated Black Hole in SE Washington with Chuck Brown and Mass Extension, and — miles out in Maryland so visited first — the 121st Engineer Battalion (CBT) Company A armory at Prince Frederick with EU and Trouble Funk. (Typically used as in every community for local music-type events, this particular armory was an all-purpose barn of a building with a basketball net right over the band.) The original Experience Unlimited started out in ’72 as a Jimi Hendrix-style rock group but being all black couldn’t find a market (many of the guys still really want to play rock), switching to go go in the ’78 wake of Chuck Brown’s ‘Bustin’ Loose’ success. Now called just EU they crank on and on in James Brown-ish style while the audience point in turn to the guys they want to solo, but by being disjointed they keep breaking the tension: Trouble Funk in contrast have a harder sound and maintain their groove. Surprisingly, playing a reporter in the movie, an incognito Art Garfunkel was checkin’ the scene there too! We had been joined by Tommy Boy’s Tom Silverman and it really was quite remarkable that on walking into both the armory and then the Black Hole (also patronized by many kids from the earlier country gig) both EU and Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers were singing the slow ‘Tears’ smash by Tom’s hottest act the Force MD’s . . . which pointed up that all the go groups remain “Top 40 bands”, performing current hits as well as their own material. The Soul Searchers were soulful and really tight with lots of space and proper jazzy solos — imagine, all in one continuous medley, a go go treatment sticking close to the original of King Pleasure’s ‘Moody’s Mood For Love’ seguing through ‘Woody Woodpecker’ to (in our honour?) ‘Bustin’ Loose’ and ‘We Need Some Money’! They deserve a UK tour. At both these venues we were “minded” by such enormous Mr T-type characters as Big Al, who are known by all the kids and much respected, although as one of them said, “Go go is safer than the streets — they disarm you before you go in!”
Tony Blackburn flew straight home Sunday dawn to fulfill his Sky cable TV commitments on Monday (and was ill the rest of the week!), so it was Steve Walsh who cameo-ed with similarly sized Big Al being challenged to dance the Jerry Lewis as the climax to Redds & The Boys’ video, shot in the JFK Playground at 7th & O, where the kids have a real jet plane, tank, troop carrier, fire engine, locomotive and two trams to play on. The Jerry Lewis is much like the old Mashed Potato and even older Charleston, and just one of the steps on which possibly go go’s wider success will depend. Unfortunately apart from some formation dancing which looks like fun, most of the associated dances revolve around wriggles and fancy footwork with nothing startlingly distinctive (as in breakdancmg) to latch onto: however, and very important here of course, there is a silly haircut, the Philly, shaved way up above the ears with just a very short crew cut left on top. Hopefully all these elements will still seem fresh when the movie eventually opens here, but as already in Britain there’s a TV ad for petrol which says “We’ll keep you on the go-go” and veterans Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band have returned with a “new go go sound”, it could be hard to hold back until then . . . unless Island’s unreleased go go goodies really are that strong. I hope so. The hotel bill alone cost nearly $3,500!
The guy who “looked after” us most in Washington DC was Vincent Randolph, whose Buddah Productions manages Tyrone Brunson amongst others, and whose incredible limousines — hired out only to showbiz people — were at our disposal. This Wednesday (27) our sharp young driver Eric will have Eddie Murphy riding with him for instance! Sometimes we transferred to Teddy’s similarly fitted but slightly less glamorous dark blue and black ’84 limo, which also boasted a much-used ‘phone, as we did on the Sunday when Eric was driving B.B. King . . . to whose MCA Records hosted pre-gig cocktail party we were invited. Very charmingly, B.B. seemed genuinely to remember my interviewing him twelve years ago. Currently he’s hardly off the radio with his theme song from the John Landis film ‘Into The Night‘, which may be down to masterful plugging by MCA’s regional promotion man Ron White (previously top jock in Detroit before moving on-air to DC in ’75), who got Steve Walsh, Adrian Sykes and myself into that night’s concert by blues veteran Bobby Blue Bland and B.B. King at the downtown Warner Theater (right now Jennifer Holliday is briefly there with ‘Sing, Mahalia, Sing’!). Bobby’s so soulful voice was hard to hear from backstage but thankfully we had seats for B.B.’s half (sadly they didn’t duet), and I’m glad that Steve and Adrian were able to experience the atmosphere. Blues and soul singers, when they were getting through to their audience, traditionally always had an answering response of friendly encouragement laced with testifying shouts and banter (like in a black church congregation), which no matter who has appeared in Britain has never travelled here too, and which is probably dying out amongst the new young noisy generation. The audience that night was primarily middle-aged or older, and they knew how to react. I was actually in tears, it was so good. It was the sort of audience who must have frequented the old Howard Theater, in the days when it was on the same circuit as Harlem’s Apollo, now forlorn and crumbling yet amazingly open for go go as recently as January. Forgetting go go, the best club we visited was the Ethiopian-run downtown Saba, with its dancefloor dramatically on two abrupt levels and looked down on from balconies a floor above, although it was plainly decorated. Another, not recommended, was Georgetown’s foreign au-pair filled Cafe Med playing Hi-NRG pop, while on the Monday night (when I was shivering with the same virus that felled Tony Blackburn at the same time back in England) was The Classics out in Maryland at Allentown, a black version of the sort of disco that here would have palm tree decor but there had a mechanical bull. Everywhere it seemed the jocks mixed more instrumentals than vocals, and the generally familiar (if not now dated) music seemed monotonous. Washington’s urban black radio plays very little go go as it mainly attracts kids, the wrong demographic, and in fact only isolated plays of Redds And The Boys and Mass Extension could be heard on the FM stations (which Max Kidd reckons he can call on when, as then, he has hot new product). Umm, if go go isn’t big on radio or in clubs and is largely unknown outside the ghetto in its own city of origin, that had better be one hell of a movie that Island are making! Luckily there is one station on poorly received Medium Wave with nothing to lose and everything to gain by adventurous programming. WOL 1450MW, which is hauling itself up by featuring several go go sides every hour, and a terrific oldies show at night (going right back to the booting ’40s and ’50s). WOL is owned by Kathy Hughes, whose breakfast chat show was virtually hijacked to enthusiastic ‘phone-in response by Steve Walsh on the Tuesday, and whose son Alfred Liggins (met at B.B.’s party) was our DC club guide. Sweeping along the radio dial there’s a lot of bluegrass and country music, big bands oldies, and I encountered an amazing gospel station full of self-pitying sobbing and encouragements to purchase their “I am a Positive Thinker” stick-pin, while on the Friday night WDCU FM 90, a public service of the University of the District of Columbia, played some great stone blues and mellow vocal jazz. In the main though, and without realising it, I kept coming back to WHUR 96.3FM (“Progressive 96”), whose bland urban contemporary playlist was spiked on the dawn shift by some wailing slowies like the Montclairs ‘Beggin’ Is Hard To Do‘ and Atlantic Starr ‘Your Love Finally Ran Out‘. The only TV of musical note was Philip Bailey singing a sweet slowie on Dick Clark’s still running American Bandstand, and a black video show New York Hot Tracks glimpsed on the limo’s TV. Stocked with a mouth-watering range of every music type imaginable, the vinyl supplier for the visit was the 19th & L branch of Record & Tape Ltd, whose manager Wresch Dawidjan compiles the local (Hi-NRG biased) disco chart from twenty DJs’ returns (Nayobe was top at the time). Otherwise the stuff that was hard to avoid on radio included B. B. King ‘Into The Night’ (concert tie-in?), Gladys Knight & The Pips ‘My Time‘ (due in concert – and our limo!), Mary Jane Girls ‘In My House‘, Ready For The World ‘Tonight‘ (someone please start playing this here!), Luther Vandross LP, Maze LP, Midnight Star ‘Scientific Love‘, Whispers ‘Some Kinda Lover‘, Sade ‘Smooth Operator’, Kool & The Gang ‘Fresh’, Commodores, Prince (anything), Harold Faltermeyer, Shalamar ‘My Girl Loves Me’, Wilton Felder, Steve Arrington, TC Curtis, Jeff Lorber, Julian Lennon ‘Too Late For Goodbyes’, Culture Club ‘Mistake 3‘, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder ‘Love Light In Flight’, New Jersey Mass Choir ‘I Want To Know What Love Is‘, Klymaxx ‘Meeting In The Ladies Room‘, Opus Ten, Animotion ‘Obsession’, Al Jarreau ‘Raging Waters‘, Jeffrey Osborne ‘The Borderlines‘. In fact come to think of it, much of that is through MCA — surely not all Ron’s work?
ODDS ‘N’ BODS
LARRY LEVAN’s mixing at New York’s Paradise Garage is being taped nightly by Island with the aim (if copyright can be cleared) of releasing the best medley sequences, on cassette only — what an exciting idea (it should have his number one fan Froggy slavering in anticipation)! … Marvin Gaye’s unissued CBS material will be out in May, some of it controversial … Prince’s new LP ‘Around The World In A Day’ is rumoured to be much more musically adventurous than ‘Purple Rain’ (on which incidentally most cuts were heavily edited so they’d fit) … Jeff Lorber has signed with Phonogram for the world outside the USA, Club having him here … WEA did not consider the deal worth it to retain Change here, but Atlantic still have them Stateside — does that clear up your confusion? … The Cool Notes’ management were so short of their hit on 7in that they actually had to buy five copies to service Radio One – and nearly got accused of hyping in the process! … Levert turns out in fact to be a group, containing Eddie’s sons Gerald and Sean (the latter 17 year old previously unmentioned), plus six more musicians … Krystol member Dee Marie Warren’s death was more horrific than previously reported, her car went off a winding road and fell 300 feet down a cliff near Los Angeles … Luther Vandross was available on Dutch import in Britain ahead of the Washington DC stores, who received it Monday, although the whole album was all over the radio there on our arrival the previous Friday … Beverley Skeete may be proving a trick to mix but is good out of Spank … VERY IMPORTANT: with immediate effect all chart contributors and other info senders should note that our new address is Record Mirror, Greater London House, Hampstead Road, London NW1 7QZ (just around the corner from the Camden Palace) — alter your address books NOW! … Tina Turner topped US black LPs, Jenny Burton US Dance/Disco Club Play, while Ray Charles is back with a vengeance — not only does the ‘Uncle’ Ray and Stevie Wonder segment dominate USA For Africa’s ‘We Are The World’ but also amazingly his album of duets ‘Friendship’ and its single (with Willie Nelson) ‘Seven Spanish Angels‘ have topped both respective, wait for it, Country charts! … The O’Jays’ late ’60s sides for Neptune (somehow missed out from last week’s reissues feature) were also recently compiled in PRT’s new Chess series (CXMB 7200) … Big Daddy are well worth catching live by people with wide musical memories: as you may know, they set modern hits to easily recognised rock ‘n’ roll arrangements, their ‘All Night Long (All Night)‘ done as the Jayhawks ‘Stranded In The Jungle’ being especially funny, with its “meanwhile, back in the jungle” segment containing Lionel Richie’s mumbo jumbo chanting … “Meanwhile, back in the States” the ‘Roxanne, Roxanne’ craze has even prompted the re-release of The Police ‘Roxanne’, while Roxanne Shanté’s follow-up is ‘Queen Of Rox (Shanté Rox On)‘ (US Pop Art) … ‘Roxanne’s Doctor’ should be by Dr. Freshh, with a double “h” (of course) … Sparky D of ‘Roxanne You’re Through‘ was with Trouble Funk at Prince Frederick Armory in Maryland last Saturday … Anthony Kenneth Blackburn & Stephen Maurice Walsh take Radio London’s Soul Night Out to the Lyceum for a few Thursdays from next week (4) until moving permanently to Hammersmith Palais, where the security is so good … London’s three soul stations Solar, Horizon, LWR were all back in strength around the clock when last heard — maybe, if they finally get around to playing my favourite record of the last few months, Ready For The World ‘Tonight’, I might bother to tune in to them more … Carl Kingston is now evening man on Leeds ILR station Radio Aire … Kev Hill ‘The Guvnor’ starts a new 18-30 night Thursday (28) at Harlow Whispers … Richard Searling, Pete Haigh & Ellis funk Morecambe Carleton Inn Sat (30) … Gary Crowley lets “April Fools rush in” on April 1st (Monday) at Kensington’s The Park, when Judge Dread hosts the largest “ladies’ sewing evening” ever at Dartford Flicks! … Bob Boardman again jocks the big Bass breakdance final at Sunderland Barnes Hotel Wed (3) … John Myers has actually left Newcastle Upon Tyne Julies to join the team at Walkers Club Café … Keith Anthony souls Bermondsey Tanners Fri/Sun, Grumpy Brown & Russ B bump Billericay Shed Sun, John Rush returns to Basildon New Yorker Fri … Paul French now souls Spatts Mon and still does Kents Tues/Thur, The Avenue Fri/Sat/Sun, all in Gillingham (wot, nothing Wed?) … Ian Robertson’s nightly residency in Dalkeith has changed names from The Paddock to Scandals, with increased capacity and extra soul … Julia Grant reckons she makes more money (and noise!) playing soul at Southport’s Pavilion Fun Pub and the Silver Screen than most male DJs —fighting talk, huh? … Adrian Dunbar has found the addition of full video facilities at Southampton Raffles has helped anything available on video (like DeBarge) to break much faster than usual … “Europe’s number one VJ” Kent Vanderberg has perfected vari-speed running mixes between videos at London’s The Hippodrome — “it’s hard”, he says … Alan Taylor (0745 36757) can present a whole video evening using his extensive promo collection (many unique) if ready-equipped clubs in the North-West are interested … Hill Street Blues’ current series (amongst others) has thankfully been saved from a rudely curtailed unscripted finish following the Writers Guild of America calling off their strike … The Muppets now have a cartoon TV series, which even though fully animated is probably still cheaper than the puppet version (showing in Washington DC on another channel at the same time!), although it does rather miss the point … Mickey Rooney’s current wife Jan somewhat surprisingly writes and roars gospel songs in powerfully rocking style, as witnessed on a religious breakfast TV show — even she admits to being worried about what her hellraising hubby thinks! … I flew back sitting next to Barry Muller, drummer with legendary society bandleader Lester Lanin (sort of America’s Joe Loss) whose band were playing for a ball at London’s Grosvenor Hotel, and who was interested to hear that my discotheque was the first ever to play for Queen Charlotte’s Ball there in ’72 … Disco Mix Club’s postponed trip to New York is now definitely set for Sunday-to-Sunday August 4-11, coinciding with Tom Silverman’s annual New Music Seminar whose tickets will open all the city’s discos, the two-tiered price structure having yet to be worked out … DMC’s mixing contest at the DJ Convention seems to have created much controversy, and frankly as a judge even I was surprised by the result … WHAT IT IS IS WHAT IT IS!
MIDNIGHT STAR ‘Curious’ (Solar MCAT 961)
Their album’s Marvin Gaye-ish monster is rightly the new UK single, a sexually healing 100⅚-100⅔-100½bpm sneaky snapper, flipped by the vocodered whipping ‘Planet Rock’-ish (0-)125¼-124¾bpm ‘Body Snatchers‘.
LUTHER VANDROSS ‘It’s Over Now’ (LP ‘The Night I Fell In Love’ US Epic FE 39882)
With a reputation that if anything has grown here during the wait between albums, Luther now delivers his finest set ever, all apart from its previously reviewed single in mellow mood but tempered by steel amidst its silky soul. Easiest dancer is this familiar 109-114bpm wriggler, while the tapping breathy 103⅔bpm title track, swaying 103½bpm ‘My Sensitivity (Gets In The Way)‘ and Stevie Wonder’s aptly titled 88/44bpm ‘Creepin’‘ have subtle muscle, the 0-55/22½-0bpm ‘If Only For One Night’, 30¼/60½bpm ‘Wait For Love’, 30bpm ‘Other Side Of The World’ are candlelight romancers. Other fast hitting albums this week, which my virus fever left no time to review, include the Jimmy Jam-produced excellent ALEXANDER O’NEAL (US Tabu — note it does not feature his 7in flip’s ‘Settle Down’-ish ‘Are You The One‘), THE MANHATTANS (US Columbia), SECOND IMAGE (MCA). Continue reading “March 30, 1985: Special report from Washington DC, Midnight Star, Luther Vandross, Touch Of Class, Mass Extension”