Joss Stone
October 14, 2003 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Do you have to be black to possess that elusive quality known as "soul"? Soul Music's New Face: 16, Blond And British. Joss Stone, the 16 year-old winner of the BBC TV talent show Star for A Night, traveled to Miami to work on songs for a pop album. Instead, she hooked up with a group of gifted but long-overlooked musicians who were among the prime movers and shapers of "The Miami Sound" of the Seventies: Betty Wright ("Clean Up Woman"), Timmy Thomas ("Why Can't We Live Together"), Latimore ("Let's Straighten It Out") and Little Beaver ("Party Down"). Some of them had not been in the studio for years; Little Beaver was working for Amtrak and Timmy Thomas was a college administrator when they got the call. Together they recorded her first album, The Soul Sessions, in only four days. Listen on All Songs Considered or download full mp3 versions of the first 2 songs at Amazon.
posted by probablysteve (46 comments total)
 
Do you have to be black to possess that elusive quality known as "soul"?

Yes. That is, unless you're White (Barry), Green (Al), or Brown (James).
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:30 AM on October 14, 2003


Do you have to be black to possess that elusive quality known as "soul"?
no you don't, but it helps.

but seriously, anyone can have a soulful voice. It isn't something that gets injected along with extra helpings of melanin at the beginning.

There are many soul singers who don't happen to be black.
posted by Julnyes at 10:37 AM on October 14, 2003


Do you have to be black to possess that elusive quality known as "soul"?

Of course not, don't be silly. More evidence for you doubting thomas purist types. Plus plenty of country music has it's own brand of honky soul. If you've got the grit, the talent and feel it deep inside, you've got it. The key to the greatness of the artists above is that they absorbed rather than imitated and made it their own.

Thanks for the mention of Betty Wright. "Shoorah Shoorah" is one of the great soul singles.
posted by jonmc at 10:41 AM on October 14, 2003


Thanks for the link, PS. Listening to the first track now and am impressed.
posted by dobbs at 10:42 AM on October 14, 2003


Do you have to be black to possess that elusive quality needed to play or sing blues, dixieland or swing? No, not after they've been around long enough for people to learn. There is a universe of difference between the likes of Little Walter and Paul Butterfield, T. Bone Walker and Mike Bloomfield, between making it up new and sounding just like Muddy Waters after you've learned all the his licks off a record. I cringe every time I hear John Hammond sing--his between songs patter in concert is a horror.
posted by y2karl at 10:54 AM on October 14, 2003


The Righteous Brothers had soul? The Michael Boltons of their generation? In a pig's eye!
posted by y2karl at 10:56 AM on October 14, 2003


Well, to give Bloomfield and Butterfield (and Al Wilson and Bob Hite and John Fahey and Elvin Bishop) their due, karl, they were doing it long before it was "cool" and they did it pretty damned good. And to restate it. I think they took their love for blues and R&B and made it in something of their own. I also think they'd be the first to agree that they aren't Little Walter or T-Bone Walker, but they ain't nothin' to sneeze at, and their music did lead a lotta people to they original stuff.

In the case of latter day blue-eyed soulsters like Tony Joe White and Mitch Ryder, they were working-class kids living in close quarters and/or similar enviornments as their black contemporaries, so it's not surprising that they were influenced by the same music, and I think that in their case it's credible white soul, if for no other reason than their raw talent. Not bad for white boys or anyone else.

I'm with you on Hammond though, he kinda sucks. I suppose his hearts in the right place though.

On preview, we'll agree to disagree on the Righteous Brothers. But don't compare them to that dreckball Bolton.
posted by jonmc at 11:04 AM on October 14, 2003


Playing and singing a style of music to a degree of credible versimilitude when the style is thirty years old--The "Miami Sound" of the Seventies, for example--and long over as a contemporary music, and its original teenaged audience now nearly AARP members, is no great accomplishment. Learning any music when its once young practicioners and audience are middle aged or more--when it's over--amounts to little. Heard any great new baroque composers lately?
posted by y2karl at 11:10 AM on October 14, 2003


Do you have to be black to possess that elusive quality known as "soul"?

Nah.
posted by vorfeed at 11:12 AM on October 14, 2003


Soul is the ring around your bathtub.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:14 AM on October 14, 2003


Karl, I'm at a computer without sound, so I cand speak for Joss Stone, but Ryder, Lyndell, Springfield, Joe South and T.J. White were doing credible white soul during the soul era. Plus versimilitude is one thing, emotional impact another. Canned Heat imitated records that were 40 years old but I still get chills hearing "On The Road Again." Same goes for the best of Bloomfield's stuff, he was haunted by different ghosts that the men he idolized, but he was haunted just the same.
posted by jonmc at 11:14 AM on October 14, 2003


How could such a discussion not include Remy Shand? A white boy from Winnipeg who made his entire first record in his basement. He's signed to Motown Records, to boot.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:27 AM on October 14, 2003


Can anyone who's only 16 really make music for grownups?

I once had a teacher who insisted that you couldn't play Brahms properly until you were 40, and the older I get, the more I believe her.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:35 AM on October 14, 2003


Shelby Lynne. Another white girl with soul.
posted by grabbingsand at 12:00 PM on October 14, 2003


Plus versimilitude is one thing, emotional impact another.

T Bone Walker originated a style of guitar. Michaell Bloomfield learned a style of guitar, first off records and then later by playing with still living legends. Johnny Lang learned if off records. Years later. There is a difference between creating a music and learning it off a record.

It's like the ratio of cocaine to milk powder as it moves every step in the chain from coca plant to nose--there's less and less of the former and more and more of the latter. American vernacular music is not a river you can step in twice--the singer is a different singer and it's not the same river. Retro is not the same as present at the creation. You may get chills hearing Al Wilson singing On The Road Again but live at the Fillmore is not live at the Regal. Not by a long shot.

One can make the argument for the Southern exception using the examples of Elvis, Dan Penn, half the MGs, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and Sun and Fame Records, say, but Joe South and Tony Joe White? Puh-leeze. One hit wonders do not prove the rule. And one hit wonders they were---nothing else either did cut it compared to the hits. And nothing they did, period, cuts it in comparison to anything Otis Redding, James Carr or Wilson Pickett did on an off day.
posted by y2karl at 12:37 PM on October 14, 2003


Ach, purists.

I never argued that they were the equals of their inspirations, but they did make music worthy of being taken seriously, where you seem to be implying that they were little more than karaoke. Besides, it's not like Otis Redding and James Carr weren't influenced by earlier R&B singers. Joe South and Tony Joe White were also terrific songwriters and I stand by that.

One can make the argument for the Southern exception using the examples of Elvis, Dan Penn, half the MGs, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and Sun and Fame Records, say, but Joe South and Tony Joe White? Puh-leeze.

So, if you're not black or southern, don't even try? stick to pop music. That's perpetuating a stereotype. A postive stereotype ("black people are better at this sort of thing") but a stereotype nonetheless. BY that logic, Bob Dylan had no business playing most of what inspired him. You can take fetishizing authenticity too far.

T Bone Walker originated a style of guitar.

Which was imitated by BB King as well as white kids like Bloomfield. Does that de-ligitimize BB? They why should it Mike? I'm not saying the two are artistic equals, just that the artists I've mentioned aren't to be summarily dismissed.

Plus Bloomfield did some innovating of his own: inventing the big-band rock sound later banal-ized by Chicago with the Electric Flag and doing some tremendous work with Dylan.
posted by jonmc at 1:06 PM on October 14, 2003


Tony Joe White wrote or performed at least 4 top charted hits including Polk Salad Annie and Rainy Night in Georgia, more than Ledbelly ever had.

Soul is not a type of music, it is a state of being. It matters not the color, era, location or age of an artist, only that they have and understand soul or not. It would be difficult to find a 21st century, 16 year old British white girl who had enough life experience to truly have soul, no matter how talented musically she may be.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:34 PM on October 14, 2003


Plus Tony Joe wrote "Willie And Laura Mae Jones," which has become a roots music standard. That alone secures him at least a small seat in the American music pantheon. Maybe over by the bar.

God, I love talking about this shit.
posted by jonmc at 1:39 PM on October 14, 2003


interesting reworking of the white stripes "fell in love with a girl".

I dont think she's got a particulary unique voice......morrissey has soul , ian brown has soul , mark e smith has soul ,iggy has soul.........the list is endless....
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:45 PM on October 14, 2003


You can take fetishizing authenticity too far.

"Fetishizing authenticity" ... I like it!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:13 PM on October 14, 2003


The question of needing to be black to have soul was answered in 1967 with the Beach Boys "Wild Honey" and again in 1970 with "Sunflower"

you got so much soooul you blow my mind

This Joss Stone is great. Thanks for the link!
posted by Quartermass at 2:22 PM on October 14, 2003


Which was imitated by BB King as well as white kids like Bloomfield. Does that de-ligitimize BB? They why should it Mike?

Because B.B. King was born and grew up in the core culture, grew up listening to and playing the music when it was new and Michael Bloomfield was an outsider who learned it second hand.

...inventing the big-band rock sound later banal-ized by Chicago with the Electric Flag

Have you ever heard a Bobby Bland record from the early 60s or Buddy Johnson & Orchestra or any other R&B big band relict from the late 40s and early 50s? Invented, my ass. That big band shit was done long before Electric Flag--it just wasn't done by young white people for young white people.

As for fetishizing stereotypes, isn't that what you are doing with your group hugs, black and white, we're all in the Family Stone together wishful thinking? I only pointed out that with any music that began as black music and later was taken up by young whites, we are talking about two distinctly different musics everytime--one played by the creators, one played by the re-creators. That doesn't invalidate the re-creators by a long shot--it just notes they are not the same thing.

Anyone immersed in a genre can play and sing it well enoughwith enough innate talent and lots of practice but such is not new, at the creation, no matter how you slice it. White innovators in a contemporary black music, whether Beiderbecke or Eminem are by far the exception, and not of the first rank as innovators. Beiderbecke was great but he wouldn't be playing what he played, had there never been a Louis Armstrong. I like Paul Butterfield and Al Wilson a lot, and think they are great at what they do, it's just that what they do is not the same as that sung and played by the people who invented the original style and played and sang it when it was new.

And Bob Dylan, at least, came up with a singing style that was not 'singing black' and songs that were not faux hillbilly or imitation sharecropper, at least not after his first album.
posted by y2karl at 2:54 PM on October 14, 2003


Oh, my, another argument with purists arguing whether white people, or non-southern people can possibly be soulful or play the blues. Or, whether they're innovators compared to the ancient untouchable greats. Or whether there's a difference between the creators and the recreators.

Sigh. A person would listen to the following records before even beginning to have an informed opinion -

Harry Smith's Folkways Anthology
Anything by Jimmy Rodgers, the Carter Family or Hank Williams
"Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen (I'm quite serious)
"East Side Story" by Bob Seger
Quite a few hits by Mitch Ryder (for those who think that he's a copy, ask yourself one thing - why is the beat so much harder?)
Janis Joplin (well, alright she WAS southern, but ...)
Laura Nyro - (anything she ever did including the later stuff - very soulful and utterly original)
Iggy and the Stooges - (not quite R&B but not quite away from it, either)
Neil Young - "On the Beach"
Bob Dylan - "Meet Me In The Morning"
The Rolling Stones - lots of so so copies, some insincerity, but also some absolutely killer stuff
Oh, yes, "Hard to Handle" Grateful Dead, 8/6/71 - Yeah, Pigpen's not Otis, but Jerry plays with an intensity that makes that irrelevant

All people who were influenced by blues/soul or similar musics of their time and all people who did much more than just copy it blindly.

Isn't about time this stupid controversy was buried?
posted by pyramid termite at 3:42 PM on October 14, 2003


I'm not sure i would call Joss "soul." She reminds me of Dusty Springfield in a way, having a voice made more for certain kinds of music, and not others. Isn't there a long tradition in England (is it northern soul?) of having white singers do black hits?
posted by amberglow at 4:08 PM on October 14, 2003


Thanks for patronizing this thread, Mr. Here's All The Cool Records I've Listened To!
posted by y2karl at 4:10 PM on October 14, 2003


Not to mention All The Cool Records Everyone has Listened To.
posted by y2karl at 4:18 PM on October 14, 2003


I don't think anyone could be truly successful at an art they didn't truly -feel-. You can be the best technician in the world but unless you don't feel it moving through you and make it your own, you're no different than any other bar crooner.

As for Joss Stone, she's got a pretty voice but her backup band is -flacid-. Also, she's got a number of years before she matures into that musical arena, I think. While she's got an earnest delivery there's no punch, no deep sugar. I want my soul singers to make me think of dirty thoughts, not of laundry.

next.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 4:47 PM on October 14, 2003


y2karl--

I am speaking as an uninformed observer who bears special affection for neither your preferred artists nor most of pyramid termite's. In any case, it seems that several of your posts in this and other music threads contain a vigorous presentation (sometimes perhaps even defense) of an "orthodoxy" of musical taste that you've presumably cultivated over years of listening.

What do you think of the old chestnut "If it sounds good, it is good"? I imagine that you wouldn't agree completely. If not, why not?

I really don't mean to sound patronizing; I'm genuinely curious.
posted by tss at 5:20 PM on October 14, 2003


I'm not quite understanding this conversation. y2karl, are you saying that performers who did not participate in originating a particular style are:

a) not worth listening to, regardless of how good their performance might be

b) not allowed to legitimately play such music

c) ripoff assholes

d) worth listening to but not allowed to be considered 'cool'

Personally, all the classifications in the world except one are useless IMO and that one is, does the listener enjoy the sound or not.
posted by billsaysthis at 5:29 PM on October 14, 2003


Have you ever heard a Bobby Bland record from the early 60s or Buddy Johnson & Orchestra or any other R&B big band relict from the late 40s and early 50s? Invented, my ass. That big band shit was done long before Electric Flag--it just wasn't done by young white people for young white people.

Yes, I have. I'm willing to bet there's a lot of crossover between our collections. But there's a difference between the big band R&B of Bobby Bland and the psycedelic/big band sound the Flag was doing. Not saying either is better or worse (that, when all is said and done is a matter of taste), just that they are different.

we are talking about two distinctly different musics everytime--one played by the creators, one played by the re-creators.

Exactly. As usual, we're making the same point from different directions. The fact that the music of the re-creators is different (the best of it anyway) is what makes me argue in it's favor. Were Bloomfield, et al. innovating on the level of Robert Johnson, et al? No. Were they (at their best) using the music they loved as a springboard to something new and (sometimes) amazing? Yes. Do I treasure my copy of Geechie Wiley's "Last Kind Word Blues" as a treasure of American music and because it moves me deep inside, and because of it's historical import? of course. But I also treasure my copy of "On The Road Again" for it's emotional import and musical grace as well. Dig me?

As for fetishizing stereotypes, isn't that what you are doing with your group hugs, black and white, we're all in the Family Stone together wishful thinking?

I'll admit I misread you a bit. I figured that you woulda considered guys like Canned Heat and Bloomfield kindered souls. But, if I reacted badly, I apologize. All i'm sayin' is in the end, it's all good if it leaves me with more cool records to listen to. And loving black music has opened up a lotta friendships for me across racial lines, so bring on the group hugs.
posted by jonmc at 6:28 PM on October 14, 2003


There was a stretch in the '70s when competitions at American bluegrass festivals were being won by groups from Japan. Is bluegrass played by a bunch of young Japanese record collectors the same thing as what Bill Monroe invented? Perhaps, but I can't help but note that between the two, only one party is regarded as the Father of Bluegrass.

I was just pointing out that, in most cases, one is talking about two different musics. We have a standard progression of events--hip young white people are into contemporary black popular music, whether totally new or of a recent vintage, and the musicians among them attempt to emulate it. The emulation is a different music made for a different audience. As to the worth of either, that's apples and oranges. A Rolling Stones I Am The Little Red Rooster is a rock band's cover of an original blues by Howling Wolf. I like both for different reasons but I can't help but notice who came first.

It's not exactly news that musicians and listeners in the originating group, for various reasons, tend to innovate or gravitate towards new styles as fast as members in the emulating group learn the nuances of the any existing styles. I don't think that it's particularly pedantic to make note of this.

Young white swing fan to Dizzy Gillespie: I'm hep!
Dizzy Gillespie to young white swing fan: I'm hip that you're hep.

A new song sung in a version of a vintage style, however heartfelt, is not the same as a new song sung by on original singer in the original style when it was new, when it was an emerging and not yet entirely codified style. That doesn't make one worse than the other. They are just two different things.

What is hip may become what is hep, but what is hep will never be hip. This is my opinion.
posted by y2karl at 6:40 PM on October 14, 2003


y2karl: While innovation is important, the main topic at hand is soul and not originality, necessarily. The Muscle Shoals stuff had soul, but it wasn't original. I would think that most, if not all, of the guys from the FAME and latter eras would admit as much. (What they added, I think, was an often-hidden touch of country or country-soul, which is why, oh, Percy Sledge often plays country places all over the Deep South. The touch softened the funkier stuff too.. But how many blues and R&B singers have claimed country as an influence? Could anybody count them all?)

Somebody mentioned Shelby Lynne earlier, and that got me to thinking about the soul v. originality thing. She has one very modern-sounding rock number on her new album, "Identity Crisis," but there are blues numbers and countrypolitan and a couple of numbers that sound as if they should be played by people in stereotypical '20s jazz-age outfits. And much of her intonation comes from jazz, seems to me, as it does with Willie Nelson. She's doing absolutely nothing new, but she pulls it off, without sounding like she's trying to be, oh, the self-indulgent Quentin Tarantino-at-his-worst style mix master of roots rock or Americana or whatever, who steals from the past because, y'know, maybe, there is just no future, and this stuff is cool. There is neither irony nor earnestness, which is almost shocking. The music still can't hope to outdo all that came before it, but it definitely has that elusive thing called soul. Whether she could have pulled that off with such soulfulness if she'd grown up outside the South is, to me, the big question - and probably unanswerable, really. But growing up near Jackson, Ala., probably didn't hurt, even if she didn't grow up hearing people sing in cotton fields and probably even had cable and whatnot. And Jackson's neither hip nor hep.
posted by raysmj at 11:08 PM on October 14, 2003


That pudgy drunk Irish kid in The Commitments sang "Try a Little Tenderness" with more soul than Otis Redding.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:31 PM on October 14, 2003


That pudgy drunk Irish kid in The Commitments sang "Try a Little Tenderness" with more soul than Otis Redding.


That's Bollocks
posted by niceness at 2:18 AM on October 15, 2003


Isn't there a long tradition in England (is it northern soul?) of having white singers do black hits?

Yes. Anyone who thinks Bob Dylan has soul should listen to this person, who I believe was a very early influence. His daughter's worth checking out as well, particularly live.
posted by Summer at 3:16 AM on October 15, 2003


Isn't there a long tradition in England (is it northern soul?) of having white singers do black hits?

There's a long tradition of British fans listening, dancing and (pretty much) worshipping obscure US Black music - known as Northern Soul. This 'crossed-over' in the 70's when entrepreneurs tried to cover tracks with white perfomers to make a quick buck (including British trash DJ Tony Blackburn scoring a chart hit at one time), but white performing black is absolutely not Northern Soul nor are the links that Summer just posted.

Northern Soul was/still is one of the world's greatest youth cults, for many it's a lifestyle.

North West England ignored much of Britain's 60's pop exports to the US and welcomed the obscure, independent black record labels ignored in the US and imported in various ways (including use as ballast on ships) in to the UK. Many of us have been more than happy to swap The Beatles and The Stones for Darrell Banks, Linda Jones etc. etc..

In the early 60's former blues and jazz clubs began playing more of this 'driving beat' music and linked with all night sessions and the drugs (stolen pharmaceutical speed) combined to create an underground 'scene' that has lasted to this day.

In the mid-seventies the scene exploded into the mainstream with 'ready-made' tracks being produced by DJs and fans: Take a track, cover it or just pinch the best bits, get it recorded in the UK and make it sound as authentic as possible, sell thousands of copies by word of mouth, license to a major and before you know it you're on Top Of The Pops - a great example of one of the better 'ready-mades' would be Billy Ocean's-Love Really Hurts Without You (still his greatest track). The worst of these were piss-poor pop/soul instrumentals often by local white 'fans' that genuine aficionados shunned.

(back on topic briefly) No fans are more elitist than Northern fans and yet still some white performers were taken to heart and considered genuine 'blue-eyed' soul, examples include Mitch Ryder (again), Len Barry, Timi Yuro and Deon Jackson. How could you not believe white people could 'do soul' when the track you'd been dancing to for months turns out to be a white crooner and not the black soulman you'd assumed, .

Despite never going away Northern Soul appears to be enjoying a resurgence at the moment with cheap CDs of expensive obscure 7"s, local radio shows and the web all fuelling an increase in allnighters and general interest, much of it driven by former fans whose children have grown up and now they can go out all night again.

It's impossible to explain Northern Soul without experience though a google search on Northern Soul brings back acres of sites.
posted by niceness at 6:38 AM on October 15, 2003


The World Cafe will feature Joss on today's show (10/15/03). Tune in .
posted by turbanhead at 8:15 AM on October 15, 2003


thanks for the northern soul info, summer and niceness--i've heard the term applied in so many different ways.
posted by amberglow at 8:35 AM on October 15, 2003


Wait a minute, this is ridiculous. Jazz, Blues, Soul, Country, Bluegrass, Rock and Roll, all of it comes from a tradition of "standards." Everyone mentioned thus far played someone else's music, even played it in an imitated style. Louis Armstrong played standards. Dizzy Gillespie did it. BB King does it every night down on Beale Street. Shit, you think Mozart only played Mozart tunes or that a a Fife and Drum band in New Orleans in 1820 wasn't just copying the songs and styles of the ones they heard play in 1810? The whole tradition of African American music in comes from African musicians and callers coming to America and passing on their style (and songs) to successive generations right on up to Brittany Spears. The same thing happens in every musical style across the globe from the Beijing Opera to some holler in Kentucky. That is how things like music are learned, you take what has been done before you and insert it into your own. Does it mean that the older is better, the first one to do something is the best or that an imitator can't do better? Does it mean that to be better the new must somehow be changed? No way. Quality music is quality music. Sure its great to recognize the originators, but to discount the imitators is to eliminate virtually all music performed. Shit, even the originators start fucking with their music and can get it all crappy! On another note:

Not to mention All The Cool Records Everyone has Listened To.

I hope you include yourself in that assessment Y2karl.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:02 AM on October 15, 2003


A lot of people seem to think I started this business, but rock n roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let's face it: I can't sing like Fats Domino can. I know that.

Elvis Presley

What most people don't know is that this boy is serious about what he's doing. He's carried away by it. When I was in Memphis with my band, he used to stand in the wings and watch us perform. As for fading away, rock and roll is here to stay and so, I believe, is Elvis. He's been a shot in the arm to the business and all I can say is 'that's my man.'

B.B. King

I was thinking last night that there is an obvious example of a black musician copying a white style: Chuck Berry. Maybellene was a rewrite of Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys' Ida Red and his guitar playing was obviously influenced by country 'n western players. He is the exception and not the rule.

I think, Pollomacho, that I said, over and over, that between original and emulation, it was apples and oranges to compare them as far as their value and that noting where American popular music has always originated is not to denigrate the subsequent emulations and hybridizations. I merely pointed out which most often comes first--music performed for black audiences and marketed to black record buyers by black musicians and singers, with the occasional exception noted.

In terms of American popular, or vernacular, if you will, music, which comes first does matter and race, the elephant in the American living room, is always part of the equation. That was what I was pointing out. Can white people sing the blues or soul? Hmm, by and large, no--if you mean the general population. Talented singers who can are another story entirely, but it usually requires immersion in the music in my experience.

Here. on the topic at hand, is a serviceable history of Soul music, from John Ponomarenko's The Soul Review, which, as awful as it is on the eyes, is a great site on the topics of Soul and Northern Soul.

As for the record list, well, it was a rather pedestrian list at that, plus that's a weak way to buttress an argument, and, for a fact, I was in a grouchy mood and hence snarked. Later I wished I hadn't.
posted by y2karl at 11:24 AM on October 15, 2003


Listened to the Joss clips -- not great, but certainly good, and it "sound like" a 16-yr old kid. Worth watching, IMO.

And jonmc - this thread is ALL YOU, baby. Go with it.

Back on topic: black, white, whatever - don't matter the skin, only the sound counts.
posted by davidmsc at 12:53 PM on October 15, 2003


I was thinking last night that there is an obvious example of a black musician copying a white style

How about Charley Pride (warning: Sound) or the band Living Colour? Those are just the ones off my head, of course that discounts the entire range of black zydeco musicians who copied the acadian (cajun) folk music style brought down from New Brunswick.

Now as for your arguments, Y2karl, I don't think I disagree with you in that immersion in a style is the only way for a person to really grasp it, although I believe that race plays a part in the level of access rather than the direct causation of the general separation along racial lines. White people in general are rarely if ever given access to many of the sanctum sanctorae of the african american musical tradition, the church, home, club etc. (probably in that order of importance too) and it is these places where soul is learned. The problem I have is that there have always been, although they have attempted to maintain separate quarters, white influences in black music and black influences in white music in America just as in any of the aspects of our culture (not to mention the influence of other groups and the various groups within "whiteness" and "blackness"). Focusing exclusively on the elephant obscures the facts that there is a living room that contains said pachyderm and that the elephant is neither an African nor Indian elephant, but a completely different beast all together.

PS - Y2K, I know you know far more about blues albums than anybody else around here, but you don't tend to be elitist about it so much, no matter how deep a list may go. Usually you just side step it or come back with a larger, deeper set of your own. That's why I felt the need to call you on your little uncharacteristic snark. No offense intended, I hope none taken.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:19 PM on October 15, 2003


And jonmc - this thread is ALL YOU, baby. Go with it.

Thank you. But karl's holding his own, too, and while we may but heads at times, in music threads, he still gets mucho respect from me. It's more a record geek bitch session, than a life or death struggle. My man knows his shit, and for someone who isn't me, he's got good taste.
posted by jonmc at 1:48 PM on October 15, 2003


I merely pointed out which most often comes first--music performed for black audiences and marketed to black record buyers by black musicians and singers, with the occasional exception noted.

I guess techno and electro's main influence being Kraftwerk would work against that argument, wouldn't it?

Can white people sing the blues or soul? Hmm, by and large, no--if you mean the general population.

Feh - I've met quite a few black people who can't sing worth a damn, too.

Talented singers who can are another story entirely, but it usually requires immersion in the music in my experience.

Well, duh.

As for the record list, well, it was a rather pedestrian list at that, plus that's a weak way to buttress an argument

Whatever you might think of the artists on the list, their records are FACTS that must be considered in such an argument, FACTS that you either couldn't or wouldn't account for in your rather weak argument. I was referring to the music, you'd rather make gross generalizations that musicians decided were pretty irrelevant over 30 years ago.

It's funny, but people would probably be outraged if someone said black people couldn't play Bach.

I don't know about you, but I'd rather play and dance to the stuff then indulge in sterile abstractions about what soul is and whether white people can have it or just emulate it well. You go ahead with your hep talk, daddy, the rest of us hip guys will just boogie on.

Musical purism is sterility. The good stuff happens when cultures collide - and they were colliding when blues and jazz came along.
posted by pyramid termite at 1:57 PM on October 15, 2003


Most readers of Race Traitor realize that the complex psychodynamics of race make it a subject impossible to ignore, but we also pretend to ignore it, too. Can you imagine living in a world where 1) a nearly all-white jury comes in with a racist verdict about the officers who beat Rodney King; 2) 50% of any blues audience is ready to argue over the merits and demerits of Telecasters vs. Stratocasters or Martin D-45s vs. Gibson whatevers, as if these preoccupations were "the music"; but 3) the same audience is ready to pretend that the race of the performer doesn't play a role in their hearing of the blues! It's just the music, stupid? Whoooeee.

Indeed, if we did start talking about race and the way we hear the blues, we'd find out that many (white) people like to hear the blues played by whites more than they like to hear it played by blacks; many blacks vastly prefer to hear the blues played by blacks; many, many, people lie and say they don't care who plays it; and a very, very few people aren't lying when they say they don't care who plays it. (But don't worry. You and I aren't one of them.)

Who are these people for whom race doesn't matter? Not the average white blues artist. In fact, many white blues performers who, we are told, bring their own "authenticity" to their craft, display a mad craving for approval from black listeners and black artists, (not to mention black-oriented blues magazines like
Living Blues). Whenever the battle is enjoined, in person or in the letters and editorial columns of Living Blues, Guitar Player, or Blues Revue Quarterly, a white blues performer writes a pseudo-palliative "brotherhood" letter and just happens to mention all the black artists with whom he's performed, with the plain intention of proving that he must be acceptable or all of these obviously authentic artists wouldn't have welcomed his company. In itself this attitude embodies the entire contradiction of the existence of white blues. If white blues is autonomous and self-authenticating, why is black approval needed? If it is not autonomous and self-authenticating, and the craving for black approval seems to suggest this, why is it not the weak and imitative form its detractors claim? This question remains with us.

From White Blues
Paul Garon
once editor of Living Blues

This webpage for the serialized NPR news segment Honky Tonks, Hymns and the Blues makes the case for the cross-cultural influences of black and white musicians upon each others' music in the South in the early 20th century thus:

The evidence, as seen in both commercial and ‘field’ recordings, is rather that black and white musicians fed off of each other musically, and through this exchange created an American music; a common culture. We hear this continuing fusion and synthesis today in blues, bluegrass, country, pop, rap, and urban music.

This is true... to a degree, but, in my opinion, begs the question of who contributed more to whom. One must note that jazz, blues, and gospel owe far less to bluegrass, Western swing and country 'n western than the latter owe to the former, and in fact, it can be argued that the latter would not exist apart from those influences. The same thing can be said for the relationship between between post-World War II rhythm 'n blues and the infant style rock ' roll. Influences pass back and forth but the origins and influences by far come from one side and go in one direction to the other. This is what I think.

And note the sound clips by Clarence Gatemouth Brown, where he asserts that white musicians, particularly from the U.K., have been able to become superstars by copying black styles, without inventing anything new... or his prediction about rap -- that whites would start imitating it almost immediately -- has come true.

The comment about musicians... becoming superstars without inventing anything new is ubiquitous in interviews with blues singers in my recollection. Many of them died bitter men. Gus Cannon, for example.

Now as to the musics created by the emulators, I say again--they are two different things and can not be compared. Blues is like dixieland, a static defined musical genre bereft of innovation or any perceptible development. It is like baroque music--a form of music played and perpetuated by the people moved by and enamored with the classic songs by the classic performers. As a living growing music among its original core audience, it is over or will be over in a generation. For everyone else, it is another form of parlor music, not unlike ragtime of dixieland--a static form. Soul music's heyday is long past, too. People may be able to sing it but as a laving breathing and growing new music, it's over. The greatest songs have all been sung. But, as true for all previously mentioned black American vernacular musics, it is survived by many, many children on either side of the fence.

Short form: British Northern Soul of the 21st century is not American southern soul music of the 1960s. They are two different things--no matter who recorded with who, anymore than Bob Dylan is a major reggae star just because he recorded with Sly and Robbie.
posted by y2karl at 8:07 PM on October 15, 2003


Here are a variety of viewpoints on the topic of race and jazz: a bulletin board discussion starting as White Jazz, a book review of Cats Of Any Color: Jazz Black And White, another review from the Atlantic of Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contributions to Jazz, 1915-1945 and this review of Jazz in Black and White: Race Culture, and Identity in the Jazz Community . Add to this variety of opinions, something more based in fact: Peter Chan's - On and Off Stage: Racial Experiences among Jazz Musicians and their Audiences from 1900’s to 1970’s . Boy, the one that could written for blues and early rhythm 'n blues musicians...
posted by y2karl at 9:26 PM on October 15, 2003


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