Soul Serenade: The 8th Day, “She’s Not Just Another Woman”

After nine years and well over 400 columns, I’ve decided to change Soul Serenade from a weekly to an occasional column. Obviously, there are more than enough classic soul records to fuel a column like this for a lifetime but the truth is that while the column’s title mentions a specific song what I’ve really been doing is telling the stories of the artists behind the songs. And while many artists had multiple hits, how many times can you tell the same story? Are there artists who I’ve never covered? Of course. The 8th Day is one such group and I’ll certainly find more. But the fact is they’re harder to come by on a weekly basis. I hope you’ll continue to join me on this journey albeit on a bit more infrequent basis.

In 1967, the songwriting and production team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland left Motown in an acrimonious dispute with Motown owner Berry Gordy, Jr. The trio formed their own family of record labels that included the Hotwax, Music Merchant, and Invictus imprints. The roster of these labels was mostly made up of groups that were assembled for the occasion. They were either supergroups or lineups that were pieced together for a specific record. Often the members of the groups didn’t even know each other or hadn’t worked together before being called on to record for one of the labels.

The story of the 8th Day begins with another group that was recording for Holland-Dozier-Holland, 100 Proof (Aged in Soul). 100 Proof itself had been assembled by Holland-Dozier-Holland and the lineup included Steve Mancha, Eddie Holiday, and Joe Stubbs (brother of Levi Stubbs). The group had scored an R&B hit with “Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup” but then scored really big with a crossover smash called “Somebody’s Been Sleeping In My Bed” which reached #8 on the pop chart and sold a million copies of the Hotwax release. The label decided it would be a good idea to release a 100 Proof album to capitalize on the success of the single.

The 8th Day

“She’s Not Just Another Woman” was a cut on the album and anyone with ears could tell that it was a hit. The song was written by Holland-Dozier-Holland but because of their ongoing dispute with Gordy, it was credited to C. Wilson and Ronald Dunbar. DJs started playing the track off the album. The problem was that “Somebody’s Been Sleeping” was still rolling up the charts and the label didn’t want anything, such as a new single by the same group, to get in the way. That’s where the 8th Day came in. It was simply a matter of changing the group’s name on the label of the single and releasing it on Invictus instead of Hotwax. That is 100 Proof’s Steve Mancha singing lead on “She Not Just Another Woman.” Sure enough, it was a hit, reaching #11 on the pop chart in 1971.

There was one little problem: there was no 8th Day. When the second 8th Day single, “You Got to Crawl (Before You Walk)” began to find some chart success, that problem had to be resolved, and quickly. Holland-Dozier-Holland did what they had done so well before and simply assembled a group for the occasion. The lineup included Melvin Davis, Tony Newsome, Lyman Woodard, Larry Hutchison, Ron Bykowski, Michael Anthony, Bruce Nazarian, Jerry Paul, Lynn Harter, Carol Stallings, and Anita Sherman. Now that there was an actual band, 8th Day recorded two more singles for Invictus but while “Eeny-Meeny-Miny-Mo (Three’s a Crowd)” and “If I Could See the Light” both reached the R&B Top 30, it wasn’t enough to keep the band together.

Holland-Dozier-Holland are often credited for their brilliant songwriting and production but it seems that they were also pretty adept at assembling talent and providing songs for their put-together groups to take up the charts.

 

(Not So) Famous Firsts – Terry Zwigoff’s Louie Bluie

In a career spanning 34 years, director Terry Zwigoff has only directed four major films. His 1994 feature Crumb may be the greatest American documentary ever made. He followed that up with the Oscar nominated Ghost World, which was the first coming of age film for millennials. Then he directed Bad Santa, a film so brutally dark humored that even Harmony Korine would find the characters and the plot unwieldy. Yet it still became a holiday classic and revived Billy Bob Thornton as the ultimate misanthropic actor. (Zwigoff had nothing to do with the belated sequel and called it “beyond-my-wildest-dreams awful.”) His last feature to date was Art School Confidential, which if I can recall correctly, featured hallmarks of a film like a cast, a script, and scenes that were shot using a camera.

After Art School Confidential failed at the box office and failed to garner a positive response from his critics and fans, he seemingly disappeared from the industry, only re-emerging to direct a TV pilot for Amazon.

Part of his disappearance has to do with the same struggles even independent filmmaker increasingly faces. But a lot of it can be explained by the people he’s interested in, like Robert Crumb and Ghost World’s Seymour. Zwigoff is an eternal outsider – someone that all but a few members of society look past. Even when he was younger, he was out of place in the San Francisco counterculture movement he found himself living in. Robert Crumb was the only person who shared his interest in old blues music, and they started a band together. But Zwigoff, even when he was surrounded by people who had changed American culture to match their unique tastes, was never really interested in doing the same. He wanted to follow the rejects – those who may get noticed by a dozen people but for the mostly fade into the background.

That’s what Crumb was about. The documentary focuses less on the impact of Robert Crumb’s comic work than it did on his childhood, his sexual obsessions, his family, and his world view that still seemed weird and out of sync with everyone around him. Crumb had been highly successful, but he didn’t seem to acknowledge it. He was still the same man he was in the 1960s, using his art as a form of self-therapy and not wishing to acknowledge any attention it gave him. The same applies to Seymour, who is as devoted to old blues records as Crumb and to Willie in Bad Santa, who uses his Santa persona as a sort of mask to ignore his alcoholism and the fact that he’s a criminal. The only reason anyone likes him and talks to him is because they recognize the impact Santa has on their world.

And all of this is predicted in Zwigoff’s first film, a 60-minute documentary called Louie Bluie. It follows a musician named Howard Armstrong (“You’re not Louis Armstrong. You’re just a regular Louie Bluie,” Howard explains as he discusses where the nickname came from). Armstrong is a member of the last black string band in America.  His band had released some records in the 1930s, but he eventually quit music and moved to Detroit to work in the auto industry. Zwigoff tracked him down and followed him for five years to make this documentary.

Once again, this not-so famous debut is a sort of practice film for what the filmmaker really wanted to do. So much of Louie Bluie is reminiscent of Crumb that it almost feels like a deleted scene on a DVD release. Louie Bluie has the same typography in the credits as Crumb, roughly the same structure, the same aesthetic look – almost the same everything. Zwigoff spent nine years on Crumb and I have no doubt he showed this film to potential investors and interview subjects as proof he could effectively make the film.

But Louie Bluie is still required viewing. Armstrong represents a forgotten part of Americana and hearing him play sounds like music from another world that picked up ancient Earth radio broadcasts and decided to recreate them. His music is a sort of fusion between blues and country. Picture him as the equivalent of seeing Tiny Tim in 1994, and you have some idea of how out of time Armstrong and the other musicians sounded to a 1980s audience.

Strange obsessions with the past are the most important themes in Crumb and Ghost World. It was necessary for Zwigoff to explore what he was comfortable with in his first film. And another component of Zwigoff’s later films can be seen – the way he treats nostalgia. Crumb and Ghost World feature some unquestionably racist images, but they’re images that used to be a part of every day American life. Armstrong is treated the same way as that sign. If you want to pine for a simpler time in American history, like the music Armstrong plays, you have to accept the warts associated with it.

One of the biggest differences between Louie Bluie and Zwigoff’s later works is Howard Armstrong. He’s a much more vibrant character that Robert Crumb and seemingly more eager to talk about his past. In fact, we even see some of the cartoons Armstrong drew from his memories on the road, in scenes that are tonally identical to Crumb examining his work.

But while Crumb was still very much an introvert and his cartoons are the only way to understand his mind, Armstrong is eager for attention. He laughs as he recalls his youth and he enjoys the opportunity to tell his story.

The film also does a better job of explaining how people like Howard Armstrong fit into American history. As Crumb walked the streets of Haight-Ashbury, shaking his head at the loud hip hop music, Howard gives us an opportunity to explore not just his career, but the genre he worked in. There are all sorts of references to classic blues music, including scenes where Howard wanders around Chicago’s Maxwell Street, an important location in blues history. (It’s also the home of Aretha Franklin’s Soul Food Café in The Blues Brothers.)

One flaw with Louie Bluie is its length. The film is far too short to make the maximum impact. We end up not with a complete story about Louie, but only a glimpse of a fascinating man. Armstrong’s memories are too fragmented, and, unlike Crumb, we don’t hear from any music historians to talk about Armstrong in a larger context – or to react to Armstrong’s background. This led to some of the best moments in the later documentary, as art critics react with disbelief when they’re told Robert Crumb masturbates to his own cartoons. Also, unlike Ghost World, it doesn’t really address the racism that Armstrong faced in his career. Yes, he mentions it, but it’s buried and not thematically explored. One of the most interesting stories in the film is about how Armstrong’s band performed as an opening for a traveling medicine show. It’s a great story, but the film never tries to contextualize what those shows meant. There’s even a fascinating music video of an old blues show as Armstrong describes his band’s performances. But where does this video come from? And is this footage saying about the popular culture of the past?

These problems were corrected in Zwigoff’s later films and Armstrong is still such a fascinating subject that audiences likely would not have noticed these lapses. Zwigoff knew exactly what he wanted to do with his films – find someone society has forgotten about or who never fit in and examine why they’re still important. Every character in a Zwigoff movie can be traced back to the people we meet in Louie Bluie. The world may no longer pay attention to them, if it ever did, but they’re still important to our history.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode One Hundred Nine

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode One Hundred Nine

The more the world spins out of control, the more Jon and Rob try to make some sense out of the irrational and, at times, ponderous.  Episode 109 of Radio City… is no exception and it’s a very full conversation.  Settle in as the boys analyze and dissect the redacted Muller Report; the Notre Dame fire; 
the parole for the getaway driver in the 1981 Brink’s armored car robbery/murder of 2 police officers; the hockey playoffs and the burning question of “why does there have to be a useless anniversary mention for every single album nowadays?”  All that, plus this week, Rob drives the “In Our Heads” segment – all in all, an outstanding show.

So do what you need to and get comfortable – and please allow these two friends to entertain and make you think.  You’ll be glad you let them in… 

 
Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode One Hundred Nine
 
 
The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross Episode One Hundred Eight

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode One Hundred Eight

In another throwback to “freeform” radio, Jon and Rob abandon an agenda for topics to discuss and instead have a “conversation between two friends” – except it’s for broadcast!

So enjoy this fun and always-informative installment of Radio City…  You know you’re going to enjoy it!

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode One Hundred Eight

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

Dizzy Heights #55: They Will Never Find Me Here — The Sun and the Moon, Vol. I

I called an audible. Originally, the plan was to do a show about kids and children, after hearing a great show by Mixclouder The Show About… on the same subject, but one that left enough room for me to do a similar show without copying too much off of his paper.

 

Then he did a show about stars, and that reminded me of another idea that I had been flirting with for a while. This month, the sun and the moon. The Seeds of Love-era Tears for Fears fans know what the next show will be. Assuming I have enough material, that is.

 

Bands/artists making their Dizzy Heights debut: Aqualung, The Beloved, Matthew Sweet, Paul McCartney (solo), The Waterboys, Eggstone, The Merrymakers, Love & Rockets, Len, and somehow, I’m just now playing The Police for the first time.

 

Thank you, as always, for listening.

Soul Serenade: Roberta Flack And Donny Hathaway, “The Closer I Get To You”

When an artist dies too young it is always tempting to mourn not only the loss of his or her spirit but also the loss of the great work they might have done had they lived. Such is the case with Donny Hathaway whose premature loss robbed the world of what would have undoubtedly been the great music he would have made. If there can be said to be a silver lining it is that Hathaway left us with some wonderful work including a magnificent series of duets with Roberta Flack that will endure forever.

“The Closer I Get to You” wasn’t supposed to be a duet. The song was written by Reggie Lucas and James Mtume, both of whom were members of Flack’s touring band. They offered it to producer Joe Ferla, who produced the track along with Flack and Gene McDaniel, for inclusion on Flack’s album Blue Lights in the Basement. David Franklin was Flack’s manager and it was his idea to re-write the song to include Hathaway. Five years earlier, Flack and Hathaway, friends since they attended Howard University together, had collaborated on an acclaimed self-titled album of duets.

Unfortunately, Hathaway had spent the intervening years battling clinical depression and it often required him to be hospitalized. In fact, but when the time came to record “The Closer I Get to You” Hathaway was too ill to travel from his home in Chicago to New York for the session. As a result, Flack had to record the vocals with a stand-in session singer. The track was then sent to Chicago where Hathaway added his part before sending the track back to New York to be mixed.

“The Closer I Get to You” was released as a single by Atlantic Records in February 1978. It climbed to the top spot on the R&B chart while reaching #2 on the Billboard 100. Hathaway and Flack were nominated for a Grammy Award for the duet. Among the many accolades that the track received was one from the BBC‘s Lewis Dene who called it a “soul masterpiece.”

Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway

Less than a year later, Donny Hathaway was dead. At the time of his death, he had just begun work with Flack on another album of duets. While his voice was reportedly in fine shape, he began acting irrationally in the studio. The recording session for the day and Hathaway returned to his hotel where he apparently leaped to his death from his 15th-floor room. His death was ruled a suicide although some friends were troubled by the conclusion since Hathaway’s career was just being resurrected.

A devastated Roberta Flack included a few of the duets that had been finished on her next album which was called Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway. Flack also vowed that “The Closer I Get to You” would always be dedicated to Hathaway and that all proceeds from the single would go to Hathaway’s widow and two children.

After Hathaway’s death, Flack spoke to Jet Magazine:

I tried to reach out to Donny. That’s how we managed to do the song we did last year. I felt this need because I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t save him, I knew he was sick. But I knew when he sat down at that piano and sang for me it was like it was eight or nine years ago because he sang and played his ass off.

The video for “The Closer I Get to You” was made after Hathaway was gone. The quality here isn’t great but you can see that his absence was handled by having the camera focus on a photo of Hathaway that is on a table behind Flack as she sits at the piano.

 

Popdose Exclusive Video Premiere: James Billett, “Never Lose Flight”

 

London-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist James Billett is gearing up for the release of his new single, “Never Lose Flight”, which will be released digitally on May 3.  Popdose is pleased to bring you the exclusive premiere of the video for the song.

Produced by Peter Henderson, whose decades long career includes iconic albums by Paul McCartney and Supertramp (which includes their masterwork Breakfast In America), the emotive, soulful slice of folk pop is taken from a forthcoming debut full-length album which will be released in late summer/early fall.

Says Billett: “I first wrote the original lyric to this song 10 years ago, and it has been through many incarnations during that time – but finally, this is how the song was always meant to sound. “You make my fingers feel like feathers of a wing that will never lose flight” just describes anyone that picks you up and elevates you when you most need it. For me, the song is an ode to the gift of knowledge and experience being passed down from one generation to the next, and a reflection of the gratitude for the sense of ambition and resilience that is instilled in us as children without us knowing it. As we grow older we become more and more aware of what has been learnt, and for me this song documents that realization.”

Listen; watch and give it some thought…:

Never Lose Flight will be available digitally as of Friday, May 3rd, 2019

https://www.jamesbillettmusic.com/

 

 

 

 

I Was Born to be an Example of Misfortune: Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

If you asked a random person what their most anticipated release of April 2019 was, they likely said Avengers: Endgame. Yet I picked The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Gilliam’s long gestating film about the foolish hidalgo and his adventures.

Quixote was in development for 30 years. Along the way, Gilliam had one of the most famous false starts in history, as captured in the documentary Lost in La Mancha. Since then, he fought insurance companies, producers, and even different casts in order to get the film made. Every film he’s made since 1998 has felt like Gilliam’s Kagemusha – a “practice” film for the epic he really cared about. And when it finally premiered at Cannes last year, Gilliam finally had an opportunity to discuss what it was about the material that made him determined to see it through. It was an opportunity to get inside someone who created some of the best fantasy visions of the 20th century.

And despite some negative reviews, I wasn’t disappointed. This was the best film Gilliam’s made since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Yes, it was unconventional and weird at times. The ending is a touch too ambiguous and I could tell there were times Gilliam was being constrained. But it felt like a culmination of everything Gilliam’s said throughout his career. If he never makes another film, he can be satisfied knowing he has the perfect bookend to his career.

But which Quixote are we talking about?

Gilliam said in interviews that he didn’t use the same script that he used back in 2000. This was primarily to bring the budget down so he could find producers willing to finance it. But what does that mean for the vision he fought so hard to bring to the screen?

To my knowledge, the original script has never leaked, but we do get an idea of what Gilliam had in mind in Lost in La Mancha and in some script reviews I’ve managed to locate. Hopefully they will let us know how much of the finished product is what Gilliam had in mind.

Plot

2000 Production: The original concept would have owed just as much to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court as the original Cervantes novel. Advertising director Toby (Johnny Depp) finds an old man in a castle who claims to be the real Don Quixote. He doesn’t believe Quixote, until he winds up back in 1605. The film would have had just as many fantasy elements (including characters showing up in both locations) but part of the mystery would have been figuring out whether Toby had met Quixote or whether this was a hallucination – and Toby having to decide which he preferred.

Today: It’s pretty identical despite Gilliam’s insistence of script changes. However, it’s not as straightforward as outlined. An advertising director (Adam Driver) finds a man who is convinced he is Quixote (Johnathan Pryce) and is taken on random adventures, including a visit to a castle inhabited by Muslim travelers and the fight with the windmills. Yet in the original concept, both individuals find themselves in the 16th century. That doesn’t happen here – but what does happen is just as bizarre. Toby seemingly finds himself in Quixote’s hallucination, seeing the world as Quixote sees it no matter how nonsensical it is. There’s never a suggestion that anyone has gone back in time, which makes what’s happening all the stranger. Finally, there’s never any ambiguity that Don Quixote is actually Don Quixote. He’s simply a crazy old man. But that does nothing to distract from the boundary between reality and fantasy Gilliam wished to create.

Characters

2000 Production: I can’t find any information beyond the two leads Toby and Don Quixote. We know Gilliam cast others, including Ian Holm, Christopher Eccleston, Miranda Richardson, and Rossy de Palma. There are references to a filming crew and actors playing the same role in the past and present.

Today: There doesn’t seem to be much difference in the characters between the different versions. Toby still has the same job. Quixote’s “backstory” is expanded upon for this film. He’s not just Don Quixote, but a cobbler named Javier who has spent his life as an anonymous man in a remote Spanish village. Taking on the Quixote role allowed him to have meaning in his life. That aspect helped the film and helped us understand what motivated him to live with the fantasy – and why Gilliam kept the character in mind for 30 years.

Cast

2000 Production: What matters more than the characters is how the roles are cast. I’d like to focus on the two leads for the project – Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort. Depp was at the stage in his career where he was known for working with odd ball directors. Not just Tim Burton, but people like Jim Jarmusch, John Waters, The Hughes Brothers, and Gilliam. Rochefort was a prestige actor in Europe who would bring prestige to Gilliam’s producers. Gilliam has always been a fish out of water, riding the line between American and European cinema. He can use elements from both for each of his films but depended increasingly on his European connections after several battles in Hollywood. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was intended to be Gilliam severing his Hollywood past while acknowledging the people he worked with. The fact that the American actor is the antagonist who doubts Quixote is symbolic of how often Hollywood didn’t quite understand Gilliam.

Today: The strangest element of the cast is how Gilliam reversed the roles. Whereas Rochefort was mostly unknown to an American audience and Johnny Depp had worked with Gilliam on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the final film has Gilliam working in reverse. Frequent Gilliam collaborator Johnathan Pryce (who was cast in a smaller role in the original production) is Quixote while Gilliam newcomer Adam Driver is Toby. This works to the film’s advantage. While Depp would have been a comfortable audience surrogate, we’ve seen him in Gilliam’s world, and it wouldn’t feel as strange. Here, Adam Driver is us. He’s the person trying to make sense of Gilliam’s ideas. Pryce’s jumping into Gilliam’s world is to be expected. Adam Driver is more reluctant, and the fact he hasn’t worked with Gilliam emphasizes how it’s the people like Toby that don’t fit into Quixote’s world.

Themes

2000 Production: Don Quixote was written as a parody of fantasy works from medieval literature. No character could understand why Quixote was obsessed with values from centuries earlier. And now, Gilliam was asking us to look at a Quixote who was even more outdated. Toby finds himself at the same place Quixote was – rich and bored. Quixote is meant to bring out something in Toby – not chivalry, but the idea that Toby’s cynicism was just as much of a shield as Quixote’s madness. Toby doesn’t want to examine his world, so he slowly retreats into Quixote’s.  And, of course, we can’t ignore the original production, where Gilliam’s fantasy was destroyed by the modern world.

Today: The most interesting difference in the finished version is the theme of regret. Toby wants to recapture his past in order to get over his writer’s block. But that romantic idea he had of his past, like Quixote’s, left behind a lot of wreckage. Besides driving Javier to madness, Toby wrecked the village he made his student film in. A young woman named Angelica was promised stardom by Toby but ended up becoming a hooker while trying to break into the entertainment industry. Finally, another big addition has to do with Quixote’s immortality. He is not physically immortal, but an idea that is going to be carried on by dreamers looking for something more in the world.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode One Hundred Seven

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode One Hundred Seven

Once again, Rob and Jon roll out an absolute smorgasbord of topics for discussion on this 107th installment of Radio City…  You’re being given fair warning that there’s a lot here, so get comfortable – as (amongst multiple topics), the boys discuss the criminally-obscene costs of bridges and public transportation in New York City after the latest fare and toll increases; the discovery and release of a previously-unheard Marvin Gaye album; Warner Bros. Records shuts down its legendary Burbank office; the premeditated murders by a couple of their six adopted children, “In Our Heads” (of course) and far too much more to list!

So you have your work and your evening cut out for you.  Have coffee or a glass of wine; clear your mind and be ready to think along with the boys on this Nantucket sleigh ride of a podcast!

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode One Hundred Seven

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.