"I believe most of this stuff is going in my studio," says soul signer/songwriter BJ The Chicago Kid (aka Bryan James Sledge) after his recent trip to Ameba Hollywood. BJ picked up a cool collection of records, movies and posters at the store that piqued his interest or had particular meaning to him. "It's all about the circle of the inspiration for me."
BJ The Chicago Kid hails from Chicago, IL. He released his debut album, Pineapple Now-Laters, in February 2012 before signing to Motown. In February 2016, he released his second studio album and his major label debut, In My Mind.
"I've seen everything else of Prince but this movie," says Sledge holding up the iconic singer's directorial debut, Under the Cherry Moon. Next up in his picks is the concert DVD James Brown: Live at Boston Garden. Filmed in 1968, the footage captures Brown not only during his creative peak, but also performing the night after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. While riots were starting across the country, Brown's show was broadcast live on Boston's public TV channel in an attempt to unify the city. Sledge also had to pick up a 10" reissue of Marvin Gaye's classic single "What's Going On" featuring a new duet with a name that might sound a little familiar: BJ The Chicago Kid.
"In 1959, 1960 James Brown dropped off the original Flames in Oakland and he left them." "Louis Jordan was here all the time." "Slim Jenkins was the premiere club in Oakland in the '50s." These nuggets of Bay Area music history are among the many sprinkled throughout a typical conversation with lifelong music loving 70-year-old Oakland native Charles Presley, who everyone knows as Buck. This particular conversation (hear the full 10 minutes in the clip below) is one of countless engaging ones that I've had over the past two plus decades of stopping by the North Oakland coin-op laundromat this music fan owns and operates. But it could be any conversation with Buck who loves music and loves to talk music. And his conversations are always from the historical perspective of his beloved hometown of Oakland, CA. Buck loves all good music from soul and jazz to gospel, but blues and rhythm and blues, the music he grew up on, remain his favorite sounds. Most new laundromat customers' conversations are inspired by the the overhead soundtrack of RnB and soul grooves Buck plays from CD collections or the music-themed DVDs he might play on the overhead TV screens. Doing laundry at Buck's is never a dreaded chore, so long as he's there.
As heard in the audio interview clip below, once Buck starts reminiscing he goes off on detailed lists of artists and shows at long gone Oakland clubs back in the '50s, '60s, and '70s, most notably Slim Jenkins Cafe at 1748 7th Street that operated from the '30s through the '60s. It was just one of several businesses owned and operated in West Oakland by the Louisiana born Harold "Slim" Jenkins who was such a successful businessman that he earned the title of "Mayor" of West Oakland. Buck fondly remembers those times like he clearly remembers the very first records he ever bought and heard. One of the first records he remembers hearing was the 1951 single "Sixty Minute Man" by The Dominoes. He caught most acts in Oakland clubs, but for some he'd travel across the Bay Bridge. Most often those would be jazz shows. In 1961, he got to see Miles Davis playing San Francisco's Black Hawk. The famed jazz club, located in the Tenderloin on the corner of Turk and Hyde, operated from 1949 through 1963.
In celebration of his new career-spanning box set, blues legend Bobby Rush recently took the Amoeba Hollywood stage. "I don't claim to be a young boy, but I am blessed; November the 10th, I'll be 83 years old," he told the crowd before easing into his own version of the Howlin' Wolf classic "The Natchez Burning," which tells the true story of a Mississippi nightclub that burned down, killing 209 people. In his own version Rush changes the names of the musicians involved in the fire to those of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Jimmy Reed - all legends who have now passed. But Bobby Rush lives on, which is something he doesn't take lightly. He was sure to tell the audience how thankful he was to have them there, and to be able to live as long as he has "to see the world change, in a lot of different ways.
While Rush's music usually features a full band and rides a line between blues, soul, and funk, his performance at Amoeba was a special, intimate show; his singing only accompanied by his guitar, his harmonica, and the beat of his feet. The stripped-down set brought the very essence of the blues out of his tunes, while still infusing them with his own brand of funk and sense of humor. With his cutting (yet never rushed) guitar, his thick, howling harmonica, and his steady stomping Rush kept the audience riveted, responsive, and wanting more.
Destiny's Child "8 Days of Christmas" (2001): 1 of 14 songs on 2015 White House Holiday Mixtape
Yesterday the White House, via a published Spotify playlist, unveiled the playlist (left) chosen by the president and First Lady (The First Playlist?) for this 2015 Christmas/holiday season. Descriptively entitled Holidays with the Obamas, the virtual mixtape noticeably does not include any hip-hop by the man dubbed by many as the "first hip-hop president." Not even Run-D.M.C.'s ubiquitous holiday hit "Christmas In Hollis" (slightly devalued IMO by its use in a car commercial) that was first released in 1987 when the president was 26 and Michelle was 23 and they were both reportedly fans of hip-hop & rap. Also absent are such hip-hop friends and guests of the current White House as Common and Jay-Z. But then come think of it, neither recorded Christmas songs that I am aware of. However Hova's wife and fellow former White House performer Beyonce did make the current playlist, as part of the female trio that catapulted her to fame.
A live version of Destiny Child's "8 Days Of Christmas" (video above) from the 2001 album of the same name ranks along with such other soul-fueled holiday classics as Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (just reissued on 10" picture disc), and Stevie Wonder’s “Someday At Christmas.” Also here is The Jackson 5’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” (audio below), which was initially released on the 1970 full-length Jackson 5 Christmas Album (one of three albums released by the group that year). Released a decade before they were even born, but remaining a Christmas classic ever since, is Eartha Kitt's 1953 recording "Santa Baby." The song has been covered over the decades since by other artists such as Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Taylor Swift, and Ariana Grande.
New Orleans-born Bay Area soulstress/actress Ledisi's version of "Silent Night" is included as are Brian McKnight and Boyz II Men’s “Let It Snow,” and the late great Luther Vandross' 1995 recording "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" (audio below). As with any music list compiled by any person (especially POTUS), people will find fault and question why such a song was included or why another was not. My critique was, why no rap?, while another's was how come "Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto" by James Brown was not included? It's all subjective so we can wonder all we want. However, more telling will be future Barack Obama Christmas playlists after he no longer holds the office of president and will be free to really let loose and include anything he truly wants. I'm visualizing a hardcore rap Xmas playlist featuring songs like the recently reissued Eazy-E "Merry Muthafukin Xmas." But we'll just have to wait and see.