Why Is Everyone Always Stealing Black Music?

 

Screen Shot 2019-08-17 at 7.43.31 AM.pngPHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL PAUL BRITTO

 

 

 

I’ve got a friend who’s an incurable Pandora guy, and one Saturday while we were making dinner, he found a station called Yacht Rock. “A tongue-in-cheek name for the breezy sounds of late ’70s/early ’80s soft rock” is Pandora’s definition, accompanied by an exhortation to “put on your Dockers, pull up a deck chair and relax.” With a single exception, the passengers aboard the yacht were all dudes. With two exceptions, they were all white. But as the hours passed and dozens of songs accrued, the sound gravitated toward a familiar quality that I couldn’t give language to but could practically taste: an earnest Christian yearning that would reach, for a moment, into Baptist rawness, into a known warmth. I had to laugh — not because as a category Yacht Rock is absurd, but because what I tasted in that absurdity was black.

I started putting each track under investigation. Which artists would saunter up to the racial border? And which could do their sauntering without violating it? I could hear degrees of blackness in the choir-loft certitude of Doobie Brothers-era Michael McDonald on “What a Fool Believes”; in the rubber-band soul of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again”; in the malt-liquor misery of Ace’s “How Long” and the toy-boat wistfulness of Little River Band’s “Reminiscing.”

Then Kenny Loggins’s “This Is It” arrived and took things far beyond the line. “This Is It” was a hit in 1979 and has the requisite smoothness to keep the yacht rocking. But Loggins delivers the lyrics in a desperate stage whisper, like someone determined to make the kind of love that doesn’t wake the baby. What bowls you over is the intensity of his yearning — teary in the verses, snarling during the chorus. He sounds as if he’s baring it all yet begging to wring himself out even more.

The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are. Read all the stories.

Playing black-music detective that day, I laughed out of bafflement and embarrassment and exhilaration. It’s the conflation of pride and chagrin I’ve always felt anytime a white person inhabits blackness with gusto. It’s: You have to hand it to her. It’s: Go, white boy. Go, white boy. Go. But it’s also: Here we go again. The problem is rich. If blackness can draw all of this ornate literariness out of Steely Dan and all this psychotic origami out of Eminem; if it can make Teena Marie sing everything — “Square Biz,” “Revolution,”“Portuguese Love,” “Lovergirl” — like she knows her way around a pack of Newports; if it can turn the chorus of Carly Simon’s “You Belong to Me” into a gospel hymn; if it can animate the swagger in the sardonic vulnerabilities of Amy Winehouse; if it can surface as unexpectedly as it does in the angelic angst of a singer as seemingly green as Ben Platt; if it’s the reason Nu Shooz’s “I Can’t Wait” remains the whitest jam at the blackest parties, then it’s proof of how deeply it matters to the music of being alive in America, alive to America.

It’s proof, too, that American music has been fated to thrive in an elaborate tangle almost from the beginning. Americans have made a political investment in a myth of racial separateness, the idea that art forms can be either “white” or “black” in character when aspects of many are at least both. The purity that separation struggles to maintain? This country’s music is an advertisement for 400 years of the opposite: centuries of “amalgamation” and “miscegenation” as they long ago called it, of all manner of interracial collaboration conducted with dismaying ranges of consent.

Diana Ross and the Supremes with Paul McCartney in London in 1968. Getty Images

“White,” “Western,” “classical” music is the overarching basis for lots of American pop songs. Chromatic-chord harmony, clean timbre of voice and instrument: These are the ingredients for some of the hugely singable harmonies of the Beatles, the Eagles, Simon and Fleetwood Mac, something choral, “pure,” largely ungrained. Black music is a completely different story. It brims with call and response, layers of syncopation and this rougher element called “noise,” unique sounds that arise from the particular hue and timbre of an instrument — Little Richard’s woos and knuckled keyboard zooms. The dusky heat of Miles Davis’s trumpeting. Patti LaBelle’s emotional police siren. DMX’s scorched-earth bark. The visceral stank of Etta James, Aretha Franklin, live-in-concert Whitney Houston and Prince on electric guitar.

But there’s something even more fundamental, too. My friend Delvyn Case, a musician who teaches at Wheaton College, explained in an email that improvisation is one of the most crucial elements in what we think of as black music: “The raising of individual creativity/expression to the highest place within the aesthetic world of a song.” Without improvisation, a listener is seduced into the composition of the song itself and not the distorting or deviating elements that noise creates. Particular to black American music is the architecture to create a means by which singers and musicians can be completely free, free in the only way that would have been possible on a plantation: through art, through music — music no one “composed” (because enslaved people were denied literacy), music born of feeling, of play, of exhaustion, of hope.

What you’re hearing in black music is a miracle of sound, an experience that can really happen only once — not just melisma, glissandi, the rasp of a sax, breakbeats or sampling but the mood or inspiration from which those moments arise. The attempt to rerecord it seems, if you think about it, like a fool’s errand. You’re not capturing the arrangement of notes, per se. You’re catching the spirit.

And the spirit travels from host to host, racially indiscriminate about where it settles, selective only about who can withstand being possessed by it. The rockin’ backwoods blues so bewitched Elvis Presley that he believed he’d been called by blackness. Chuck Berry sculpted rock ’n’ roll with uproarious guitar riffs and lascivious winks at whiteness. Mick Jagger and Robert Plant and Steve Winwood and Janis Joplin and the Beatles jumped, jived and wailed the black blues. Tina Turner wrested it all back, tripling the octane in some of their songs. Since the 1830s, the historian Ann Douglas writes in “Terrible Honesty,” her history of popular culture in the 1920s, “American entertainment, whatever the state of American society, has always been integrated, if only by theft and parody.” What we’ve been dealing with ever since is more than a catchall word like “appropriation” can approximate. The truth is more bounteous and more spiritual than that, more confused. That confusion is the DNA of the American sound.

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A Lost Album From John Coltrane, With Thanks To A French-Canadian Director ~ NPR

John Coltrane, photographed in his backyard in Queens, New York in 1963.

JB/© Jim Marshall Photography LLC

 

 

“There is never any end,” John Coltrane said sometime in the mid-1960s, at the height of his powers. “There are always new sounds to imagine; new feelings to get at.” Coltrane, one of jazz’s most revered saxophonists, was speaking to Nat Hentoff about an eternal quest — a compulsion to reach toward the next horizon, and the next.

More than half a century after his death, that restless pronouncement also carries implications for us, the beneficiaries of Coltrane’s music. Not only because his body of work represents a fathomless realm of insight, as his many admirers can attest — but also because it has recently yielded surprise discoveries from his prime.

Just over a year ago, Impulse! had a phenomenal success with Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, a startling assemblage of studio recordings made by the John Coltrane Quartet in 1963. That two-disc set posthumously gave Coltrane his first-ever debut on the Billboard 200, at No. 21; according to the label, global sales have exceeded 250,000 copies.

Now comes word of another new album by the classic John Coltrane Quartet, with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Blue World will be released on Impulse!/UMe on Sept. 27, and like Both Directions it offers an unexpected view on a pivotal period in the band’s evolution. It was recorded at Van Gelder Studios on June 24, 1964 — a few weeks after the quartet put a finishing touch on the album Crescent — as the soundtrack to a Canadian art film. Because the date had gone unnoted in session recording logs, this music has occupied a blind spot for Trane-ologists, archivists and historians.

Cover art for John Coltrane's Blue World.

Courtesy of Impulse! Records

 

But it’s featured prominently throughout the film, Le chat dans le sac (The Cat in the Bag) — a coolly stylized, politically charged docufiction by Gilles Groulx, considered a landmark of Québec cinema. Within the first two minutes of screen time — during direct-to-the-camera intros by Barbara and Claude, the young idealists whose uncoupling provides the film with its narrative tension — you can hear Coltrane’s quartet start into his exquisite ballad “Naima.” (The curious can watch the film here, courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada.)

Coltrane had first recorded “Naima” five years earlier, for the Atlantic album Giant Steps. His quartet had played it often in live settings, but this is a studio version, and a truly excellent one. It plays in its entirety, all four-and-a-half minutes, as Claude and Barbara make their opening statements. A following scene, revealing the lovers in a sensuous idyll, is also scored with new-to-us music by the Coltrane quartet, playing the saxophonist’s smoldering “Village Blues.”

In his liner notes for Blue World, Ashley Kahn outlines the circumstances that led Coltrane to contribute to the film. Barbara Ulrich, who played Barbara and was later romantically involved with Groulx, remembers the situation matter-of-factly. “When we moved in together,” she says of Groulx, “it turned out we had many of the same albums — jazz was holiness to Gilles and he had every Coltrane album that ever came out. Coltrane to him was an absolute master.”

Through a mutual acquaintance, Groulx was friendly with Jimmy Garrison, which seems likely to have been the opening he needed to approach Coltrane. At the time, Groulx was working for the state-sponsored National Film Board, honing his skills as a documentary filmmaker. He had also fallen under the spell of the French New Wave — in particular, the work of Jean-Luc Godard, whose visual cool, jump-cut edits and verité dialogue are all clear influences on Le chat dans le sac.

There was a glowing precedent of modern-jazz scores in Francophone films, notably Miles Davis’ celebrated work on Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (“Elevator to the Gallows”) and Thelonious Monk’s less-famous effort for Roger Vadim’s Les liaisons dangereuses (“Dangerous Liaisons”), which has recently begun to receive its due. When Groulx approached Coltrane with a list of possible songs, he surely had this ideal somewhere in mind.

His film also directly addresses the disenfranchisement of Québec’s Francophone population, drawing a parallel with anticolonial movements of that era. (Claude, though drawn as an insufferable mope, espouses a radical politics of the sort that Groulx seems to find agreeable.) For Coltrane, who had recorded originals meaningfully titled “Liberia” and “Africa,” this subtext of independence and freedom may have been especially appealing.

But Coltrane hadn’t seen a cut of the film when he recorded the soundtrack, which — probably due in equal part to Groulx’s taste and the onus of licensing — consists of new versions of prior material. (The album includes three takes of “Village Blues,” two takes of “Naima,” and one apiece of “Like Sonny” and “Traneing In.”) This was an unusual move for Coltrane, especially in the studio.

“For this reason alone,” observes Kahn, “Blue World offers a special opportunity, which is the chance to compare these versions with previous perspectives, revealing both Coltrane’s personal progress and the interactive consistency and sonic details the Classic Quartet had firmly established as their collective signature by 1964.”

A case in point is the title track of Blue World, which Impulse! has released today. This powerful performance, excerpts of which appear in the final stretch of Le chat, unfurls in undulating waltz time, with Tyner tolling dark-hued block chords against Jones’ polyrhythmic hum of cymbals and toms. Garrison is a pivot point, holding down the song’s center without sealing off any avenue for digression.

Which brings us to Coltrane, whose tenor is a revelatory voice throughout the song. He composed “Blue World” using an existing harmonic framework, from the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer standard “Out of This World.” (He had, in fact, recorded that song in 1962, for the album titled Coltrane, in the same key and with a similar rhythmic arrangement, at a brighter tempo).

The harmonic language Coltrane employs in his improvisation, and the solid heft of his phrasing, feel distinct from that earlier version of the song. There are moments in his tenor solo on “Blue World” that point clearly in the direction of A Love Supreme, which the quartet would record months later, in December. Coltrane’s methodical yet unscripted push into different tonal centers, expressed as a form of incantatory fervor, should be familiar to anyone who has ever been entranced by “Acknowledgment,” the first movement in the Love Supreme suite.

That we’re just now latching on to this music, which was never exactly hidden but also never accounted for, recalls the expression of vastness that Coltrane once described. It also resonates well with a moment early in Le chat dans le sac, as Barbara stands before an oversize map of Montréal, where most of the film takes place.

“Right here,” she says amiably, pointing at a spot on the map. “Such a little city in that huge space, this huge country…” she trails off, scanning the territorial expanse, as if momentarily awed by the breadth of all that she has yet to know.


The World Of Maybelle Carter: A Turning The Tables Playlist ~ NPR

Maybelle Carter joined with the Carter Family in 1926.

GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images


Bessie Smith At The Crossroads ~ NPR

A sign marks an intersection of Highways 61 and 49 near Clarksdale, Miss.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

 

The Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, Miss., is located on Sunflower Avenue, a street that winds along with the curves of the silty Sunflower River. The compact brick-fronted building leans down the rise with one story at street level and the second, lower one crouched behind and underneath. Since 1944, the Riverside has been a modest layover for travelers. Seven years before that, though, it was still the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital, a facility earmarked for black patients under Jim Crow law, and it was in the fall of 1937 when Bessie Smith died there, after a car accident on Highway 61 on the way from Memphis to Clarksdale — a stretch of about 75 miles well-traveled by performers during the days of the chitlin circuit. Some accounts of Bessie Smith’s last hours add the detail that her ambulance was turned away from a segregated hospital en route, and the extra miles she spent riding, injured, sealed her fate.

But that’s a dramatic embellishment to an already tragic story. Smith was a star at the time of her death, a quantified success. She had been a headliner on the Theatre Owners Booking Association black vaudeville circuit, had starred in the two-reel 1929 talkie St. Louis Blues and had sold hundreds of thousands of records. Still, any blues historian will tell you, no ambulance driver would have even tried to stop, under Jim Crow law in 1937, at a white hospital with a black patient.

The Mississippi Delta, especially as defined by the official blues markers that help guide tourism, is really not all that big: From their junction in Clarksdale, highways 49 and 61 branch out like a wishbone. At the widest part, it takes less than an hour to cut across from Greenwood – the likeliest burial spot for Robert Johnson – to Greenville, which has several Blues Trail markers of its own. It only takes about six hours to shoot straight from Memphis down to New Orleans, although, of course, for fans of the evolution of American popular music, there are plenty of places to dally in between. And it’s a strange landscape, if you take 61 or 49 instead of the interstate. The miles roll on at a sedate speed limit, lanes bordered on either side by wet rice fields or dry brown acres knobbly with cotton bolls.

These are the kind of roads Bessie Smith’s car was on when it crashed north of Clarksdale, and they don’t look much different today. A Blues Trail smartphone app makes it easy to navigate between sites like the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, with its state-of-the-art interactive digital music exhibits or the squat white buildings of the old Parchman Farm, which is still the operating Mississippi State Penitentiary. It’ll take you to the little churchyard in Greenwood that always seems to be slightly flooded, where the Robert Johnson grave marker is laden with liquor bottles, flowers, handwritten notes and on a weekend last spring, a silver watch draped over the granite.

There’s the Dockery Farm plantation, too, where Charley Patton once worked in the fields and played music, a lushly green site that buzzes with insect noise between three or four creaky wooden buildings. Inside the old cotton gin, next to the machinery, a screen plays a short documentary film about the last generation of Mississippians who lived and worked on the plantation, in the middle of the 20th century. You press a button and it loops, and if nobody is there, the voices just keep going inside the weathered walls, telling their stories to the empty humid air.

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The Delta, and Clarksdale in particular, trades in stories. Especially the tricky story of the blues, itself a vehicle for the tales of the country’s most marginalized people. After all, black women like Bessie were the first stars of recorded blues, garnering fame and fortune with plainspoken songs from a point of view that had historically been silenced to the extreme. Sometimes this public storytelling, the version of history put out there for a steady stream of blues tourists, works great: the official Blues Trail markers, written by regional historians, are thorough and thoughtful. But sometimes, not so much. Over at the Riverside, there’s another sign hanging up, a stylized portrait on metal marked “Bessie Smith.” The image on it isn’t Bessie; instead, it seems to be a widely-used photo of rhythm-and-blues singer LaVern Baker. (More on that later.)

Scott Barretta, a sociologist and blues specialist who teaches in the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture (in Oxford, Miss., just 60 miles from Clarksdale) estimated that local investment in blues tourism technically began in 1979, when the local public library installed a temporary blues exhibit. It got its own wing in 1996 and in 1999, it moved to its current location as the Delta Blues Museum in an old railroad depot, whose address was reassigned as “One Blues Alley.” (Two years later, when the Clarksdale-born actor Morgan Freeman opened the Ground Zero blues nightclub down the street, it got the address of Zero Blues Alley).

The late ’80s brought the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, co-founded by Jim O’Neal and Patty Johnson. In 1970, O’Neal and his then-wife Amy van Singel, both variously blues authors and journalists, radio hosts and record producers, had also started Living Blues magazine; according to Barretta, who researches and writes much of the information on the markers, before the Blues Trail, O’Neal’s self-published Delta Blues Map Kit was the essential area guide for fans.

What used to be the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital, where Bessie Smith died after a car crash on just north of Clarksdale in 1937, is today a no-frills hotel called the Riverside.

John van Hasselt – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

 

By the turn of the millennium, blues tourism in the Delta was gaining traction. The early 2000s brought an officially proclaimed “Year of the Blues” (2003) and the establishment of a state blues commission, which laid groundwork for the Blues Trail effort. There were new events, like the Juke Joint Festival and the Deep Blues Festival, drawing a steady influx of tourists to Zero Blues Alley and its environs in downtown Clarksdale which — although it’s still a pretty empty-looking place — is populated with record and bookstores and folk art galleries all dedicated to the blues. On any given weekend you can hear tourists murmuring to one another in half a dozen languages. The international draw isn’t limited just to listeners, either. One night at Ground Zero, I sat beside a group of Germans, watching the Belgian singer onstage take on rhythm-and-blues songs from New Orleans.

How Santana Hallucinated Through One of Woodstock’s Best Sets ~ NYT

 

11woodstock-santana-02-superJumbo.jpgCredit Illustration by Élise Rigollet; Photograph by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

By

“Every Woodstock musician I’ve talked to, when asked what performances they liked, immediately cites Santana as an obvious mega-highlight,” said Andy Zax, the co-producer of “Woodstock — Back to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive,” a mammoth 38-CD boxed set released on Aug. 2.

Santana, a psychedelic jam band from San Francisco that incorporated Latin and African polyrhythms into blues-rock, was one of the least-known acts at Woodstock. It was added to the festival mainly because the manager Bill Graham, also the most powerful concert promoter in the country, forced them onto the bill.

When Santana went on at 2 p.m. on Saturday, the crowd was taken aback by the bandleader Carlos Santana’s scything, nimble guitarplaying, and a rhythm section that included two percussion players, at the time uncommon in rock bands.

Carlos Santana called from his office in San Rafael, Calif., to discuss which two bands played a better set than Santana, why Woodstock was a glorious social experiment, and how a change in schedule led to him hallucinating while onstage. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

From The Tent Show To The Parlor: Bessie Smith’s Travels In Her Time

Bessie Smith poses for a portrait circa 1924.

It was a hot show that night, in that big tent out in the muddy field. Everybody had fun, though most people were tired; it was the end of a long T.O.B.A. circuit tour for the acts and of a long day of work for the people who had come to see them. But when the time came for the last act, everyone, including the other performers, was ready to hear Bessie, to turn that sweaty tent into the church of the blues. Everyone hollered as Bessie strutted onto the stage, dressed big, feathery and bright, and they didn’t stop until she started singing.

Bessie’s voice was elemental, a force set free from deep inside the world. It was a voice strong enough to hold all the blood, sweat and tears they’d shed for generations. Together, there in the muddy field, they reclaimed those blood, sweat and tears to the songs of their ownselves, for a time setting the frequency of a freedom independent of whatever the white folks got up to. “Everybody gets the blues,” blues singers would later tell customers who bought their records, came to their shows or picked up guitars to sound like them. But anyone in the tent that night, or at a theater in the city to catch Bessie close a show, or at a rent party gathered around the record player to hear Bessie sing, knew this was a lie.

Bessie’s voice held their long memory. Take “Backwater Blues” for example, which Bessie wrote and recorded in 1927. It is about a flood; which flood didn’t matter, it was all of them. It was about the breaking of the levees and the terror that followed, past, present and future. It was about Hurricane Katrina, about living in the lowlands, the bottoms, the cut, where the roads lost their pavement. She wrote the song just after the December 1926 flood of the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tenn., near enough to Chattanooga, where she grew up. When the flood came, black people of the lowlands were herded to the auditorium, and dubbed “refugees.” Then in April 1927 came the great flood of the Mississippi River, which they all had expected for a long time, as the levees were weak and old. When they broke, thousands lost their homes and their neighborhoods. Police corralled them into camps, and forced them to work on the levees at gunpoint. And thousands of people died.

Well it rained five days and the sky turned dark as night
Well it rained five days and the sky turned dark as night
There’s trouble takin’ place in the lowlands at night

I woke up this mornin’, can’t even get out of my door
I woke up this mornin’, can’t even get out of my door
There’s enough trouble to make a poor girl wonder where she wanna go

Then they rowed a little boat about five miles cross the pond
Then they rowed a little boat about five miles cross the pond
I packed all my clothes, throwed ’em in and they rowed me along

When it thunders and lightnin’ and the wind begins to blow
When it thunders and lightnin’ and the wind begins to blow
There’s thousands of people ain’t got no place to go

And I went and stood up on some high old lonesome hill
And I went and stood up on some high old lonesome hill
Then looked down on the house were I used to live

Backwater blues done called me to pack my things and go
Backwater blues done called me to pack my things and go
‘Cause my house fell down and I can’t live there no more

Mmm, I can’t move no more
Mmm, I can’t move no more
There ain’t no place for a poor old girl to go

Home is a complicated place for black people. It is where you have to get away from and where you desperately miss. Where you from? Black people ask each other, and it’s an important and historic question. You might find a cousin, or someone who knew your daddy back “home,” before everyone was separated, forced to leave, or left to find work, or left just to feel free. Moving, traveling, sometimes meant freedom, and sometimes meant you had nowhere to go but had to leave anyway. Bessie’s voice carried what it meant to live in such a state of permanent dislocation. Her voice was a place to land if only for a night, a place for black people to breathe a common breath.

Pain, suffering and the violence of poverty were constant realities, but Bessie and them insisted on making joy and pleasure, in good company and bad. They didn’t have to steal away for it, they made it right where they were, blessedly free of middle class do’s and don’ts. She sang of love, sex and seduction with both men and women, for she loved who and how she wanted. She boasted about her conquests and cried about her broken heart. Remembering Bessie and many other blues women is queer women’s history. Their lives set a precedent for the politics of gender nonconformity and sexual fluidity considered so novel today. Bessie claimed the right to live fully, with every part of herself, and with her voice rich and bursting, she declared the right for everyone in that room to do the same.

Blues was made on the road, and is as urban as it is rural. It was made wherever black people were, in the countryside, in cities and small towns, and circulated with their restless criss-crossing between them. Women brought the blues voice to the variety stage circuits, as men were expected to play the instruments while women were told they had to sing and dance. Bessie got her start in her hometown at a club called 81. She joined the legendary Ma Rainey for a while as a dancer, though it’s a myth that Rainey trained her. Everybody trained everybody on the road. Bessie was soon traveling with her own troupe, basing herself first in Philadelphia and then New York City, where she would press her legendary recordings.

~~~  CONTINUE/LISTEN  ~~~

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An Immortal Reflection Of Bessie Smith, In Feeling And Form

Romare Bearden, Empress of the Blues.

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase in part through the Luisita L. and Frank H. Denghausen Endowment

Roger McGuinn Shoots Down David Crosby’s Byrds Reunion Idea ~ RollingStone

“David Crosby is not hated,” McGuinn’s rep said in a statement. “But that doesn’t mean anyone wants to work with him”

Scott Dudelson/Getty Images, Larry Marano/Shutterstock

David Crosby urged his former Byrds bandmate Roger McGuinn to reunite the group over the weekend, asking the singer on Twitter, “Want to do a couple of Byrds dates? I’ll just sing harmony. No talking?”

McGuinn didn’t respond to the tweet, but a representative did when reached for a comment. “Neither Roger or Chris entertain the idea of a Byrds reunion,” McGuinn’s rep wrote. “Roger was just tired of David crying about being hated. DC is not hated but that doesn’t mean anyone wants to work with him.”

Crosby’s initial query came in response to a tweet from McGuinn complaining that Crosby unfairly lumped him in with Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash as former bandmates that “won’t even talk to me” and “hate my guts” in his new documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name.“You’re saying I won’t talk to you and hate you,” McGuinn wrote. “That’s just not true!”

The two bandmates have had a somewhat strained relationship over the years, but McGuinn (unlike Stills, Nash and Young) did film a new interview for the documentary and they communicate regularly, at least via Twitter. “Thanks Roger,” Crosby wrote back. “Must have mixed you up with those other guys.”

The surviving members of the Byrds (McGuinn, Crosby and Chris Hillman) haven’t played together since a brief, two-song set at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium 19 years ago. Crosby has been very vocal about his desire for them to reform the band since then. “[Roger is] just not interested in a Byrds reunion,” he told Rolling Stonein 2013. “It’s a shame because he and Chris and I could do it. It would be great fun, but I got tired of asking him. I must have asked him at least 10 times and he always says no…And to me a reunion wouldn’t be about the money. I honestly don’t even think it would even by that big of a money deal.”

McGuinn explained to Rolling Stone that same year why a Byrds reunion would probably never happen. “I’m happy with the Byrds as a good memory,” he said.“David and I have talked about this at length, and to me a reunion would just be for the money. We’d go out and play some sheds, maybe gross a couple of million dollars and split it four or five ways. I’m not attracted to expensive things. I don’t need a Ferrari or anything like that.”

Last year, however, McGuinn and Chris Hillman celebrated by the 50th anniversary of the Byrds country rock masterpiece Sweetheart of the Rodeo by playing it straight through on tour. The album was recorded shortly after Crosby was dismissed from the group, but the show featured an extended set of songs from Crosby’s era like “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Mr. Spaceman” and “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star.”

When Crosby first heard about the tour he was upset that they excluded him. “He wrote Roger and said, ‘I feel really hurt,’” Hillman told Billboard, “and immediately we both wrote him back separately, and said, ‘No, no no, this is the Sweetheart album. It’s not a Byrds reunion. We’re just doing this album from 50 years ago that you were not involved in.’ He was always invited to come see it — still is, if he wants to. I care about David a lot. He’s a mischievous little bad boy, still, but I do love him dearly.”

McGuinn echoed that sentiment when he spoke to Rolling Stone about the tour. “It’s not the Byrds,” he said. “This isn’t a Byrds tour. It’s a celebration of Sweetheart of the Rodeo‘s 50th anniversary with Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives. It’s not the Byrds.” He then said, once again, that a full Byrds tour wasn’t something he’d even consider. “I really don’t want to,” he said. “I kind of cringe at these old groups that get back together just for the money.”

Art Neville, A New Orleans Icon, Dead At 81 ~ NPR

One of New Orleans’ iconic musicians has died. Art Neville — a founding member of both the Meters and the Neville Brothers, died Monday at age 81. His death was confirmed by his nephew Ivan Neville (the son of Art’s brother, Aaron) and his manager of two decades, Kent Sorrell. According to Nola.com, he had been in declining health for years.

The keyboardist, singer and songwriter known as “Poppa Funk” was born December 17, 1937. Growing up, he loved doo-wop and the pianism of such New Orleans giants as Fats Domino and Professor Longhair. During high school, in 1953, he joined a group called the Hawketts. Just a year later, at age 17, he sang lead vocals on the Hawketts’ version of a country tune called “Mardi Gras Mambo.” It became a carnival classic.

Neville soon joined the Navy, and served in the late 1950s and early ’60s. But he didn’t give up his musical dreams: Even during his time in the service, he recorded a string of R&B singles. By the middle of the 1960s, he led a band called Art Neville and the Neville Sounds, a group which legendary New Orleans producer, pianist, singer and songwriter Allen Toussaint tapped as house musicians for his label, Minit. Soon, the Neville Sounds were renamed the Meters.

As the late Toussaint told Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross in 1988, Art Neville was “a natural leader because every time he’s ever put a band together, it’s been very special and very unique. And the Meters was no exception, of course.”

With songs like “Fire on the Bayou” and “Cissy Strut,” the Meters became popular both in New Orleans and much further afield. They toured Europe and North America with the Rolling Stones; Paul McCartney hired them to perform at one of his album release parties. In 2018, The Meters were given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammys, which cited the band as “the founding fathers of funk … Their trademark sound of syncopated layered percussion intertwined with gritty grooves on guitar, bass, and organ, blends funk, blues, and dance grooves with a New Orleans vibe that is regarded as one of the most influential in music history.”

By the late ’70s, Art Neville — along with brothers Aaron singing, the late Charles on saxophone and drummer Cyril — had joined forces to record with their uncle George “Jolly” Landry on his 1976 album The Wild Tchoupitoulas. It gave the siblings the springboard to form their own band: the Neville Brothers.

The group became a New Orleans institution. They were such an epitome of the city that for years, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival closed out with a Neville Brothers set.

The Neville Brothers released their last studio album in 2004, and took part in a farewell concert in New Orleans in 2015. Most recently, he had been performing as a founder of the funky METERS, a band that brought him back together with two of his longtime collaborators: original Meters bassist George Porter Jr., and a former guitarist for the Neville Brothers, Brian Stoltz. Last December, Art Neville announcedhis retirement.