Key to the Highway KSCU 103.3FM
2019-08-14 1-5PM or longer
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown
Koerner Ray and Glover
I misspoke when I was on the air last by saying I would be back in two weeks, stoking a common misconception that my show is on every other week when the fact is it is on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month and I overlooked that there was a fifth Wednesday in July and for that I apologize. In the past I have always covered the fifth Wednesdays but, what with my coming in at 1PM and hopefully staying past 5PM, I don’t feel I am shirking any kind of responsibility. Indeed, if things work out that I can maintain this time slot after the summer semester I will most likely take on that fifth week. Regarding that, let me make it clear that I agree with the concept that the first priority of a learning institution is to provide opportunities for its students. Hopefully, all will work out. I will be again trying to get into the studio by 1PM and will be prepared for about a five and a half hour show.
Hey! I’m getting this posting out early this time! Those who have followed it for a while are aware that sometimes I get it out just hours before airtime, not a matter of days. Either I am a procrastinator or I work better under a deadline; probably both. Generally, I am happy if I have the initiative to write one good biography for each show and any more is just the proverbial icing, but today I got complete essays on all three artists including one seven pager! Apparently, all it takes is a little motivation, and who could not be moved by two artists with over a half century each as professional musicians plus a trio that rarely had all three playing at once.
One of the first things most often mentioned when a conversation begins about Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown is that he doesn’t like to be referred to with the restrictive title of being a Bluesman. See? I was even compelled to do it here! Not only does his music cross boundaries into Country, Swing, Cajun, R&B and Rock, but his instrumentation is similarly versatile as he is equally adept at singing or playing guitar or violin (called a fiddle in Country parlance, of course) as well as harmonica, mandolin, viola, piano and drums. Way long ago I had the opportunity to watch a TV concert (likely an early Austin City Limits as he was included in several of them) where he teamed up with country picker Roy Clark. I tuned in because I knew a little bit about Gates’ Blues side, but was similarly impressed with Clark’s diversity, the way they each moved from one instrument to another. It was so long ago that I hardly remember anything except my overall great impression, but one thing stuck in my mind, that being the way he held his picking hand almost parallel to the strings, the heel of his hand on the bridge or a pickup and his long fingers almost up to the fret board; obviously, he did not use a pick. I’d sure like to get a chance to see that show again!
Brown was born April 18th 1924 in Vinton Louisiana, but the family shortly moved to Orange, Texas, where he grew up. Apparently, he acquired the Gatemouth moniker when a high school teacher said he had a “voice like a gate” but there is no reason given why his brother James, who himself recorded Boogie Woogie Nighthawk for Jax in 1951, was called “Widemouth”. One of my liner notes says Gate’s father was a rancher, another that he worked for the railroad; perhaps both are true, but one thing not disputed is that he was a locally popular musician, playing Country, Bluegrass and Cajun fiddle. Clarence also enjoyed hearing Big Band Swing like Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington. In fact, Ellington’s Take the A Train was a regular part of his stage shows. And there was certainly no lack of Blues to be heard in Texas.
One night in 1945, Brown happened into the Bronze Peacock to hear T-Bone Walker, but the electric guitar genius was stricken by an ulcer flare-up so Clarence offered his services and was given the opportunity to take his idol’s place on stage. The Peacock’s owner, Don Robey, was duly impressed and signed Gate to his Buffalo Booking Agency. He played mostly in Robey’s club and built up a solid reputation in the area. Robey arranged for Aladdin to give his artist an August 1947 recording session in Los Angeles and release a pair of singles, but when they didn’t set the world on fire he decided to start up a label of his own to fully capitalize on Brown’s talents.
The third single, My Time’s Expensive b/w Mary is Fine, was a double sided success as both songs broke into Billboard’s R&B Top Ten in 1949 but turned out to be the only time Clarence would make the charts in his almost sixty year recording career, but his work was highly influential, particularly to Texas Bluesmen like Johnny Winter, Albert Collins, Anson Funderburgh, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Johnny Copeland and Stevie Ray Vaughan. In his 1989 autobiography, Frank Zappa mentioned specifically Brown, Watson and Guitar Slim as his guitar influences.
Brown’s first instrument was drums, which he started playing once he got out of the army and was working professionally around San Antonio, Texas. Gate’s guitar style is often compared to B.B. King’s but Brown began recording two years before King; more likely they just shared common influences as both considered T-Bone as having affected each of them. Both men also acknowledged Louis Jordan as a vocalist they emulated. Clarence’s violin playing was front and center for a few tunes at all of his concerts but Robey did not record Brown’s use of the instrument until his last session before he severed ties with the organization in 1961.
In 1966, he led the house band for a syndicated TV show out of Dallas, The!!!!Beat. Brown moved to Nashville for recording purposes in the 60s where he teamed up with Roy Clark on some Country-flavored 45s and made several musical cameos on Roy’s TV show Hee Haw. Gate worked with Roy’s agent, the Jim Halsey Company, and the pair recorded Makin’ Music in Tulsa in 1979.
Halsey also arranged for them to join a 1973 European tour with the Oak Ridge Boys and Barbara Mandrell with a performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival including a segment where he jammed with Canned Heat. Altogether, Clarence made twelve tours and nine albums in Europe in the 70s, some of those tours as an official US ambassador for music sponsored by the State Department. Probably, most significant was the six week, 44 concert tour of the Soviet Union with Clark in 1979, because it was the first time the Soviets contracted concerts with an American citizen (Halsey) rather than being handled through the Department of State.
Gate appears to have not had much studio time following his Peacock years, but his 1965 cover of Little Jimmy Dickens’ May the Bird of Paradise Fly up Your Nose put him briefly back on the airwaves. Between stints on the road, Clarence found time to back legendary New Orleans piano master Professor Longhair on his 1974 Rock ‘n’ Roll Gumbo album but, with twelve European tours between 1971 and 1979, one can see how there was not much time to make an impact domestically.
Gate got back on track with the American market when he signed on with Rounder Records, for whom he made three albums between 1981 and 1986. He had moved to the New Orleans vicinity in the late 70s and was playing 250 to 300 gigs a year, most of them on the road, some international. These were certainly enhanced by his first Rounder release, Alright Again, recorded in 1981, hit the record shelves in 1982, and was awarded a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album in 1983.These were followed up by a Pair of albums for Alligator and five for the Verve label. His final album, Timeless, was released on Hightone in 2004.
In 2004, Gate received the diagnosis of lung cancer. It took this along with pre-existing emphysema and heart disease to shut down his career. He had relocated back to Orange, Texas, where a niece could help take care of him, but when Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area in 2005 his home and all his possessions were destroyed. He died in Orange September 10th 2005 aged 81. He was buried in the Hollywood Cemetery in Orange, but when Hurricane Ike hit there in 2008 his casket was among the dozens that floated up in the flood. His gravesite was repaired with a headstone marking his resting place The Texas Historical Commission also placed another marker honoring him by the cemetery’s flagpole.
Although he started his recording career before the advent of the long play records, he still laid down more than twenty albums and was included on about the same number of compilation albums. He accrued eight W.C. Handy Awards and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1999. He never really slackened his touring schedule, even in his final years, hitting Australia, New Zealand, South America, Africa and Eastern Europe. Brown’s three marriages produced three daughters and a son
I used a new source for this essay: “The National Fiddler Hall of Fame is proud to honor Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown as a 2016 inductee.” Their website and the usual online sources Wikipedia and All Music supplemented my albums’ liner notes for content in this essay.
About the music: Our opening set includes selections from Boogie Uproar: The Complete Aladdin / Peacock Singles (As & Bs) 1947-1962, the tracks chosen being from Gate’s absolute earliest prior to 1950. Later on, Brown did not like being called just a Bluesman, but it is clear that is how he first gained his reputation.
His second set is taken from the 1994 album The Man, his first for Verve, and it shows the way he had grown. An excellent set in my opinion. Especially check out Unchained Melody, a far cry from the Righteous Brothers Soulful version.
And if I do get the extra time we’ll put it to good use with the award winning 1981 Alright Again!, and while there is not a slow track in the set’s entirety it’s not my fault (but I love it! After all, it’sbeen my intention for years to have you tapping your pencil on your coffee mug so strongly your boss tells you to knock it off!) The disc is called Texas Swing and it has the first two Rounder albums so they might have removed a slow tune or two for time’s sake. I only took out one of the eight songs and, yeah, it was a slow number. Still, a jumpin’ way to close a show!
Here’s a last minute addition to these notes. Last show, I recommended a CD / DVD combo from Luther Allison and, while I have probably less than a dozen music DVDs in my possession, when I saw a similar pairing from a 1996 Austin City Limits presentation I just had to purchase it. Live from Austin TX is a ten track release and the music is top notch, although four of the tunes will be essentially ineligible when I include it on my next Gatemouth airing because I played the studio versions today from his album The Man, but that still leaves a 35-40 minute set. The DVD verified my recollection from that Austin City Limits show from decades before of the positioning of his picking hand as well as at least one section where he does some rapid strumming. He has a full five piece horn section behind him plus keyboards, drums and bass and, while not a particularly attractive visual ensemble, they suit his needs remarkably well. To get a feel for the contents, pay attention to our middle Brown set and you will have a good idea what the DVD sounds like since it was laid down a mere two years later. I am certainly glad I bought it.
Once again, I will list all Gate’s albums according to Wikipedia.
· 1972 The Blues Ain't Nothin' (Black and Blue)
· 1973 Cold Storage (Black and Blue)
· 1973 Sings Louis Jordan (Black and Blue)
· 1973 Drifter Rides Again (Barclay)
· 1974 Gate's on the Heat (Barclay)
· 1974 Down South in Bayou Country (Barclay)
· 1975 Bogalusa Boogie Man (Barclay)
· 1976 Blackjack (Music Is Medicine)
· 1977 Heatwave (with Lloyd Glenn) (Black and Blue)
· 1979 Makin' Music (with Roy Clark) (One Way)
· 1981 Alright Again! (Rounder)
· 1982 One More Mile (Rounder)
· 1986 Real Life (Rounder)
· 1989 Standing My Ground (Alligator)
· 1992 No Looking Back (Alligator)
· 1994 The Man (Verve/Gitanes)
· 1996 Long Way Home (Verve/Gitanes)
· 1997 Gate Swings (Verve/Gitanes)
· 1999 American Music, Texas Style (Verve/Blue Thumb)
· 2001 Back to Bogalusa (Verve/Gitanes)
· 2004 Timeless (Hightone)
Today’s second artist is a well-known singer, songwriter & pianist who had 112 of her singles reach the Billboard charts including 100 R&B hits (20 of them going all the way to number one), 77 Hot 100 and 17 Top Ten singles, more chartings than any other woman in history. In 2011 she was rated 19th among the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time top artists. The Grammys did not start their Best Female R&B Vocal Performance category until 1968 and this artist took the first eight (through 1975). She received a Grammy Legend Award in 1991 followed by a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994 when she still had 25 years to go. In 2011, the Grammys ceremony paid tribute with a medley of her classics.
In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed her the number one artist on their 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list and number nine among its 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. When the magazine listed the "Women in Rock: 50 Essential Albums" in 2002 and again in 2012, it had her 1967 I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You) at number one. Overall, she sold more than 75 million records worldwide.
She was honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in 1979 and became the first female performer voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, entered the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2005, and was only the second woman inducted to the U.K. Music Hall of Fame that same year. At her induction into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2012, she was described as "the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America" and a "symbol of black equality". She made the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2015 and, posthumously, the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2018.
In addition to all those Hall of Fame inductions, she was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994, received the National Medal of Arts in 1999 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, was the 2008 MusiCares Person of the Year, and had an asteroid named in her honor in 2014. All of that and in 2019 she was the first individual woman to receive a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize jury “for her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades.” Did I forget anything? Most likely, but I’m sure I can fit it into her biography.
Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 26th 1942 to Barbara and Clarence LaVaughn “C.L.” Franklin in Memphis, Tennessee. They had four children together plus each had children from earlier relationships. The family moved to Buffalo, New York when Aretha was two and by the time she was five they had settled in Detroit, Michigan, where her father became a minister at the New Bethel Baptist Church. This would be where Aretha would first find her voice singing Gospel along with sisters Erma and Carolyn for the congregation; her mother was also an accomplished pianist and singer.
The Franklins separated in 1948 with Barbara taking her son (Aretha’s half-brother) back to Buffalo, where Aretha saw them in the summers and the many times they would visit the rest of the family in Detroit. Her mother died from a heart attack in 1952 just before Aretha’s tenth birthday. Among the women who tended to the children in Detroit were her grandmother, Rachel, and Mahalia Jackson, and this is when Aretha began playing piano. She would drop out of high school in her sophomore year.
C. L.’s reputation for strong sermons (he became known as having “the million dollar voice”) brought him the opportunity to earn thousands of dollars preaching at churches across the country and Aretha was exposed to great Gospel musicians the likes of Clara Ward and the Reverend James Cleveland when they visited the Franklin home. C.L. was also friends with Martin Luther King, Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. Ward was romantically linked with C.L. from 1949 until her death in 1973 and served as one of Aretha’s role models.
Shortly following her mother’s passing, Aretha began to sing solos in the church and her father became her manager when she was twelve, taking her on his tours. He got her signed to J.V.B. Records, recording nine tracks in his church with Aretha on piano and vocal. Her first single, Never Grow Old b/w You Grow Closer, came out in 1956, but it wasn’t until 1959 that the two sided Precious Lord was released as a single. These four tracks plus There is a Fountain were on side one of the 1956 album Spirituals. The album was re-released in 1962 on Battle Records, then Checker Records put out all nine tracks from that session under the title Songs of Faith.
Around this time, Aretha would sometimes travel with the Soul Stirrers. In 1958, C.L. and his daughter went to California where she met Sam Cooke. At the age of sixteen, Aretha toured with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and she would sing at his funeral in 1968. Aretha also hit the Chicago Gospel circuit, staying with Mavis Staples’ family.
When she was eighteen, Aretha convinced her father to manage her still as she went into the secular music field. After making a two song demo, the Franklins signed on with legendary producer John Hammond and Columbia Records in 1960, in spite of Sam Cooke wanting her to join him on the RCA label and interest in both Aretha and her older sister Erma from Motown’s owner, Berry Gordy, Jr. for his Tamla label. The September issuance of the single Today I Sing the Blues made the top ten on the Hot 100 Rhythm & Blues Sellers and the January 1961 Aretha with the Ray Bryant Combo contained Won’t Be Long, which became her first single to crack the Billboard Hot 100 and reached #7 on the R&B chart. She got her first top 40 single with the standard Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody, backed by an R&B tune, Operation Heartbreak. Her repertoire at the time also featured Jazz, Blues and Doo Wop. Rock-a-Bye also made the top 40 in both Canada and Australia. Downbeat magazine picked Franklin as a “new star female vocalist”.
1962 saw the release of two more Columbia albums, The Electrifying Aretha Franklin and The Tender, the Moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin. It would become boring very quickly if I continued to list all the times that Aretha broke onto the charts. Suffice it to say that they enabled her to make numerous financially highly successful engagements in nightclubs and theaters as well as appearances on Rock ‘n’ Roll TV shows Shindig! and Hollywood a Go-Go,.but her career only really took off after signing with Atlantic Records in November 1966.
In January she recorded I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You) for Atlantic which, after its release in February 1967, made #1 on the R&B chart and #9 on Billboard’s Hot 100, her first time in the Pop top ten. Even more impressive, and about as good as you can get, her April release of her version of the Otis Redding classic Respect hit #1 on both R&B and Pop charts. Her first album for Atlantic, I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You), containing both singles, would go gold.
1968 saw two more top selling albums, Lady Soul and Aretha Now, garnishing her two Grammys for the year. In May she made her first European tour and graced the cover of Time magazine in June. By the end of the decade, she was acknowledged as the undisputed Queen of Soul.
But Aretha’s successes didn’t end with the 60s. Her single Don’t Play That Song (You Lied) lingered for weeks at #1 on the R&B lists. In 1971, the album Live at Fillmore West preserved the first R&B act to headline the venue. She returned to her Gospel roots for the double LP Amazing Grace, recorded over two nights in church with the help of James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir, making the Top Ten with more than two million sales. By the middle of the decade, the momentum was on the wane. Her 1976 single Something He Can Feel would be her last top 40 charting for the decade as it also made #1 R&B, and in 1979 she left Atlantic to join Arista Records.
Much of Franklin’s success was due to producer Jerry Wexler and his willingness to let her record a diverse set of material, running the gamut from top notch originals and Gospel to Blues, Pop and Rock covers (Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding)
A command performance for Queen Elizabeth at the Royal Albert Hall in London and a cameo in the Blues Brothers movie were highlights of 1980. The #3 R&B United Together and the Grammy nominated copy of another Otis Redding classic, Can’t Turn You Lose, both came from the 1980 album Aretha, her first for Arista. Her 1981 follow-up brought out another Grammy winner in a remake of Sam & Dave’s Hold On, I’m Coming. The 1982 album Jump to It became the first gold record in seven years with the title track being her first top 40 in six years. An air incident in 1984 brought on a fear of flying that curtailed any further overseas performances.
The State of Michigan declared her voice a “natural resource” in 1985. That same year her album, Who’s Zoomin’ Who?, went platinum at well over a million sales. From 1986, the album Aretha (not to be confused with Arista’s 1980 initial offering of the same name) produced three hit singles including I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me), a duet with George Michael that went to #1 internationally. Aretha returned to her late father’s New Bethel church to record the 1987 Gospel album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. After a relative lull, Franklin made the singles charts again with 1993’s A Deeper Love and returned to the top 40 the following year with Willing to Forgive.
Aretha played Aunt Em in the 1995 Apollo Theater’s revival of The Wiz. Her 1998 A Rose is Still a Rose would be her last top 40 hit and, a little later, the album went gold with sales over a half a million. That was also the year that the Queen of Soul won acclaim for a Grammy performance that took the Classical world by storm. At the last minute, after the show had already begun, Luciano Pavoratti told the producers he was too ill for his scheduled performance of Nessun Dorma. Aretha was a friend of Pavorotti’s and had actually done the operatic aria two nights before at the annual MusicCares event. After hearing Luciano’s rehearsal recording, she determined she could sing it as a tenor as the orchestra had prepared (she was a mezzo-soprano). It earned Aretha a standing ovation and the worldwide broadcast was seen by over a billion viewers. She would later record it and perform it often, the last time for Pope Francis at Philadelphia’s 2015 World Meeting of Families.
Franklin won another Grammy with Wonderful in 2003, then, after more than two decades with Arista, announced she was departing the label. In order to fulfill her obligations, she recorded Jewels in the Crown: All Star Duets with the Queen in 2005. She joined Aaron Neville and Dr. John at Super Bowl XL for the national anthem in February of 2006 when it was played in her hometown Detroit. She would also perform My Country, ‘Tis of Thee at the January 20th 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama.
In 2011 on her own label, Aretha’s Records, Franklin released Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love. She signed up with RCA Records in 2014 and resumed her recording relationship with Clive Davis from her time at Arista; RCA now had controlling interests in Arista as well as Columbia. Her first RCA album, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, contained Rolling in the Deep / Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, which she performed with Cissy Houston on David Letterman’s September 29th Late Show, the month before the album’s 2014 release; within a week, the song had more than two million views on Vevo. The song would make Aretha the first woman (and only the fourth artist) with 100 entries on Billboard’s Hot 100 R&B / Hip-Hop Songs.
About the Diva album, Aretha said, “Mr. Davis came to me with the idea. He suggested some of the artists and songs which included many that I myself enjoyed. We both agreed that there was a whole new generation who may never have heard the original recordings.”
Also about one of the songs in the album, “I used to buy all those Motown records. I’m not just an artist, I’m a consumer! Motown was about a mile away from my home in Detroit in the ‘60s and I knew most of the artists and producers.”
December 2015 would find Franklin performing on the Kennedy Center Honors broadcast. She again performed the Star Spangled Banner at the 2016 Thanksgiving Day football game, when the Detroit Lions hosted their rival Minnesota Vikings, with improvisations making the song last over four minutes.
Accolades were not hard to find. President Barack Odama wrote in 2015, “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American Spiritual, the Blues, R&B, Rock and Roll — the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope. American history wells up when Aretha sings. That's why, when she sits down at a piano and sings ‘A Natural Woman,’ she can move me to tears — the same way that Ray Charles's version of 'America the Beautiful' will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed — because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.” She would later say that it was one of the best nights of her life. After her death, he said she “helped define the American experience”.
And David Remnick felt that what "distinguishes her is not merely the breadth of her catalogue or the cataract force of her vocal instrument; it's her musical intelligence, her way of singing behind the beat, of spraying a wash of notes over a single word or syllable, of constructing, moment by moment, the emotional power of a three-minute song. 'Respect' is as precise an artifact as a Ming vase."
Aretha moved from Detroit to New York in the 60s, then to the Los Angeles area mid-70s, eventually winding up in Encino until 1982 when she moved back to the Detroit suburb Bloomfield Hills to be near her family, particularly her father, and that would be her home until her death.
While Aretha was performing in Las Vegas in June of 1979, her father was shot in his home. After six months and still in a coma, he left the hospital for his Detroit home requiring around the clock nursing care. About two years after Aretha’s return he died in a nursing home on July 27th 1984.
The first of Aretha’s four children was born in January 1955 after a pregnancy begun when she was only twelve years old, followed by another two years later. Her grandmother Rachel and sister Erma again took on the child rearing responsibilities.
Aretha married Ted White in 1961 when she was 19 and they divorced in 1969. In the interim he became her manager and she bore her third child in 1964. Ted White, Jr. went by the stage name Teddy Richards when he played guitar for her performing band. The fourth of the siblings was born in 1970, the son of her road manager Ken Cunningham.
Franklin married again in 1978, becoming step-mother to Glynn Turman’s three children, separating when she returned to Detroit from California and divorcing in 1984. She was engaged twice to her longtime partner Willie Wilkerson but ended the relationship in 2012.
Franklin’s sisters Erma and Carolyn both had careers in music including years of vocal backing for Aretha’s studio work. Erma was probably best known for the original version of Piece of My Heart, made popular by Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company.
After her divorce from White in 1969, brother Cecil took over her managing duties until his passing from lung cancer in December 1989. Breast cancer had already taken Carolyn in April 1988 and throat cancer would take Erma, but not until 2002. Their half-brother, Vaughn Franklin, died in late 1982 and C.L. had sired Carol Kelley with a twelve year old congregant when he was pastor at the New Salem Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee.
Franklin’s friendship with Sissy Houston went all the way back to when they sang together as members of the Gospel group Sweet Inspirations and she backed up Franklin on the hit Ain’t No Way. Aretha was so close with Sissy that her daughter, Whitney Houston, would call her Auntie Ree. Franklin was unable to perform at Whitney’s 2012 memorial service due to severe leg spasms.
Aretha struggled with her weight into at least the 90s, she was also a chain smoker who quit in 1992, but that took its toll on her weight control. She also battled an alcoholism problem.
She had to cancel a number of appearances in 2010 to facilitate a surgery to remove a tumor. In May of 2013 Aretha cancelled a pair of shows for a medical treatment, then cancelled two more coming up in June, anticipated a tour return in July but didn’t actually make it until the end of the year. In mid-2014, she got back fully with a multi-city tour. She declared in February 2017 that it would her final touring year, although she did schedule a few dates in 2018 before cancelling them on her doctor’s advice.
On January 29th 2018, CBS and the Recording Academy put together Aretha! A Grammy Celebration for the Queen of Soul at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium with performances by Smokey Robinson, Janelle Monáe, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, Celine Dion, Alessia Cara, Patti LaBelle, Jennifer Hudson, Chloe x Halle, H.E.R., SZA, Brandi Carlile, Yolanda Adams and Shirley Caesar. The concert aired on television March 10th.
The September 3rd Ravinia Festival would be her last full concert. Her final musical appearance was on November 7th for the 25th anniversary celebration of the Elton John AIDS Foundation in New York City’s Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Aretha passed away at home on August 16th 2018 at the age of 76, the result of a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor The November 2017 release of A Brand New Me peaked at #5 on Billboard’s Top Classical Albums chart (she was backed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), then climbed to #2 when reissued after Aretha’s death.
Logically, the New Bethel Baptist Church was the site of the private August 19th memorial service, followed by thousands of fans respectfully passing by the casket at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Tributes by celebrities (Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Ronald Isley, Gladys Knight, Faith Hill, Chaka Khan, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Cedric the Entertainer, Tyler Perry), politicians and social leaders (Bill Clinton, Eric Holder, Rev. Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan), family and friends were heard at the August 31st Homegoing Service held at the Greater Grace Temple, aired on several television networks. Aretha’s request was honored that the Reverend Jasper Williams Jr. of Atlanta’s Salem Baptist Church give the eulogy as he had done previously for her father and other family members. A televised procession up Seven Mile Road led to her interment at Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery.
After such a long and distinguished career, a phrase that is seldom used as accurately as here, it is not surprising there would be many individuals and institutions wishing to pay tribute to the Queen of Soul. On June 8, 2017, the City of Detroit honored Franklin's legacy by renaming a portion of Madison Street Aretha Franklin Way.
The American Music Awards closed their October 9th 2017 show by bringing Gladys Knight, Donnie McClurkin, Ledisi, Cece Winans, and Mary Mary onstage to perform Gospel numbers including several from Arteha’s 1972 Amazing Grace album.
Likewise, the 61st Annual Grammy Awards concluded its ceremony with a tribute to Aretha’s life and career followed by Fantasia Barrino-Taylor, Andra Day and Yolanda Adams’ version of her 1968 hit, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
American National Geographic announced on February 10th 2019 that the third season of their anthology television series Genius would be the "first-ever, definitive scripted miniseries on the life of the universally acclaimed Queen of Soul". It should be filming about now and is scheduled to air early next year.
Not belying her religious upbringing, Aretha was an impassioned lifelong worker for civil and women’s rights to the point that, after her death, minister / activist Al Sharpton declared her “a civil rights and humanitarian icon.” She supported the causes she believed in any way she could, whether it was performing at benefit and protest concerts or donating substantial portions of her money.
With the jailing of Angela Davis in 1970, Franklin told Jet magazine, "Angela Davis must go free ... Black people will be free. I've been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can't get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I'm going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she's a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people."
Her sense of justice was not restricted to things relevant to the fact that she was a Black woman. It expanded to indigenous people’s rights around the world, particularly though certainly not exclusively to our Native Americans and Canada’s First Nation people. Being a lifelong Christian and registered Democrat, she was also one of many artists and celebrities who declined to take part in any of Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural events.
About the music: There are several reasons I often prefer live recordings. Of course, they are more true to what one could expect to hear when buying concert tickets but there is also feedback from the crowd that creates a raw excitement, and they choose their best material along with their most recent releases. Thus it is from three live albums that today’s show is taken: Aretha in Paris (recorded in 1968) and Oh Me Oh My: Aretha Live in Philly 1972 for our first set and 1971’s Live at Fillmore West to form our second grouping.
I splurged this year just before my birthday and purchased a couple of classic Atlantic Soul box sets, and the Atlantic Albums Collection contains sixteen of Aretha’s albums on nineteen discs. I also picked up The Atlantic Studio Recordings (1968-1972) Wilson Pickett, Funky Midnight Mover, which I’m sure will entertain us over a couple of shows beginning hopefully in the not too distant future. Since Wikipedia gives a good list of Aretha’s studio albums, I shall post them here, but note that none of today’s three albums and Amazing Grace, another live set, nor the out-takes compilation Rare and Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul contained in the box do not appear here.
· Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo (1961)
· The Electrifying Aretha Franklin (1962)
· Laughing on the Outside (1963)
· Runnin' Out of Fools (1964)
· Yeah!!! (1965)
· Soul Sister (1966)
· Take It Like You Give It (1967)
· Aretha Arrives (1967)
· Lady Soul (1968)
· Aretha Now (1968)
· Soul '69 (1969)
· Soft and Beautiful (1969)
· This Girl's in Love with You (1970)
· Spirit in the Dark (1970)
· Young, Gifted and Black (1972)
· Let Me in Your Life (1974)
· With Everything I Feel in Me (1974)
· You (1975)
· Sparkle (1976)
· Sweet Passion (1977)
· Almighty Fire (1978)
· La Diva (1979)
· Aretha (1980)
· Love All the Hurt Away (1981)
· Jump to It (1982)
· Get It Right (1983)
· Who's Zoomin' Who? (1985)
· Aretha (1986)
· Through the Storm (1989)
· What You See Is What You Sweat (1991)
· A Rose Is Still a Rose (1998)
· So Damn Happy (2003)
· This Christmas, Aretha (2008)
· Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love (2011)
While not really a trio, the two guitar players and a harmonica man who went by the name Koerner, Ray and Glover, was perhaps more akin to the burgeoning Folk scene of the 60s than they were to the suddenly increased number of white Blues bands. There were no driving percussion and bass backing them up and you were more likely to hear a solo guitar than all three together, on record anyway, and they weren’t even from Chicago. Ray put it simply when he said, “It was travel arrangements primarily. We were often in the same town, so we showed up at the same place at the same time.”
Though all three were from the University of Minnesota, John “Spider” Koerner, Dave “Snaker” Ray and Tony “Little Sun” Glover, actually came together in New York City where Ray was living in the summer of 1962. Glover was visiting his friend and, when Koerner came to the city from upstate, the three of them hit the bar jam session circuit. Back in Minneapolis that fall, they continued to get together wherever there was a place for music to be played. In 1963, the editor of the Little Sandy Review Paul Nelson set up the Milwaukee session for Audiophile Records that produced their first LP, Blues, Rags and Hollers. Once a representative from Elektra heard the album, he flew to Minneapolis to sign the boys and, while he was there, purchased the master so they could release it on their own label. A total of six albums were released on Elektra.
Ray’s instrument of choice was a twelve string guitar while Koerner had constructed himself a seven string and used a rack for his harmonica when he was not playing with Glover. The trio were popular on the club and college circuit and played to larger audiences at the Philadelphia and Newport Folk Festivals.
Koerner, who was born in New York, began a successful solo career in 1965 with Spider Blues on Elektra, but by the 70s he turned to other interests including experimental film making and resided in Denmark for several years, putting the Blues aside as he embraced other traditional American folk musics. Upon returning stateside, he cut a couple of albums for Ray’s Sweet Jane label and, more recently, a couple more for Red House Records.
Ray built a recording studio to house his Sweet Jane, Ltd. label in 1972. In addition to albums by Koerner, the studio most notably also did Bonnie Raitt’s first Warner Brothers album and some work for Junior Wells. Ray has had a few Blues and Rock bands, with The Three Bedroom Rambers releasing possibly his last one in 1995. Glover passed from lung cancer in November of 2002 at 53 years of age.
Ray and Glover continued to work together after Koerner left and won a pair of Minnesota Music Awards honors. In 1987 their Legends in their Spare Time won the Blues Album of the year and Picture Has Faded took the best Independent Record award.
Glover wrote a few of the first instruction manuals for the harmonica and his Blues Harp is still considered the go-to set of lessons. He also spent time as a late night disc jockey and authored articles as he did stints with music magazines including Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy and Circus. He won an ASCAP Deems Taylor award when he penned the liner notes for fellow Twin City native Bob Dylan’s LIVE 1966 album. He produced a two hour documentary video, Blues, Rags and Hollers: the Koerner, Ray and Glover Story based around footage from a 1984 trio concert. The Minnesota Music Awards chose him Best Electric Harp in 1987 and he was working on a biography of Little Walter Jacobs, which will be issued soon if not already. Glover died just a couple of months ago on May 29th 2019.
The three would get together for special events in the 70s and 80s like the Winnepeg and Vancouver Folk Festivals (personal note: my brother lives in Winnipeg and we were born in Vancouver; I don’t often see the two cities linked musically!) and the thirtieth anniversary concert for Sing Out! magazine. Minnesota Music Awards declared the trio Best Folk Group and put them into the Hall of Fame with Bob Dylan and Prince.
Four concerts were recorded in 1996 and released by the Tim/Kerr label as One Foot in the Groove. The guys hit the Philadelphia Folk Festival and Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival on their following tour then, in 2000 and 2001 they took the Folk Group category of the Minnesota Music Awards.
Almost all the information contained here came from the trio’s website (I could not locate in time the notes from the CD Blues, Rags and Hollers from which today’s music is taken) with a little supplementing from All Music. Wikipedia was literally a joke on these guys and an Oldies website did provide the one quote. enjoy
For listening to KSCU on a computer, you need to use iTunes or WinAmp for the media player.
To listen to KSCU on a smart phone use either the NextRadio or TuneIn apps.
The studio phone number is (408) 554-KSCU or, for the digitally inclined 554-5728 but, as always, make sure no one is speaking on the air before you dial.
The mailing address for sending CDs et cetera is:
KSCU Local Music
500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA
All my writings going back to 2014 are still available at key2highway.blogspot. I do have an emailing list and, for those of you who are not yet on it, I would be happy to add you if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (my computer’s autocorrect adds a letter t, so if that shows up here please remove it before trying to contact me; apparently, cotyledon is some kind of botanical term).
Without Me Baby
Mercy on Me
My Time’s Expensive
Mary is Fine
2 O’clock in the Morning
I’ve Been Mistreated
I Live My Life
Just Got Lucky
Too Late Baby
It Can Never Be That Way
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown 35mins
Introduction / Rock Steady
Medley: Day Dreaming / Think
I Never Loved a Man
Chain of Fools
Young, Gifted and Black
Since You’ve Been Gone (Sweet Sweet Baby)
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
Come Back Baby
That’s the Way I Feel about Cha
Aretha Franklin 47mins
It’s All Right
One Kind Favor
Ted Mack Rag
Down to Louisiana
Low Down Rounder
Good Time Charlie
Stop That Thing
“Spider” John Koerner, Dave “Snaker” Ray & Tony “Little Son” Glover 38mins
Early in the Morning
Say You Love Me
Someday My Luck Will Change
Up Jumped the Devil
There You Are
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown 37mins
Mixed Up Girl
Make It with You
Love the One You’re With
Spirit in the Dark
Spirit in the Dark (Reprise)
Don’t Play That Song
Aretha Franklin 53mins
Strollin’ with Bone
Dollar Got the Blues
Baby Take it Easy
Gate Walks to Board
I Feel Alright Again
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown 24mins