Friday, July 22, 2005

Mercy Mercy Me: The Theology Of Marvin Gaye Pt. II

Where we left off? Almost forgot.

Marvin Gaye records the triumphant musical masterpiece, "What’s Going On" and merits thousands of accolades for its diversity and courageous theological foundations, which before was unheard of in soul or R&B music. And while Marvin Gaye was being trumpeted for being an activist in some odd way against racism, and preached global fairness, economical, Marvin suffered in attempting to write songs that compared to his former success. He suffered writer’s block; which normally happens after you poured out your best previously and aim to reinvent the same success. "Trouble Man" is his finest of his compositions during this time of frustration and proved to be a success. It was fun for Marvin since he allowed him to revisit his early days and desires to relive the sound of Nat King Cole. His ultimate dream was to pursue jazz music and this was his chance. It was a heavy mix of jazz and swing-time blues, glossed up with funky horn and string orchestration popularized by Issac Hayes’ Shaft movement.

But then we already discussed "Let’s Get It On": the sensual Quiet Storm classic that continues to gain favor through the pillars of time. But before we continue with Marvin Gaye’s theological approaches and precepts, don’t forget the closing remarks on that song from Marvin asking his lover if she knows what it means to be "sanctified". Could this be a crafty innuendo or is Marvin just playing around with religious terms? Some believe the former and some even believe Marvin is just revealing his demons and inner issues on vinyl, but time would later tell a different story.

Throughout the bulk of the mid and late 70s, Marvin creeps disco with ease and showcases his imminent presence of survival from the various musical shifts of the time. He survived funk, disco, pop/rock, adult contemporary and punk. And he remained true to his soulish roots.
There is a funny story that goes with his classic take on disco, "Got To Give It Up". Berry Gordy was anxious for Marvin to record a disco record; or at least a disco song. Marvin rebelled. Gordy had an ear for what the public demanded and urged all of his artists to take their swing at the popular fad of the late 70s. Issued on the "Live at the London Palladium" album in 1977, Marvin wrote and recorded "Got To Give It Up" and it burst to the #1 slot on both the R&B and pop charts. It was the most dreadful decision Marvin hated to do. His distaste for disco was strong. Probably because of its visible associations with drugs, promiscuous sex and even homosexuality, but it was there. Everyone at Motown knew that Marvin did no want to do a disco album or song. He also didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into the disco category: he was a soul artist and wanted to remain just that. Even though his heart’s desire was to become a jazz artist, he had grown more comfortable with his soul imagery during this time.

Marvin faced yet another downfall in his personal life: the divorce from Anna Gordy Gaye (sister of Berry Gordy). And the final settlements were severe. So severe that she would receive an extensive percentage of royalties as well as a portion of the advance for his next album. Because of the mental anguish Marvin experienced through this horrific ordeal, Marvin records "Here, My Dear": the pivotal project capturing perfect gruesome imageries of divorce and the heartbreak of love. At least in the eyes of Marvin Gaye. Some even wondered how Marvin could release such a project about Berry Gordy’s sister on the Motown label with approval from Berry himself. But the two-disc collection made it to the record stands and features tough lyrics on the demise of the relationship. This was Marvin’s way of expressing his hurts and pain. Gaye uses the album, right down to its packaging, to exorcize his personal demons with subtle visual digs and less-than-subtle lyrical attacks. It is even noted that within the inner sleeve of the 2-record collection there is a "pseudo-board-game-like illustration" entitled "Judgement," in which a man’s hand passes a record to a woman’s. One side of the sleeve has Gaye’s music and recording equipment, while the other side of the board includes jewelry and other luxurious artifacts. The divorce was that brutal and Marvin displayed that perfectly on record. This also allowed another gateway for individuals to see the inner emotions and fears of the real Marvin Gaye. But it wouldn’t be the last.

Rampant drug use ranging from marijuana and cocaine began to invade Marvin’s life. On his autobiographical musical collection entitled "In Our Lifetime" (1981), Marvin chooses to dwell on his religious concerns while dealing with "party-like" themes. On the cover, there is a picture of cartoon forms of two individuals bearing the likeness of Gaye in both angel and devil outfits. They are both fixed in mid-air, seeming like they are having a roundtable discussion in flight. Individuals that picked up this project should have had a clue that Marvin’s theological beliefs were close for personal examination. "Ego Trippin Out" reveals his denouncing of the drugs that he noticed was only doing him wrong. In a certain lyric, Marvin sings, "The toot and the smoke won’t fulfill my the need." Immediately following that track, a perky, upbeat song entitled "Praise" is heard. It opens up with lyrical notice to a person referenced as "baby" and sweetly sings "let your love come shining through". It’s not a preachy track, but when one listens carefully to the closing vamp, Marvin goes into a gospel-like formation of praise and adoration to another individual. One higher than a sweetheart. More on a spiritual level. Believed to also be somewhat autobiographical, it is a picture of a brother’s search for love and then his attention shifts to God. For His goodness and grace. He even cites "praise Him when you got no dime, praise Him come rain or shine, praise Him when you’re feeling bad, praise Him when you’re feeling sad." Another spiritual moment can be found on "Love Me Now Or Love Me Later" finds Gaye comparing and examining good and evil.

Before Marvin Gaye’s untimely death, he released "Sexual Healing": the ode of serenity for Marvin’s very soul. It was what he wanted, but proved to be unattainable. His life would eventually creep to its erupt ending on April Fool’s Day, 1984. The fight between father and son proved to be colossal. Gaye’s return to cocaine addiction and psychosis after his new career jump with Columbia/CBS Records after disbanding Motown all together left him in the midst of the fight for his life. That life would be taken by his own father.

Unbelievably, in the midst of all of this havoc, Marvin was preparing material for his follow-up album to "Midnight Love" (the album that featured "Sexual Healing"). That material has been batched unto "Dream Of A Lifetime"; the only posthumous project of Marvin’s unreleased material. Since Marvin’s latter career showcased his struggles for spiritual awakening and deliverance, the ultimate revival of this development takes place on "Sanctified Lady". He wants a "sanctified lady, a good ol’ church girl, reads the Bible, to bring his children in the world that will say the name of Jesus". The background vocals in church choir formation pours out with spirited affection "Jesus, Jesus", while Marvin follows.

Marvin Gaye’s world still, to some, is hard to sum up in words. And if you were to deal with his spiritual dilemmas alone, you are bound to run across conflict and many contradictions. But you will discover one thing that is pretty obvious in all of his craftsmanship: that is he loves music, acknowledges it as being a spiritual instrument and possesses an intimate transparency throughout all his contributions. Within his soul and spirit was a enduring faith to hopefully overcome all of life’s odds. And his sensitivity to matters concerning God and salvation were never taken lightly. It remained just as important to him as the world that surrounded him. In no way was Marvin perfect, but he was human. A human with a humble heart and a sensitive soul.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Malaco Takes In Too Much AIR

Seems like GospoCentric isn't alone.

Mega music empires are taking over and are attempting to pick up all the independent (or smaller labels) they can find. It's a "divide and conquer" mentality to some, but for others, especially in the industry field, it helps in establishing bragging rights for a music label's credibility. GospoCentric just recently faced a new day in their timeline when Zomba Corporation, whom runs an onslaught of music subsidiaries such as Jive, Verity, So So Def and LaFace Records, bought them out. Now AIR Gospel, a commanding independent label that changed how mega companies viewed smaller labels, joins the occasion.

Firstly, before we deal with the present situation, let's reflect for a minute on AIR Gospel's extensive resume'.

AIR Gospel, a subsidiary of Atlanta International Records (AIR), began in 1980 with Ron Freeman as a natural outgrowth of a business he began in 1968, One Stop Record House, in Atlanta, Georgia. Having created a booming gospel record business in his wholesale outfit, he decided to try his hand in the production and distribution of gospel audio and launched the label selling sermons given by local preachers. This side of the business was so successful, Freeman was encouraged to release gospel music albums and the first, Rough Side of the Mountain, by Reverend FC Barnes and Janice Brown, was a #1 Billboard Hit for two years following its release and has become one of the most treasured traditional gospel recordings in history and is now considered a classic. Other important hits jumped out of the vaults of AIR's gospel catalog, such as the unforgettable "New Life" by Olivia Branch-Walker and the remarkable classic "One Day At A Time" by Thomas L. Walker. And every Baptist church choir in the country should be familiar with the Luther Barnes' track, "I'm Still Holding On". As the 90s sneaked on us so did AIR Gospel. Focus of attention shifted to artists like Rev. Ernest Davis Jr's Wilmington Chester Mass Choir, Dottie Peoples, Byron Cage, James Bignon and Rev. Gerald Thompson under the direction of the visionary's son, Alan Freeman. Dottie took the spotlight with her string of hits like "On Time God", "Pure Love", "Happy In Jesus" and "Testify". Because of her accomplishments, AIR Gospel grew from small beginning to large feats. Maurette Brown-Clark and Rev. Timothy Wright brought amazing contributions to the label in the new decade. But time would lead AIR Gospel down another path in 2005. As they celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary since their conception, AIR Gospel will be shifting their responsibilities to Malaco Music, based in Jackson, MS.

Of course, Malaco has an extensive background. No doubt about it. But gosh, who would have imagined Malaco to take over AIR Gospel. It almost leaves me breathless. Flabbergasted actually. After following Malaco's triumphs, I have noticed that even Malaco has suffered in a strange way over the last couple of months. Word began to float about Malaco being sold out. Sales with their gospel products began to drop (according to Billboard) and their image on the gospel scene began to fade away due to the over-popularity of mega-corps like Verity. But now, Malaco smiles with joy and happiness over their latest accomplishment. Buying out AIR.

Well, here's what you can expect with this new phase of music ministry.

AIR Gospel products will jump their price up to the Malaco price level. That's $15.99 for a CD, $19.99 for a VHS or DVD and $10.99 for a cassette tape. If you don't believe me, pick up one of those nasty catalogs. It's full of great flashbacks and treats, but the price is enough to make you run to
ebay. Oh yeah, expect the cover art to get a lil' less attractive and less linear notes. Malaco and Savoy has a reputation of doing that. Oh yeah, another one, expect for Maurette Brown-Clark and Timothy Wright to make their appearances on Mississippi Mass Choir or Georgia Mass Choir projects, since they are the only great things Malaco possess in their current "superstar" category. I may be missing a few more things...But hey, let's just pray for the best. We don't want Dottie, Luther, Maurette and Timothy Wright to be served any injustice.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Feeding The Flame

I'm sitting here at my computer at 12:47 a.m., listening to Lorraine Johnson's mega disco hit "Feed The Flame", looking over plans and developments for a full-blown website catered to soul, funk, R&B and disco music. It's been in the works for quite awhile, and even though Chocolate City USA is available for viewing from the public, it still is a website that is very limited in terms of bandwidth and widespread access. Heck, it's on Geocities, just like the Beta Page.

But will be launched in a few more weeks, so you won't have to worry about Geocities' problems anymore. At least for this year. LOL. Have you forgot how bad the economy is. People still don't realize that PRAYZEHYMN hasn't received an ounce of donations since we mentioned the easy way to contribute monies to help the vision of PRAYZEHYMN remain vibrant and active. Not one dollar. It's all out of my sacrifice and dollars. Ugh.

But that's about to change.

Oh yeah, just a little info on "Feed The Flame". It's not gospel at all. But Lorraine's vocals are powerful enough to be called that. She bears the same zesty punch Loletta Holloway had, but it's not as throaty and aggressive. Just spunky. Released in 1978 on Prelude Records, this jam possesses all the energies of a early-house classic; which helped the song rise to #11 on Billboard's Club Play Singles' charts. The guitar riffs are very reminiscent of Chic's sound. Some of you may not have an earthly clue of this song or these words. If you don't, I suggest you go and ask your mama or daddy for their vinyl records during the 70s. Back then, the music was lively, interactive, charging, unforgettable and created the perfect spice to that house party or that dance floor groove. If it wasn't "Feed The Flame", it probably was Rick James' very first single, "You And I". The long version.

Gosh, I was only born in 1980. September 10th. And have no recollection of the disco craze or the P-Funk "space ship" odysseys. I didn't even witness an Afro hair style in my generation. But those days will be relieved with the help of my latest musical campaign. PRAYZEHYMN will remain active, so don't cry. But Chocolate City USA is preparing to launch out into the deep.

Let's save REAL music. Together.

Oh yeah, if you are interested in contributing a donation to PRAYZEHYMN, click here.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Mega Goes Bigga

Living near Atlanta has its priviledges and advantages. Commercialism has its place on television and other media outlets (especially urban newspapers and news-related websites) and it's abig market, even for a city like Birmingham, AL. Goodness, the city only a hop, skip and jump from Atlanta. But recently a string of commercials have been targeted to the Southeastern portion of the U.S. coming from the supersized mega-ministry of Bishop T.D. Jakes; advertising his super convention better known as the Mega Fest. And in Birmingham, you can't escape hearing about this event. It's everywhere and on almost on every channel. Where does T.D. get the bucks to do this? Well, let's move on, shall we.

The event hosts dozens of events targeting various demographics. In fact, it deal with almost every facet of family and entertainment that it would take an Einstein to figure out what's missing. Jakes' popular events which include Woman Thou Art Loosed and Manpower will take place there along with a Women of Purpose Concert and Mega Youth Experience. And the sponsors have come out by the thousands. I mean that literally. Coca-Cola, Pine Sol, American Airlines, Bank of America, St. Joseph Hospital, Rolling Out Mag, Gospel Today Mag, even 20th Century Fox! Wowzers.

New events have been added this year which include a
Comedy Show hosted by Steve Harvey, Tom Joyner and J. Anthony Brown (also Rickey Smiley will be there). But it is the Women of Purpose Concert, a colossal event bringing on stage the "Who's Who" in music, that will definitely spark the greatest attention from church-folk to Saturday night club goers. Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan and Stephaine Mills headlines this one, while Martha Munizzi, Vickie Winans, Dottie Peoples, the Clark Sisters and Coretta Scott-King will bring on the joyous spiritual crunk juice. No confirmation yet if the Universoul Big Top Circus will be added in this year's line-up. There's even word that this year will feature a golf tournament!

With this kind of attention, especially with Chaka and Gladys in the mix, you kinda' wonder if people are gonna flock to da ATL this time around for the preaching or just to be swooned by the melodic vocals of those two divas. Hmmm. This kind of a festival is too large for some and to unbelievable to imagine. Just when you though this event couldn't get any bigger...

It takes place August 3-6, 2005 in Atlanta, Georgia at various venues including the Georgia Dome and the Phillips Arena.

Monday, July 04, 2005

In.DENT.pendence Day

Gosh, I never thought I would have to type this. A brotha' had to work today, basically because bills are popping up on a brotha. Which means I did it for a particular reason (if you wanna know, holiday pay). But a brotha also realized that the firework display, sponsored by Fox 6 News (which happens to be one of the best news stations in the Southeast and my favorite to watch). They call the annual celebration of fireworks and nostalgic patriotic music "Thunder On The Mountain". Shooting into the air for over thirty minutes some of the most colorful and spectacular fireworks over the years is the big treat, or in other terms, the Big Bang. Well this year it happened to be the Big Bust.

It didn't rain this year and there were no delays, in comparison to other years. But the show only lasted for a good twelve minutes; which was a devastating disappointment. And to make matters worse, the bulk of Birmingham's citizens had nothing else better to do on a Monday but all gather around Red Mountain to see the firework display. A huge disappointment. The show only featured a few good blasts and the rest were faded duds and a strong mix of pitiful colors and bleeding portrait of red, white and blue. Even the pretty purple colors were faded in most cases and were small in comparison to previous years.

Usually, the show blames it on bad weather for poor performances. I wonder who will get the blame this year. Will it be the taxpayers or Fox 6 News? Goodness, who knows.

Next year, the city better have sumthin' else going on besides me working on the 4th. Otherwise, I will be moving to my good ol' neighboring city, Atlanta, for dependable entertainment. All I asked for this year was at least a good show.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

To Luther, With Love...

He inspired a generation to love.

He encouraged a breed of artists to sing from their soul.

He revealed a world through his music that believed in peace, joy and pure bliss.

And he touched people even more with his fight for survival. The fight to live.

Luther Vandross bid his farewell to this world in the flesh on July 1, 2005 for good. But not in spirit. His enduring struggle, after his serious bout of diabetes complications and the stroke he experience two years ago, has been silenced today.

"Luther Vandross had a peaceful passing under the watchful eye of friends, family and the medical support team," said Rob Cavanaugh, a spokesman at JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey.

Vandross, born in a housing project in New York City, started out singing jingles and working as a backup singer for David Bowie, Bette Midler and Carly Simon. He was hanging out at the Philadelphia studio where Bowie was recording tracks for what would become his 1975 "Young Americans" album. The British rocker overheard Vandross improvising the line, "I heard the news today, oh boy" in the chorus of the title track, and pulled him into the vocal booth to join the backup singers.

At the urging of Roberta Flack, he took his savings and recorded the demos for what would be his first solo album, 1981's "Never Too Much." He signed with Epic Records -- only after insisting that he produce his material -- and the album became the first of a chain of million-sellers.

With its blend of swing and soul, "Never Too Much" put Vandross at the front of the "retronuevo" movement, deftly weaving modern studio production with classic vocal intimacy.

He became a fixture on the urban music charts, and wrote for artists like
Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick, but mainstream success eluded him until 1989, when he had his first Top 10 pop hit with "Here and Now," a track tacked onto a compilation album. That song has since become something of a classic wedding ballad.

His own life was less happy. He dealt with his loneliness by eating, and his weight fluctuated between 340 pounds (154 kg) and 190 pounds (86 kg) during his adult life.

"In other areas I'm strong," he told Rolling Stone.
"I've never been high in my life -- never tasted wine, never puffed pot. I'm unbrainwashable and don't give in to peer pressure, but food is different."

Unlike most of his peers, Luther failed many times in the eighties in trying to become a mainstream audience. Instead he remained committed to the R&B sound, while experiementing heavily with pop music's advances. Prince and Michael Jackson succeed with pop, but Luther remained faithful to R&B. To this day, many even believe Luther Vandross is the last of the best R&B crooners. But after "Here And Now", which received a Grammy, Luther's career leaped into a festive adventure full of opportunities. "Power Of Love/Love Power" followed, along with "The Best Things In Life Are Free" (a duet with Janet Jackson) and "Endless Love" (a duet with Mariah Carey). Luther's final album, "Dance With My Father", received several Grammy nods, while taking home one for Best R&B Song of the Year.

While the gospel world still mourns over the loss of Ron Winans, add Luther to this and next week's schedule of events. Luther impacted many people. His music and influence has touched artists such as the Winans, Darwin Hobbs, John Legend, Ruben Studdard and even Lalah Hathaway. He even co-wrote "Pray"; a song which appeared on Jeff Majors "Sacred 4 You" album.

Emotional images of Luther's mother, Ida, praying and hoping for her son to recover, along with Patti & Aretha's prayer vigils may come to mind throughout Luther's battle for life after his stroke. Truly, the world united in prayer to witness a miracle. To hear him talk and sing again. And he did that, amazingly, during the past GRAMMY Award telecast. He was alive to receive his Grammys and to hear his album going gold from J Records' CEO Clive Davis himself. I really believe Luther has witnessed the great things in life and enjoyed the blessings that God has graced him with. Now may he forever rest in the arms of the One whom created him.

In Kase You Didn't Know Already:
J Records CEO and former president of Arista Records Clive Davis has annouced that he will be releasing a tribute album to Luther featuring renditions of Luther's most treasured works from Mary J. Blige, Fantasi, Mariah Carey, Wyclef Jean and many others. Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam are set to produce. "Forever, For Always, For Luther", a tribute album released on the Verve jazz label, was released during Luther's rehabilitation in 2004 and featured remakes from Dave Koz, George Benson, Kirk Whalum, Lalah Hathaway and
Boney James.

Click here: [RealPlayer]