Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Up Ahead My Head, and Documentary

Posted in Sister Rosetta Tharpe on September 27th, 2012 by Willie

Since my last post on the insanely great Sister Rosetta Tharpe, I’ve come to learn a great deal about her thanks to a wonderful hour long documentary on her produced by the BBC. The documentary tracks her sensational life and career in complete loving detail. The main thing you take away from the film is that Rosetta was light years ahead of her time. Not only was she a ferocious electric blues guitar player, an anomaly if there ever was one for a female black singer, she was a lesbian in a time and place where such a reality was of the utmost secrecy. Like many women of her time, she had several marriages to men, most notably holding one in a huge ceremony held in a raucous Washington DC baseball stadium. These were basically sham marriages though, with her various male partners abusing or controlling her in some way, either out of cruelty, or robbing her money. Her real heart belonged to other women, and if her secret got out, it would have spelled doom for her career as a gospel singer. The documentary, which I’m presenting below, does a fantastic job of going into the details of Rosetta’s incredible life and her incredible music. I’ve also included one last full clip of Rosetta shredding guitar for the gospel stomper, “Up Above My Head.” All great stuff, all well worth your time.

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The Unparelled Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Posted in Sister Rosetta Tharpe on September 23rd, 2012 by Willie

For those who have never heard of, or seen Sister Rosetta Tharpe, welcome to your baptism by fire. Sister Rosetta Tharpe is the first superstar of gospel, known as “the original soul sister,” and ever since her life was tragically cut short at the too young age of 58, her feats and persona have never been topped, let alone repeated. Rosetta was a landmark figure in the history of gospel, blues, and popular music, as she was the first person to dare and combine secular music styles of rhythm and blues with gospel music and lyrics. She was a mean guitar player too, one of the most overlooked pioneers of rock guitar, peeling off dozens of incredible Chuck Berry like licks before there was a Chuck Berry. Her influence was powerful, extending to legends like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard. For Little Richard, who is often referred to as the Father of Rock and Roll, Sister Rosetta was a childhood favorite. He saw her perform at the Macon City Auditorium in 1945, and the 15 year old Little Richard was lucky enough to be invited on stage to sing with her. According to legend, she paid him after the show. Johnny Cash also identified Rosetta as his favorite singer, and made a point of mentioning her as a childhood favorite in his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction speech. For all her acclaim an notoriety, she died in obscurity, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Northwood Cemetery in Philadelphia. Her lost reputation was later rectified by people who never forgot her thunderous ability and unforgettable stage presence. Below I have a video of Rosetta performing “Didn’t it Rain,” and “Joshua.” I first heard “Didn’t it Rain” off the Bob Dylan radio show. The recorded version is a spectacular thing featuring dueling Rosetta vocal takes harmonizing and flying all over the place and just incredible guitar overdubs. The live version is understandably more raw, but just as good. I’ll let you judge for yourself.

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Marvin Gaye, Sexual Healing, 1983 Grammys

Posted in Marvin Gaye, Youtube Favs on June 9th, 2011 by Willie

Part 85 my soul people, back with more Marvin Gaye like I promised.  This time, its a special performance of “Sexual Healing,” sung live at the 1983 Grammys.  This was Marvin’s last worldwide smash hit, eventually peaking at #3 on the Billboard 100 after dominating the R&B charts.  There is a lot of tragedy and joy to be found in the creation of this record.  It’s a reflection of Marvin attempting  to embrace a healthier more peaceful life through sobriety, exercise, and  Sadly, just as he was in the midst of his triumphant comeback, he was gunned down by his father in one of the more bizarre rock and roll assassinations.  It reminds me a lot of John Lennon’s demise after he completed Double Fantasy. It’s really painful to think of the three icons; Marvin Gaye, John Lennon, and Bob Marley, all dying in the early 80s.  They left a tremendous void.  Anyway, this song was almost entirely produced by Marvin himself outside of the rhythm guitars.  It’s a true masterpiece that touched on elements of doo-wop, snythpop, reggae, funk and gospel.  This performance, a lot like the song, is a triumph.  Marvin reminds the music elite that he is an absolute God, taking them to school by defining what pop music is and can be.  RIP Marvin.

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Al Green, Tired of Being Alone

Posted in Youtube Favs on June 7th, 2011 by Willie

Happy Tuesday everybody, part 83 of my countdown is all about soul.  In fact the rest of the week is soul week here at  I officially kick things off with Al Green’s soulful classic, “Tired of Being Alone,” from his 1971 LP, Al Green Gets Next to You. This song is like a bridge from classic Motown pop to sophisticated 70s soul.  It features that familiar Motown sound with the syncopated brass and steady drumming, but is differentiated with less busy production that allows for Al’s voice to soar seductively in an emptier space.  It’s a work of genius.  This clip is a priceless rare performance of a young Al singing live in full 70s soul glam.  It’s Al in his utter prime which is kind of redundant because he has rarely been out of his prime in his sprawling hall of fame career.  Be sure to come back tomorrow for some classic Marvin Gaye.

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