Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: At Home With… (1958)


“Muh-muh muh-muh muh-muh muh-muh muh-muh muh-muh muh-muh.”

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In the 1950s opera-trained baritone Jalacey Hawkins struggled to make his mark in the music biz, eventually realizing there was no market for Black opera-trained baritones. Realizing that his ability to scream in tune could apply to other genres he remade himself as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the blues-walloping, nose bone-wearing, skull-carrying wildman song terrorizer. After a series of singles he released his twisted debut album At Home With Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1958.

The most well known track is “I Put A Spell On You”, a simple love song embellished with enough shouts, hollers, grunts, and demands as to possibly enact supernatural possession. Clearly unafraid of coming across foolish, Hawkins’ unfurls the world’s worst Chinese impression in the ridiculous “Hong Kong”, and equally silly German and French in the AM radio-smooth “I Love Paris”.

Hawkins’ stage act played up his witch doctor affections, which helps explain the swampy bird calls of the moonshine-enhanced “Alligator Wine” and the hideous cuisine of “There’s Something Wrong with You” (Roast baboon salad smothered with bubble gum…/A dish of cow fingers and mosquito pie).

With a voice as powerful as a kick to the throat, Hawkins rides the range like a 20-foot tall cowboy in the spur-kickin’ “Frenzy”, and devolves jump blues into gibberish with the surreal “Little Demon”:

He pushed back night, brought in afternoon
He even made leap year jump over the moon
He took the Fourth of July, and he put it in May
He took this morning and brought back yesterday

“I Put A Spell On You” sold over a million copies but never charted because…

THE FALLOUT: …it was banned from airwaves nationwide due to its cannibalistic nature. Yes, some radio people thought the song could actually cause the listener to eat human flesh. Whatevs. Although Hawkins developed a successful career as a touring musician At Home With… was a colossal failure. He recorded sporadically throughout the rest of his life, never coming close to another hit song but reaching a new audience through the 1984 film “Stranger Than Paradise”, heavily featuring a character haunted by, yes, “I Put A Spell On You”. Cannibalism be damned.

At Home With Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

Boldly silly yet swollen with talent, At Home With Screamin’ Jay Hawkins hollers at your front door, and it’s not leaving until you let it in.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Shock G, underground environmentalist.

Martin Luther: Rebel Soul Music (2004)


Preaches and verve. (Yes, I’m back. Thanks for hangin’.)

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: When I was playing clubs with my band in San Francisco during the early ’90s, I found the soundchecks fascinating due to the number of soundmen who did not think we played rock music simply because I was the guitarist. After we played a rock song or two the point became moot, but for those first twenty minutes of microphone placement the sound engineers would bark out “blues?” or “folk?” because that’s the music where you see Black guys with guitars at the front of the stage. Blues or Folk.

And performing in the oh-so-diverse city of San Francisco meant that Black rock guitarists were accepted, but much in the way that one would accept a blind housepet: tolerated but not encouraged. Nevertheless this is the musical environment that produced rock guitarist and songwriter Martin Luther, who dropped his first album The Calling in 2000. After several tours as a sideman with The Roots he returned in 2004 with the polished Rebel Soul Music.

A smooth and furious collection of gospel-ish vocals, chill-out beats and metallic riffage, Rebel Soul Music is the lyrical and audio equivalent of a Luther Vandross/Living Colour mash-up. The glimmering and simmering “Daily Bread” twinkles with the comfort of a vintage leather coat, the kind one wears in the mosh pit of “Rebel Soul Music”, the trip-wired call-to-arms exploding with militaristic guitars and gurgling synths.

Luther is transfixed upon maturation, be it his own in the humorously public “Growing Pains” or the cultural lack of it as displayed in the gutter arena rock of “Sleep Walking”:

We know the game is to be sold but who will explain…
If you don’t know, if you don’t know
I’m tired of your drama your game done got old
Thinking that you up on ya game but you don’t know
If you’re ready to unshackle your brain let’s go…
In television prison too scared to let go
Need to put down your remote and gain some control.

At his contradictory best he gives birth to several new musical genres within the same song. The wholesome handclaps and beautiful stacked harmonies of “Liquid Sunshine” happily relay a most ominous weather report. In the classical-meets-metal “The I.R.S.” he separates a bittersweet breakup into “pastry cream sweet” and “unfiltered Camel cigarette bitter”: (“I don’t mean to be so cruel/But I’m so fucking over you”).

Released on his own label, Rebel Soul Music garnered enough momentum to keep him touring the world for years, and the video for “Daily Bread” got some love from BET, but Martin Luther didn’t break through to the level he deserved. He’ll get another shot this spring in the Hollywood Beatles musical Across The Universe. His role? A rock guitarist.

Rebel Soul Music is available worldwide from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

An exploration of inner transitions and outsider awareness, Rebel Soul Music offers this simple request in its title song: “In a sea of black music the water is so deep / Won’t you dive in?”

See you next Wednesday. Yes, next Wednesday. (I had a baby during the holidays, and when I woke up five months had passed. But I’m back!)

NEXT WEEK: Jay Hawkins learns how to screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeam.

Abayudaya – Music from the Jewish People of Uganda (2003)


There’s more to musical Black Jews than Sammy Davis, Jr.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Uganda of the 1890s was the place to be if you liked drama. One of the many African countries colonized during England’s “The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire” world tour, Uganda was inhabited by warring factions of Muslims, Roman Catholics and Anglicans. Semei Kakungulu, king of Ugandan’s eastern region, joined up with the Anglican Brits since they promised him increased territorial powers upon their victory.

But after England vanquished their enemies they kicked Kakungulu to the curb like a Juicy Fruit wrapper. His response? “I never liked your punk religion anyway! I’m gonna become Jewish!” Despite the fact that no Western or Middle Eastern Jew had ever stepped foot into Uganda, Kankungulu promptly instructed his followers to observe the Sabbath, refrain from eating pork, and to circumcise all male infants.

The Abayudaya (which is Lugandan for “the Jewish people”) had a long history of vocal choirs and using songs to celebrate life events, and after meeting their first non-Ugandan Jew in 1926 they began to incorporate their Bantu language heritage into classic Jewish hymns. Traditional songs of birth and worship were now sung in Hebrew as well as Lugandan.

Numbering no more than 2500 at their largest, the Abayudaya were shunned by Ugandan schools and employers, had its holy places repeatedly shut down by government officials, and were completely ignored by Israel for decades after its existence.

THE FALLOUT: Nonetheless, the Abayudaya’s musical heritage kept the sect vibrant and active throughout the decades, and their modern compositions continued to attract younger people into the religion. They gained a substantially higher international profile in the 1990s after creating their first Web site (go Internet!), and in 2003 much of their holy music was recorded for the first time by the Smithsonian Museum’s record label Folkways, which has helped introduce the world to this tiny group of rebellious Ugandan Jews.

Abayudaya – Music From The Jewish People of Uganda is available worldwide from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

Abayudaya – Music From The Jewish People of Uganda is a look into sacred music as a holy mash-up of sorts, where the creamy peanut butter of Jewish faith in encapsulated into the milk chocolate of Ugandan culture.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: The music of Martin Luther (not the priest.)

Eugene McDaniels: Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (1971)


Executive branch pimpslap.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: 1971. Post-hippie America was fracturing under the twin weights of the Vietnam Conflict and the harsh social policies of the soon-to-be-impeached President Richard Nixon. Gene McDaniels was a moderately successful smoothed-out R&B singer-songwriter whose growing political awareness had started to blossom on his 1970 album Outlaw. Reclaiming his given name of Eugene McDaniels he set his angry, humanitarian ideals to music and recorded the groovalistic Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse.

Stirring up a Molotov cocktail of blues, rock and free jazz Heroes set the sonic and lyrical blueprint for conscious rap decades before it existed. The luscious gravy-thick groove of “Jagger The Dagger” was wholly sampled by A Tribe Called Quest at the beginning of their first album, and mirrors Tribe’s approach to positivity and questioning of the music industry.

Armed with a musical posse of Roberta Flack’s sidemen, including both acoustic and electric bassists, McDaniels tunes snap like dry twigs in a bonfire. Their prickly grooves are a match for his cactus-sharp insights. The slow genocide of the American Indians in “The Parasite” is smoothly supported by a blanket of downtempo melody that slowly devolves into a smallpox of chaos.

McDaniels looks for answers to painfully clear social inequities. “What is the connection between racism and mob violence” he asks in his only-funny-in-retrospect “Supermarket Blues”, where his attempt to return a can of peas results in a personal beatdown. “How much ass will Jesus kick when he returns” is the subject of the rockin’ “The Lord is Back”. His razor-sharp voice evokes preacher-like rage when he sings of impending divine payback:

The Lord is mad
His disposition’s mean
He’s traveling the road to mass destruction
Poor hearts be glad
Y’know your troubles have been seen
He promised he’d make power reductions
Revelations tells us the time is near
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
Better pay attention to the warning voice you hear.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)

There was a payback all right, but not what McDaniels expected.

THE FALLOUT: It’s hard to conceive of it now, in a post-hip-hop universe, but in 1971 there were no angry, government-criticizing Black artists on a major label. In fact, Heroes enraged sitting Vice-President Spiro Agnew so much that he personally called up Atlantic Records and demanded to know why they had released such a disturbing and seditious record. From that point on Atlantic stopped all promotion and the album died. Although Heroes lived a secondary life in hip-hop, baked into songs by The Beastie Boys, Organized Konfusion and Pete Rock, McDaniels didn’t release another record under his own name for thirty-three years,

Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Muzzled by the powers that be, yet sampled by a future generation, the social rage of Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse is eerily current and prophetic.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Just in time for Yom Kippur, the music of Ugandan Jews.

Defunkt: Thermonuclear Sweat (1982)


Skyscrapers of groove.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: The downtown scene of New York City circa 1980 was the nexus of punk, jazz and dance music yet few artists attempted to compile all three styles into one mega-style, citing reasons such as “technically impossible” and “virtually unlistenable”. Enter trombonist Joseph Bowie, who developed the Voltron-like powers to merge these genres into one sound with his group Defunkt, who released their debut album the same year. A hit with musicians and a miss with everybody else they returned in 1982 with a tighter yet schizoid follow-up, the pummeling Thermonuclear Sweat.

Named after a song from their first album Thermonuclear Sweat stacks fast and furious funk grooves on top of one another – horns colliding with guitars crushed by percussion – until every sonic cavity is bursting with sound, and then Joseph Bowie sings on top of that. If the orchestral funk of Earth Wind & Fire walks with military precision Defunkt moves like a prison break: quick and focused but chaotic and angry.

“Avoid the Funk” ignores its own advice, slapping horns upside their heads with mercilessly heavy low end. Ever the versatile band they can stampede “Ooh Baby” into a headlong fury of melting guitar harshness, courtesy of a pre-Living Colour Vernon Reid, yet also float into the straight jazz (kinda) of “Big Bird (Au Private)”.

Bowie sings like a football coach yelling plays, which makes the revealing “I Tried to Live Alone” much more engagingly paranoid, and their revved-up fluttery cover of the O’Jays “For the Love Of Money” increasingly desperate.

THE FALLOUT: Not only did Thermonuclear Sweat not gain Defunkt a larger audience but it divided their fans over the inclusion of more traditional jazz elements. Defunkt soon left their label.

Thermonuclear Sweat is available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

There once was a band from New York City who combined serrated punk guitars with high-speed polyrhythmic funk beats and made a breakthrough dance record in the early ’80s. That album was Talking Heads’ Remain In Light. Defunkt, ironically still together after 25 years, has yet to receive their due for pioneering the same sound years before.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Eugene McDaniels reaches the apocalypse.

Res: How I Do (2002)


Like peanut butter for chocolate.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Gnarls Barkley’s success in America gives me hope that one can be an eccentric African-American yet still receive radio play and big album sales like eccentric White rock acts. At least if you’re male. Female Black rock acts with hit singles are rarer finds, like low-carb donuts and Democratic Supreme Court nominees. Newcomer Res (rhymes with peace) threw her ring into the modern rock hat with her debut album, 2002’s haunted How I Do.

Res’ eccentric voice exists out of time; she syncopates to the beat like modern R&B singers but her calm, harmonious tones harken back to 1930s jazz, with the intensity of new wave.

Her music is equally free of boundaries, easily shifting from the gentle hip-hop blues of “I’ve Known the Garden” to the porch banjo pluck of “Tsunami”, which sets up the hidden alt-rock scuzz of “Say It Again”. Unexpected elements peep through like The Cure sample in “Let Love” and the phone-number-as-melody of “The Hustler”.

Res the lyricist is wary of fools, liars and the psychically blind. In the icy march of “They Say Vision” she volunteers to step into The Matrix to avoid these people (I wanna try that pill that people take/Make you believe all the things that people say), although she bluntly calls out a rising star as a massive fake in “Golden Boys”:

But then there’re girls like me who sit appauled by what we’ve seen
We know the truth about you
Now you’re the prince of all the magazines
That is a dangerous thing

But would they love you if they knew all the things that we know
Those Golden Boys
All a fraud don’t believe their show
Would they love you if they knew all the things that we know

Golden Boy life ain’t a video

Unlike many albums on this site, How I Do was blessed with decent promotion from a major label, so what happened?

THE FALLOUT: The single “They Say Vision” scraped into the Top 40 but radio never really embraced Res, and How I Do stiffed as a result. Res is releasing her second album at the end of 2006 but she is current touring as a backup singer for, ironically, Gnarls Barkley.

How I Do is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

The list of Black female singers heard on alternative rock radio is mighty short. Sade, Dionne Farris, Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading, 4 Non-Blondes – none of which are on current playlists. Res’ How I Do is a valiant effort to demolish many, many artistic walls and create a new genre from the rubble, an effort that radio would have you think does not exist.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: More stuff you haven’t heard that’ll knock yer socks off. If you are, in fact, wearing socks. Oh, and memo to Ryan: I am working on a Uppity Music T-shirt. Does anybody else think that’s a cool idea? Let me know. Gracias.

Carl Hancock Rux: Apothecary RX (2004)


C’mon, ride the train.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Ever ridden the subway in New York? As part of a massive international city New York’s subway trains are loaded with folks from different lands and cultures, and if all of the riders of a single subway car decided to play music together during their travel, it might sound like the music of writer Carl Hancock Rux.

Rux composes beautiful poems, novels, operettas, plays and songs. In 1998 The New York Times deemed him one of the mostly likely people to artistically influence his generation, an appellation that did not help the sales of his first album Rux Revue, which confounded his labels’ promo team and flatlined. Five years later he released his followup, 2004’s magical Apothecary RX.

Rux’s restless baritone resonates with tobacco and absinthe, as if he’s seen too much and felt not enough, while it steadies and slices through his electronica-enhanced Middle Eastern and Southwestern-tinged songs.

The balletic bass and simmering cymbals drive “I Got A Name” into a tapestry of hidden piano and peek-a-boo choirs, where Rux gives thanks to the Lord while riding the beat like Hannibal on an elephant’s back. “Me”, his ode to his ongoing self-acceptance, jangles with delta-twang and continental buttery piano.

Rux clearly has someplace to be, as most of these songs find him mid-journey. Over a whistling percussion engine the church-like “Eleven More Days” eloquently encapsulates the joys of traveling homeward. The arid “Trouble Of This World” moves more like a sprint through the jungle after the firing of a warning shot, as native drums scare away the screaming guitar macaws.

He drops the ancient future beats for “Fanon” and kicks it super-old-school with wispy layers of cello, violins and melancholy. It’s the perfect song to play when you hear that your new album bricked…

THE FALLOUT:…which is exactly what happened. Four-star reviews yet four dozen copies sold. Rux vaulted to a new label and released Good Bread Alley two weeks ago. Let’s see if the music world has caught up to him yet.

Apothecary RX is available worldwide from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

Like a massive cup of Turkish coffee, Apothecary RX is strong, black, international and not for everybody. But if you like Turkish coffee, it’s very appealing for an exotic train ride.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Her name is Res, which rhymes with “peace”. No wonder you haven’t heard of her.

Dude, what’s up with the updates?


Well, I’ll tell you.

For the entire time I’ve been writing Uppity Music I’ve been working on a music show. In conjunction with The Vinyl Exchange website, my production company Plus Sign Films has released VETV (Vinyl Exchange TV), a new online interview series for hip-hop vinyl junkies.

Each 15 minute episode is viewable online and downloadable for iPods and PSPs. The first episode is live now at with Season One starting in the fall.

As you can imagine, getting the show up and running has taken some time, so Uppity has been a lil’ barren, But we are back in business starting next week so until then enjoy the free show. Shout out if you like it.


NEXT WEEK: Carl Hancock Rux travels the globe.

Betty Davis: self-titled (1973)


The original punk-funker.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1969 jazz legend Miles Davis courted and married ex-model and songwriter Betty Davis, a fiercely outspoken woman who was half Miles’ age. During this time she served as his muse, turning him on to Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone which directly inspired Miles’ creation of jazz-fusion with the landmark album Bitches Brew.

Although a hard-partying free-thinking drug enthusiast Miles found his dynamically hedonistic wife to be too unbridled for him, and divorced her within a year. She continued to channel her boundary-free persona into her music, unleashing her boundary-free debut album Betty Davis in 1973.

Sounding like Tina Turner with the swagger of Ike Turner, Betty Davis decimates preconceived notions of genre, gender and etiquette within its first thirty seconds in the cement hard funk–rock of “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up”. Davis’ singular howl is equally demonic, anxious and horny, and hearing her wail about her sexual prowling is intriguingly scary.

Utilizing musicians from Sly & Family Stone and Santana plus vocalists The Pointer Sisters and Sylvester, Davis extracts the hardest, roughest elements from rock and R&B and fuses a new, raw, diamond-hard clamor. It’s a sound tough enough to support tunes about being the other woman and liking it (“Your Man My Man”), her general anything-goes lifestyle (“Game is My Middle Name) and the death spiral of her junkie friend (“Steppin In Her I. Miller Shoes).

THE FALLOUT: Even though the early seventies was reveling in its first flush of feminism, a Black woman singing aggressively about sexual gratification went over like a pimp at a day care center.

It was too Black for rock radio, too Black for Black radio, and some cities banned it altogether, leading to pitiful sales and a short print life. Davis released two additional albums before retreating from public view in 1979.

Betty Davis is available worldwide from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

Betty Davis makes a stunning statement about the unification of music and its empowerment of the individual with an uncaged, unheard shriek.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: More fun with time-bending.

UM’s First Birthday!

It’s been a whole year, and I’ve been keeping score.

Most Hard Luck Uppity Music Artist:

Q-Tip had the indignity of having not only his second album shelved (Arista Records’ Kamaal The Abstract) but his third one as well (Dreamworks’ Records Open. Has anybody even heard this one?) His fourth album is due from Motown this year but even Tip’s accountant thinks its release is iffy.

Most Popular Uppity Music Review:

By an extremely wide margin the most popular review has been (ta-da!) Q-Tip’s Kamaal The Abstract. Shockingly I’ve received several emails thanking me personally for sharing this album. At this point I can’t see Arista Records ever releasing it unless:
A) Q-Tip bites the big one, or
B) they think they can sell half a million MP3s of it in the iTunes Music Store.
Neither scenario is very likely.

Richard Pryor’s Craps and Divine Styler’s Spiral Walls Containing Autumns of Light were also quite popular. Hey that’s interesting, these albums aren’t in print either.

Best Uppity Music Label:

V2 Records bravely signed both New Kingdom and Chocolate Genius to multi-album deals, although all their albums have since been deleted Stateside, unlike Little Axe-soundalike Moby and retro-blues duo The White Stripes. Nothing says “fortune” like aping Black music.

Most Prolific Uppity Music Producer:

When pop producers The Neptunes aren’t creating hit songs for Snoop Dogg and Britney Spears, they’re having their feeling hurt by shepherding excellent but low-selling tracks for Cee-Lo, Common, and Kenna.

Best Uppity Music comeback:

Cee-Lo’s Soul Machine flopped silently like a ninja in the marketplace, but as one-half of Gnarls Barkley he scored a #1 single in England this year with “Crazy”, a song that’s poised to become the overplayed song of the summer.

Most Public Uppity Music Supporter:

Trent Reznor, aka Nine Inch Nails, slotted both TV On The Radio and Saul Williams as support acts on his recent tour. Maybe Trent wears black on the outside cause that’s how he feels on the inside.

In closing, I’m humbled that you come back every week to read my rantings. The first month of Uppity Music garnered 82 page views, and last month had over 20,000 page views, which is a helluva lot more. And since I have you, the audience, let me know what you’d like to see. Want an Uppity Music forum? Want to wear an UM T-Shirt? Drop me a line.

See you next Wednesday.


Miles Davis’ wife exorcises some demons.