Archive for September, 2011


OF COURSE you can glean by now that I probably first heard Vesta Williams on New York City’s famous WBLS FM 107.5, and you are correct.  “Vesta” as we first came to know her, could always hit those “Chaka Khan notes” right-down to the “Ooo!”, and indeed, I thought she was Chaka until A&M Records promotions people bestowed  her first dance 12″ 45rpm on me, “Don’t You Blow A Good Thing”,  back in 1986.  

one of "my vinyl" Vesta 12 Inch

You’ve probably never heard of Vesta Williams unless you were into “descendant-of-disco” music in the major U.S. cities like New York City or San Francisco/L.A.  back in the mid-1980s!  She really did “nail” that Chaka Khan-type sound, as I re-listen to the two 12″  DJ singles that I was lucky enough to add to my library back then.  After-all, Chaka was hot with “I Feel For You” in those days, and there were a couple of other ladies that were able to capitalize on that sound, and IMO, Vesta was one of them.  I now wonder if somehow living in that shadow of a superstar of your genre may have weighed upon Ms. Williams – if the “overdose” rumors are proved true.  Strange – whenever a singer or actor/actress is found dead in a hotel room, a “drug overdose” is always the first guess as to the cause of death.  When you hear these initial rumors of an entertainer’s demise, what drug(s) do you think of?  TMZ reports “multiple bottles of pills…”  The same thing happened with my late friend, Phyllis Hyman.

"and be suspicious when the moon is high..."

I liked my other of my two “Vesta” A & M Records 12-inch singles, “Once Bitten Twice Shy” better. It’s bass line was real even, long-lasting and smooth and the song even became a kind of personal cautionary theme song of mine as I matured through my “playboy” women-dating days. LOL  The Steve Hodge remix still sounds boss and full tonight as I play it in the background while I write these words.  The song basically means “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!

I never had the pleasure of being even close to meeting her in my radio glory days when she was “hot”, and yet she could have been in the room, or a club or bar with me simultaneously and I have the feeling we would have vibed, maybe had a beverage and talked about “the biz” and remained acquaintances. She actually “looks familiar” to me from my NYC radio DJ days.  She was “hot” at the height of my radio career there. I wish that I had more vinyls by Vesta Williams, but as the art of music always does, it leaves us a wealth of material to eternally remember the artist.

 I never stopped playing Vesta through the years when I could choose the music I played on my radio shows.  She was made more for the airwaves and the nightclubs, in my opinion, and when I head of her passing away at only fifty-three today, I thought, “Wow! Where has she been all these years?”  I pray theat an artist’s frustration with not being in the place that you planned to be at a certain stage of life didn’t get the best of her.  Lord knows, I know exactly what that feels like…  “Once Bitten…”

“Twice Shy.”  Another choice voice who will be missed.  If you knew her, or have other songs that are not part of my library that are your favorites, please weigh-in with them in my “comments” section below.

One that a couple of women I know in the singing business have mentioned is a sad ballad of unrequited love and betrayal called “Congratulations”.  Vesta is now free from all of the physical world drama that she sang about.  Bra-vo, Vesta.

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They always did...

Like Holland-Dozier-Holland, Gamble & Huff, the names Ashford/Simpson under the titles of songs on my records were mostly insignificant to me, the “baby DJ” decades ago. I noticed the artists, and always thought that “Whitfield/Strong” were members of the groups (The Temptations in that case).
As usual with me and my vinyl, it wasn’t until I fell under the influence of the great New York City radio personalities like Frankie Crocker, Jerry Bledsoe, Bobby Jay and others of the day who conducted “live” interviews on the air and often educated listeners as they mentioned who wrote the hits of the day as part of their front or back-announcing of them, that I began to separate “songwriter” from the performers. Ashford & Simpson’s uniqueness was that they could do both roles successfully!
I have observed through the years, that very often, life is like a running play in football: full of misdirection. just when you expect things to go one way, they go in another or opposite direction. So it was again when I heard that Nick Ashford left the physical world, and his other half in so many ways more than usual with a couple, Valerie, behind in late August ‘011 at age sixty-nine; not old yet, but not young either. Nick seemed always a “cool” – yet curious cat to me, those times I was in their presence and too shy to intrude with anything but a brief “Hey, how you doin!” and brief introduction of myself as a DJ on WBLS who played their music. Innate shyness strikes again! I remember watching them from left-of-center stage at New York City’s Palladium, when it was near Union Square on 14th Street, and they opened for Luther Vandross. Shortly after their restaurant in Manhattan, the Sugar Bar, opened I went to check them out with my pals, and I was fortunate enough to be on the set with them at other venues while I was a New York City radio personality. I always looked at them as more of a collaborative couple than a romantic one, but as time went by, you could see that they respected and adored each-other by the looks in their eyes when the looked at one-another while in full song. Looking at their album covers is like watching a time-capsule in mutual evolution, so let’s get to my Ashford & Simpson vinyls! 

orig 1976 notes

First and with major thanks to Jackie Thomas, who was my Warner Brothers Promotion Lady at the time, is the back cover of “Come As You Are”, complete with my scribblings (DJ notes) from almost forty years ago!  You can’t read it, but my “pik” on this album was “One More Try” – the extended (with guitar solo) 12″ Disco version of  I also acquired! It still is one of my best A&S tracks and is very danceable!   My next fave on this album was “It Came To Me”, however, the popular hit, which is still poignant today is the lead cut  reminder, “It’ll Come, It’ll Come, It’ll Come”.  One thing I began to notice back then, even, was the lush presence of a harp flourish during their ‘vamps to the fade’.  I like that!

 The next one I have has my stamp of “Nov. 9, 1976; the ‘Nick-o-Val’  follow-up, “Tried, Tested & Found True” [5;25] twelve-inch!  What is overlooked or not even known these days  is that those “disco” 12″ vinyls played at 45rpm!  That dance favorite was culled from  1977’s “So So Satisfied” album, which I acquired because a neighbor was (“horrors!!”) throwing their records away in the dumpster because they were moving.  Knowing that I was a “DJ” he brought a charity crate over to me, asking if I wanted to “look through some of these…”  Well, “Hell Yeah!!”  When I pulled the vinyl out and saw it was in reasonably saveable shape, I humbly thanked him and went inside to clean it up like the rest of “my children”.  I never have lent my vinyls out over time…  “So So” had two other hit in-addition to “Tried, Tested…” and they were the deep, fulfilling ballad title song, “So So Satisfied” and a song that I think the late Sylvester made famous but was (of course) written by Ashford & Simpson, “Over And Over”.  I already had the Jimmy Simpson “Disco Mix” 12″ 45rpm of it, so getting the album completed that set of June 10, 1977 .

Next in my collection is my hands-down favorite album by this dynamic musical duo, on Warner Bros., 1977’s “Send it”.  An “A” rotation on WBLS FM and any other burgeoning ‘Urban” black radio station of the day, you heard them hit their “stride” on this one!  it includes the best instrumental they ever produced IMO, “Bourgie` Bourgie`”. Notice how their cover photos evolved though these years?  These guys were fashion templates of the day!  it is about this time that I began to truly believe they were an in-love couple and not just an “act”.  Also featured hits on this LP , “”By Way Of Love’s Express”, the title song, “Send It” and the dance classic, “Don’t Cost You Nothin’ “.  On Nick-O-Val music, there are NO “bad” album cuts though…

Then, all of a sudden (to me, anyway) in 1978, Jackie Thomas laid the 12′ on me called “It Seems To Hang On”.  I’m not sure what album it is from, because I don’t have it.  All I know is that to this very day and as I write these words, it is my all time Hall Of Fame favorite Ashford & Simpson record!  At six minutes and fifty-seven seconds, I can play it a-gain, and again, and a-gainnnn… 

As Barry White would say, “it was such a groove…”  A great arrangement with orchestra, and those sexy horns. 

After that, I guess I lost track or maybe they had a lull, but the next thing I knew, Nick and Valerie were on a new label, Capitol/EMI. I am thinking that my record promo rep was the very amusing John Brown there (but don’t hold me to it, LOL).  I always wanted a gig in record promotion back then because all these guys and gals just went from company-to-company (and party-to-party!).  I went into my stacks looking for their last massive hit “Solid” (which is still hiding from me as I write this, dammit!) and came upon one that I didn’t even know I had, 1986’s “Real Love”.  Skip ahead in time!

I call this album something that every artist has, “one that got away”.  The only notable “hit’ was something called “Nobody Walks In L.A.”, and somehow I have the Capitol Records 12″ of it – by now they played at 331/3 rpm – looking like I never played it.  Not that it was a “bad” song; it just never really caught-on – on the east coast – in the USA.  There are “certain” memories associated with all of Nick & Vals music in my musical mind.  Observe again, the fashion evolution of their album cover pose… 

“Nobody Walks In L.A.” 12-inch

By now my collection is waning and I have performed on WBLS FM and all the major New York City Urban/Black/R&B?whatever name du jour radio stations.  “Solid… as a Rock” was the jam when I was on WBLS FM in 1984/85, but there came a little ditty which was the title track of that album called “High Rise” by them which was so appropriate because at that time I was living my dream of residing in one.

High Rise 45rpm cover

This is the jacket for the 1983 45rpm:

They should have been (and maybe were) fashion models!  Well last-but-not-least in my krates-full-o-jointz I found a 45rpm off of the album ‘Performance’ which will serve as a timely and true finale to this post, “It Shows In The Eyes”.  Look!…”it” does and always will. 
Please comment with your
favorite Nicholas Ashford/
Valerie Simpson memory,
concert or song.  I had no
idea he was ill; makes it all the more sad and surprising to think that he is gone, but their voice –  harp-flourished arrangements – will live eternally.
 

Well, I took summer off  from posting here, mostly because making, fund-raising and earning the almighty currency that is the lubrication fabric of  our society and vehicle of personal comfort became a priority, and this is little more than a “hobby”, albeit a happy one when I indulge and share my “diary” with your eyes and mind.  I am happy to see my blog is doing well and steadily accumulating “hits” far beyond my wildest dreams when I began this venting in November of 2009.   No excuses, at this stage of my life (late fifties) a man does what his ‘Boy Scout’ preparedness intuitions tell him to do.

As the media ramps-up the USA to again relive the horror of September 11, 2001, I will ignore the urgings to pull out the VHS I have of the horrific happenings of that day that changed the way this country treats its own citizens, much to our own detriment, and instead keep my “nose to the grindstone” to prevent myself from getting tossed from this house of my last ten years before I have a new place to settle, even-though the “handwriting is on the walls” of this place, and I am eager to settle with my soon-to-be-wife “Nina” someplace else.

Therefore, I want to muse here about Labor Day. We are already too prone to “HBP” without going back to nightmares voluntarily. The first thing about Labor Day, 2011 is that it has magnified how drastically the seasons shift nowadays as compared to when I was a boy in Brooklyn, New York.  After four consecutive days of one-hundred degree farenheit temperatures, the “remnants of tropical storm Lee” made landfall from the Gulf Of Mexico and ushered-in late November-like temperatures for the past four days!

While my electic bill is happily reduced, as I always like to stick-it to the power company monopoly, I do not appreciate ‘Mother Nature’ cheating me out of my September sunshine in-favor of the blanket!!

  One of the great things about communicating regularly with my international finacee`, is that she shines a spotlight on something I have noticed forever here, and that is: the constant way our media dredges-up unpleasantness from the past. It is one of the reasons racism based upon skin color is still an issue in the “good ole U.S.A.” – our media keeps reminding people of our differences, instead of letting them settle under the collective archeological dirt of the generations whose dust accumulate on-top of that sordid business.

I first realized the impact of organized “labor unions” when the United Federation Of Teachers in New York City took their union out on strike in October of 1968 under Albert Shanker. It was the best to us pupils because we had two weeks off in going into Halloween that year! LOL

Growing-up with two teachers in da house taught me the value of how Labor Unions represent the underpaid and overworked.  Labor unions conjures memories of the Teamsters and the unknown whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa, their leader back in the day.

I joined AFTRA because I had to when I started working on WBLS FM in NYC back in 1984; they came looking for me via a letter which I still have! I was proud, even though the dues were and are exorbitant; I am glad, and think Labor Unions are under-appreciated these days.   The benefits outweigh the negatives; the camaraderie and strength-in-numbers is priceless against greedy “‘bosses” and  selfish, Scrooge-like employers. 

When I moved to my present southeastern location, I immediately felt the abrasive stiff-arm of the non-union mentality passed-down from generations since a divisive war that I won’t mention, lest I become part of the problem I seek to solve.  They probably liked it when Ronald Reagan broke the airline flight controllers’ union back in 1981, ushering-in the era of anti-union sentiment in the USA that most unfortunately, still carries-over here in 2011.  It was a very bad policy that affects the safety of the flying public to this very day, with “controllers” falling asleep at the “wheel”.   That attitude in this region hampered me when I was wrongfully terminated by an employer who brandished a deadly weapon – the local union “local” had no testicles to help me. [see my book, “He’s In A Meeting…” for more about it]

What are your family or work-related labor union experiences or memories? The floor is always open to your comments!

 I am back and hope to hit some posts out, back-to-back and belly-to-belly,  as my next post is already warming in the bullpen! What I also learned in the summer of 2011, is who is really in my inner circle, who will sweat, cry and toil with me to achieve a successful Labor of Love.

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