Sensai Badu: I Understand The Game

Resonating truth by way of Erykah Badu on VH1’s Soul Stage performance.  Here she shares the story behind “The Other Side of the Game” which she wrote shortly after signing with Universal.

I already had this album done and I was trying to decide what label I was going to share MINE with, you know what I’m saying?  I was trying to make a business deal, I was going into a venture with somebody.

Because I know what music is worth.  The value of the entertainer, the star, the energy, the soul that we have.

When I got the record deal, I said I want to work with this group called The Roots.

(He) was like “Who is The Roots?”

“Don’t worry about it.  Just get me on the train to Philly and I’ll be back.”

-Erykah Badu


Villain Vanguard and Father Figures: A Lesson in Duality

I’ve been mad busy with developments for The Crisman Show, and asked my favorite new music writer, Laurel Johnston to help me pick up the slack on the blog front.  Here is her review of a show I put together at Andy’s Bar in Denton featuring Fort Worth’s Villain Vanguard and New York’s own Father Figures.

When asked to attend the Father Figures show at Andy’s on Sunday night, I was told that the Brooklyn group played ‘zombie jazz’. The description stirred my curiosity and fondness for all things macabre, and I couldn’t wait to hear the specifics of such a genre. 

Villain Vanguard performed first, a band that wore many hats and changed them with ease. At first, I thought they were primarily a funk band. Then I heard traces of reggae, hard rock, Middle Eastern influences, psychedelic guitar and vocal effects. The lead singer was not only a solid guitar player but also toyed with a small drum machine. His hand motions were naturally expressive but not over the top, and they only enhanced the message he was trying to get across. His gestures coupled with his use of dynamics and phrasing made him a charming and engaging front man.

   The rest of the band’s skills seemed very evenly matched, and I really enjoyed the uncommonly cohesive feel of a band spanning so many genres. Every member of the group played their lines respectfully of the other members’, and they played so seamlessly together that it was almost difficult to pay attention to the individual lines until someone took a solo. The first solo I heard was that of the bass player, and he jumped into the melee with such vim and vigor that I felt sure he would break a string. Both the drummer and guitar player held down the rhythm section with the bassist, each of them playing peppy solos and fills at opportune times. The keyboardist doubled as their trumpet player, playing both instruments at once with surprising dexterity.
  I would love to see Villain Vanguard play a larger venue, or at the very least a Friday or Saturday night show. I have a feeling they would only be more compelling in front of a larger, more appreciative audience. They’re the kind of band that keeps you on the edge of your seat, poised and ready for their next musical thought. What they need is a hungry audience ready to eat everything they serve up.

  Father Figures took the stage next, holding up the same pillars of energy and enthusiasm that Villain Vanguard had carried throughout their set. Consisting of two saxophones, a keyboard, drums, and a string bass, Father Figures has a standard recipe with a not-so-standard result. Like the opening band, this group dabbles in many different genres but maintains their solid jazz foundation.

   Some people hear ‘jazz’ and run screaming in the other direction. Father Figures is the type of band that could coax unbelievers into the light, blinking and gasping in awe at what they see and hear. They are a group that seems to revel in duality, being equally attractive to jazzheads and non-jazzheads alike because they blur the line between jazz and everything else without diluting the message. They tiptoe through spectral, psychedelic lands and race through a forest of fusion with the aplomb of classically trained musicians. Father Figures’ members have taken what they learned in school and extrapolated that information to the furthest corners of music as is humanly possible, yet they don’t tip over the edge into the realm of nonsensical noise.

   As soon as I heard the drummer lock into a groove with the keyboardist and bass player, I recognized that signature New York jazz sound. Adding two sax players only added fuel to their already-crackling fire, and the musical repartee between the saxes was an absolute riot. If I could sum up their sound in a small phrase, I would say that Father Figures plays ‘a freight train of thought’. Their music mirrors the complexity of the human spectrum of thought and emotion, leaving no stone unturned as they barrel onward through their own psyches and into ours. 

   Like the fictional (?) creatures that lent their name to their musical style, Father Figures straddles the division between tangible reality and the intangible dream world. It’s as if their feet are on the ground but their heads, hearts, and fingers are in the clouds. As they grasp for gossamer strands of a musical phrase, they remember us mere mortals and graciously offer us a much-needed view of the possible worlds above us. I am determined to follow this group to see what new panoramas they will treat me to; after all, everyone could use more Father Figures in their lives.

Guest Blogger, Laurel Johnston, is a musicophile based in Los Angeles.

New Pup Video — please stop yelling at me!

Right, right, right.  I’ve had pathetic video malfunctions of late.  I’m not doing this on purpose.  I promise.  I find videos.  I share videos.  Videos disappear from Internet and make me look like a douche.  I am aware, and seeking to remedy the situation.

In the meantime, please to enjoy this BRAND SPANKING NEW Snarky Puppy video courtesy of my Google Alert.  I will continue my endeavor to properly post the “Quarter Master” video from the Jefferson Center.  Then you can stop calling me a tease and we can all have a nice listen.

I’ll be reporting from New Orleans this weekend — home at last after two solid months in Denton (God help me).  I’ll be spending a good chunk of July there, until we’re all covered in oil.  Then I’ll bounce between DFW and New York for the fall.  Lots to talk about, more to listen to.

All But Quiet On The Music Front

Wear a helmet. Photo by Timothy Scott

Forgive me, dear readers, for instilling any abandonment issues on you.  For one reason or another, I have refused to blog for a month.  This was immediately following my promise to “blog every day for a month.”  Whoops.  I’ve still been writing (you can ask my roommate).  Between tinkering away quietly on the book and doodling interminable dross in my diary, I haven’t felt much like a blog.  But today I decided to kick myself in the ass a little.

Summer has wound it’s way around Denton.  No one is here, but those of us who remain go hard.  I’ve hosted a number of poor-to-fairly attended shows on multiple stages across Denton and Dallas.  The music has been unjustly good.

Have you seen the Black and Blues?  Oh my God.  Solid.  One would have no idea they’ve only been together a few months.  First you have Mark Lettieri whose devilish good looks rival my own. ” That Wanker” remains a guitar demigod among North Texans, shredding the blues alongside soul rocker, Keite Young.  Goldie Fornow brings a distinct and powerful presence to the blend of intoxicating originals (“If We Were Alone.”) and apt covers of Gnarls Barkley. Drummer Evan Gentry proves Houston boys know how hit it right — that’s some Chris Dave shit, right there — Straight up hip hop, with a polish that will make even the tightest Dallas cats sit up a little more.  Pull it all together with Matt Skates (Shuttle) on bass and you get the sort of blues that make you shake your fist and rock.

Wheew!  I am a fan.  Hitting the road with the band next month!  You can catch them in Dallas at the Green Elephant on Friday, July 9th, and Wednesday, July 28th at Hailey’s in Denton.

In other news — NEW SNARKY PUPPY!

Introducing “Quarter Master” — named after the band’s favorite gay deli in New Orleans.  Since the tune is a tribute to our favorite city in the whole wide world, Jason Marsalis and John Ellis decided to join in and become official Pups.  Welcome to the family!  I am now cosmically bound to cluck around like a mother hen and cook for you whenever you come to town.  The boys won’t be hitting the road again until October after Ropeadope releases Tell Your Friends in September (which means I’ll be getting my ass to New York in August).

In the meantime…

I thank you god for YouTube, Bill Laurance, and most this amazing day

Bill Laurance and Michael League

This afternoon I was in the throes of the usual Monday flurry and flutter, zapping out emails, texts, and Tweets, when I was suddenly disrupted by a wave of nostalgia.  While putting together a show proposal, I ran across this video I took a year ago at the Boiler Room. Suddenly instead of thinking of all the things I have to get done, I was overwhelmed with a reminder of why I do any of it in the first place.

Of the many blessings I count in my life, musicians hold an empowering majority. Working with those who inspire me beyond reason and allowing that impact to take hold has turned my world on its ear. For years I just considered myself a fan with no real understanding of the importance of that role within the musical community — I was frankly surprised no one had issued a restraining order against me and my megaphone.  It was Bill Laurance of Snarky Puppy who first brought this dynamic to my attention — that my steadfast love and support was not only appreciated, but necessary to the development and direction of musicians. Soon after I devoted myself to music. I plucked up my nomadic laundry baskets and moved back to Denton where I could put all that sonically-driven energy to good use.

That was when everything went right side up.

I would not have the beautifully eccentric life I have today had I not been so compelled by my friendship with Bill. His music reaches a part of my spirit like no other — from the vibrant “34 Klezma” (off Bring Us the Bright) to the heart-pumping “Good Man Delivers and the Best is Blessed” and the slightly gut-wrenching “Ready Wednesday” from Tell Your Friends. He is just the sort of charming genius Michael League is always parading into my life. My number one live music experience is presently a tie between Roger Waters doing Dark Side v. Leaguers and Billy at the piano last Mother’s Day.

Running across this video brought this all back today, it’s a wonder to see how much can happen in just one year.  Keith Anderson can be seen shattering minds with his band, Full of Soul and sassing Bobby Sparks on HDNet’s Ray Johnston Road Diaries.  Mike and Bill are enjoying a “chill” Pup summer on either side of the Atlantic.  Steve Pruitt and I have been cohorting on Chris Ward’s upcoming Texas tour (hitting North Texas next week), while Mark Lettieri and I verbally abuse each other over Black and Blues gigs.  It’s hard to imagine what life was like before these jazzholes took over — and it’s much more fun to imagine what’s ahead.

Shawty Got a Cold

Over the past year, I developed an alarming habit of traipsing down to New Orleans at every imaginable chance with my wolf pack. Various traveling musicians and gypsy ladies routinely make the pilgrimage to work with my Crescent City counterpart, Jess Speer.  Jess is a fiery swamp witch in New Orleans who inspires my ass into gear every single day.  We met when Backside Pick played NOLA’s  House of Blues.  I hopped a caravan of Shawtys and we made the 9 hour drive in support of a wicked cool gig. It’s been down the River ever since.

It generally behooves a band to have a slew of ladies on hand to dance in the front row, man the merch table, and manage the show off stage.  This is exactly how I met the most bad-ass, music-loving chicks on the road.  Powerful women who devote their lives to supporting bands and musicians they believe in… we are a rare breed, and we make people nervous but there really isn’t really anything we can do about that (and we really have too much work to do to bother).

These women were my inspiration for my janky promotions operation, The Booty Shawtys.  We are a team of ridiculous fans schooled in the ways of the hustle and grind.  The Shawtys run Poster Girl duty (fliers), front end promotions, merch pushing — and we always have a few girls around just to enjoy the show.  In addition to having a mad fun excuse to actually act like girls while playing in the boy’s club, we’re bringing new girls in and training them in the ways of The Road and the music business.  I am extremely proud of my incredibly driven girls, and I don’t know how I ever got on without them.

Can I just say that being a janky promoter is a fucking great gig?  I love it.  It’s so unapologetic and — like pretty much every aspect of the music industry — a total sausage fest.  Well, we’re going to just equalize that a little bit with our wee army of savvy women.  Jess is our Big Chief in New Orleans, working with Ropeadope, Trombone Shorty, the Blue Nile, Howlin’ Wolf and, at last count, every single musician in the Marigny.  We’ll be taking a few trips down the swamp to help her out.  Once New Orleans gets under your skin, you’re done.  Just go home.

Pup Culture: More MTL Love from Pork Pie Jazz

True to Montreal’s general awesomeness, Jenn Hardy from Pork Pie Jazz recently asked me to write a guest post for her oh-so-savvy music blog (they really know how to do it in the QC).  Since Montreal has played a critical role in my road life with Snarky Puppy, I figured I would air out some thoughts presently making their way into my book, Pup Culture.  I’d like to share an excerpt of this article with you (read the full story here).  I read it, and it’s not too bad.  Please help me flesh out these thoughts with your questions and musings — and for the love of god, help me make sure this book is as useful and informative as it is entertaining.

The most beautiful part of living in our hyper-connected, always-on world is that we can now connect with each other in ways that were virtually impossible even a few short years ago.  As musicians and fans have learned to find each other through tools like Facebook and Twitter, new practices have emerged for artists to put down stakes in cities they do not live in—and in some cases, have never been to. Whenever anyone asks me what Twitter, I tell them my favorite matchmaking story of Snarky Puppy and Montreal.

Last year, Denton/Brooklyn-based band, Snarky Puppy was planning out their Spring Tour crawling from our North Texas home base through the Deep South and up the East Coast.  Ready to expand through Canada, bandleader Michael League arranged for the Pups to teach a clinic to the savvy Vanier students en route to their usual gig at the Rex in Toronto.  This was all coming together right about the time I had met a few key Quebecoise Tweeps that I felt would appreciate Snarky’s particular brand of cerebral dance music (your brain will dance, that’s just what happens, and it’s certainly not for everyone).  I offered to procure a stage for the Pups by way of my Twitter contacts – namely Anthony Imperioli, Joey Vescio, and the fine folks over at Filter Box Media.  Within an hour a modest army of tech-savvy music fiends assembled to help me secure the right venue and alert the proper authorities that Montreal’s favorite new band is rolling through town.

By zeroing in on cats I knew would dig Pups, I saved weeks worth of blind inquiries to clubs and built on the critical foundation of music students and sharp ears inherent to Snarky’s core following.  The culmination of the University crowd and the budding following online snowballed with each trip the band has made – a challenge testament to the infectious nature of this music.  When finding the fans online, one must consider personality and cultural nuance specific to the city in question.  You can’t just blindly flier the streets and hope that the right ears will happen along.  Perhaps especially those with the nameless styles that you have to hear and experience live to really appreciate the massive level of talent and energy Snarky Puppy generates.

Continue on Pork Pie

Your comments are welcome, let’s pick each other’s brains.