I started The Diversity of Classic Rock in 2015 as part of a school project. One of my first posts was about black rock musicians of the 60s and 70s. Since I started the blog 4 years ago, I’ve learnt a lot more about music and how to run a blog. It’s trial and error.
I wrote that post in a timeline format and looking back, it’s not a format that works for the blog anymore. So I’ve taken the time to re-write this post musician by musician since it’s a lot more organised. I hope you enjoy this remastered post! All the same information as before, with a lot more information and insights, in an easier to digest layout.
Let’s get started!
Rock and Roll is a black American invention. The first rock stars were black. Rock and Roll started picking up in popularity in the 50s with musicians such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry, Larry Williams, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, James Brown, Goree Carter (some say he made the first rock song: “Rock Awhile”), Jimmy Preston, The Isley Brothers, Wes Montgomery, and Fats Domino.
Every rock musician you can think of from the 60s, 70s, and beyond took inspirations from these musicians from this era. Songs by these musicians have been covered by many rock bands. For example, The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” borrowed from Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”. The Beatles have covered Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music”. They have even covered both “Shout” and “Twist and Shout” popularised by the Isley Brothers (“Twist and Shout” was originally recorded by The Top Notes). They covered “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard (originally a blues song). The Beatles also covered Larry Williams’ “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”. The list goes on. Let’s explore the history of black rock musicians from the 60s and 70s.
Note: When there’s a multiracial band listed (e.g. The Equals, Love), I will put the black band members’ names in parentheses to give credit to them. If a musician was in multiple bands, I’ll just list the musicians name and talk about their work with various bands.
The Allman Brothers Band (Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson): The Allman Brothers Band were a country/southern/jam rock band that took a lot of influences from blues and jazz rock.
The band were formed in Jacksonville, Florida in the 60s. In 1969, drummer Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson joined the band, which was a big deal in Macon, Georgia, a city that was just starting to get integrated. Sadly, the band faced racist attitudes from locals.
Before joining the Allman Brothers, Jaimoe previously had experience backing soul musicians like Otis Redding and Sam & Dave.
My favourite Allman Brothers albums are their self-titled debut, Idlewild South, and At Fillmore East. My favourite songs are “Trouble No More”, “Every Hungry Woman”, “Dreams”, “Whipping Post”, “Revival”, “Midnight Rider”, and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”.
Jaimoe was fired from the band in late 1980 because of back problems from a car accident. Sadly, he lived near poverty in Georgia, occasionally playing in bars. He rejoined The Allman Brothers in 1989 and around that time there was a jam band revival. He continued playing with the Allman Brothers until 2014.
Nowadays, he leads a jazz rock band called Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Arts from his native Mississippi. He and Dickey Betts are the last surviving original members of the band.
Andy Anderson: Drummer who has worked with The Cure, Steve Hillage, and Nik Turner. He was born in England in 1951 and passed away on 26 February 2019.
In 1978, he played on Nik Turner’s album Xitintoday. The album has a unique space rock/psychedelic/prog sound to it. What is really cool about this is the flute track was recorded in the Kings Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza – it feels like you’re there when you listen to this album.
In 1979, he played on two Steve Hillage albums, Live Herald and Open. Again, this is some more psychedelic/space/prog rock. Futuristic! I love it, and if you like futuristic music, you might like this album. My favourite tracks are “Talking to the Sun”, “New Age Synthesis”, “Earthrise”, “Open”, and “The Fire Inside”. I also enjoyed Hillage’s disco/space rock cover of The Beatles’ “Getting Better”.
Before joining The Cure in 1983, he played on The Glove’s album, Blue Sunshine. The Glove were a side project of Robert Smith (The Cure) and Steven Severin (Siouxie and the Banshees). If you like gothic sounding post-punk and new wave with a hint of psychedelia, you’ll like this album. I like the songs “Like an Animal”, “A Blues in Drag”, and “Punish Me With Kisses”.
Andy Anderson played on the following Cure albums: Japanese Whispers (played on the songs “Speak My Language” and “The Lovecats”), The Top, Concert, and Standing on a Beach.
Aretha Franklin: Singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist. She got her start in singing gospel at church. While she didn’t sing rock music, she inspired musicians like Elton John, Freddie Mercury (particularly “Somebody to Love”), and Paul McCartney (particularly “Let it Be”). She also covered a bunch of rock songs during her career.
At 18, she got signed to Columbia Records and started recording secular music. Her music from the early 60s did not achieve much mainstream success. The breakthrough came for her in 1967 when she was signed to Atlantic Records.
As for her early career, I love the songs “Rough Lover”, “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive”, “Hard Times”, “Don’t Cry, Baby”, “I’m Sitting On Top of the World”, “This Could Be the Start of Something”, “More”, and “Muddy Water”.
In 1967, Aretha Franklin released the album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. Her cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” became a signature song for her and went to the top of the charts in the US. She made the song her own and gave it life. The title track reached #9 on the Billboard Charts. Pitchfork named this album the 10th best album of the 60s. Overall, an excellent album. Don’t skip this one!
In 1968, she released Lady Soul, which had hits like “Chain of Fools” and “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman”. Besides the hits, I like “Money Won’t Change You”, “Niki Hoeky”, “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone”, and “Come Back Baby”.
Later that year, she released Aretha Now. This is another one of my favourite albums of hers. I like the songs “You Send Me”, “Hello Sunshine”, and “I Can’t See Myself Leaving You”. The biggest hits on this album were “Think”, “See Saw”, and “I Say a Little Prayer”.
In 1970, she released Spirit in the Dark. My favourite songs on that album are “Don’t Play That Song”, “Pullin’”, “You and Me”, “Spirit in the Dark”, “When the Battle is Over”, “Try Matty’s”, “Oh No Not My Baby”, and “Why I Sing the Blues”.
In 1972, Aretha Franklin released Young, Gifted, and Black. I like the songs “Rock Steady” (an Aretha Franklin original), “Day Dreaming” (another original penned by Aretha Franklin), “Young, Gifted, and Black” (a Nina Simone cover), and “A Brand New Me”.
In 1973, “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” peaked at #3 on the Billboard Charts and “I’m in Love” was a top 20 hit. After that, she didn’t have any singles on the mainstream charts until the mid 80s.
In the 80s, she collaborated with George Michael, The Eurythmics, Larry Graham, The Four Tops, Whitney Houston, James Brown, and Elton John.
Bad Brains: Hardcore punk band that also take inspiration from funk, metal, rap, and reggae formed in Washington DC in the late 70s and active in the 80s and 90s. The classic lineup are H.R. (real name, Paul Hudson, stage name stands for Human Rights), Dr Know, Darryl Jenifer, and Earl Hudson (H.R.’s younger brother).
They got their start in 1976 as a jazz fusion group called Mind Power. The next year, the band members got really into punk music and changed their name to Bad Brains after the Ramones song “Bad Brain”. They were unofficially banned in their hometown of Washington DC (a song on their debut album is called “Banned in DC”, so they had to move to New York.
In 1980, they released their debut single, “Pay to Cum” b/w “Stay Close to Me”. The a-side is an 86 second long punk song, very raw. The b-side has a sound that combines reggae and punk.
Bad Brains released their self-titled debut album in 1982. This album is known as the yellow tape for its packaging and its original release only on cassette. You can hear the band’s Rastafarian influences in the song “Jah Calling”, “Return to Babylon”, and “I Luv I Jah”. This album is considered a groundbreaking hardcore punk album, ahead of its time.
In 1983, they released Rock For Light, consider the band’s first proper album. Some of songs on the album are re-recordings of songs from their debut.
In 1986, they signed to SST Records and released I Against I. This album has a different sound than previous albums, taking inspiration from metal and funk. Personally, I like this sound better, as I have a preference for more polished music and I like metal better than punk.
Betty Davis: Influential funk and soul singer. She was born Betty Mabry in North Carolina and grew up listening to blues musicians like B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, and Elmore James. As a teenager she moved to New York City. While in NYC, she spent a lot of time in Greenwich Village and enjoyed the folk music scene there, hanging out often at the Cellar. She also met Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone there.
In 1967, she wrote “Uptown (to Harlem)” for The Chambers Brothers. During this period, she was focusing on her modelling career, which she quit due to boredom. That same year, she met Miles Davis and they got married in 1968. Their marriage only lasted until 1969.
She released her self-titled debut album in 1973. In the early 70s, she moved to California and worked with some musicians based in the Bay Area like Graham Central Station, Sylvester, and The Pointer Sisters. If you like Sly and the Family Stone, you’ll like this album. The first track, “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up” made the R&B charts, peaking at #66. My favourite tracks on the album are “Anti Love Song”, “Your Man My Man”, “Game is My Middle Name”, and “Come Take Me”.
In 1974, Davis released her sophomore album, They Say I’m Different. Another excellent funky album. I like the songs “He Was a Big Freak”, “Your Mama Wants Ya Back”, “Don’t Call Her No Tramp”, and “70s Blues”.
In 1975, she released her last album, Nasty Gal. I like the songs “Talkin Trash”, “You and I”, “Feelins”, “Shut Off the Light”, and “This Is It”.
By the end of the 70s, she stopped making music. Her three 70s studio albums have been reissued by Light in the Attic Records, a label that specialise in reissuing more obscure gems from the past.
Billy Cox: Bassist who has worked with Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles, Charlie Daniels, and JJ Cale. As for his solo work, he released an album called Nitro Function in 1972. Unfortunately, the album is not on Spotify, but it can be found on YouTube. On the album, there’s a cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. I like the songs “42-70 (Peace)”, “Powerhouse”, “You Got A Hold On Me”, and “Play Your Own Blues”.
Billy Preston: R&B, rock, soul, funk, and gospel musician. He began his career as a session keyboardist backing Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and The Beatles. He was one of only a handful of people who were credited on a Beatles recording besides the Fab Four. He made friends with George Harrison and continued to work with him. He also worked with Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones.
He was a self taught musician and played organ for Little Richard’s touring band. In 1962, while on tour with him, he met The Beatles. He didn’t work with them though until 1969, when he played electric piano on several tracks on Let it Be: “Dig A Pony”, “I’ve Got a Feeling”, “One After 909”, “The Long and Winding Road”, and “Get Back. He also played Hammond organ on “Dig It” and “Let it Be”.
As for his solo career, it began in the 60s. In 1963, he released the album 16 Yr Old Soul. Very talented and incredible how he recorded this at 16!
In 1965, “Billy’s Bag” was released as a single. While it wasn’t a hit, I highly recommend listening to it.
In 1969, he released That’s The Way God Planned It. It’s great to hear his vocals. George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Ginger Baker also played on the album. I like the songs “Do What You Want”, “She Belongs to Me”, “It Doesn’t Matter”, “Hey Brother”, “This Is It”, “Keep it to Yourself”, and the title track.
In 1971, he released I Wrote a Simple Song. This was his first album for A&M Records. The album featured his first big hit, “Outa Space”, which reached #2 in the Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B charts in the US.
1973 was a successful year for Billy Preston with two top 10 hits, a chart topper “Will it Go Round in Circles” and “Space Race”, which reached #4 in the US. I also like “You’re So Unique” and “My Soul is a Witness”.
In 1974, “Nothing From Nothing” was another #1 hit. The follow up single, “Struttin’” peaked at #22.
Billy Preston’s last top 10 hit was “With You I’m Born Again” with Syreeta Wright.
Black Merda: Pronounced Black Murder, they are a rock band from Detroit that formed in 1968. The band members are guitarists Anthony and Charles Hawkins, bassist V.C. L. Veasley, and drummer Tyrone Hite. The band members met in school and worked as local session musicians working with Stevie Wonder, David Ruffin, Gwen Owens, and Edwin Starr.
Before choosing the name Black Merda, they were known as The Impacts and The Soul Agents. In 1968 they changed their sound to psychedelic rock/funk and decided on the name Black Merda because of what was going on at the time, many black youth being killed by police and the KKK.
I can’t find their studio albums on Spotify, but there are a couple of compilation albums. My favourite songs of theirs are “Prophet”, “Cynthy Ruth”, “Over and Over”, “Reality”, “Windsong”, “Good Luck”, “For You”, “The Folks from Mother’s MIxer”, “Long Burn the Fire”, and “Sometimes I Wish”.
Bo Diddley: Born Ellas Otha Bates in Mississippi in 1928, he was one of the rock and roll pioneers who shaped the genre.
He released his first single, “Bo Diddley” in 1955 and it topped the R&B charts. What stood out about the song was the used of the patted juba beat, an African rhythm. The combination of this rhythm with electric guitar, maracas, and drums is called the Bo Diddley Beat. This song is on his 1958 debut, Bo Diddley. You might find that quite a few of these songs were covered by classic rockers in the 60s. All songs on this album were originals. Overall this is an excellent album and an essential early rock album.
In 1959, he released Go Bo Diddley, which was actually his first studio album. Bo Diddley was actually a compilation album. “I’m Sorry”, “Crackin’ Up”, and “Say Man” were released as singles. This was also his first album distributed by Checker Records, a subsidiary of Chess Records. One of my favourite tracks on this album is the instrumental, “Bo’s Guitar”. I also like “Don’t Let It Go (Hold On To What You Got)”.
In 1960, he released In the Spotlight, the album that his hit song “Road Runner” was on. While it only reached #75 on the Hot 100, it’s one of his most covered songs and popular among British Invasion musicians like The Rolling Stones, The Pretty Things, The Zombies, The Animals, and The Who.
Also that year, he released Have Guitar Will Travel, a play on “Have Gun- Will Travel”. On the cover is his iconic Gretsch custom rectangle shaped guitar. When he was younger he made guitars out of old cigar boxes and this guitar was reminiscent of that. I like the songs “Mumblin’ Guitar”, “Nursery Rhyme”, “I Love You So”, and “Spanish Guitar”.
In 1962, “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” (written by Willie Dixon) was a hit, reaching #48 on the Hot 100 and #21 on the R&B charts. This was one of his last hits on the charts, because the music scene was evolving and changing. Mid 60s was all about British Invasion and the late 60s was psychedelia.
In 1963, Bo Diddley released his first album with The Duchess playing guitar, Bo Diddley and Company. The Duchess’s real name was Norma-Jean Wofford and she replaced Lady Bo. I like the songs “Diana” and “Little Girl”.
In 1964, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry collaborated on an album called Two Great Guitars. I love the longer jams like “Chuck’s Beat” and “Bo’s Beat”. I also like “Liverpool Drive”, “Fireball”, and “Stinkey”. If you’re a fan of instrumental guitar based rock, you’ll love this album.
In 1967, Bo Diddley joined forces with Muddy Waters and Little Walter and made Super Blues. On this album, you’ll find remakes of Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley songs.
In 1968, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf released The Super, Super Blues Band. My favourite songs on the album are “Spoonful” and “Diddley Daddy”.
While Bo Diddley didn’t have any hit singles in the 70s, I think there are still some good songs like “Black Soul”, “Funky Fly”, “The Shape I’m In”, “I’ve Had it Hard”, and “Hit or Miss”.
Booker T. & The MGs (Booker T. Jones, Al Jackson Jr): Instrumental R&B band and house band of Stax Records. As the house band they played on recordings by Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, and Carla Thomas. They also released albums and music of their own. They were one of the first racially integrated rock bands, being established before The Equals and The Foundations.
Their debut was Green Onions, back in 1962. The title track was a a bit hit and their signature song. The album is 100% instrumental and I live for all the tracks on it. It’s on my perfect albums list, after all. Their instrumentals sound timeless, like they’ve always been there and could have been made anytime in recent history, fresh! Besides “Green Onions” I like “I Got a Woman”, “Twist and Shout”, “Behave Yourself”, “One Who Really Loves You”, and “You Can’t Sit Down”.
In 1965, they released their second album, Soul Dressing. What makes this album different from the last one is that most of the songs are originals. Overall, their albums make great study music. I like the songs “Soul Dressing”, “Jelly Bread”, “Outrage”, “Mercy Mercy”, and “Can’t Be Still”.
The following year, they released And Now! This one is more covers than originals. I like “Jericho”, “One Mint Julep”, “In The Midnight Hour”, “Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing”, and “Soul Jam”.
In 1967, Booker T. and the MGs had a comeback with Hip Hug Her, their other most popular album. On this album, you’ll find an even mix of songs that are originals and covers. “Groovin” was the big hit on the album, reaching #10 on the R&B charts and #21 on the pop charts. The title track peaked at #6 on the R&B charts and #37 on the pop charts. Besides the hits, I like “Double or Nothing”, “Slim Jenkins Place”, and “Sunny”.
In 1968, they released Doin’ Our Thing. This album wasn’t a commercially successful followup to Hip Hug Her, only breaking the top 200 on the albums charts. Still, there are some good songs on this album like “I Can Dig It”, “The Exodus Song”, “Ode to Billy Joe”, and “You Keep Me Hanging On”.
In 1969, they got another big hit with “Time is Tight”, which was on the Up Tight soundtrack.
That same year, they got a minor hit with their cover of “Mrs Robinson” from The Booker T. Set. It reached the top 40 in both the pop and R&B charts.
In 1971, they got their last hit with “Melting Pot”, which peaked at #21 on the R&B charts and #45 on the pop charts.
Buddy Miles: Drummer for The Electric Flag and Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys. He has also worked with Carlos Santana and Mike Bloomfield. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska on 5 September 1947. His father played upright bass and he grew up with music By the age of 12, he was touting with his father’s band.
I highly recommend listening to The Electric Flag’s A Long Time Comin’. I like the songs “Killing Floor”, “Over-Lovin’ You”, “She Should Have Just”, “Wine”, “Another Country, and “Sunny”.
In 1968, Buddy Miles released Expressway to Your Skull with the Buddy Miles Express. I like the songs “Don’t Mess With Cupid”, “Funky Mule”, and “Wrap it Up”.
In 1970, Buddy Miles released his first solo album, Them Changes. Of all of his albums, I recommend this one the most. The album reached #8 on the jazz charts and #14 on the R&B charts. This is one of those albums that I can listen to without skipping any tracks. My favourite songs are “Them Changes”, “Dreams”, and “Memphis Train”.
In 1972, he and Carlos Santana released a live album. If you’re a fan of Santana, you’ll like this collaboration. I love the jam “Free Form Funkafide Filth” – the alliteration in the title is nice too.
In 1973, Buddy Miles released Chapter VII. I like the songs “LA Resurrection”, “Hear No Evil”, “Love Affair”, “Life is What You Make It Part 2”,
Buddy Miles recorded other albums, but they’re not available on Spotify and YouTube links are a bit unreliable.
The Chambers Brothers (George, Joes, Lester, and Willie Chambers): Psychedelic soul band from Los Angeles.The four Chambers Brothers were originally from Mississippi and they moved to Los Angeles after oldest brother George was discharged from the Army. They grew up on gospel music and sang in church.
George played bass, Lester played harmonica, and Willie and Joe played guitar. They broke out of their comfort zone and started playing in coffee houses and folk clubs. Folk, blues, and jazz singer Barbara Dane loved what she heard and introduced them to Pete Seeger, who gave The Chambers Brothers their big break, performing at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
In 1965, they released their first album, People Get Ready, a live album named after Curtis Mayfield’s song. There were a bunch of soul and R&B covers on the album, and a couple of originals, “Hooka Tooka” and “Call Me”. My favourite tracks are “Tore Up”, “You’ve Got Me Running”, “People Get Ready”, “Call Me”, and “Your Old Lady”.
In 1966, The Chambers Brothers released their first studio album, The Time Has Come, which has the band’s biggest hit, the epic 11 minute long “Time Has Come Today” (the long version is better, just saying). Overall this is a good album, and you should listen to more than just the title track. I also love the songs “All Strung Out Over You”, “I Can’t Stand It”, “In the Midnight Hour”, “Uptown”, “Please Don’t Leave Me”, and“Dinah”. If I could recommend one album, I’d pick this one.
In 1968, they released Shout and A New Time – A New Day. My favourite tracks on Shout! are “Shout” and “Pretty Girls”. I don’t think either of these albums are essential listens. “I Can’t Turn You Loose” off the latter album was a minor hit, peaking at #37.
They ended the 60s by releasing the album Love, Peace and Happiness, a double album that is a combination of studio and live songs. The first 6 tracks are studio recordings and the last 7 were performed live at the Fillmore East. Overall, I think this was better than their last two albums. I like the songs “Let’s Do It (Do It Together)”, “If You Want Me To”, and “Love, Peace and Happiness”. I’m usually not one for live albums, but I like the tracks “Wade in the Water”, “I Can’t Turn You Loose”, and “Bang Bang”.
In 1970, they released Feeling the Blues. True to the title, the album has a blues sound to it. I like the songs “Girls, We Love You”, “I Got a Woman”, “Don’t Lose Your Cool”, and “Undecided”.
Charley Charles: Drummer for Ian Dury and the Blockheads. None of their singles charted, but they are best known for the songs “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” and “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”.
Chuck Berry: Rock and Roll pioneer born 18 October 1926 in St Louis. Passed away in 2017. He was a huge inspiration to so many classic rockers and many of his songs were covered.
He was born to a middle class family in St Louis and got interested in music as a kid. As a teenager, he was convicted of armed robbery and was sent to a reformatory for 3 years. After he got out, he got married and got a job at an auto plant. In 1955, he went to Chicago and met Muddy Waters there, who told him to contact Leonard Chess, owner of Chess Records. That year, he recorded his debut single, “Maybellene”, which reached #5 on the Billboard charts and #1 on the R&B charts.
In 1956, “Roll Over Beethoven” was released as a single, reaching #29 on the pop charts and #2 on the R&B charts.
In 1957, he released his first album, After School Session. The best known songs from his album are “No Money Down”, “Too Much Monkey Business”, and “School Days”, which were all released as singles. It’s a quick listen at 33 minutes long and an excellent debut album. The songs were all recorded during Chuck Berry’s first five sessions for Chess Records.
In 1958, he released his sophomore album, One Dozen Berrys. This album had a couple of hits like #2 pop chart hit “Sweet Little Sixteen” (the basis for “Surfin’ USA”) and “Rock and Roll Music”, which went to #8 on the pop charts. Again, this is another great album.
That same year, “Johnny B. Goode” was a top 10 hit, peaking at #8 on the pop charts and #2 on the R&B charts. That song was on the album Chuck Berry is On Top. Off that same album, “Carol” was a top 20 hit, reaching #18 on the pop charts.
The early 60s was a slow period for Chuck Berry commercially, with no major hit singles due to legal troubles. In 1964, he released the classic comeback album, St Louis to Liverpool. British Invasion bands were really into his music and it helped sustain interest. This album is considered one of his best. The biggest hits from this album were “No Particular Place to Go”, “You Never Can Tell”, and “Promised Land”.
Chuck Berry didn’t get another hit until 1972, when he released “My Ding-a-Ling”, which was a chart topper in the US and the UK. The novelty song was originally by Dave Bartholomew. Because of the innuendo in the lyrics, many radio stations refused to play it.
Clydie King: Backing vocalist who has worked with many classic rock acts like Crabby Appleton, Dickey Betts, Bob Dylan, Humble Pie, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, Steely Dan, and Joe Walsh. One of her most famous contributions was the backing vocals with Merry Clayton on “Sweet Home Alabama”. She passed away on the 7th of January 2019 at the age of 75.
Curtis Mayfield: Member of The Impressions who later went on to start his own record label, Curtom Records and had a successful solo career. He was well known for incorporating political themes in his music.
Curtis Mayfield was born in Chicago in 1942 and grew up in the Cabrini-Green homes. As a teenager he joined his friend Jerry Butler’s (who later became a Commissioner for Cook County) band, who later became The Impressions. Jerry Butler left the band and Curtis Mayfield replaced him as the lead singer. Mayfield was also the primary songwriter.
In 1961, the band got their first major hit with Curtis Mayfield, “Gypsy Woman”, which reached #20 on the pop charts and #2 on the R&B charts.
Between 1961 and 1963 they didn’t have any major hits until “It’s All Right”, which was on the album, The Impressions.
In 1964, they got a bunch of hits, “I’m So Proud”, “Talking About My Baby”, and “You Must Believe Me” were top 20 hits and “Keep On Pushing” and “Amen” were top 10 hits. “Keep on Pushing” was considered a Civil Rights anthem and was sung on the Freedom Rides.
In 1965, “People Get Ready” was another big hit and another Civil Rights movement anthem. Martin Luther King Jr even named it the unofficial anthem and often played it to get the crowds of people motivated to march.
The band’s next top 20 hit, “We’re a Winner” came in 1967. A really empowering song.
In 1969, The Young Mods’ Forgotten Story was released. This was one of the last Impressions albums Curtis Mayfield appeared on. If I had to pick my favourite Impressions album, this would be it. I like the title track, “Choice of Colours”, “My Deceiving Heart”, “Seven Years”, and “Mighty Mighty (Spade & Whitey)”.
Check Out Your Mind was the last Impressions album with Curtis Mayfield, before he went solo. This album combines R&B and funk, making it a great listen. It gives you an idea of how his sound evolved over time.
That same year, Curtis Mayfield released his solo debut, Curtis.This album had the hit “Move on Up”, which reached #12 in the UK. The first track, “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go”, reached #29 on the US charts. It’s an excellent album. Besides those two tracks, I like “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue”, “Miss Black America”, “Wild and Free”.
In 1971, he released Roots. Again, another great album that I can listen to from start to finish. My favourite songs on there are “Get Down” and “We Got to Have Peace”.
In 1972, he released his most successful album, Super Fly, the film soundtrack. This is a classic and essential album. it was groundbreaking because it was a concept album that had political themes, talking about poverty and drug abuse. Lots of great songs: “Pusherman”, “Freddie’s Dead”, “No Thing on Me”, and “Superfly”. Because of the success of this album, he did other soundtracks throughout the rest of the decade for movies like Claudine, Let’s Do It Again, Sparkle, and Short Eyes.
In 1973, he released Back to the World. I hadn’t listened to this album until I wrote this post and I really felt like I was missing out. I love the songs “Future Shock” (#11 R&B, #39 pop charts), “Right on For the Darkness”, “Future Song”, and “If I Were a Child Again” (#22 R&B, #71 pop).
I can’t find his albums after Sweet Exorcist on Spotify, so I won’t discuss them here because YouTube links can be unreliable. Sweet Exorcist as an album isn’t as good as the previous ones, so I think you can skip it.
Dartanyan Brown: Bassist of jazz rock band Chase, best known for their 1977 hit, “Get It On”.
Death: Punk band formed in Detroit in 1971 by the Hackney brothers: Bobby, Dannis, and David. From a young age, the three brothers were into rock and roll after watching The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and seeing The Who and Alice Cooper in concert.
They were originally known as RockFire Funk Express and released one single under that name called “People Save The World” b/w “Rockfire Funk Express”.
Sometime between 1973 and 1975, their father died in an accident and David had the idea of calling the band Death and putting a new spin on the word, changing it to a more positive connotation.
In 1975, they got money from Clive Davis of Columbia Records to record an album, but Davis wanted them to change their name to something more commercial, which is something that didn’t sit well with the band. Davis pulled out and they were left with only enough money to record 7 songs instead of the typical 12. My favourite songs on this album are “Keep on Knocking”, “Politicians in My Eyes” (a very relevant song even today), “Let The World Turn”, and “Freakin’ Out”.
After a lack of success, Death broke up in 1977 and they moved to Vermont. In the 2010s, there was a revival of interest in the band because of how pioneering their punk sound was, predating all the big punk bands. Definitely an example of one of the best kept secrets of punk. If you want to learn more about Death, I recommend the documentary, A Band Called Death.
Doug “Dug” Pinnick: Bassist, songwriter, and co-lead vocalist of hard rock band King’s X. He often plays a 12 string bass. The band had a new wave sound and began as Sneak Preview, releasing only one album in 1983 under that name. After that, they toured and moved to Houston, where they met Sam Taylor, who worked for ZZ Top’s production company and suggested they change their name to King’s X. They released their first album as King’s X in 1988, called Out of the Silent Planet. It has a much different sound from the last one, with a more prog metal sound. The following year, they released their second album, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska.
The Equals (Eddy Grant, Derv Gordon, Lincoln Gordon): One of England’s first multiracial rock bands. They all met on a council estate in London and became friends. The Gordon Twins were born in Jamaica and Eddy Grant was born in Guyana. Their sound is a combination of pop, rock, blues, R&B, and ska. They got their start opening for R&B and soul musicians like Bo Diddley and Wilson Pickett. From there, they got a record deal. Eddy Grant was the main songwriter and lead singer. He stood out for his style and his bleached blond hair.
The band released their first single in 1966, “I Won’t Be There”. The single was not successful.
It wasn’t until 1968 that the band found success with singles “I Get So Excited” and “Baby Come Back” (a chart topper in the UK, Germany, South Africa, Belgium, and Rhodesia – now known as Zimbabwe; #2 in Ireland, #4 in Norway, and even making the top 40 in the US).
In the UK, “Viva Bobby Joe” and “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” were top 10 hits.
The song “Police on My Back” was one of their originals and was later covered by The Clash.
In 1969, the band were in a car accident in Germany and all sustained injuries. Eddy Grant was the most severely injured and could no longer tour. He went out on his own and got hits in the 80s like “Do You Feel My Love”, “I Don’t Wanna Dance”, “Electric Avenue”, and “Gimme Hope Jo’anna”.
The 5th Dimension: Pop vocal group formed in the mid 60s in LA. They were originally called The Versatiles, but changed their name to the 5th Dimension in 1966. The original members were Billy Davis Jr, Florence LaRue, Marilyn McCoo, Lamonte McLemore, and Ronald Townson.
They auditioned for Motown, but were rejected. However, Marc Gordon, the head of the label’s LA office referred them to Johnny Rivers, founder of Soul City Records.
Their debut single was a cover of The Mamas & The Papas “Go Where You Wanna Go” and it reached #16 in the US and #9 in Canada, more successful than the original.
After that, it was hit after hit: “Up, Up, and Away” was a top 10 hit in 1967. “Stoned Soul Picnic” reached #3 in 1968. “Sweet Blindness” reached #13 and “California Soul” reached #25.
But in 1969, they released their two biggest hits: “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” and “Wedding Bell Blues”, which topped the charts. The former was a cover of the famous song from the musical, Hair and the latter was a Laura Nyro cover, more successful than the original.
The success continued even into the early 70s, with hits like “One Less Bell to Answer”, “Never My Love”, “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All”, and “If I Could Reach You”.
Fishbone: A ska/alternative/funk/punk rock band that formed in LA in 1979. The band members were a group of friends who described themselves as a “disparate all-black oddball crew”.
They got signed to Columbia Records in 1983 and released their debut self-titled EP in 1985. If you like ska, you’ll like this EP. I like the songs “Ugly”, “Modern Industry”, “Party at Ground Zero”, and “Lyin’ Ass Bitch”.
In 1986, they released their debut full length album, In Your Face. I like the songs “A Selection”, “Give it Up”, and “Knock It”.
Their 1988 follow up album, Truth and Soul has a harder rock sound to it and opens with a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead”. I personally like their harder rock sound combined with ska and funk. I like the songs “Ma and Pa”, “Deep Inside”, “Mighty Long Way”, “Bonin’ in the Boneyard”, “One Day” (a nice mix of funk and hard rock),
The Foundations (Eric Allandale, Clem Curtis, Mike Elliott, Colin Young, Pat Burke: Multiracial Soul/pop band founded in London in 1967. One of the most diverse British bands of the 60s with black, Asian, and white members. Not only ethnically diverse, the members ranged in age from 18 to 38. The musicians came from jazz and rock backgrounds.
The band released their debut single in 1967, “Baby Now That I’ve Found You”. It went to the top of the charts. This single is important in British music history because they were the first multiracial band to have a number one hit in the UK.
Stateside, they’re best known for “Build Me Up Buttercup”. The song peaked at #3 in the US, #2 in the UK, and #1 in Australia and Canada. Mike D’Abo of Manfred Mann and Tony Macaulay wrote the song.
The band had other smaller hits in the UK like “Back on My Feet Again” and “In The Bad Bad Old Days”.
The band had enough popularity in the late 60s to be in talks for a TV show, but that was never realised. The band’s popularity declined in the early 70s. Personally, I like their two big hits, but the rest of the discography isn’t essential.
Parts 2 and more coming soon!
Until next time!
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