Category Archives: Peace Love Art and Activism

Bassist Larry Graham

Bassist Larry Graham

Born ‎August 14, 1946

“I’m gonna add some bottom… so that the dancers just can’t hide!”

Screen grab of Graham from a 2012 concert, Bataclan, Paris

None of us had ever done anything even close to Woodstock. Then, all of a sudden, we had the attention of the world. If you were part of that, it just turned everything around.”

So said bassist Larry Graham in a 2014 interview with George Varga in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Beaumont, Texas

Larry Graham was born August 14, 1946 in Beaumont, Texas.  From an article in The Watchtower: I was born into a musical family…, my mother’s only son. She was a pianist with the church choir, and my father was a jazz guitarist. Soon afterward my family moved to Oakland, California, where I started tap dancing at the age of five. Two years later, I learned the piano under the guidance of my grandmother, who cared for me in those early years.

From the Varga interview:  “My biggest influence was actually my mother’s left hand. Because, before I went to bass, I was playing guitar. And when she would solo, I would play bass lines on my guitar. And when I would solo, she’d play bass lines on piano with her left hand. That’s the way she played anyway, before I started playing with her.  So when I started playing with her, I was influenced by her left-hand bass lines.”

Bassist Larry Graham

Sly

Bassist Larry Graham
Graham is in the back in yellow

His breakout success was with Sly and the Family Stone (1966 – 1972).

Albums with Sly and the Family Stone

  • 1967: A Whole New Thing
  • 1968: Dance to the Music
  • 1968: Life
  • 1969: Stand!
  • 1971: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
  • 1973: Fresh
Bassist Larry Graham

Bass Technique

From that same interview: “By slapping the strings and expertly plucking and popping them with his fingers, he transformed the electric bass, making it as prominent as a guitar and dramatically increasing its rhythmic intensity. By dong so, he laid the foundation for several subsequent generations of bassists, including everyone from Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten and San Diego’s Nathan East to Les Claypool of Primus, Level 42’s and Mr. Big’s Billy Sheehan.”

Bassist Larry Graham

Witness

In 1973, he met his future wife Tina. Tina’s mom was a Jehovah Witness and asked Tina to be present at her baptism in the Oakland Coliseum. Graham attended and says he’d never seen anything like the gathering before.

He and Tina began Bible study and visited various Jehovah Witness congregations while on tour. He and Tina were baptized at the district convention in Oakland in July 1975.

Graham would later introduce the religion to Prince. He became a Jehovah’s Witness later in life, and according to Graham, that helped shape Prince’s music as well as his lifestyle.

Graham said that Prince would knock on doors, talk with visitors at his studio-compound Paisley Park in suburban Minneapolis and even share his faith with small groups after a show,

“That brought him joy. That brought him real happiness,” Graham said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Graham Central Station

After Sly [from the QG Enterprise page]: [Graham]…went on to produce a Funk band called “Hot Chocolate”, which he eventually joined and renamed “Graham Central Station”. The original lineup included guitarist David “Dynamite” Vega, organist Robert “Butch” Sam, keyboardist Hershall “Happiness” Kennedy, vocalist/percussionist Patryce “Choc’let” Banks, and drummer Willie “Wild” Sparks. The group used the funk foundation that Graham had established with “Sly and the Family Stone” and sweetened it with various layers of soul, blues and other styles – a magical combination that scored the band a Grammy nomination in 1974 for Best New Artist. Graham Central Station released a string of seven albums throughout the 70’s. Their debut album, a self-titled effort released in 1974, proved highly successful, launching a minor pop hit with “Can You Handle It“. 

He reformed Graham Central Station in the early 1990s and performed with the band for several years. Graham and Graham Central Station performed internationally with a world tour in 2010 and the “Funk Around The World” international tour in 2011.

Graham Central Station albums

  • Graham Central Station (Warner Bros., 1974)
  • Release Yourself (Warner Bros., 1974)
  • Ain’t No ‘Bout-A-Doubt It (Warner Bros., 1975)
  • Mirror (Warner Bros., 1976)
  • Now Do U Wanta Dance (Warner Bros., 1977)
  • My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me (Warner Bros., 1978)
  • Star Walk (Warner Bros., 1979)
  • Live in Japan (1992)
  • Live in London (1996)
  • Back by Popular Demand (1998)
  • The Best of Larry Graham and Graham Central Station, Vol. 1 (Warner Bros., 1996)
  • Raise Up (2012)
Bassist Larry Graham

Prince

In 1998, he recorded a solo album under the name Graham Central Station, GCS 2000. It was a collaboration between Larry Graham and Prince.

While Graham wrote all the songs, except one co-written by Prince, the album was co-arranged and co-produced by Prince, and most of the instruments and vocals were recorded by both Graham and Prince. Graham also played bass on tours with Prince from 1997 to 2000. He appeared in Prince’s 1998 VHS Beautiful Strange and 1999 DVD Rave Un2 the Year 2000.

When Prince died in 2016, Minnetonka, Minnesota’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall held a memorial service for him – “Brother Nelson” as his fellow congregants knew him – Sunday at the church where he worshiped.

At the service, Graham spoke about Prince and their shared faith. [RS article]

Bassist Larry Graham

Credits

All Music has a very long list of his credits. Among the names (in addition to Prince, Sly, and Graham Central are:  Betty Davis (the second ex-wife of jazz legend Miles Davis), George Tyson, the Oak Ridge Boys. Aretha Franklin, Stanley Clarke, George Benson, Stanley Jordan, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Mahalia Jackson, Frankie Lanine, Eddie Murphy, Santana, Chaka Khan, Luther Allison, Government Mule, Billy Preston, Shania Twain,  Kanye West, as well as many many others.

Bassist Larry Graham

Solo

Graham recorded five solo albums and had several solo hits on the R&B charts. His biggest hit was “One in a Million You”, a crossover hit, which reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1980.

Solo albums [all Warner Bros. releases]

  • 1980: One in a Million You
  • 1981: Just Be My Lady
  • 1982: Sooner or Later
  • 1983: Victory
  • 1985: Fired Up
Bassist Larry Graham

Hall of Fame

A 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee as a member of Sly & The Family Stone

Bassist Larry Graham

Check out this live concert. Amazing energy!

Bassist Larry Graham
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Mamie Smith Crazy Blues

Mamie Smith Crazy Blues

Mamie Robinson Smith was born in Cincinnati on May 26, 1891.

By the time she was only 10 years old, she toured with the Four Dancing Mitchells, a white act.

As a teenager, she danced in J. Homer Tutt and Salem Tutt Whitney‘s Smart Set. In 1913, she left the Tutt Brothers to sing in clubs in Harlem and married William “Smitty” Smith, a singing waiter. William Smith died in 1928.

In 1918, Smith starred in Perry Bradford’s musical review, Made In Harlem, in which she sang the song “Harlem Blues.”

In 1920, Perry Bradford encouraged Fred Hager, Okeh Records A & R director, to record Smith. Despite racist and boycott threats, Okeh, a white recording company, took a risk and did.

Mamie Smith Crazy Blues

That Thing Called Love

In February she recorded two of Bradford’s songs: “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down.” A white band accompanied her.

Mamie Smith Crazy Blues

Crazy Love

On August 10, 1920 she and Bradford recorded another of his songs: “Crazy Love,”  a somewhat reworked Harlem Blues.

According to David Hajdu in a New York Times article,  the song “changed the course of music history.  [The song was] a boisterous cry of outrage by a woman driven mad by mistreatment [and] …spoke with urgency and fire to Black listeners across the country who had been ravaged by the abuses of race-hate groups, the police and military forces in the preceding year — the notorious “Red Summer” of 1919.”

The song was a hit, selling 75,000 copies in the first month, eventually selling more than two million.

Again according to Hajdu, “It established the blues as a popular art and prepared the way for a century of Black expression in the fiery core of American music.”

Mamie Smith Crazy Blues

Crazy Blues Code

Subjugated groups  create hidden ways of expressing themselves. “Crazy Love” did that.  The song may simply seem to be a sad one about a woman who has lost her love, but it turns out to be a song in which the woman is driven to literally kill that love, that abusive love.

Now the doctor’s gonna do all that he can,

But what you’re gonna need is an undertaker man.

I ain’t had nothin’ but bad news,

Now I’ve got the crazy blues.

Mamie Smith Crazy Blues

Race Records

Not unlike The Kingston Trio’s success leading to Columbia Records signing Bob Dylan, the success of “Crazy Blues,”  led Okeh and other recording companies [Emerson Records, Vocalion Records, Victor Talking Machine Company, Paramount Records, and several other companies] to record other Black female singers such as Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith as well as Black male musicians.

They and many more women made hundreds of records that sold millions of copies over more than a decade — all before the great  Robert Johnson recorded for the first time,  on November 23, 1936.

While the records did sometimes cross racial lines, a genre called Race Records came into being. Race records led to radio stations whose popularity was with the local Black population.

Mamie Smith Crazy Blues

Smith Successes/Issues

Mamie Smith’s financial success from her recording royalties and performance fees allowed her to purchase a large home in Harlem.  According to Barry Kernfeld in his brief bio,  “Dan Burley of the Amsterdam News reported “There were servants, cars, and all the luxuries that would go with being the highest paid Negro star of that day.”

Smith and Bradford parted ways because of financial disputes and Bradford sold her contract to Maurice Fulchner, a white manager.

In 1922 she recorded “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None O’ This Jelly Roll.”

Smith continued to tour and performed through the 1920s and into the 1930s.

She toured Europe and also worked in films: Jailhouse Blues (1929), Fireworks of 1930, Paradise in Harlem (1940), Mystery in Swing (1940), Murder on Lenox Avenue (1941), and Sunday Sinners (1941).

Jailhouse Blues

Sunday Sinners

Her last concert was at New York’s Lido Ballroom in August 1944. She died on September 16, 1946 . She is buried in Frederick Douglass Memorial Park, Staten Island, NY.

Mamie Smith Crazy Blues

Main source: Harlem Renaissance Lives from the African American National Biography, edited by Henry Louis Gates (Jr.)

All Music’s credit list for Perry Bradford

All Music’s credit list for Mamie Smith.

Mamie Smith Crazy Blues
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San Francisco Diggers

San Francisco Diggers

In a capitalistic culture, the idea of giving away what you provide is the opposite of what you are all about. When Woodstock Ventures announced that the festival would be free, it was not as incomprehensible as some observers may have thought.  Providing free services was a view that many had had and continued to have.

San Francisco Diggers
Shown above is the “1% Free” poster that first appeared as wall sized posters in the winter of 1968 and became a Digger trademark for the last cycle of street events. Various interpretations of the poster’s cryptic symbology evolved. One interpretation which gained a certain infamy/popularity was that merchants and rock bands were expected to contribute 1% of their receipts to the Free City Bank to fund various activities such as the Free Food Distribution system.

Billy Bragg’s 1987 cover o f “The World Turned Upside Down”  written in 1975 by Leon Rosselson. Lyrics below.

San Francisco Diggers

Deep  Roots

“In the beginning of Time, the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury, … but not one word was spoken in the beginning, That one branch of mankind should rule over another”  Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1660)

Wherever a powerful elite exist, we will often find coexisting the idea of “leveling the field” so that all members of a society have an equal chance. The American Constitution contains that idea in its phrase, “to form a more perfect union.” 

Capitalism is based on private ownership. Those who have, have. Those who have not can work for those who have. The relationship can be an equitable one as long as the haves provide safe working conditions and a fare wage.

San Francisco Diggers

British Civil Wars

In Britain, during the 1640s, forces composed of those who supported Parliament (the “people”) fought forces composed of those who supported  King Charles (the monarchy). Charles was beheaded in January 1649 and England became a republic. His son, Charles II, became the king of a much weakened monarchy.

San Francisco Diggers

True Levellers

During the war, the Levellers were a faction supporting the a republican and democratic side, but more radical in their demands such as popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law and religious tolerance.

The name “leveller” was used by their opponents in an attempt to associate the members with an earlier movement that actually leveled hedges that separated lands to open up the land to more people.

San Francisco Diggers

British Diggers

An even more radical branch of the Levellers emerged in April 1649 known as the True Levellers or Diggers. Gerrard Winstanley  and William Everard led this faction.  Their view was that the civil wars had been fought against the king and the great landowners and that with Charles’s execution, land should be made available for the very poor to cultivate.

San Francisco Diggers

San Francisco Diggers

The San Francisco Diggers began in August 1966 when Billy Murcott moved to San Francisco from New York and joins longtime friend Emmett Grogan to collaborate on various undertakings including the founding of the Diggers. [see Chronology for a much expanded timeline of the Diggers]

The Diggers site describe themselves  as “…one of the legendary groups in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, one of the world-wide epicenters of the Sixties Counterculture which fundamentally changed American and world culture. “

They evolved out of the counter-cultural fabric already woven into San Francisco’s culture.  The group used street theater, art happenings, and distributed free food.

Walt Reynolds started the first Free Bakery in 1967  using equipment in the kitchen of the All Saints Church. He insisted on using whole grain wheat flour, which slowly helped spur the general spread of whole grain foods far beyond San Francisco.

Necessity being the mother of inventing, the lack of baking equipment led him to use tin coffee cans. And so, Digger Bread was born.

The Diggers created a free medical clinic.

San Francisco Diggers

Actors

R.G. Davis had created the San Francisco Mime Troupe. It’s mission was “…to create and produce theater that presents a working-class analysis of the events that shape our society, that exposes social and economic injustice, that demands revolutionary change on behalf of working people, and to present this analysis before the broadest possible audience with artistry and humor.”

The Diggers followed suit with street performances, eg, Trip Without A Ticket., the Death of Money Parade, Intersection Game, Invisible Circus, and Death of Hippie/Birth of Free.

San Francisco Diggers

Members

Ariel, Sam, Peter. This was taken at Olema. Ariel was not yet two. I was about 29. (Peter Coyote)

Actor Peter Coyote was a member of the Diggers. He said, “The Diggers didn’t stand for anything, but they were about personal authenticity and taking responsibility for your own visions.

Co-founder Peter BergThe Diggers have several goals. One was the immediate one: to simply act out free. Put free in front of any word you could think of–a free phone box, free lunch, free district attorney, free judge, free policeman, free boy, free girl, whatever–especially free love. Love being the word that had been foisted on Haight-Ashbery. And the long term goal was to create a bomb, a situation in which the people who were refugees from American culture at the time…would be able to re-see exchanges between each other.”

Like much of the idealism of the 60s, the Diggers activities gradually lessened and their operations ceased. Their operations ceased, but the philosophy of leveling the field continues.

San Francisco Diggers

The World Turned Upside Down

In 1649
To St. George’s Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers
Came to show the people’s will

They defied the landlords
They defied the laws
They were the dispossessed
Reclaiming what was theirs

“We come in peace,” they said
“To dig and sow
We come to work the lands in common
And to make the waste grounds grow

This earth divided
We will make whole
So it will be
A common treasury for all

The sin of property
We do disdain
No man has any right to buy and sell
The earth for private gain

By theft and murder
They took the land
Now everywhere the walls
Spring up at their command

They make the laws
To chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven
Or they damn us into hell

We will not worship
The God they serve
The God of greed who feeds the rich
While poor men starve

We work we eat together
We need no swords
We will not bow to the masters
Or pay rent to the lords

We are free men
Though we are poor
You Diggers all stand up for glory
Stand up now

From the men of property
The orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers
To wipe out the Diggers’ claim

Tear down their cottages
Destroy their corn
They were dispersed
But still the vision lingers on

You poor take courage
You rich take care
This earth was made a common treasury
For everyone to share

All things in common
All people one
We come in peace
The orders came to cut them down

San Francisco Diggers
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