It all comes back to McKinley. But allow me to step back a bit. I had asked my older brother, Crispin, a seminal influence in my life, which record I should buy, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? I was taking my little allowance savings down to the record store to buy the first record of my life, and these were the first American releases for both bands and I wanted his input. My brother had already taught me a lot about life and was a budding musician with a band on his way to becoming one of the greatest rock and roll saxophone players alive, playing with everyone from the aforementioned Stones (Steel Wheels tour) to James Brown-that’s his horn section and sax solo you hear on the recording of James’ biggest charting hit, Living in America. Plus many more in-between, to this day. One of my brother’s wise traits was to never push me directly but to just give me some information, and I sensed his leaning toward the Stones and I chose that album. Pouring over the liner notes, in the song-writing credits, I saw the name McKinley Morganfield. I asked Crispin “Who’s this guy?” thus beginning my musical tutelage into the riches of American contemporary music starting with the Father of all rock and roll, The Blues.
An aspect of growing up in the rich fertile milieu of Detroit during the 60’s was all the music! The rock scene was strong and I got to see, in my high school and various teen dance locations, Bob Seger, Iggy and the Stooges, the MC5 and many others. PLUS! The Motown Review would come through the city, sometimes down the street at the Roostertail, a catering spot that was fairly easy to get into even at my young age, and featured many artists performing their 3-4 main hits, one after another. These gigs were integrated, black and white standing together and quite consciousness raising.
And let’s not forget George Clinton, who had moved to Michigan and expanded his Parliament/Funkadelic universe and used to play a milk industry union hall on the west-side and you’re talking psychedelic, baby.
Plus, Fillmore-like old theatres were bringing in the budding rock giants-Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who and for a few bucks all that was available. I saw amazing triple bills like Ry Cooder, Captain Beefheart and Ted Nugent for three bucks. Creativity abounding in the air and the city vibrated.
To me the master was McKinley and still is today. We know him as Muddy Waters. One year before his death I was blessed to bring him to northern Michigan and he did not disappoint. A Buddha, a Teacher, an entertainer par-excellence. Of course, the Blues is the soil rock and roll sprang from and was expanded to rhythm and blues and soul, which I adore. In the end the fountain of the blues is the water of life that resuscitates me.
We have talked about American oligarchs who made fortunes from the Slave industry and how they learned the science of breaking a people to control them. This began with denying their rituals and spiritual practices and this translated into the fields they were working. Many tribes of Africa had developed complex means of communicating over long distances with song and speech and this was taken away once the slaves were put to work here, so they could not communicate amongst themselves. If they could communicate amongst themselves, then they could organize. What developed as a response to that became known as field hollers, which became what we would call songs. The slave owners let that practice flourish since it helped the slaves work more productively. From that grew the church’s influence which gave us Gospel. From that grew the Blues and then everything else. Sinning music on Saturday night and redemption music on Sunday morn. Muddy, born and raised around Rolling Fork, Mississippi, trekked up to Chicago, plugged in to an electric amplifier and the rest is History. No Stones, who took their name from a Muddy Waters song, or Eric Clapton or Led Zeppelin or many others would exist in the form they do without that northward trek.
The Carolinas have a rich blues, rhythm and blues and soul history, from which grew Beach Music. Beach music is Carolina soul and NC should truly take pride in that tradition. Like Muddy, many of the original greats have passed on, but some form of the bands still play live and God bless’em.