Help Needed With New Syl Johnson Documentary Film

Syl Johnson was born Sylvester Thompson in rural Holly Springs, Mississippi. Young Syl spent his days picking cotton alongside his brothers and sisters, and his nights on the front porch learning the blues from his father and his uncles. His family moved to Chicago in the second wave of the ‘Great Migration’ and Syl quickly made a name for himself as a sideman for blues legends including Junior Wells and Magic Sam.

By the late 1960s, Syl was local Chicago label Twinight Records’ biggest star. When that small label shut its doors, he left town and tried to hit it even bigger. But after spending the1970s in Al Green’s shadow at the legendary Memphis label Hi Records, Syl failed to break through to a wider audience.

Syl went back to Chicago, retired from music and founded Solomon’s Fisheries, a popular fried fish chain frequented by local politicians and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey. But that success didn’t last any longer than his earlier career in music. By the early 1990s Solomon’s went out of business and Syl’s second wife filed for divorce. For a brief time, Syl was homeless.

And that’s where a lot of people thought the story ended, but Syl was just getting his second wind. He started hearing some very familiar sounds on the radio and MTV.

Sounds he hadn’t heard since back when he was appearing on Soul Train and American Bandstand in the heyday of his career. He recruited kids from his neighborhood to help find Hip Hop artists who’d sampled him and the royalty checks started pouring in.

Today many of Syl’s peers are dead or just done with music. He’s not. He can’t stop. Syl can’t stop fighting for what he’s owed (a bunch of royalties from 40 years ago, if you ask him).

He can’t stop reminding the world that he’s responsible for sounds in today’s pop music that are directly taken from his pioneering recordings in the 1960s and 1970s. And he can’t stop performing–on the stage and off.

The reissue label Numero Group has been instrumental in relaunching Syl’s career and keeping him active. They organized his first major headlining tour in decades and released the ‘Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology’ box set, which earned him his first ever Grammy nomination.

‘Syl Johnson: Any Way The Wind Blows’, is a documentary in the making. The film follows Syl’s life from 2009 through today, incorporating interviews, animation and archival material to illuminate his life and music. With a propulsive soundtrack spanning Syl’s half-century career, ‘Any Way The Wind Blows’ offers a window into the artistic rebirth of a nearly forgotten legend.

For more information click here.

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Wanna Hear Some Authentic Mountain Music?

201207-frs-gallery-image-01Then tune in to The Floyd Radio Show which appears on the stage of the Floyd Country Store, a traditional and historic live music venue – the brainchild of proprietors Woody and Jackie Crenshaw, who dreamed of beaming a taste of the inimitable Floyd music and culture out to the world at large.

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The new season, starting in September this year will see the return of favorite guests, and bringing new musicians onto the show, including legendary bluegrass singer Alice Gerrard, award-winning songwriter John Lilly, and champion fiddler Bobby Taylor.

Each show is streamed live over the internet at www.floydcountrystore.com, and is soon to be available as a podcast. 

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Record Store Day, UK – 2013 – Great 15 Minute Film

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The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 ‘Another Self Portrait’ – unreleased Dylan sides 1969 – 1971

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Bear Family Presents…..The Sun Records Story

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Mexican-American Music Gets New Life With Colorado Digital Collection

Arhoolie boss Chris Strachwitz

Arhoolie boss Chris Strachwitz

By Kiki Turner, first posted on denverpost.com

Thousands of recordings tossed by Colorado’s first Spanish language radio station as tastes and technologies changed will be catalogued, digitized and added to the nation’s largest archive of Mexican-American music.

For three days this week, collector Chris Strachwitz, 81, pawed through about 12,000 records donated by 85-year-old Carmen Juarez Beall, who worked as a KFSC disc jockey in the 1950s.

He was searching the boxes of antique 78s, 45s and LPs for tunes and artists not already in the collection of his Arhoolie Foundation – and for copies in better shape than records already in the archive.

The recordings will be cleaned and digitized along with photos and biographies of the musicians, and then archived at the University of California Los Angeles Digital Library.

The idea is to construct a vivid history of a music genre that has been neglected by listeners, collectors and  academics, said foundation treasurer and director of digitization Tom Diamant.

“The history of these artists and their music has been scantly recorded. Every day, someone dies and takes some of that history with them,” said Strachwitz’s collaborator Jonathan Clark, a researcher in mariachi music.

These rare recordings are getting harder to find, said Strachwitz, who fell in love with Mexican-American music and has been collecting since he emigrated from Germany in 1947.

“I look for records everywhere, from distributors to record shops to flea markets, even private homes,” he said.

The Arhoolie Foundation works to preserve and promote regional and vernacular music. It has about 140,000 commercial Mexican and Mexican-American recordings, the oldest record dating to 1908.

Many of these songs are a part of Strachwitz’s own collection, the Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican-American Recordings.

Strachwitz uses the word “frontera” — which translates directly to “border” in Spanish — to label the music in his collection because many of the songs originated from the border region between the U.S. and Mexico. The collection initially included songs from Mexico, Texas, southern California, and eventually grew to include music from places like Cuba and Puerto Rico, Diamant said.

The flavorful music caught Strachwitz’s ear right away, he said. “I heard it first on the radio and, at the time, I especially loved the accordions,” Strachwitz said. The music typically includes heavy 12-string guitars called bajo sextos, string basses, sometimes even flutes. “They’re very up-tempo polkas.”

Strachwitz says he finds frontera music is among the richest forms in terms of content, especially the narrative ballads known as corridos. Corridos were very popular in the early 20th century, he says, and they revealed a lot about the people and the time period. However, because of the lack of documentation, much of this history remains hidden within the recordings, he said.

“In Anglo music, almost everything is available and accessible,” Strachwitz said. “In Mexican-American music, that is not the case.”

Strachwitz and Clark will sift through Juarez Beall’s records to fill holes in the current collection.

“Just when we think we pretty much have everything, another collection comes up, which is wonderful,” Diamant said. “It’s amazing that you can even find collections like this anymore.”

Juarez Beall’s collection was years in the making, her daughter Carmen V. Beall Jr. said.

As taste and technology evolved, 45s, 78s, and LPs were slowly replaced by newer forms of technology and more popular music, Beall said.

“As the records became obsolete, she just kept them,” said Beall, who remembers her mother storing discs in various closets and basements over the years.

Juarez Beall’s collection comprises roughly 7,000 45s, 3,000 78s and 2,000 LPs. While the records are caked in dust now, when KFSC — now KBNO 1280 AM — started in 1954, the records represented more than just music, Juarez Beall said.

Back then, Denver had little to no Mexican culture. “We didn’t even know what a mariachi group was,” Juarez Beall said. “We thought, was it something you eat?”

In fact, she said, there was a real lack of pride in any Mexican heritage. “We were ashamed,” she said. “Everyone was ashamed to be Mexican.”

Before the radio, there were few entertainment options for Spanish-speaking people. But when KFSC founder Francisco “Paco” Sanchez started broadcasting from his kitchen at 3340 Lafayette St., things began to change, Juarez Beall said.

“There wasn’t any place for Mexicans to go,” said Beall, saying KFSC gave Mexicans a sense of place. “But the radio was uniting.”

Strachwitz and the Arhoolie Foundation hope their collection continues to foster that feeling of unity and pride in Mexican-American culture.

The foundation has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities, but it continues to seek more funding for digitizing and archiving.

“It’s a never-ending process of acquiring records and finding information on the musicians and producers,” Diamant said. “We’re trying to piece together a musical history that is an integral part of Mexican and Mexican-American culture.”

kturner@denverpost.com, Twitter.com/Kiks_turner

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R&B Pioneer Little Willie Littlefield RIP

One of the pioneers of 1950s rhythm & blues music, pianist, singer and songwriter, Little Willie Littlefield died on June 23rd in Holland, after a long battle with cancer. His family made the announcement of his death on June 28th following his burial.

Little Willie Littlefield began his career as a recording artist at the age of sixteen for Eddie’s Records in Houston, Texas. His debut recording 
”Little Willie’s Boogie” was a  regional hit in Texas. Willie recorded eight sides for Eddie’s Records and Freedom Records in 1948 and 1949.

While in Houston, word reached the Bihari brothers (owners of the Modern Records in Los Angeles) about a ‘teenage wonder’ pianist who was currently tearing up the Eldorado Ballroom.

Jules Bihari immediately inked Willie to a contract and recorded Littlefield’s first side “It’s Midnight” for Modern.Little Willie Littlefield The Modern Recordings-DVCHD-1056

When Littlefield arrived in Los Angeles “It’s Midnight” was a big hit (it peaked at number 3 on the R&B chart) and he was booked to play at the Melody Club and in Johnny Otis’ Barrelhouse Club in Watts. He was an overnight sensation.

Littlefield recorded around 30 tracks for Modern in 1949, 1950 and 1951 and scored many hits such as “Farewell” and “I’ve Been Lost”. He recorded with the cream of Los Angeles session men including sax players Maxwell Davis and Buddy Floyd; guitarists Chuck Norris and Johnny Moore and drummers Al ‘Cake’ Wichard and Jessie Price.

In 1952 Littlefield switched to the King label subsidiary Federal Records where he cut the original version of the rhythm & blues standard “Kansas City” written by Leiber & Stoller – originally called “K. C. Loving”.

little-willie-little_383_383By 1957 Willie had moved to Northern California and recorded for Rhythm Records where he produced his hit “Ruby Ruby”.

During the 1960s he played various clubs around the Bay Area area and in the 1970s he was re-discovered – making appearances at the San Francisco Blues Festival and the Sacramento Blues Festival. In the mid 1970s he recorded several 45s for Blues Connoisseur Records.

In 1978 he made his first tour of Europe, where he became a big hit with R&B and Blues fans. Ace Records in the UK reissued his early Modern sides as well as his Federal sides on vinyl and Jonas ‘Mr. R&B’ Bernholm reissued some of earliest and rare recordings on his Route 66 outlet – ‘It’s Midnight (1949-57)’

He eventually moved to Europe and between 1980 and 1997 he recorded ten albums for several European labels.

Willie stopped touring in 2000. However after five years of retirement in Holland he came out of retirement and began touring again – he said he was bored with fishing. He last played the UK in 2010.

Little Willie Littlefield brought the sound of 1950s West Coast R&B to many venues and gigs across Europe and always put on a great show! He was a fine pianist, always smiling, always giving the audience 100%. He was a true rhythm & blues hero!

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Kontor Records Back To Vinyl – The Office Turntable

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Billy Bragg: Handyman Blues Video


Directed by Johnny Vegas, the video features Stewart Lee, Kevin Eldon, Phill Jupitus, Samuel West, Neil Morrissey, Ricky Grover, Ross Noble and Johnny Vegas.

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Bruce Springsteen & I

Due in cinemas in late July this feature film is directed by music video director Baillie Walsh. Created for fans, by fans, the film includes some of Bruce’s greatest songs along with previously unseen performances, alongside the remarkable stories of those who lived by his music.

“This beautifully crafted film provides a unique insight into the powerful bond between a recording artist and those who connect so profoundly with his music,” said executive producer Ridley Scott.

Tickets for the screenings will go on sale June 4th, and to celebrate the film’s release, fans around the world have the opportunity to star in the official Springsteen & I the movie poster – full details can be found by clicking here.

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