Friday, March 23, 2007

BLACK MUSIC FOR WHITE PEOPLE

My March 5 Blowfly post got me thinking about the curious phenomena of veteran black performers who lose their black audience, only to have their careers jump-started after being discovered by a new audience of white hipsters.

This is nothing new: after the post-war bebop revolution, jazz lost much of it's black fan base, but gained a new chin-stroking white audience who were relieved that all that primitive African rhythm that made jazz the premier dance music of the early 20th century was being supplanted by harmonic complexities more in line with classical European tradition. And after blues was gradually rejected by black America for newer, hipper styles like r'n'b and soul, the folk-revivalists of the Fifties and Sixties went down South, dug up many old blues cats (some of whom had been retired for years), and brought them to folk festivals, which led to opening slots on Rolling Stones tours, etc.

In recent years, the punk-spawned indie/alternative crowd have revived interest in folks like Blowfly, whose good-naturedly nasty r'n'b is received as a delightful novelty in a gangsta-rap world, instead of an embarrassing anachronism. Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label, no less, is releasing Blowfly's latest, a collection of punk parodies. I don't know whose idea this was, but I'm mighty glad it happened.

Blowfly "I Wanna Be Felated" - And you thought The Ramones were already tasteless?

Screamin' Jay Hawkins was a forgotten r'n'b novelty act from the '50s until filmmaker Jim Jarmusch used his classic "I Put A Spell On You" in his mid-Eighties hit film "Stranger Then Paradise." The song, featuring Hawkin's insane opera-trained voice and delirious energy, proved so popular, Hawkins himself starred in another Jarmusch film, "Mystery Train." By the late '80s the Screamin' Jay revival was well underway, and he was his old voodoo witch-doctor shrunken-head-shaking performing self, emerging from a coffin on stage. He too found that his new audience looked a lot different then his old one, even naming one of his comeback albums "Black Music For White People," from whence comes this remake of a blues hit that's really just an excuse for Jay to go absolutely, utterly BONKERS:

Screamin' Jay Hawkins "Strokin'"

Jay died a few years ago, after siring perhaps as many as 65 children! A reunion of his offspring took place at the Hollywood House of Blues - about 35 of his kids showed up. A suitably bizarre post-script to a bizarre life.

2 comments:

seamus said...

Screamin' Jay also recorded a song called "Constipation Blues" that primarily consisted of guttural grunts followed by him yelling "SPLASH". It's not as tasteful as it sounds.

Mr Fab said...

A classic! I always appreciated the happy ending.