An earnest musicologist explores the makings of 20th-century “Aframerican” music: doo-wop to soul, rhythm and blues to hip-hop, gospel to gangsta.
Black music, Kempton tells us, has been the object of white depredation since the days of W.C. Handy. Born in the ubiquitous church choirs, nurtured on black vaudeville’s “chitlin’ circuit,” the art refused to be kept within bounds. Ma Rainey mixed gospel and blues; Sister Rosetta Tharpe broke out of the “race record” market. White cover versions of black records became unnecessary. Thomas A. Dorsey (“Father of Gospel” and author of “Precious Lord”) tutored Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin. It was Curtis Mayfield’s time, no longer Stepin Fetchit’s. Sam Cook (later more elegantly “Cooke”) warbled “You Send Me” and crossed over. James Brown did his considerable thing. In Detroit, Berry Gordy Jr., an inept pimp but a remarkable musical autodidact, established Motown, America’s greatest black musical enterprise, allowing Smokey Robinson and Diane Ross to soar. In Memphis, Stax Records had Otis Redding. Suge Knight marketed “ghetto niggaz” like Ice-T. Until he succumbed to a hail of bullets, Tupac Shakur vied with Dr. Dre. With a sensibility as black as any white author could possibly muster, Kempton raps about scuffling and struggling, road perks of drugs and sex, all the stuff about the boyz that didn’t make the trades. The prose, fervid and relentless, describes people not simply employed, but indentured. Major labels steal from sharecropper artists; banks hold “the whip handle” to wield “an overseer’s lash.” It’s all boogaloo all the time, with no mention of any noteworthy interchange with country and western (“hillbilly,” as Kempton disses it), Fisk Jubilee music, or the Brits. The syntax is so elaborate that verbs are hard to find. There are no photos or discography, and a companion CD would have been wonderful. Yet the text, in its way, is significant.
Funky, detailed, and, with elbows thrust out, it’s all rock-and-roll.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)