Friday, February 27, 2009


We were wannabe bad-asses, walking across the hot asphalt playground of Caldwell Elementary school in July 1979 when somebody---I don't even remember who--came up to us.

"Y'all heard? Minnie Riperton dead." We hadn't heard. And our bravado took the afternoon off when we did.

Breast cancer. She was 31. That honey sweet soprano voice that kissed the stratosphere--silenced.

...but, as it turns out, not forgotten. Thirty years after Minnie's death, people still worship the voice and the music. More than a few Soul Closet readers have emailed me: "You need to put some Minnie on there." And so today I have. The Closet closes for the week with the great Ms Riperton singing "Reasons."

While the backing track is identical to the album, the vocals are sung differently here than on wax, leading me to believe she sang it live here on Soul Train (the synch is off, as is often the case with YouTube vids), but she hits some outrageous notes with astonishing ease.

..and what the heck? It's Friday: Here's Minnie preforming "Lover & Friend."

And a live performance on the old "Mike Douglas Show", singing "Seeing You This Way." Check out how well she handles herself in the interview with Douglas at the song's end.

..and also from "Mike Douglas," a live performance of "Loving You."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Family, 1970

Family: 1970

This is a 1970 ad for Esoterica skin creme. But let's set that aside for now and look at the picture of family. Mom and Dad are salt-of-the-earth, church-going Baptists. I bet he prefers to be called "Father", even by his wife. He is a supervisor at work; and his wife may be a teacher, but she is certainly on the Mothers Board at church. They seem old, but they are not yet 50. In fact, the mother is probably only 45. They are proud of their daughter, who is in her first year at Spelman.

But look at Junior, there on the right. He oughta to be in college, but he's not. Drifting. Borrowing money from Mama because Dad stopped speaking to him after the big fight in 1969. Dad tried to get him a good gig down at the job--even pulled some strings to do it--but did Junior follow up? No.

Mama prayed for him. She never gave up. And sometime around 1977, Junior started getting his bag together. He went to school, got a job and later became a minster at the church. Mama's prayers got answered.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jeff Perry Shoulda Been Famous

For the life of me, I could never figure out why Jeffrey Perry wasn't a huge R&B star of the 1970s. I guess the field was crowded with so many greats back then, there was only room for so many.

Here's a rare appearance of him on a 1976 episode of "Soul Train," singing--quite happily, I should add---"Love Don't Come No Stronger." Perry's career did enjoy a bounce in the mid-1990s. Kenny B., a Chicago steppers' dj I used to know, started playing, "Love's Gonna Last," a track from Perry's forgotten 1979 MCA album. The song became a staple on WVAZ where Kenny B., spun records and gave Perry's career as shot in the arm.

The 1979 album, "Jeffree," is worth tracking down. It's beautifully sung, and Perry wrote all the songs on the joint. Why MCA let this album bomb is beyond me. I found a pristine copy of it for $5 at the old 2nd Hand Tunes in Hyde Park, and no you can't have it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Buffalo Gals

After managing the rock groups the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols, Malcolm Mclaren took a detour into hip-hop in 1983, creating this early UK jam, "Buffalo Gals."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Honey Cone

I dug deep in the Soul Closet---ok, it's youtube--to find a pair of jams from the early 70s R&B girl group, Honey Cone. Both "Want Ads," and "Stick Up" were number one R&B hits. And if the group sounds a little bit like the Supreme, there's good reason. The legendary songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote for Honey Cone (and named the group) after leaving Motown.

The three stone foxes of Honey Cone were, from right to left: lead singer Edna Wright, Carolyn Willis, and Shelly Clark. Ms Clark has a Honey Cone myspace page right here, yall. On her page she's got great music. I learned that she is married to one of the coolest and most iconic cats in all of R&B: EWF's long-haired bassist Verdine White.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Homemade HammerTime!

Simplicity MC Hammer Pants Pattern

I wonder if Vanilla Ice had one, too?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bobby Caldwell

I had a conversation about a year ago with a white guy who loved black music. He said he hated when white artists sing soul music because "what right do they have to claim that? It's so artificial."

I agreed up to a point. There was nothing more fake than, say, a Michael Bolton herniating his way through a soul classic in the 1980s. On the other hand, the very white Michael McDonald, to me, is quite authentic. So is today's artist, Bobby Caldwell, singer of the late 1970s jam, "What You Won't Do For Love."

The song is part of the R&B canon, having been remade by everyone from Phyllis Hyman to Tupac. I like how this early music video begins with Caldwell in shadow (the cover of "What You Won't Do for Love" LP was just like this), then reveals him after the vocals began. I can only imagine the surprise back in 1978: "Dang, that's a white guy?"

Yes it is. But he's got the soul of a Brother.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When Gordon from "Sesame Street" was a Pimp

The Soul Closet brings forth today "Willie Dynamite," a 1974 film starring Roscoe Orman as a pimp who finds himself squeezed after refusing to join a collective of other macks. Brother Orman is best known as Gordon on "Sesame Street."

"Dynamite" is Orman's first role on film and he clearly had the makings of being a real movie star. He's charismatic, intense---and he pulls off one of the most outrageous wardrobes committed to celluloid. In her final role, the late Diana Sands is excellent as a former streetwalker at odds with Willie. You just wish she, and the rest of the cast, where in a better movie.

The clip above is the best part of the movie. Roger Robinson steals the show with a Pimpspearean performance as Bell, the lead mack. You'll see Orman, Nathaniel Taylor who played Rollo in "Sanford and Son," and character actor Don DoQui who appeared in "Robocop" and countless other features (he died Feb 9th of this year).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

International Fashions. 1971

Man from P.I.M.P.

This is a 1971 ad for International Fashions. But it really should be an ad for a movie. Call it "Pimp Force '72: The Man from P.I.M.P." In it, pimps from France, the U.S., and Nigeria unite and go undercover to keep neo-Nazis from taking over the pimp trade.

Admit it: If there were such a movie, you'd be on Netflix right now trying to get for Friday. I know I would.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Run's House v.1

From the 1985 movie, "Krush Groove." Back when hip-hop was still young, fresh and edgy--before Madison Avenue, Clear Channel, big record labels and reality TV took an authentic voice and lifestyle of the streets and jacked it up.

Anyway, "Krush Groove" is based on the early days of Def Jam records, and featured appearances by Run-DMC, Sheila E., the Fat Boys and New Edition. The acting is a little wooden, but the musical performances more than make up for it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

5 Star

From 1987. You remember these folks? They were an 1980s R&B act out of the UK. Their biggest hits were "All Fall Down" and "Can't Wait Another Minute." The group was composed of the five Pearson siblings--who clearly owed a debt to the Jackson dynasty. And yes, I had the hots for lead singer Denise Pearson. She's now 41. I wonder what she looks and sounds like now?

Uh, Denise? Call me.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Is the Man Shortage THAT Bad?

Strange Bedfellows

Look at this 1969 ad for Armstrong tires. The comely-looking sister is snuggled up in the bed with a tire. She is disturbed.

You wonder how this affair began. Was she getting the mail one day and spotted the tire rolling down the street by itself and figured "..hey baby"? Or maybe it's a steel-belted tire, and she's cheating on the dedicated but worn-down bias ply tire she already has.

Or maybe she's married to an actual guy. Let's call him "Bill" and, well...

"Bill, as your friend, I must tell you: Sondra IS seeing someone else...but its not what you think."
"What is it, Man? All she's been talking about is how she's found someone new; someone who keeps her safe. Someone she can depend on. Someone who doesn't ask for much--"
"I know..and 'someone she can roll with'..We've discussed this before, Bill. But I peeped in the window of your house today, Bill. I saw who she's been messing around with. The loose lugnuts you keep finding in your driveway...that ain't by chance. This Mr. Armstrong you're hearing about is no man, Bill."
"I know he's no man...seeing my wife...shame on him."
"You don't understand, Bill. Mr. Armstrong....he's a tire, Bill. A TIRE!"
(music: daah--daaah..DAAAAAAH)

Pirelli bought out Armstrong Tires back in 1989. My car has Pirellis. And I like em. But not this much.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Levi's: 1970


This 1970 Levi's ad features a nice bit of informal street photography, Levi's and a great tagline: "Have You Ever Had a Bad Time in Levi's?" Yes, yes, the guy is clearly having the time of his life. But I look and I wonder: Do you think the girl ever found out the real reason why he never brought her home to meet mother?

[Alright, I kid! I kid!]

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Across 110th Street!

"Across 110th Street"--gritty, violent, cynical--is among the best of the black movie genre of the 1970s. In fact, with its unrelenting nature, documentary-style camera work and explosive performances, "110th Street" deserves a place among other set-in-NYC classics of the day, including "Taxi Driver," "Mean Streets," "Report to the Commissioner" and others.

Released in 1972, the movie stars Yaphet Kotto and Anthony Quinn as two detectives at odds as they attempt to solve the fatal robbery of a Mafia count room in Harlem. But the powerful supporting cast of black character actors such as Paul Benjamin, Ed Bernard, Norma Donaldson and the gravelly-voiced Richard Ward--especially Ward---carry the film. Tony Franciosa also does fine work as the dimwitted, but violent mob hood who is in pursuit of the robbers.

The movie is brilliantly acted--the speech Paul Benjamin's character delivers in his rundown basement apartment is Oscar-worthy, if you ask me---bleak and pointed. And Bobby Womack kills on the theme song.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Cross Promotion, 1969

Cold Power. With Soul Power
An amazing find from '69: an ad campaign for Cold Power washing powder and the Godfather of Soul. If you sent in proof of purchase, the good people at Cold Power laundry detergent would send you a 45 record of "Our World" by JB.

That makes sense. Cold Power--the least effective washing powder I can think of--and James Brown were both responsible for a great deal of funk in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A DJ Saved My Life.

The Soul Closet kicks shut this week in typical fashion: with a dance music video. Today we bring Indeep's 1982 landmark jam "Last Night a DJ Saved my Life." Indeep was composed of female singers Reggie and Rose Marie Ramsey, with producer Mike Cleveland supplying the male rap.

The song's bassline, hook and title have sampled and borrowed by an array of R&B/Hip Hop acts, including Mariah Carey and Busta Rhymes. But here is the original. And after almost 30 years, it still sounds good.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

In Living Color

Check out this clip from the 1990s sketch comedy show "In Living Color."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In the Heat of the Night

I never liked "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" starring Sidney Poitier and Spencer Tracy. It's preachy...stilted--and doesn't hold up well today. No, Sir. For my money, Sidney Poitier's best work from that era (other than the seldom-seen, but powerful "Brother John") is 1967's "In the Heat of the Night." Poitier is tightly-coiled and cool as a Philadelphia police detective forced help a sheriff, played by Rod Steiger, solve a crime in a racist southern town. And the above scene is one of my favorites.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Mighty Quinn

"The Mighty Quinn" is a clever little movie from early 1989 that was among the first flicks to show the true star power of Denzel Washington ("Glory" was released later that year). Denzel plays Xavier Quinn, the police chief of an unnamed Caribbean island, who has a whodunit on his hands--and his boyhood friend Maubee (Robert Townsend) at the center of it.

It's a laid-back movie, awash in color and great music. Cast includes Sheryl Lee Ralph, Esther Rolle, Art Evans, M Emmet Walsh, Mimi Rogers and the beautiful Maria McDonald in a small, but memorable role as the mischievous Jax.

...As I think about it: Whatever happened to Maria McDonald? Great voice, strikingly fine face and not a bad actress. After "The Mighty Quinn," shows her in the made-for-tv movie "The Marla Hanson Story" from 1991, and that's it. If you've got about 50 minutes to kill, check her out in this 1987 episode of "Miami Vice."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Soul for Sister Shirley

The Soul Closet opens the week with a little respect for the great unbossed and unbought Shirley Chisholm, who, in 1968, was the first black woman elected to Congress, and the first black person to run for president under a major political party. She died in 2005 at age 80.