Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Respect for Trevor Rhone

Jamaican playwright Trevor Rhone died of a heart attack in Kingston last week. He was 69.

I never got a chance to see Rhone's plays, and the loss is truly mine. But I have seen--a few times--one of his works: "The Harder They Come" a mindblowing 1972 Jamaican film starring reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff as an ill-fated outlaw. Rhone, co-writer of the tight, powerful script, fearlessly used patois in the script which--along with the documentary-style cinematography--gives the movie a sense of realism. (Watch "Harder" and you'll forever laugh at the "yeah mon" pidgin English that passes for Jamaican dialect in most American movies.)

"Harder" is a uncompromising film with beautiful music woven into the scenes and the plot. Truth be told, the movie packs a bigger wallop than almost all of the far more celebrated movies of American blaxploitation genre (perhaps with the exception being "Across 110th Street.") "The Harder They Come" isn't talked about much these days. But it should be. Check it out. And when you do, give a nod to Brother Trevor.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Sorels & Streets of Fire

The only good thing in the 1984 film "Streets of Fire" comes at the end, when the vocal group The Sorels perform "I Can Dream About You." The performance is about 4 minutes of joy--even if it is diluted a bit with cutaways to the lead actors dully summing up the movie--as the Sorels bounce, clap, shimmy and moonwalk (!) their way through the song.

Yep, that's Stoney Jackson as The Sorels' lead singer, Bird. Robert Townsend, Grand Bush and Mykelti Williamson were Lester, Reggie and BJ, respectively. They're not the song's true vocalists, but they sell it so well--especially Jackson--that the song and the performance were re-cut into this music video and released as a single (and that's where things get a little interesting. More, after the clip):

The "I Can Dream About You" single became a big hit (#6 on the Billboard charts) for Dan Hartman, who wrote the song and sang the vocals. But the version of the song in the movie--and in the first clip above--wasn't sung by Hartman at all, but by C. Winston Ford, Jr., an relatively unheralded singer who was, according to rumor, at least, working in Radio Shack when he was picked to sing the vocals for the movie.

But when the single and the soundtrack were released, Ford's lead vocals were replaced by Hartman's. And though Ford was black and Hartman was white, their vocal styles were similar enough that most people never noticed two different men performed the song.

The actors who played The Sorels all found a measure of success after "Streets of Fire." The song's two singers, sadly, have died. Hartman died of a brain tumor in 1994. Ford who never became famous, but developed into a journeyman music talent whose work spanned gospel, R&B, rock and jazz, was killed in an car accident in Colorado in 2007. His childhood friend Philip Bailey of Earth Wind & Fire sang "Keep Your Head to the Sky" at Ford's funeral.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Brenda Holloway

Motown was more than Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and the Supremes. But you wouldn't know it by listening to any oldies station. Terrestrial or satellite, the folks at the controls are content--and have been for the past 30 years--to play "Baby Love," "Heard it Through the Grapevine" and "My Girl" until the wheels fall off them jokers.

So today, we're standing on a suitcase, moving that Nehru jacket aside and breaking out the lantern flashlight to lay a beam on some Motown artists and songs that deserve a little more love.

Did you click the vidclip above and check out that tasty-looking Brenda Holloway [fine and can sing, too? why didn't she have a bigger career] getting down in 1967 with "Just Look What You Have Done." Her biggest hit was "Every Little Bit Hurts" from 1964 and check this out: She opened for the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965, then co-wrote "You Make Me So Very Happy", a hit by Blood Sweat and Tears in the 1970s. Maybe she's home counting her stacks from her royalty checks.

Shorty Long's "Function at the Junction," is an absolute jam from 1966.

The Marvelettes' "Too Many Fish in the Sea."

Jr. Walker & The All Stars, doing "Shotgun" live on Shindig in 1966.

[I saw Junior Walker in the mid 1980s at Biddy Mulligans. Twenty years after "Shotgun," he could still jam.]

Smokey Robinson & the Miracles aren't forgotten, but the poignant "Come Round Here" could use a little more love. Smokey's falsetto is rockin' here...and how the Miracles and the other background singers sorta wander against the groove--tight.

Oh wait. Back to Brenda Holloway. Look at this video. She's past 60 now and the voice still sounds good. And she still looks good. She could be my mama...or rather my lil mama...if she wasn't married:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bern Nadette Stanis!

Be Still My Heart, Y'all

Thelma is still looking good, y'all. I shot this photo a few days ago of actress Bern Nadette Stanis, who played Thelma on the 1970s sitcom "Good Times." She was at the African Festival of the Arts in Chicago's Washington Park. She was a warm and gracious woman who got greeted like family by almost everyone who stopped by her booth.

"I said to her, 'You were every black teenage boys fantasy,' " one smiling brother said as I stood with a group of men by her booth. The brother is right. There is hardly a black man in America over the age of 40 who will not nod when three words are uttered: "Thelma was fine."

Let's roll film [And try to tune out the sight and sound of Jimmy Walker's Neo-Coon character, JJ]:

She's lookin' 80s-fine on this clip from the "Cosby Show."

She turns 56 in December. She is also a painter, a writer...and a stone fox.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Poster from my youth.

Not too long after Farrah Fawcett's death, I was chatting with a buddy about hot girl posters from our childhood. Farrah's poster made her a household name, of course.

"Do you remember the one with the Jamaican woman in the red--" my buddy said. He didn't need to say anything else. Heck yes I remember.

In 1970s, the above poster of the moistened, nubile and bra-less honey in the very wet JAMAICA t-shirt, was ubiquitous. It was a brilliant marketing piece: water, adventure, beauty and maybe the promise of sex was all conveyed in the simple photo of a happy woman in a clingy shirt.

So who was the woman? She is Sintra Arunte-Bronte(who was actually from Trinidad.) Anyway, read more about her here in this 2001 story.