CHOCOLATE MILK / “Action Speaks Louder Than Words”
New Orleans is internationally known as one of the major music cities of the world. Visitors are always looking for “real” New Orleans music, meaning, I suppose, music that is different from the commercial music on the radio that one can hear anywhere in the world, music that seems to be oblivious to industry demands, music that seems to just grow organically out of the atmosphere; in other words, music that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world—and if the truth be told, such music hardly exists in New Orleans anymore.
Today, music everywhere is influenced, if not outright determined, by the dominant forces of the marketplace, even so-called independent music is judged by whether it has a definable audience. Pre-Katrina, there was a strong local audience for some forms of music that don’t exist anywhere else in the world, but post-Katrina… well, let’s just say it’s going to be a long, long time before there is a large, local, neighborhood-based audience. But there certainly was a time...
The eight-piece funk band Chocolate Milk is one great example of real New Orleans music. The band members during their major period were: Amadee Castanell (tenor, & soprano sax), Ernest Dabon (bass), Robert Dabon (piano, clavinet, moog), Joseph Smith III (trumpet & flugelhorn), Frank Richards (lead vocals, percussion), Dwight Richards (drums), Mario Tio (lead & rhythm guitar) and Kenneth “Afro” Williams (percussion).
Although they had a number of singles that charted, they never had a top-10 hit. During their major years between 1975, when they first signed with RCA and released Action Speaks Louder Than Words, until their last album, 1982’s Friction, they wanted to top the charts and tried everything from funk to soul ballads to disco.
They first scored attention as the backing band for Allen Toussaint’s live performances and as a house band for Toussaint’s Sea-Saint studio productions. Their debut album was the strongest of eight releases over the eight year period of 1975 – 1983. Four of the five tracks in the jukebox are from Action Speaks Louder Than Words. “Groove City” is from 1979‘s Milky Way album. Each of the five selected cuts has its own flavor and together the songs give a full representation of Chocolate Milk.
Chocolate Milk is a uniquely New Orleans mix of funk and lyricism, hip dance music and sing-a-long melodies. Regardless of not making a major splash as a commercial band, Chocolate Milk is classic late seventies Crescent City funk and their aptly titled “Action Speaks Louder Than Words” remains not only a classic musical statement, the song is also a parentally/perennially important social statement.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
The REAL New Orleans Kalamu is of Chocolate Milk's generation. He remembers how they got together and he remembers that this album came out then and that album came out there and so on. But I was just four years old when Action Speaks Louder Than Words came out. Obviously, I don't remember any of those things. For me, Chocolate Milk songs like "Action Speaks Louder Than Words" and "Groove City" were just kind of "always there." When you're a kid and there's a family get-together or a barbecue or what have you, you don't choose the music. You don't even think about the music. It's just part of the atmosphere. To a kid, the music is inseparable from the people, the food, the grass and the trees. It's like the air you breathe. What I'm trying to say is, these songs remind me of the New Orleans I grew up in. The REAL New Orleans. There's this show on Fox named K-Ville. It's set in post-Katrina New Orleans. As a born-and-raised New Orleanian who's chosen to live somewhere else, I really wanted to like the show. I wanted the show to make me feel good about my city. But I couldn't even get all the way through the first episode. I don't know why I expected more (maybe it was just wishful thinking), but K-Ville was nothing but one cliche after another...and not even good ones. It presents an image of New Orleans that comes straight out of the fantasies and nightmares of people who don't know anything about the city. In the first thirty minutes of the show, there was a jazz funeral, two jazz performances, at least two episodes of the lead character drinking hard liquor while on the clock (and he's a cop) and three or four major characters whose last name was some weird Creolized French-sounding thing that may or may not have been invented. (Note to anyone who's going to do a movie or show or story about New Orleans: many, many black people in New Orleans are surnamed Smith or Jones or Williams or Johnson or whatever else they're named everywhere else in America. The "Creole" thing is a subculture of New Orleans. Everyone IS NOT named Boulet or Lebeau or whatever. We also don't attend jazz funerals everyday. (I think I may have been to three or four in my lifetime.) Our cops generally aren't drunks. Mardi Gras only comes once per year and some of us are actually happy when it's over. We don't go to blues clubs every weekend - the tourists do that. Etc., etc., etc.) Chocolate Milk's music reminds me of everything the show was missing. It's a lot of what New Orleans sounded like when I was growing up. It's nothing flashy or pretentious. Just real, ordinary, funky music. It's also music that is consciously trying to gain a wider audience. That's part of what New Orleans is too. New Orleans is a landmark city, but it's not New York, L.A. or Chicago. For that matter, it isn't even Houston, Miami, San Francisco or Atlanta. It's a great city, but it's not a big one. New Orleans is always falling just short of being what it wants to be. When it comes to succeeding economically, New Orleans is a perennial "almost" city. But there's also a near-mysticism about New Orleans, something that generates a lot of curiosity for people who don't know the city. Here in San Diego, co-workers and friends always ask me what New Orleans is really like. I don't try to tell them because there's no short way to tell anyone what a city, any city, is all about. I just say, it's really hot and the food is good. And the music is good too. But a lot of it - especially back when I was coming up - is more like Chocolate Milk than Dixieland jazz. —Mtume ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, September 23rd, 2007 at 12:43 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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