CHARLES WRIGHT & THE WATTS 103RD STREET RHYTHM BAND / “Watts Mixtape”
If you happen to be driving thru Armpit Te…—er, um, El Paso, Texas—and go past what used to be the black entertainment district. District? Shit was a block and half, and you had to go around the corner to check out the half block. When I was there in the late sixties, some of us used to have to drive over to New Mexico just to find a party with a bunch of young black people who weren’t in the Army. Anyway, if you making it to or from Los Angeles, pushing up out the deep south—the deep south, yaknow like East Texas or else North Louisiana, either one of which on any given Sunday would give Mississippi a run for the money in terms of it’s treatment of black folk. Well, if you were coming from there and heading to the West Coast, most likely you took I-10 and had to pass through El Paso. And if you had passed thru Armpit and had stopped to get something to eat, figuring that now that you hit a real city there surely was some place around that you could get some good food. God forbid, you were too tired to continue without taking a break, and maybe you were going to check into one of those non-descript motels that are all over the Texas desert along the main thoroughfares. Just saying, if you did stop and happened to hear some funky music coming from some joint with peeling paint on the front, and if it was the late sixties, you might have run up on me playing in one of them joints. And the music we would have been playing would have been modeled on this week’s classic feature—except we had two women singing with us: Tommie, who had a semi-Aretha vibe but a much, much deeper voice, and Della, who sounded like she could have been Gladys Knight’s little sister. Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band are the epitome of regional, soulful, funk bands. They are not quite at the level of, say, The Ohio Players. And there ain’t no sense in comparing any band to James Brown’s band. But in its day, Watts was what was happening. This was not a concert band but rather a dance band, the kind of band that played in noisy, smoke-infused, alcohol drenched, drugs available, dens of iniquity where the people were deep into their particular choices of iniquity, ranging from relatively minor indiscretions and misdemeanors to outright felonies and cold-blooded, cut throat carrying-ons. Mr. Charles Wright was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1940 and his family moved to L.A. when Charles was beginning his teenage years. A multi-instrumentalist and singer, the man came to fame by organizing a band to go on the road with Bill Cosby in support of Cosby’s first music album. Over a five or six year period, Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band consistently cracked the Billboard charts although they never had a number one hit. But with them the absence of hit records was no reflection on the quality of their music. If you want funky dance music, you could hardly do better. What the band had, and had up the ying yang, was an infectious groove that just made your butt move. If you couldn’t dance to this music, you had to be bedridden, paralyzed or, more likely, dead. Much like Otis Redding’s music which we featured last week, Watts represents the transition from country to city with both the country roots and the urban sophistication much in evidence. Listen to the way Charles Wright sings, there’s nothing smooth about it. It’s all down home, expressing yourself. Wasn’t no whole lot of chord changes or music-theory heavy harmonies, no complex counterpoint nor odd rhythm changes. No, this was common music—as common as they could get, which meant, well, well… well, let me put it this way: have you ever eaten chitlins (not chitterlings, mind you, but vinegar soaked chitlins with Louisiana hot sauce and black skillet-cooked cornbread)? Here is a passel of their songs, a couple of them are still party anthems, and if you don’t believe me, play this shit loud at 1:45am to a house full of inebriated negroes and see if the party don’t slip into high gear. As far as I’m concerned the best song to exemplify what the Watts band is about is their love song “Your Love (Means Everything To Me).” There is not a flower or moon/June rhyme no where around this song. This is a fucking song—and if you take offense to that description, you wouldn’t dig the song no way. Once they hit their groove the band was remarkably stable for at least five or six years. The line up was: Charles Wright - guitar, piano and lead vocals Al McKay - guitar Benorce Blackmon - guitar (replaced Al McKay) Gabe Flemings - piano, trumpet Melvin Dunlap - bass James Gadson - drums Big John Rayford - saxophone Bill Cannon - saxophone Ray Jackson – trombone It’s worth noting that when Wright left the group to pursue a solo career that spawned four albums but no further hits, the other band members went on to participate in a couple of stellar aggregations. Al McKay became the guitarist for Earth, Wind & Fire. Melvin Dunlap and James Gadson became the heartbeat of some of Bill Withers’ major hits. I’m saying that to say, when I described the band as funky, I did not mean to imply that they were untalented or untrained but rather I meant they were profoundly in the pocket of ghetto get down music. Some people think this music is easy to do. That’s people who have never tried doing it. People who don’t know what it is to work for thirty-five dollars a night, fifty on a good weekend; three sets at least an hour each, playing songs shouted out by drunks and a fine sister sitting with six of her girls at the table stage right a little ways back from the front—you know we got to play “You’re So Beautiful” at least three times tonight. Unless you’ve worked the bottom of the barrel, you have no idea how grueling and difficult it is to make happy music when you butt is in sad economic shape and your home-front is registering on ragged, and some collection agency got a couple of legal attachments out for your ass. I’m not saying this to be funny but rather to help people understand that funk music is serious business and that the musicians who make funk music have generally paid some heavy, heavy dues—dues two times heavier that the average person will ever deign to remit. The reason there is so much feeling in funk music is because there is so much feeling behind the scenes of funk music: good feelings and hard feelings, ill feelings and “I wish you well baby but I got to go” feelings, feelings that if you saw them it would probably make you wish for blindness—funk music is serious music. Tres serious. Serious as (to quote the title of English photographer/writer Val Wilmer’s book), serious as your life. Don’t pass this off as pop. Unless you been up under the hammer, don’t minimize the power of the backbeat. We might not get paid much, but don’t play us cheap. Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band is the authentic nit and grit of ghetto life crafted into music, and as such, this band is the epitome of the sounds of people who may not have much but who put everything they’ve got into the music they make. —Kalamu ya Salaam Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band Mixtape Playlist There’s been a revival of sorts happening for the fellows. A lot of previously unreleased music is available. I tried to give a little taste across the spectrum including from their newly issued live release, Live At The Haunted House, on which the majority of the songs are covers of Soul hits from the sixties. This was recorded back on May 18, 1968 at a legendary Los Angeles joint with a colorful name. Don’t sleep on Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. 01 “Do Your Thing” - Live At The Haunted House 02 “Intro To Set 2” - Live At The Haunted House 03 “Something You Got” - Live At The Haunted House 04 “Hard To Handle” - Puckey Puckey: Jams & Outtakes 05 “I Got Your Love (Alternate Version)” - Puckey Puckey: Jams & Outtakes 06 “Light My Fire” - In The Jungle, Babe/Express Yourself 07 “Everyday People (In The Jungle)” - In The Jungle, Babe/Express Yourself 08 “Love Land” - In The Jungle, Babe/Express Yourself 09 “Twenty-Five Miles” - In The Jungle, Babe/Express Yourself 10 “Oh Happy Gabe (Sometimes Blue)” - In The Jungle, Babe/Express Yourself 11 “Express Yourself” - In The Jungle, Babe/Express Yourself 12 “You're So Beautiful” - You're So Beautiful 13 “Your Love Means Everything To Me” - You're So Beautiful 14 “Express Yourself II” - You're So Beautiful
This entry was posted on Monday, August 3rd, 2009 at 5:44 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.
3 Responses to “CHARLES WRIGHT & THE WATTS 103RD STREET RHYTHM BAND / “Watts Mixtape””
Leave a Reply
| top |