CURTIS MAYFIELD / “Curtis Mayfield Mixtape”
I wasn’t even close. Standing at the back of the hotel ballroom, at least a hundred feet away from the stage when they announced the award. I craned my neck to see better. In a few minutes I was wiping my eyes with the back of my hand to see better. Something welled up inside and overwhelmed me when the man in the wheelchair was escorted out to receive his award. I could be misremembering, but I believe it was Jerry Butler doing the honors, or someone of that caliber. All I know for sure is: I was crying.
I’ve never been sentimental. And certainly not given to giving in to the urge let my tears fly when I’m really moved by something, nevertheless I have had my moments, and this was one of the most moving of my moments. Curtis Mayfield was receiving the R&B Foundation lifetime achievement award.
Of all the R&B guys from the sixties, Curtis Mayfield’s ongoing impact is unparalleled as a composer, performer and humanistic advocate for the advancement of his people. In an earlier generation, Mayfield would have been dubbed a “race man,” especially given his foresight to establish his own businesses to assume full ownership of his music. Curtis was born June 3, 1942 in Chicago and died just before the new millennium on December 26, 1999. Curtis had dropped out of high school to pursue music and stayed true to his passion up until his death.
By the nineties most entertainers were trying to get into the inner circles rather than establish their own spheres of influences. In this regard, Curtis’ label, Curtom Records, was no mere vanity label actually controlled by one of the six majors record companies. Curtis Mayfield owned the masters and the publishing for his music, and he also produced numerous hits for others.
Curtis Mayfield was a soldier of the most courageous commitment who stayed on the battlefield all of his life. Threats, shunnings by radio stations, business offers that a lot more rewards would be forthcoming if he conformed to the trends, fashions and fads of the moment he never let any of that detour him. Curtis Mayfield’s music remained resolute, remained committed to the elevation of those, as he so eloquently described it, who were darker than blue. Most people have no idea how difficult it is to stay the course, to keep defying the powers that people, to swim all your life against the tide… oh, most of us just don’t have a clue.
I was crying because Curtis meant so much to me and to others whom I know. Again, he had a way of putting his finger on it: Curtis said, “I’m going to stay a believer.” That was a huge vow but a vow neither fame nor fortune, accidents nor hardships could force him to rescind. My man, Curtis Mayfield.
Plus, there had been that 1990 freak accident: a bank of lighting equipment falling atop him and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. A true superman of music, Curtis Mayfield went on to record New World Order (1997), one of the best albums of his long career—and that’s saying a lot. The man was laid out on his back, singing one line at a time and then stopping to recoup his strength—one line at a time, listen to the record; not much else released in 1997 matches New World Order. It’s a magnificent stretch even for a musical giant.
So this Mixtape is not a true retrospective in that it does not include Curtis with the Impressions nor any of his early hits except for a live version of “We’re A Winner” (1967), a song that was considered incendiary when it was released at the height of the Black Power movement. I spent many a night executing mucho bad-ass dance floor moves, pushing my hands up towards the ceiling of some dive in El Paso, Texas, screaming along with all the other black bodies pulsating to the beat and providing full-throated choral amplification of the lyrics.
What we have are selections from Curtis’ solo recordings. They are not in chronological order but rather grouped by some emotional schema that comes from deep inside my memory bank. Thus we start off with selections from the album Back To The World (1973), which I, as a veteran who had served in Korea in 1966, adopted as part of the soundtrack of my mind. BTW the phrase “back to the world” is a direct quote from the self-created lexicon of black military personnel during that period. While serving overseas, whenever we spoke of the states in general or our home towns in particular, we always said “back in the world.”
What I really, really dug about what Curtis wrote is that he captured both the exhilaration of being back on the scene and also the twistedness that was part of the personalities of all of us who had been in the military at that time, a twistedness that most people either ignored, overlooked or denied, a twistedness that “Right On For The Darkness” so painfully captures or the sad confession in “Can’t Say Nothing” when Mayfield utters the frightening truism “just don’t make me do my thing / it can be so awful mean.” This album helped me deal with me.
Moreover, Curtis was stretching out as an arranger. He combined percolating percussion and blistering bass lines, with deftly orchestrated string seasonings and melodies that floated effortlessly over the hard grooves.
The Curtis/Live (1971) is one of my favorite live R&B recordings, capturing Curtis at his most personable working with a small combo, stretching out and getting down. Here you hear him preaching as though the music stand was a podium at a political rally except of course, most rallies did not have a cracker-jack rhythm section offering hip-snapping back-beats.
Next up are tracks from a compilation that is almost, but not quite, accurately named The Definitive Soul Collection—to the selections on the album I’ve added the title track “Never Say You Can’t Survive” of a 1977 album and “When Seasons Change” from There’s No Place Like America Today (1975). Throughout most of these selections, Curtis is singing in his trademark falsetto. While he was not the greatest vocalist of the seventies, he was so distinctive and such an outstanding songwriter, that his music became definitive, and hence the title for a major compilation of his work.
Well, you know we had to include a brace of selections from Super Fly (1972), except I use the Deluxe 25th Anniversary Edition that includes the alternate mix of “Pusherman” and the Curtis Mayfield monologue which closes out that section.
We wrap it up with selections from Curtis’ last album, New World Order (1996). All of those cuts are top drawer, including the surprise and very effective Aretha Franklin cameo on “Back To Living Again” and the Terry “Zapp” Troutman produced version of “We People Who Are Darker Than Blue” that features Roger Troutman playing all the instruments. The whole album just makes me so proud to have been alive when this man was making music.
Recently a friend asked me whether I thought the music from the seventies was so good because it’s the music of our youth or because the music is just that good. I answered that I thought it was because the music was just that good, noting that people who had no knowledge of the music, love it when they are exposed to it. However, listening to this Curtis Mayfield Mixtape I’ve got to acknowledge my bias.
Curtis was there when I won my first record on the radio and gave the forty-five platter to the girl in the next block who was an early girlfriend. Curtis was there when I flew back from Korea and we were putting political organizations together, starting our own school for our children, and pushing hard to create a true new world of self-determined, self-defending and self-respecting Black folk. Curtis was there when I wanted to articulate opposition to the mainstream. Curtis was there when I wanted to give form and force to my most intimate urges and desires. More than any other singer/songwriter I knew, Curtis Mayfield articulated the 360-degrees of my being, and so I am unalterably biased toward appreciating this precious music.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Curtis Mayfield Mixtape Playlist
Back to the World
01 “Back To The World”
02 “Right On For The Darkness”
03 “Future Song”
04 “Can't Say Nothin' ”
06 “I Plan to Stay a Believer”
07 “We're a Winner”
08 “The Making of You”
09 “We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue”
10 “(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below”
11 “Stone Junkie”
The Definitive Soul Collection
12 “(Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below”
13 “So In Love”
14 “Only You Babe”
15 “Sweet Exorcist”
16 “Tripping Out”
17 “Baby It's You”
18 “Between You Baby And Me (featuring Linda Clifford)”
19 “She Don't Let Nobody (But Me)”
20 “Do Do Wap Is Strong In Here”
Never Say You Can't Survive
21 “Never Say You Can't Survive”
There's No Place Like America Today
22 “When Seasons Change”
24 “Give Me Your Love”
25 “Pusherman (Alternate Mix)”
26 “Think [Instrumental]”
27 “Freddie's Dead”
28 “Curtis Raps”
New World Order
29 “New World Order”
30 “Back To Living Again”
31 “We People Who Are Darker Than Blue”
32 “It Was Love That We Needed”
33 “The Got Dang Song”
34 “Oh So Beautiful”
This entry was posted on Monday, May 24th, 2010 at 4:50 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.
Leave a Reply
| top |