Friday, 19 July 2024

CyberSoulMan: Where have all the quarters gone?

T. Watts at the KPFZ microphone. Courtesy photo.



ain’t no words to this song

you just dance and hum along …

 - Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong


Good God! We are just about down to the last quarter of the year 2009.

This year is the anniversary of two very large cultural events in the lore of America. Motown, The Sound Of Young America as envisioned by Berry Gordy, was birthed in 1959. Woodstock, the epitome of all Rock & Roll music festivals, happened 10 years after in 1969, pun intended.

The first single that was released by Gordy’s fledgling Tamla label, the forerunner of the Motown imprint, was a naturally dancable ditty with vocals by the above mentioned Barrett Strong.

Of course many acts over the years had hits for Motown including Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, The Contours, Shorty Long, The Marvelettes, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Temptations, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Four Tops, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and many, many others.

For me, I’ve always sensed a semi-charmed co-existence with Stevie Wonder, notably after I found out we were born on the same weekend of the same year. It happened to be Mother’s Day Weekend. God was not jiving!

In my opinion, one of many great moments in recorded musical history occurred when Berry Gordy, striving to transmit the essence of the genius of Wonder to the record buying public, recorded the then-monikered Little Stevie’s live performance of the song entitled “Fingertips.”

The song is a jazzy improvisational, mostly instrumental showcase of his harmonica and bongo drumming skills. Stevie does a call and response vamp to the bridge with the audience that seems like the end of the song. After he is led off the stage to thunderous applause he appears onstage again to add a few more harmonica licks.

As the band races to catch up with the supercharged Wonder, a surprised musician who didn’t anticipate the encore is heard to shout, “What key? What key?” They pull it off to ecstatic climax.

Time marches on. Stevie Wonder is the only artist from the Golden Era of Motown that is still with the label, now sold and conjoined to an entity entitled Universal Motown. When the CyberSoulman counted the current roster of 95 acts, he had only barely heard of a dozen or so. Conversely, I was able to count more than 20 former Motown artists and acts that are still alive and performing, relegated to the county fairs and oldies circuit with maybe a cool payday every blue moon in Europe someplace. I guess it beats a blank. The point is that Motown, as we knew it is gone. Many of the artists have left this earth.

Similarly, consider Woodstock. It was held at Max Yagur’s farm in upstate New York for four days, Aug. 15-18, 1969.

From what I’ve been able to gather the original lineup included Richie Havens, Swami Satchidananda, Country Joe McDonald, John B. Sebastian, Sweetwater, Incredible String Band, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Quill, Keef Hartley Band, Santana, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Mountain, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sly & The Family Stone, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Country Joe & The Fish, Ten Years After, The Band, Blood, Sweat And Tears, Johnny Winter, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha-Na-Na and Jimi Hendrix.

There was a great movie and accompanying soundtrack that were released to huge acclaim. All of the above artists did not make the final cut in the film or the album. I can remember anticipating with youthful exuberance the release of both. Wishing we could’ve all been there.

Then, a few months later, in an attempt to stage a Woodstock West, The Rolling Stones headlined a concert at Altamont Speedway in Livermore. It drew about 300,000 folks. Not as many as Woodstock but close enough. I almost went. Glad I didn’t. There were four deaths – one by stabbing, two by hit and run and one by drowning. It was a bad scene. A documentary, “Gimme Shelter,” was produced.

Sadly, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix were dead within a year of Woodstock. Many of the artists of the era are gone.

On a brighter note, many artists from that celebrated time are gathering to commemorate Woodstock’s 40th Anniversary at WestFest in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Oct. 25.

Confirmed acts include Leslie West of Mountain, Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers, The Original Lowrider Band (founding members of War), Greg Errico, Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini from Sly & The Family Stone, Country Joe McDonald, Lydia Pense & Cold Blood, Edwin Hawkins and the New Edwin Hawkins Singers.

For a more complete lineup and more information go to .

And if the drive is too much for you and you can’t stand the city, Country Joe will be at the Soper-Reese Community Theatre in Lakeport on October 17.

Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts.


Upcoming cool events:

Monday, Sept. 28

The Bottle Rock Blues & Rhythm Band featuring Mike Wilhelm and Neon. 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Information: 707-275-2233 or .

Thursday, Oct. 1



Open mike at 6 p.m. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Information: 707-275-2233 or .

Friday, Oct. 2

Gil Scott-Heron at The Regency Ballroom, 1290 Sutter St., San Francisco. Telephone 415-673-5716.

T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. Visit his Web site at .

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