Many moons ago, I worked at the Schomburg Center For Research In Black Culture of the New York Public Library system — in the last days of the tenure there of my hometown hero Ellis Haizlip, onetime host of the best television show ever: SOUL! I was seeing Mr. Haizlip’s ghost ’round every corner, strolling around in his typical dashiki & tailored slacks, last night @ the Schomburg even before his name was invoked by an elder audience member after the Black Banjo event we were in attendance at the Langston Hughes Auditorium: Banjo Stories & Songs From Haiti & New Orleans, featuring my acquaintance Laurent Dubois (a banjo-playing, Belgian-American scholar from Duke University; I did a talk with him @ CUNY Graduate Center in Midtown back in the spring for the release of his new Harvard tome: The Banjo – America’s African Instrument) & my new friend Leyla McCalla, the Haitian-American banjoist who resides in New Orleans singing songs in English, French, Kreyol & the lone member of my friends’ band the Carolina Chocolate Drops that I had yet to meet. The cited episode of SOUL! featured Taj Mahal (ex-Rising Sons) doing an entire suite of banjo & ole-timey music, talking about the instrument’s African origins and encouraging youngbloods to take up the instrument; this aired back when I was a babychile and obviously there remains a stark racial & generational divide regarding banjo players when the instrument is trendy primarily amongst white Millennials who adopted it after the release of the Coen Brothers’ pastoral pastiche film O! Brother Where Art Thou? with its peerless ole-timey/Americana soundtrack, and the rise of these bands in the Aughts: Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers (I was one of the first to cover them as a rock/country critic alongside the Carolina Chocolate Drops, as they were emerging from the North Carolina Piedmont), & Old Crow Medicine Show. Nothing against these bands & the untimely passing of Pete Seeger has also played a role – indeed, he looms large in Laurent’s book — but we still have high hopes that young black kids will get hip to the banjo & take up our decades of work in keeping the black twang musical traditions thriving. I was interviewed for Joaquin Cotler’s podcast on these issues after Leyla’s performance, at the Schomburg; I will share it when it airs.
My dear #BlackHillbilly / twang family of the Ebony Hillbillies were also special guests like myself & we were in high cotton, enjoying the themes and music of the program. The Ebony Hillbillies generously performed at the Standing Rock benefit I curated @ Decolonize This Place back at the dawn of October; I look forward to future collaborations with them — and now — also with Sistah Leyla.
The banjo was my favorite instrument even before I knew of its African roots & I still hope to take it up — possibly in 2017, since I have been invited to the Danny Barker banjo festival in New Orleans by the guitarist/banjoist Detroit Brooks Sr. of jazz titan Donald Harrison’s band who does a lot of outreach in his community and beyond to keep black banjo traditions alive. Black artists (& the Afropolitan ones trying to appropriate southern accents and songlines in the UK) in country music are not a novelty nor a trend; whatever the outcome for current youtube sensation Kane Brown, who’s an Afro-Native (Tsalagi)/biracial country singer from rural Georgia in the “bro” mold (Young Kane & I have several thangs in common), we are here to stay. So #SaddleUp!
( Leyla McCalla of New Orleans & Kandia Crazy Horse of Hudson Canyon, Sistahs of Twang, @ Schomburg Center, Harlem NYC )
( Kandia Crazy Horse & Kimberly Robison, Virginia Native American songbirds/activists of Cactus Rose + Gloria Gassaway, Catawba lead vocalist/bones player/activist of the Ebony Hillbillies (from South Carolina) – We southern belles love to gather, do actions for #StandingRock & sing to honor our Ancestors. Miz Gloria almost went out to Standing Rock last week with our heroine Pure Fe of Ulali; we hope to combine our efforts & make a sojourn together soon come – A’ho* )
(Throwback to last Thursday night in SoHo @ Morrison Hotel Gallery for private view of Neil Young: Long May You Run exhibit, featuring photographs by Henry Diltz, Joel Bernstein, Danny Clinch & others. Here I am “waging heavy peace” with Henry’s famed image of my hero Neil & his dog Harte in the barn door of his ranch in California, Broken Arrow (named after my favorite Buffalo Springfield native american-themed tune & a Delmer Daves western from the early 1950s), from the year I was born, NYC)
Gene Clark, a Native son of Tipton, Missouri, was a brilliant singer/songwriter/folkie who attained global fame for a spell in the 1960s as a member of The Byrds. Then, after quitting the band at the height of their acclaim — leaving them with the amazing “Eight Miles High — Gene embarked on a long & often turbulent solo career until his untimely death right after I moved UpSouth. Thus I never got to see him live, much to my regret. Yet each & ev’ry day I flash on him & his Creation, usually keeping a lot of his collaboration with my favorite banjoist, Doug Dillard (also now gone to Glory), in heavy rotation. One of my most beloved of Gene’s songs he cut with The Gosdin Brothers backing him – “So You Say You Lost Your Baby;” I also spin his masterpiece No Other a great deal. “One In A Hundred” and “Life’s Greatest Fool” are other key tunes of his for me. Someday, I will feel brave enough to share my ode to him, which I composed out of my time dwelling in the Ozarks in Missouri, called “Tipton Bramble.”
Today’s Gene Clark’s bornday, so re-sharing the column I wrote on him a couple years back which foregrounded his Native American heritage (which many don’t know about) & also featured an interview with my Cosmic California musician/surfer friend Brent Rademaker of Beachwood Sparks & now GospelBeach: THIS BYRD DONE FLOWN AGAIN by KANDIA CRAZY HORSE
( GENE CLARK, POST-FLYTE )
Also found out last night that rare country-rock specialist label Sierra Records has issued Gene Clark – The Lost Studio Sessions 1964-1982 > So will get that in my #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth rotation fo’sho’! – A’ho*
(Dillard & Clark)