Hope y’all enjoyed the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday; I spent mine meditating on the post-60s emanations of The Dream — as well as its limits as manifest in the oeuvres of Black Atlantic & Heartland rockstars David Bowie & Prince. I am finally at liberty to invite y’all to join us in New Haven @ the end of the month for the “Blackstar Rising & The Purple Reign” rock conference. Courtesy of an invite from my longtime dear friend of the Black Rock scene, former Princeton professor turned Yale scholar Dr. Daphne Brooks, I shall be presenting on Prince & activism @ Yale University; my evening program on 25 January also features Solange (Knowles) as keynote speaker & former SPIN magazine editor Alan Light.
The program also includes Sheila E., Kimbra, Questlove & others + a closing concert by TV On The Radio. More info & registration instructions linked: KANDIA CRAZY HORSE presentation @ YALE UNIVERSITY for Blackstar Rising & The Purple Reign 1/25
Looking forward to my rebirth in the purifying waters of Lake Minnetonka: HARTFORD COURANT on BLACKSTAR RISING & THE PURPLE REIGN
Well, since my sentiments about the state of Nashville’s country music establishment on and beyond Music Row tend to be unwelcome even amongst my former circle of rock critic colleagues, I wasn’t going to weigh in on this year’s CMA Awards, the 50th edition, which I did happen to watch. However, in my absence offline, an apparent controversy has been brewing on the subject of race and country music, due to the much ballyhooed performance of “Daddy Lessons” by Texan artists Beyonce (pop, urban) & the Dixie Chicks (once modern country royalty). Although I don’t wish to gas up TMZ, the site is one of the prominent places that has cited the CMA site & social media having scrubbed their entire online platform of images/references to said Beyonce-Dixie Chicks summit in response to copious racist reactions to the awards show appearance on Twitter & elsewhere: VIEW HERE
Now, I am no Beyonce fan nor “stan;” and I have no fear of the BeyHive in stating this — my backpages as a longtime music critic & editor for over 20 years clearly delineates where I stand on her & chronicles many of my thoughts on the history and contemporary scene of black artists who create in the overlapping country & western, bluegrass, hillbilly, Cajun, prewar stringband, mountain music, Americana, and roots genres. I also happen to have served on a panel @ CUNY Graduate Center in NYC earlier this year, holding forth on Black Banjo, my role in the country & western genre as an artist and touring fan, the Affrilachia movement, and the recent publication of scholar/banjoist Laurent Dubois’ book THE BANJO – America’s African Instrument. Talked about the fictional Darlings of The Andy Griffith Show a.k.a. The Dillards, and how Doug Dillard became my favorite banjo player and influence via Dillard & Clark. And I am a veteran of my friend Greg Mays’ annual Harlem Hoedown, where I always square dance as I learned as a babychile in rural Virginia to the sounds of my dear friends the Ebony Hillbillies. I was a “primordial” adopter, supporter, and then critic of the Americana scene in general, way back into the 1980s, and have watched successive waves of cowpunk, neo-southern rock, alt-country, y’allternative, insurgent country, progressive country, Ameripolitan, indie folk, etc etc come to consciousness and come to market; and always pondered about the African presence in all of these scenes and on the record business side up to this day where Americana is now on the Billboard chart — the year’s big news in music. The pop/urban mix with country as a featured event of the CMA Awards has obvious precedent; many of my former colleagues are still talking about Justin Timberlake (who’s in the process of going Country & recording a country album) performing with Chris Stapleton last year. Yet this year’s turn, especially at the 50 marker, is notable less due to Beyonce but rather down to the fact that at a time when Bro-Country is waning, Taylor Swift has defected for pop, and nigh every classic arena rocker has cut a country record/moved to Nashville to revive flagging careers, country (&western) still has a glaring race problem and its related business wing cannot develop or sustain virtually any artists of color not named Darius Rucker. Opening the show with a too-brief turn by black country icon Charley Pride underscored this issue; the fact that the CMAs chose to have Stapleton and Dwight Yoakam — great & skilled though they are — pay homage to Georgia R&B hero & country maverick Ray Charles, to illustrate the S-O-U-L of country music instead of even summoning their own recent hitmaker Mickey Guyton or Americana star Rhiannon Giddens who was present at the awards (backing up Eric Church) showed exactly where they stand. The citing of SOUL, as it always has been, is code for the blackness in twang; the modern country (&western) scene and business has never quite progressed beyond the early 20th century moment of Race Records and segregating sounds by racial and regional provenance. And all hell broke loose on social media yesterday and today, as country music fans of the dominant culture rushed to show their displeasure with the inclusion of a black (pop) artist on the CMAs, accusing her of trying to take away country music from whites who supposedly have eternal ownership of the genre — despite the patent & well-documented African and Native American origins of country besides the Scotch-Irish contribution. I myself am a Native Americana / cosmic country & western artist in no small part because I am of Native American, African, and Scottish descent, a rich hybrid made in America’s Southeast from which the Source of the music eternally springs. I am also just a fanatic of bluegrass, mountain music, and cowboy tunes — and I claim as much ownership of that Creation as anybody. Keen observers have known for a spell that one of the most vibrant bluegrass scenes in the world is in Japan, and that events and festivals like the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, North Carolina, have been yielding a younger, new wave of twang talent of African descent.
(My shot of superstar country artist #BradPaisley & #CharleyPride opening #CMAAwards50 – credit: @kandiacrazyhorse Instagram)
Here’s what I posted in response to the show on Wednesday night, while live-blogging portions of it on Facebook & Instagram: “I am watching #CMAAwards50 & pondering deeply about the African & Native American roots of the genre; plus how far Nashville & Music Row still have to go in honoring these legacies. Wonderful to see my hero #CharleyPride open the show with my fellow Virginian #BradPaisley (Yep, I’m a fan, despite the unwieldy “Accidental Racist;” I blame LL Cool J); but still tinged with some sadness and confusion. Someday, #NativeAmericana & #BlackHillbilly will take their proper place. For now, enjoying seeing all the 1960s & ’70s country women I grew up on that made me aspire to sing in twang, besides my Native American triumvirate (Buffy Sainte-Marie, Karen Dalton, Rita Coolidge): Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, Barbara Mandrell (!!)…& Reba…Waiting for Dolly [Parton], of course…! #KandiaCrazyHorse #NativeAmericana #mountainmusic #AppalachiaSounds from #Virginia #countrysinger #southernbelle #countrygirlsdoitbetter #AffrilachianNation”
Quibbling about how pop or authentically country any given act is — that’s something I leave to the working music critics. Certainly, the Dixie Chicks’ reappearance on the CMAs was controversial due to their past & interesting to have that baggage reexamined so close to the presidential election. Some staunch country loyalists were always going to react negatively to that. Yet the main issue — just as a decade-plus battle for Country Music’s soul reaches its zenith (see the site Saving Country Music for consistent dispatches on this topic) — is that country (&western…& Americana) is the last frontier for artists of African descent — whether that be Virginia-bred me, Kandia Crazy Horse & my new band Cactus Rose, or Kenya’s leading country singer, Sir Elvis Otieno — and the country establishment and much of the genre’s audience still views it as their own private safe haven away from the predations of urban music/culture/style and technology-tied modernity. It is interesting that Bro-Country, which would often feature the likes of Florida-Georgia Line duetting with Nelly and Blake Shelton attempting to rap, is fading just as there is a rise and music industry push behind a range of country and Americana acts that claim rock and other musics as influences or stylistically and attitude-wise invoke 1970s Outlaw Country: Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, Sam Outlaw, etc…and are hailed for restoring “true” country sonics and values […with nods to their precursors Shooter Jennings and Hank III (both of whom I often loved & covered as a critic in the past)]. Yet there’s still apparently little to no room under the twang tent for we country artists of color, cosmic or otherwise.
Hey, I love Tompall Glaser and Clarence White & Willie Nelson as much as any other ’70s babe of my generation; and as a singer-songwriter, I am clearly influenced by my most beloved Gene Clark and the Buffalo Springfield — hear my paeans “Quartz Hill” & “Americana” “Tula” (en espanol) & “Scene & Herd” etc — and the less-celebrated Ladies of the Canyon like Judee Sill, Claudia Lennear, and Essra Mohawk. Neil Young, I see you (& thanks for singing for Standing Rock). I spent the early 1970s toddling behind my dear lil’ Pamunkey mother from the Shenandoah Valley at the bluegrass tents of Folklife Festival, snuck viewings of my favorite show Hee-Haw (’twas grand to see Roy Clark pickin’ an’ grinnin’ on the CMA, yep?), dreaming of growing up to play the Grand Ole Opry (at the Mother Church Ryman, of course) just like Darius Rucker; he ain’t the only one! Sweetheart Of the Rodeo by The Byrds & The Notorious Byrd Brothers were always & still are major for me. I am talented, and I am well-versed in the breadth and depth of country; I am extremely proud of my southern roots. All we want, after so many moons of flying the freak-flag high for Black Hillbilly & Native Americana, is to have a permanent non-conditional seat at the (farm) table, per Mrs. Knowles-Carter’s great sister Solange.
As I go prepare to march for Standing Rock again this weekend through all of Manhattan, please note that the date for the Jalopy Theater water protectors benefit in Brooklyn has been changed to 25 November. Follow the new Cactus Rose band Instagram account at @cactusroselovesyou for more details as they are announced. I continue my personal commitment to ongoing activism on behalf of the Standing Rock water protectors, and the band & I are very much looking forward to playing with our friends from the Brooklyn Country scene! I expect this to be one of my treasured highlights of #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth 2016
Here’s a photo shot by one of the Jack Shainman Gallery’s gallerinas from yesterday: visual artist Carrie Mae Weems & (me) sonic artist Kandia Crazy Horse @ their space on W. 20th Street in Chelsea, for the opening of her new exhibits (see description below). Carrie & I used to share workspace way back many moons ago when I attended Hampshire College & she was teaching there. Nice to see how far our respective Creation has come & find now in her a fellow fan of my Afrohippie & bluegrass singer-songwriter heroine/inspiration Claudia Lennear — two vintage yet manipulated images, “Blue Notes,” of Claudia are featured in the show.
Via Jack Shainman Gallery PR: “Jack Shainman Gallery is pleased to announce Carrie Mae Weems’ first solo exhibition in New York City since the historic retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2014. Her influential career continues to address the rifts caused by race, class, and gender via imagery and text that is both sharply direct and beautifully poetic. This two-part exhibition highlights her recent investigations into performance, entertainment, and history.
Blue Notes (2014) and An Essay on Equivalents, See… (2011-2015) highlight figures on the periphery, bringing them front and center. The photographic series are paired with the enigmatic video installation Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me (2012), originally commissioned by the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA. The work rests on a 19th century optical trick, “Pepper’s ghost,” in which a strategically lit pane of glass reflects people and objects as dematerialized versions on stage. Weems employs this phantasmagoria to examine her own relationship to history and two individuals in particular: the 16th president of the United States and artist/activist Lonnie Graham, her sometime collaborator. Here history becomes theater, a succession of ghostly projections that draw us in to the strange ways in which representation seduces and manipulates, and how some are left out of history altogether, their apparitions left to haunt the expanses of Western culture.
The theme of performance continues with Scenes & Take (2016). Weems dons her black-robed muse persona—recognizable from the now iconic Roaming and Museums series—to stand before empty stage sets, documenting these encounters with vivid color photographs. The contemplative pose of the artist raises issues of who gets to be shown on screen; what do the fictional characters in television, theater, cinema, and visual art say about the cultural climate in which they are created, and how do these representations shift across time?
All the Boys (2016) responds to the recent killings of young African American men and suggests a darker reality of identity construction. Portraits of black men in hooded sweatshirts are matched with text panels. The written descriptions evoke police reports, underscoring how a demographic is all-too-often targeted and presumed guilty by a system plagued with prejudice. […]”
(Shot of “Blue Note – Claudia Lennear” by Kandia Crazy Horse – Originally from an early 1970s Playboy feature on the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter)
Claudia Lennear had famous affairs with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, when she toured with them in 1969 as an Ikette (part of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue), & later with David Bowie during his LA burnout/Sigma Sound Soul phase in Philly – the resulting songs “Brown Sugar,” Claudia’s response “Not At All,” & Bowie’s “Lady Grinning Soul.” I am personally far more interested in her singing with my most beloved Master of Space & Time Leon Russell (as part of the Shelter People) & Claudia Lennear’s attempt to have a bluegrass trio in the early ’70s with her fellow Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour veteran singers Donna Washburn (once a member of my most beloved/influence Dillard & Clark) & Donna Weiss (later a songwriter of some note; she had songs covered by, among others, another Mad Dogs star & my heroine/influence as a Native Americana artist, Rita Coolidge – I just recently filed an essay about Ms. Coolidge & this lore, which will be published next year in a tome on Women Of Country). A friend & Southern sonic forebear of mine, the late Memphis pianist/producer icon Jim Dickinson (aka James Luther Dickinson of “Dixie-Fried” & “White Horses”+ producing Big Star’s Third fame) promised to give me a photo of their bluegrass trio, as he was tied to the project, but then he walked on. Still hope to see the images someday! Of course, Claudia is active again, post- Twenty Feet From Stardom rediscovery, and leading two bands — one bluegrass — today in Los Angeles & recording an album David Bowie had sought her out to collaborate on before his passing. Looking forward to catching ’em live whenever I next make it to the Coast. I always do enjoy spending time in LA, amongst the newer Laurel Canyon & Topanga Canyon rock ‘n roll hippie glitterati — although most of them are East Side gentrifiers, particularly in Echo Park & Downtown (with satellites in Eagle Rock & Mt. Washington & out in the environs of Joshua Tree & Bolinas & Nevada City); this is why I always keep dear Odetta (who my late Virginian Native American mother Anne Marie wished for me to model & pick guitar in her image) & Claudia Lennear as my history-making twang foremamas & legendary Ladies of the Canyon.
I still plan to do a major project around the sound+vision of Claudia Lennear, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge & their mutual benefactors, Delaney and Bonnie (& their fabulous Friends) during 2017 – Stay tuned!
(Two #BlackRockCoalition & #AfroPunk veteran chroniclers & rock-n-rollers outside Jack Shainman Gallery, Chelsea: #KandiaCrazyHorse #NativeAmericana #CosmicCountry #singersongwriter & #RobFields #BoldAsLove #blogger & festival founder – #FollowMe on #Instagram: @kandiacrazyhorse)
(LADY OF (HUDSON) CANYON: After Carrie’s opening, upon The Highline in Chelsea, by a fan – More NYC shows upcoming! #LadiesOfTheCanyon)