Monthly Archives: October 2009
By Doug Levine
© 2009 VOA
Some of the greatest blues musicians of the 20th century made their mark in Chicago, Illinois. Among them, music pioneers Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. The memory of these and other modern blues maestros lives on with a new tribute album titled Chicago Blues: A Living History. When blues musicians from the Mississippi Delta looking for work gravitated north to cities like Chicago, a more polished, urban style of blues was born. Caught up in the city’s fast pace, they traded their acoustic guitars for electric guitars, and turned up the volume with a full ensemble of amplified harmonicas, thumping bass guitars and drums.
Leading the tribute to their hometown heroes are four veterans of Chicago’s ever-growing blues scene, guitarists Lurrie Bell and John Primer, and harmonica masters Billy Branch and Billy Boy Arnold. Producer Larry Skoller, who recruited the all-star lineup, assembled the backup band and handpicked the songs, explains how the arrival of Muddy Waters in 1940 signaled a whole new era in Chicago blues.
“The Delta blues musicians, notably Muddy Waters who came from the Delta to the north for work and for better living conditions, went to Chicago, which had lots of opportunities,” Skoller says. “And, people would go up through Kansas City and St. Louis; and Chicago was the big center. It attracted a lot of people from the south, and when people like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf came up from Mississippi, Muddy Waters was pretty much the person, if you had to pinpoint one bluesman from the Delta who really electrified the music, and really was the foundation and link between it, it’s Muddy Waters.”
“We, of course, couldn’t pay tribute to everybody that had an influence on the music, but we really picked the ones we felt were the most important people in sound innovators,” Skoller adds. “Without question, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon were two of the giants who really had, on multiple levels and for multiple reasons, had just an amazing influence and (were) probably the most important among them; certainly, Willie Dixon (who was known) for his songwriting and the kinds of songs that he wrote, and his producing abilities and his ability to bring people together for Chess Records.”
Chicago Blues: A Living History spans the years 1940 to 1991, beginning with the band’s version of John Lee Williamson’s “My Little Machine.” It continues in chronological order with tracks by Elmore James, Lowell Fulson, Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and other “Windy City” legends.
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Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III (December 2, 1940 – December 10, 2005) was an American comedian, actor, and writer. Pryor was known for his unflinching examinations of racism and customs in modern life, and was renowned for his frequent use of colorful, vulgar, and profane language and racial epithets. He reached a broad audience with his trenchant observations and storytelling style. He is widely regarded as one of the most important stand-up comedians of all time: Jerry Seinfeld called Pryor “The Picasso of our profession”; Bob Newhart has called Pryor “the seminal comedian of the last 50 years.”
His body of work includes such concert movies and recordings as Richard Pryor: Live and Smokin’ (1971), That Nigger’s Crazy (1974), …Is It Something I Said? (1975), Bicentennial Nigger (1976), Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979), Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982), and Richard Pryor: Here and Now (1983). He also starred in numerous films as an actor, usually in comedies such as Silver Streak, but occasionally in dramatic roles, such as Paul Schrader’s film Blue Collar and roles like Gus Gorman in Superman III (1983). He collaborated on many projects with actor Gene Wilder. He won an Emmy Award in 1973, and five Grammy Awards in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1981, and 1982. In 1974, he also won two American Academy of Humor awards and the Writers Guild of America Award.
Born in Springfield, Illinois, Pryor grew up in Peoria in his grandmother’s brothel, where his mother, Gertrude Leona (née Thomas), practiced prostitution. His father, LeRoy “Buck Carter” Pryor was a former bartender, boxer, and World War II veteran who worked as his wife’s pimp. After his mother abandoned him when he was ten, he was raised primarily by his grandmother Marie Carter, a violent woman who would beat him for any of his eccentricities.
He was expelled from school at the age of 14. His first professional performance was playing drums at a night club. Pryor served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1960, but spent virtually the entire stint in an army prison. According to a 1999 profile about Pryor in The New Yorker, Pryor was incarcerated for an incident that occurred while stationed in Germany. Annoyed that a white soldier was a bit too amused at the racially charged sections of Douglas Sirk’s movie Imitation of Life, Pryor and some other black soldiers beat and stabbed the white soldier, though not fatally. According to Live on Sunset Boulevard, when he was nineteen, he worked at a Mafia-owned nightclub as the MC. On hearing that they would not pay a stripper, he attempted to hold up the owners with a cap pistol. The owners, amazingly enough, thought he was joking and were greatly amused.
During this time, Pryor’s girlfriend gave birth to a girl named Renee. Years later, however, he found out that she was not his child. In 1960, he married Patricia Price and they had one child together, Richard, Jr. (his first child and first son). They divorced in 1961.
In 1963, Pryor moved to New York City and began performing regularly in clubs alongside performers such as Bob Dylan and Woody Allen. On one of his first nights, he opened for singer and pianist Nina Simone at New York’s Village Gate. Simone recalls Pryor’s bout of performance anxiety:
“He shook like he had malaria, he was so nervous. I couldn’t bear to watch him shiver, so I put my arms around him there in the dark and rocked him like a baby until he calmed down. The next night was the same, and the next, and I rocked him each time.”
Inspired by Bill Cosby, Pryor began as a middlebrow comic, with material far less controversial than what was to come. Soon, he began appearing regularly on television variety shows, such as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. His popularity led to success as a comic in Las Vegas. The first five tracks on the 2005 compilation CD Evolution/Revolution: The Early Years (1966–1974), recorded in 1966 and 1967, capture Pryor in this era.
Open Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Pryor
By Will Pfeifer
GateHouse News Service
Copyright © 2009
The biggest folk hero in modern American film is the serial killer. Cold, calculating and above all cool, the serial killer is always one step ahead of the law and constantly working on new and imaginative ways to dispense with his victims. Most of this popularity can be traced to Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter and his Oscar-winning portrayal by Sir Anthony Hopkins. But in the decades since “Silence of the Lambs” we’ve seen plenty of imitators: John Doe in “Seven,” the entrepreneurs in “Hostel” and the mechanically minded villain (hero?) of the “Saw” franchise.
Here’s the thing, though: There are serial killers in the real world, but they’re not cool, cold or calculating. They’re disturbing, desperate men who take innocent lives. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good serial-killer thriller, but every so often, you should sprinkle a bit of reality in with all that fantasy. Two recommendations:
“Manson”: Released to cash in on the 40th anniversary of the Manson murders, this History Channel production combines slick re-enactments with interviews of actual participants.
Prosecutor (and “Helter Skelter” scribe) Vincent Bugliosi is present, along with Manson family member Linda Kasabian, who was there the night of the Sharon Tate murders. Tate’s sister, Deborah, also comments on the crime, and it’s her input — along with the gruesome crime photos — that convey the horror of what Manson and Co. did.
As for the re-enactments, they’re a bit too slick. Adam Wilson, who plays Charlie, can’t compete with the genuine article (or, for that matter, with Steve Railsback’s portrayal in the 1976 TV movie). He’s too smooth and handsome — and not nearly crazy enough. It is fascinating to watch him try to buddy-up to Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, though, and you do hear a tantalizing clip of Manson singing a folk-rock song. If only his music career had taken off …
“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”: This 1986 film (just released on Blu-Ray) is fictional, but it manages to feel more horrifyingly real than the re-enactments in “Manson.” Inspired by the crimes of Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole, “Henry” follows a quiet, deliberate murderer (Michael Rooker in a chilling performance) as he moves in with his buddy Otis (Tom Towles, even creepier) and Otis’ innocent sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold).
There’s not much plot; Henry just kills people, talks about killing people, then goes and kills more people. Eventually, of course, Otis and Becky get involved in very different ways, and — spoiler alert! — the film does not end on a happy, life-affirming note.
Thanks to the actors’ dead-on performances and John McNaughton’s low-budget, low-key direction, “Henry” is terrifying because it seems so real, as if McNaughton just happened to catch footage of these screwed-up souls when they weren’t looking. It’s not fast-paced, and it’s not fun, but it is one of the most chilling, most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen. Watch it at your own risk.
Will Pfeifer writes about new DVDs on Tuesdays and older ones on Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-987-1244. Read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movieman/.
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