Saturday, June 19, 2021

Feet/Feat: Fats Waller


purchase [ Centennial Collection ]

I've spent a good part of the past week putting together a one-off special lesson about The Western, so maybe there is an historical commonality in this choice.

Fats Waller (1904-1943) apppears to have been amazingly talented and incredibly productive (something like 400 songs, compsed the score for the first Broadway musical written by an African American and more). Apparently, many of the 400 or so songs he sold to others and so ended up without being credited.

He was already playing the piano at age 6 and added the organ to his toolkit at 10, playing in his father's church. His success and fame was such that he toured Europe in the '30s.

There are several accounts of the night in 1926 when Fats was kidnapped at gunpoint and taken to a birthday party, where he was forced to play. The birthday boy was Al Capone. Waller's son said that the party went on for several days with Waller sleeping at his piano, and earning $100 for each song he played. Other accounts relate that he could sit down at his piano and easily finish off a gallon of bootleg whiskey and still keep playing. One account I read notes that he and Al probably got along just fine at that party.

I think you'll agree when you listen to the songs I have chosen that you can't keep your feet from tapping in time.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Feet/Feat: Get On The Good Foot

James Brown: Get On The Good Foot

I don’t like to dance, mostly because I look like an uncoordinated tub of Jello, and it has never been one of the things that I go out of my way to do. (Except at Princeton Reunions, at least since 2012) But if James Brown tells you to get up and dance, you get up and dance. I mean, the man is the Godfather of Soul. 

Brown had been performing since the 1950s, but starting in the mid- to late-1960s, he began to pioneer what came to be called “funk” music, featuring danceable grooves, with lots of soul and R&B influences, and performing it with a big band and lots of intense dancing. Often the songs included a social message in between the dance breaks. As I read that, I’m thinking to myself that the words don’t do the music justice. How’s this: It’s the kind of music that you feel in your gut and makes you want to move your butt. To steal a title from another band popular at the time, Funkadelic, “Free Your Mind….and Your Ass Will Follow.” 

A couple of years after that Funkadelic song came out, Charles released “Get On The Good Foot,” a song about dancing and partying to forget the hard parts of life. Originally released as a two sided single, which meant, for you young’uns, that you’d have to flip the 45 (just go with it..) over to play the second side. Apparently Brown, who owned Augusta, GA, radio station WDRW, interrupted the programming to introduce the unreleased “Get On The Good Foot,” because he thought it was going to be a big hit, and he called it—the song topped the R&B chart and reached 18 on the pop chart. Later that year, Brown released an album of the same name, featuring the full track, so that there was no need to turn it over (although being a double album, you’d have to flip it twice to hear the whole thing on your record player). 

And because we at SMM believe in uninterrupted funk, it’s the album version that you can check out, above.