Saturday, September 3, 2011

How Great Thou Aren't

I love this title. It sums up in 4 words my feelings about organized religion.

The song itself was not on the original cassette release of Le Bonx. It's from the second session - the "Fender Rhodes" session - and, like most of the stuff from that day, was a bit less focused than the songs from the previous year's "Wurlitzer" collection. When we were reviewing the songs for the CD release in '03 I decided that that this one deserved inclusion if only for the title. For the first session we were excited about playing this new music we'd invented, were just the right amount of stoned and drunk and played like wide-eyed explorers entering a strange new land for the first time. By the second session the land was no longer strange and new, we were a little more stoned and drunk and the concept was now almost a year old. The second session songs are quite a bit longer and the overall feeling, owing a lot to the heavier tones of the Rhodes, was darker. The original Le Bonx cassette contained no songs from this session. In retrospect, however, I found them worthy of inclusion. Arlene's playing is amazing. Le Bonx is, in some ways, her album. She demonstrated a passionate creativity in her playing that had never even been hinted at within the constraints of the classical pieces she grew up playing and the tightly-structured  music I gave her to play in the Bonkeenies.
I had always worked under the assumption that Arlene, while technically accomplished on the keys, couldn't improvise her way out of the proverbial paper bag. Le Bonx proved that assumption to be groundless.

I am "officially" Catholic in that I was baptized in the Catholic church and received my religious training there. I went to Sunday school, weekday catechism and bible study. I went to Sunday mass and did whatever else little Catholic boys do to get acquainted God, Jesus and everyone else in the gang. I've read the Bible first (as a child) because I had to a later (as an adult) because I was curious. Although I attended public schools, for a few summers I attended classes at Sacred Heart and had the, at first quite odd, experience of being taught by a nun. Even as a child being indoctrinated into the faith I was thinking: "Why?" I was always in trouble for raising my hand and asking questions like: "Is this stuff true are is it just a story that you want us to believe?"

I am not a religious person. I am, in fact, skeptical and suspicious of organized religion. One of the many great things about being a human (instead of, say, a rock) is that we can think about stuff and have opinions. In my opinion organized religion is a scam - or a series of scams. I don't hold anything against those who believe in whatever they believe in although I don't think that any belief is worth killing over. I say believe whatever the heck you want - just don't judge me (or kill me) because I don't believe the same thing. I will do the same for you. I also feel that religion is no way to govern. Theocracies tend to be repressive. I'm not saying that government officials can't be religious - they just need to leave their religion at home - or at the church - when they go to the office. If they can't do that then they should not govern.

31 years after the fact, Won Out got reviewed in the local paper. Well, actually it's a review of the 30th anniversary CD so it's really only a year after the fact, sort of.:

Sparky Grinstead, Won Out
This album originally came out in 1979, which means it's not a byproduct of the current psychedelic folk-pop revival. Indeed, it has the grainy quality of a 31-year-old relic. Sparky Grinstead is a terrific guitarist and songwriter. He gets extra folksy on the self-pitying love ballad, "Trucks in the Sky," and reveals his lewd sense of humor on "Big Ass." "Whatever You Want" is sweet and forlorn. (Sparlene Records)
At The Stork Club (2330 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) on Saturday, Sept. 10. 9 p.m., $5.
As of this writing, I am performing at Oakland's historic Stork Club in a week with the Backorders. We're not going to be performing Won Out, however. I have written a new album called Grimace (that will be featured in these pages soon enough) and we've been working on those songs for the last couple of months. This will be my first album of new material since FSGBOC  in 1984.

The "Grimace" poster. Notice the resemblance to the "Le Bonx" album art.


Friday, September 2, 2011

No Heavy Lifting

This was the closing track of the original cassette from 1981. When we did the CD in 2003 it became the "hidden" track for reasons that were clear to me then but not so much now. While Arlene plays randomly, Steve and I share a joke and I consider breaking out my electric guitar. Although Steve supports the idea, I ultimately decide that it's not worth the effort after (apparently) opening a closet door. It's not really a song - it's just a moment. Le Bonx is an album of moments.

I'm always amused when I see my albums online or in catalogs filed under "Soul". That's always a dead giveaway that the filer looked at the cover picture and made an assumption. "Oh, it's a black guy", I can hear them thinking, "so it's gotta be either blues or soul".

 I was inspired to pick up the guitar by the Beatles and from there I went to Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Neil Young and on down the "white guy with a guitar" highway.  Because I am a black man people don't expect my music to sound like it does and sometimes they unthinkingly point it out: "You don't sound black". I hate that as much as I hate it when people tell me "You don't look black" because I have light skin. I hate it but I understand where it comes from. I'm not going to go all psycho-social here but our society breaks things down along racial lines pretty clearly - especially music. I'm a black man who writes and plays "white" music. One guy even told me, after hearing the Le Bonx tape: "You're like a punk Charlie Pride!" (Charlie Pride was - well, is - a black country singer who was quite popular in the 70's. He's got his own theater Branson now).

I've also been told: "You don't talk black". I remember an incident that happened when I was a telephone operator. A customer called the office manager to complain that an operator had been rude to her. When the manager asked for a description of the offending person's voice the customer replied: "It was a black man". So the manager rounded up all of the black male operators who were on duty when the incident occurred. There were 4 of us - and our voices were not even remotely similar. I asked the manager what a black man sounded like and she of course had no answer for me. It turned out that offender, although black, was actually a woman.

I'm not going to make any profound statements here about racism - it exists and it's everywhere - some members of my own extended family don't speak to me because I married a white woman - but like Popeye says : "I yam what I yam". To some, I'm a musician and songwriter and to others I'm a Black musician and songwriter. Whatever. I will continue to make my music and leave it others to define what they hear.