(by Dave Hucker and Bill Holm "Hey, Mr. Music" column, The Beat magazine, Volume 16, Number 4, 1997)
Splat! I've been Hucker-punched twice...
Hello, this is Bill Holm, a character also known as The Whale who occasionally wedges himself into Bob Tarte's tepid "Technobeat" psychograph.
Some of you may remember that I recently blundered into this space as well [The Beat , "Hey, Mr. Holm," Vol. 16, No. 1]. It was here that Hucker struck the humiliating first blow, dragging my good name through the kippers. In that libelous trash heap (lawsuit pending), the stick-insect-like Hucker spewed a tureen of lies regarding my visit to his benzene-befouled home, which I deny. The alabaster-haired club barker portrayed me as "this garish monstrosity" who had "become besotted with Judith Durham of the New Seekers" while scouring Brixton for crack cocaine, Liverpool for heroin (one ounce, 65 percent purity), and Bristol for Moroccan slab hash.
An embarrassed and pained victim, I took to my butterbed plotting sweet vengeance. Not long after, the pint-sized bobby-spanker struck his second blow . The doddering DJ had the temerity to request my professional editing services-but only as his deadline neared. You see, the brittle Brit found himself in hot Earl Grey because he had forsaken his sacred responsibility to this publication in favor of a hastily-arranged run to the Skeleton Coast of Namibia in a tragic quest for hallucinogens that might stimulate his few remaining nerve endings.
Imagine my horror when I heard of his desperate bid to avail himself of my immense and barely restrainable editing talents and rescue his flickering career. After all, I am a well-regarded public figure in Grand Rapids, MI-the popular author of a must-read column in On the Town, a local entertainment magazine. I must admit, however, that my appearance in his column did land me a lucrative gig as Mr. Triglyceride at the Jack E. Leonard Memorial Unit in the Blue Bonnet wing of Butterworth Hospital.
Any charitable urge quickly turned to pique, though, when sources told me I was his last choice. The Beat editor, CC Smith, claimed that duties as mistress of her new radio program, "I Hate Everything," drained what little enthusiasm she has for Hucker's beery twaddle. As for "Technobeat" dustball Bob Tarte, a dangerous bout with seratonin lock had rendered him puddle-like. And Koo Stark threw a gin-dicky in Hucker's drooling face when he asked her to punctuate his semi-colon.
I was prepared to convey an indignant refusal when I received his rough draft, apparently penned while taping baggies to his thighs moments before taking flight to Namibia. Suddenly, my path to vindication revealed itself. You see, Hucker's copy could be compared to failed attorney Steve Lewis' 1974 AMC Pacer after its muffler was disgorged due to the low-riding vehicle's encounter with a two-track at his parent's/patron's woodland retreat. Hucker's accompanying message sealed the deal. Panicked and depleted, he belly-crept, "Deconstruct me! Either take out every third word or third sentence. Slice me up into tiny pieces, toss me in the air, and put me back together any which way. I'm sorry I called you 'this garish monstrosity' and dragged your good name through the kippers."
Savoring the score-evening possibilities, I pondered the matter while ingesting a garbage-can-lid-full of deep-fat butterwings drenched in donut oil. My only hesitation: Should a man who hates all music except for early Nilsson edit a music column? "I'm not qualified," I gurgled between muffin squeezings. "So what?" spat The Whale. "Look at Tarte."
I Internetted Hucker: "Yes, matey. Let's bury the ha'penny and let bygones be Di's gowns. I'd be honored to remove the comas between your commas, my dear chappy tad. Squidgies til next time. Bum voyage!"
What follows is a defibrillation of the code-red draft he scribbled on a spliff paper while staggering across the tarmac toward his Namibia-bound Fokker Tri-Motor. My editorial comments appear in boldface type.
"So what's bin duckin an divin in Lunnen eh?"--as it is spoken in the Cockney vernacular. (For one, Hucker, who's bin duckin the authorities and divin for Namibia.)
Traditionally Cockney was a description of anyone born within the sound of bowbells in East London. (Or within the sound of bowels in Hucker's East London loo.) Nowadays it has spread, is certainly less classless, and has become the expression of a culture, black and white, which has become a communal language of large parts of the southeast London population. And like any live language, Cockney has changed and developed. For example, words like "Wicked" have been introduced from the Caribbean languages.
(Not to quibble, but I believe "Wicked" is already a word widely used in languages other than Caribbean--unless it's a guttural cricket reference. Further, what are "the Caribbean languages," and do all of them include the same unusual use of "Wicked?" Since Hucker doesn't offer a definition unique to the Caribbean and Cockney languages, then I'd say it doesn't speak well of Cockneys that they just picked up on this word that dates back in England to 1275, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. "Hey, wha mean wicked? Me likes iz zound, I duz.")
Cockney is not a language native to me, but after 26 years' immersion in a dialect that uses cut off and guttural pronunciation along with impenetrable rhyming slang (not unlike Hucker's mystery-language DJ style), it is one I have come to understand. I've observed the changes in its recent progress, eventually assimilating and moulding parts into my own way of talking, taking what I wanted from the lingua. Init? (Or Inuit, which is what Hucker seems to schpritz into the microphone at Ronnie Scott's.)
(Here, Hucker begins his discussion of music, sparing us further off-the-top-of-his-head socio-linguistic scholasticism. At first he regularly interjects Cockney phrases as a kind of call-and-response gimmick. However, his ravaged attention span precludes him from sustaining the device for more than a few paragraphs. To his credit, he pulls himself together later and remembers to toss in a few more.)
Recently we have been in a "serious" (translation from Cockney: "serious") fever pitch of Cubanisimo. A "blinding" series of sessions from The Afro-Cuban All-Stars "juked" up the action. "Well eard, they were" while in town to promote their new cd, A Todo Cuba Le Gusta [World Circuit]. I briefly mentioned this fantastic effort in the last column after I had just received a preview copy and the subtleties had not yet become apparent. After a few spins, the subtleties really do come pouring out and hit you strongly on the epidermis, causing severe goosebumps and prickling of hair. Osmosis does its job transferring the vibe to the pleasure bits. "Now wha I mean?" (Unfortunately, yes. Reading about Hucker's hairy epidermis gone all prickly is gruesome enough, but the image of some vibe oozing into his "pleasure bits" is "right dodgy, guvnor.")
This is certainly one of the most important releases of old style Cuban music this year--and possibly this decade. There has been some solid competition, like Cachao's Master Sessions Vol 1&2 [Epic]. But because of the fire and quality of the music, and the fact all the musicians are of such a high quality with a repertoire drawing from 80 years of Cuban music, the juices got "well an truly mash ap." This was good for all sides, including Ry Cooder, who obviously enjoyed the organic-ness of the situation and let loose on guitar. (That noted Cuban, Ry Cooder, drew on an even wider-ranging repertoire, letting loose on riffs adapted from his unforgettable soundtrack to Walter Hill's Southern Comfort, starring Keith Carradine, which earned two stars from Leonard Maltin.)
I could blather on about such and such a track is a son, a Mozambique, it does this, it goes here, it goes there, it means this, it means that. (But that would demand Hucker take the time to do his job instead of sandblasting his Queen Mother-sized bong for his Namibian procurement.) But believe me, every track here is fantastic. Even if you know most of the tunes, the spirit and wholeness of the playing, arrangements, and incredible vocals kick you into blissville. This recording is a vision of Sierra Maestra's Juan de Marcos Gonzalez. (This column was a vision of Siesta Hucker's last-minute gotta-get-goings.) The idea was to capture the spirit of the old bands, and it succeeds perfectly.
Live, at sessions at Ronnie Scott's and the Jazz Cafe, they showed how to cross the generations. Juan Luis danced around orchestrating the guys who were obviously having fun. The horn section--oh my god the horn section. I thought I had heard some horn sections in my time, but this one takes the biscuit (while Hucker takes the bismuth); it was so precise, so tight, so harmonic, with the old musicotelepathic link so profoundly in evidence. In truth it came down to a slight movement of a finger, a wiggle of an eyebrow. And a know (Here the elderly Hucker's sentence, off to a puzzling start, mysteriously ends).
The old guys enjoyed themselves. Distended, discordant rhythms and sounds were presented very pleasantly. Vocalists stepped forward with a shifting range of tunes, tones, nice hats, and long forgotten dance steps. (Since the oldsters forgot the dance steps, everyone must have just been standing around in their nice hats, but it doesn't take much for the geezers to enjoy themselves.) The long piano riffs from 77-year-old piano legend Ruben Gonzalez showed where the Palmieri brothers got it all.
A common reason articulated by many of the dingbats for hanging around the bar at the sessions was, "Who knows who will still be alive next time they come back. (Certainly not the proteinless Hucker.) You may never have the chance to see them again." For me it was an honour. (For me, this is agony.)
The World Circuit recording orgy in Havana resulted in three albums in two weeks. In two days, Ruben Gonzalez recorded his first ever solo album, Introducing Ruben Gonzalez. Another superb recording.
One day while my mother was staying with me, I was playing Introducing, and she said, "Oh that was nice." If it appeals to my mother and me then (Again, Hucker begins a sentence that drops into oblivion. The only plausible explanation for this unfinished familial anecdote is to allow Mrs. Hucker to write off her hitchhike to the city.)
"Cris," recently incorporated into the lingua Cockney from black language, describes Ethiopian and Sudanese music. I recognize a Sudanese James Brown groove, Horn of Africa, jazz, and a Cairo Nubian sound. Sudanese music has lain with me sympathetically since I first heard Abdel Aziz Mubarak's release on GlobeStyle way back in 1987.
Another great release is Soul of Addis, a compilation of songs by top Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed culled from the 70's and 80's. I've had my ears bent for ages about how good this release was and how lots of technical problems with tapes held things up. (Yes. Upon my own review of the disk, I'd say it sounds like they mastered it backwards.) But it is worth the wait.
Another good one on Earthworks is The Mini All Stars Fanatiques Compas. I'm sure sleeve note writer Gage Averill will cover this release in lots of detail in his column. (Mr. Averill, apologies for dragging you into this unpleasantness.) But suffice to say this collection of the best of Nemours Jean-Baptiste is seriously "awesome."
King Bruce & The Black Beats hits us with a cd "what iz subtartled" (Hey, Hucker, lay off Tarte!) Golden Highlife Classics from the 50's & 60's [Retro-Afric]. And boy those days really were golden if you judge them by the warm affectionate glow that emanates from this music. King Bruce and his BB's held court in the dance halls and clubs of Accra from 1952-1967 when King Bruce went back to being a civil servant. (Pressed for time, Hucker clearly is lifting verbatim from the liner notes.) Their swing and jazz-influenced highlife is very "chuga chugga." (I'm getting "icky sicky.") You used to get a Cockney Nigerian and Ghanaian accent. Now with all the runaways from the ex-Zaire here in the east end, there is a French/Congo Cockney accent.
I have heard from third parties (including the voices in his head) that in parts of the U.S. there is a chain of retail clothing outlets called Old Navy Store, where it is alleged some of the branches are Man From U.N.C.L.E.-style walk-in secret centres. The stores are supposedly a secret world government military industrial complex, a NATO invasion force, or a covert U.S. agency office and communications facility. If Lee Perry sat down in front of me, tried to look me in the eyes, and "spieled" out all that, I would have believed him. His grasp on reality went walkabout many years ago. (While today, Hucker's hospice nurse takes him out for walkies.) But the legacy of his musical genius is stronger than ever. Island Records has released a three-cd compilation that is without a doubt the best and most authoritative Lee Perry Collection ever. It's packed full of all the classics, as well as rare tunes, alternative takes, and version after version. This is mega.
Listening to "Police and Thieves" I got jagged back to when the song first came out. I remember some anarchic bozo had rigged the jukebox so it was on permanent rotation in a pub over the road from where I worked. The passing police would rush in at the slightest opportunity, activated by taunts of the tune. I could hear the sound of domino tables being overturned, glasses breaking, and loud voices arguing. Philosophically the sonic war continued in the Carnival canyons of sound, where the 70's syn drum sound ricocheted around. (For the love of God, somebody call 911.)
The latest from trumpeter Jesus Alemany, Malembe [Hannibal], is just out. He takes his award winning, jazz-influenced Cuban groove a few steps further with musicians like new rising-star vocalist Rojitas and oldster percussionist Tata Guines. (For the oldster Hucker, a few Guinesses and he's into everyone's ta-tas.)
It really is rare thing when virtually every track on a cd is good. The new release from Jose "El Canario" Alberto is just that. It helps when all the tunes are classics and you have a piano player, arranger, and musical director like Isidro Infante to make things happen musically. (Hucker needs an infant in his drawers to make things happen muscularly.)
Back To The Mambo, A Tribute To Machito (RMM) is a real cracker. Jose's great voice rips through the tunes. Isidro Infante's layered arrangements are a total joy. The big hit so far is "Como Quiera," but there are at least three other big tunes: "Que Bonito Es Puerto Rico," "La Paella," and "El As de La Rumba."
Smoothie vocalist Joe King has a big hit with a workout called Quedate, which is also the title of the cd on the Mas Music label.
Johnny Ray's smokey expressive voice tugs at the heartstrings on "Olvidame" off his Mas Aqresivo que Nunca [Emi Latin] release. Isidro Infante plays piano on this as well, and Joe King supplies backing vocals.
"We have a situation here," hissed the gravelly voice in my ear. I turned round to see a shock of cropped blonde hair atop the black face of a complete nutter called Clemente, who employed a bit of friendly intimidation, Cuban-style. I am always getting hassle from the Cubans - Clemente in particular - for not playing enough Cuban. And then I also get hassle for playing too much Cuban by the Puerto Rican straight salsa fans, who complain they find the recent Cuban beats "too abstract." (All nationalities agree on one thing: it's fun to hassle Hucker.)
Having dinged and donged and parried a few insults, Clemente and I turned to the serious business. "Number six," he said, pointing his finger at me. I raised my eyebrows and said, "Number six?" "The Paulito, number six. Nobody listen to number two. Is dead, man. Number six is kicking." So I learned that "Que Vas A Decir Ahora" off the Paulito cd was the taste of the Cubans this week. "Number six from the Manolito," Clemente added. "La Parranda" is the actual title of the hip track from Manolito Y Su Tabuco's release Contra Todos los Pronosticos [Euro Tropical]. Number six must be this week's lucky number.
I find the English, Scottish, and Welsh people at the moment share a common feeling with the people of what is now called Democratic Republic of Congo. We all share a feeling of freedom after the overthrow of dictatorial despots. It's as if a dark cloud has been lifted. The popular will of the people will always prevail. The general feeling in the U.K. is that we have come out of a civil war that has involved all strata of inhabitants of this isle. And to quote Martin Luther King, "Free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last."
(In the wake of the recent overthrow of the Tories by Tony Blair and Labour, we in the U.S. congratulate Hucker on living to see a liberated, liberalized Britain where human rights will finally be incorporated into law. Whether this means Hucker will be allowed to return to England is unclear. Still, we hope he enjoys his African holiday and that his search yields the "Wicked" elixir that will resurrect the remnants of his calcified life.
(There, Dave. Now we're even.)