These two veteran comics make for a good pairing and have been appearing as a double bill for a few years. Mooney, 75, goes on first. He has a background that involves a lot of comedy writing in addition to being a comedian himself. He made his mark as a writer for one of the legends, Richard Pryor, during the ‘70’s as well as for television’s Sanford & Son, Good Times and In Living Color, as well as several films. Gregory, 84, has been quite involved in activism, human rights and health issues. He ran for the mayor’s seat in Chicago against Richard Daley in ‘67 and then for President of the United States in ‘68 as a write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party, which had broken off from the Peace And Freedom Party. He garnered 47,097 votes and wound up on Nixon’s master list of political opponents. Despite Gregory’s racially charged material, it was Hugh Hefner that gave Gregory a huge break when hiring him as a regular at his Playboy Club in Chicago in the ‘60’s. Both men made their home in Chicago at the time and this was Playboy’s first club.
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Mary Wilson has been a part of the music and cultural fabric for about fifty five years through being an original member of The Supremes. Coming from humble beginnings in the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects in Detroit, The Supremes were one of Motown’s earliest signings in ‘61 since Berry Gordy formed it in ‘59. It’s been forty years since Mary left The Supremes, at which point they disbanded. Diana Ross left in ‘70, with various members coming and going in the intervening years. It’s the original trio of Mary, Florence Ballard and Diane Ross (changed to Diana) that’s most fondly remembered by most true fans.
The Isley Brothers are one of the most legendary and important groups in R & B and music period. Among other distinctions, they have a major one of being the only group to have been in the top 50 of the Hot 100 charts during the ‘50’s, ‘60’s, ‘70’s, ‘80’s, ‘90’s and 2000’s.
Founded as kids in ‘54 in Cincinnati Ohio, they consisted of brothers Ronald, O’Kelly, Rudolph and Vernon Isley. They were initially a gospel singing group until Vernon’s death a few years into their existence after he was tragically hit by a car at the age of thirteen while riding his bike in their neighborhood. This devastated the remaining three brothers and they temporally disbanded out of major grief. It wouldn’t be until ‘59, and after having relocated to Englewood, New Jersey that the young men found formidable success, as their first big hit song that year, “Shout,” went on to sell over a staggering million copies. After bouncing around between a few record labels, including Motown, they would find their true calling with a more funky, hybrid and sophisticated sound in the late ‘60’s. By then they were on their own resurrected label, T-Neck, which had previously been distributed by Atlantic Records a few years prior. It was shut down after some time when Atlantic dropped them and they tried their luck on Motown. Seeking much more artistic and overall control, they resurrected T-Neck in ‘68 with Buddah Records now distributing it. (That would change again to the much more powerful Epic in ‘73.)
Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) is one of my favorite music based event series to come around every January. Held at NYC’s flagship Hilton Hotel on 6th Avenue at 54th Street, it consists of loads of eclectic showcases of musical artists/groups, workshops, luncheons, discussions and more. This includes many tribute bands/artists and original artists performing. This year I was most interested in guitarist Larry Carlton and John Pizzarelli playing together, the Branford Marsalis Quartet, Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats, (featured in photo) Peaches & Herb, Terence Blanchard and Heart To Heart, which is a tribute to Heart that features two former members, those being bassist Steve Fossen and drummer Michael Derosier. There are tons more.
Having decided to start fresh, Scotland’s KT Tunstall downsized her life and moved to California. Thinking she would focus on music for television or film, she found herself instead waking up at night with big pop choruses in her head. Perhaps it was driving around L.A. listening to Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac or driving through Laurel Canyon where so much great music was born. Unable to ignore the songs brewing in her brain, KT went about capturing them on tape and found herself with a record. The idea of family and community resonates through KIN with the album veering away from her previous collection’s downbeat folk to reconnect with her debut’s brash, upstart pop: engineered in embraceable lyrics and filled with insatiable hooks. “A songwriter’s brain is like a juicer blending all their influence together,” KT says, “and you hope you come up with something original, and not something that tastes like beets.” Whether drawing from her love of Patti Smith and Bo Diddley or inspired by seventies FM radio, KT stokes that star-making machinery with big beats and even bigger emotions.
Kicking off her Madison show with a story about her current manager, Jeff, who hails from Milwaukee, and gave her a special gift for the Madison gig after a conversation she had with him about KT being such a honey badger. Tearing off her jacket to reveal a Bucky Badger muscle shirt before launching into a rousing, “If Only,” a pattern was set that KT employed through her nearly two hour show. Tales of song’s meaning, lessons from watching other performers, moving to Venice Beach, the passing of her Dad, all these were tools for KT to connect and engage with the Barrymore crowd. Teaching choruses, starting handclapping choirs and reading t-shirts of the crowd; there was a genuine warmth beneath her rockin’ swagger. Noticing children in the audience after singing a song with a less than family-friendly phrase or two, she explained those words were actually just, “Scottish.”
A veritable dynamo, the pint-sized singer, songwriter and guitarist bounced happily all over the stage, duck-walking and scissor-kicking while her husky voice roared in the rock-pop anthems and curled like a kitten in the tender well-crafted ballads. Ms. Tunstall’s energy was positively infectious, bringing the crowd to their feet and energizing her talented band-mates to match her inexhaustible passion. As a long-time songwriter, KT appreciates other songwriter’s songs as well; injecting a subtle nod to, “Seven Nation Army,” into one of her tunes, melting a good chunk of, “Walk Like An Egyptian,” into her, “Hold On,” and adding a killer cover of Chaka Khan’s, “Ain’t Nobody,” into her encore; insisting a proper Friday night out had to include a cover. Claiming the new record has found her the happiest she’s ever been, KT ended the evening sharing her answer to the meaning of life; enjoy yourself. Whether fanatical fan or casual observer, KT went all out to guarantee any time spent with her insured everyone absolutely enjoyed themselves.
Before I discuss this show, let me provide some background. Tavares are a group of five Cape Verdean brothers from New Bedford, MA. They’ve been around since the late ‘60’s, and started to get successful in the mid ‘70’s while on Capital Records. A big further break came with their inclusion of the hugely popular Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, released in the last days of ‘77. They had a version of “More Than A Woman” on it, with the Bee Gees original version being more successful, but both are strong and defined the sound of the time. Unfortunately the group didn’t sustain more big hits after that, but could continue touring. With some hiatuses throughout the decades since, they still tour. Currently it’s with four of the five guys.