LaVice & Co. – Two Sisters From Bagdad

Two Sisters
Title: Two Sisters From Bagdad

Artist: LaVice & Co.

Label: Jazzman

Formats: CD, LP, digital

Release date: January 19, 2018



Detroit native LaVice Hendricks studied acting after a stint in the US Navy, but soon turned to his primary passion: writing plays and screenplays. In 1969, he began his own theater company based at Detroit’s Bethel A.M.E. Church. Four years later he moved on to larger productions, culminating in his first musical, “Two Sisters from Bagdad.” His younger sister, Rhodia McAdoo, a church singer and pianist, composed the score, while brother-in-law Ernest J. Garrison added the lyrics and arrangements. As one might expect from a play that gestated in a church, the plot revolves around love, sin, heaven and hell. While the play ran for just two weeks in August 1973, Hendricks did press a soundtrack album in extremely limited quantities. Years later, it became known primarily amongst record collectors who coveted one of handful of known copies.

Thanks to Jazzman Records, the long lost album has been reissued for the first time. As a stand alone soundtrack it has its drawbacks, namely a raw performance obviously recorded with minimal takes in a rough mix, but one might say the musicians make up for it with their enthusiasm. Though its difficult to follow the story line, the music combines a raw gospel vocal style with jazz-based instrumental accompaniment. Things pick up with the ethereal “Fantasy,” featuring a male soloists and female backing chorus over a flute ostinato and sax riffs. One of the highlights is the funky “Thoughs Were The Days,” presumably featuring Garrison as the “Agent of Hell” in a swaggering song heavily influenced by the Blaxploitation films of the era. Another is “Satan Baby,” sung by a female vocalist over a driving bass line accented by bongos and sax. Of course the devil can’t win in this story, so the final song, “Yes I Do,” is a sunny gospel-pop number with an angelic chorus. Closing out the album is the title track, another funky instrumental but with a rather repetitive theme.

Two Sisters from Bagdad is a quirky, homegrown production that’s certainly more of a novelty. However, since the soundtrack appears to be the only aural documentation of LaVice Hendricks’s musical, it does offer a glimpse into the output of this little known playwright from Detroit.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Nothing But Good

Title: Nothing But Good 1952-1962

Artist: Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

Label: Bear Family (Germany)

Format: 5 CD box set with hardcover book inserted

Catalog No.: 978-3-89916-422-0

Release Date: April 7, 2009

Bear Family Records has done the popular music world a huge service by issuing this five CD box set, Nothing But Good: the King/Federal Labels, 1952-1962, accompanied by a colorfully illustrated 83-page oversized book authored by Bill Dahl. The CDs contain the recordings of the band known variously as the Royals, the Midnighters, and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, starting with 1953’s “I’m so Blue” and ending with 1962’s “Bring Me Your Love.” The music itself is infectious, reproduced with splendid production values (a Bear Family hallmark), and the package includes alternate takes and previously unreleased tracks.

Significantly, the songs are all ones on which Ballard, not an original Royal, sang lead. In the early going the members shared vocal duties more evenly, but Ballard’s clear, strong voice; faultless phrasing; and songwriting prowess made him the star of the act. As Dahl notes, the Midnighters “were the first Detroit R&B group to transcend their local standing to really make it big on a national basis, and Ballard was their chief source of material.” And as a contemporary of the Midnighters told Dahl, “The Midnighters were the Temptations before the Temptations in Detroit.” [p. 3]

Hank Ballard is probably most often remembered for his role in two incredible pop music phenomena. In 1954 he and the Midnighters recorded a string of records that, despite a near-total lack of mainstream radio airplay, sold in the millions. These were the “Annie” songs: “Work With Me Annie,” “Annie Had a Baby,” “Annie’s Aunt Fannie,” and the thematically linked “Sexy Ways.” Then, in 1958, the Ballard-penned “The Twist” launched a dance craze that lasted a few years (odd for a teen dance craze), transformed how people danced to up-tempo pop music, and inspired dozens of Twist songs by acts as diverse as the Isley Brothers (“Twist and Shout,” “Twistin’ with Linda”), Sam Cooke (“Twistin’ the Night Away”), and Joey Dee and the Starlighters (“The Peppermint Twist”).

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For the Whole World to See

Title: For the Whole World to See

Artist: Death

Label: Drag City

Format:  CD

Catalog No.: DC387CD

Release date: February 17, 2009

“You’re a just a rock-n-roll victim and I know this is true cause I’m a rock-n-roll victim too”–Death

Let me be your harbinger of Death. If you’re a rock-n-roll victim, don’t worry, you’ll enjoy this particular encounter. Formed in 1973 by David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney, Death was a Detroit-based band and has been hailed in other recent reviews as the “missing link” of punk. Although they initially started playing soul and funk, the Hackney brothers soon became enamored with Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, MC5, and The Stooges. The end result was a melding of heavy metal, funk, and proto-punk that bridges the black rock gap between Jimi Hendrix and the relatively late formations of Living Colour and other Black Rock Coalition groups in the early 1980s.

I must admit that I was unaware of Death’s existence until this rather unimposing-looking CD crossed my desk as a potential review candidate for Black Grooves. I popped “For the Whole World to See” into my car stereo system on the way home and immediately fell in love with the growling bass and completely unstable vocal style, which shifts from snarls and shouts to the half-swallowed in-the-back-of-your-throat punk sound favored by the Ramones. Even better, the CD has one of the qualities I value the most in my punk-a raw creative energy driven by the need to create an entirely new sound and not by the pressure to cater to a mainstream audience.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing sadder than falling in love with a band that’s been gone for nearly thirty-five years. Aside from their 1976 single (which is now an extraordinarily rare collectors’ item and probably sells for more money than Death made off the entire original release), For the Whole World to See is all there is. This particular CD is comprised of a demo tape that was recorded from October through December of 1974. To put this date in perspective, the Ramones formed in early 1974, sonically shocked their first club audience at CBGB’s on August 16th, and recorded their debut album for Sire Records in February 1976. Although it took thirty-five years to rescue the demo tape from Bobby Hackney’s attic, For the Whole World to See is at long last available and has become a strong contender for the title of earliest punk recording.

Another thing that makes Death absolutely amazing is that the band was totally removed from the support of the New York proto-punk scene of the mid-1970s. Although there were a few other Detroit groups flirting with the emerging punk aesthetic in the late ’60s and early ’70s, such as MC5, The Stooges, and The Dogs, Death was trying to make its home among the clubs and parties of Detroit’s predominantly African-American east side, where funk and soul were king. Although there are definitely funk elements in the mix, which make Death sound more at home with the punk bands of the ’80s and ’90s than with their contemporaries, the band’s use of screeched vocals, power chords, driving rock rhythms, and even their nihilistic name received criticisms from black audiences. Ultimately, the band fell apart after the release of their single and reformed some time later as the reggae band Lambsbread.

The CD starts with “Keep on Knocking,” the B side for “Politicians in My Eyes” on Death’s 1976 single. The song opens with a string of power chords isolated on the right channel before kicking into full stereo and a rollicking guitar sound on a par with Slash’s solo from the end of “Paradise City.” “Rock-n-Roll” adopts a heavier, grittier bass guitar sound, and a goofy shouted falsetto in the vocals that almost makes the song seem like punk parody than the real deal (obviously not possible, since this is proto-punk and there wasn’t really anything to parody yet). Bobby Hackney’s fantastic bass sound continues to resurface on “You’re a Prisoner,” which drops the falsetto in favor of some extreme vocal reverb, as well as “Where Do We Go from Here?” and “Politicians in My Eyes.” Both of these latter songs have a funkier flavor to them. Some heavy-hand drumming drags down the bridge sections in “Politicians,” although it’s hard to tell whether this was done intentionally to downshift into the slower instrumental section or if there was some serious disagreement over the tempo among the band members. “Freakin’ Out” is quintessential early punk-fast, simple, two or three chords, neurotic lyrics, and lots of fun to crank-up on your stereo.

I personally don’t have enough patience to be a fan of “Let the World Turn.” The song opens with widely spaced, almost intermittent, guitar chords strummed beneath a languidly flowing vocal line with plenty of reverb. The song gradually picks up a beat and a little bit of speed and then suddenly whiplashes into a great punk-style chorus followed by a rather banal drum solo. Just when you think the song is over, it returns to the syrupy slow opening and then gives you one more blast of the chorus before falling dead in the middle of a guitar riff. Although somewhat interesting, and you definitely have to admire Death’s willingness to experiment, I have to fight the urge to take a stabbing lunge at the track forward button every time this song rolls around.

If you’re into early punk and metal, your collection will not be complete without this CD. There’s no doubt that Death is historically important, which is reason enough to add this item to a library collection. Unlike many other historic recordings, however, the music on this particular release was so cutting edge in the 1970s that it still sounds fresher and more innovative than most bands playing today. It’s a definite must-have for all rock-n-roll victims.

Posted by Ronda L. Sewald

Editor’s Note: This review is part of our ongoing examination of rock in preparation for “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music,” a two-day conference organized by the Archives of African American Music and Culture to be held on November 13-14, 2009, on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus. Visit the conference website.

Afro Strut

Title: Afro Strut
Artist: Amp Fiddler
Label: Play It Again Sam (U.S. Edition)
Catalog No.: 32
Date: 2007

Combining elements of both hip hop and techno, along with funky groove lines and soulful, intelligent lyrics, Amp Fiddler‘s second album, Afro Strut, will not disappoint. With this new album, Amp Fiddler delivers an outstanding follow-up to his first solo project, Waltz of a Ghetto Fly, which was released in 2004. Though he has only recently pursued a career as a solo artist, he’s been in the music business for more than twenty years, and this experience is demonstrated throughout his first two albums.

Joseph “Amp” Fiddler is a keyboard player, singer, songwriter and producer from Detroit. He learned piano as a child, studied music at Oakland and Wayne State Universities, and toured with George Clinton as keyboardist for more than ten years. Fiddler references his Detroit origin in his use of soul, funk and techno-all genres which are part of Detroit’s musical heritage. This combination of musical genres also shows the influence of the artists he has worked with throughout his career, including Prince, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Jamiroquai, Carl Craig and Moodyman, as well as George Clinton.

This CD is actually the U.S. edition of the original Afro Strut album. Though Amp Fiddler is based in the U.S., he had been without a domestic record deal for some time, so the album was first released in the U.K. in 2006 (on the Genuine label), arriving in the U.S. about a year later. The U.S. edition of Afro Strut is not simply a re-release of the UK version, but features several changes, including five new tracks not found anywhere else. Three songs from the UK version are also replaced on the US version. One of the featured new tracks is a duet with Grammy nominated artist Corinne Bailey-Rae, titled “If I Don’t”, and showcases a jazzy, 1930s influence. This track originally appeared on the UK version as a solo, but was re-recorded with Bailey-Rae for the US release. The first track on the album, “Faith”, is an ode to spirituality featuring Fiddler in a duet with Raphael Saadiq. All tracks on the album, except for track 8, were written by Amp Fiddler, sometimes in collaboration with other artists. Fiddler also performed ‘vocals and keys’ on each track on the album.

At the 2007 Detroit Music Awards, Amp Fiddler won in three categories: Outstanding Electronic/Dance Artist, Outstanding Electronic/Dance Producer and Outstanding Urban/Funk/Hip Hop Recording for Afro Strut. Watch for more great music from Amp Fiddler, as I believe he will continue to produce amazing albums.

Posted by Meaghan Reef

Editor’s note: a representative sample of Amp Fiddler’s music videos are available on YouTube, including “Right Where You Are” (the first single released from Afro Strut), “If I Don’t” (the duet with Corinne Bailey-Rae), and “Ridin‘” (laid over a great compilation of old movie clips). Unfortunately there’s no clip yet of “Hey Joe,” his killer reworking of the Jimi Hendrix song.