Here’s the thing about a song like “I’m Not Tired Yet”—it’s the kind of song written by people who are bone-tired. Picked 300 lbs. of cotton today tired. Cleaned 20 motel rooms today tired. Worked a double-shift down in the mine today tired. Didn’t just do it today; been doing it every working day for the last 30 years tired.
When you’re that tired you’ve got two choices: 1) collapse from exhaustion, or 2) stand up in defiance against those who would define you as “just a”—just a farmhand, just a maid, just a coal digger, and assert your own definition.
Just a child of God.
The great Sonny Rollins is old enough to be Melissa Aldana’s grandfather and in a musical sort of way, he is.
While she was still a teenager growing up in Santiago, Aldana’s father introduced her to Rollins’ music. She was so entranced, she persuaded him to let her switch from alto to tenor sax. (In fact, he passed on her grandfather’s Selmar Mark VI—the same model Rollins played—which she still plays today).
Here she is with her band, the Crash Trio, playing her own composition/homage, “Sonny”.
Little Richard may be “the architect of rock and roll“, but he was working from Louis Jordan’s blueprint.
By the late 1930s Jordan was most likely the third most popular Black bandleader in the US (after the Duke and the Count). But it’s his jump blues records of the 1940s—mixing uptempo jazz, blues and boogie-woogie in a heavily spiced, highly concentrated stew of small bands and crowd-pleasing showmanship that laid the foundation for post-war rock and roll, R & B, and electrified blues.
When Jordan and his Tympany Five recorded “Let The Good Times Roll” in 1946, the war was over, the economy was booming and Jordan himself was in the midst of an unprecedented—and still unmatched—string of 5 consecutive #1 songs on the “race” (i.e., R & B) charts for a staggering 44 weeks.
Let the good times roll indeed.
Hey tell everybody, Mr. King’s in town;
I got a dollar and a quarter, Just rarin’ to clown;
But don’t let nobody play me cheap,
I got fifty cents more that I’m gonna keep, so
Let the good times roll, let the good times roll;
I don’t care if you’re young or old,
Get together, let the good times roll.
In September 1972 Jim Croce had a #8 hit with “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”, the kind of story-song you hear in bars—and that gets better with every retelling—about a high-flying big, bad man who gets his comeuppance when a younger, hungrier, faster gunslinger comes to town.
1973’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” isn’t exactly the same song. It’s set in Chicago, not New York. The preferred game of chance is dice, not pool. And it has a boogie-woogie piano to set the tone instead of a percussively strummed guitar. But other that that, it’s pretty much the same story.
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” hit #1 on the Billboard charts in July 1973. It’s not plagiarism if you steal from yourself.
Outsourcing to a regular reader for commentary that gets to the heart of Alessia Cara’s “Here”:
Young singer. Good song.
Yep. Ernest Hemingway himself couldn’t have been more terse, or on target.
In addition to winning the 2015 Grammy for Best Anti-Party Party Song (what’s that you say? there’s no such award? Well, yeah, but if there was….), “Here” works so well because it’s marinated in slow jam music history—with its dreamy, insistent, repetitive minor key chord progression, its syncopated melody, and its open acknowledgements to ’90s trip-hop (Portishead’s “Glory Box”) and ’70s conscious R&B (Isaac Hayes’ “Ike’s Rap 2”).
But honestly I’d rather be
Somewhere with my people we can kick it and just listen
To some music with the message (like we usually do)
And we’ll discuss our big dreams
How we plan to take over the planet
So pardon my manners, I hope you’ll understand it
That I’ll be here….