Pigtails

Pigtails

 

As a boy, I always liked to see pigtails.

Little Black girls on display.

My Mom knows how to take care of her daughter is what the pigtails say.

I’ll always love to see little pigtailed girls. I understand the work that it took. My sisters didn’t always enjoy the process as they squirmed and wiggled, and shook.

Neat parts crisscrossing the head drove me nuts. Groups of shiny black hair freshly greased.

Decorations for each section with a barrette of color.

Now, if she skipped too, I was always pleased.

Pigtailed girls strutted proudly about the schoolyard. Giving chase to the ones they love, or quietly reading in the corner of the class, disregarding the tease or the shove.

Let there always be the little pigtailed girls full of laughter, joy, and fun.

And if they have them in a woman size I’m sure I’d marry one.

William Stephenson

Funkiest Songs In The World

Funkiest Songs In The World

 

Recently I wondered aloud what was the all time funkiest song in the world.  Impossible to name one of course but I was curious to see what folks would come up with.  With so many Facebook friends with about half being comedians, I got about 40 comments.  The first was Debbie Boone’s You Light Up My Life.  I’m sure that might be the unluckiest  song in the world but things got much better once the peoples started looking in the right places.  I then posted 20 songs I felt any of which could be the funkiest.  Soon after I found another 5 tunes that needed to be on the list.  Here is a breakdown of the 25 funkiest songs ever.  Any discussion of funk has to start with two of the most prolific funksters.

James Brown and George Clinton

Both are represented on my list twice and could’ve held down a top 26 list on their own.  I went with The Payback and Papa Don’t Take No Mess from James and Give Up The Funk and Flashlight from George’s Parliament.  It was illegal to have a house party back in the day without these strong songs.

Kool & The Gang

This self contained band was also represented twice with Jungle Boogie and Funky Stuff.  A Facebooker mentioned Kool’s Get Down On It.  Clearly this commenter was too young to remember that this song came during their switch to disco.

 Sly & The Family Stone

provides a very popular choice, Thank You Fa Lettin Me Be Mice Elf (agin). Sly and his crew is another group that can fill any funk list all by themselves.

Earth Wind & Fire

In their heyday, they were the standard. They will always have a special place in my heart because of their two album in one year output, and the second Gratitude was a double, giving us a live side and more great new jams.

Jupiter from their All N All album because I can’t get enough of that tricky bass line.

Stevie Wonder

What can’t he do?  Stevie had several nominations, with me offering You Met Your Match but it didn’t make the final list.  To paraphrase the guy in the movie Fargo, “With Superstition, you got no complaints!”

Ohio Players

When you hear the opening fire alarm in Fire, you know you’re about to burn it up! (When doing “the bump” to this song and try not to bump your partner into the next room.

Billy Cobham

Billy is the drummer all the drummers I knew wanted to be.

His Total Eclipse was seriously considered for the piano solo alone, but I used Red Baron for this list. Classic thumping funk.

Return To Forever

Dayride makes the cut because it blows me away every time I hear it. This is one furious jam, with perfectly sloppy drums- a quick hitter at only 3:28 with not a second wasted.

Sam & Dave

I tried to capture the wild variety of funk so I went back to Hold On I’m Comin’, the first funk I was exposed to.

Public Enemy

The rap world is represented here by Don’t Believe The Hype.  This is funk you can smell a mile away.

Tower Of Power

This west coast super group had snap crackle and plenty of pop.

What Is Hip? is sharp as a tack on Sunday and another easy choice.

Prince

Deciding what cut to include was most difficult given his enormous catalog.  I finally settled on Musicology because it was a funk song talking about funk.

Rufus & Chaka Khan

You Got The Love is on this list because of Ray Parker Jr.’s opening guitar line. This is “hold your nose” funky!

George Duke

I had to give Mr. Duke 2 slots with Funny Funk coming in as my personal favorite. When George’s  Reach For It came out, everybody thought it was the other George, including the owner of the record store where I was working at the time.  I suggested he use it for the background to his radio commercial and it worked well.

The Impressions

We’re A Winner is an early entry to the world of funk, and is still as nasty as a crusty knee scab.

I thought I was done with the above 20, but soon realized I had left out some major chunks of funk.  Mandrill’s Fencewalk, Funkadelic’s Comsic Slop and Rick James Bustin’ Out were all added.   Oh but I still wasn’t done.  Graham Central Station’s The Jam truly deserves a spot. And I can’t believe I left out this one- Silly Putty by Stanley Clarke.  I feel a personal relationship with all of these songs. They’ve taken me to a place I needed to be, and will always try to get to. Funkville USA!

William Stephenson

The Mayor Of Bluff City

The Mayor Of Bluff City

 

Mr. Rodgers passed away earlier in 2014, and will always be remembered as a cherished educator and vital component of my 4 years at Northwestern High. Ernie Rodgers was the kind of guy you could tell anything because you knew he truly cared. He kept us “off the streets” and steered us into the warm, loving arms of music.

Mr. Rodgers gave me instructions to rehearse the band, but first I had to maintain order. We had a show coming up and it simply wouldn’t do to be sloppy. The Northwestern High School Marching Band had an excellent reputation to be upheld. Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” was one of our main jams along with Cliff
Nobles “The Horse.”

During a break in rehearsal, one of the saxophone players continued playing his horn. I remembered how much this perturbed the heads of all the music departments. In their shoes, I could see how annoying this was to them. Rehearsals go so much smoother and quicker without the extra playing. I asked him to stop playing when I stopped the band, as it was impeding the progress we needed to make. This sax player was also a JV football player and I never liked him on GP. He complied and I restarted the band. The trumpets missed their entrance on Shaft and I had to stop them again. Sax player plays on.

OK, now is the time to do the Barney Fife and nip it in the bud. If I don’t handle this here and now, the rest of the band will be impossible to lead. I supposed I realized that then, because I came up with words I had heard, but never used before. “If you keep playing after I stop the band one more time…IT’S ME AND YOU AFTER SCHOOL AT 3!”

The crowd that gathered outside the B building that afternoon was bigger than I’d liked, but at least the whole school didn’t know about it. On either side of the B building’s main entrance was stretches of grass, about 2 feet higher than the sidewalk. I figured the sax player and I could work this out up on the grass and suggested we head up there to talk. With my left arm draped friendly like… over his shoulders, we were just two guys walkin and talkin, workin it out. With my right hand, I attempt to punch him in the face mid-sentence.

Keep in mind, I’m left handed so this “punch,” had it connected, would be truly weak. Sax player saw it coming the week before, blocked it, and now I was down there on the ground. I recall thinking to myself how the hell I got down there just before the first foot to the face came. Oh, My Gawd!! Now I’m getting stomped in the face, how did…this…happen..??

The shrieks of some girls got Mr. Rodgers out there and he dragged me to his office. I don’t remember what he said to me then…I had refused to entertain any thought that wasn’t leading me to the cause of me getting stomped in the face. I couldn’t even begin to register the total embarrassment of what happened. When I got home, my dad laughed at me the way dads do when their only son has taken another step into manhood.

I supposed my willingness to put myself in a situation where I could get my ass kicked meant something. Without the hint of an impending lecture, I was allowed to put a rib eye steak on my swollen eye.

William Stephenson

Coming Out of the Closet

Coming Out of the Closet

 

It was a typical teenage party in the early 1970s. We all made it through our James Brown phase and were all up in other Funk. I laugh when I think about it now, but I remember how we used to dog James “Same Beat” Brown, after a time.

House parties back in the day had one major difference from current throwdowns. There used to be a pause in between songs. You had time to change partners, or talk with your current one. It was during one of these breaks when I noticed Marlene wasn’t around. I always sought either Penny, Marlene or Gwen, to dance with because they could take the way I used to do the Bump. They rarely complained about being bumped across the floor. I asked a couple of peeps if they’d seen her and no one had. Fact was, Donzell wasn’t around and 2 plus 2 will always equal 4. Marlene and Donzell were a long time couple, so it didn’t surprise us to find them in a closet. Teenagers don’t need the luxury of a bed, a little dark will do. It was funny because this was the type of closet that you jam stuff into when you’re having a party.

They must’ve made out with vacuum cleaners and old magazines, and just all kind of household stuff, poking them in the butt. Marlene’s afro was all squished to one side…Marlene and Donzell were one of my favorite couples and every time I clean out my closet, I think of them.

William Stephenson

Warm It Up

Warm It Up

 

As the show intro music is playing, I’m standing in the back of the room scanning the crowd.  I’m looking for trouble spots, usually groups of 5 or more.  Crowds at the Comedy Cellar are like snowflakes, no two audiences are exactly alike and heavy on the white side.  The racial makeup of the crowd doesn’t concern me in the least.  I’ll be talking to humans so if they can grasp the English language, we should be good.

When I arrive on stage to start the show, I’m usually disappointed in the lackluster applause and address it right away.

“Is that the sound every hand clapping? Brother don’t say shit funny until every hand has banged up against the other hand repeatedly.”

In a typical comedy club setting you will see on the average of 4 acts.  Emcee, opening, middle and closer. In my nearly 30+ years in standup, I have performed at all positions.  I specialize in the emcee spot.  I love going first and getting the crowd energized.  I spend about 10 to 15 minutes preparing the audience for the show. I talk to them about the need for focus, and how texting during this performance is a double no.   With the popularity of the hand held devices, it’s imperative I get them to shut them down for the duration of the show.

“If you have a hand held device, shoot yourself in the face.  But before you do that, turn them off.”

My goal is to inject my enthusiasm for stand up into the crowd so they will be enthused when all of the various acts hit the stage.

I want to relax everybody, especially those sitting directly in the front.

“I know some of you in the front may be worried the comedians will single you out.  As I look up and down the front row I don’t think we’re going to have a problem,….ok maybe you might be in trouble, but everybody else is cool.”

The seating host ask patrons as they check in if they want a front row seat.  Half the folks are cool with it and the other hand decline, saying they don’t want to get picked on.  “Getting picked on” is a loosely defined term.  I’ve talked to people after the show and they say “ I knew you were going to pick on me!” In reality all I did was ask their name and where they were from.

Over the years I’ve developed several techniques for warming up a crowd.  The favorite of late has been the bacon routine.  After the first few minutes of my opening statement, welcome to visitors and birthday check, I ask the crowd if they are ready for the show.  Usually there is one person who doesn’t respond. The rest of the audience can be clapping and hooting and one person just isn’t into it.  I instruct the crowd to stop responding and turn my attention to that one person.

“Are you not ready for the show?  Did you understand the question?”

They usually say they were ordering or drinking or some other excuse.

“Well, so and so screwed it up for everybody else and now we have to start over”.

I tell the crowd I want them to start clapping again in a minute and when they start it should be a soft, quiet golf clap. Soon I’ll be rotating and want them to get louder gradually.

“Yeah, not too loud, you don’t wanna fuck up the man trying to hit the ball in the hole”.

I then ask them to clap a little bit louder.

“Right there! Don’t you move it from right there!  That’s my spot. Sounds like bacon frying don’t it?  I love bacon…..Now, slowly…I turn.”

As I do a little turning around dance the volume increases and by the time I turn all the way around, they are going nuts.  Now they’re ready for the show.

William Stephenson

 

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