In the days when American society expressed racial divisions in a more shameful and less ashamed fashion, almost all music recorded by and marketed to African-Americans were considered "Race Records". (Like the history of everything else, the history of the term is complex and dealt with the times in which it existed. This article gives a good perspective: http://www.pbs.org/jazz/exchange/exchange_race_records.htm) Basically, the term encompassed all the recordings popular with black folks at the time. In the mid 1940s, a writer for the Billboard Music charts named Jerry Wexler (a hip white dude who would leave to become an executive for Atlantic Records, produce the most legendary recordings of Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett and apparently skim some royalties off the top) felt that the chart classification "Race Records" was rude and replaced it with the term "Rhythm & Blues," a term he made up. So until the Hip-Hop era, "R&B" was more or less code for Black People Music and for whatever music was selling in Black America at any given time. As much as I wish it would, the approach I take isn’t really lighting the black music world on fire right now, but it did some twenty to thirty years before I was born. In the year 2014, in the era of Beyonce and Kanye, does that make me real or fake?
It has taken me a while to give a proper response to Baltimore City Paper’s naming me “Best Real R&B”. In fact, I haven't even addressed it on my own site until now. I suppose I had to figure out how I felt about it, then figure out which of my feelings I would share with you and the manner in which I would do so. This always takes some time. Why does all communication have to be such a process? Why can't I just talk? I’ve never been able to do it. In this paragraph alone I've backspaced at least 25 times.
And that's the thing. Every artist worth his or her salt spends a lot of time and energy trying to find the best way to reach out to you folks. Brooks Long & The Mad Dog No Good sure does. It's a very individualistic process involving a million different internal decisions that you don’t need to know about, a million mostly dead-end pathways we’d rather you didn't go down with us. I don't mean that to be harsh. You know how when you get a DVD of your favorite movie and you're super-excited to watch the behind-the-scenes, then you fall asleep after five minutes, wake up and somehow it’s not your favorite movie anymore? You don't need to know the magician's process, we just hope you see the magic. But I can't help feeling that anything that distracts from the magic disrespects the unseen process. Issues of legitimacy are a big distraction.
I was ecstatic when a friend told me I was named “Best Real R&B” in the City Paper (though I was very disappointed that Ian and Dan were not mentioned as they ABSOLUTELY deserved and I was puzzled that they mentioned “Baby Gon’ Be Funky,” definitely my most obscure track. Really? That one?). But it was back down to earth for me when I heard Bosley, a fantastic white Baltimore artist, was named “Best Fake R&B.”
Oh damn. Race Records, right? Sho’ ya right.
I know, I know. I can hear you saying "Just take the compliment. Bosley's too successful to care. He's a great act, with a great new album, getting great recognition. And under those “Real” and “Fake” labels, they actually have in-depth, nice things to say about both of you." I hear ya. Could it be that a publication would dare sprinkle provocative language to intelligent analysis just for the attention? That’s probably why I've been reading the City Paper since I was 13. It's their job and they do it well. But I think part of my job is to make sure my communication with you is as pure as possible. Please don't press play on my music waiting for something "real" to happen. Questions of authenticity and legitimacy distract from actual things I'm trying to express to you. Some of my biggest influences were once and sometimes are still labeled as inauthentic. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. Que sera, sera.
It's complicated. When I need to simplify, I try to remember the only thing I know for sure about music: “All music," Walt Whitman wrote, "is what awakens from you when you are reminded by the instruments”. And so I guess what I'm finally trying to say is thank you. Thank you so much for coming to our shows, thank you for buying our CDs, thank you for spreading the word about us to your friends and family, thank you for checking out this website. Thank you to all those who have supported the band and felt our music worth connecting with, including those at the Baltimore City Paper who have undeniably raised our profile through their witty provocations.