During these colorful days of autumn, there is no shortage of political candidates expressing themselves. The airways are brimming with harvest baskets of media ads, debates, hand shaking and door knocking. For as long as these politicians have sought approval from voters, musicians have been looking for fans for their own self expression.
As Hartbeat Los Angeles Bureau Chief Lloyd McCloud walked to his place of business, he noticed a video production underway. Much to his surprise, he discovered that a soul legend was part of the media experience. He quickly sent an e-mail to Hartbeat World Headquarters with the news that he had met Charles Wright, a musician who led a pioneering eight piece rhythm and blues band in the 60's and 70's. Lloyd thought finding out what Charles Wright was up to now would be interesting blog material. He put me in touch with Wright's organization; a phone interview with Mr. Wright and me yielded some interesting musical nuggets.
This edition of Hartbeat will give you some information on an influential soul and funk trail blazer who is still recording music and expressing himself.
So let the horns do the thing they do
Charles Wright was born in 1940 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The town and surrounding area is also listed as the birthplace of Sam Cooke, John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner and Muddy Waters. Wright's first exposure to music was when his parents took him to church; they wouldn't let him listen to any other music. After his family moved to Los Angeles, he discovered doo-wop.
One day while eating lunch at his high school, he heard a group called the Youngsters. In recalling that time Wright told me, "I had never heard anything that sounded so beautiful." He was inspired to form his own group and began working on a sound. "I didn't know anything about singing harmony, but, I was searching all the time and within a year I had my first hit record."
He formed other groups, had hits and took a job as an A&R Director for an independent record company. As part of his scouting of local groups, he heard an eight piece instrumental band. He liked the sound of the horns in that band so much, he put together his own group with a musical style that "was all in one package."
As the first rhythm and blues band signed by Warner Brothers Records, Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band had a number of hits between 1967 and 1973. Wright's most successful song, Express Yourself, has been featured in numerous movies and commercials.
Whatever you do, do it good
Express Yourself has been very good to Charles Wright. He has held on to the rights to his creative catalog. "I have been doing this a long time and when I first started I got taken every time." Wright learned the business end of the music business and continues to create music. He hires the best musicians he can find and doesn't rely on computers to supply the sounds. His newest effort, Dat Funky Thang, which he plans to release soon, reunites Wright with bass player, Melvin Dunlap, who plays the distinctive bass line on Express Yourself.
In our phone conversation, Wright said, "Music is God's way of bringing all people together. Whenever you hear a song you hear the pulse of the song. Your heart synchronizes with that pulse. If 80,000 people hear a song at one time their hearts are all beating at the same pulse. That's a wonderful thing."
The music industry has changed dramatically since the days of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Wright is very concerned about illegal downloading of music and how technology has replaced human musicians. His new cd will contain nine or ten songs and will feature new material. He characterizes the sound as, "the same sound for a new generation."
His love of music gives him a unique perspective on his latest offering. "It's not all about the money with me, I make that clear. If it were, I would have quit a long time ago. It's about the love of what I do and loving people. The money comes because I am sincere in what I do. I'm constantly trying to give to the people what God gave to me."
You can follow Charles Wright and find out when his new music will be released by clicking here.
The Hartbeat goes on...
What's Cooking on the Hartbeat Grill?
Talking with a multi-instrumentalist like Charles Wright and learning how he wrote Express Yourself perked my interest in the stories behind the writing of songs. It fit right in that I would spy Rolling Stone's, The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs at a bookstore.
In this well researched book, you can unravel the mystery of who was Lucy from Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds? Was Eleanor Rigby a real person? What George Harrison song did Frank Sinatra describe "as the greatest love song of the past 50 years?" And in what song did Ringo switch from his drum kit to bongos? The Beatles recorded 219 songs and getting a glimpse at the stories behind 100 of them is a real treat.
The Musical Notes
This entire Hartbeat has been a musical note. Some of the lyrics from Express Yourself are used to break up the sections of the blog. Charles Wright and the Watts103rd Street Rhythm Band influenced a host of rhythm and blues bands, as well as rappers: N.W.A., Naughty by Nature and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs have sampled his music.
You can become more familiar with the music of Charles Wright by listening to the1969 album, In the Jungle, Babe and the classic 1970 album, Express Yourself. You may wish to follow the road of soul with some of the members of the Watts who moved on to play with Earth, Wind and Fire. It would be fair to say that Kool and the Gang, Parliament-Funkadelic and War were impacted by the creativity of Charles Wright, so you might check out some of their music as well. In my opinion, you can't go wrong listening to horn-based soul/funk bands.
The Photo Notes
The images were supplied by Charles Wright through LaRita Shelby of SB Music and Media.