On a sunny, bitterly cold winter day in 1973 soul arrived.
The powerful bass lines, wah wah guitars and smooth vocals slid through the snow and around the birch trees from the studios of KUMD, the radio station of the University of Minnesota Duluth. My friend Lloyd supplemented his personal soul collection with 45rpm singles special ordered from Young at Heart Records and with this rhythm and blues arsenal, he introduced the Northland to the Ohio Players, Funkadelic, Al Green and many others who released music on Stax, Motown and the Philadelphia International labels.
I recorded my friend's efforts to spread soul to the frozen tundra on a Wollensack cassette deck that had an AM/FM radio, a prehistoric boom box of sorts. I wish I had those tapes now. On this particular Sunday, as the program was ending, the Princess telephone rang its un soulful tone and a musical adventure began
Lloyd was on the line excitedly telling me that he had been in contact with the Curtis Mayfield Super Fly tour and we could meet Curtis and get an exclusive interview for his radio show later that day. An added bonus would be that I could take pictures of the concert for the college newspaper. All of these opportunities would be realized with a road trip to the Guthrie theatre in Mpls. Of course, I said yes.
Timing would be a little tricky since there were two shows, and we had to drive to the Twin Cities, find the Guthrie Theatre (before GPS, but I had been there with my parents) talk to the right people and get backstage, do the interview and photograph the show. But, we had soul power fueling us and youthful faith in achieving success.
"Let the man rap a plan"
The host of "Soul Arrival" had lined up other music lovers for the journey: Scott from Cloquet was The Driver, Mr. Stewart and his girlfriend, The Eskimo and Lloyd's latest love interest, The Ticket Lady joined us. Double L had a brand new professional quality cassette tape recorder with a new microphone he claimed was "perfect for rapping."
There were many twists and turns on the trip once we made it to Minneapolis. But the soul jets were constant and we did land at the Guthrie in time to get back stage between the two shows.
"We can deal with rockets and dreams...but reality what does it mean"?
Curtis Mayfield was riding high on the charts with sound track from the movie "Super Fly." He had left his great success with the Impressions to form his own record label, Curtom, and to record himself as a solo act as well as produce records by others. Mayfield's music for the 1972 blacksploitation film was different than other soundtracks for the films of the era because it had a theme of anti-drug and social awareness.
Lloyd and I met Curtis backstage in a dressing room. The million selling recording artist was very humble and soft-spoken. He seemed genuinely happy to see us and was interested in what brought us all the way from Duluth to see him. Isn't it always refreshing to meet someone that you admired and they are pleasant?
That day I also learned a valuable lesson in the world of battery powered microphones. The new microphone that we were eager to use during the interview had a battery that failed after about 2 minutes.
Today, my colleagues are always amazed at the number of spare batteries that I have on hand for any microphone system requiring battery power. I learned my lesson well from Curtis.
We didn't have time to search out a new microphone, but we did have a great time talking with Mayfield about his music and life.
Photographing the show was a great experience. I could get all the angles that I needed and had complete access. Two of the photos are included with this edition of Hartbeat. A highlight was the conga player, "Master" Henry Gibson, who by some accounts played on 1200 albums spanning a forty year career. Joseph "Lucky "Scott provided the distinctive bass that night. Both were major contributors to the solo career of Curtis Mayfield.
Our journey back to the North Country included my first ever visit to a White Castle. The Soul Crew had been famished before the show, but the power of music carried us through. Afterwards, we stopped at the first place we saw that was open at that late hour on Sunday night. White Castle gave us relief from the hunger; however, Mr. Stewart demanded a stop in Hinckley because the burgers "were haunting him."
The Driver, Lloyd, Ticket Lady, Mr. Stewart and the Eskimo dropped me off on a chilly Monday morning at the foot of my parents frozen driveway. As I crunched up the hill (like all of Duluth, even the driveways had hills) I knew it was a musical adventure that I would always remember and forty years later, I have.
The Hartbeat goes on...
What's Cooking on the Hartbeat Grill?
With my walk back into the Curtis experience, I started listening to the Marvin Gaye album, "What's Going On." In my opinion, this album could have been released last week instead of forty two years ago. I am sure that Marvin was listening to Curtis when he was recording this album.
I've been watching the Marty Stewart Show weekly and have seen some stellar musicians. Fred Newell and Kayton Roberts are two steel players that have been featured along with Chris Scruggs. Roberts and Scruggs have released some new recordings and what I have heard is really interesting.
Fred Newell is playing with a group called Waymore's Outlaws that consists of two long time members from the late Waylon Jennings band and Tommy Townsend. Waylon, like Curtis, was no stranger to experimenting with a different guitar tuning.
The Musical Notes
Curtis Mayfield was a powerful composer, musician and songwriter. He was a pioneer in funk and social conscious lyrics in African-American music. A multi-instrumentalist, he was self taught and tuned his guitar to the black keys on the piano. This F# open tuning gave him a guitar sound far different than standard tuning. It also made it difficult for anyone to copy his style. He also sang in high tenor that blended into falsetto. Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley credited Curtis Mayfield with molding their styles. Sam Cooke, James Brown and Marvin Gaye followed his social awareness in their music.
Mayfield's extraordinary career was halted in 1990 when scaffolding fell on him during a show in Brooklyn. Though flat on his back, and unable to play his beloved guitar, he gathered the strength to record a final album in 1996, "New World Order." Curtis Mayfield died on December 26, 1999 at the age of 57. His catalog of work with the Impressions, as a solo artist and a producer continues to influence musicians to this day.
The Photo Notes
The photos of the Guthrie concert were captured with a Canon FT 35mm camera and an 85 mm lens. The film was Kodak Tri-X developed in HC-110, 7:1 at 72 degrees.
(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)