BLUES TO DO NEWS


JAMES ‘EARLY’ BYRD

April 14th, 1929 to March 29th, 2017

               

I do not know if he was born a pre-mature baby, but Jim ‘Early’ Byrd was definitely a step ahead of his time.  Born to Georgia and Wilbur Byrd in Westfield, New Jersey, James Wilbur Byrd was a veteran of the Air Force, and Radio Personality for over 60 years.  James ‘Early’ Byrd, was ‘a soldier’, as his daughter, Darlene, put it.  ‘Early’ Byrd was tall, good looking, charming beyond words and his personality was larger than life from beginning to end.  For example, when he came down with TB in the military, while in the hospital recovering, he met and quickly be-friended record producer, Jerry Wexler, who later, at Byrd’s suggestion, produced a record or two for Aretha Franklin among others.  Byrd began broadcasting in 1948, serving as an Airman First Class by day and broadcasting on the base radio station by night.  When Byrd co-hosted Blues To Do radio & TV shows in Seattle in his sixth decade of broadcasting, by request, he would repeat some jingles and scripts from his early radio days and simply mesmerize a younger audience of admirers in an instant, including me.  He was always planting seeds for the future of good radio & good music here and beyond.  

 

Byrd was known as an icon at WILD in Boston during most of the turbulent 60s and was a morning personality radio Disc Jockey all up and down the East Coast over his 60+ years in the business, including Atlanta, GA, Boston, MA, Atlantic City, NJ and Durham, NC.  He helped to launch the careers of so many artists in many genres.  He was a born leader in the radio business and was way ahead of his time technically too, at one time hosting live radio shows in three markets at once, before the internet.  Byrd also managed a handful of James Brown’s radio stations between 1977 to 1984 in Knoxville, TN, Augusta, GA, and Baltimore, MD, as well as being basically family to Brown’s family.  Byrd did live personality radio when there was no tape, no bells and no whistles and he filled up the air with captivating stories and true personality.  Byrd interviewed Diana Ross & The Supremes when they were teenagers, Muhammed Ali when he was Cassius Clay, The Temptations with David Ruffin, and so many more major stars over the decades.  Ike and Tina Turner composed and recorded a theme song especially for Byrd’s radio show called ‘Doin’ The Early Byrd’.  His boss at WILD in Boston at one time was Barry Gordy.  Byrd broke barriers as the first African-American DJ on Boston’s rock station, WBCN.  He was Oprah Winfrey’s boss at one time as well, for about a month.  He told me that early on when he was succeeding and asked the station management for more money, the station simply let him go, hired another voice and called them Early Byrd.  He quickly learned to keep rolling onto the next place.  Byrd was written about in books about James Brown, black history and early rock ‘n roll by such notable writers as Peter Guralnick, including ‘Hardest Working Man’ a book about how James Brown saved the soul of America, by James Sullivan.  Byrd’s legacy was deep, even referenced in ‘Dreamgirls’ and ‘Cadillac Records’ when Eddie Murphy played a character named Jimmy Early.

 

His lifetime of major achievements included being inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in the DJ category with Wolfman Jack, Allen Freed and Dick Clark.  He was the first black DJ inducted, and it just happened to be the same year Sam Cooke was inducted.  Byrd was known for bringing new music to a larger audience for decades and was a powerful black man in radio with both black and white fans in a day when separation dominated.  Records he played in the morning, he sold out of his trunk to record stores later that afternoon.  He even told his callers to call his competitor, Woo Woo Ginsberg, to get those records he was selling out of his trunk played even more.  Byrd used this clever practice on what later became the state song here in Washington State, still played at ballgames and other big events, ‘Louie Louie’ as done by The Kingsmen.  Byrd had a lot to do with getting that record played all over the world and later he claimed that record helped to make him who he was, and I would guess it helped him put his three daughters through Ivey League colleges too.  Later, here in Seattle, members of The Kingsmen celebrated with him at another Birthday event for Byrd and were thrilled to meet him in person. 

 

Yet, he considered one of his proudest moments to be during a time when he was the king of morning personality radio in Boston, black or white, from 1960 to 1970 at WILD in Boston.  As Byrd put it, ‘Boston Gardens was his territory.’  It was April 4th, 1968, the night Dr. King was assassinated and riots and fires were occurring all over the country.  James Brown was scheduled to perform at Boston Gardens the next night and the city leaders were considering canceling the show but James Brown would not have it, so they asked Byrd what to do.  Byrd not only had James Brown’s people on the phone, he told the city leaders to broadcast the concert on the PBS station so people could stay home and watch it, and not riot.  As it turned out, he was right and many people did stay home and watch it and so no riots happened, no fires, nobody died.  WGBH filmed the concert in the process, so a 3-disc DVD/booklet, documentary film was later produced with that precious performance footage.  Most of the story was told by Byrd on and off camera, since he was the only one still alive who was there that night.  The film is called “The Night James Brown Saved Boston” and he also filmed a Part II, with an even more indepth telling of Byrd’s story called, “The Last of The Story”.  It is not yet released.

 

His personal friendships included Dr. Martin Luther King, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples, Morgan Freeman, Bonnie Raitt, Clyde Otis, The Campbell Brothers, Solomon Burke, The Holmes Brothers, Clarence Fountain and The Blind Boys of Alabama, Roomful of Blues and so many more.  When I would mention a group or an artist touring thru Seattle, Byrd would say to me, ‘Oh I used to baby sit them.’  He said it so many times I finally asked him if he ran a daycare, but these were truly his neighbors in St. Albany/Queens, New York….people that encouraged him in his career and so he DID probably baby sit some of their kids including Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Count Basie, Cootie Williams, Milt Hinton and many other heavies.  He also loved his daughters, Adrian Pena-Byrd, Tonya and Darlene Byrd, and his grandkids Alexis and Anthony and had a large extended family. 

 

Byrd moved to Seattle to be close to family and when he arrived in 2001, he got a copy of Blues To Do, called me up and asked if he could speak to Phil, a writer I worked with, whom Byrd assumed was my boss.  I informed him that I was Phil’s boss and that, YES, I would love to meet with him.  Nonetheless, we formed a lasting friendship that endured, even though he sold that Etta James ticket I gave him!  Yeah, I was mad, but I had to forgive him because that’s who he was, a wheeler dealer, a hustler, Dr. Jive, a fast talkin’ on-air salesman.  A salesman is gonna sell.  He had seen Etta James in her best days, he didn’t need to see her again.  He knew just how to work a situation to get the results he wanted and he was usually right.  He taught me many things over our handful of years as friends. 

 

Byrd loved an open microphone and initially joined me on the radio when I hosted Preachin’ The Blues every Sunday morning at KEXP, bringing gospel records he checked out from the library, as his own 5000 plus collection of LPs, 45s, cassettes, CDs and other formats was still being stored on the East Coast.  His love of gospel dominated his later years.  He went on and on about quartets and was honored at the NW The American Gospel Quartet Convention.  He would explain in depth the details of the music and the unique qualities of Gospel Quartets.  Later, we co-hosted Blues To Do-TV episodes and he was a favorite guest of many Blues To Do-TV staffers and audience members, but most of all me!  As I watched some of these old TV shows this week, it seemed like he knew he was writing his own obituary, telling a specific part of his story each time, demonstrating a particular slice of his knowledge of gospel, blues, r&b, soul, country, classical and every music!  He had a memory like a trap, repeating names and years and even specific dates in music history without hesitation.  Many of his Seattle friends, Burl Garnett Jr. of The Electrifying Mighty Gospel Warriors, Jeff Hofman-KSER Radio show called Dusties, photographer/musician-Jef Jaisun, Doc Rivers with Bethel Christian Church, Reverend Sofer Mr. Sacred Steel of Skyway, and others also came out to celebrate some of his later birthdays at The New Orleans Creole & 88 Keys in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square.   

 

He was a broadcast communications instructor at Essex County College in New Jersey and at Boston University and in his later years, he lectured on the history of Black music and its influence on the music of today.  His later years in Seattle were filled with lecturing and emceeing opportunities for The Blind Boys of Alabama numerous times in Seattle and other Northwest spots, plus Roomful of Blues and The Holmes Brothers at Jazz Alley, Solomon Burke at Bumbershoot, plus The Campbell Brothers and more.  Byrd also remained friends with Muhammad Ali until the very end.  Byrd was a strong leader his entire lifetime and had the kind of strength that wouldn’t allow him to go quickly or easily.  Byrd also volunteered his time every week at the Veteran’s Hospital in Seattle, where he spent his own last days. 

 

One time I was feeling and acting rather puny, and he grabbed my shoulders, looked me in the eye and said, “You are Marlee Fucking Walker!”  I laughed nervously with tears in my eyes, and I knew exactly what he meant.  That is one of the fondest memories of MY life.  Thank you for everything Byrd.

 

“He went out peacefully, we played music for him, Stagolee and gospel from James Cleveland and when we played the gospel, he opened his eyes one last time and then passed away.” – Daughter Darlene  

 

In lieu of flowers his family is asking that donations be made in James “Early” Byrd’s name to The Living Legends organization. They help with financial assistance to music industry folks in need of financial services.  www.livinglegendsfoundation.com

 

 


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"American Masters Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll" -- premiering nationwide Friday, February 22 at 9pm (ET/PT) on PBS in honor of Black History Month and the 40th anniversary of Tharpe's death (10/9/1973).

New embeddable videos about the unsung gospel guitar hero and her influence are available on the "American Masters" website http://pbs.org/americanmasters.


KATHI MCDONALD - RIP

Just after the Northwest blues community finished celebrating the life of Gaye Anderson, owner of The New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, vocalist and until recently reigning Queen of the Blues, Kathi McDonald, gave up tryin’, too.  She went into a coma late Tuesday evening, October 2nd and her heart stopped early on October 3rd, 2012.  She was an amazing vocalist and chef and deserved legend status.  Until I get my complete obituary written, here is a piece written by her friend and guitarist, John Hanford.


Eulogy for Kathi “Mack”: What Kind of F*%kery is This?

 

An unconventional woman demands an unconventional eulogy.  But don’t get your hopes up; I am not the man who can reduce that irreducible force of nature known as “Kathi McDonald” to hackneyed sayings and even high praises: Kathi’s spirit – heck, any of our spirits - transcends any characterization that words can summon up.

And although this is a somber and sad occasion, we might leaven it with a bit of humor, as she so very much loved a good laugh—and wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to make a wisecrack even when suffering otherwise debilitating pain.  

She was, we know, an incorrigible punster!  I’ve been on the receiving end of many a good-natured barb (as was my dog Wilberforce, who was styled “Wheatabix,” and my irascible parrot “Sweet Pea,” was dubbed “Mean Pea”), and I garnered a few R-rated nicknames from Kathi Mack (e.g., “Golden Rod,” “Short John Baldy”).  Incidentally, she resented being called “Mack”:  she was, rather, she proclaimed: “An Irish Mick!”  And the inevitable misspelling both of her first and last names on a marquee was an abiding irritant.  But drummer Steve Peterson put it this way; “riding to the gig with Kathi was often more fun than the gig itself.” 

Absolutely!  She was irrepressible even when saddled with the most messed-up of gigging circumstances.  Keyboardist Pat Hues deemed her a “champion” – both Pat and I can bear witness to Kathi having arrived at a job looking like death-warmed over and then rallying for the performance, giving the audience no clue as to her ailments.

Her storied “show-must-go-on” resilience is documented: some years ago Kathi performed on Marlee Walker’s Blues to Do TV Show with a broken arm—a fracture that had been left un- or misdiagnosed after a first trip to the E.R.  She writhed in pain all the way to the studio, and back again, but never once gave a clue during the filmed performance—singing her proverbial rear-end off, introducing each band member, announcing song titles and artists, and doing an interview without a hitch.   She put it this way, when speaking of her dear friend & fellow performer, Patti Allen, “Patti and I are old school.”  Meaning, “we dress up for our audience, we try to respect our profession and the traditions of the great performers we love & emulate.”  And she would scold me: “I’m not like you, John, I DO care about what people think of me and how I look to the audience!”  (And oh man, was she on my case about getting on board with “Dr. Oz’s” remedies for male pattern baldness!) She may have been unconventional in many or even most ways, but she was careful to observe and uphold a good many traditional values.

At a funeral, we are permitted to gloss over the departed’s foibles – and Kathi didn’t want for some, as she acknowledged.  But she did have her own code of honor and tried to abide by it; e.g., cuss all you want, but taking G-d’s name in vain was never to be done.   And I can add this: that neither in fair nor foul mood or situation, can I recall one gig, think of one car or plane ride, of one phone conversation, or even a phone message that she left us, that wasn’t a memorable, or side-splitting—or yes, even a gonzo experience.  One sin she never committed was that unforgiveable one: to be “non-descript.”  Even more than her great talent and musicality, I shall miss this outsized personality, indomitable spirit, and even the maniacal energy.  I loved the woman.

About her talent I will share only a few bits.  I first played in Kathi’s band as a substitute guitarist, just “sitting in” with Jim Matthews, Billy Reed, and Gregg Keplinger.  Until then, I knew Kathi only socially. Her choice of songs was a gift to me, or if you will, gave me a vacation away from the mundane musical fare I was accustomed to playing.  We did King Solomon Burke’s “If You Need Me,” Freddy King’s “Goin’ Down,” (“Pre-chick”) Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake,” Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew,” Randy Newman’s “Guilty,” and of course Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Shopping” (Kathi’s riffing on what came to be HER own signature song).  I’d always longed to play a book that was rich with these kinds of tunes, and now here with Kathi, after having played liquor lounges around Seattle for decades, I found a figurative musical home at the Stanwood Saloon—playing with a band of gentlemen, led by a vocalist obviously of the first-rank—an interpreter who OWNED this cherished music.   Well, Ken Cole and Tom Erak had told me as much before I heard her.

Surprisingly, although Kathi’s name was, of course, the main draw for bookings and we flew under her banner, she was never the “boss” of her band in any usual sense.  She made the gig in order to sing, to entertain, to see friends, to have a few drinks – or more than a few (she was not wont to turn down a freebie!) – and she even helped move equipment.  Getting the paycheck and even her share of the pay was left for another one of us to procure and figure out (after a gig concluded, she plead: “How much can I get tonight?”). Though she might appear to be the grande dame, she never played that role in her inter-band relations.  Exactly the opposite: she celebrated her players, featured them, coaxed the best out of them on stage.  She would often call up after a night’s gig: “You played your d*$k off last night.”  (How many times could one hope to repeat that feat?)  She was always in her musicians’ corner.

For over a decade we lived close to one another in West Seattle and often played the now defunct “Corner Inn.”  The night that Ike Turner died we were playing the “Corner,” and Kathi dedicated a song – perhaps “As the Years Go Passing By,” to someone whom she regarded as a friend rather than as the wife-abusing monster we are accustomed to hearing about.  I was playing a Fender guitar like the one Ike favored, so I made some adjustments in attempting to conjure up Ike’s blistering sound, as my own little tribute.  In-between the song verses she backed up away from the microphone and under her breath said to me, “You’re freakin’ me out man.”  I don’t share this anecdote to congratulate myself for channeling Ike—I was just trying something out on stage: what registered on me was the keenness of her ear for style and sound.  Well, she had played and recorded with many of the artists I revered (though I REALLY didn’t find about many of them until I started reading the posthumous tributes), but here was a talent possessed of a most subtle understanding of stylistic allusion.  

At the end of that same night’s performance she introduced the band members to a tepid response from the audience.  After introducing me, Billy Reed on keys, and Conrad Ormsby on drums—to a roaring silence, Kathi thundered out an intro for Jim Matthews: “on bass, OSAMA BIN LADEN!—Wake up people!” I reckon that unprepared dissonance reflected her degree from the “old school” of Etta James.  Her blood got up when she felt the audience was not giving proper respect to her or her musical partners. 

Kathi was a professional hub for me and for many of us gathered here: through her I played with and now am privileged to call many fine musicians and “civilians” my friends.  And she deeply cherished her good friends – even for the occasional tiff that might have gone down.  Among her beloved Bay Area clan, Kathi’s manager and producer, Glenn Herskowitz, and his wife Danika, supported her in every imaginable way; Seattle friends Brad Oldman and Liz Latham saw her through both thick and very thin; guitarist Ritchie Kirch was a valued friend and collaborator; Deb Rock was nominated for sainthood, and Billy Stoops a staunch ally; Marlee Walker has done us innumerable professional favors; Steve Sarkowski, manager of the HWY 99 Blues Club provided our latest group (variously dubbed, “Kathi McDonald and Her Beer-Swilling Louts,” the politically not-so-correct “Plebes, Dweebs, & Heebs,” and “Monster Road”) with that most coveted of engagements – a monthly residency;  Kathi revered singers Val Rosa, Duffy Bishop, and her early role models, Nancy Claire and Gail Harris.  She counted Karen Hunter, her friend since parochial school, as her own flesh and blood.  

Kathi did contemplate the “hereafter” and looked forward to being reunited with her father “Mick” and her beloved Long John Baldry—another larger-than-life kook from rock’s great era.  Maybe she’ll chill with Amy Winehouse.  As she would say, “What ev’.” 


Written by John Hanford, who plays with Monster Road (Kathi's latest band), as well as The Bare Roots, and The Wailers, among many others.  He also teaches at the UW.

 


Love for Lind Hornbuckle Donation Fund

?Linda, recently diagnosed with kidney cancer, has taken a sabbatical from work and her band while she undergoes treatment. Portland's rich music community will come together to celebrate, bring hope and joy for Portland's 'soul diva' to show their Love for Linda!

If you are unable to attend the benefit concert on Nov. 11th, this is a way for you to show your support for Linda Hornbuckle, Portland's 'soul diva!' 

CONTRIBUTIONS MADE WILL GO TO THE CASCADE BLUES ASSOCIATIONS MUSICIANS ASSISTANCE FUND ATTN: LOVE FOR LINDA. 

 

https://www.tickettomato.com/event.php?event_id=1623

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Bruce Conte of Tower of Power is battling leukemia and needs your help. 

Former Tower of Power guitarist Bruce Conte was diagnosed with leukemia a few months ago. Bruce is also an insulin-dependent diabetic and has been dealing with health issues for years. You can help by donating any amount. 100% of the money collected will go to Bruce's medical expenses. There is no generic available, which makes the medication expensive. For now, his condition is responding very well to the medication. Thank you for reading this and please consider helping Bruce Conte. For more information and to donate to help Bruce pay his medical bills, click on this link from the Tower of Power website:  http://www.towerofpower.com/news-and-updates/please_help_bruce_conte_in_his_battle_with_leukemia/


 

Sadly, The Oxford Saloon, featuring live blues in Snohomish has not been able to come out of its financial hole and the current owners gave up tryin’ in late September.

 

 

The Royal Lounge in Olympia is hosting a Wednesday blues night with help from The Sheriff, not to be confused with The Royal Room in Seattle’s Columbia City area with occasional blues nights as well.

 

 

Tim “Too Slim” and Nancy Langford moved from Seattle to Nashville.  Best of luck!  You will both be missed so we expect regular visits.

 

 

The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame Inductee nominees for 2013 include Albert King, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Marvelettes, The Meters, Randy Newman, and the Northwest’s own Heart among others.

 

 

Nick Curran just passed away from oral cancer.  More later….  


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As we speak, the bulldozers are poised to pounce on Parker's Ballroom, formerly The Aquarius, and other names, on Aurora where many of us have had many fond musical memories including B.B. King in an intimate club setting of Parker's Ballroom.

 


Finally, there is a Recovery Support Group for Seattle Music Community,

With meetings every Tuesday, beginning Oct. 16th, 7 – 8 pm, Local 76 Musicians Association, 3209 Eastlake Ave. E.SeattleWA 98102 (Free parking in back)/  MusiCares is proud to announce the start of weekly addiction recovery support group meetings in Seattle.

 

 

Johnathan “Oogie” Richards is joining forces with Marlee Walker once a month with both blues DJs streaming from 88 Keys where Marlee and her crew gather footage of new blues artists every Monday night and live stream from ilove88keys.com.  This monthly NW Blues Forum will be held on the 4th Monday of each month (except December will be Dec 17th), and will include discussions on new blues releases, new artists, show reviews, news, plus an All Star Jam and more and will include invited guests from all parts of the blues community.  Check out our first NW Blues Forum, Monday, November 26th.

 

 



Love for Lind Hornbuckle Donation Fund

?Linda, recently diagnosed with kidney cancer, has taken a sabbatical from work and her band while she undergoes treatment. Portland's rich music community will come together to celebrate, bring hope and joy for Portland's 'soul diva' to show their Love for Linda!

If you are unable to attend the benefit concert on Nov. 11th, this is a way for you to show your support for Linda Hornbuckle, Portland's 'soul diva!' 

CONTRIBUTIONS MADE WILL GO TO THE CASCADE BLUES ASSOCIATIONS MUSICIANS ASSISTANCE FUND ATTN: LOVE FOR LINDA.   https://www.tickettomato.com/event.php?event_id=1623

______________________________________________


Love for Lind Hornbuckle Donation Fund

?Linda, recently diagnosed with kidney cancer, has taken a sabbatical from work and her band while she undergoes treatment. Portland's rich music community will come together to celebrate, bring hope and joy for Portland's 'soul diva' to show their Love for Linda!

If you are unable to attend the benefit concert on Nov. 11th, this is a way for you to show your support for Linda Hornbuckle, Portland's 'soul diva!' 

CONTRIBUTIONS MADE WILL GO TO THE CASCADE BLUES ASSOCIATIONS MUSICIANS ASSISTANCE FUND ATTN: LOVE FOR LINDA.   https://www.tickettomato.com/event.php?event_id=1623

______________________________________________


Finally, there is a Recovery Support Group for Seattle Music Community,

With meetings every Tuesday, beginning Oct. 16th, 7 – 8 pm, Local 76 Musicians Association, 3209 Eastlake Ave. E.SeattleWA 98102 (Free parking in back)/  MusiCares is proud to announce the start of weekly addiction recovery support group meetings in Seattle.

 

 

Johnathan “Oogie” Richards is joining forces with Marlee Walker once a month with both blues DJs streaming from 88 Keys where Marlee and her crew gather footage of new blues artists every Monday night and live stream from ilove88keys.com.  This monthly NW Blues Forum will be held on the 4th Monday of each month (except December will be Dec 17th), and will include discussions on new blues releases, new artists, show reviews, news, plus an All Star Jam and more and will include invited guests from all parts of the blues community.  Check out our first NW Blues Forum, Monday, November 26th.