As I write these words, the last few minutes of Saturday night are ticking away. No matter how busy I am, no matter what I might be doing, the same thought goes through my head every Saturday night:
I miss my parents.
My dad passed away in October of 2008. My mom followed him six days short of exactly five years later. Don’t get me wrong: I miss them all the time. But on Saturday night, I feel the loss the most. Because that’s the night John and Bobbie Hendrix felt less like my parents, and more like the coolest party people on the planet.
They weren’t wild by any stretch of the imagination. It was the 1970’s, yes, but there were no wild parties in the Hendrix household. But there were more than a few small, intimate social gatherings hosted by my folks in those days. Their friends would come over, often with their children. Those children would be sent to play with me or my little sister. We were sent outside, to our bedrooms, or to the basement where our toys were stored. But if we were in earshot of my dad’s stereo (and that was no real challenge), I was eavesdropping, trying to hear what dad was going to play.
More than a few Saturdays started with the hum of the turntable (Dad never did ground that thing properly), a few laughs from him and the rest of the guests, the sound of the needle dropping on the first record, a little static, and this:
Make no mistake: the party was about to start.
These were the days when R&B was called “Soul.” And it was so much better than what came forth in the ’80s. Real bands, real strings, real drums, no synth programming, and no auto-tune. Just some of the best singers you’d ever hear. Even back then, I knew I was being treated to the sound of pure genius.
Marvin Gaye almost always gave way to Al Green. And it was almost always one of two tunes. It was either this one, which I loved:
Or it was this one, which I loved even more:
I have no doubt that song was the beginning of my love for the sound of the Hammond B-3 organ, run through a rotating Leslie speaker. I didn’t know what that sound was at the time, of course. But once I found out, I couldn’t get enough. More than a couple of my visiting friends were neglected as I found myself swaying to the rhythm, bopping my head with pure joy and complete bliss. I wasn’t much of a dancer. I’m still not.
Something tells me Mom demanded a little representation from the ladies of Soul. So it was only a matter of time before I heard something like this:
Yeah, I’m dancing as I type this. In my own way:
Once in a while, I might get to hear something like this, which never failed to get my little sister (who was barely five) to start singing along:
You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a five-year-old girl singing “I’ve GOT to go! I’ve GOT to go!” over and over again, grownup stares and laughs be damned.
It was only a matter of time before Stevie Wonder made an appearance. Usually it was this classic, which I must stop and listen to — no matter what — to this very day:
If it wasn’t that one, it was this one, which is every bit as good. Seriously, Stevie Wonder could do NO wrong in the early to mid-’70s.
Over the years, I’ve slowly but surely built up a catalog of ’70s Soul music, not quite realizing I was doing it at the time. Some of the music I was buying hadn’t come through my speakers in a couple of decades more more. I suppose that’s how this little gem followed me home:
Not only was I buying my parents’ music, I insisted on buying on VINYL, as God intended (or as Dad always did). I’ve repeated some of the titles on CD, mainly out of convenience. But when I have the time, I break out the LPs.
No evening was complete without the Godfather. He might be my favorite of all. James Brown got back into my system in a big way in the early ’90s, and he’s never left. I seriously doubt I was paying attention to what James was saying. I was just locked into the groove.
My parents also embraced disco, which wasn’t quite my bag since I had recently been introduced to rock. That being said, it was impossible to ignore this groove. It was more than funky enough to hold my attention.
There was so much music coming out of my parents’ speakers, I couldn’t possibly remember it all. Yet there are days when out of absolutely nowhere, I’ll hear a groove from the Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes, Barry White, or Roberta Flack in my head. Next thing I know, I’m at the record store, enhancing my collection with Mom and Dad’s music.
I’m truly lucky to have grown up in the ’70s, from a musical standpoint. Somewhere in the ’80s (with the notable exception of Prince and a couple of others), Soul gave way to the plastic sound of R&B, with its drum machines and synthesized horns. It just didn’t work for me. It still doesn’t. I got a little hope when artists like D’Angelo and Jill Scott ushered in a “Neo-Soul” music a decade or more back. But that movement seems to have disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived. That’s a shame.
I understand your parents aren’t supposed to be cool. I have no doubt my daughter sees me as the biggest nerd she’s ever met. That’s all right. I’m not here to be her prime example for cool. But now that my parents are gone, I truly appreciate how hip they could be. But that was for them and their friends, not me and my sister. Still, some of that cool seeped through to us, which never fails to make me smile.
Best of all, Soul Saturday almost always led to Jazz Sunday. But you can read about that in my book.