Category Archives: Blues

Rebecca Ferguson: I’ll perform at inauguration if I can sing “Strange Fruit”

It’s a New Year.

The U.S. presidential inauguration nears and the line of participants continues to narrow.

British singer Rebecca Ferguson has taken her invitation a step further and today posted she would “graciously accept” Trump’s request to perform at the Jan. 20 inauguration, but only if she can perform “Strange Fruit.”


“Strange Fruit” is a poem by Abel Meeropol in 1937 and was performed by Billie Holiday in 1939. The melancholy song protests the lynchings of black people by whites and the scourge of racism in America, which is ongoing.

Holiday’s version is haunting, disturbing and explicit. The uneven melody and pointed lyrics, of stinking bodies hanging in the trees “for the wind to suck” are among the most brutal lyrics in American music.

“Pastoral scene of the gallant South/the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth/scent of magnolias, clean and fresh/then the sudden smell of burning flesh” reads part of the song.

It’s been covered numerous times over the years. Nina Simone’s performance  gives the song a wrenched elegance. Jeff Buckley’s acoustic version wanders almost aimlessly, and wallows in the melody. But Holiday’s song grips the hardest and doesn’t let go.

There’s a pretty good chance Ferguson won’t get the chance to perform the song in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20, but if her statement generates renewed discussion in the song and its explicit ties to America’s dark history, then she’s done her job.


Abel Meeropol was inspired by this image, of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abe Smith, to write “Strange Fruit.” (AP)


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Filed under American history, Billie Holiday, Blues, Jeff Buckley, New Music, News, Nina Simone, Poetry, Protest music

Nina Simone’s estate to Zoe Saldana: ‘Take Nina’s name out your mouth’

The estate of Nina Simone has spoken out after a trailer of the upcoming Simone biopic, ‘Nina,’ was released.

The trailer, released today, stars actress Zoe Saldana as Simone. The film’s production has remained controversial for several years since it was announced that Saldana was to play Simone, a jazz singer, pianist, activist and songwriter, also known as the High Priestess of Soul.

In a story on the Guardian‘s website, Saldana has been seen on the set wearing dark makeup and a prosthetic nose. The backlash has come down hard. Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, has continuously disavowed the film due to its casting choice.

Today, the Twitter account representing Simone’s estate tweeted to Saldana:

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 9.25.51 PM

The account also posted a link to a Simone interview, called “That Blackness,” where Simone talks about black culture and how she’s dedicated to helping black students  who feel alienated in white colleges:

“To me we are the most beautiful creatures in the whole world,” Simone says in the clip.

Simone’s Twitter account also posted a link today to Simone’s performance of “Go To Hell,” recorded in 1968 at The Bitter End in New York City. Some of the lines in “Go To Hell”:

“If your mind lies in the devil’s workshop/evil doins your thrill/ and trouble and mischief is all you live for/ you know damn well /that you’ll go to hell

Now you living high and mighty / rich off the fat of this land
Please don’t dispose of your natural soul / cause you know damn well that you’ll go to hell”

In 2013, Zaldana responded to the backlash that was already building at the time, saying in part, “I know who I am and I know what Nina Simone means to me. So that is my truth and that set me free.”

So far Saldana hasn’t directly responded. ‘Nina’ is due for release in April. Read more on the story at the Washington Post.

Watch the trailer for ‘Nina’ below:

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Filed under Biopics, Blues, Jazz, Soul, Uncategorized, VIdeos

Hear early Jack White in raucous song “Itchy”

Jack-White 2 star tabernacle2

Third Man Records will release music from Jack White’s early, early days, with pre-White Stripes bands Two Star Tabernacle.

Third Man has released a live cut of Two Star Tabernacle’s “Itchy” on Jan. 16, 1998 at the legendary Gold Dollar in Detroit, where the White Stripes got their start.

Jack White is introduced as “Jackson White” before they launch into a rollicking country punk banger that’s purely got White’s name all over it. The first line is even about how he wishes TV was black and white again — those colors an early indicator of what would drive his most famous band.

Jack White 2 star tabernacle“Somebody better break my fingers” he repeats, and gets more harried and unraveled as the drums go off the chain. The song would have fit in nicely with the Stripes’ first album, right next door to “The Big Three Killed My Baby.”


“Itchy” is part of Third Man Records’ latest Vault package — for $60 you can get that, plus music from Jack White and the Bricks, (which included Brendan Benson, who later joined the Raconteurs), and music from The Go, a Sub Pop band that Jack White played briefly with. The package will be available until Jan. 31.

Read more on the Vault package at

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Filed under Blues, Blues Rock, Garage Punk, Punk, Two Star Tabernacle, Uncategorized, White Stripes

Brandy’s ‘Beggin and Pleadin’ will put you on your knees


I can’t get enough. Brandy ‘s new song “Beggin and Pleadin” is so good you sort of feel bad for those who haven’t heard it yet.

With a mix of ’60s doo-wop, trap and Southern guitar blues, Brandy commands the tune. In “Beggin and Pleadin” it’s clear she knows she’s being hurt — “Damn boy why you make it so hard/stop putting your foot on my heart” — yet says “wave me back,” hoping he’ll come to his senses.

Brandy’s gospel-laden vocals start with a rolling boil and only get hotter and more raw as the song stomps on, and the “good God almighty” and “wave me back” repeating phrases stay with you long after the song ends.

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Filed under Blues, Gospel, New Music, Trap, Uncategorized

Erykah Badu imparts cosmic wisdom to fans on Okayplayer

Singer songwriter Erykah Badu, maker of the baddest rendition of “Hotling Bling” to date, recently answered fans’ questions for Okayplayer.

Hear gems of wisdom from the Analog Girl in a Digital World as she discusses her new mixtape and other pressing matters on “The Questions.”

(Disclaimer: The “Hotline Bling” link in the first graf is not the best, but it’s been removed from Soundcloud, as it’s now on her But You Caint Use My Phone EP.)

In the meantime, listen to Badu’s live performance of “Tyrone” to get a sense of the Queen’s power:

Visit for more, and check out highlights of her Reddit AMA.

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Filed under Blues, Erykah Badu, Jazz, Neo-Soul, Okayplayer, R&B, Soul, Uncategorized

Bill Withers grants rare interview ahead of Carnegie honors

Bill Withers posing for a portrait around 1973.

Bill Withers posing for a portrait around 1973.

OkayPlayer has put out an interview with musician Bill Withers ahead of a tribute honoring the legendary musician.

The interview is part of several retrospectives about Withers, who penned the romantic acoustic classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” when he barely had experience as a musician.

Earlier this year Withers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tomorrow (Oct. 1), Withers will be honored at Carnegie Hall by artists like Michael McDonald, Anthony Hamilton, Sheryl Crow, Ed Sheeran and others. D’Angelo bowed out today due to unspecified illness.

In the interview, Withers speaks about his songwriting skills, his concerts, such as his Zaire event in 1974, and sampling. He also acknowledges he’s 77 and admits he fits squarely in that age group:

I would like to run and jump and roll over and stuff like that, but I don’t want to hurt myself.

Check out Withers’ scathing, honest funk-driven “Use Me”:

And watch him as he sings “Ain’t No Sunshine,” one of the most iconic songs of the 1970s. What has always been striking to me is the song’s simplicity, and beginning with just a minimal acoustic guitar melody sets the tone as the song builds, and then quickly fades. “Ain’t No Sunshine” seems built to go on and on, and the melody is so beautiful that you wish it would last longer than a couple minutes.

Maybe that’s part of the song’s appeal, but Withers packs in so much soul, from the lyrics to his pained voice to the tune’s rolling beat, it’s almost too much to bear. Like all good things, it’s over much too soon.

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Filed under Acoustic, Blues, Funk, R & B, Rock, Soul, VIdeos

Listen to Harrison Brome’s darkly glum “Fill Your Brains”

On Harrison Brome’s debut song “Fill Your Brains,” which debuted at The Fader on June 15, his wavy, shaky vocals recall the Black Keys’ blues drawl, but that’s where the similarities end.

The video is full of little spotlights from lit cigarettes and streetlights, further adding to the desolation, even though the people in the video at first seem to be having a good time. It begins to seem clear that they’re depending largely on the booze and the blunts to get through the night.

Watch the video for “Fill Your Brains” below:

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Filed under Blues, New Music, Rock

The majesty of Nina Simone’s “Plain Gold Ring”

Nina Simone

I recently discovered singer/songwriter Nina Simone by accident, while searching for James Brown music on Youtube.

Simone was a classically-trained jazz pianist, who succeeded in not pigeonholing herself into any genre. She performed standard covers with emotional original arrangements. Hearing her sing on a loving “Brown Baby” hooked me on her sultry voice, dark and mellow. She also sounded defiant and full of spite, as on the scathing “Backlash Blues” in later years, when she championed civil-rights causes.

So I bought a Nina Simone ‘greatest hits’ CD —— ‘Nina: The Essential Nina Simone —— to dip my toe in the water. One song that stood out for me was ‘Plain Gold Ring,’ about a woman pining for a married man.

She sings plainly at first– she knows he’s not going to be available, and she’s resigned to that fact. Before the second verse though, she cries out a regal ‘oh’ which extends into a plaintive anthem where you can almost see her riding a cold ocean, waiting for the man who never comes. It’s clear that wanting what she can’t have is going to keep her from living.

The stark drums march the tune along as her repeating piano melody keeps step. As she sings the chorus at the end, her voice fades into the dark. I love to listen to it.

While surfing the Tube, I found Kimbra’s version of this song. I’m aghast at Kimbra‘s take, in which she  unabashedly uses an Audacity-type voice editor. It’s so sterile when up against Simone’s.

It’s not possible to really compare these two versions of ‘Plain Gold Ring,’ but you can try:

Let me know what you think.

‘Plain Gold Ring’:

Dig It or Ditch It: Dig Simone’s version, Ditch Kimbra’s.

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Filed under Blues, Jazz, Remake, Uncategorized, VIdeos