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31 December 2012

Musicology: An in-depth interview with Morris Mills



   Morris Mills will make a night of beautiful music this Friday.
  He will be celebrating the release of his second album Beautified” in the next month with a concert at 11 p.m. Jan. 4 at the Hard Rock Cafe, 63 W. Ontario St., Chicago. The cover is $10.   He will play mostly original material, but, he will perform two Prince songs: “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” and “Purple Rain”. The album will be available on internet outlets like Spotify, iTunes and Amazon.com, Mills said.
  “I am singer, I am a songwriter, I'm not a poet, but, I'm a poet in music,” he said. “I'm just a man that loves music.”
  His music spans all genres including rock, pop, soul and blues. He has been compared to artists like Maxwell, Lenny Kravitz, Curtis Mayfield, David Bowie and Prince.  He said that no matter how much people try to put him into a category, everything he does comes from an individual place.
  He has also worked on a cover of  The Smashing Pumpkins song "Disarm" with Matt Fink-- better known as Dr. Fink-- who played keyboards in Prince's band for more than 10 years. Rosie Gaines, a vocalist best known for her work with Prince on his 1991 Diamonds and Pearls album, has also expressed interest in recording one of his songs. In addition, Soulpatrol.com awarded his single “Beautified” best song of 2011 and Rawartists.org nominated him for music artist of the year 2012.
 “I'm going to do something different, I'm going to do something else,” Mills said. “They are going to say that I remind them of Prince, but, not that I sound like Prince.”

Courtesy of Morris Mills
Musical Beginnings
  Mills is a self-taught guitarist and pianist and his love of music goes back to when he was five years old. He was introduced to different types to music at a young age: His mother listened to blues, country and soul records and his dad liked pop, classical and rock music. He cited Elvis Presley, Tom Jones and The Jacksons as early influences, he said.
  “It wasn't white music. It wasn't black music. It was music,” he said.
  He walked around the house singing and performing, imitating The Stylistics, a 1970s soul group, with his siblings and he was writing songs by the time he was in grammar school. His mother was very supportive of her children's musical aspirations – she herself played the trombone in high school. She bought his older brother a guitar and allowed him to build a studio in the basement of their Broadview, Ill. home, where he and his brother recorded on four-track, and later, eight-track tapes.
  “(My brother) would wake me up in wee hours of the morning to sing the vocals on songs,” he said. “We would spend all day in the basement.”
  The first time Mills heard Prince was when his older brother, who was in college at the time, brought home the album “For You” in 1978. His brother told him to “listen to this guy that sounds like you.” Before that, he had been listening to singers like Stevie Wonder, Eddie Kendricks and Curtis Mayfield and imitating them in his recordings, but, from the moment he heard that album, Prince also became a major musical influence, Mills said.
  Prince and the Minneapolis sound were very popular by the time Mills went to Proviso East High School. He remembers there were many neighborhood bands forming that paid homage to the artist and the biggest showcase was the high school talent show. He got his band together and auditioned for the talent show his sophomore year.  They performed "D.M.S.R." (Dance Music Sex Romance), from Prince's "1999" album at the audition, but, were kicked out because of the song's suggestive lyrics. The experience was devastating, especially after he saw other local bands flourish after the talent show, he said.
   "I would watch the bands and I would fantasize about being onstage," Mills said.
  Not long after the audition, he moved to Lawton, Oklahoma to stay with a relative, because he was experiencing some family problems, and there honed his craft by performing at a high school on an local army base. By the time he came back to his old high school in Illinois for his senior year, he easily passed the talent show audition.

Courtesy of Morris Mills


Mississippi Bound
  After high school, he did some touring, however, his musical dreams were put on hold after he became a husband and father. Yet, he had never stopped writing and recording music and he was also sending out demos and performing sporadically, Mills said.
  While married, he was studying to be a minister and after he got divorced in the early 1990s, he accepted a job as an assistant minister in Jackson, Mississippi. However, the situation was not permanent, he said.
  “I kind of made it up in my mind that I wouldn't do that (ministry) again,” Mills said.
   The move to Mississippi turned out to be a life-changing event, but not right away. During the time he was working at the church, he was introduced to Vasti Jackson, who became a very important musical mentor.    However, after the ministry job ended, he did go back to Illinois where he worked in “corporate America” for about a year. Mills later returned to Mississippi to pursue his music at Jackson's behest, he said.
  Jackson, was well known for his writing work with artists Tyrone Davis, Johnnie Taylor and Buddy Guy. He took Mills under his wing, introducing him to blues music and local musicians. Mills also became involved in the neo-soul music and spoken word scenes in Jackson and surrounding cities. He added that Jackson was also instrumental in getting him away from relying heavily on computers while recording: one day Jackson put him in a room with a piano and tape recorder and told him to learn “Ooh, Baby, Baby” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
  In addition, Mills was staying in a home he rented from Jackson that had its own recording studio. Jackson was working with blues artist Bobby Rush on an album there that ended up being nominated for a Grammy award.
   Mills later put his own band together and opened for artists like Brian McKnight and Jon B. when they did concerts in the Mississippi.
  “(Jackson) taught me how to be a real musician,” he said.

Courtesy of Morris Mills
The Road to Success
  Mills later moved back to Chicago, put a band together and started touring the city regularly.
He released his first album, "Love and Coffee" in 2005, which actually supposed to be the soundtrack for an independent movie he was making with William Pierce that was never completed. He has worked on other films, including My Phamily Barbeque and seven other movies. His most recently completed film "Ran$om Gains" starred Elise Neal, best known for her work on the TV comedy The Hughleys and Wood Harris, who starred as Avon Barksdale on HBO's The Wire
  Two songs from that album garnered him major attention: Radio Personality Terry Bello, Senior Executive Producer of the International Soul Summit, which takes place yearly in Atlanta, heard his music on MySpace.com and took an interest in him as an artist.He included Mills' song, "Steppin' Out Tonight," on the Heineken Soul Star Series, a compilation CD that included  well-known artists like Angie Stone, Rashaan Patterson and Anthony David, among others. The CD received international attention and helped really push his career, he said.
  He said that the song “Hello,” which was co-written and produced by Jackson from the album "Love and Coffee" also brought him attention around 2009. It caught the ear of Stephanie Levine, owner of Lovebrand Records, who got in contact with him and flew him out to New York for his first music video, directed by David Watson. She also heavily promoted the song on the East Coast and internationally. He worked with her company for two years.
   Interscope Records also digitally released “Beautified” as a single in 2011, he said.
  He said with his newest album, however, he wanted to move toward featuring a more rock feel, but, he was worried about what some fans of his first album might think.
  “I was afraid I was going to lose my soul base, but, at the same time, I wanted to be true to myself,” Mills said.
  He said some of the artists he would like to work with in the future include British Singer Lianne Las Havas, Coldplay, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and, of course, Prince. He is also looking forward to touring in Budapest in 2013 and expanding his fan base there. He has also had an offer to tour with Lee Fields and the Expressions. He also is working on another movie, "Soul," which should begin filming this summer.
  “What is me is that category you can't put me in,” he said. “That feel, that fun, that electricity.”

Check out Morris Mills' music at Reverbnation.com/morrismills and soundcloud.com/morris-mills.


Stay beautiful, Kristi

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Lead photo courtesy of Morris Mills.

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28 December 2012

The Morning Papers: Meet the writer/editor of the Beautiful Nights Blog



This is Part IV in a four-part series on the Beautiful Nights Creative Team:



   Who is K Nicola Dyes?
  The simple answer to that question is that I am the writer/editor of "Dyes Got the Answers 2 Ur ?s," The Beautiful Nights Blog; the more compelling answer is that I am a person who has discovered a renewed sense of joy in life by combining two of my favorite things: writing and Prince.
  I was literally called out of "retirement" one day in November 2012 when the phone rang and Marcus Scott, of Beautiful Nights, was on the other end. His proposition was simple: to create a blog for his new Prince fan page on Facebook and, to kick it off, he would be able to get me an interview with The Twinz, Maya and Nancy McClean. That was a little over a month and seven posts ago.
  I had not written anything, besides e-mails and greeting cards, in nearly four years. After I was laid off from my job at The Union Democrat, a small-town newspaper, in 2009 I was bitter and frustrated that I could not find another writing job. At some point, I decided it was time to move on. I have languished in different jobs for the past few years to pay the bills: cashier at a pizza restaurant, concierge at The Underground Tour, a tourist attraction in Seattle and now as a front desk agent at a hotel (however, I am currently finding a lot of satisfaction in my current job).
  But, writing was always in heart, and I did not realize how much I missed it until I started doing it again. While interviewing Scott, Alexis Wofford and L'Quita Sanders, the other members of the Beautiful Nights team, I became intrigued by own questions. I thought that maybe people might be interested in the girl who would randomly post on the page and say "read my stories". 
  It is a little unorthodox, but, being a blogger, I think it is okay for me to be more accessible to my readers, which was not possible for me as a newspaper reporter. So, here is a little bit about me:
  
  ?: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you became involved with Beautiful Nights?
  KD: I have been a diehard Prince fan since I was 15 years old. Although I went to a performing arts high school (School of the Arts in San Francisco, where I played in the band), people at school kind of gave me a hard time for liking Prince. I did not care, because the thing that I loved about Prince, besides his music, was that he was okay with being himself, without giving a damn about what other people thought. In turn, I felt that made it okay for me to do the same. It was a very intense period in my life and Prince music has been my soundtrack ever since. I wanted to know about everything Prince: I sought out all the albums, read all the biographies and articles I could find and went to Prince.org every single day. There was not really anyone at school to share my excitement with, so, I almost became like a "Purple Culture" scholar, amassing all this information to use at a later date.
  I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism and Russian from San Francisco State University in 2007. I met Scott when I was doing an internship that summer at the (now closed) Kane County Bureau of the Daily Herald in St. Charles, Ill. A mutual friend was having a house party one weekend and he was there. I did not really get to know him until 2008, when I came back for one of the now legendary Prince parties at Berlin, which I did periodically. In turn, he came out to visit me a few months later, when I was living in Sonora, Calif., where I was working as a reporter, and we went to a Prince party in Berkeley. After he left, I mailed him some clippings of some of my stories.
  We have kept in touch, on and off, during the last five years and in that time I moved to Seattle. It was that fateful phone call I mentioned earlier, where I was brought into Beautiful Nights, where they were already in full gear in Chicago. He said he wanted a blog for the page, which he said would make his fan group stand out from all the others, and I was the person who came to mind when he was thinking about a writer. He added that he still had those stories I sent him all those years ago. He came up with the title "Dyes Got the Answers 2 Ur ?s," which is a play on "I've got the answers to your questions."
Courtesy of K Nicola Dyes

   ?: What area of expertise do you bring to Beautiful Nights?
  KD: I'm a writer, but, more importantly I am an interviewer; you cannot have a great story with a wack interview. My job is to make people who may not want to answer my questions feel comfortable enough to speak freely with me. I'm not afraid to get on the phone with people I never met and talk to them for hours.
  Also, from my days as a reporter, I am able to write effectively on different topics: I covered city and county government; food; travel; religion; business; health and entertainment. However, entertainment writing has always been my passion, particularly interviews with public figures. I cannot lie: I love famous people. During my career, I have been blessed enough to interview Mikhail Baryshnikov, the renowned ballet dancer; Singer and TV Personality Tony Orlando, who, before I interviewed The Twinz, had my undisputed vote for nicest celebrity ever; the late TV Producer David Gerber ("Room 222, "In the Heat of the Night"); Comedians Mark Curry and Victoria Jackson, of Saturday Night Live, among others.
  I am also constantly thinking of new ideas for the blog, all the things I ever wanted to know about Prince, but, was afraid to ask.
  ?: What is the best thing about being apart of Beautiful Nights?
  KD: I get to write about Prince! How cool is that? If there was ever a dream job, this would be it. I get to sit at home or at work or wherever and think about story ideas to related to Prince and there is already an audience in place who will read it. Friends have been imploring to write a blog for years, but, my question was always the same: "About what?" There are a lot of bloggers out there, what was going to make me different?
  Also, I like the fact that this is not a newspaper. There is structure, but, I am no longer governed by a set of rules that, in my opinion, are becoming outdated in as the speed of news increases every moment.
  ?: What would you like to improve about Beautiful Nights?
  KD: Nothing about Beautiful Nights, the group is great, but, I could use a bit more time management and organization on my end. I work full time (including two nights of graveyard shift) and between interviewing, editing and posting, it sometimes feels like there are not enough hours in the day. I want this endeavor to stay fun for me, I never want it to feel like a job. So, I know that the key to that is to get on top things now.
  ?: Who is your favorite protegee and why?
  KD: Jesse Johnson, as a solo artist. But, I would not call him a protegee, I would call him an associated act. I think he is baddest musician to ever come out of Prince's camp. All you need to do is listen to his guitar solos on "Fool's Paradise" and "Lovestruck" if you are not convinced. I'm also a fan of the work he has done for other artists, including Janet Jackson, Vanity, the song "Nights Like This" that he wrote for The Five Heartbeats" soundtrack and his guitar solo on "You Wear it Well" by DeBarge. I do not think he ever got the credit he was due, because people were always comparing him to Prince.
  I also want to give a shout out to Margie Cox, one of Jesse Johnson's protegees, the lead singer of TaMara and the Seen, who also worked with Prince on the unreleased MC Flash project. She is a very talented and underrated singer. I love them both.
  ?: Who would you like to see host the next Beautiful Nights party?
  KD: I would love to meet Jill Jones. I am a big fan of her 1987 album and I have also had the pleasure of listening to some of the cuts of her unreleased second album. In my opinion, she is another artist from the Prince camp who never got her due. In addition to that, she had worked with two of my favorite artists, Teena Marie and Prince and I would love to ask her some questions about that.

Drawing by Clayton Ballard
?: What is the most unique piece of Prince memorabilia you own or have owned in the past?
  KD: I don't just have one! This is a three-part answer:
  A) The first one is a framed charcoal drawing of Prince that a friend of mine drew for me and gave me on for my 29th birthday. What really made it so cool was that he gave it to me right before we went to go see a Prince concert at the Tacoma Dome in December 2011.
   B) The summer I did my internship at the Daily Herald in 2007 was the same year that the Chicago Bears went to the Super Bowl and Prince did the halftime show and, of, course, the paper sent writers and photographers down to Miami. For my going away present at the end of my stint there, the staff presented me with two framed photographs that the photo editor at the bureau, Rick, had taken himself during the halftime show. One was Prince by himself and the other was him with The Twinz.
  C) My grandmother's late second husband worked as a banquet waiter in some of San Francisco's best hotels for many years. In the early 1990s, he was working at the Clift Hotel when Prince was in town on tour. When I was in high school (around 1998), at the height of my Prince madness, he gave me this very small jar of honey that had a black label with gold letters that said: Prince, Scandalous Sex Suite, featuring Kim Basinger. He said that someone working with Prince had given it to him. He had kept it on his dresser until he gave it to me. I had it on my dresser from that moment all the way through college, until I moved out to accept that internship. I left that jar of honey behind and have not seen it since. In her haste to clean out my old room, so my younger brother could move in, a LOT of things came up missing and that was one of them. When I came home three months later to get my things, I could not find it. I asked her about it and she acted like she had no clue what I was talking about. I eventually forgave her and moved on, but, I am getting a small twinge of sadness just writing about it now
  ?: What would you like see happen with Beautiful Nights in the next year?
  KD: I hope I get to go to the next party! It is kind of difficult being in Seattle, when the rest of the team is in Chicago, but, I am going to find a way to make it work. I also want to expand the readership for "Dyes Got the Answers 2 Ur ?s" and I am working on ways to expand my fan base. I love promoting Beautiful Nights, because I really believe in it; it is essential to have a place where Prince fans can come together in a positive way.
  I have an interview wish list, too: Margie Cox, Jill Jones, Mazarati and, of course, Prince, although that might be a long time coming. I also have a more large-scale story in mind: an in-depth feature that would be a critical history of Prince.org, from the beginning until now, because that Web site truly fascinates me.
   I also hope that readers at some point become comfortable enough to reach out to me and suggest story ideas. Part of the reason Scott came up with the name "Dyes Got the Answers 2 Ur ?s" is because we, at some point, want more member involvement and interaction. I am just the vessel to assemble information for the fans.
  ?: What message do you have for fans of the Beautiful Nights page?
  KD: The fact that people are reading my blog really warms my heart. All the time I spend writing means absolutely nothing if no one is reading. Do not be shy about telling me what you think about my posts-- good, bad or indifferent-- leave comments on the blog, post on my page, inbox me. I would love to hear from you.

Stay beautiful, Kristi

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Lead drawing by Clayton Ballard.

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24 December 2012

Party Like it's 1999: Beautiful Nights meets Purple Funk SF



  

  Marcus Scott, of the Beautiful Nights Facebook page and fan parties, will bring some Chicago flavor to the San Francisco Bay Area this New Year's Eve.
  Purple Funk SF, a group dedicated to celebrating Prince's music, will present an end-of-the-year bash, "1999 New Year's Eve Dance Party" at 9 p.m. Dec. 31 at Rassela's Jazz Club, 1534 Fillmore St., San Francisco. The cost is $19.99 and the night's theme will be 1999, in honor of Prince's 1982 breakthrough album. The event will be hosted by DJ Miguel "Hightop" Fonseca.
  Special guests include Scott, who is traveling from the Midwest and Jeff Harris, a local DJ best known for his work with the Prince vs. Michael Jackson parties. The party will feature mainstream, as well as unreleased, songs, music videos and a special performance by Scott. Christophur T will oversee art direction and Evol Knight will be the event photographer.
  “It will be a beautiful purple funky night,” said Christophur T, of Purple Funk SF.
 Courtesy of Willie Adams, aka DJ Spooky Electric
  The group consists of Fonseca, Christophur T, Willie Adams, aka DJ Spooky Electric, Evol Knight and Monya K. The idea was born after Prince made a stop in Oakland for the Welcome 2 America Tour in 2011. Not long after, Fonseca approached Adams about reviving all-Prince parties in the Bay Area, in the spirit of now defunct Prince fan groups like the Dream Factory and Bay NPG (New Power Generation), Adams said.
  Adams then tapped Christophur T to come on board, since the two had collaborated in the past to throw Prince parties in the Bay Area, the last one being held in 2008. The Purple Funk SF group held their first party in June 2012, which featured a live Prince tribute by The Scoundrels.
  “There (are) a lot of Prince groups all over the world,” Adams said. “But, we wanted to distinguish ourselves and represent the Bay (Area) and give it that Bay (Area) flavor.”

Adams and Christophur T both met Scott when he traveled to California in June 2008 to attend one of their parties in Berkeley. Christophur T said that he had mistaken Scott for another well-known Prince fan Sir Jack based in Santa Cruz, Calif. and greeted him as such before realizing his mistake. However, the two connected that night and have periodically kept in touch, via Facebook and by telephone.
Courtesy of Christophur T
  Adams recalled another meeting, also in 2008, when Scott attended a party where he was the DJ in San Jose. He said that after he was done playing, Scott told him he liked his style and gave him a copy of “21 Nights,” a coffee table book featuring Prince, that had just been released at the time. He said he was “blown away” by the gesture and never forgot it. He has not seen Scott since that last meeting, but, they have also kept in touch since then.
  When Scott started Beautiful Nights, he reached out to members of Purple Funk SF and they in turn, invited him to collaborate with them on their New Year's Eve party. They have been in talks since the Beautiful Nights team was planning their first party, which took place in November 2012, and featured Maya and Nandy McClean, better known as The Twinz, who have worked extensively with Prince, Adams said.
  “It just made sense for us to come out to support each other,” he said. “It was really just out of a spirit of collaboration and appreciation for the music and the culture.”
  Scott said he is looking forward to visiting the Bay Area again for the first time in more than three years, performing at the party and meeting new people. He said he hopes this party will bring the focus back to Prince's music and uniting fans from all walks of life.
  “We need to set an example for the new generation of Prince fans,” Scott said. “If everybody just supports each other, we could have the ultimate Prince party.”
  Adams said he wanted fans to know that this will be a one-of-a-kind event and anybody into the “purple culture,” will not want to miss it.
  “Get ready a for a night that you will never, never forget,” he said. “If you're a Prince fan, this is the place you want to be.”

Stay beautiful, Kristi

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Lead photo courtesy of Purple Funk SF.

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21 December 2012

Sign o' the Times (Disc 2): K Nicola reviews Seattle's Tribute to Prince


This is Part II of a two-part story:


Courtesy of Ticketweb.com

“It's a bit of a humbling experience to cover a Prince song. Because, really, you can't do it like Prince.” -Gavin Guss

Gavin Guss, photo by Elke Hautala
“U Got the Look” by Gavin Guss
  This was, by far the most interesting performance of the night. It was done as a solo, not as a duet, with an
all-male band. But, honestly, I don't think Sheena Easton's soulful vocals and or Prince's androgynous “Camille” vocals would have a place in this version of the song. 
  The band took what is easily one of the funkiest grooves on the album and turned it into a straight rock and roll song. Now what kind of rock song, I can't tell you. I heard some parts that sounded like late 60s rock and others that sounded like Seattle's most famous export: grunge music. He did this one pose and hit a guitar riff that, I swear to God, reminded me of Chuck Berry circa 1955. Or maybe not. I'm not well-versed enough to tell you for sure and it's hard enough just trying to describe this genre-defying song. In roughly four to five minutes this song took you so many places that, as a listener, you were just trying to keep up. I thought it was a great tribute to a genre-defying artist like Prince.
  “It's a bit of a humbling experience to cover a Prince song,” Guss said before his set. “Because, really, you can't do it like Prince.”
  So, I guess he just decided to make the song his own. I appreciate the effort and I think Prince would, too.

“If I Was Your Girlfriend” by Strong Suit
  This, like all the other songs of the evening, was heavy on the electric guitars, but, I loved it. A lot of those keyboard grooves were doubled the guitar and I thought it sounded great. There was some great ad-libs by the lead singer and at the end and a really nice drum solo. There was a extended jam at the end where they really got the crowd involved.
  The band got together and only had “one and a half” rehearsals before performing that night, said Keith, the band's bassist after his set. And the band actually chose that song to perform.
  “We all love that song, that whole album,” he said. “Our singer chose that song, (it was) the first one, off the top of his head.

Eldridge Gravy, photo by Elke Hautala
“Strange Relationship” by Eldrige Gravy
This performance was definitely funky! The fact that it was done as a duet gave the already deep song an even deeper meaning. (Side note: I would love to hear Prince do this as a duet now). The lead singers were great, very soulful (probably the most soulful act all night). I love this song and I was definitely digging their version of it.

“I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” by To The Glorious Lonely
Michelle Speir, a Prince fan in the audience described their performance as the “goth metal version” of the song. Maybe. It definitely didn't have the light pop feel of the original, it was much heavier, punk I would say, and I felt like they powered right through it. I'm not really sure how to describe their version of the song, and I thought Speir's description was interesting, so I'm going to stick with that.


Kim, of Lazy Susan, photo by Elke Hautala
“The Cross” by Lazy Susan
  This song was done by a female vocalist and, again, did not stray wildly from the original. There was plenty of kick drum in those first verses and her subtle emotion in her voice lent itself greatly to the song's very quiet opening. But, once the guitars and drums kicked in on the second part of the song, it was on.
  Her voice came across as being filled with rage at the conditions she is describing in the song, whereas, I always felt that Prince's vocals on the album were filled a strong sense of urgency (or maybe it was sublimated rage I wasn't capable of understanding).         At this point the band was playing with urgency and abandon. I loved it. The song's length was not as compact and to the point as the original, as there were several guitar solos throughout the song. There was no harmonies at the end, but, a nice, clean rock and roll finish with lots of guitar riffs and drums.

“It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” by Aaron Daniel
Aaron Daniel, photo by Elke Hautala
This performance was super ambitious. This guy came out, alone, with a guitar and a machine where he had pre-recorded background vocals, a drum beat and, I don't know if he had an actual vocoder, but, he there was something that altered his voice that made it sound like he had one. I'm standing in the audience thinking “where's the band?” but, decided to give it a chance.
  When you hear this song on the album it's a JAM. Lots of horns, banging drums, keyboards, layered vocals. It would have been hard to duplicate that, because Tractor Tavern is a very intimate setting. I like how this guy just came out solo like “I'm about to do this.” He was an amazing guitar player and also got the crowd involved. Since there was no backing band for the “confusion” segment at the end of the song, when he yelled “confusion” he just cued the crowd to go crazy. It was pretty cool. My one complaint is that it was hard to hear his vocals over everything that going on.
  The only thing missing was Sheila E.'s very fun and very funky “Transmississippi Rap” (which I spent weeks trying to learn in high school). But, if he would have been able to do that on top of everything else, I would have expected him to walk on water next...just saying.

Amsterdam, photo by Elke Hautala
“Adore” by Amsterdam
  This is arguably the best song on the album, in my opinion, and I had high expectations for whatever band decided tackled it.
  When Amsterdam hit the stage, I wasn't disappointed. They had a trumpet and saxophone player-- first brass instruments I had seen all night -- the drummer had on his 1999 T-Shirt and the female vocalist just stepped up to the mic and looked like she was ready to throw down.
  She had the chops-- with the falsetto right on point— and she knew all the lyrics (which I appreciated). However, she was a bit overpowered by the brass section of the band and toward the end of the song her voice got a little lost in the music. This, like Strange Relationship was the most faithful interpretation of the Prince's original and there was little room for error. I feel that the band more than rose to the challenge.
  It was fitting finale to a great tribute.

-K

 For more information on MusiCares visit www.grammy.org/musicares. Check out Elke Hautala's video of the event  here:

Stay beautiful, Kristi

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Sign o' the Times (Disc 1): K Nicola reviews Seattle's Tribute to Prince


  

Courtesy of Ticketweb.com


“It's a bit of a humbling experience to cover a Prince song. Because, really, you can't do it like Prince.” -Gavin Guss


  Some of the best bands in the Emerald City paid tribute to the Purple One last weekend.
  I attended the 10th Annual Double Album Christmas Benefit on December 15 at Seattle's Tractor Tavern. This year's album was Sign o' the Times by Prince, where the entire album was played live and in sequence by local bands. All the proceeds from the concert benefited MusiCares, a foundation that gives assistance to musicians in times of need, according to the organization's Web site.
  I am a working stiff, however, and couldn't get the day off to prepare myself to witness this epic undertaking. So, I missed the opening of the concert with Sign o' the Times and Play in the Sunshine (thank you, King County Metro and, for the record, the new D-Line bus to Ballard sucks). However, I did arrive just in time for Housequake, so that's where the review begins (I know, I'm sorry). I've divided this review into two parts, just like the CD, to make it more palatable for my readers:

“Housequake” by Judd Wasserman
Judd Wasserman, photo by Elke Hautala
   Of course, the sped-up “Camille” vocals were missing, but, for anyone who's seen Prince in concert, where Prince sings this in his natural voice, it doesn't lessen the impact of this jam.
  The only thing missing was the brass, which is all over this song on the album, but, this group more than made up for it with some slammin' electric guitar solos. What they lacked in instrumentation, they more than made up for with funk. I will concede that it would not have satisfied some Prince purists, but, I thought they did well with the band they had. The drummer was in the pocket and they rode that groove all the way to the very end of the song with high energy. The vocalist was sounded great, but, I felt like he could have been more on point with the lyrics.

“The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”
  In my humble opinion, it would have been impossible to get the super-stripped down sound of the album version live. The band did not try to do that and I think it worked to their advantage. This song, again, was heavy on the guitar, bass and drums, like most of the songs of the night were, but, it sounded great. There was another searing guitar solo in the middle of the song and I thought the vocalist was good, too. Really held his own in what I think is a difficult song to sing.

Shawn Smith. photo by Elke Hautala
“It” by Shawn Smith
  I have to admit that I have never been a fan of this song. But, I did enjoy this version of it. His blues/rock version of the song is not far off the mark of Prince's original, and hearing it live added something that made it more enjoyable. Michelle Speir, an avid Prince fan like myself, described his look and music as “ZZ Top meets Prince,”and I would agree. Only much cooler.

“Starfish and Coffee” by the Scott Summers Quartet
  This was pretty true to the original, with the exception that it was sung as a duet with a man and woman. It sounded very good and it looked like the band was having a lot of fun doing it.

Julia Massey, photo by Elke Hautala


“Slow Love” by The Glass Notes
  The band stayed pretty true to the original song, but, there were some parts, in my opinion, that sounded a little more bluesy. The guitar solos in the middle were kicking (just for the record, I may say that several more times, since I didn't hear one bad guitar solo all night). The best part in my opinion was the raw emotion in the lead singer's vocals and you could see that everyone in the band was really feeling the song.
Prince Fan David Schwartz, photo by Elke Hautala
Keyboardist Julia Massey, who fronts her own band Julia Massey and the 5 Finger Discount, sat in with The Glass Notes on this song. She was asked to play with the band just days before the event and practiced with the band twice before performing Saturday night. She said when she was first recruited she wasn't familiar with the song or the album, but, she had a great time playing on stage.
  “I think I am like most kids who grew up in the 80s, I know the hits backwards and forwards,” Massey said. “I'm happy I have a whole lifetime to unpack...everything he's produced. He's so prolific..”


“Hot Thing” by Lucky Girl
  This band took the stripped-down funk jam and turned into a rollicking “punk-rock groove, with rock and roll solos” as lead singer Kathy Moore described it.
Kathy Moore, photo by Elke Hautala
  If you are at all familiar with the song, it is almost unrecognizable. Moore's smoky vocals gave the song an edge. Unlike the album cut, which has a long instrumental at the end, this song ended when the lyrics did, save for a few guitar solos in the middle.
  As I listened to them play the song, I wondered was there any significance that this particular song, an homage to a very sexy woman, was sang by female vocalist.
  “Well you know, to be honest I was powering through it and not thinking about the lyrics,” Moore said, after her set.

Prince fans Michelle Speir and Ken Iliffe, photo by Elke Hautala
“Forever in My Life” by Shawn Smith
  This is another song on the album that I have never been particularly fond of. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but, I guess it just has not touched me in a special place yet...whatever that means. With this song, just like with “It,” he had me groovin'. I also felt he gave this song a blues/rock feel and the vocals were powerful and he more than did this Prince cut justice.

-K





For more information on MusiCares visit www.grammy.org/musicares. Check out Elke Hautala's video of the event here:



Stay beautiful, Kristi
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07 December 2012

$: An Interview with L'Quita Sanders

  This is Part III in a four-part series of interviews with the Beautiful Nights creative team:



  Meet the singing accountant behind Beautiful Nights.
  L'Quita Sanders, along with Marcus Scott, Bemaji Tillman and Alexis Wofford are part of the creative team for the Beautiful Nights Facebook page and parties, dedicated to Prince and associated acts.
  They started the page in October 2012 and it now has more than 800 members. They also threw their first party Nov. 24 at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Chicago. It was hosted by The Twinz, Maya and Nandy McClean, singers/dancers/choreographers who have worked extensively with Prince and featured DJ Maurice Ice Culpepper.
  The turnout was between 150 to 250 people, Wofford said.
  Sanders has worked in accounting for 14 years and is currently studying to take the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) exam. She is also an original member of Tillman's band House of Twang and has also worked on songwriting and her own solo recording for last several years.
  “I was an accountant by day and a singer by night,” she said. “I'm not as boring as most accountants.”
  Sanders said she has been a Prince fan since her mom took her to the movies to see Purple Rain in 1984. But, her earliest memories of Prince are of her mother and father singing the song Controversy, which was released three years earlier.
  However, she did not get a chance to see Prince live until the Musicology tour in 2004.
  “(My mother) wouldn't take me to his concerts. She said he was too wild,” she said.
  Sanders recently did a telephone interview with “Dyes Got the Answers 2 Ur ?s,” where she discussed her favorite parts of the Beautiful Nights experience, her need for perfection and making the group's parties “international”:


Courtesy of  L'Quita Sanders
?: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background? How did you become involved with Beautiful Nights?
  LS: I have been a member of House of Twang for 10 years, in the very first band...and I have been and out of the studio recording solo projects in between that time. I have always been helping out (Tillman) with songwriting... (Tillman) said 'I want you to come and help (Beautiful Nights) with some numbers.' He said 'Oh my God, you're great with numbers, you're a keeper.' I also negotiate the contracts...
  ?: What area of expertise do you bring to Beautiful Nights?
LS: Besides numbers, I bring the gift of negotiating and writing proposals. I am what they call the brains behind the business. I give the yes or no...
  ?: What has been your favorite part of this experience so far?
LS: I am loving reaching out to the different artists. Marcus has the gift of gab. Marcus will initiate the conversation and I will be the one to seal the deal, I love that. Meeting new people is exciting also.


Courtesy of L'Quita Sanders

  ?: What would you improve about the next party? Why?
  LS: We have to be more organized, the first event, while I was a little chaotic, came off pretty well. We want to make sure the artists are okay. We want to make sure the party goers are okay. We want to make sure everyone is taken care of. We don't want any room for error. I feel like Morris Day: we want perfection!
  ?: Which protegee would you like see host the next Beautiful Nights party?
  LS: Who don't I want to see, that's the better question. I would say out of all the protegees I love Rosie Gaines...She is definitely my favorite. I can hit all her notes. I love being able to sing along with people. When you can sing along and hit the notes you can say, "yeah, she's the one."
  ?: What has been some of the fan reaction so to the Beautiful Nights so far? What has been some of the criticism?
  LS: The only criticism we're receiving about the first party was that another event (ran into the Beautiful Nights party). We want to make sure there are no other events before ours...it takes a while to set up Beautiful Nights. I'm grateful for the people who stuck it out with us. That shows that not only does Prince have true fans, we do too.
  I didn't see this page spiraling like it has. Rosie Gaines is on our page. Jill Jones (is on the page). We're giving our fans the chance to connect with the protegees and I am sure they are appreciating it just as much as we are.
  I was on the phone with the ladies from Australia getting details for a Beautiful Nights Australia. We might have to drop the Beautiful Nights Chicago, because, we're international now!
  ?: What is the most unique item of Prince memorabilia you own or have owned in the past?
LS: I actually attended my first Prince concert, I think it was 2004, It was the Musicology Tour...I ended up going and I got one of the Musicology shirts and I have that, as well as my tour book...
  ?: What would you like to happen with Beautiful Nights in the next year?
LS: I ultimately would love to have Prince attend one of our Beautiful Nights (parties). We would like to have all the protegees come through with Prince being the icing on the cake.
  ?: What is your personal message for the Beautiful Nights fans?
LS: Let's continue to lift up the purple one and let's continue to unite. I think it's great that he's been able to bring us together from around the world to appreciate the music he's given us.

Stay beautiful, Kristi

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Lead photo courtesy of L'Quita Sanders

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03 December 2012

For You: An Interview with Alexis Wofford

This is Part II of a four-part series featuring the Beautiful Nights creative team:




  Alexis Wofford wants Beautiful Nights members to know that everything the group does is for the fans.
   Wofford, of Chicago, is a part of the team behind the Facebook page and parties, dedicated to Prince and associated acts, along with Marcus Scott, Bemaji Tillman and L'Quita Sanders, all of Chicago.
  The group held their first party Nov. 24 at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Chicago. The event, hosted by The Twinz, Maya and Nandy McClean, also featured DJ Maurice Ice Culpepper, and had a turnout of between 150 to 200 people.
  “It was a very nice turnout, it was a revolving turnout,” Wofford said. “If there were people who came early and left, someone (else) was coming in.”
  Wofford, who is in her early 30s, is executive producer of “Stats and Stilettos,” a sports-radio show that airs Sunday nights on WVON 1690 AM. The show focuses on showing sports from the point of view of both sexes and targets a younger demographic. The show celebrated its one- year anniversary in November of this year.
  Her first on-air interview was when she interviewed The Twinz about two weeks ago to promote the Beautiful Nights party.
  “What a way to crack a mike,” she said.
  During a recent telephone interview with “Dyes Got the Answers 2 Ur ?s,” she discussed the moment she fell in love with Prince, her feelings on the fan response to Beautiful Nights and bringing the party to a city near you.


Courtesy of Alexis Wofford
 ?: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background. How long have you been a Prince fan? How did you get involved with Beautiful Nights?
  AW: [I] graduated from the Illinois Center for Broadcast last November... I have a love for entertainment and arts and radio and music overall. Music is a passion of mine. (Scott) is a good friend of mine. We met about a year and a half ago and we just clicked. He sent me a text message about a meeting at his house...  When I got to his house, he and (Tillman) were there. When he said 'Prince,' I was on board. They said 'we want to give back to the fans and reach out to the protegees.' It was an honor for Marcus to (ask me to) come aboard...
  I was probably six when I started to like Prince. My mom used to play music on the record (player) all the time...On the weekends she would play Lady Cab Driver and Controversy. One day I picked up the 1999 album and looked at the insert (with Prince lying across a bed with a sheet pulled up halfway across his body) and thought 'oh my God, this man is beautiful' and this is at six (years old)!. Instantly I knew what type of man I was going to like...
  My mom would take me to Loop records in Downtown Chicago and I would buy a 45 every Saturday. The very first Prince record I bought was When Doves Cry with 17 days as the B-side... and I knew this going to my favorite artist for life.
  
Courtesy of Alexis Wofford
?: What area of expertise do you bring to the parties?
  AW: The creativity. I also keep people calm. I work in that area to where if there are any loose ends, I tie them all up... I make sure all those ideas are perfected. Also, I work along with [Sanders], making sure the numbers are done... I make sure I figure in the most accurate information...
  ?: What has been your favorite part of this experience so far?
  AW: The planning is definitely the fun part and seeing the ideas we have come to pass. [Also], meeting and greeting all the people...But, seeing everything we put the effort into coming to life is what satisfies me the most.
?: What would you like to see improve about the next party? 
  AW: Just time management, so that we can ensure that everything is summed up and punctual... I like for everything to run on a schedule.
  ?: What has been some of the reaction you have received so far about the Beautiful Nights party and the Facebook page? What has been some of the criticism?
 AW: I'm amazed (at) the reception that we're getting, being a new [Facebook] page. Sometimes, people don't know who are you are (and) people don't respect what you're trying to do as a group. It's been overwhelming, (but), people (are) accepting us into the Prince group... To be honest, I haven't heard any criticism. Beautiful Nights is going to tell you exactly who they are (and) they are bringing (the protegees) to you. The people from Prince's camp are on that page, too. There is nothing more that Beautiful Nights can ask for. We can only go up from there. I will not ever miss my 'Cirque du Soleil moment'. But, the fact that they (Tillman and Scott) both wanted me to be apart of it means a lot. The group that I work with, I'm thankful for.
  ?: Who would you like to see host a future party? Why?
  AW: Prince. That's self explanatory. That is the status I want to get to. The reason we're throwing this party is because of this man...the reason I fell in love at six. Even if he doesn't talk to anybody at the party, even if he just waved...We would know that we put our stamp on the hearts of our fans, but, also, on the man we're trying to honor.

Courtesy of Alexis Wofford

  ?: You can tell a lot about a Prince fan by who their favorite protegee is. Who is yours and why?
  AW: Sheila E. is my favorite protegee. She's talented all around. She plays an instrument (and) she can captivate an audience...even if she doesn't sing. She is bad.
  ?: What is the most unique piece of Prince Memoribilia you own or have owned in the past?
  AW: A couple things, actually. When I went to the Musicology concert (in 2004), I actually bought a Prince teddy bear (with a Prince t-shirt)...(Also), I have a symbol necklace I found on eBay. (It is) a gold necklace, with Swarovski crystals with teardrop diamonds and matching earrings. I found one of the crescent earrings that (Prince) wears and I wore it to the Beautiful Nights party. If you come to my house, on my coffee table...there is a spiral notebook, that actually has the Prince cover on the front. It has to be special, whatever I write in there...
  ?: What would you like to see happen with Beautiful Nights in the next year?
  AW: I would love to take this show on the road...offer Beautiful Nights to different cities... [T]o where [the group becomes] a charitable organization that gives back... [I] would love to be able to incorporate this into the community, not just (give back to) the fans and the protegees, but, the people who need help. You see a lot of promoters who are out here for personal gain, but I want to separate Beautiful Nights from that.
  ?: What is your personal message for Beautiful Nights fans?
  AW: Thank you, thank you, thank you, for the support for the love you've show Beautiful Nights... We'll do our best to make sure that each beautiful night is more beautiful than the last...


Check out Stats and Stilettos on Facebook at www.facebook.com/StatsandStilettos, on Twitter at (@StatsStilettos) or at www.blogtalkradio.com/statsandstilettos.

Stay beautiful, Kristi

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Lead photo courtesy of Alexis Wofford.

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