If you want to talk about the epitome of Soul and Funk music, then you must talk about Curtis Mayfield. With a hand deeply rooted in social activism, particularly during the Civil Rights movement, his role as singer and songwriter for the Impressions and later on as a solo artist has solidified Mayfield as one of the best Soul singers of all time. Although he wasn’t the only one spreading his gospel of inequality, protest and injustice, he might as well have been the most famous. His falsetto stood out as a strong voice and was embraced by the many who felt the same way as he did. His music, like that of Bob Marley, Gil Scott Heron, Sarah Webster Fabio, or Last Poets (among others), echoed the fight in ghettos of America, the voices of the people. I was introduced to Curtis Mayfield by my father. No doubt it was Super Fly or possibly an early Impressions side, so when I got older I bought the OST to the movie and anything else I could get my hands on. Every time I picked up a new record I was more and more amazed. Super Fly was classic, but what about records like Sweet Exorcist, Back To The World, or one of my faves: There’s No Place Like America Today. Sure you can get a hold of gems like Roots and Curtis in original and repress forms, but when I got some of those deep, politically conscious records, they blew my mind. Let’s talk about Curtis Live! as well. Between this Curtis record and Donnie Hathaway Live!, I don’t need another live Soul record ever.
Today we wanted to wish the man a Happy Birthday. He would have been 71 today. I chose a track off of 1975’s There’s No Place like America Today on Curtom Records, because this record has always got maximum spins in the FMF studio’s turntables. Not only does Curtis do a great version of “Hard Times” originally done by Baby Huey and the Baby Sitters, slow and burning, this version is top notch. The whole record is solid from Side 1 to Side 2. However, I went a bit deeper and chose “Billy Jack” for today. This side is funky. It’s got some great elements: from the bass line, to the hard punching drums to the fuzzy wah wah guitar that echoes behind Curtis’s falsetto message, it’s a great example of the immense talent this man had. By the time the horns kick in, you’re engrossed in the lyrics and well you’re on your way to a near perfect song one of the greatest voices of our time. Happy Born Day Mr. Mayfield. You are sorely missed.