Bright Morning Star: Talkin’ Topical Wit & Artist Activism

My children’s violin instructor, Ken Giles, I was delighted to discover, had once been part of a contemporary folk ensemble that, as Stephen Holden of the New York Times noted, embraced “the left-wing populism of Pete Seeger,” as it also incorporated “comedy and theatrical horseplay” into its performances.   Formed in 1978 and named for an old Appalachian hymn, Bright Morning Star (“a lively and engaging fixture in the peace and antinuclear movement,” according to The Washington Post‘s Richard Harrington) once toured with Odetta and Pete Seeger, having also previously shared the stage with Holly Near, Ronnie GilbertJohn Hall, and Gil Scott-Heron.

Photos courtesy of Ken Giles

Often appearing at rallies and public events that promoted peace and safe energy, Bright Morning Star — Charlie KingCourt Dorsey, Cheryl Fox, George FulginitiShakarMarcia Taylor, Laura Kolb, and Giles — would travel with over two dozen instruments, including harmonica, guitar, autoharp, stand-up bass, electric bass, piano, drums, 5-string viola/violin, banjo, recorder, and various percussion.  Kolb served a special role within the group as artistic interpreter for the deaf and hearing-impaired during live performance.

[Back Row:  Taylor; Giles; Kolb — Front row:  Dorsey; Fox; King; Fulginiti-Shakar]

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In the musical tradition of The Weavers and The Freedom Singers, the ensemble’s satirical sensibilities and “cabaret folk” approach hewed closer to Tom Lehrer, perhaps (Washington Post‘s Geoffrey Himes) or the San Franciso Mime Troupe (Boston Globe‘s Jeff McLaughlin).  Nevertheless, Pete Seeger himself gave the group his seal of approval, having once asserted, “I’m so proud — this whole wonderful group Bright Morning Star – they’re doing just exactly what Woody Guthrie and I tried to do 40 years ago.”

Founding member Charlie King would tell The Boston Globe in 1988:

“What I think Pete meant is Woody and I got on the union bandwagon and the Henry Wallace bandwagon; we went out into the communities and brought people together; we gave energizing concerts and we sang about the issues.  And we presented good music.  Bright Morning Star is doing that 40 years later with different issues, certainly a different crowd, different generation, different songs.  But there’s that continuity.”

Noting how the group leans toward celebration and humor rather than dark political commentary, King also shares this bit of wisdom gleaned from front-line experience:

“I think the political song at its worst says that things are really bad, probably hopeless, but at least you can feel self-righteous and get a cynical laugh during the last days of the empire.  There are a lot of songs written in that vein, I’m sure I’ve written a few.  But at its best, the political song builds a sense of possibility and humor.

I think political music records our history from the bottom up, from the grass roots, the stories of every day people; not just individuals, but also of popular struggles.  Within that historical context, it seems to energize and reinforce people and movements.  It  pokes fun at the powerful, reminds us that the emperor is naked.  I’ve always liked the quote – I’m not sure of the source, but I got it from Dorothy Day – that it comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”

Bright Morning Star would sit still for a 40-minute interview with Studs Terkel that was broadcast on July 11, 1986.

Group photo from Sweet and Sour CD

The group’s three long-playing releases include two for Rainbow Snake Records — Arisin’ in 1981 (which includes women trucker anthem “Truck Drivin’ Woman”) and Live in the US in 1984 — plus one for noted Chicago blues & country indie label, Flying Fish, 1988’s Sweet and SourRob Okun would pen a mission statement for the group’s debut album:

“They pollinate the grass roots.  They bang away at the walls of indifference.  They celebrate humanity.

The six members of Bright Morning Star do a better job educating people to what’s right and what’s wrong on this crazy planet than a half dozen politicians, teachers, or preachers.

They take their music to big city auditoriums and down-home coffee houses, to college towns and union halls, to demonstrations and celebrations.  They put melodies to our brightest visions and lyrics to our darkest mornings.  On stage, and on this record, they lead odysseys into the worlds of personal and social change.  And they do it all with lightness, laughter, and love.”

Image of ‘Man with tricycle’ by Karl Valentin – University of Cologne

Steve Snyder’s “They Ought to Put It On the Radio” from Sweet and Sour prods the nation’s news media to rely less on sensationalism and, instead, report on a broader (and healthier) array of human activity, so as to foster a more compassionate world in which all human life is valued:

[Psst: Click on triangle for “They Ought To Put It On the Radio” by Bright Morning Star]

‘Sweet and Sour’ earned a four-star review in The Valley Advocate

A retired music teacher with DC Public Schools and a violin teacher with the DC Youth Orchestra Program, whose 35 years of working for health and safety programs was inspired by the social activism spirit of the 1960s, Ken Giles also enjoys singing with the DC Labor Chorus.

From Pete Seeger to Ken Giles

Postscript:  Bright Morning Star would band together once more in 2008 for a 20th Reunion Tour, with a show at Rockville, Maryland’s Saint Mark Presbyterian Church hosted by David Eisner’s Institute of Musical Traditions in nearby Takoma Park.

EncorePerformance footage of Pete Seeger along with Bright Morning Star singing “Well May the World Go.”

Bernard Purdie at King Records

Zero to 180 is thrilled to learn that two titans of funk who both recorded for King – BernardPrettyPurdie and WilliamBootsyCollins – are teaming up for a set of new recordings.  In accordance with this event’s historical significance, the Mayor of Cincinnati, John Cranley, recently paid tribute to Purdie’s King drumming legacy by proclaiming January 5, 2019 to be “Bernard Purdie Day“!  Zero to 180 is honored to have provided the King Records Building Non-Profit Steering Committee with background research in preparation for this proclamation.

<Click here to view Mayor Cranley’s Bernard Purdie Day proclamation>

Bernard Purdie @ King Records – 1/5/19

Photo by Celia Purdie

Purdie’s first King sessions for Mickey and Sylvia, actually, precede his work for James Brown and yet, nevertheless, connect him once more to hip hop history, as vocalist, Sylvia Robinson (née Vanterpool) – “the Mother of Hip Hop” – would go on to found Sugar Hill Records!   Ruppli’s King Labels recording sessionography lists Bernard Purdie as the drummer on Mickey and Sylvia’s big hit,  “Love Is Strange” — not the original 1956 recording but a “redoof the song several years later for the tiny Willow label, as Purdie recounted for Drum Magazine in their January 16, 2013 edition, .

But wait!  As Ruppli reveals, Willow was, in fact, a label distributed by King Records. Furthermore, Discogs asserts Willow to have been a subsidiary label “created in 1961 by Mickey [i.e., Baker, long-time King session guitarist] and Sylvia.”   Purdie’s name is listed as drummer for Mickey and Sylvia on at least 4 sessions for Willow in 1961 that produced six songs [click on all song titles below for streaming audio]:

⇒ “Love Is Strange
⇒ “Walking in the Rain
⇒ “I’m Guilty
⇒ “Since I Fell for You
⇒ “He Gave Me Everything
⇒ “Darling (I Miss You So)”

Check out Mickey Baker’s searing guitar work on “Darling (I Miss You So)” – a fantastic 45 waiting to be rediscovered:

“Darling (I Miss You So)”     Mickey & Sylvia & Bernard     1961

Five years later, Purdie would lay down drums on the first of six recording sessions for James Brown between the years 1966-1968, according to Ruppli’s session notes:

Session #1> March 30, 1966 — New York City

James Brown with Band – Sammy Lowe, arranger/conductor – including Waymon Reed, Dud Bascomb & Lamar Wright (trumpets); Haywood Henry (baritone sax); Unknown (trombone); Nat Jones (piano); Jimmy Nolen or Wallace Richardson (guitar); Unknown (bass) & Bernard Purdie (drums) plus strings:

EP France – 1966                                               45 Italy – 1966

45 Germany – 1966                                     45 Australia – 1966

Session #2> January 25, 1967 — New York City

James Brown with Band – Sammy Lowe, arranger/conductor – including Joe Newman, Waymon ReedDud Bascomb (trumpets); Ernie Hayes (trumpet/piano); Richard Harris, Jimmy Cleveland & Garnett Brown (trombones); St-Clair Pinckney (baritone sax); Carl Lynch & Wallace Richardson (guitars); Al Lucas (electric bass) & Bernard Purdie (drums):

  • Kansas City
  • “You’ve Got the Power” [unissued version]
  • Think” [issued as by James Brown & Vicki Anderson]
  • Fever

45 Spain – 1967

EP Spain – 1967                                               45 France – 1967

Session #3> March, 1967 — New York City

James Brown with Orchestra – Sammy Lowe, arranger/conductor – including Unknown (trumpets, trombones & French horns); Ernie Hayes (trumpet/piano); Jimmy Nolen or Wallace Richardson (guitar); Al Lucas (electric bass) & Bernard Purdie (drums) plus strings:

  • “I Guess I’ll Have to Cry, Cry, Cry” [unissued]
  • “Too Much”  [unissued]
  • You’ve Got the Power” [issued as by Vicki Anderson & James Brown]

ALSO = Vicki Anderson “with prob. same band” on “prob. same date” recorded “(Something Moves Me) Within My Heart” [although unissued].

ALSO = King Coleman (vocals) “with similar band” – Sammy Lowe, arranger/conductor – on two tracks:

45 USA – 1968                                                   45 USA – 1967

Session #4> April 5, 1967 — New York City

James Brown with Band – Sammy Lowe, arranger/conductor – including John GrimesDud Bascomb & Waymon Reed (trumpets); Ernie Hayes  (trumpet/piano); Richard Harris, Jimmy Cleveland & Garnett Brown (trombones); AlfredPee WeeEllis (tenor sax/piano); St.-Clair Pinckney (baritone sax); Carl Lynch & Wallace Richardson (guitars); Al Lucas (electric bass) & Bernard Purdie (drums):

*ALSO = Vicki Anderson “with prob. same band” on “prob. same date” recorded “People” [although unissued].

Promo 45 USA – 1968                                     45 Canada – 1968

                        45 USA – 1967                       “Stagger Lee”/”Fever” 45 Nigeria – 1968?

Session #5> October 4, 1967 — New York City

James Brown with Band – including Dud BascombJohn Grimes, & Ernie Hayes (trumpets); Richard Harris (trombone); Haywood Henry (baritone sax); Wallace Richardson & Carl Lynch (guitars); Al Lucas (electric bass); Bernard Purdie (drums); Julian Cabrera (congas); Rafael Rivera (timbales) & Edward Williams (percussion) plus strings [Selwart Clarke; Charles Libove; Harry Katzman; Sam Ram; Winston Collymore; Harry Melnikoff; Nick Hardone; Matt Raimond; Marion Cuabo; Sidney Edwards]:

           45 France – 1968                                 45 Germany / Italy / Spain – 1968

EP Mexico – 1968                                         45 Rhodesia – 1968

Session #6> June 27, 1968 — New York City

James Brown with Band – Sammy Lowe, arranger/conductor – including John Grimes & Waymon Reed (trumpets); Les Asch (tenor sax); David Parkinson (baritone sax); AlfredPee WeeEllis (organ/piano); Wallace Richardson (guitar); Al Lucas (electric bass) & Bernard Purdie (drums):

   6 of 7 tracks above included on 1968 LP     …..     as well as stereo 8-track Tape

ADDITIONAL James Brown tracks!

According to musician credits posted on Discogs, Bernard Purdie also played drums on James Brown B-side “I Know It’s True” [1972], as well as “Woman (Pts. 1 & 2)” [1973] — both songs arranged by Sammy Lowe (though, “Woman (Part 2)” appears not to have been issued in the US market, curiously).

45 Belgium – 1972                                            45 Germany – 1972

45 France – 1972                                            45 Netherlands – 1974

 45 Netherlands – 1973                                        45 France – 1973

45 Germany – 1973                                           45 Belgium – 1974

Update on King Records Preservation Efforts:

“King Dream Team” at 1540 Brewster Ave.

[L to R] Philip Paul; Bernard Purdie; Celia Purdie; Otis Williams; Bootsy Collins; Anzora Adkins

Photo by Elliott V. Ruther

According to Herzog Music, “The City of Cincinnati now owns the King Records buildings on Brewster Avenue in Evanston.  The King buildings are being stabilized with $700,000 of city and Evanston funds, thanks to a united City Council.”

“With Mayor John Cranley and the City of Cincinnati, a restricted fund for the buildings has been established through the King Records Building Non-Profit Steering Committee to raise private funds and realize the revitalization vision.  The Steering Committee comprises leadership of Evanston Community Council, Bootsy Collins Foundation, King Studios and Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation (CMHF).

“CMHF will acknowledge the tax deductible donations and share with each Steering Committee organization as it works to formalize the non-profit arrangement with the City.  CMHF is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization — donors may deduct contributions as provided in IRC 170(c)(3) of the U.S. Tax Code.”

You can be part of the King Records revitalization success story — please consider a donation to the King Building Fund.

The Men in Black:  Bernard & Bootsy

Photo courtesy of the Bootsy Collins Foundation

Stay plugged in:   Bernard Purdie and Bootsy Collins

Special thanks to Elliott V. Ruther of the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation

Derek Trucks wearing a Bernard Purdie shirt on Austin City Limits