Saturday, February 6, 2016

Black History Month-Mother's Finest

It's been said that black musicians don't play rock and roll anymore.  The majority of them are either R and B autotuned chipmunks (although Leon Bridges might be the only thing close to R and B as I knew it) or gangsta rappers, at least Body Count qualifies as rock and roll although most black America has no use for them.

Once in a great while, you will get black folk that are into rock and roll.  Jimi Hendrix is considered the best rock and roll guitarist when he was alive, Bo Diddley pioneered the shave and a haircut/two bits jungle rhythms into Bo Diddley the song.  Arthur Lee and Love, for a time was considered the Velvet Underground of The West Coast. But when rap exploded through, most opted to bad poetry and thug life on pirated beats.  There were exceptions: Living Colour, Follow For Now, Eric Gales and Justin Warfield to name a handful, but overall black players simply didn't rock.  In the mid 1970s a band from Atlanta was signed to RCA Records, known as Mother's Finest.  A somewhat integrated band with Barry Borden on drums (he later moved on to Molly Hatchet/The Outlaws/Marshall Tucker Band) and Gary (Moses) Moore, who has rejoined the band from time to time. But the main force of the band was Joyce "Baby Jean" Kennedy's soulful voices and Glenn Murdock's counterpoint vocals.  After the one off album for RCA, Mother's Finest would sign with Epic Records for what is considered their classic period.

The S/T album was well received, with the un P.C. Niggizz Can't Play Rock And Roll and minor hits Rain and Fire but Gave You All The Love goes on way too long at seven and a half minutes. Another Mother Further is much better, perhaps their best overall album with failed single Baby Love and Mickey's Monkey with the guys actually taking the riff from Led Zeppelin's Custard Pie and reshaping it into their own way of Mickey's Monkey.  This record shows that M.F. could funk it up and rock hard at the same time.  The late Duane Roland of Molly Hatchet speaks highly of this album, calling it one of the best Southern Rock albums he's ever heard.  Which is saying a lot.

Mother Factor, on the other hand slows the whole thing down and while it's not bad, there's far too many ballads and not enough rock and roll, though there were some fine songs as Watch My Stylin' and Give It Up.  Changing producers from Tom Werman to Skip Scarbrough didn't help either.  In 1979, Mother Finest Live was issued and showing off that M.F. these dudes could rock out with the best and Baby Jean giving Grace Slick a run for the money with Somebody To Love and Mickey's Monkey coming close to heavy metal.  A excellent live document of this radically funk/rock band.

Their time at Epic ended soon afterwards, and M.F. took their act over to Atlantic for Iron Age.  And a change of producers once again to Jeff Glixman (Kansas).  On this album M.F. abandoned their funk rock to metal rock and they could rock with the best of them but the songs sounded practically the same.  Perhaps they tried too hard to go metallic.  Nevertheless, this would be their only album for Atlantic, and Barry Bordin opted for Molly Hatchet.  In 1989 Capitol put out If Looks Could Kill, and although it featured the band, this is basically a Joyce Kennedy solo album with a couple bonus tracks by Glenn Murdock, but it sounds more like Chaka Khan.  After that debacle and another label change, Black Radio Won't Play This came out on Scotty Brothers and it's the hardest rocking album they ever put out,  Iron Age came close to hard rock but Black Radio was better produced and had better songs (Like A Negro, Attitude).  And of course the album title was true, black radio wouldn't play this, it was too rock and roll.  Alas white corporate radio didn't play it either, rock and roll segregation radio.  Hell, Living Colour couldn't get much airplay after the novelty of Vivid and Cult Of Personality wore off.  Like Atlantic before, Scotty Brothers let them go after the failure of this album.

Since then, Joyce Kennedy and Glenn Murdock has kept Mother's Finest going through various changes and on various independent labels from abroad.  Which means most of their albums are hard to find and expensive to get via Amazon.  Sony Music has kept Another Mother Further in print, while the others have come and gone as well.  Wounded Bird for a time, issued Iron Age and the RCA and S/T album as well.  Razor And Tie put out Not Yer Momma's Funk, the Very Best which cherry picks the good (Baby Love, Mickey's Monkey) and the bad (Gave You All The Love) and focus on the Epic years and leaves off the rest.  Sony Music has had the budget best of Rock Your Soul in print and cuts out the excess filler cuts to make it a nice cheat alternative to the Razor And Tie comp.   Raven Records has all four of the Epic albums you can get as a 2 CD set.  And probably is the best buy, considered you would have to pay exorbitant prices to get the out of print Epic CDs or LPs.

Black or white, Mother's Finest was a band who could open for a major band and blow them off the stage and perhaps they were better seen live then in the studio.  Even today, 40 years after the fact, they still hold their own as one of the finest rock/funk bands that nobody has ever heard of.  Yet another band that Jann Wanner has no idea exists and won't let them into the Jann Wanner Rock and Roll HOF.

The classic era Mother Finest albums.

Mother's Finest (Epic 1976-Wounded Bird) B
Another Mother Further (Epic 1976)  A-
Mother Factor (Epic 1978) B-
Live (Epic 1979)  A-
Iron Age (Atlantic 1981) B-
If Looks Could Kill (Capitol 1989) C
Black Radio Won't Play This (Scotty Brothers 1992) B+

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