In 2004, Pat began working on a research project centered around the Black Panther Party with a focus on the protest recordings that the Black Power movement inspired during the 1960's and 1970's - this led to establishing strong working relationships with two key leaders of the Black Panther Party David Hilliard (Chief of Staff) and Party chairman Elaine Brown (including releasing her landmark 1969 album "Seize The Time" on CD). As well as meetings with Bobby Seale, Ericka Huggins, and other Panthers. Over a period of 5 years, Pat uncovered dozens of rare/out of print/forgotten Black Power recordings in all areas of jazz, soul, poetry, speeches, interviews, and rock/pop music - eventually amassing what might be considered the largest collection of its kind. This has led to speaking engagements on the subject of Black Power music at San Francisco State University, Merritt and Laney Colleges in Oakland, and the College of Alameda. His research project brought him into the Huey P. Newton archives at Stanford University and received encouragement from representatives of Bob Dylan, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, and Graham Nash of Crosby Stills Nash and Young.
His upcoming book “Listen Whitey” is the result of this experience and due out this Fall by Fantagraphics Books.
Gene McDaniels - Outlaw
When the first words that Gene McDaniels sings on his 1970 Outlaw album are; “She’s a nigger in jeans” - it’s apparent that McDaniels (who rechristened himself as “the Left Rev. McD.” on this record) is not in the same sphere as he was when he sang early 60’s R&B hits like “A Hundred Pounds of Clay”.
McDaniels’ is something of a renaissance man; singer of lightweight hits written by others; his 1961 single “Tower of Strength” written by legendary lounge lizard Burt Bacharach hit #5 on the pop charts. By the late 1960’s, McDaniels’ had composed the jazz-soul protest anthem “Compared to What” which pianist/vocalist Les McCann accompanied by saxophonist Eddie Harris turned into a standard when they released it on their 1969 album Swiss Movement. And despite writing and singing entire social-political protest albums like Outlaw, McDaniels’ could turn on a dime and pen the passionate late night ode “(That’s the time) I Feel Like Making Love” that Roberta Flack made a #1 hit in 1974.
The man is obviously a fighter and a lover. But it’s only the former that I care to discuss. 1970’s Outlaw was one of two albums of political consciousness that McDaniels’ recorded for Atlantic Records; the other was Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse a year later. It’s been said that “White House” was so offended by McDaniel’s inflammatory recordings that either Spiro Agnew or Nixon’s Chief of Staff personally called Atlantic Records and asked them to stop working with McDaniels. Atlantic seemed happy to oblige the request to stop recording him (the albums weren’t selling anyway), although they had no problem allowing him to continue writing hit songs for other Atlantic artists such as Roberta Flack and as Gene pointed out to me “they kept the [rights to the] masters” of his controversial albums.
Looking at the cover photo, it’s Middle America’s worst nightmare come to life. There’s the badass Reverend Lee himself holding a bible. Righteous Susan Jane in a jean jacket and black French resistance turtleneck wielding a machine gun and McDaniels’ then wife Ramona, soul sister with cross your heart Viva Zapata! ammo belts. In the forefront is a large human skull – just in case you didn’t get the message already.
The album features a diverse selection of musicians, including Mother Hen on piano (she’d recorded a solo album with the Byrds’ guitarist Clarence White and Burrito Brother Sneaky Pete on pedal steel), stalwart session guitarist Hugh McCracken (Judy Collins, John Lennon, Aretha Franklin, and Roland Kirk amongst others), and Eric Weissberg; best known for the Deliverance theme song as well as playing on Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks. Miles Davis Quintet member Ron Carter plays bass.
Production duties were handled by Atlantic staff producer Joel Dorn. Dorn is a household name amongst Atlantic jazz buffs for producing dozens of recordings by Roland Kirk, Yusef Lateef, Herbie Mann, and David “Fathead” Newman. Musical Director was cult legend William S. Fischer, known for his string and horn arrangements for Eddie Harris, Roy Ayers, and Jimmy Scott. Fischer recorded his own stoned soul LP; Circles for Herbie Mann’s Embryo label in 1971.
The title track “Outlaw” kicks things off with a provocative vamp inspired by Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me.” Turning lyrics such as “She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist, she don’t look back” into “She’s an outlaw, she don’t wear a bra.” McDaniels vocals channel Mick Jagger’s sultry snarl and while the lyrics don’t sound like much on paper, the song is a sex driven rock n roll nugget that holds its own against similar Stones songs of the era. McDaniels was enamored with the Rolling Stones front man enough to write and record a song called “Jagger the Dagger” on his next album.
“Welfare City” recalls the songs that Lou Reed wrote about New York City. I asked Gene if he was hip to Lou’s New York song-cycles and he told me; “Yes, I’ve always been a distant fan of Lou Reed’s. His music was never challenging for me, so I didn’t get close to him. On the other hand, I did get close to Ornette Coleman, who did influence Outlaw in whatever subtle and non-subtle ways because of how he expressed himself in the jazz medium. It somehow seemed universal to me.”
I first became aware of “Silent Majority” on the 1970 Eddie Harris Live at Newport album, where McDaniels joins maverick saxophonist Eddie Harris and his hand for a spontaneous run through of this vibrant rant. As Gene told me; “Eddie Harris and I were a mutual admiration society. I thought he was great.” “Silent Majority” remains extremely potent and should be considered as one of the first great political “rap” songs. It was this particular song which Gene feels motivated Tricky Dick’s White House to move in on him. As he mentioned to journalist Charles Waring of Blues & Soul magazine; “Our political system has code words and one is silent majority and that meant white people being quiet about the naughty actions of black people. So I wrote a song called “Silent Majority” and it says ‘Silent Majority is calling out loud to you and me from Arlington Cemetery’ and that pissed somebody off big time and I know that’s the reason they contacted me.”
Despite being pigeon-holed as a soul-jazz artist, McDaniels was more than capable of writing and recording folk songs as reflected in “Love Letter to America.” It’s a timeless ballad that could have been recorded by Bob Dylan or Joan Baez. In his interview with Charles Waring, McDaniels’ stated; Dylan was definitely an influence.” I hear echoes of beat poet Allen Ginsberg. McDaniels’ sings “Hey America, I can see you now”, while Ginsberg wrote in his America poem; “America…I’m addressing you.” Both of them capture an America not reflected in a Norman Rockwell painting.
“Black Boy” is another folk ballad, taken from fiddler John Blair’s pen with some amended lyrics by McDaniels. It’s a delicate acoustic song that you could imagine being performed by a white folkie at the Newport Folk Festival circa 1966. The climate that McDaniels constructs on this recording resembles an intersection between 1960’s white protest singer/songwriter Fred Neil’s “Tear Down the Walls” (later morphed and amended by the Jefferson Airplane to “up against the wall, motherfucker”) and the Black Power Movement. But Gene told me “I was not a Black Panther and I was not a Black Panther sympathizer, but I understood why they existed. So I did a couple of benefit concerts for them and I was pretty enamored of Angela Davis.”
“Reverend Lee” is the most enigmatic song on the album, although the lyrics may be a reference to McDaniels himself (witness the name “the left rev mc d” on the front cover). Although McDaniels doesn’t like to discuss his lyrics, I was able to gain some insight when he told me; “I was born the son of a minister, Reverend B.T. McDaniels. Born in Kansas, raised in Nebraska and experienced spirituality on a very deep level and the religious involvement of my parents. Reverend Lee kind of oozed out of my unconscious mind onto the paper about the temptations and torture of being a spiritual public servant.”
Probably because it was the least controversial song on the record, “Reverend Lee” went on to be covered by Roberta Flack, Natalie Cole and Herbie Mann. I asked McDaniels if he was aware of any other cover versions from Outlaw and he replied; “I don’t know of anyone, other than the people you mention, who recorded songs from Outlaw or [the follow up album] Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse. I must have really fucked people up, ‘cause nobody would touch it with a ten-foot pole. I really either fucked up or I hit a nerve in the country, not really sure which. And I don’t really care. I am told that I’m among the top ten sampled artists. At the least the rappers weren’t afraid. Amongst the rest of the populace, I’m sort of persona non grata as far as these recordings are concerned. My witness protection name is Bill Clinton.”
Gene continues; “The statement on the back of album; ‘Under conditions of national emergency like now, there are only two kinds of people – those who work for freedom, and those who do not…good guys versus the bad guys.’ That still says it for me, because that’s where we are thirty years later. They’re still trying to take over the country and they’re much closer to doing it now than they were then.”
He closes with; “With the narcissists running the show, we’ve got a heavy fight ahead of us to retain our freedoms. That’s about all I’ve got to say.” Thanks Gene, I think you’ve said it all.