Don Cornelius: One of the Smoothest Cats Ever is Gone

Don Cornelius

Don Cornelius reported dead of an apparent suicide

“… and you can bet your last money, it’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey! ”

Don Cornelius had one of those voices that immediately got your attention. Not like a scream will get your attention or an awkward laugh or shrill yelp but a smoother than silk baritone that demanded listening to. He was of course the founder and force behind SOUL TRAIN. He is sadly no longer with us, an apparent victim of a self-inflicted gun shot wound. I do not know anymore details than that nor do I care to when it involves a personal choice of that nature. I just hope his last moments were ones of solace and not desperation.

Soul Train was iconic for many reasons. An African American’s attempt at Bandstand it went way beyond that scope, The bands and artists featured on Soul Train were not the fare generally seen on American Bandstand, and that was good, because they were edgier, funkier, and much more soulful. This was a great thing for the artist because not only African-Americans were watching this show. I can clearly remember propping up on our shag carpet inside a house in the middle of the sticks in Tennessee waiting to hear “SOUUULLL TRAIN” and catch that little bit of animation until the dancing began and the Voice of Don Cornelius came forth to take subtle yet firm control of the evening’s festivities. White folks were tuning in and getting hip to bands they otherwise would not have gotten exposure to. And the list of dignitaries that took the stage was an endless array of the greatest American Funk, Soul, and R&B artists the world has ever known.

Don Cornelius will be remembered for taking a mainstream model and tweaking it to fit a black audience and in turn giving the world a gift that outlasted tons of other programs. Soul Train is an American institution. Anyone above the age of 30 can probably hear “SOOOUUUUL…” and be able to finish the line with “TRAIN.” (If you cannot you probably have none of the first word to start with.) It not only broke down racial barriers it was just good for the sake of utter, funky goodness. It made you feel like a dance party was happening right there in your living room. And in a way it was. Where American Bandstand felt so cardboard and predictable the folks coming down the DANCE LINE felt like they might, just maybe, step out of the television and be there with you.

Everyone needs to feel like a party could break loose in their house every now and then.
And for that Don Cornelius you made the world a better place. The world is better because you were in it and at the end of this journey,which is life, that is a powerful thing to be able to say about someone.

I am Elam McKnight, and as always in parting, I wish you love, peace and soul brother Cornelius!


Spotify is now on my computer

I got one of the coveted Spotify accounts and I have to say that this will spread like wildfire in America. Just the idea of having something first drives our consumerist minds and there will be “gabillions” of people flocking to this service which is free for 6 months. I get the feeling that this is going to be one of those drug dealer scenarios for music junkies, “just a taste” for now kind of things and then later the shakes for it will kick in once all the bells and whistles come rolling out.
If this is the answer to combating piracy or better yet offering a more consistent, safer, and quality alternative I am all for it and am going to follow its development closely.
Out of the box I like it. As a music junkie I love the idea that I can reach out and grab the Jimi Hendris catalog at a whim. Sure I pretty much own the Jimi Hendrix catalog but still it’s nice. Though the Beatles and AC/DC are absent which I find interesting and wonder when that will change.
(I gotta respect AC/DC’s complete ignore on downloads for no other reason than it is always interesting to see someone go so completely against the grain. I think they are probably smart but I am not sure why. Holding out does seem to drive your product harder. I will write my thoughts on this issue after some more study and reflection.)
But it is convenient and pretty awesome, when you want to listen to some music, and know that 15 million songs are just sitting there at your disposal. It is like you have been given access to this endless music library with the minder simply saying “just turn off the lights and lock up when you are done.”
This is probably going to get interesting.

Elam McKnight

Derek Sivers new book Anything You Want is really great

OK Derek Siver’s book Anything You Want is really great. The book is supposed to take an hour to read and I could have easily done so. I, on the other hand, took a week and a half, carefully considering many of his points and let them soak in throughout my day. I will probably go back and re-read it in the allotted hour, but this time I will have a steady grasp on what he is talking about.
Derek is unconventional, which to some people this means quirky, which is something he celebrates and he makes me want to celebrate it too. It would also be easy to say “oh yeah buddy that is not reality based” on some of his assertions but just like Barry Bonds, who I am really not a big fan of unlike Derek Sivers, who I am a big fan of, you cannot argue with his numbers, which are remarkable by anyone’s standards. And “unconventional” is only so to those stuck in 20th century corporate ways of doing things. Derek proved, and explains with succinct candor, that his unconventional approach and guiding principles do work, outstandingly.
His explanations are so common sense based they reassure you that good brings about good when it is executed properly and consistently. What I think I take from this that rings so true with me is you have an individual who “happened upon” an idea, saw that it was working, built it from the ground up without investors, ignored the corporate model of number crunching and squeezing quarters until the eagle on them screams and instead used an old world, mom and pop ethos of simply taking care of people, at all costs. Big surprise, he was a huge success. Sure, and he admits this readily, there were times when his fortune could have exploded even more but at the cost of his base principles from which he was not budging.
I write this not as just a casual reader because I have placed all of my product with Derek when he owned CD Baby and was a customer through the times he describes in the book. So in other words I know from firsthand experience his company lived the things he discusses in the book, always. There was never a time that I called CD Baby and the phone was not answered by someone on the other end more than happy to help assist me.
How refreshing it was to read that in the end he also turned the profits he derived from its sale into a trust which will do things for music education in the future. These will live well on past him, me, and all of us. That is beyond a “kudos to you Derek Sivers” that deserves a statue somewhere.
Buy this book, read it, and share it, like I am doing right now. It is a bold yet scary future yet Derek and others are showing us that there are paths out of the wilderness. If we follow our inner voice and let it our passion(s) drive us we can too see the clearing ahead.

Elam McKnight

Songwriter be ware

The title of this entry includes be ware not because I want to warn you of anything only in so much as for you to take ware of some of the things I am going to disseminate, starting, now!

Songwriting is a beautiful endeavor which you cannot practice and refine enough. The entire industry and art form of making music is driven by this skill and always will be. With that I begin with the newbie artist or the “amateur songwriter” or the “aspiring songwriter.”

I have listened to a great deal of bad songs in my time and I have written a great deal of bad songs in my time, I mean stinkers, and will probably write some more which are stinkers, but sometimes I am capable of escaping that and writing a thing worth listening to.

I have come into contact with some really terrible attempts at songwriting, either lyrically, musically, or all of it just combined into a jumbled up mess the prospective artist is trying to pass off as something it is most assuredly is not. Also someone, many times, might have made the mistake of telling them that the song had merit, or they were talented, or whatever, so they feel vindicated with the Intel that some attendee at the local open mic night told them they were good. In these scenarios the prospective artist, songwriter, singer songwriter or whatever, is not too willing to listen to critique or advice, because, after all, Joe Schmo nobody has validated their level of talent. I liken it to a major league hopeful being content to play in a local softball league. If your goal is bat some balls around, run the bases, and have fun, by all means that is what it is there for, but if your ultimate goal is to attempt this “thing” at some other level, then you have to ply your craft and that involves work, a great deal of it. I am not trying to be a soul crusher here but the name of the game is time applied to your craft, without it, generally one is doomed to failure or, at best, a life of mediocre songs.
I will list some things which I would consider important, some can be applied to songwriting and others could easily be branched out and applied to other skill sets necessary to become successful but by all means this list is not all inclusive.
1) Listen to yourself. Whether it is on a tape deck, digital recorder, or your laptop, listen, listen, listen.

The importance is that you have to become comfortable with your voice, your overall sound, and the things you are performing. It is a frame of reference which is an undeniable tool to getting stronger performances and material.

2) Listen to others. I have heard a couple of people actually slag on the Beatles in the last couple of months. I am not sure what they were smoking or if it was legal, or they needed mental health services, I just don’t know, but they sounded stupid doing it.
Beatles are a touchstone of songwriting which is equaled often but never bettered.
The craft they use in their lyrics, their chord structure, harmonies, just all of it, is a thing of beauty and a skill level which should always be aspired towards. There is a list of many others, here, who should always be studied, and again this list is not inclusive, just some folks who I know to be artists of the most royal caliber.

3) Flattery is the best copying.
Copying someone’s writing style, verbatim, is always a good place to start. I do not mean covering their material. You should always start their as a beginner, but when you decide to begin writing your own songs, it never hurts to take a song which you admire or love and say to yourself “I am going to write a song in this style, with my own words, maybe transpose the key, and have a go at it.” This can make for a remarkable result and sometimes something magical can happen.
Regardless of the outcome when you are using great songs or songs you love as a jumping off point you are first, basing yourself in surefire greatness, and second, you are coming from a place of true love, which is always a good thing.

4) Cut and Paste. I call this cut and paste and it stems also from number 3. Many artists hear songs from other artists and take sections or start writing something to emulate the song or are just doing it to be funny as a spoof during rehearsal and it ends up morphing into something. Sometimes something great.
I have heard others say “the chorus on this one is like so and so” which means they were influenced by it. This is by no means stealing but showing your influence in your art. Most of American music is based in this tradition and that is its beauty of taking things, many disparate, and making them something new. Just consider blues and then think of how many bands can claim that as a starting point or a reference point.

5) Have fun with it, Dang it!
If this is never fun to you, the experience of making music, then I always think a person has like three choices which should be considered: 1) Keep plugging and don’t quit. 2) Move to something else until the desire comes back 3) Quit.