Screw Art Let’s Dance

Did the musical conversations between musicians begin with nonverbal conversations between dancer and musician? How closely was the development of improvisation connected with dance? Was the solo first initiated by the dancers? If so, then dancers played a huge part in creating American music because along with the blues and syncopation, American music is defined by solos, conversation, and improvisation.

In New Orleans it all came together like a cross-bred seed the size of a city and grew like an oak tree the size of a country. It spread across the map like a big-ass oak tree and grew into the music we heard throughout the 20th century, and the music we listen to today.


So many influences came together down there in New Orleans, from a circle of cultural groups that reached down into the West Indies and up into the Delta, from the original people of the area and from the black people who were brought to various locations against their will, from Africa to the Americas, from internal and external elemental places that they were wise enough to notice and creative enough to capture, the waves and the wind, the shake of the trees and the flicker of the flame, the trickle of the rain and crash of thunder, the beat of the heart as it hunts and hates and loves, the movement of the body as it moves to show affection and cause reproduction.  Movement inspired music, and music caused movement.

The people of New Orleans got together and before the twine frayed, they wove the music together into a tighten wound rope. But what caused the twine to fray, what caused the soloists to twirl out of the rope and do their own things? These things were still of course connected with where the music was going but leading the music into new directions, the rope pulling the soloist back into the pack as the soloist pulled the band down a new alley. It’s all so much like dancers busting out of the pack and doing their own things that one certainly has to wonder if these solo dancers were the ones the inspired these early soloists.


And if so, then its easy to see how dancers helped create something that influenced most forms of American music, from ragtime to rap and most everything in between. It’s just something to think about as we look back to try to figure out what happened to make this all come together.

And perhaps it’s even more important as we move forward into the future.

Grab the hand of that man in the wheelchair and let him do his thing. Kick those folding chairs into the corner and stand up for what is right. We must let the music move. We must let the people dance.

— winch (author

Dale Hawkins (1999) Wildcat Tamer (LP) Mystic Records 54322-2

Dale Hawkins

Wildcat Tamer 


Mystic Records 54322-2

*** noteworthy

Louisiana rhythm and blues, sounding like it was placed right where he was born, just west of where the Mississippi River empties into the voodoo swamp, just east of that Texas rodeo stomp, not so far from Oklahoma, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia, for fans of fast down-home electric blues, rootsy country or rockabilly.

Thirty years after the 60s, Dale’s first long-player since 1969, this picks up right where he left off, and even if we didn’t need an updated version of Susie-Q, this set doesn’t sound redundant or stuck in the past. Instead this just sounds like he was having himself some fun.

— winch (author of



Dr. John, the Night Tripper (1968) Gris-Gris (LP) Atco 33-234

Dr. John, the Night Tripper



Atco 33-234

Produced by Harold Battiste

**** recommended

Debut long player from the Doctor, the Night Tripper, produced and partially written by the legendary New Orleans native Harold Battiste, acid R&B, slow-crawling psychedelic nightmares, creeping from the swamps of Louisiana, cooked up in the Gold Star kitchens of the City of Angels, pots and pan acid batch bubbling voodoo, American as gumbo stew, jumping up on second-line hind legs for the “Jump Sturdy” strut down the street…tribal and influential, essential.

Almost not released by Atlantic and mostly ignored by the public (but likely noticed by the avant-garde element of LA who likely had influenced the Nighttripper), this recording eventually went on to take its rightful place in the annals of American music.

Even if you end up not digging it for days, everybody should at least give it a listen…sit in the dark and let your head spin around Jupiter…take a night trip through American history.

— winch (author of

link to sellers (LP, cassette, CD, download, streaming):

Shirley & Company (1975) Shame Shame Shame (LP) Vibration VI-128

Shirley & Company
Shame Shame Shame
Vibration VI-128
Produced & Engineered by Sylvia

Recommended ****

The title track for this album wasn’t the first disco single, but it has a bit more bite than what we consider the other early entries in the disco category.  The New Orleans influence that shows on the vocal cut becomes especially clear on the instrumental version, with the horns helping punch the message home.  In fact, with the sax offering the voices, the sound echos back over the first half of the 20th century, from New Orleans and up to Memphis, branching out the sound to the big cities of the East Coast, and in the other direction reaching into those dinky studios of the black independent labels in the City of Angels, and the dim-lit bars of those seedy ghettos, the man with the horn sliding down the bar on his back with his sax shinning above him like a beacon. That sax blowing with the glow-in-the-dark paint job twirls the sound around the room until twenty years later, the squares of twirling come from the mirror ball.  Disco might have turned into something else once white folks discovered that it brought the people out of their shells and the cash dollars out of their pockets, but in the beginning disco was just an extension of all that had come before, dance music for down-and-out black folks, good-time music for trying times, and this single helps bridge the old good-time N’Orleans sound to the dance floors of the mid 70s.

This album also shows black gals from the 50s taking their rightful places in the music world, a realization of both the women’s lib and black-power movements.  Shirley Goodman had been part of the New Orleans duo Shirley & Lee, the pair hitting it big while they were still in their teens and releasing hits from the early 50s to the early 60s.  Meanwhile Sylvia Robinson had started recording as Little Sylvia when she was fourteen in 1950 and had been half of the duo Mickey & Sylvia, best known for their 1957 hit “Love is Strange” but recording into the mid 60s.

Shirley’s comeback is limited to this 1975 album, but Sylvia had been busy and successful for years, formed All Platinum Records in 1968 and offshoot Vibration Records soon after, returning her name to the top of the soul charts with the Vibration imprint’s first single: the 1973 waterbed-soul classic “Pillow Talk.”

While black business owners had changed music forever with their independent labels in the 40s and early 50s, it was an equal accomplishment to run a successful independent record company in the mid 70s, a time when the major labels successfully stomped most attempts at independence.  Here we see Sylvia helping to create the disco genre, and a few years later she’d help form Sugar Hill, the label perhaps most responsible for introducing rap to the world.

All this work of Sylvia deserves notice as an extension of the efforts of the black labels of decades earlier, ones that had been soon forgotten when independent labels run by white owners (Chess, Sun, and Atlantic) got most of the credit.  While many think of the punk movement as introducing independent music to the masses, black artists had been doing this for decades.  Sylvia deserves credit for bringing this practice to the public’s eye in the 70s, including with this hit record in 1975.

Because the set offers so many styles, it’s easy to miss the fact that this created a blueprint for many disco albums that followed.  One simply has to look at some of the highlights to recognize this fact.  “I Gotta Get Next To You” clearly helps bridge the waterbed soul of the early 70s to the numbers we’d soon hear offered by the stars of disco.  The number is grounded in the music of Issac Hayes but also foreshadows the music to come.  Sylvia’s “Cry Cry Cry,” stirs the waterbed soul of Al Green into a Caribbean rhythm, the instrumental version taking the mix into a island-flavored dance groove.  You can almost see the skirts swaying and taste the sweet syrup from the tall cool glass in her hand.  On cuts such as this, it’s interesting to hear Caribbean elements dominating the sound, as these island ingredients were important to the development of most American dance music.  While many of the elements here had fused in New Orleans many decades before, it’s interesting to hear these elements so clearly defined at this point before they’d all fuse once again to create the new sounds of the 1970s.  While the set offers variety, the feel-good vibe established on “Shame Shame Shame” at the beginning certainly runs through the entire album.  Some cuts are clearly stronger than others, but the stand-out cuts make this a recommended listen, essential for fans of disco.

Sylvia is the dominant songwriter of this set, but others contribute material: Donnie Elbert (one of the artists from All Platinum) contributes “Another Tear Will Fall,” and Ray, Goodman & Brown (aka the Moments) offer “I Gotta Get Next To You.”  Shirley and vocalist Jesus Alvarez also show up on several song credits.

— winch