Don't Worry If There's Hell Below We're All Gonna Go
Curtis Mayfield’s life began in the city of music. Chicago was the home of the Blues and from a young age, growing up in the projects and ‘welfare hotels’, Curtis was drawn to the spiritually replenishing power of gospel and soul. Formative influences which helped him escape inter-generational poverty to become one of America’s most gifted songwriters, the man known as the ‘gentle genius’.
Not only was he a prolific writer, he was also an inspired arranger and producer, someone who could transcend technology to place heart and soul at the very centre of the music. A master of lush orchestration and symphonic brass, he could also front a brilliant stripped back four-piece band. His euphonious guitar sound inspired many admirers including Jimi Hendrix and his voice was 100% silk smooth soul. Bobby from Primal Scream declared his love of Curtis in an interview for The Guardian:
"It could be any Curtis Mayfield record, really. When I hear his voice, it just lifts me up. His music puts me in the space to create. It’s quite rare, that mix of fragility and toughness. It’s there from day one with a song like It’s Alright by the Impressions, and it’s there on his late music too, this incredible ability to sweeten the message with beautiful melodies. He’s a complete inspiration as a songwriter, musician and arranger. Curtis lives!
Curtis was only 15 when he joined The Impressions, one of the most important RnB groups of all time. His tuning of the guitar to the piano’s black keys creating the band’s unique signature sound.
If your ever asked to explain Northern Soul, play “You’ve Been Cheating’. Folks nailed to the floor will be up dancing the minute the needle hits the groove
This Is My Country and The Young Mods Forgotten Story, is when Curtis really began to soar, during which America all but imploded, as deep rooted civil unrest, racial violence and mass rioting engulfed the nation. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were taken out, assassinated by America’s unacknowledged shadow government, murders which had a huge impact on Curtis. A man acutely aware that those who don’t learn from history’s false flags are doomed to keep flying them.
In The Young Mods Forgotten Story, Curtis sang:
I won't make it too long
About the young mods' forgotten story,
Some say by hand of fate
But the young make no mistakes
They know why the shots rang out
While all's confused
And why and when
And who to do
Are blind and cannot see.
Astute socio-political comment and musical lyrical genius clocking in it at 2 minutes and 1 second! Within a year he would record the nine minute epic Move On Up, as part of the amazing Curtis, the first of seven brilliant albums released in five years on his own label, Curtom.
His new band, The Curtis Mayfield Experience, thankfully recorded their first shows at The Bitter End in New York in ’71. More important than the Pyramid’s, Curtis Live, is the perfect example of ‘telepathic’ soul. Musicians who can weave within the space where less is more, but like internal martial arts; don’t be fooled by gentle power. It’s gonna knock you on your ass once you land on the other side of the room.
Roots was released in ’72 followed by the superlative Superfly (best soundtrack of all time?) before Back To The World. During the Vietnam War, GI’s tagged America ‘The World’. Black African American Men, who made up 11% of the American population, provided 12.6% of the soldiers in Vietnam, most of whom served in the infantry. Black combat fatalities in that period: 14.9%.
Back To the World, is one of the few records from the time that gave a voice to veterans still living with war, long after the theatre of operations had moved on to pastures new. Its successor, the truly magnificent, There’s No Place Like America Today, which also features one of the best album covers of that decade, is another masterpiece. After the freak accident that paralyzed Curtis in 1990, he recorded his last album, '97's New World Order, by singing one line at a time while lying on his back.
Curtis recorded far more great music than has been briefly detailed here, music which is immortal. Songs that make you feel; music for barricades, dance-floors, heartbreak and falling in love; music for life. All stand for St Curtis - the young Mod's story will never be forgotten.
Catch you all on the 31st of March when we get our ears inside the world of Fela Kuti. (I also wanted to say a huge thank you to all the readers of the blog who helped make this one of the most popular blogs across 300,000 websites! Nice one folks, one love.).