Volume 3, Issue 2
Editor- David K. Moseder
Contributing Editor- Azriel Wallace
Publisher- Howard B. Leibowitz
All music…. All Brooklyn !!
Celebrity Interviews! New Artist Profiles! Contests! Brooklyn Music Venue Picks!
A Winning Warm-Up For a Sizzling Summer
We’re thrilled to present the long–awaited pre-summer issue of BK Roads, our all music, all Brooklyn webzine, spotlighting three multi-talented Brooklyn artists. Although their music is from three different genres and generations, Susan Collins, Carolann Solebello and Okai share the common thread of finding their creative muse right here in our home borough.
In a year that has seen Brooklynites face far too many life challenges, from the ravages of nature to economic hardship, music artists continue to inspire us, and give us respite and release.
Brooklyn now abounds with great music, playing host to the second Great Googa Mooga Festival, the 20th Annual Red Hook Fest, the Open Space Alliance Concerts in Williamsburg Park, Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, Seaside Summer Concert Series in Coney Island and Celebrate Brooklyn! in Prospect Park. There are also scores of venues, ranging from intimate music rooms such as Sycamore and Jalopy to the Barclays Center, where this year’s MTV Video Awards will take place. The list continues to grow and show that Brooklyn is not only home to the stars, but also a hotbed of new music and emerging artists.
BK Roads is all about the music and wants you to be part of the excitement!
You Can't Take The Brooklyn Out of Singer-Songwriter Susan Collins
Even if you have never heard of Susan Collins, you’ve probably heard her sing--more often than you might imagine. The East Flatbush native has been performing since she was teen-ager in the 1960s and can be heard on hits such as Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me,” ELO’s “Evil Woman” and “Strange Magic,” and Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove.”
For the last few years she’s been entertaining enthusiastic crowds with the four-voice-and-piano production of her autobiographical show, You Can Take the Girl Outta Brooklyn (But You Can’t Take Brooklyn Outta The Girl). Just before a March performance of the show at Manhattan’s Cutting Room, she sat down with Brooklyn Roads to tell us a little about her extraordinary journey through nearly 40 years of American pop history.
It all began, Collins says, with a jukebox at a local eatery across from her home in the Glenwood Projects. “I heard a song in Frank’s Pizza Place. It was Be My Baby and it changed my life. When I heard that song, I knew that I could sing it--and that all I wanted to do was sing,” she says.
“When you grow up and you are not privileged, you search for something that’s gonna lift your spirits and music always does that. And I think that my generation, all we ever did was sing on street corners, or in the stairwell or subway because the echo was so great.”
When she was 15, she heard about the Café Wha? in Greenwich Village, where amateur acts were welcome, and hitchhiked her way there from the Bay Parkway exit on the Belt Parkway, only to find that everyone that night was there to hear or play the blues. But, Collins tells Brooklyn Roads, she had traveled too far to turn back.
“The only blues song I knew was Stormy Monday. I got up and sang it and this guy said ‘you sing really good…would you like to sing with us?’” That guy was Jimi Hendrix, playing as Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. “So I became a Blue Flame.” It was her first professional gig and it eventually led to her joining Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour.
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Emergence as a Songwriter
In the '70s she met Paul Shaffer, which led to a stint as vocal director on Saturday Night Live, during which time she won an Emmy for her work. FYI, that's her singing on the classic SNL commercial parody, "Jewess Jeans," a number she still features in her revue. She also “did some background work and singing on albums and then was signed by Don Kirshner as a songwriter,” introduced to him by Shaffer. Through Kirshner she also met the Brooklyn songwriting legend who inspired her.
“When I got signed by Don Kirshner, who had a stable of writers, he said, ‘Sue, babe, if there was anybody you’d want to write with, who would it be?’ Well, I wanted to write something like Be My Baby, so I said without missing a beat, ‘Ellie Greenwich.’ I had been searching for Ellie for years.” Next thing she knew, Susan tells us, Kirshner picked up the phone and called Greenwich. “And he said to her ‘Ellie, babe it’s Donny, I signed an artist ...when you hear this girl sing, you’re gonna plotz.’”
“The next day I met with Donny at a restaurant and Ellie walked in. She had been sent my demos the night before and she walked in and said to him, ‘What a sound she’s got.’ It was an instant connection and we became the best of friends.”
It was a chance encounter with another Brooklynite who can sing a little that further boosted Susan’s confidence in her vocal ability. She was recording at the same studio on the same day as Barbra Streisand when she took a bathroom break. “When I passed [Streisand] in the hallway, I was still singing the song I had been recording. She said, ‘Is that you singing that?’ I told her yes and she said, ‘Girl, you can sing.’ I was like, YES! Barbara Streisand said I can sing!” Others whom Collins made an impression on include Brian Wilson and the late John Lennon.
In 1978, she scored her first hit as a songwriter with the Paul Davis’ hit, Sweet Life, and received a featured performer credit on Davis’ follow-up single, Darlin’. That led to some solo albums, but, she tells Brooklyn Roads, her recording career was short-circuited because, “I wouldn’t give my body and soul to this manager/record executive. But he couldn’t really kill my career because he couldn’t take my voice away.”
The Birth of a Notion
Flash forward to 2009: “A dear friend of mine, Wendy Federman, who is a Broadway producer, said to me, ‘Susan, you really have to tell your story.’” And thus You Can Take the Girl Outta Brooklyn... was born. She called on two friends, Ula Hedwig and Angela Cappelli, to sing backup and premiered the revue at Bergen PAC, for which Federman is a board member. “We did it there for two years to sold-out crowds.” She later added Bette Sussman as musical director, pianist and fourth vocalist.
When her friend Steve Walter reopened the Cutting Room (with co-owner Chris Noth) at its new Murray Hill location earlier this year, he reached out to Collins and asked her to bring her show there—a show Brooklyn Roads was privileged to catch.
Kicking it off with Be My Baby, Collins segued into a doo-wop medley and channeled Dusty Springfield on You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, followed by a Beach Boys medley in tribute to Brian Wilson. Original numbers included emotionally moving songs about her grandmother (”Living Example”) and 9/11 (“We’ll Never Be the Same”). She peppered the evening with amusing anecdotes about her adventures in the music business and, toward the end of her evening, introduced her son, Tucker Caploe, to sing one of his original songs.
Collins and company wrapped it up with a girl-group medley and rousing rendition of the show’s theme song, which was, she poignantly pointed out, “the last song Ellie wrote. We collaborated on [it] and she passed away a short time after that.” With this show, Collins is keeping Greenwich’s legacy, and her own, very much alive.
-Howard B. Leibowitz / David K. Moseder
Carolann Solebello: Americana With a Brooklyn Spin
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Carolann Solebello, who has been performing solo for the last three years, is perhaps best known for her work with folk-Americana trio Red Molly and as co-curator of the ongoing “Joni Mitchell’s Blue: A 40th Anniversary Celebration” tour. Under the collective name Chicks With Dip, Carolann, Brooklyn expatriates Sharon Goldman and Anna Dagmar, and seven other singer-songwriters each perform one song from that iconic album, and you can catch them June 1 at First Unitarian Church in Brooklyn Heights.
Originally from Staten Island, Carolann relocated to Park Slope in 1996 and these days calls Flatbush home. Over the years, “I think I've absorbed the energy and diversity of sound that is Brooklyn,” she tells Brooklyn Roads.
“There are so many languages spoken here, and so much music from so many different parts of the world. I don't claim to be an expert on any of them, but I will say that just listening to people and absorbing all that international energy is really inspiring to me.” Also, she notes, “I live only a few blocks from where Barbra Streisand grew up. I love that--I'm a huge fan.”
Carolann’s parents were big fans of doo-wop, ’60s girl groups and Motown. That’s where, she tells us, “my love of harmony comes from, and my sense of song structure. There were always ‘oldies’ spinning on the living room stereo or on the car radio. Those tunes were mostly three-chord wonders with great melodies. Maybe those same qualities are what drew me to folk music.”
Carolann cites Pete's Candy Store and Jalopy among her favorite Brooklyn music venues and says she is looking forward to “discovering other great rooms in Brooklyn to hear live music” when her busy performing schedule allows. That schedule includes a monthly gig at Two Moon Art House and Café in Park Slope, where we caught up with her. Called “Second Fridays” (although it’s sometimes on the third Friday of the month), it’s a mostly acoustic evening co-hosted by Carolann and folk singer Bev Grant, a 30-year Park Slope resident, who both perform solo and welcome guest artists. Each show ends with everyone on the bill playing in “a Nashville-style song swap.”
Speaking of Nashville, she says that lately, “I have been writing songs that may not necessarily be for me to sing; I have one in the hopper I'd love someone like Trisha Yearwood to sing.” Likewise, she tells Brooklyn Roads, “I'd love to sing with Emmylou Harris someday. Hey, I can dream, can't I?” Carolann’s latest album, Threshold, is available from CD Baby and Amazon.com.
-David K. Moseder
ARTISTS ON THE HORIZON
Okai Drums Up Spirited Rhythms and a Strong Sense of Community
Is Brooklyn in the house? Of course it is! Where else can you discover the best hidden talent? One of the borough’s artistic finds goes by the name of Okai. This Haitian-American Brooklynite is well known in the community as a rapper, vocalist, percussionist, activist, teacher, as well as an inspiration—and he’s everywhere.
Ever the musician, Okai started playing the drum set his local church. In 2004 he began banging on the congas and on what he now considers his main love, the djembe. He would follow the rhythms of those drums into a career in music.
“My sound is heavily influenced by music of the African Diaspora…jazz, racine (Haitian roots), samba,” he tells Brooklyn Roads. Okai’s lyrical content mostly touches on political and global issues, but he admits that his favorite topic is love. “I enjoy singing songs about the process of falling in and out of love.”
In the underground scene, Okai is known as one of the members of the hip hop trio, Regime Change. Together, the three bring back a refreshing sound to the genre reminiscent of the late 1980s and early ’90s. Their bold lyrics and experimental production truly make them one of a kind and walking into one of their shows is equivalent to going to a family reunion. The room is filled with a warm energy, everyone is invited and the night becomes one big party. Hip hop heads should be happy to hear that they anticipate dropping their new album sometime next year.
When Okai is taking a break from Regime Change, you can usually catch him jamming and singing with The Brown Rice Family. The perfect union of the drums, guitar bass, saxophone, clarinet, harmonica and keyboard earned the group first place at The Green Space’s Battle of the Boroughs in 2012.
As they went head to toe with several other bands, it was clear that people wanted more of The Brown Rice Family and the group’s Heartist album is expected to be released in 2013.
Outside of music, one of Okai’s strongest passions is giving back to the community. He is dedicated to giving drum instruction to young people in after-school programs and also has led fundraisers for Hurricane Sandy relief. Okai joined forces with Negus World to create a non-profit organization called Hip Hop Saves Lives. This group of hip hop enthusiasts uses the musical genre to enrich the lives of children. “We encourage the kids to write and record their own hip hop songs reflecting their point of view,” he tells us.
Stay tuned for performances from The Brown Rice Family (including their appearance at the upcoming Red Hook Fest) and Regime Change in the near future. You can also find Okai drumming at the Mark Morris Dance Center making the masses move in delight. If you need some feel-good music in your life, Okai is an artist you should see.
BACK IN THE DAY:
Brooklyn Music Milestones
May 3, 1988: Funk-metal pioneers Living Colour release their debut album, Vivid, featuring lead vocals by Crown Heights native Corey Glover.
May 3, 2009: Ditmas Park rockers Aaron and Bryce Dessner curate a concert for the AIDS charity Dark Was the Night. The Dessners’ own band, The National, and fellow Brooklyn artists Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, The Dirty Projectors and My Brightest Diamond, mix it up on the Radio City Music Hall stage with the likes of David Byrne, Bon Iver and Feist.
May 19, 1962: With Bay Ridge’s John “Jay” Traynor singing lead, Jay & The Americans’ first hit single, She Cried, peaks at number five. It would be Traynor’s only hit with the group before embarking on a solo career. Today he sings with another classic Brooklyn vocal ensemble, Jay Siegel & The Tokens.
May 26, 2009: Grizzly Bear releases their third studio album, Veckatimest. It debuts at No. 8 on Billboard's Top 200 chart and will go on to make several “Top 10” lists for the year. The following week, the band releases the first single from the album, Two Weeks, which not only garners considerable airplay, but also get sampled on more than half a dozen songs and appears on an equal number of TV and movie soundtracks.
June 1, 1981: It’s a dream come true for “Brooklyn’s Own” Joe Causi, as he becomes the new morning man at New York’s WKTU-FM. The Bensonhurst native is currently heard weeknights 7 p.m. to midnight on WCBS-FM, where he also hosts Saturday Night ‘70s.
June 6. 1981: Neil Diamond’s America becomes the third top 10 single from his phenomenal album The Jazz Singer, which on this same date is enjoying its 28th week in the top 25.
June 16, 1965: During the recording sessions for Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, Brooklyn-born Al Kooper, a guitarist with little experience on keyboards, talks producer Tom Wilson into letting him sit in on the Hammond organ. When Dylan hears the playback, he asks to have the organ turned up higher in the mix. Kooper’s improvised organ part becomes an iconic element of the song Rolling Stone magazine ranked No. 1 among “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
June 18, 2005. Wes Jackson launches the first Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival. Among those taking the stage at The Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg are local favorites Medina Green, Ge-ology and Amir.
June 21, 1988: Big Daddy Kane, widely regarded as one of the best and most influential of the golden age rappers (he mentored Jay-Z among others),releases his debut album, Long Live the Kane.
The Lone Bellow describes its sound as “Brooklyn country music,” but its self-titled debut album also brings elements of acoustic rock, folk and gospel-tinged three-part harmonies into the mix. The group got together a few years ago at Dizzy’s Diner in Park Slope and, after a gig at South Slope’s Roots Café, they were invited to tour with Grammy-winning duo The Civil Wars, which led to a deal with Descendant Records…Mistaken for Strangers, a documentary about The National directed by Tom Berninger, brother of the band’s frontman Mike Berninger, premiered at New York City's Tribeca Film Festival in April. The National’s new album, Fake Empire, will be released in May. The group will play the Barclay Center June 5 before embarking on a tour with fellow Brooklynites The Dirty Projectors, whose video for their song About to Die is approaching 200,000 hits on YouTube…Jay Z can be heard on the soundtrack of The Great Gatsby, due out in May. The Bedford-Stuyvesant-born hip-hop mogul also produced and arranged music for the film… …It’s a Brooklyn Trifecta: Skyzoo, with an assist from Talib Kweli, pays tribute to a great home-grown filmmaker in the song and video, Spike Lee Was My Hero, from Skyzoo’s A Dream Deferred album…If you missed the September gig at Williamsburg Park by Williamsburg’s St. Vincent (Annie Clark) and frequent Brooklyn visitor David Byrne that introduced the duo’s album Love This Giant, you’re going to have to go out of town to catch them. They embark on a 44-city tour of the U.S. and Europe in June. Notable Quote: “Brooklyn is not the easiest place to grow up in, although I wouldn't change that experience for anything.” --Neil Diamond