Listen, Whitey!: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975
I had a serious boyfriend in high school. We were seriously in love, yes, but that’s not exactly what I mean. I mean, he was serious. While most of my peers were partying, going to football games, and getting high, he was introducing me to stuff that would influence my life forever. He got me my first subscription to Rolling Stone, took me to readings by Allen Ginsberg and to Chicago blues clubs, and lent me his copy of Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul On Ice. He opened up a world I never knew existed outside the confines of my white suburban bubble.
One day, he asked me if I wanted to go to Grant Park to hear music and take part in some demonstrations. Unfortunately, my mother heard the word “demonstration” and immediately put the kibosh on that idea. He went without me to what turned out to be one of the most publicized demonstrations of our generation: The 1968 Democratic Convention. Of course, I read the newspapers from cover to cover and got a first-hand account from my boyfriend about the riots, the music (MC5) and the demonstrators which included the SDS, the Yippies, and the Black Panthers. That I didn’t disobey my mother that day, became one of the big regrets of my life.
Fast forward to last month when I read about a new book chronicling the impact the Black Panther party had on music – I was intrigued. The book is Listen, Whitey!: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975 by music producer Pat Thomas. Five years in the making, it’s a visual and narrative history of how the Black Power Movement influenced folk, rock, soul, and jazz during this “revolutionary” time. Thomas dug deep to find underground recordings of that time and reveals long-lost and mostly forgotten albums, cassettes, and reel-to-reel tapes of music, speeches, interviews, poetry and more. The book is impressive and definitive.
At his Powell’s reading last week, Thomas talked about how he befriended members of the Black Panther Party after moving to Oakland, and over time discovered rare recordings of speeches, interviews, and music by activists Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, Elaine Brown, The Lumpen and many others. He met and interviewed Dave Hilliard and Elaine Brown who were important leaders of the Black Panther party, as well as, Bobby Seale, Erika Huggins and other Panthers. During his reading, he played snippets of some of the albums, some produced by the Black Forum label, a Motown subsidiary, and showed companion slides. We heard The Lumpen’s song Free Bobby Now – Seize the Time (referring to The Chicago 8 Trial where Bobby Seale was accused of conspiracy to start riots); Eldridge Cleaver reading a letter to the press in Algiers when he put Timothy Leary under house arrest; Dick Gregory talking about Black Power; and Bob Dylan’s song for George Jackson two weeks after Jackson was killed. Thomas said his favorite recording was Amiri Baraka, who changed his name from LeRoi Jones. He played Who Will Survive America which Amiri raps out. LISTEN HERE!
For nearly a decade, Thomas was the A&R Director of the San Francisco-based record companies Water Records and 4 Men With Beards. These two reissue labels focus on 1960s-1970s rock, jazz, folk, and soul including some of my favorites: Tim Buckley, Otis Redding, and Fred Neil. Check out Thomas at http://roomonetwofour.com/books.htm.
Fantagraphics Books, 2012