While it would be far-fetched to categorize them as “an oppressed minority,” Black rock musicians could certainly be identified, with a few notable exceptions, as “a generally overlooked minority.”
For reasons deeply steeped in cultural tradition, which in this case is linked to cultural bias, most people still think of it as odd for a Black artist to play or sing rock music. It is thought to be “White.”
Will society, especially in the U.S., ever cease from believing that everything and everybody has to be rigidly categorized? Apparently that is too much to ask for.
LENNY KRAVITZ, one of the Black rock stars who managed to find widespread, unconditional support in the rock world, says he is perplexed and a bit annoyed when Black people ask why he plays “their music.”
Kravitz is quick to point out the irony in that question, given the fact that the roots of rock ’n’ roll, and by extension, rock, developed directly from rhythm ’n’ blues, gospel, blues and jazz, which in turn all have African roots.
Although labeled “rock,” Kravitz’s music also features elements of pop, reggae, retro soul and more. He shot to fame in 1989 with his debut album, “Let Love Rule.” He has the distinction of having won the Grammy Award in the Best Male Rock Vocal Performance category four years in a row.
For those unaware of it, Kravitz is the son of actress Roxie Roker, who portrayed Helen Willis on “The Jeffersons.”
THE OTHER ACT to be fully accepted in rock — and “fully accepted” is putting it mildly — is Jimi Hendrix, the explosive, courageous visionary guitarist/singer who is very often identified as the greatest guitarist in the history of rock.
Hendrix’s talent and impact were so great, and so influential, that he wasn’t even thought of as “Black” when he emerged in the late 1960s with his band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and a pivotal, career-defining album titled “Are You Experienced?” that featured the classic hits “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady.”
Accompanying Hendrix in the Experience were Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums, both from England, whereas Hendrix was born in Seattle. Subsequent megahit albums included “Axis: Bold as Love” and “Electric Ladyland.”
It is interesting to note that the only Jimi Hendrix album that Black people took an interest in was “Band of Gypsys,” a new band featuring bassist Billy Cox and a star in his own right, drummer Buddy Miles. The opening cut was “Who Knows?” It was this track that lured Black record buyers.
As magnificent as Hendrix had always been, his version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” played at the historic “Woodstock” music festival, was stunning. There had never been anything like it before and never will again.
KEY ELEMENTS of rock include playing loud and hard, as well as having what could be described as “a sense of abandonment of inhibitions.”
Living Colour certainly qualify on both counts. The band emerged from New York City in the mid-1980s and attracted a great deal of attention with a wild stage show and albums such as “Pride” and “Stain.”
The band holds nothing back and is as fearless with regard to song choices as they are energetic on stage.
Indeed, Living Colour recorded such songs as “Release the Pressure,” “Love Rears Its Ugly Head,” “Mind Your Own Business,” “Open Letter to a Landlord” and “Bi.” Yes, the latter was about what you are thinking, featuring the line, “Everybody loves you when you’re bi.”
ROCK HAS always been male dominated, but that didn’t stop the iconic Tina Turner from being elevated to “queen of rock” status. Since her history has been so thoroughly documented in the Black press and elsewhere, less is being written here.
However, it is significant that a woman who was purely R&B in her early days, singing songs like “A Fool in Love” and “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” as part of Ike & Tina Turner, would become rock royalty.
Although not even coming close to the success of Tina Turner, there are some who remember Betty Davis. Active in the 1970s, she was born Betty Mabry; she married jazz legend Miles Davis in 1968, although the marriage only lasted one year.
Her three albums were “Betty Davis,” “They Say I’m Different” and “Nasty Gal.”
ANOTHER band of note, and as wildly imaginative as Living Colour, is Fishbone. That a Black band would emerge from South Central Los Angeles raises more than a few eyebrows. They, too, have a take-no-prisoners, yet have-a-good-time approach to their recorded music and live performances, both of which have been described as “kinetic.”
Although they had recorded before, with their 1993 album, “Give a Monkey a Brain,” Fishbone made a full thrust into rock. They hit hard with cuts like “No Fear,” “Unyielding Conditioning,” “Black Flowers,” “Swim” and, yes, “Drunk Skitzo.”
Although the Bus Boys band was formed in the late 1970s, it was appearing in the 1982 film “48 Hrs.,” starring Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, that the group reached a wide audience. Murphy was a fan and had the Bus Boys perform on his “Delirious” tour.
The Bus Boys’ debut album, “Minimum Wage Rock & Roll,” featured a memorable song titled “Did You See Me?” that included the comical and somewhat controversial line, “I’ll bet you never heard music like this by spades.”
Granted, racial “slur names” should always be avoided, but the song proved that the Bus Boys were, among other things, daring.
“Rock ’n’ roll,” according to the classic 1950s hit by Danny & the Juniors, “is here to stay.”
So is Black rock, even when it is not fully acknowledged.