Tuesday, 17 June 2014
With Music Comes Stories: Del Jones' Positive Vibes
In the early '90s, Scott and Steve (aka Cheeks), my two close friends from New Orleans, showed up to our bi-annual Austin Record Show (aka ARC) gathering with a magical record.
The tradition since the mid-80s was for a group of like-minded music fiends to spend Friday and Saturday nights in a motel room to play records and catch a buzz. Numbers at these gatherings have ranged from as few as ten to as many as fifty people, there to hear amazing, newly discovered and virtually unknown records. It started as a strictly psychedelic/hard rock music gathering with the odd garage rock record thrown in. It has evolved today into a wide variety of sounds from Disco to Rap to Heavy Metal, etc. etc.
If there is a seminal moment when this gathering became musically integrated, it was when Steve placed the aforementioned magical record, Del Jones Positive Vibes 'Court Is Closed', on the motel room turntable. From the opening notes I was sucked in... hard. This was some shit I had never heard the likes of before. A few of the hard rock/metal guys immediately squawked to take "this crap" off. Being the guy that paid for the room I had the leverage, and that LP stayed on the turntable - for almost three hours. The room slowly emptied until there were maybe five or six dudes that were completely under the spell of Del. None more so than Scott and myself. This record had crawled inside us like an inner city spirit that had travelled a thousand miles and twenty years to find our cracker ass vessels.
Scott grew up in Algiers, a section of New Orleans where survival of the fittest is a game and they talk like Brooklyn Cajun Mafioso. He connected with this Philly ghetto vibe immediately and had listened to it ad infinitum prior to springing it on the rest of us. There was virtually nothing known about this LP in the record world, mainly because there were only three hundred copies ever made and most were distributed in Del's neighbourhood. Once Scott knew I was hooked like him he said "We need to reissue this." And he was right. But I had my doubts it would happen: after all, the first thing we'd have to do was "simply" find a guy named Jones in Philadelphia.
About a week later I got an excited call from Scott, he had spoken to Del, and it just so happened he was going to be in New Orleans a week later - and then Dallas! I called Del and told him how much I dug his LP. He explained that the LP had been released twice. The first was the one we were familiar with. It was his labour of love and a stark portrait of Del's life and his life's work. He explained that his brother worked for a major record label and he told Del the LP wasn't "commercial enough". He took the original tapes to Electric Lady Studios in NYC and had horn-tracks laid over the original songs, really transforming them into something completely different, and a little sterile. Del was thrilled that we liked his version and was looking forward to meeting us.
Del was going to 'Nawlins' and Dallas to give "talks" at local colleges and was travelling with an entourage. Scott went to meet him at the airport and Del was genuinely shocked that he was a "white boy". The combination of the Algiers accent and the fact that he loved Del's LP, had given Del a totally different mental image. He knew what to expect when I met him for breakfast in Dallas. He made sure his entourage didn't see us together. We spent a good three hours discussing a reissue, his life and what he was doing in Dallas. I was so infatuated with this record I wanted to hear the story behind every song. He explained that one side of the LP was the "Anti-Drug" side and the flip was the "Kill Whitey" side. The title track is a mtter-of-fact announcement that even reparations could not square things up; Del was coming for your ass. That fate had already been decided, Court Is Closed.
Del was a militant, there is no other way to describe him, nor would he want you to; but I also found him to be a funny, honest dude who knew what his agenda was, but didn't let it get in the way of his everyday life. The night before he had appeared on local provocateur John Wiley Price's radio show who he described to me as a weak-ass country-somethin'. I asked him what I would see if I attended his speech that night and he immediately advised me not to show up. "I can't guarantee your safety; I get the brothers and sisters riled up". As we parted he gave me a cassette of what he was going to speak on that night, it was called "The American Nigger Factory". I listened to it on the way home and dude was powerful. Del also cared about his community, and walked the walk. His anti-drug crusade was strong but he laughingly related how people would come up to him on the streets years later asking him if he was "clean" having seen him perform his song 'Cold Turkey', the most realistic drug withdrawal song ever recorded.
Del was still in the neighbourhood. He published a monthly newspaper called The War Correspondent. He wrote many books about the inner city atruggle. We released the LP to a mediocre reception. The Funk and Breaks dudes liked the "horn" version better and bought a bootleg version of that instead of the rawer original. I gave the LP to anyone I thought would dig it (thanks Rich and Kris). Like with Scott and I, this record really hit a lot of people really hard and is a unique journey into a place no other record has ever been. A ballsy Gil-Scott Heron, who despises the drugs that destroyed genius. One of my most prized possessions is a letter that Del wrote me which is framed and on my wall. You can see his light in the letter defying the look on his face.
RIP Brother Del.
Written by Rich Haupt, from Rockadelic Records, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
Read this great interview with Rich from It's Psychedelic Baby, in which he talks about pretty much every release on his label!
And here's a non-LP track from Del Jones' Positive Vibes to whet your appetite...
* excerpt taken from Issue #4 of the Soultearoa Shakedown fanzine. Read the whole issue - and the back issues - here.