When Sly Stone improbably guest-hosted The Mike Douglas Show in 1974, Richard Pryor joined him to jam on the drums for a short, chaotic hash of “If You Want Me to Stay.”
What was the coke budget for this???
I can just see wide-lapelled, mild-mannered nice guy Mike Douglas knocking on the dressing room door before the show to find several of Sly’s armed “security” cronies, a few pounds of cocaine dumped on a table and Sly and Richard both looking like Heath Ledger as The Joker…
Wild. Singer/songwriter Joe Henry has co-written (along with his brother David) a biography of Richard Pryor entitled, Serious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World that Made Him, due out in November. If you’re familiar with Joe Henry’s work, then you already know why this is so cool and appropriate, but if not, then I’ll tell you…
If you don’t know who Richard Pryor was, well then, no wonder you think the universe is kind of boring and tedious. Richard Pryor was Chris Rock before Chris Rock was even born, unleashing his ferocious comedy to both white and black audiences in the 60s and 70s, way before it was “OK” to joke seriously about racial issues and about the experience of being an African American in a nation still trying to suppress the inevitable realization that its cultural roots were about as black as they were white.
Here’s Richard Pryor as the first black president of the US. Like a lot of Pryor’s comedy, you can’t quite see where it’s going until it gets there and, prior to arrival it veers into the surreal.
Wild, no? That’s from the 1970s and I’m thinking popular culture was actually somewhat less brittle back then. The ghost of left-wing culture hadn’t quite faded away yet, though of course in just a few years Reagan’s jackboots would stomp even that poor pitiful thing into the ground. Even in the early 1980s, after Pryor recovered from a disfiguring freebasing accident that left him badly burned and near death, the nation laughed when Pryor explained: “When I dunked the cookie in the milk, it exploded!”
Joe Henry, meanwhile, dedicated one of his better albums (Scar) to Pryor, and wrote one of the songs (”Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation”) in his voice. Here’s “Stop,” from that same album (If you are a Madonna fan, you may have noticed that this song has the same lyrics as “Don’t Tell Me” from her Music album, and indeed Henry wrote those lyrics. Joe Henry is, bizarrely enough, Madonna’s brother-in-law (married to her sister Melanie) and also wrote the Baywatch theme, but don’t hold that against him.)
Henry operates in a nominally popular idiom by placing scraps of jazz, rock, R&B and even country into the athanor of his songwriting craft and then melting them all down and shaping the resultant amalgam into the odd and sometimes frightening little homonculi that are his songs.
When Henry (or his “people”) made the announcement about Serious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World that Made Him on Facebook and his blog a couple of days ago, it came as both a surprise as well one of those things that seems obvious in retrospect. I’m stoked for the publication of this book and will almost certainly celebrate this news later with a bottle of Monday-night plonk and the very loud cranking of Joe Henry’s Blood From Stars album.
Here’s a rarity of sorts, of Henry singing (or pretending to be singing) the title track from hisTiny Voices album:
It was always the voice. He may have sold it short by appearing in over-produced TV shows, or playing seasons in Vegas, or becoming a caricature of a tanned medallion man, but none of it really mattered when you heard the voice—and Tom Jones has one hell of a singing voice.
When Jones’ star was on the rise on the late-1960s, he was offered his own TV show, This Is Tom Jones, which ran for 65 episodes between 1969 and 1971. It was an instant and massive success on both sides of the Atlantic, and led to the singer receiving 2 Golden Globe Nominations. It also saw Jones perform with an incredible array of stars ranging from Dusty Springfield, Little Richard, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Cass Elliot, Burt Bacharach, George Carlin, Terry-Thomas, Sandi Shaw, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Lulu, Nancy Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Aretha Franklin, amongst many others.
This is the first episode of This Is Tom Jones, which aired on February 7th, 1969. Jones sang several of his hits, and mixed with an incredible range of talent including a suave-looking Peter Sellers (who changed the script, tried out his Welsh accent and appeared in a skit written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman); a very youthful Richard Pryor in one of his first TV appearances (who looks almost teenage and has yet to find the anger that made his comedy dangerous); The Moody Blues (who reminded me of a holiday resort band); and a beautiful Mary Hopkin, singing “Those Were The Days”.
This Is Tom Jones has dated somewhat, and the sets and dance routines may look positively camp, but the quality of the performances, and the power of Tom Jones’ voice make this a special treat.
And this is what he turned into? What a complete shock…
So although it’s fairly well-known what a crazy motherfucker Phil Spector is, it’s still somewhat surprising to see that he never even went a little bit out of his way to at least try to affect an air of bare minimum congeniality, or to be charming, or attempt to appear SANE, even when he was on television. From the get-go, he’s hostile to Merv (how can you be hostile to Merv?) and becomes increasingly irritated and paranoid throughout the interview.
By the time Spector alludes to hitting Merv and a very unimpressed and composed Eartha Kitt—who hits him hard with her well-delivered Socrates quip—the audience is hissing and booing him.
Steve Martin conducted this awkward/awesome interview with Richard Pryor when he was the guest hosting for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show on June 19, 1978. Glen Campbell was also on the couch that night.
From the first episode of The Richard Pryor Show, the comedians’ ill-fated NBC series (only four episodes were produced). Imagine seeing this at 8pm on ABC in 1977! Mind-bending!
From archieoogley’s YouTube description:
Pre-Spinal Tap Mystical Hobbit Rockers? Check.
Druidic cloaks? Check.
Smoke machines? Check.
Pryor utilizing the long-accepted habit of slurring your words to get past censors? (See ‘Louie Louie’ by the Kingsmen for history’s best example) Check.
Pryor throwing giant bags of drugs and pills into his all-white teenage audience? Check.
Pryor using a gas gun to kill the first few rows? Check.
And finally, Richard Pryor taking a machine gun to his fans, killing every white teenager in the place? Double-check.
Jimi meets KISS meets Funkadelic meets King Diamond meets Sunn O))) meets Sigue Sigue Sputnik meets the Cowardly Lion meets Dawn Davenport? You just can’t beat it.
You’ll see a very young Sandra Bernhard in the audience. They cut to her a few times.