While the artist known as Root Boy Slim, Foster MacKenzie III, departed this world entirely too soon at the age of 48, he left us with a highly entertaining and weird catalog to remember him by. Though my previous statement seems to suggest that one might somehow forget about the existence of a group called Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band, I’m here to tell you won’t be able to. Here’s why.
First of all, the band is called Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band. And there is no way that anyone could possibly be expected to forget a mouthful like that. It just can’t be done. If you are not aware of Root Boy Slim, then you probably didn’t come of age in the late 70s and early 80s in the Washington, D.C. area where MacKenzie was/is pretty much a folk hero. Do you remember the guy who tried to scale the fence at the White House in 1969 who claimed to be searching for the “center of the universe” while tripping balls on acid? That was Foster MacKenzie III. This unfortunate trip would land MacKenzie in a psych ward that resulted in being diagnosed as a schizophrenic which required he be medicated for life. Perhaps the time George W. Bush (one of MacKenzie’s frat brothers at Yale) hurled him off the front porch of their frat house because he caught him smoking weed resulted in some sort of head injury. Who knows? Whatever propelled the madness that was Root Boy Slim it just simply worked, even though songs from MacKenzie’s catalog include titles like “Liquor Store Hold-Up in Space,” “I’m Not Too Old for You,” and “Too Sick to Reggae” that all sort of scream “joke rock,” making it easy for the casual observer to perhaps dismiss Root Boy Slim as some sort of goofball gimmick. However, that assessment would be pretty far from the truth.
Foster MacKenzie III was a lot of things, including being quite talented. When he got up on stage and sang “Boogie ‘Til You Puke” with his liquor-soaked voice, it was in complete earnestness just like any other musician who cared about their craft. He surrounded himself with quality musicians like saxophonist Ron Holloway who had previously stood beside Gil Scott-Heron and Dizzy Gilespie. In 1977 he managed to secure a lucrative record contract with Warner Bros. to the tune of $250,000. In 1978 Root Boy and his Sex Change Band opened up a show for the Ramones and the Runaways after which MacKenzie attempted to sweet talk a young Joan Jett to no avail. According to legend, a year later at a show MacKenzie got blotto on blow and fell off stage causing mayhem all over a table where an upper-level record executive with the label was seated with his wife. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well and after dismal sales for their debut album Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band with the Rootettes, Warners bought MacKenzie out of his contract for $40,000.
The front cover of Root Boy Slim’s 1986 album ‘Don’t Let This Happen to You.’
In 1979 MacKenzie and the band got another shot at fame when they were asked to perform “Boogie ‘Til You Puke,” in New York. The band’s performance was used for a scene in Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video—a bizarre NBC late-night television special created by Michael O’Donoghue, the brilliantly funny writer whose credits include National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live and the film Scrooged. Long story short, the special, which also included appearances by Klaus Nomi, Debbie Harry, and Sid Vicious, never made it to the airwaves because when the suits at NBC saw it they refused to air it. That same year the band played the nineteenth annual Reading Rock Festival sharing Saturday’s bill with Cheap Trick and the Scorpions. Despite all the coke and failed record contracts, 1979 had its moments for MacKenzie and I.R.S. records would sign the band to their sub-label Illegal Records, though, just like Warner, the label would later drop kick MacKenzie to the curb thanks to album number two Zoom which tanked just as hard as the band’s debut.
Though Foster went by the moniker Root Boy Slim, MacKenzie, who is often affectionately referred to as the “Lenny Bruce of the Blues” was a pretty big dude clocking in at over six-feet tall and two hundred or so pounds. But that didn’t stop him from performing all kinds of antics on stage like pretending to vomit (which earned him another nickname the “Duke of Puke”) or perhaps curling up in the bass drum for a brief, make-believe nap. It’s all pretty fantastic stuff. Thankfully, a documentary on Root Boy Slim has been in the works since last year thanks to the great Jeff Krulik of Heavy Metal Parking Lot fame who got filmmaker Dick Bangham (who was already working on a RBS doc and also designed album covers for MacKenzie back in the day) together with Scott Mueller. The documentary tentatively titled Boogie ‘Til You Puke: The Forgotten Legend of Root Boy Slim is due out sometime this year or in 2018.
One of the many signs I saw and photographed during the Seattle ‘Women’s March,’ January 21st, 2017.
On Saturday I spent the better part of the day walking the streets of Seattle with a few of my “delicate snowflake” friends and approximately 175,000 other like-minded women, men and children during our Women’s March. The event, which was the largest protest in the history of the city, was by far one of the most powerful and empowering things I have ever personally experienced in my life. And while it’s not an alternate fact that our work is just beginning, judging from the numbers of people who collectively participated in the massive march in Washington DC, and the local support marches around the globe, there is still room for hope.
Many of the images of the signs in this post, were taken by yours truly and by friends of mine, old and new, who I walked with in Seattle. Others were culled from the Facebook page Pantsuit Nation and I’ve done the best I can to attach locations to each photo. While I have plenty to say on the subject when it comes to why millions of people took to the streets all over the country and the world, I’d much prefer to let the images of the protest signs that marchers carried with them on Saturday do the talking. So to the new administration and our new Commander-in-Grief, get ready because you haven’t seen anything yet. Viva la VULVA!
Seattle Women’s March, January 21st, 2017. Photo taken by a member of my marching group.
Seattle. Photo by Cherrybomb.
A 91-year-old retired doctor protesting in Los Angeles.
I was just home for the holidays at a New Year’s Eve get together when an old friend showed me these neat post card sets of D.C. musicians with their cars that he got as a gift earlier in the day. I think they’re completely out of print, and the mutual friend that gave them must have bought them years ago, but I thought they were worth sharing nonetheless.
Made by Cynthia Connolly, D.C. punk veteran, longtime Dischord Records employee and co-creator of 1988’s Banned in DC, a photographic history of the early DC punk scene, the postcards capture the rides of choice for D.C. luminaries Ted Leo, Jenny Toomey, Ian MacKaye and Allison Wolfe among many others.
From Cynthia Connolly’s website:
“Musicians from DC and their Cars” (or later renamed “favorite mode of transport”) was first created for the Chicago based and nationally distributed ‘zine, “Speed Kills” in about 1994. I wanted to contribute to my favorite ‘zine at the time, called Speed Kills, of which its’ topics usually covered indie and punk music and old cars. I owned a 1963 Ford Falcon, and at the time, my musician friends were all buying old cars. I then decided to create a photographic body of work that included the obvious: musicians from DC who owned old cars. I showed the original exhibit of about 13 images in Sidney, Australia in December 1995 and also at the Washington Project for the Arts in 1996. When I exhibited my show in Sidney, I created a small postcard packet of Silver Gelatin photographs in a set made to be used as postcards. I liked the idea so much, that when I returned from Austrailia, I worked with a printer in North Carolina, using non bleached recycled paper, and newly introduced soy ink, to create ecologically sound postcards in an edition of 1500. As the tour with Pat continued, I created in all, four sets with seven images each, all of which sold out.
“Blessed are they who strive in the way of peace, for they shall be called Children of the Father.”
― Norman “Saleem” Hylton (via Matthew 5:9)
This is a guest post by Washington D.C. music historian Logan K. Young
In June of 1981, Dischord Records released catalog number 003―the Minor Threat EP. Its eight songs, including track four’s “Straight Edge” clarion, lasted a total of eight minutes.
Talk about economy.
Some thirty years later, and for a lot of Washington, D.C. insiders even, that’s all the District hath wrote. It’s almost fitting: Nothing ever gets done on Capitol Hill; why would it be any different inside the Dischord House? You could make a case, I suppose, for the plethora of post-hardcore memes like The Dismemberment Plan that followed in Fugazi’s wake. But The D-Plan’s leader, the doe-eyed doyen Travis Morrison, works for HuffPo now. As for Ian MacKaye, he’s taken to playing silly love songs with his wife-cum-drummer, Amy.
Regardless, Washington harDCore always seemed a tad too emo for me.
What, then, to make of a group like Father’s Children? They weren’t go-go, and they sure as heckfire weren’t straight-edge punks.
No, they were something different entirely.
Re-listening now, it’s kind of eerie just how different they were. Of course, were it not for soul-saving historians like Kevin Coombe (a.k.a. DJ Nitekrawler), we might never have known. Moreover, if not for a highest-fidelity reissue from the archival saints at Chicago’s Numero Group, Father’s Children would be as altogether lost as John Boehner’s Congress.
1972 was an eternity ago, really, and plenty of great records have been buried by the legislation of time―especially in the District of Columbia, where ignorance has its own blissful lobby. If you know Father’s Children at all it’s probably for their compromises made elsewhere later in the decade. (Or, to borrow a term from the HxC kids, their ‘sell-out’ stuff.)
Here’s a quick refresher: After years of both member and manager turnover, the funky, Islam-ified ensemble finally signed to Mercury Records and manifested west for a gold grab with The Crusaders’ Wayne Henderson behind the console. These gilded sessions would end up bearing the s/t decalogue, Father’s Children. Watered-down by Tinsel Town, that album’s torpid single, “Hollywood Dreaming” b/w “Shine On,” ultimately failed to chart in July of ‘79.
Another reminder: Things only got worse. Mercury soon relinquished rights, forcing the roughshod soul-Futuros to slouch it on back to Norman Hylton’s People’s Center in rough-hewn Adams Morgan. Abandoned and old enough, Father’s Children eventually divorced.
It was time to take sides. Whereas disco got custody of the America’s capital, Dischord would soon overtake her capitol city.
It wasn’t always like that, though. The would-be Children were birthed as a doo-wop/skiffle outfit called The Dreams at Western High School (now Duke Ellington School of the Arts) in the late ‘60s. And everything was jive.
Well, almost. After a Volkswagen accident outside Petersburg, Virginia killed their gear but left every Dream alive, the boys fell prostrate before Allah and rechristened themselves accordingly: Ted “Skeet” Carpenter became “Hakim,” Billy Sumler choose “Qaddir,” Nick Smith became “Nizam,” Michael Rogers assumed “Malik,” Steve Woods went with “Wali,” and Zachary Long was called “Sadik.” Norman “Saleem” Hylton had convinced the boys that they weren’t meant to die on I-95 that night.
The Dreams now deferred to a celestial Father. But once again, all was seemingly jive. And on stage anyways, Father’s Children grew up quickly. The kids would play jook joints (Ed Murphy’s Supper Club, The Other Barn, Motherlode Wild Cherry) and ivory towers alike (Howard University, American University, University of the District of Columbia). Like any father figure should, Hylton taught the Children not to discriminate; a gig was a gig. Sooner than later, he promised, life on the Beltway would pay off at home.
Writing in the liners for this reissue, Numero’s Rob Sevier and Ken Shipley tell the truth thusly:
“In fall 1972, Saleem was introduced to local studio magnate Robert Hosea Williams, who owned and managed a small network of Beltway studios. Jules Damian at D.B. Sound Studios had recently brought Williams in as a partner to right the debt-heavy ship. He wouldn’t disappoint. Williams had built his rep behind the boards at Edgewood Studios on 1539 K Street and by freelancing at Track Studios in Silver Spring, Maryland. His engineering experience included work for Gil Scott-Heron, Hugh Masekela, the Soul Searches and Van McCoy, but he always managed to find time on his schedule for locals.”
For Father’s Children, their time was September ‘72, just a few weeks after this fateful meeting. Stationed at D.B. Sound, the seven-piece ensemble ran down a voodoo equal parts lament for D.C.’s earlier race riots and their newfangled, moon-unit take on Islam. Again, it’s near scary just how good they were.
But there was a problem.
As so often happens, the Children never got the master tapes because Fly Enterprises―the fly-by-night hucksters these callow kids from Meridian Park hired to replace Saleem Hylton―didn’t pay the time tab. (Were Hylton still at the helm, it’s hard to imagine such a scenario.) Regardless, those originals sat collecting dust on producer Robert H. Williams’ shelf until 2006, when Coombe griped them tight, and with Numero’s blessing proper, raised them from perdition.
Four more years still, their combined ransom has proved more than bountiful. Hence, we finally have thee definitive question come unto the Children―Who’s Gonna Save The World[?].
But in northwest D.C., especially in the early ‘70s, that question was hardly rhetorical. In fact, it was downright dangerous. As per Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, the most convincing lines, the most insatiable rhythms here are the ones that play the most urgent. And as far as shared sentiments, anyways, this could easily be 2012.
Lead-off cut “Everybody’s Got a Problem,” written and wrought by Nizam Smith, looks not at Richard Nixon’s White House, but instead the silent majority Tricky Dick had resigned to either side of Pennsylvania Avenue: “Oh man, you talking about the Watergate, man? Man, I’m so broke, I can’t even pay attention.” Given a GOP CEO, it rarely pays to be poor.
“Dirt and Grime” is a skeletal study, almost menacing by comparison. In a strained but palpable tenor, Smith dutifully rebukes his own Adams Morgan. “My dirty, filthy habitat is where I got my habit at,” he admits. Apropos, Wali Woods’ high-pass guitar adds some extra-brittle filth atop. It’s a fragile, yet classic case of nature versus nurture. Smith’s ‘AdMo’ neighborhood, now, has surely been swagger-jacked, but on the right Saturday night, it might be alright for fighting. Still.
Meanwhile, “Linda”―the lone, legit love song of the lot―succeeds in spite of Robert Williams’ 101 Strings schmaltz. It’s actually a quite beautiful tune. Re-recorded as a later one-off for D.C. Valentine’s D.C. boutique Arrest, the original suburban reading sparkles still. After all, sometimes the new isn’t also the improved.
In retrospect, Father’s Children’s Islam never was as hard-lined as Elijah Muhammad’s Nation. Thus, their own eschatology was hardly dogma ‘n’ brimstone. Perhaps it’s because the Children were so young a band. Take side two’s opener “Kohoutec,” for instance. Kohoutek, the doomsday comet 150,000 years late even in late ‘72, had been anticipated in song by everyone from Sun Ra to Kraftwerk to Journey. Swaddled in warm, Red Line reverb here, the Children aren’t so much waiting idly for some cosmic Godot as they are bustin’ loose during His interregnum. But just like that, it’s glorious noise of wind, brass and percussion comes to a psychedelic halt; it seems their “Kohoutec” was our Hale-Bopp.
Undeterred, the shimmering harmonies of “In Shallah” follows. Arabic for “god willing,” it’s the weakest link only because it’s unfettered optimism sounds a bit like the airport Krishna’s proselytizings. That said, it’s not a bad-meaning-bad song.
Clocking in at just under eight minutes, “Father’s Children” is probably the best, most representative Father’s Children track recollected. Tempo-wise, it’s got to be their fastest as well. Kicking off with the Biblical boilerplate atop, it simultaneously anticipates and obliterates the coming go-go sound. Not bad, indeed. Here, the Children dial down the Arabic rhetoric and summon forth a pure groove clinic. Nearly every member of the flock gets a featured workout, with Wood’s deft wah-wah leading the charge of his brigade’s light. It’s a true joy, a genuine blessing to behold.
Were “Father’s Children” made available on wax in 1972, even as a single, methinks the entirety of hip-hop and rap would have sounded a lot different. Yes, the breaks simply are that infectious, the beats just too obvious not to sample. I’d wager it’s only a matter of time now before some enterprising crate-digger mashes the funk out of this one.
Come August of 1974, Nixon was gone, leaving his fellow Americans firmly on the losing side of the War on Poverty. Especially in the District, it was a struggle just to keep the lights on. A last-ditch salvo was launched locally to save Norman “Saleem” Hylton’s ecumenical Center at 17th Street and Kalorama, but alas, the citizens of Suffragette City would lose that, too. And Hylton was a Vietnam veteran!
To this day, in a city of some 700,000 people, not a single resident of Washington, D.C. has a Congressional vote that actually counts. Making matters worse, go-go got its first bona fide Billboard-er that year with Black Heat’s “No Time To Burn.” With head songwriter Nizam Smith having defected to Miami for a solo shot, wagons ho!, Father’s Children made that ill-advised, career-ending trek to the City of Angels.
The rest, well…you already know by now. There is a post-script, however.
As late as 2007, a reunited Father’s Children self-financed an album called Sky’s the Limit and distributed it via their own FC Music imprint. (In D.C., D.I.Y. neither starts, nor ends, with one Ian MacKaye.) But honestly, from what I’ve heard of Sky’s the Limit, like most musical reunions anyways, it’s only a cheap simulacrum―a gold-plated calf cast to former glories and youthful follies (i.e. this new D-Plan record).
Eternal thanks be to Numero Group, et al. for finally putting out the real thing. We can now call off the search.
Who’s Gonna Save The World is a national treasure, worthy every bit of Jeffersonian pomp and Honest Abe’s circumstance. For once in the life of our nation’s capital, here lies a legitimate bipartisan record. And in a town littered with monuments to men passed, the seven in Father’s Children remain but a few of the ones truly worth revisiting.
Blessed were they, each one, indeed. Let us all come unto the Children once more.
This is a guest post by Washington D.C. music historian Logan K. Young
The Godfather of Go-Go Chuck Brown, with his Soul Searchers
Background information on David N. Rubin’s 1990 documentary Go-Go Swing is pretty hard to come by. But that hardly takes away from how deep a snapshot it is of the highly regional Washington D.C. brand of funk called go-go.
Developed first by jazz guitarist and singer Chuck Brown (whose group the Soul Searchers were at the top of D.C.’s scene), go-go is characterized by its laidback but dynamic funk rhythms accented with heavy conga beats, freaky keyboards, blasting horns and call-and response vocals. And its been a staple of the mid-Atlantic scene for the past 35 years.
Go-go reached a crest during the 1980s, as bands like Trouble Funk, E.U., Rare Essence, Redds and the Boys, Hot Cold Sweat, the Junk Yard Band and others got signed and discarded by various majors and independents. E.U.’s performance of “Da Butt” on Spike Lee’s School Daze was a coup as far as national exposure for the music.
Rubin’s doc goes deep into the context of the go-go scene, dealing with the trials, tribulations, mournings and celebrations that are all part of living in D.C. Check out the whole thing—it’s really worth it.