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July 26, 2012

Summer shows & a tribute to Lenny Williams

We’re playing a bunch of summer shows in the next few weeks. It starts this weekend with a festival gig in our hometown Sacramento and ends with a free outdoor show in our adopted home New York City, co-headlined by the legendary Lenny Williams. Show details are in the sidebar to the right of this message. But really what we want to do here is tell a story. Nic will take it from here…

“You ever been on so much acid you couldn’t see? I’d never heard of it, but it happened to me. One thing led to another one night and I ended up on 4-6 hits of some positively blinding stuff. Hallucinations were flowering inside and outside of each other so it was just easier to sit back on the couch, close my eyes and let my roommate DJ the trip for me. Sound was vison and vision was sound and neither were what they had been to me before.

“In the midst of the trip came a voice which I knew but couldn’t place. He was telling me he was an old friend and he was still reaching out for me. And then…I don’t how to say this, so I’ll just say it. I cried. Like a baby. Well not quite like a baby, if I’m being honest, more like a guy really. I’m not a big crier, but the right song on the right drugs can do it for me and as it turns out, it was the voice of an old friend. It was a re-edit of ‘I Still Reach Out’ by Lenny Williams, the voice of Tower of Power in 1973-74 and therefore a voice that drifted in and out of the mornings I slept through as a young kid, listening to the ’70s soul station in California.

“I didn’t hear Tower of Power quite as much once I moved to New York, but I would still hear that voice on KISS-FM. They’d play ‘Cause I Love You’ on the Kissing After Dark show, and the late night mix shows played his disco stuff. Discovering the albums he did with Frank Wilson, Choosing You (1977) and Spark of Love (1978), was like finding a treasure chest of disco gems of the kind that Larry Levan used to play in his Paradise Garage sets. I still count them as some of my favorite disco albums ever. Packed with killer songs, many of which stretch out in the second half so Lenny can do what he does best, go ‘Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh…’

“Of course, there’s a lot been said about ‘Cause I Love You,’ and if you haven’t watched it lately you should. Sampled by Kanye for his 2004 hit with Twista and immortalized as the song that makes Steve Harvey kick over a chair, a table and a mic stand during one of his routines. I’ve definitely spent nights arguing over whether that or ‘A House Is Not A Home’ is the the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ of slow jams. But the live version…well you may feel ready to sit back through an 11:00 YouTube clip, but halfway through this you’ll never want it to end.

“I don’t want to claim that Lenny’s voice is somehow more than just another one of the all time greats, but there is something about the way he skates in and out of the song. Another singer could sing this, and it’d still be a great song, but Lenny lives inside it and if you wanna try and come live in there, he’s not movin’ out. He’s still gonna be in there. That song will always be his.

“For this show, they asked us to pick someone who had been an influence, or a hero of ours. and that’s what he is. Lenny Williams is one of those special artists who I just became obsessed with. I turned the records over and over again for a summer or so. I still have the album Choosing You at the front of my stack, just because it’s one of those covers that looks so cool, you put it at the front. He looks cool and that’s what he sounded like on the phone when I finally talked to him. We talked about a doing a song or two for the show, and he still seemed like the guy on the cover. That guy on the cover of the record has got it under control, he’s been doing it for years, he’s seen the changes come and go, he’s weathered them and he’s still there to kill it if you need him to.

“That’s what I imagine he’ll be there to do August 9th.”