Black Merda / Billy Davis Rhythm Machine / Sarah Borges
Sat, Mar 4, 2017 @ 8:00 pm to 2:00am
Black Merda were a funky rock combo with a significant debt to Jimi Hendrix, mixing fuzz-toned, psychedelic blues-rock with folky acoustic passages and contemporary late-’60s soul. Featuring guitarists Anthony and Charles Hawkins, bassist VC Veasey (aka Veesee L. Veasey), and drummer Tyrone Hite, the group got its start in the late ’60s after Veasey, Hite, and Anthony Hawkins had spent time in a band called the Soul Agents, backing Edwin Starr and Gene Chandler. Inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?, they added Anthony’s younger brother Charles on second guitar and christened themselves Black Merda. Despite some interest around their Detroit base — including Norman Whitfield and Eddie Kendricks — Black Merda signed to Chess, thanks in part to the psychedelic soul eccentric Fugi (aka Ellington Jordan), who they also backed on his Mary, Don’t Take Me on No Bad Trip LP for Chess.
[From the Metro Times:] In the early to mid-1960s, the musicians were part of a group called the Impact Band and Singers, players who’d perform covers at parties. Hite was a Detroit native, but the Hawkins brothers and Veasy had moved to the Motor City from the South and met in high school. They quickly gelled into a band, “just playing around the neighborhood,” Veasy recalls.
They eventually solidified into a teenage session group for artists on small labels like Fortune and Golden World. “Somehow, word got around. They called us up and said, ‘We want you to come play in the studio.'” The teenagers would back up an artist’s demo, mostly for glory and fun, as the studio would hand them perhaps $10 or $15 a song. “It was cool money back then in the 1960s,” Wolfe says.
The adolescent musicians were pulled out of their R&B trajectory after Veasy spent some time in the military and discovered Jimi Hendrix while stationed in the Pacific Northwest. The band quickly renamed itself the Soul Agents and adopted a psychedelic style, and even released the first known cover of “Purple Haze” in 1968. And, unlike the rest of Detroit’s late 1960s acts, the Soul Agents didn’t wear ties and blazers.
As Veasy puts it, “We was all dressed psyched-out” with Afros and denim, at a time when even Parliament was still wearing matching suits and slicked-down hair. “We didn’t care what people thought about it,” Veasy says. “People thought the way we dressed was cool, you know. … We were so tight, we influenced George Clinton.”
Billy Davis Rhythm Machine:
Inductee of: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame , Doo Wop Hall of Fame , R&B Hall of Fame
25 Years with Hank Ballard
Inspiration and Tutor to Jimi Hendrix
Jackie Wilson’s Original Lead Guitarist
‘It’s Your Thing’ Guitarist for The Isley Brothers
Billy Davis is a trailblazing guitarist who grew up in Detroit, Michigan, a Southern transplant from Memphis, Tennessee. He has been a professional musician from the age of eighteen. Raised in the 1950’s Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit with strong musical influences, he started his first band at the age of 17, as the headliner for Billy Davis & the Upsetters, which became Berry Gordy’s first in-house live band, pre-Motown, long before the ‘Funk Brothers’. Davis was so ahead of the times that a song title with “funk” had to be changed to “spunk” to receive airplay. His early use of the wah-wah pedal was outright rejected by his producers and band mates, then in later years became the signature for many other musicians.
Davis was a student of music from his earliest memories at age four years old; and at age eighteen, when an opportunity came about to audition for HANK BALLARD AND THE MIDNIGHTERS, he aced it. Joining this national act, he made it to the top right out of the gate. He toured with the Midnighters from 1959 through 1965 and acted as a right-hand-man to Hank Ballard.
Davis met the teenaged Jimi Hendrix in 1959, in Seattle while on tour with The Midnighters, becoming mentor to the future legend, teaching him what he knew about guitar. Also in 1959, Davis met B.B. King, one of his own personal heroes, and they became friends for life. Davis was to meet and become friends with many music legends.
In 1962 Davis was drafted to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training before heading to South Korea for 13 months. He arranged for Jimi Hendrix to audition with The Midnighters and Hendrix did join them for a short time. He himself rejoined Hank Ballard’s group upon his return from service, and continued until the group disbanded.
After The Midnighters, Davis made his way to New York and became a sought-after studio musician. He played with Jackie Wilson, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, among others, on stage and in studio. He played lead guitar on Jackie Wilson’s recording of ‘Higher and Higher’.
Billy Davis has an avant-garde guitar style that is difficult to categorize and package; he is skilled in many different genres. Back then, in spite of two record company contracts he failed to find his following. Making his way back to Detroit, Davis moved away from professional music for a time, married and had two children. He never lost his guitar skills or abilities, or his innate talent for music, nor his interest in being a musician. He kept in touch with his musical friendships. Recently he was invited to present an award to Sam Cooke’s daughter, Carla.
In the mid-1980’s the group SAM AND DAVE called and asked Davis to back them on a gig where James Brown was headlining. Brown, an old friend for over twenty years, gave Davis Hank Ballard’s phone number and suggested he call to reunite the band. Due to a call from Billy Davis, the Midnighters were on tour again, steadily throughout the 1980’s. The Legendary Hank Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and Davis, his main collaborator, has a statue of his own. In 2001, most of the Midnighters along with Hank Ballard and of course Billy Davis, were among the first to be inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame, out of Boston.
Sarah Borges: To watch Sarah Borges strut and howl onstage is to participate in rock n roll communion, all glistening sweat and high kicks, soul-shaking and sassy antics. She’s a modern-day retro spitfire, red lipstick curled in a smirk as she summons her six-string to conjure a host of fiery spirits, leaving a stunned and ecstatic audience in her wake.
This same raucous energy shoots through her fourth studio album, Radio Sweetheart, which is a statement of Borges future as much as it is a reflection of her past. Funded entirely by fans, the new album is a sea change marking a split from both Sugar Hill Records (the label that released her two most recent albums) and her longtime band the Broken Singles, all set in motion by a road weariness bred from six years of constant touring and the home-is-where-the-heart-is lure of brand new motherhood.
Nesting in with her husband and infant son, Borges wrote from a fresh perspective, composing in relative solitude in contrast to those years spent on the road. Alone with guitar and pen, Borges unearthed demos written in her teens and fell back under the sonic spell of the Boston-bred indie rock luminariesMorphine, Juliana Hatfieldthat marked her musical coming-of-age in the 90s.
To realize this musical shift, Borges turned to Steve Berlin, an admirer and longtime member of Los Lobos, to produce the new album. Recorded in a week at Bostons Woolly Mammoth studio, Radio Sweetheart is nine originals (plus a cover of Lloyd Prices Heavy Dreams) all imbued with lessons learned from a decade of rock and roll, countless miles spent on the road, and the range of emotions surrounding the dissolution of a band and the growth of a family.
In essence, the new album is just another step in the continual evolution of Sarah Borges. Like most kids, she grew up surrounded by her parents record collection, a mix of Bob Dylan and classic rock, Joni Mitchell and Gene Autry, which she supplemented with her self-proclaimed drama geek affectation for Rodgers and Hammerstein and the guitar- and fuzz-driven spoils of 90s alt rock.
Borges played in her own fledgling indie rock bands in her teens and early 20s before taking a detour into the newly emerging genre of Americana. I felt like I had spent all of this time trying to couch everything in metaphor, and when I started writing Americana songs I could finally say it plain.
Those years spent playing in black box rock clubs and rented VFW halls informed Borges’s style, and she soon found a believer in producer Paul Q. Kolderie (Hole, Radiohead, Uncle Tupelo), who offered to record some demos, which in turn drew the attention of Texas’s Blue Corn Music at the annual South by Southwest music festival. The label released her debut full-length Silver City in 2005, which launched her onto the Americana world’s radar, kicking off a whirlwind of touring where Borges and her band opened for greats like Dave Alvin and Alejandro Escovedo.
Borges’ second outing, Diamonds in the Dark, was released on indie label Sugar Hill in 2007, yet another deal garnered on the merits of a South by Southwest performance. With Kolderie once again at the production helm and her touring bandthe Broken Singlesjumping back into the fray, the resulting album again earned Borges a wide array of critical acclaim.
It was around this time that Borges began to resurrect those rock n roll roots you hear on Radio Sweetheartfirst in her live show, which more often than not found her straddling her guitar atop a table or surrounded by half the audience on stage, and then on her following album, The Stars Are Out, which was released in 2009 on Sugar Hill. While retaining the honesty of songwriting and sense of tradition that permeated her earlier releases, Borges bid adieu to the confines of Americana with free-spirited abandon and an almost punk-influenced grit and growl, a six-string salute from a woman who continues to defy classification and push musical boundaries at every turn.