[Today: Down in the street…]
By the early 70s, the hopes raised by the Civil Rights movement had congealed into a grim understanding that if the laws had changed, the economic and social reality for blacks was about the same as it ever was. This understanding was reflected in the music of Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and George Clinton’s band Funkadelic. Like Funkadelic, Black Nasty was a Detroit-based funk group that featured rock-styled guitar and soulful organ. They’ve been billed as the heaviest band on Stax Records, but their lone album, 1973’s Talking To The People, is several measures more soulful than any of Funkadelic’s early stuff.
Sly Stone sang about a family affair, but Black Nasty actually was a family affair. R&B singer and producer Johnnie Mae Matthews was known as the ‘Godmother Of Detroit Soul’ because she was the first African-American female to own and operate her own label, and helped influence the careers of many legendary soul artists, including David Ruffin and Betty LaVette. With her encouragement and professional support, her son, Artwell ‘Art’ Matthews, and his first cousin Mark Patterson became the drum and bass backbone of several well-named bands. Their first group was a rock-oriented outfit called Raw Integrated Funk that featured a young Ted Nugent on guitar. Raw Integrated Funk would go through several lineup changes before becoming Black Nasty, which had Jackie Cosper on guitar, Audrey (sister of Art) Matthews and Terry Ellis trading lead vocals, and Thomas Carter on keyboards.
Like the artists mentioned above, Black Nasty made music that reflected the soul-weariness of the early 70s. The super-funky, album opening title-track is nothing less than a primer on how to separate the real soul brothers from the whack attack: “He that knows and know he knows, follow him/He that don’t know but want to know, lend him a hand/He that don’t know but think he knows, look out/He that don’t know but don’t want to know, look out.” The song also touches on drug abuse and is an unlikely marriage of black militancy and get-to-know-your-neighbor esprit. ‘Nasty Soul’ has enough mouth-popping, heavy-breathing, nasty ass vocalizing to make it sound like a clone of Dr. Funkenstein, while ‘Black Nasty Boogie’ features uptempo boogie-woogie-style piano and the invitation to “Shake, shake your jelly.”
But if Talking To The People is funky and silly in places, it also carries some emotional weight. In 1973, America was mired in a hopeless war, bogged down by political scandal, and hampered by inflation. The ghettos in many cities had been burned out by the turmoil of the late-60s, and like the psyche of Black America, were still scarred and in need of repair. Bands like Black Nasty said it’s okay to get down, as long as you know what’s up…
Listen: Talking To The People
Listen: Nasty Soul
Listen: Getting Funky Round Here