Curtis Mayfield – Super Fly – (final of 2)

“The best gig was working with Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. He was a really good guitarist!…… I learned quite a lot in that short time. He probably influenced me more than anyone I’d ever played with up to that time, that sweet sound of his, you know.” – Jimi Hendrix

In 1970, Mayfield released his first solo album, Curtis. This album predated Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On by at least a year. Filled with socially conscious lyrics about race relations, the song “Move On Up” is clearly talking to African-Americans. And besides that, it is just a funky good party tune. Curtis liked to have it both ways.

This is the long version with some nice sax work. This is my favorite Curtis Mayfield tune. I couldn’t possibly love it more and I could listen to it all day:

Spotify link

That album was a hit and a half with other tunes like “If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go,” and “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue.” (CB’s favorite.)

Now, you need to know that in the early ’70’s – a very creative, very fervent time for filmmaking – a genre that came to be known as blaxploitation movies became popular.

This was somewhat of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it fed into black stereotypes; on the other it allowed black actors to play something other than slaves or maids. (See Spike Lee’s Bamboozled for an eye-opening excursion on how Hollywood routinely shit on black people.)

In 1972, Gordon Parks Sr., the director of the movie Shaft (which had its own great theme song), co-financed a movie called Super Fly about a cocaine dealer named Youngblood Priest. (One of the greatest names in the history of movies, right up there with Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin.) Needing a soundtrack, they turned to Curtis. But the movie was full of drugs and violence and other shit that Mayfield had no patience for.

According to Mayfield’s website, “they needed the right music on the soundtrack. At this time there was a not-exactly-unspoken question in Hollywood, “Can African Americans write film music?” Well, yes you fucking shitheads, it turns out they can. But Curtis decided to subvert the glamorization of the bad-ass culture by use of his lyrics.

The album was a massive hit and you couldn’t switch on the radio without hearing “Freddie’s Dead” or “Superfly.”

Hard to understand
What a hell of a man
This cat of the slum
Had a mind, wasn’t dumb
But a weakness was shown
‘Cause his hustle was wrong
His mind was his own
But the man lived alone

Spotify link

Oh, I do like “Pusherman” from the same album:

I’m your mama, I’m your daddy
I’m that nigga in the alley
I’m your doctor, when in need
Want some coke, have some weed
You know me, I’m your friend
Your main boy, thick and thin
I’m your pusherman
I’m your pusherman

Spotify link

A fellow blogger once clued me in to the album Curtis/Live! If it was one of you, shout it out ‘coz I just can’t remember. This album was recorded at Greenwich Village’s Bitter End in 1971. Wish I’d been there.

Here’s”(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go.”

Spotify link

Curtis continued touring and putting out albums throughout the Eighties even working once with Aretha Franklin on another soundtrack. He managed to get himself roped into doing a cameo during the finale of perhaps the worst movie in the history of the universe, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.*

While Curtis continued to send albums up the charts, he never had another crossover album like Super Fly. By 1980 Mayfield had moved, with his family of six children from Chicago to Atlanta, “effectively bringing the Chicago Soul era to a close.”

His career became that of writer/producer for himself and other artists. He toured the U.S., Japan and Europe, especially Britain. Mayfield even revisited Super Fly with Super Fly 1990, new songs and collaboration between Mayfield and Ice T. The rappers were finding Mayfield a major influence. (That song was from a 1990 movie called The Return of Superfly. There was a remake of the original movie released this year to not much acclaim.)

And then tragedy struck. In August of 1990, just two days after the release of the Return of Superfly album – with nasty weather threatening – Curtis was playing an outdoor show in Brooklyn, NY.

The Senator who put the show on did not want to cancel as thousands had already poured in to the park. He decided to put Curtis and his band, Ice-9 on early, reasoning that they could get off at least one number.

Ice-9 was already playing when Curtis was introduced and started walking out on stage with his guitar strapped on. But a huge gust of wind came up, knocking people out of the first two rows (“like toy dolls”) and sending huge speakers and stage lights crashing to the ground. One of those stage lights hit Mayfield square in the back of the neck.

According to his son’s book,”The ambulance rushed him to Kings County Hospital. In the only stroke of luck that day, the hospital stood right next to the field. Paramedics saved his life, but not his body. After stabilizing him in traction, doctors told him the brutal truth — the stage light had crushed several vertebrae. Paralyzed from the neck down, he would never walk, let alone play guitar, again. He was forty-eight years old.”

Needless to say, life became incredibly difficult but per his son, he cried but never succumbed to self-pity. Wheelchair-bound, it was four years until he sang again in public. When he recorded, he did so lying flat on his back singing line-by-line because singing requires breath control and he had it in limited fashion.

His final album, released in 1996, was called New World Order. This song is called “Here But I’m Gone” and despite his disabilities, his soulfulness comes through loud and clear.

Spotify link

On December 26, 1999, at the age of 57, Curtis Mayfield died from complications of type 2 diabetes.

Curtis Mayfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice – as a member of the Impressions and as a solo artist. In 1999, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame just prior to his death. He was a winner of the prestigious Grammy Legend Award in 1994. He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.

The Impressions’ 1965 hit song “People Get Ready,” has been chosen as one of the Top 10 Best Songs Of All Time by a panel of 20 top industry songwriters and producers, including Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Hal David, and others, as reported to Britain’s Mojo music magazine.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Curtis Mayfield web site

*Apparently, they had a whole bunch of people who were stars at the time sing a dog-doo version of the Sgt. Pepper reprise. The only thing I can find is this still picture with music. Everyone involved in this travesty should immediately hang their heads in shame.

But you gotta listen to the song. It sounds exactly like what would happen if you put together the Carpenters, Up With People, Donny and Marie Osmond and a bunch of jingle singers who had just come from a session singing about dish detergent and were unable to discern the difference.

Warning – this is the biggest piece of shit I ever heard in my life and has been known to induce vomiting so don’t eat before listening.

 

 

18 thoughts on “Curtis Mayfield – Super Fly – (final of 2)

  1. Thanks for the nicely written history lesson. Mayfield is one of many artists that I have heard and know some of his music but didn’t really know his history.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, and I took you up on your offer (if you can call it that) to listen to the Sgt Peppers song – you’re right I am glad I have not had breakfast yet. Should go down as the most embarrassing moment for many of these artists.

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  3. Not to many people (not just musicians) stir up my emotions like Curtis. Great piece Doc. I loved the guy. Just listening to the extended version of ‘Move On Up’ and yeah I’m with you. You can carry that tune around all day in your head. You remembered the ‘Darker Than Blue’ reference. I’l still get choked when I hear about his accident. Like a lot of other musicians I listen to he just keeps sounding better. And I left him off my ‘Desert Island Discs’ Shame on me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And it’s a shame that you don’t hear as much of his style of music in new artists today. Or maybe you do and I just don’t know where to look. Yeah, a damn shame on that accident. A minute earlier or later he woulda been fine.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I was back in the day as ‘they’ say and in the present a big fan of Curtis Mayfield. I really liked his subversive lyrics which turn the stereotypes in the film Superfly back on the establishment. The Black stereotypes in the film sat uneasily with me as a (Black British) teenager. I didn’t fully understand what Curtis Mayfield was doing with the lyrics at the time but I knew he was doing something. You could argue that I was precocious, in my defence my parents educated me to believe that there was more and better to aspire to than a street life culture, this combined with a voracious appetite for Black American and Caribbean history and sociology helped me to believe that “I could be somebody” to paraphrase the Fred Wesley and The J B’s. I was also fuelled by Black American artists, musicians and lyricists including and Curtis Mayfield. I’ve really enjoyed reading these articles. I’ll be featuring the music of Curtis Mayfield in a future episode of The Happening.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m with you on “Move On Up,” which is my favorite Mayfield tune as well. The groove, his falsetto vocals – it’s just a very seductive tune. I also like the Super Fly stuff.

    Mayfield was such a great artist. It’s crazy that a freak accident pushed his health into a downward spiral that essentially ended his career and eventually took his life at a relatively young age.

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  6. I love soul music, but my record collection is shamefully low on it. I remember Mayfield from his appearances on Don Cornelius’s “Soul Train,” and “Super Fly.” I never knew about his tragic accident.

    Never saw the Sgt. Pepper movie, but I heard horror stories about it, so I stayed away!

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    1. I was totally remiss in not adding in a Mayfield Spotify list. Can’t do now as I’m on the road for a week. But if you’re so inclined you can find a playlist or two up there.

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  7. Some terrific stuff there. I particularly liked Move On Up, Pusherman and Here But I’m Gone. And the cast list on the Sgt. Pepper reprise makes for fascinating reading. You wouldn’t get that bunch together very often!

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