Rock, Voodoo, history, magic

You have seven days to help kick-start local youth music with Harley White Jr. and his jazz-meets-orchestra project Louis and the Gator

Harley White Jr. takes over the porch during a recent magic hour. Show him some magic and kick-start his youth-music endeavor this week at <a href="http://www.kickstarter.com/">www.kickstarter.com</a>.

Harley White Jr. takes over the porch during a recent magic hour. Show him some magic and kick-start his youth-music endeavor this week at www.kickstarter.com.

Photo By STEVEN CHEA

Catch Harley White Jr. every Thursday at the Torch Club, 904 15th Street; and every first and third Fridays at the Shady Lady Saloon, 1409 R Street.
This is the last week to donate to Harley White Jr.’s Louis and the Gator at www.kickstarter.com/projects/1563131224/louis-and-the-gator-prokofiev-meets-armstrong.

So, why should you donate to Harley White Jr.’s Kickstarter campaign and help him reinvent composer Sergei Prokofiev’s kid-friendly, 1938 orchestra Peter and the Wolf as a jazz-inspired, Louis Armstrong-led Louis and the Gator?

Perhaps it’s as simple as teaching kids, or everybody, about America’s musical roots. And making sure that we’re all on the same page when it comes to the uniquely American art form called rock ’n’ roll.

Interestingly, it was a misunderstanding with White that lead to me learning more about his passion for music history and education. The local scene staple often jokes about these hiccupy experiences with Sacramento press. White has appeared in print many times over the years, decades, but he says that, more often than not, writers highlight his more bombastic quotations. Such as bad-mouthing the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee. Or local bands. Or whoever.

I too, as a journalist, was not immune to such wordsmithing. White’s lines—never unwieldy and always pointed, incisive—are often irresistibly quotable. A case in point: When we spoke last week on the phone, he rattled-off myriad gems, including: “I see it in so many bands now. They’re so self-important, they don’t know what the fuck they’re supposed to be doing.”

What’s missing from this quotation is the meat: Or, his view that so many bands these days, with their passive rock ’n’ roll, belie the very traditions and roots of the American art form.

Anyway, it was this journalistic penchant for flash-and-flair that led White to email me an essay by Michael Ventura this past March. The piece, titled “Hear That Long Snake Moan,” came with a note:

“This is what I’m about.”

But, like any email I get from local musicias, I ignored it for a month or so, that is until White’s follow up: “Did you get my email?” And another month later: “Did you read that essay?”

Well, it’s November and—seven months later—I’ve finished Ventura’s treatise on the cultural ingredients that went into making rock ’n’ roll. The essay is a chapter from Ventura’s book Shadow Dancing in the USA and uses the etymology of such terms as “rock ’n’ roll” and “jazz” as a point of departure to explore American music’s roots in the practice of Voodoo.

That’s right: Elvis, Little Richard and Buddy Holly were born of West Africa, Voodoo dance, losing control or— as Ventura puts it—the body becoming a crossroads where “human and divine are united within.”

“And it can happen to anyone,” the writer adds, just like how rock ’n’ roll can overtake a listener, an audience member, a headphone rocker, a mosh-pitter.

This makes sense. As Ventura notes, by the late 1920s in the South, “rock ’n’ roll” the term meant “to fuck.” It had nothing to do with music then, it was just orgasmic, agitated. And so, when it eventually was integrated into a sonic oeuvre some decades later, along with the power of the African drum, it spurred such things as unpredictable dance-floor “boogie,” meaning “devilishly good” when traced to its Republic of Congo roots.

As Ventura wrote: “The music was nurtured and grew from Voodoo, but as soon as it was itself and no longer strictly African it kept Voodoo’s metaphysics wordless within it and jettisoned the trappings. The overt practice of Voodoo faded at the very moment the music was born.”

Essentially, people freaking out to Elvis and the Beatles, dancing and flailing and rocking about, goes back to 19th century Congo Square and the power of taboo, forbidden-in-the-Western world Voodoo dance.

And it’s a history that White says modern rock and pop artists have lost.

Or, as he puts it, bands “need to stop shoegazing to rock ’n’ roll, and put some sex back in it.”

But what does this all have to do with Kickstarter, Louis Armstrong and teaching kids how to play music?

“We should understand the past to understand the future,” White plainly states. This is fair, if obvious, but he also points out that teaching kids about the sounds of early 19th century New Orleans via using a popular children’s music-education tool, Peter and the Wolf, will bring a renewed beat and passion, the voodoo rhythm of American music roots, back to the airwaves, iPods and stereo systems. Hopefully.

“Every time has its beat and its pulse,” White reminds, “but you have to take some time to share your art form with the rest of the people. It’s that simple.”

Kickstarter has a feature where you can search only Sacramento-based fundraising projects, of which there were 16 when this story went to print, including five separate music-related projects. Local ax-wielders Rock the Light are inches away from its goal of raising $1,600 with but a day to go. Arena-rocker hopefuls Motograter want a whopping $45,000 to go on tour; so far, it has netted nearly $3,500 with 39 days to go. Unknown aspiring pop artists Yami took Sacramentans for a cool $655, and counting, to put out her debut record. The band 2 or 3 Guys want just $500 to go record.

And, of course, Harley White Jr. has but one last week to meet his $9,000 goal. And he’ll be working Facebook, Twitter and even the phones to hit that mark. “I’ve still got a Rolodex, man, straight up calling people,” he told SN&R last week, laughing. “You got to tell your story, you’ve got to cry.”