THE BLOG
01/02/2012 08:52 am ET Updated Mar 03, 2012

The Lost Audience: Thoughts On Nostalgia

Many of your comments to the first edition of "The Lost Audience" had to do with the pros and cons of musical nostalgia. While I'm not one to confuse nostalgia with neuralgia, musical growth is important to me - I want to hear new stuff that challenges and delights. So, that brings up a question: If you missed it the first time around, is it nostalgic?

One of my Saturday favorites is a shot of nostalgia for music I often didn't catch the first time around. On the Rhythm Revue, Felix Hernandez plays old Parliaments b-sides and songs that reached the high numbers of the R&B/Soul charts, obscurities and rarities, funky hits and even funkier ought-to-have-been hits.

While I'm not nearly as fond of some of the vocal groups as he is, he plays enough funk, hard core soul, and even the odd reggae and African record to keep my interest and challenge any claims of expertise I might have had in this music. In New York City and environs you can get it over the air at WBGO, 88.3 FM. If you don't have the pain and pleasure of living here, you can get them on-line at WBGO.org. The show airs (and digitizes) between 10 AM and 2 PM EDT.

One of the artists that Hernandez is apt to play is Etta James, and he moves well beyond "At Last." It truly grieves me to report that Etta, one of the greats of blues, jazz and early rock and roll, is terminally ill. I had the good fortune to talk with her a number of years ago, and her stories of the early days of Chess Records were, by turns, horrifying and hysterical. For example:

I got stranded in Chicago and Leonard Chess found me, picked me up and put me on his label... I stayed there in a private hotel where you could cook. Other entertainers were there, like Curtis Mayfield ... I was the one who had the kitchen. We used to put all our money together to eat. I remember us putting together and not having much, just enough to get some corn meal. And I learned that whenever you get hungry -- I've told my kids this -- if you've got enough money, you get some yellow corn meal and you get some sugar. You can always get some sugar somewhere, even if you have to walk into a McDonalds someplace, and steal some of the sugar. Take sugar and cornmeal and fry it. Boy, is that good ... I remember we ate that for two days.

Then there was the day that Leonard taught her what red ink meant on a ledger.

He lifted this check up to me and it was for ninety some thousand dollars, and it was made out to Chuck Berry and Allan Freed. I knew who Allan Freed was then. He was the Moondog. People were saying,`You should get Chess Records as your recording company and Allan Freed as your manager. Boy, you'd be really cooking.'

I looked at this check, and the check was for them, and I said,`What is that?' I was about to faint, there were so many zeros there. It was for $96,000 or something like that. And he said, `This is just for six months payment for "Maybelline." ... This is what our artists make.'
So, it was about a year later, when it would be time for me to receive some royalties, I went down there.

So I was looking at a statement. But being young, and not caring about that kind of stuff, the only thing I used to do... is read the tops of statement, and then go straight down to where the money is.... What does the bottom say my check's going to be? And I go down and I looked and I saw that it was written in red. And I said, `$14,000! Alright!' And Leonard said, `Hold it, hold it. Don't get all bent out of shape.' And I was kind of confused, like what is he saying that for? And he says, `Look Etta, don't worry about what that says. What do you need?' Now, I'm really confused. `Here's what I need, in big red numbers.'

'You don't have this coming,' he said. `You owe me this. Just tell me what you need.'
That's when I bought my house. It's the same house I live in now.

However you want to send good feelings, send some out to Miss Peaches.