J: Hello and welcome to Riffs on Riffs. I’m Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell. What’s up, Toby?
T: Enjoying life and still feeling the high of being back in the booth with you and talking Riffs on Riffs and music.
J: Man, tell me about it. It’s definitely a relief to be back recording live and not just memorex. Which is a reference only folks of a certain age will even understand. Anyway, I’m just happy that we get to discuss music. As we mentioned in our last episode, this season things will be a bit different. This episode is part two of a four-part miniseries about the band 24 Carat Black and their musical legacy.
T: So our listeners might be asking themselves, why are we focusing on a group from the 70’s for 4 episodes? I swear to POD that Riffs on RIffs is all about transparency. I’m here to give you reasons. Digable, Planets, Eric B and Rakim, RZA, Kendrick… these are all artists that have sampled 24 Carat Black’s work. In the words of Lil Kim- shall I proceed?
Joe: Yes Indeed- who else sampled 24 Carat Black?
T: Busta Rhymes, Kanye West and Jay Z,
Joe: That’s quite a list. There’s an old saying, and I’ll update it for today’s sensibilities: “Behind every great person is a … well…. a great person. And the genius behind the people that comprised 24CB is a man by the name of Dale Warren.
T: Dale was a fantastic talent and a complicated personality. In the first episode we discussed the band originally known as The Ditalians that would became 24 Carat Black, as well as author Zach Schonfeld and what inspired him to write his book Ghetto: Misfortunes Wealth.
J: For this episode we want to dig in a bit on Dale Warren’s dream, see what a day in the life of the band was like, and revisit the second coming 24 Carat Black. But before we get into all of that, let’s start at the beginning. It was all a dream.
T: Of Biggie proportions right? This story sounds Juicy!
J: Yessir. I know you’re just playin. The dream we are referring to is that of Dale Warren.
T: Let’s be clear. Creatives have a lot of dreams, high hopes and aspirations, but it takes a special type of person to communicate that dream to others so that they can feel it and get on the bandwagon to make that dream a reality. 24 Carat Black vocalist Niambi Steele spoke about how Dale sold her on his dream for 24 Carat Black.
The dream was to create this vision of Mr. Warren's, where the music was a revolution. I can, Ican, you know, he was very passionate and I dunno if you've ever just sat and listened to, youknow, that album, but those, those lyrics in that sense, I was, Iwas a welfare mother. So, youknow, all of that really meant something stamps. I, I, I sold my food stamps to get there.
So I identified with this movement and he was like, you just don't know, 24 cab black is going to be around for your children's children's children. Those that is an exact quote. And,you know, my kids were babies. So it was like, my children's children's children.
Joe: biggie dreams indeed- Your childrens children’s children? That’s something akin to what my man Andre Benjamin said… forever? Forever ever? Forever ever?
T: It certinaly sounds like something you hear about in Vacation Bible School. Who could blame Niambi for thinking that this was her big shot to stardom? Given her situation in life, this was a huge step toward realizing her dream to be in the business and becoming a star.
J: Niambi uprooted her entire life to chase that dream. As she says in her own words, she was hooked.
And so I had like a certain time to go back home and give up my project apartment, which I did. I gave him my project apartment. I, I gave a lot of my things to a couple of my friends and I had to tell my mom and she was like, what are you talking about? You got kids. I'm like, yeah, but I'm gonna, I'm gonna make, I'm gonna make it. You know, I got this chance who are these people? And it's like, they're from Stax records, you know? So I'm just trying to tell people, they're like, you live in town, are you serious? Yeah, I'm leaving because you know, they gave me the music and they gave me the album and they gave me the story, you know, after, after he told me that I was in, then they sat me down and told me all about 24 care of black and what the dream was. And I got, I got hooked on the dream.
J: You think it’s better to be hooked on a dream or hooked on a feeling?
T: Good question. I think it’s better to be hooked on a dream. With a dream you make plans. Those plans can lead to taking strategic action which can lead to success. It’s not guaranteed but it’s what we creatives like to call a calculated risk.
J: So you’re saying being hooked on a feeling can be more impulsive. A bit riskier?
T: Exactly. Being hooked on a feeling can be fleeting at times. You can make decisions based on feelings based on a song you heard or a meal you just ate. I’d hate to make a decision that has lifelong repercussions based on the fact that I ate something that caused flatulation.
J: So maybe don’t make big life decisions after eating Dietary Onions? And here I was about to tout a new slogan, “When life gives you baked beans, propel yourself forward.”
T: Of course I'm joking, but I think you get my point. In my opinion, being hooked on a feeling is like being married after one good date. Being hooked on a dream is like being married after several years of courtship. The ups and the downs. Just my opinion of course. How do you feel about that?
J: Honestly, I was just hoping for a BJ Thomas or Blue Swede reference, or maybe some “ooga chukas”. But I’m always down for philosophical musings. I would say they work in tandem. Getting hooked on the feeling leads to getting hooked on the dream. If you’re really lucky, it becomes a wonderful, self-feeding loop. The feelings actualize into the dream which leads to more feelings and then one day you wake up and realize, “I’m living the dream, and it feels good.”
Regardless, we know that sacrifices were made for the dream to come to fruition. One that comes to mind is time spent practicing. On our last episode we talked about how much control Dale Warren exerted on the group. Both vocalists Princess Hearn and Niambi Steele stated Warren controlled practices as if it was a military exercise.
T: For the sake of a different perspective, let’s hear from Jerome Derrickson, who was a musician in the horn section of the group.
Yeah. Can we talk a little bit about the music? So was it all Dale stuff and you were just told to play things, or did you have any creative license?
Well, we, we all had input, but they'll basically put the foundation down. You know, he gave us the foundation and everybody just kind of collaborated on it. You know, we, the horn players, we collaborate, collaborated on horn parts, the rhythm section, they did the exact same, but they'll basically gave us the foundation or the platform to build on
For some of those instrumental tracks. Did you have room to improv and kind of go with it?
Not that much. No, those are not that much funky tracks. We just kept the tracks just pretty straightforward. There were a few sax solos, but other than that, it was just pretty much straightforward. If you listen to the album, you don't hear too many solos that the musicians did like keyboards, solos or anything like that, you know, he just kept it straight.
T: The reason I think it’s so important to bring in another voice and one of a non vocalist is so you can get a consensus of what the vibe was like working with Dale. The consensus was Dale was tough. He had the vision and he didn’t want anyone veering left or right from his vision of what the music should sound like. This was his baby.
J: And just like all proud parents, He wanted to see his baby prosper and grow. But sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want them to.
T: Reminds me of how many times I changed my major in college. What initially started off as a quest to be a physician ended up becoming a bachelor's degree in criminology. Don’t even get me started on all the different majors in between.
J: I like to think that means you are multidimensional with a wide range of talents and interests. Nobody puts baby in a corner. And nobody puts Toby in a box.
T: You’re one to talk my friend. So let me ask you a question, you’ve written songs before and I know our producer Noah has as well. Are you the type to think of a musical idea and then after creating it just pitch it if it’s not what you envisioned it to be or are you the packrat type of creative that keeps everything thinking that there might be something to use later?
J: Why yes. Yes I am.
T: That’s not an answer. I literally asked you which type you are – the “Mission Impossible” self destruct type, or the packrat type. You have to pick a lane.
J: That’s the problem. I’m like Donnie and Marie combined all at the same time.
T: Oh, I see we are going with some more dated references that only folks of a certain age will know. So you’re a little bit country AND a little bit rock ‘n’ roll?
J: Exactly. First off, anyone who knows me will roll their eyes at how indecisive I can be. It’s maddening. But there are plenty of times where I know exactly what I want or think should happen and act quite decisively. With music that I’ve created, I’ll save it for a while. It’s easy to keep things in this digital age. But after it sits for a bit, I’ll reopen it and give it a spin. If it doesn’t grab me — which is a nice way of saying “if it sucks” — I’ll pitch it without a second thought. In part because I don’t want anyone finding my old, unreleased tracks and subjecting unsuspecting souls to their awfulness. Though I haven’t quite gone the Anderson Paak route…
T: No tattoo for you? It’s a cool idea. He has a tattoo on his arm that reads, “When I’m gone please don’t release any posthumous albums or songs with my name attached. Those were just demos and never intended to be heard by the public.” I can’t imagine being the coroner for that one. Like, are you suddenly responsible for making sure that his demos stay locked down? Who has final authority on that?
J: It’s a bit more involved than seeing if someone is an organ donor. You’re on the hook for a while! Anyway, like we mentioned earlier, songs and other types of creative projects can be similar to raising children. You just do the best you can, not knowing how things are going to turn out in the end. And in both cases, if they go out into the world and bring joy to people, you’ve done your job.
T: Back to what we were talking about a minute ago — I will say that I’m glad that as we head into our phase of elder statesmen we are both embracing these multifaceted parts as a blessing.
J: Multifaceted is also a good way to describe the Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth album. Unfortunately, due to exorbitant licensing fees and legal rigamarole, we can’t play any of the album on this podcast. Oh the irony. You can listen to the lifted samples on a plethora of tracks from a veritable who’s who of hip hop royalty, but we can’t play a 3 second snippet for our listeners to enjoy.
T: Thankfully, the entire album is available on all streaming platforms, and we will also add it to our Spotify playlists, just do a search for Riffs on Riffs. But since you and I have listened to the album a ton, besides “multifaceted”, how else would you describe Ghetto: MIsfortune’s Wealth?
J: I think it’s mission accomplished for Dale and 24 Carat Black. He set out to tell the story of the ghetto, and it succeeds in painting a very vivid picture. It’s intense, it’s thought provoking, it’s spacious, and in some places it’s joyous. You have the slow, building burn of songs like “Mother’s Day” — where Princesses’ vocals literally give me chills. There’s the ironically upbeat, staccato funk of instrumental tracks like “Foodstamps” and “Brown-Baggin’”. The gut-wrenching angst of “Poverty’s Paradise” — it runs the gamut. But all of it lays on this foundation of power. It’s calling attention to the reality of the ghetto, with all of the sadness and inequality that encompasses. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence the album ends with the powerful instrumental “24-Carat Black (Theme)”. This is an album that asks the hard questions and looks you sternly in the eye, waiting for the answer. What are some of your thoughts?
T: I totally agree with you. Back in the day, someone told me the difference between a job and a profession is that a job oftentimes doesn’t make a significant impact on society whereas a profession calls for specialized training that might even require a certification or license. lIstening to this album illustrated the creative license that Warren has and his willingness to flex his musical prowess and ask those hard questions you mentioned.
J: For many reasons that we’ll get into, the album never achieved commercial success. We asked Princess her thoughts on why that is, and here’s what she had to say:
… Now the world is ready for this album because it was really before its time, the concept of the album, it was before its time. But ironically, it just seems like it's right on time now with the day and times that we're living in
T: I think Princess’ point was valid. Both in that this album could be looked at as being ahead of its time and that the same problems that faced the world back then seem to be greatest hits of some of the things that plague society today. In our interview, you asked band member Jerome Derrickson about the album’s lack of success and teed up the idea of song length. Let’s revisit that interview and get Jerome’s response:
So I asked princess this, I think, do you think if, cause you mentioned what's going on, right? That Mara gay album, which definitely, you know, social commentary concept album, but he still made singles out of, you know, he took those songs, like what's going on and said, I'm going to release this in a radio friendly format. You look at ghettos, misfortunes wealth and the songs are, you know, eight minutes long, 12 minutes long. Do you think if there had been condensed versions of some of those tracks that you guys might've had a little more traction?
No, I think we, I think if we had, if, if we had the company behind us or some money behind us, we would have got a lot more traction. Okay.
I don't think it was the songs. It wasn't the content. It wasn't you were before your time.
Yeah, we didn't, we, we didn't have proper marketing to launch the launch, the project, you know, I mean, Dale they'll launch that project out of his pocket with the hopes of getting the backing of Stax records after the record launched and kind of, you know, took off a little bit. But unfortunately Stax was going through some things that we were not aware of management was not aware of. And Dale didn't share with the management team until, you know, down toward the end and he was using his personal money. So, you know, it only went so far.
T: If he was using his money to fund the project, no one can say that he didn’t believe in it. What’s interesting is the difference in opinion between Jerome and Princess. I wanted to focus on the one made by Princess. Was this project ahead of its time?
J: That’s a great question. I know you did some research on the origins of the first “concept” album, and of course there’s some debate. But it appears that Woody Guthrie’s 1940 release “Dust Bowl Ballads” or Frank Sinatra’s 1946 album “The Voice of Frank Sinatra” .
T; Other popular concept albums include Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles released in 1967 and David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” from 1972.
J: And you can’t forget the 1968 Kinks album, “The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society”. I’m just glad it wasn’t the Soylent Green Preservation Society. Cause soylent green is people, Toby. It’s people. And you shouldn’t eat people.
T: Always looking to provide public service announcements here on Riffs. And remember, only you can prevent forest fires.
Listen man, can you imagine trying to put some of these titles on a shirt? It’s a good thing that bands can put lettering on their sleeves. And another thing… Some of these album titles should have been included in our discussion of the worst band names EVER. Granted that these aren’t the titles of bands, but some of these titles are just that bad and take your mind on a trip.
J: It’s also pretty clear that some of these artists were tripping when making these albums. Before we move on with our conversation I did want to pose a question in regards to something the Jerome spoke to. The marketing.
T: Yeah I’ve been thinking about that and if we’re saying that maybe with marketing, it might have bee more successful. It got me thinking about how I would market this album using today’s technology.
J: That’s an interesting line of thinking. What did you come up with?
T: Obviously, we’d use the power of the social webs. The linkedIns,
T: The Youtube
T: The Facebook!
J: Ok, bringing in a little multiverse, I like it.
T: and the power of Twitter!
J: Right, I get it. And the tiktoks and the tic tacs and the skittles. But what else are you bringing to the table to make this album a smash success?
T: Since it’s a concept album, I would propose that we chat with Lin Manuel Miranda to bring this concept album to life on stage.
J: Ooooh I didn’t see that coming. He is certainly a man with the golden pen and voice and heck, I’m pretty sure his entire brain is gilded in gold filigree. But there’s a big problem with this.
T: What? Why? Who better to breathe life into this to help it become a household name?
J: “We don’t talk about Lin Manuel no no no no…” But if we were able to get the Miranda rights — see what I did there?— who knows How Far We’ll Go? And if you didn’t throw away your shot, all I can say is You’re Welcome! So yeah, having his name associated with your album would certainly allow your project to travel anywhere around the globe. Speaking of which, I understand that you’ve been doing some traveling as of late. How do you like to travel?
T: I have been to San Diego, Dallas, and Houston all within a month’s time and let me tell you one thing, first class is worth the price of the ticket. Especially if you’re tall like us. Having room to stretch out and be comfortable is a must!!
J:Oh wow. Some might consider you a little bougie, but I totally understand taking measures to ensure comfort. To be clear, ensuring the comfort of one person is certainly different than providing comfortable transportation for a band of teenagers. And they are typically less demanding than you, my nothing-but-class, traveling first class compadre.
T: Truer words have never been spoken my friend.
J: Let's discuss 24 CB and their adventures on the road. Here’s Jerome talking about that experience:
And connotation to it, well, yeah, yeah. I mean, well, again, we were young, we didn't know. So we kind of, we kinda made, made it as we went along. I mean, we, there was not a lot of money. I mean, we did a few shows, but the shows that we did didn't pay a lot of money, you know, because we were a brand new group. Nobody knew, knew of the group. Dale was basically taking us places and we didn't go that we, we did some things in Alabama and Alabama, Kentucky back Ohio and Michigan. And most of it was off the strip of the people that Dale Newton new, you know? So it, so the group really didn't have a following at that time. Cause we were, we were, we were a local band that was not known nowhere, but Cincinnati.
It seems like a lot of the stories that we've heard have been, it was one day you'd be at a fancy place and things would be great. And then the other day you'd be getting hot dogs, you know, from a street vendor kind of thing. Was it, was it kind of the ups and downs on the road or what, or do you see it differently?
No, I don't. I don't remember the fancy place that I don't remember. It was, it was, it was, well, again, we were kids. So mind you, we, we, we didn't know the good life of musicians, you know, because we were kids, we were just starting out. All we knew is that we wanted to play. We wanted to go and travel around the country and play concerts, you know, from going to see James Brown and some of the other big acts that came through Cincinnati, we wanted to emulate that, emulate that. But we, we did not know how to get there. We were hoping Dale was going to take us there. And again, he was using a lot of his personal money, so we weren't exposed. We didn't have the luxury of a lot of things on the road. I mean, we traveled, we traveled in a U haul truck. You know, when we did go on the road, the everybody kind of climbed in the back of the truck and you know, we took turns driving the truck and everybody goes in the back of the truck with the equipment going down the road to what did it go into the mix?
T: Can you imagine traveling in the back of a Uhaul truck for hours? Especially after just playing a gig? You don’t even have to know the exact ages of everyone involved to know that they were just kids when all of this went down. I think I was in my 30’s when my back told me I couldn’t sleep on couches any more.
J: I’m surprised it took your back that long my friend. Have I ever told you my UHaul story…? (note: I’ll tell the story, we can cut if necessary) Needless to say, driving around in the back of Uhaul was fraught with all kinds of peril, as you might imagine. Here’s what Niambi had to say about that:
Well, let's see. We have a lot of those. How about when we let's see? Okay. I'll start from bed bad to good. So at one point we were traveling and we had a bunch of cars. So we were like a convoy. And then somehow I can't remember why. Then all of us ended up in the back of a huge uhaul with the smoke, with the exhaust coming in and the, and the bag, the roll-up door we had to hold it open.
I hear that's really good for your vocal chords.
It makes you forget you have vocal chords.
T: As you might imagine, when you throw a bunch of young people together for an extended period of time, living, eating and performing together, some fraternization was bound to happen. And it sounds like there were some interesting pairings that came out of that. Here’s Niambi again:
Well, it was a joke because the whole thing, the whole thing, when we have band meetings was like, there's no fraternization in this band. Yeah. Everybody has somebody. Okay. Right. So let's head to three focus, you know, because you know, once Mr. Warren disappeared into his room, we didn't have to worry about him. Princess was taken care of all that. And you know, we went out basically. Yeah. We even had a couple of girls that we started playing in Alabama and they were lady wrestlers and they, yeah. They decided they liked the bass player and the guitar player. They liked John Walls and Ray for Griffin. So they liked him and they followed us all on Alabama.
Yeah. Because not only do you have groupies now, but you have security. You kind of two for one there.
T: And here’s how Princess summed it all up:
… Yeah. That was, you know, that was back in an era. I think we're what was it, everybody was trying to be free with hippies and you know, it was about love and being free and getting naked and smoking. Yeah. I, we really, we do it. We toured and we drove from California back to Cincinnati, but it was like an adventure, you know, we weren't in a hurry, we was on it, a little full swing camp camper. We just took our time and drove through the Oasis and just, it was awesome. It was an awesome experience. I'm not going to knock my experience that I had with Dale, even though it turned out to be a R Kelly situation. As I look back, I was just one of many, and I guess everybody played a part, you know, in his, in his tapestry.
T: I must say I will never look at the word tapestry the same way ever again. When I hear tapestry, I’m going to be thinking of things along the lines of when Jada says entanglements. You gotta love transparency. I’m just saying.
J: That’s one thing we haven’t talked much about. The fact that Dale and Princess ended up getting married, and there’s some question as to whether Princess was even 18 at the time. Regardless, Dale was over a decade older, and they certainly had a tumultuous relationship.
T: In our interviews, Princess talked about Dale’s jealousy and his womanizing. Ironic how they go together sometimes.What’s also interesting is that in my mind, jealousy is about insecurity and about trying to exert control over another. We’ve heard already how Dale wanted control over everything musical, but it didn’t just stop there apparently. Dale was a complicated figure, and she knew that better than anyone.
J: You know who else was a bit complicated? Elvis. And 24CB got to hang with the king and other Stax artists, and it was a memorable experience:
… I do remember meeting out Elvis and we got in his car, you know, and we were meeting all of the Stax artists, you know, we were going into the dressing rooms, the barcades and, and I can, Tina Turner, they had all this furniture and everything and there's, everybody's dressing room was unique. You know, it, it was real personal to the group and it was really exciting just going there and being in the midst of all of those artists back in the day. And that was great. That was great. Does Dale had some connections and they was really nice and it was always upscale. You know, he was always upscale, you know, he was, he was, he was a brilliant, very smart, intelligent, black, talented man. Okay. Like I said, he didn't have any common sense.
T: Speaking of common sense- He’s one of my favorite emcees! They Say listening to his music is always a good way to Start the Show.
J: So appropo for you to Testify to the People of Chi-city and beyond.
T: I’m just glad we got a chance to plan this to chat about this band, it’s a Resurrection of 24CB and their legacy
J: Well my friend, common sense tells me we have run out of time for this episode. But there’s still so much to the 24CB story. What can we look forward to in the next episode?
T: We’ll learn how the demise of Stax records significantly impacted the band. We’ll talk about the second incarnation of 24CB and how OJ Simpson’s acting debut played a large role in keeping the band afloat. We will hear more stories from the band members about the end of 24CB, what came next in their lives and careers, and what they are up to now.
J: Be sure to tune in next time, there’s some incredible, never before heard stories that were shared. Until then, thanks for listening, and we’ll catch you next time for Riffs on Riffs. I’m Joe Watson …
T: And I’m Toby Brazwell. Keep listening, huzzah.