Who was 24-Carat Black?

Hosts Joe Watson and Toby Brazwell take a hard look at legendary tracks of the past and present, connecting the dots on the music they sample and the songs that inspired them. Join us for Season 3, where Riffs takes a deep dive into the tragic world of 24-Carat Black, the band everyone has heard, but nobody has heard of.

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Episode 3: It All Falls Apart

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Welcome back to our epic four part series about the band 24-Carat Black! On episode 3, we learn all about the beginning of the end; Stax Records was on the fritz, and Dale Warren was holding the group together with both hands. Hear from original band members and more about the fallout of 24-Carat Black, here on Riffs on Riffs!

Riffs on Riffs is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Hosted by Joe Watson and Toby Brazwell. Our Audio Engineer is Eric Koltnow and our Producer and Sound Designer is Noah Foutz. Executive Producers Gerardo Orlando and David Allen Moss.

J: Hello and welcome back to Riffs on Riffs. I’m Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell. What’s up, Toby?

T: Man, Call me crazy, but I’m feeling cabbage today.

J: Wrinkly and stinky and likely to cause the passing of gas?

T: No sir, cabbage is a good thing, as we will soon find out in this episode.

J: Cabbage is absolutely a good thing. But just to be safe, please stay on the other side of the glass. Today we are going to continue our four-part journey into the history behind the band that no one has heard of, but have absolutely heard on the airwaves — 24CB

T: You know that nobody listens to the airwaves anymore, right? There’s this new thing called the interwebs where you can stream music.

J: Our friends at iHeart Radio would care to disagree, and we are not ones to upset potential sponsors. That is not how the cabbage is made my friend!

T: Good point. So where did we leave off on our 24CB journey? I believe they were last seen hanging with Elvis and trying not to inhale the smoke wafting in from the back of the uhaul.

J: Ah yes, such was life on the road for the teenage funk orchestra. We’ve talked in previous episodes about Dale Warren’s vision for the band’s music, but that extended to how he wanted the performances to go as well. Let’s hear how sax player Jerome Derrickson described it:

Jerome

Well, well, Dale was gearing us. … He was more setting up 24 carat black, like a mini orchestra. Okay. So the band, the rhythm section, the horn section, we all sat down. Okay. Like a, like an orchestra. Okay. Like literally, and then the girls were just out front performing. Okay. Like the three-year-olds are out front dancing, but the band, we sat down and perform like an orchestra, you know, like with music stands and all that stuff. So that was Dale's vision. 24 carat black was going to be this musical orchestra.

T: Jerome mentions the girls out front performing, and Dale certainly had a vision for that as well. Here’s vocalist Niambi Steele:

Niambi

… We're in the, in a big TV station studio. And of course, Mr. Warren, he always had, he always had etiquette lessons for us really? Oh yeah. He, he, we had etiquette lessons or how to sit, how to talk, how to, how to have interviews. He did this and the man wasn't he did it all because he has seen it all. He's been a lot of stuff. We didn't know nothing. He was giving us, you know, the, the one, one on how to be a professional. And I mean, he actually came out on stage one night. I was just frozen. I didn't know what to do. And he actually came out on stage during my number and just walk me from one end of the stage, to the other and all the while I'm still singing, he says, don't stop singing. And he was behind me, like a little elf. And he's like, just move, you gotta move. You gotta work the audience. And I was still singing. How old is the mic? And he's pushing me back and forth across the state. It was he's. He just, you know, I can't tell you how much he developed, whatever I, whatever I have today, I, I gave him so much credit for it because he taught me how to be a professional.

T: This might be a good time to ask you a question Joe. Is this type of training still going on with upcoming artists? Do you think that with the arrival of YouTube and TikTok artists that this type of training has gone by the wayside?

J: Wow, what a great question. I guess I just don’t know. On one hand, I can see how many artists that made their name on social could lack the nuance and experience required to put on a great performance. I mean, The Beatles had performed hundreds of shows before anyone had even heard of them. You have to hone your chops somehow. On the other hand, i can see how performances in general have evolved, and the skills required have changed as well. Being live on a stream is incredibly vulnerable, and in some ways more directly connected with each audience member — it’s an intimacy for each viewer that you can’t get from the nosebleeds in an arena. So maybe it’s just different training?.

T: I can totally see that. It’s kind of like going from the old black and white tvs to viewing in 8K. Although sometimes you really don’t need to see someone’s pores so clearly.

J: So far we’ve discussed Dale Warren’s early stint with Berry Gordy and his work with Isaac Hayes. But the other thing that came up a couple of times in our interviews was the 1972 Wattstax benefit concert.

T: Listen to this lineup:

The Staple Singers

Richard Pryor

Carla Thomas

Rufus Thomas

Luther Ingram

Kim Weston

Johnnie Taylor

The Bar-Kays

Isaac Hayes

Albert King

There are some names on this list that have come up in past Riffs episodes. It must have been awesome to see them all on one stage.

J: the fact that they were all Stax Records artists at the time is crazy. And also makes me wonder how in the heck Stax went under. But we’ll get to that story in a minute. Let’s talk a little more about Wattstax. First of all Toby, what exactly was Wattstax?

T: I’m so glad that you asked! Wattstax was a benefit concert that commemorated the Watts Riots that occurred 7 years prior from August 11th to 16th, 1965. The riots started in response to civil unrest partially initiated by the fact that there were racially restrictive covenants in real estate despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

J: The police force at the time were recruited from the south and were reportedly anti black and anti latino. That only added to the racial tension in the area which exploded into riots that lasted for six days. 14,000 members of the California National Guard were deployed, 34 people died, and $40 million of property damage ensued.

T: Forrest Hamilton, Stax Records’ West coast director, came up with the idea of a Wattstax concert and contacted the Stax record offices in Memphis to share his vision for the 7th Watts Summer Festival. Stax president, Al Bell decided that the event should be upgraded from a local park in Watts to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum despite the fact that several of the Coliseum managers doubted that Staxx could fill the seats.

J: The organizers also wanted to ensure that the event was accessible to everyone, so they presold tickets for $1 apiece. The doubters were quickly proved wrong — with 112k attendees Wattstax was the largest gathering of African Americans outside of a civil rights event at that time.

T: That’s not all they did - They also scheduled the event on a well known Stax artist’s birthday, Isaac Hayes. With a lineup like that and a good cause behind it, how could you lose?

J: Based on the documentary that came out chronicling the event, It was quite the winning proposition. From Kim Weston’s blessedly funky version of the national anthem to the Barkays and Albert King and man… too many great performances to mention. Side note, the documentary is also a reminder of what a genius Richard Pryor was. And leading the charge for the Wattstax concert was none other than composer Dale Warren as the conductor of the Orchestra for the event, the Salvation Symphony. Here’s Princess mentioning the notoriety that Dale’s involvement with that meant:

Princess


Oh yeah. And the, that Wattstax symphony my God. 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: Dale’s involvement with the Salvation Symphony also made an impression on Niambi. She hadn’t heard of 24CB, but she knew Wattstax.

Niambi


And see, I didn't realize that he was the one that did what's that? Huh? The salvation symphony, you know? Cause we'd all heard a Wattstax so I didn't, I didn't really know anything about it. I was just happy that somebody asked me to come do something.




J: Speaking of Niambi joining the band, let’s hear how she came to be a part of the second iteration of the group.



Niambi


Oh, I was, you know, I was just happy, you know, I was just happy to be there and meet new people and, you know, just have now come and tell everybody that I had written the speech and, you know, just kind of blow my own horn a little bit. But, and I met Mr. Warren backstage and he was telling me all about stuff and he was like, maybe you should come to Chicago and audition. And I was like, well, that's what I, you know, that's what, I didn't know. I didn't really know the whole story of what had gone on before they got to Indianapolis. And so they just, you know, I just knew that I had an opportunity that a lot of people didn't have. And so I saw my food stamps and went to Chicago. Yeah. I didn't have much money. I was a single mother with two kids, kind of dreaming of this dream I'd had since high school to sing, you know, singing, sing in a band and do those kinds of things. I didn't really have a of encouragement because you know, my, my mother and stepfather, they worked every day and that's what they, you know, expected me to do.

T: It’s amazing what people will do to follow their dream and seek fame and fortune. It was around this time that 24 CB was starting to have a little bit of issues with the appropriation of cabbage.

J: Are you reading off your grocery list right now? There is an awful lot of talk about cabbage…

T: Let’s just let Niambi explain it:

Joe


So did you know the story of the band leaving and the falling out that had happened with sort of the first version prior to you auditioning? Or did that come out later?

Niambi


It kind of came out later because one of my good friends in the band was Tyrone steals. He was the drummer. And because our name was so similar and my, my young, my oldest son was named Tyrone. So that kind of made us, you know, bond with each other. And so Tyrone was on the road with his wife, Theresa, and they kind of were like, they kind of looked out for me cause they knew, I didn't know what the hell was going on. Even though I was older than all of them. Yeah. I was 23, something like that. And they were like 18, 19, I think princess was 17 or 18, something like that. And so, you know, they kind of school me on what was going on and you know, what had happened. And I heard about the Ditalions, you know, but I didn't really meet anybody from the old band except Jerome Derrickson, which we call cabbage and Ricky, Ricky foster, who played the trumpet.

Joe


Okay. Hold on a second. How do you get a nickname like cabbage?

Niambi


Because cabbages was money at that time.

Joe


Okay. What was a good nickname?

Niambi

00:22:32

Cabbage was like, well, I'm out here to get the money I'm out here to get that cabbage. So we just, you know, everybody called him that

J: In addition to being a necessary ingredient for coleslaw, cabbage makes the world go round.

T: And if you don’t have it, then you end up on the losing end of Monopoly. Bankrupt. Keep in mind that this band’s music was for all intent and purposes being funded by Dale Warren. He was quite successful — but everything has its limits.

J: And those limits hit the wall like a crash test dummy when Stax Records went bankrupt. Here’s a snippet of what Jeff Kolath, Executive Director of the Stax Museum, had to say on the topic:

- Jeff Kollath

You never appreciate what's in your own hometown? I think that's one thing. But also, I think it's just the despite Stacks of great success, there was never fully accepted here, in my opinion, never fully accepted that you had an integrated workplace. You had black musicians, black executives, record executives, the head of a publicity, eventual owner of the company and prominent public roles, and you had success. This is one of the greatest examples of black entrepreneurship that you see with Albel taking over, black excellence, black genius and black economic success. And there is physical manifestation of that in Isaac Haze's 1972 Cadillac Eldorado. It's more than just an amazing car with 24 Karat gold gold trim and custom paint. It is a physical manifestation. It is a visible, tangible piece of economic, cultural and political success in so many ways. And so that made people uncomfortable. And I think that's one of the reasons why Stacks, when it did fall on hard times after 1972, which they reached the highest heights they possibly could be, and then just a low general slide towards bankruptcy in the end in December 1975.

J: We could — and should — do another entire series on Stax. Jeff’s insights into how things played out for the record company are fascinating. For now, suffice to say that when Stax went under, the demise of 24CB was not far behind. Dale tried to keep things afloat by working on the soundtrack for a universally panned movie with pre-bronco OJ Simpson. Here’s Niambi:

Niambi


I've been like this. I think the bottom started to drop out. I can't remember what year, but the year that the Klansman was made, it's a movie with OJ Simpson, Richard Burton. And he went, he left us to go to California to do the soundtrack for that movie. And he went there because he, he needed to make the money to keep us on the road, but we didn't see it as like, you know, any emergency. We just thought he had a job. And he does, you know, he's a conductor, he's a writer. He's, you know? Yeah. And so we didn't think anything of it, but little by little, you know, you go from eating a big dinner where all of us are at a table, which it was huge. When we went to a restaurant, they had to put at least four tables together. And we went from that to bags or hamburgers. So, you know, bags of white castles, no money. We never really got paid.

T: I asked Princess about her perspective and why Dale didn’t pull the plug sooner.

Toby


Why do you think he kept when the state, when stacks went bankrupt? Why not just pull the plug and just say, look, everybody just go home. What did he ever talk to you about that? Why he didn't make that decision exactly.

Princess


Right. Well, we did have a gap in there. You know, we had a gap in there and then he went and did a movie. Then he got some more money and then he was able to kind of pull up on his bootstraps and do it again. You know, what did you like being out on the road? Yeah. Yeah, like I said, we were excited. I mean, we were in an ambitious, a group of young kids, you know, and it was exciting. I mean, from hotel to motel to holiday, and sometimes we slip in the back in the back of the you, or, you know, really just going from gig to gig. And each down we went in, it was like the Chitlin circuit. We called it in each style that we went in at the club, you know, we all was going to find somebody who's going to take us. So we always had somebody that would take us in and feed us at least, you know, we only had two people in the club at night, you know, we can make any money on the door or whatever. And in Chicago we would play at this club. I think it was Gordy's club. so faithful. We show up, we show up, we show up, we two people in the glove, needy was no reason, no enough plan plan, you know, so we really did

J: And Jerome shares the story that every musician is all too familiar with:

Jerome


What happened? Did it really just kinda faded? You know, the group just kind of faded out after one half of the group went to Michigan with Sonny Prince's brother and well, I would say the rhythm section went to Michigan and became shot the remaining part of the group. We hung around Cincinnati pretty much as long as we could until it just faded after, you know, after the split of the unit, the Cincinnati half milled around for a few months and then it just faded and we all just disbanded and went to other, other local bands that we could go join.

J: Jerome, as we’ll hear in the next episode, certainly landed on his feet. Larry Austin also went on to find success. Here’s how his wife Ladonna describes what happened when 24CB disbanded:

Toby

Here's my question. Just in reading the information about the history of 24 Karat Black and all that they went through and everything, I know that it seemed like when the band kind of fell apart and kind of disbanded, people went there separate ways. And I noticed that the transition for some was a little bit easier than others. Can we talk about the transition for Larry and others to kind of form the band Shotgun? Because how does that all come to play? Because it seemed like there was a definite split for sure. People went here, Princess went here. And can we talk about that time?

Ladonna

Yeah, that was kind of a rough time at first, because you got this group of guys who had formed this group, 24K Black, and the time that they spent together, the ups, the downs that they had and everything, and then there comes this disagreement or whatever. And so some of the original members stayed with 24 Karat Black, and then he had brought in some additional members, and then that group stayed as 24 Kerry Black. And then Larry and some of the other members that were part of that group left. And then for a period of time, they just still kept rehearsing and everything. But then they eventually form the group Shotgun. And then Tyrone Steels, who was the drummer in 24 Karat Black, eventually came to Shotgun. And so a lot of the core members from 24 Carats eventually formed Shotgun and started from there.

T: So with all the turmoil and no money remaining to fund the group, 24CB went the way of a song from Metalica’s Ride the Lightning album — Fade to Black.

J: I love that song and that album, but are we allowed to make a Metallica reference? If Lars gets wind of this, you can expect a lawsuit my friend. I don’t want to go the way of Napster.

T: I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Lars is not listening to a podcast about 24CB. I will just point out that the band clearly hoped to use Warren’s status and Ride the Lightning, but unfortunately their success was Trapped Under Ice and suffered a Creeping Death.

J: Oh, ok. So I guess we’re going to Fight Fire with Fire. There is no Escape now. Just remember, when the time comes, don’t ask For Whom the Bell Tolls. It tolls for thee. And speaking of requiems, the band may have no longer existed, but the legacy of their music lives on.

T: Legacy is a word that comes up more and more the older we get. Not jus in music in other artistic avenues as well.

J: I think one of the greatest testimonies to one’s legacy is to be remembered and mentioned in the conversation. Every mention breathes life back into a project or to the very essence of one’s art or impact.

T: We both have been involved in bands in the past so we know all about the prospect of not making it big and dealing with that. Instead of becoming the next Redman and Method Man, I found myself being happy with just an occasional fan stating something on Facebook about a song, show or an album we did in the past. Do you feel that same way?

J: I totally know what you mean. I feel that same way with this podcast. It’d be great to win awards and be able to do this full time. With that being said, I’m so happy to get a text or an email from a Riffs listener who likes what we do. How cool is that?!



T: Back to 24CB and their legacy. The three band members we interviewed had very different paths after leaving 24CB. Realestate, motherhood, tragedy, gold and then more tragedy. Let’s hear from Niambi first. Trigger warning for our listeners, this next story deals with violent assault.

Joe


So the band is now defunct and you keep your bags packed for a couple of years, but did you keep performing doing other stuff or what, what came next?

Niambi


Well, I stayed with, with, with the friends and Namo her name was Julie. She was a dancer. She had two girls and I stayed over there and I was trying to sell some microphones cause I had some microphones and I knew another vocalist in Chicago. Her name was Colette and I was going to sell my microphones to Collette and I had somebody drop me over and I, where Colette lived, but she wasn't home. So I kind of walked around the neighborhood and I found a little bar to sit in and I didn't have, maybe I had a couple of dolls or something. So I had like one beer that lasted like four hours. Cause I was trying to wait to see a few come home. And a bunch of guys came in, they had been playing basketball. So of course I was still sitting there and looking crazy.

Niambi


And one guy was like, are you okay? You know? So, you know, I kinda like, I'm trying to wait on Colin. He was like, I know Colette. And he's like, well, why don't you ride with me? I got to do something. I was like, okay. And he, he took me, you know, a couple of places. And then we went back to where Colette was, she was never home. And so I was like, well, you know what? I better go on back to where I stay. Cause by this time it was dark, the moon was half full moon. I'll never forget it. And I was like, well, if you could just take me to 75th or wherever it was. And I, by this time I knew enough to know that he made the wrong turn. He should've made a right. But instead he made a left and I was like, okay, I don't something change the whole air chain.



Niambi


I was like, this is not right. And so he tried to kill me. Oh goodness. And he pulled me, he pulled into this place. I later learned it was McCormick's place or McCormick's Creek or something like that. And it was kind of like a lover's lane or, you know, people would park and push. You can look out over the water and you can see, you know, like Michigan. And he was gonna throw me off the cliff and he was beating, he was beating me goodness. And so I was just screaming like, and nobody helped me. It was, it was a summer night. Like I said, the moon was full. People were in their cars, they would drink and party and whatever. It's kind of like a, you know, parking place where people just sat and drank or whatever, but he was being me and nobody helped me. And I was just begging for my life. I was like, well, why are you doing this? And I was like, why don't you just let me go? And he was like, you want me to let you go? I was like, yeah. He said, okay. And he left. And so I ran because he was in the car and I was on foot. I know I no longer had shoes cause they had been thrown off my feet and I ran to the highway and crossed across 12 lanes. And I was screaming for my life. And these two white guys picked me up in an mg and I was sitting in the middle of a mg convertible, like I was a queen in a parade. Wow.

J- Such a harrowing experience and one we don’t wish on anyone. Thankfully she got away to safety. Niambe told us that despite that experience and all the challenges that she encountered on the road with 24CB she always had hope that the band would get back together to chase the dream.

Niambi


I did finally make it home. Like I said, for my son's birthday, he was four years old. And I just, you know, even though my bags were packed and my heart was broken, my body had been broken. I mean, I wasn't, I wasn't broken like bounds or anything, but I was beat up, but I never told anybody. I just went on and I kept, I went straight back in the theater and I started, you know, just going back to where, where I started from, I started doing more theater. I won some awards. I left in Annapolis. I moved to New York. I met Jack. I recorded with him at sugar hill records because he was the only jazz artists that sugar hill, because Sylvia Robinson bought a jazz label and that's how he was on that label. And so, and it was so funny because Dale, Juan had told me, you gotta be bigger than Sylvia Robinson, because that was the model.

T: That is a crazy and disturbing story. And I certainly don’t want to lessen it’s impact, but I also know we are at the end of our time together for our episode and would like to end on something a bit more upbeat.

J: I’ve got your back. Let’s talk to Princess and see where her path led after the disbanding of 24CB:

Princess

So I moved back home, moved back with mom and dad prays guy. We always had come back. So I moved back with my mom and dad with my children. And then I got a job working at the nursing home and I got us a one bedroom apartment. And in the daytime it was living room. It was, and at night it was my bedroom. Cause I had a sofa bed. They slept in the, in the one bedroom, but we evolved from that. And I just retired from working at, for a real estate company, 60 client realtors for 26 years. I became corporate receptionist there and I just retired from there. And I've been a member of my church for like 43 years. And I've been a licensed minister also since 1999. So I've been constantly singing a thing in weddings and Trenton rooms. And, and like I said, at church, I administered church and I'm a praise team leader for the Cincinnati Baptist district associations women's department. And I sing with the Cincinnati jazz orchestra. They have this production that they do every year and this year, well, last year passed. We did a rendition on the Clara award singers. We did a rendition of them that I named the Cincinnati jazz orchestra. So I'm still saying, I guess I'm just trying to figure out how can I get some reparations since all this music is getting sampled and they're making all this money, even though I don't have any rights to it.

T: So Princess is still singing, and as she says, praise God for that. She still has a voice like an angel, which we’ll get to in our next episode. She brings up the question we are all asking, too. Why have they not been paid, and how does that get rectified?

J: We also haven’t heard from Jerome and his path after leaving 24CB. In our next episode, he’ll tell a story that’s never been told before about an artist that we discussed in the very first episode ever of Riffs on Riffs. We are going to bring things full circle and get all the answers in our fourth and final episode in this series. Until then, thank you 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.

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