If you have noticed the silence in here, do not be alarmed; your hero has not been abducted by the forces of evi … I mean legal.
The past couple of months I’ve been in a bit of retreat, due to the loss of my father. The circumstances of his passing were anything but typical, but true to the script that is the Claw family saga, it was certainly tragic and not without its convolution.
To keep things on topic, my father certainly played a huge role in shaping my musical tastes; though many often bemoan the music their parents subjected them to, as far as I can remember, I always found an interest in the sounds to which I was exposed.
Often when he or my mother decided to take me along in random runabouts in the family Volvo (or also in those earliest years, my mother’s venerable ’75 Cutlass Supreme), I heard so many sounds that “stuck”. When I became rather disillusioned by the turn of the music of my own generation sometime in the mid ’90s, I often looked back, based on those memories.
My father was most remembered by those who encountered him as a war hero, a man who survived the highest of odds to return home from Vietnam, and through a series of chance events following, had embarked on a life that one could only call “storybook”. He was a model within the family and outside of it, to the people in his circle.
However, one thing that was seemed to surprise people was his broad interest in things musical. He was certainly a jazz aficionado, and he always kept abreast of the best and the brightest, and the newest things going on at any given time. His record collection was staggering, to say the least. One could find records like the beloved Crusaders 1, one of the first records I remember hearing, Coltrane’s “free jazz” period, Miles’s Bitches Brew, and Herbie Hancock’s Sextant — all the while, you’d find things like the Buddy Miles Experience among other “atypical” records.
My father also collected cassettes, albeit at a less staggering rate — it was how I recall hearing Crusaders 1 and albums much familiar to hip-hop sampleheads like Bob James’s Two. Certainly, it was because of the latter that I went all the way in rap music, as I heard its bits on many a hip-hop record, like Run-DMC’s “Peter Piper”.
When I showed an interest in the genre (and after my father so graciously had subsidized much of my early cassette collection), my father showed me a record he had in his stash, just on a whim — the debut album of The Last Poets. When I put it on, my eyes had opened wide, and immediately, my perception of my father (which was already on years of hero worship) had changed to another echelon of cool. He routinely brought home albums like Guru’s initial Jazzmatazz. It almost reminded me of Herbie Hancock, who had recorded a song like “Rockit” at 43, defying the general script for one of that age bracket. Yet, my father, who was but 2 years Hancock’s junior, would not be mistaken for being 10 years his junior as Hancock was in that era.
Poppa Claw was an early adopter of the compact disc format, as I remember the days of our first CD player, which was as finicky as a phonograph, with how still one had to be while the blasted thing was player — now, with even the cheapest CD player having some form of skip protection, that players were once so fragile is easily forgotten. I remember Dad having a bunch of Motown 2-in-1 collections — Marvin Gaye, Grover Washington Jr., Stevie Wonder, and a little album called The Clarke/Duke Project, which was about 5 years old at the time we picked it up on CD.
At the time we had left our once home in Western New York, and whenever I had a bad day in our new home, I would sneak into the bedroom, and crank that record out. It was then when I really started to pick up on the subtleties that make a recorded piece of music a real time capsule. Hearing those melodies made me think of the hills, the Jamesway department store, the general quaintness of the place that birthed me, certainly because it was recorded during the time I lived there. It was also during that “first CD” era that I had learned Bob James was (perish the thought) white, after seeing his mug on the cover of All Around The Town, one of his few records Columbia bothered to put on CD. Though Dad did chew a young Claw out for pointing that out so bluntly in his brief-but-effective way, I learned a valuable lesson about how music tends to obscure the at times superficial things about us.
Words can’t describe how much it pains me to think about the void my father has left behind. As I have aged and somehow unconsciously built a quite ridiculous collection of music spanning several formats just as my father had in life, I look at records like Crusaders 1, and think of how even something so simple as the 8 plus minutes or so of “That’s How I Feel” represented the lessons he imparted upon me, in the most indirect of ways, and how much it reminds me to have been raised by one who learned how to appreciate the life he had been granted. I can only hope that for the remainder of my time on Earth, that I can do the same for the rest.
Still alive out there,