The Funk Show
The King of the Blues: Remembering B.B. King PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 28 June 2015 18:17

B.B. King was born Riley B. King on September 16, 1925, on a cotton plantation in Itta Bene, Mississippi, just outside the Mississippi delta town of Indianola. He began his career by playing on the street for dimes. By 1947 he hitchhiked to Memphis Tenn. and was absorbed into that musical community. About a year later, he was performing on the Sonny Boy Williamson radio show. It was during this period that King changed his professional name to Blues Boy King or B.B. King. His guitar of choice for the last 40 years has been a Gibson guitar and they have all been named Lucille. The name came from a gig that he had played in the 1950s in Twist, Arkansas when suddenly the club caught on fire. King ran back amidst the flames to pick up his beloved guitar. He later discovered that a kerosene stove was knocked over when two men got into a fight. The fight was started over a woman named Lucille.   

B.B. King released his first album in 1957 titled Singin' The Blues on Crown Records. He would release 10 more LPs on Crown until 1963. From that year until 1970, he would release many classic albums on Bluesway, ABC and the Kent Record labels. One noted classic album by B.B. King was the 1963 masterpiece Live At The Regal. This album was recorded live at the Regal Theatre, in Chicago, November 1964. It is considered to be one of the greatest live albums of all time. It is also one of the most popular B.B. King albums by his fans. The 1969 album on Bluesway titled Completely Well produced his signature recording The Thrill Is Gone. The song had previously been recorded by West Coast blues musician Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951. However, the B.B. King version took off around the country and the world. It earned him a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1970 and a Grammy Hall of Fame award in 1998. B.B. King continued to record and perform live almost up to the time of his death. One of his last recorded albums was released in 2011.

I first saw B.B. King perform for the first time while in high school circa 1973 or 1974. It was announced that B.B. King was coming to the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York. The Capitol Theater is a historic movie theater that also served as a concert hall. My first concert experience was at the Capitol Theater in 1968 when I sent to see Joe Tex perform there with my parents.

When it was announced that B.B. King was coming to the Capitol Theater, my buddy Keith and myself decided that we would go to the show. Keith and I went to high school together and we both liked the same music. After we purchased our tickets Keith told me Howard when we go to see B.B. King, make sure that you bring your albums so that he can sign them.” Every time I ran into Keith in school he would tell me the same thing Make sure you bring your B.B. King albums with you, because he will autograph them for you”. I never said much because I had never asked anyone for an autograph before. What kept running across my mind was “How could we ever meet B.B. King after the show?” I finally told Keith after he told me again to bring my B.B. King albums, I said Hey man, let me explain something to you. We will never get a change to meet or talk with B.B. King. They will never allow us to speak with him, besides B.B. King is too busy to sign autographs for us. I am not going to bring my albums because we will never get a chance to meet with him.” Keith never asked me again about that.

On the day of the show Keith and I went to the Capitol Theater to see B.B. King. The opening act was the James Cotton Band. Early in Cotton’s career he became the replacement for the harmonica player in the Muddy Waters Band named Little Walter. The James Cotton Band came out wailing with funky blues numbers like Sweet Home Chicago and Cotton Boogie. What I remember most about James Cotton was that I was impressed with his great band. During that time he had a fantastic drummer named Ken "The Snake" Johnson. He was known for chomping on his trademark Juicy Fruit chewing gum while keeping time on his drums and cymbals which were high standing. He is featured on the 1975 James Cotton album titled High Energy. After that, he became prominent as the drummer for the Steve Miller Band during the Fly Like An Eagle days and then he was with Kenny Neal. His career began as a teenager with the Ike & Tina Turner Review.

Once the James Cotton Band completed their set, I was satisfied that I had seen a good show and a good performance. Mind you, this was the first time that I had the chance to eyewitness B.B. King live on stage. I did not realize what I was about to experience.

The announcer came out from behind the curtain and said that B.B. KingThe King of the Blues” would be coming out shortly as soon as they rearrange the stage. The crowd responded eagerly. The band came out first and blew away the audience with a couple of funky blues numbers. Then the band leader introduced B.B. King who came out playing his guitar while the crowd went wild. B.B. King and his band performed numbers like I Believe In My Soul, Why I Sing The Blues, Sweet 16, The Thrill Is Gone, Guess Who, I Like To Live and others. The show was great and the audience clapped for him to come out to do an encore, which he did.

Keith and I had seats in the balcony and once the house lights came on we followed the crowd down the steps to exit the theater. The steps from the balcony in the Capitol Theater emptied into the main lobby. You can either exit to the street to your left or walk directly to the front of the stage on your right. The crowd exited to the left to the outside of the theater and Keith followed. Once I came into the lobby area, I happened to look to my right and quickly noticed that the main seating area of the auditorium was empty. Standing in the apron were about 15 or 20 white kids who were talking to the band leader who was standing in front of the closed curtain on the stage. The kids were cheering and they all had B.B. King Memorabilia in their hands. Some had posters, some has photos, some had albums etc. I called to Keith who was already outside and said “Hey Keith, come back in here. I think that B.B. King is about to give out something for free. It looks like they are about to give those kids something free maybe a t-shirt or something. If they get something free I want something free too.” Keith replied “Yeah. Let’s go down there”.  As we got closer, we could hear the conversation between the band leader and the small crowd of fans. I whispered to Keith “Let’s walk up real quiet and stand behind him. We will blend in with them and when they bring out the free stuff we will get one too.” Keith said “Bet!”

No one noticed us in all the excitement. We heard the bandleader say to the young fans that B.B. King just told him that he will go out and sign their things. The crowd of fans went crazy and began cheering. Keith and I looked at each other. The curtain moved and B.B. King came out. They cheered some more and began shaking his hand. He then began to sign everything that they had one by one. I remember one of the fans got his LP signed Live in Cook County Jail. I then said to myself; Dang! I have that album!”

Once the fans were satisfied, they admired each others autographs and the whole crowd walked past Keith and I without noticing us. Suddenly, I realized that we were alone standing on the floor looking up at B.B. King. Except for the faint voices behind the curtain of the band members packing up their equipment, there was just silence. A friendly smile was affixed upon B.B. Kings face. I continued staring at him blinking. Keith then broke the silence. He said Howard, say something to him man!” I replied. I don’t know what to say”. He responded “Just say something”. I then stepped forward and said ”Mr. King would you sign an autograph for us? B.B. King said Sure fellas. What do you have for me to sign?” I turned to Keith and said out loud Keith what did you bring for Mr. King to sign today?” Keith responded “Me? You see man. You never listen to anybody. I told you to bring your B.B. King records and here is the man right in front of you.” I then spoke to B.B. King Mr. King we don’t have anything sir.” B.B. King responded You fellas didn’t bring anything like a program or a poster?" We both said No sir”. B.B. King then asked his band leader to go and see if they had any more publicity photographs in the back. The band leader quickly disappeared behind the curtain. Again B.B. King was looking at us smiling and we would look at him and at the floor over and over not knowing what to say. The band leader came back and held up both of his hands and said that they are all out of photographs. B.B. King said Fellas, I am sorry. We gave out all of our photographs away at the last show, and we do not have anything to give to you.” We both responded Thank you sir. It’s OK. As we began to turn away, he called back to us and saidHey I do have one thing that you can have. I just have one, but you can have this.”  He handed me the bright red guitar pick that he played the show with which was in his shirt pocket. My eyes became big when I first saw it. Both of us were excited that we had a chance to fraternize with the great B.B. King. Like the previous small crowd of fans that preceded us in company of the King of The Blues, we both began to shout “Long live the Blues!, The Blues will never die, Long live the Blues!, B.B. King is the King of the Blues! Yeah! Yeah!”

Thirty to forty years later, hosting a radio show and having the opportunity to interview many great people of the music business I still feel that my job is incomplete. The one person that I have not added to my list of interviewees is the King of The Blues. I tried several times to schedule an interview with B.B. King. It became impossible to get through his employees that handled his calendar. I spoke to his personal manager and she told me to contact her back in three months. That turned into six months which turned into years. Once I had a scheduled interview with the King of the Blues which was set up by a publicist or an agent. Once it became known to the personal manager the interview was canceled. I tried at least five times or more to get a telephone interview with the King of the Blues for one specific reason. I wanted to say thank you again for giving a shy kid his personal guitar pic. A figure like B.B. King only comes around once in a lifetime and we will never see another like him. Long live the King of the Blues and long live B.B. King!

Rest in peace Riley B. King (September 16, 1925 - May 14, 2015)


Howard Burchette



Last Updated on Monday, 29 June 2015 07:14
The Last of the Manhattans: (Remembering Sonny Bivins and Winfred "Blue" Lovett) PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 23 December 2014 22:25

December 2014 was not a good month for friends, family and fans of The Manhattans.  In that one month we lost the last two remaining original and founding members of the world famous vocal group The Manhattans. Edward 'Sonny' Bivins died on December 3, 2014 at the age of 78 while Winfred "Blue" Lovett passed away on December 10, 2014 at the age of 74. In recent years, the two men had fronted two different versions of the group individually.

The story of The Manhattans started in the 1950’s when Winfred "Blue" Lovett and Richard Taylor started a doo-wop group while serving in the army in Germany called The Statesmen. Richard Taylor soon after that would form a group with Sonny Bivins called The Dulcets. Taylor would leave around 1961 and the final lineup would be Winfred Lovett, George Smith, Edward 'Sonny' Bivens, Ethel Sanders, and Buddy Bell. In 1962 they renamed themselves The Manhattans with the original lineup: George "Smitty" Smith, Winfred "Blue" Lovett, Richard Taylor, Kenneth Kelley and Edward "Sonny" Bivins. George "Smitty" Smith was the lead singer and they recorded a few sides on Avanti and Enjoy records with limited success. Their style remained in a doo-wop delivery and Winfred "Blue" Lovett was the baritone singer. From 1964 through 1968 they recorded for Carnival Records achieving charted hits from black radio stations. Two albums were released on Carnival which was Dedicated To You and Sing For You And Yours. From 1969 through 1972 / 1973 they released singles on the Deluxe record label. Two more LPs were released on Deluxe as With These Hands and A Million To One. The Manhattans were an elegant group who often wore tuxedos on stage. White gloves were also a part of their image at this time. They would appear at the Apollo Theater in 1970 wearing tuxedos with white gloves and would perform a number or two in the dark with the audience only seeing the white gloves moving back and forth. Their style had not changed much with George "Smitty" Smith the soulful lead singer accompanied by the rest of the group laying down a doo-wop layer of sound. The year 1970, also saw a big dramatic change for The Manhattans. Smith became ill and could no longer tour. Replacing him was a college student that they had met from Kittrell College, NC named Gerald Alston. Smith soon died and Alston became the new lead singer and front man.

Gerald Alston became the voice of The Manhattans beginning with A Million To One in 1971.  More mega hits followed with There's No Me Without You, Wish That You Were Mine, Don't Take Your Love,  I Kinda Miss You, Kiss And Say Goodbye (written by Winfred "Blue" Lovett), We Never Danced To A Love Song, It Feels So Good To Be Loved So Bad, Am I Losing You, Crazy, Shining Star and more. The group enjoyed their new success around the world and had achieved new fans not only in R&B, but also in the Pop arena.

Winfred "Blue" Lovett had been the group’s chief song writer and was responsible for the spoken word on many of their hits including Kiss And Say Goodbye which went up to #1 on the R&B and Pop charts in 1976. Gerald Alston joked about the practical jokes on the road by “Blue” Lovette. He once said that Lovette had pulled the fire alarm at a hotel where they were staying on the road in England. He was trying to play a joke on the group and the joke backfired on him when he became locked out of the hotel room.[i] Edward "Sonny" Bivins had aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player, if it had not been for the success of The Manhattans. He also was a successful song writer for the group, being responsible for hits like: Follow Your Heart, It's That Time Of The Year, There's No Me Without You, We Never Danced To A Love Song and more.

In 1988 Gerald Alston left the group to peruse a solo career and by 1990 Winfred "Blue" Lovett left the group. Bivins kept the group going under the original name The Manhattans with new and revolving membership. In 2000 a second group was formed called The Manhattans Featuring Gerald Alston & Blue Lovett. Two new members were brought on board who were Troy May & David Tyson. The passing of Bivins and Lovett has brought a chapter to an end. I am sure that the legacy will continue to go on. With that let’s end this by saying: “Let’s Just Kiss and Say Goodbye”.

Howard Burchette

[i] Telephone radio Interview with Gerald Alston by Howard Burchette, for The Funk Show, June 2010, at 90.7 WNCU FM, North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC
Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 December 2014 08:45
Cubie Burke: A Memorial PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 16 May 2014 21:33

Cubie Burke passed away Wednesday May, 14, 2014. He was 49. Cubie was a member of the First Family of Soul, known as the 5 Stairsteps & Cubie. He was a professional dancer, singer, song writer, actor, Choreographer and teacher at QBiquity Productions. The 5 Stairsteps & Cubie were made up of Alohe (Rami), Clarence Jr., James, Dennis, Kenneth (Keni), and Cubie. Cubie Burke’s debut in show business occurred at 16 months old with the Five Stairsteps at Chicago’s Regal Theater.  He would appear on stage in the early days with his siblings the Five Stairsteps dancing and performing with them. Besides the Stairsteps, Cubie also performed with Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Prince. Cubie also spoke French, German and Spanish and some Italian.

In a 2011 interview that I had with Cubie and his brother Clarence Burke Jr., they had reminisced about a gig when Clarence was supposed to bring Cubie out on stage. Clarence Jr. had said that the place went wild when Cubie came out and it was total mayhem. He said “it was a riot.” The fans started jumping on stage and they picked up the entire Burke group including Cubie. The out of control fans put them on their shoulders and started jumping around and singing. Clarence had said “Everybody loved Cubie, they went crazy over Cubie.”[i]

Cubie mentioned that he had recently compiled a list of people who had been influential in his life. One was Clarence and as he had gotten older, he said that he really appreciated his presence. “Clarence has been a leader for me; he was not only a great guy, but a great pioneer in music.” Clarence responded “Now, I look to you, my youngest brother. It goes back around. I look at Cubie as one of the greats, what I have seen out there. There are a lot of bad people out there. I include my brother of what I know of him, his abilities… he is definitely one of them for sure. If he wasn’t my brother, I would say that’s a bad dude; his name is Cubie! He’s awesome. He did this all on his own without the Stairsteps”. Cubie further stated “I am not just a dancer; I am a classical dancer, which makes me a classical artist. Growing up with artists, I could not appreciate the work of other people. I watched my brothers and my sister; The Stairsteps on YouTube recently as they danced and came up to the microphone one after the other. My brothers and my sister were artists, they were working hard and were not trying to out due each other, they were performers. I really appreciated what it was to be a Stairstep.” Also, during the interview Cubie gave homage to the person that he said mentored him. It was song writer and producer Clyde Otis “.[ii]

Cubie Burke first appears on record on the 1967 album Jimmy Bishop – On Stage Live At The Nixon Theater performing with the Stairsteps. The group performed Don't Waste Your Time and Something’s Missing. His photograph appeared with the group on the 1968 Buddah LP Our Family Portrait by The 5 Stairsteps & Cubie. The album included the track which included a 3 year old Cubie titled New Dance Craze.  It would be released as the B side of their first Curtom single titled Don't Change Your Love. Curtis Mayfield produced their next album in 1968/1969 titled Love's Happening. The New Dance Craze was also included on this album. The 5 Stairsteps & Cubie released a total of five singles on Curtom Records. Cubie’s voice also appeared on the 1970 Buddah LP called Stairsteps by the Five Stairsteps on the track Vice The Lights. Cubie would appear with the Five Stairsteps on a variety of television shows like The Merv Griffin Show in 1968 and The Barbara McNair Show in 1971.

Cubie Burke grew up in Englewood NJ, graduating from high school there. At the age of 15 he was invited by a friend named Shelly to try dance lessons and then enrolled in classes. He began working with a few local choirs and that association led to an audition with the Dance Theater of Harlem.  He received a full scholarship to the Dance Theater of Harlem at the age of 16. Cubie began dancing with the Dance Theater of Harlem professionally at the age of 17. He is quoted as saying “What I liked about ballet that interested me was that it was so detailed. I was interested in that. They wanted me to take tap classes. I didn’t take the classes, but I wish that had I had now.” He also was a professional dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dance Theater of Harlem, with Complexions — A Concept in Dance and the Atlanta Ballet. He was the only African American lead dancer that the Atlanta Ballet has ever had.[iii] He appeared as a dancer and Interviewee in the 2008 film Wolf Trap's Face of America. He also is a contributor to the 1999 film Choreography by Esaias Johnson, a 2000 film titled Tributary which included the New York City Ballet and the Dance Theater of Harlem, and is a performer in the 1997 film Dance Esaias : Esaias Johnson, choreographer.

He performed at the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona Spain. He also performed for Prince’s company Paisley Park studios.  He also was the choreographer for the 1997 Soul Train Music Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California on March 8, 1997. He choreographed the opening number for the Isley Brothers. In addition to that Cubie choreographed routines for the Atlanta Hawks organization.

Cubie’s solo recording debut occurred in 1982 with the release of the single Down for Double on the Rissa Chrissa label. A full album was never recorded, because of the breakup of the record company. Cubie then returned his energy back to dance. He was also a songwriter and the names of the compositions are Fix Me, which is about anything about ourselves that we would want to be fixed, Beautiful Holy; which is about God, who is holy, Every Now and Then; which is a break up song, No Turning Back; which is a song about not giving up, Together Again; which is dedicated to the families of the U.S. troops plus Magenta and Mother of Love also originals. All of these songs are unreleased and were copy written in 2011. The recordings made their debut on The Funk Show in January 2012. Cubie also recorded a song with the Invisible Mans Band that has never released.

As an actor Cubie appeared in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries: Season 9, Episode 20; called Unexplained Death: Tupac Shakur (aired 14 Mar. 1997). His character had been an eyewitness to the murder of Tupac Shakur. The hit by of Tupac Shakur titled Keep Ya Head Up was a cover of Ooh Child by the Five Stairsteps. Cubie was also founder of his production company in 1997 called QBiquity Productions.

Cubie Burke is survived by his daughter Decoda Kareem, granddaughter Aaliyah Kareem, his mother Betty Burke, father Clarence Burke, siblings Rami (Alohe Burke), James Burke, Dennis Burke, Kenneth Burke plus other family members, friends and fans.


Howard Burchette

[i] Telephone Interview of Cubie Burke and Clarence Burke Jr. by Howard Burchette, January 10, 2011; production studio of 90.7 WNCU FM, North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC

[ii] Telephone Interview of Cubie Burke and Clarence Burke Jr. by Howard Burchette, January 10, 2011; production studio of 90.7 WNCU FM, North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC

[iii] Telephone Interview with Cubie Burke by Howard Burchette, August 3, 2011; production studio of 90.7 WNCU FM, North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 09:18
Soul Serenade – The Story of King Curtis PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 13 March 2014 13:38

On August 13, 1971 Curtis Ousley, had hosted a get together at his newly renovated Manhattan eight-family brownstone and had gone outside to turn down the air conditioning for his guests. He stopped and asked a drug addict that had been loitering on the steps of his building to move. A fight ensued between the two, resulting in Curtis getting stabbed in the heart. He was pronounced dead before the ambulance reach the hospital. Ousley was only 37 years old, ending a music career which began in the 1950s. He was known to the world as King Curtis. He had been an important figure in the careers of Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, John Lennon, The Coasters, The Shirelles, Buddy Holly, Bernard Purdie, Billy Preston, Cornell Dupree, Joe South, Shirley Scott, The Rascals, Champion Jack Dupree, Esther Phillips, and many others.

King Curtis was born in Fort Worth, TX on February 7, 1934. He was a saxophonist, a band leader, a song writer and producer. His range of music spanned from Jazz, to R&B, to Rock to Blues. He could play and master it all. He began playing the saxophone at the age of 12 and went to school with Ornette Coleman who himself would later become a Jazz great in the music business. Upon graduation from high school, he would turn down a college scholarship to join the Lionel Hampton Big band where he began to write and arrange music. By 1952, he moved to New York City and became a studio musician recording for a variety of labels. One of his early sessions was on the 1958 Atlantic recording of Ruth Brown’s This Little Girl's Gone Rockin', and the 1959 RCA recording session of the Jazz Pop group called The Three Suns. The earliest recording that featured King Curtis as a solo artist was a 1958 four track EP and picture sleeve released by RCA titled King Curtis, Count Hastings, Leroy Kirkland's Hi-Flyers, Leroy Kirkland ‎– The Battle For The Beat. His screaming saxophone solo is famous as it was used in the 1959 Coasters classic titled: Yakety Yak. Quickly King Curtis was recognized as an artist that could sell records and his first album was released by Atco in 1959 titled: Have Tenor Sax, Will Blow. Other recordings would follow like the 1960 release on ABC-Paramount titled: Beatnik Hoedown / King Neptune's Guitar. In 1960 three classic Jazz albums were released with King Curtis as a front man on the Esquire, Prestige and New Jazz record labels. The titles were Soul Meeting (with Nat Adderley and Wynton Kelly), The New Scene Of King Curtis and Soul Battle (featuring Oliver Nelson, King Curtis, Jimmy Forrest). During this period he toured as the King Curtis Quintet.


The Jazz releases are masterful and superb, but King Curtis was much in demand for R&B and Rock and Roll and the record companies continued to record him under these genres selling a lot of material. Tru-Sound which was a Jazz and Blues label would release an album in 1961 featuring King Curtis playing older Rhythm and Blues and Jazz standards in an early rock and roll style titled Old Gold. Three more would follow in 1962 titled: It's Party Time With King Curtis, Doing The Dixie Twist and a classic Blues album called Trouble In Mind. In 1962 Scepter Records which released material by Dionne Warwick, B.J. Thomas released a cult classic album titled: Give A Twist Party featuring the Shirelles and King Curtis. This effort was the early Rock and Roll sound. 


RCA would release in 1961 the King Curtis Combo ‎– Arthur Murray's Music For Dancing The Twist! This contained an easy listening pop sound. His first major hit occurred in 1962 on Enjoy Records with the release of Soul Twist. That was followed by an album titled: Soul Twist With King Curtis under the name King Curtis And The Noble Knights.


The popularity of King Curtis would increase with his association under Capitol Records beginning in 1962 with Country Soul, but he became a household name with his 1964 release Soul Serenade. The title track from the album would become his signature piece throughout his career. Capitol would follow-up with a 1965 album titled Plays The Hits Made Famous By Sam Cooke.


The big move for King Curtis was in 1966 with his collaboration with Atlantic Records for their Atco label. At Atlantic, he not only would record the majority of his more popular albums and singles but he also became a much in demand producer and leader. Atco first released That Lovin' Feeling

in 1966, followed by the great Live At Small's Paradise. In 1967 the Plays The Great Memphis Hits album was released. They record company would release a single by King Curtis that would become his second signature piece called Memphis Soul Stew. It was probably his most popular single recording of his career. In 1968 the Sweet Soul album was released with a rerecording of Soul Serenade. Atlantic / Atco also had begun using him on their recordings for Aretha Franklin, Eddie Harris, Herbie Mann, The Rascals, Bonnie & Delaney Bramlett, Donny Hathaway, Esther Phillips and others. Probably the most famous King Curtis solo was on the 1967 Aretha Franklin classic Respect. One great album that has been overlooked is the 1969 Jazz Soul album Shirley Scott & The Soul Saxes featuring Hank Crawford, David Newman and King Curtis.


He would begin using his new band about the time when he was at Atco called the King-Pins, who were some of the best of the best musicians of the day. Atco continued riding the success and popularity of King Curtis with Instant Groove in 1969, Get Ready in 1970 and finally the classic Live At Fillmore West in 1971. This recording occurred March 5–7, 1971 at the Fillmore West venue in San Francisco. For this date, he hired a special lineup for the King-Pins who were: Cornell Dupree, Jerry Jemmot, Pancho Morales, Billy Preston, Bernard Purdie, and Truman Thomas. They were accompanied by the The Memphis Horns of the Stax Records fame. This album was a recording of the King Curtis performance which was the opening act for Aretha Franklin. King Curtis and the King-Pins backed her up during her show. Atlantic would release highlights of it on an album titled: Aretha Franklin - Live at Fillmore West. He had been Franklin’s musical director. One week after the release of the highly successful King Curtis - Live At Fillmore West, he was murdered.


‎After his death Atlantic continued to release material by this great man like the 1972 album Everbody's Talkin' and the 1973 live album King Curtis & Champion Jack Dupree - Blues At Montreux.  RCA Records would release a masterful live recording of a Sam Cooke concert with King Curtis as the band leader called Sam Cooke ‎– One Night Stand! At The Harlem Square Club. There are many more singles and recordings with the great King Curtis that I have not mentioned within this article and I am sure that newly unreleased recordings will pop up in the future. The newly syndicated TV show “Soul Train” choose the King Curtis recording Hot Potatoes as its first theme song in 1971. Perhaps, this was a way of remembering him by Don Cornelius. His only Grammy award occurred in 1970 for the Best R&B Instrumental Performance for Games People Play by Joe South.


Music fans all over the world were robbed on August 13, 1971 when the great King Curtis was killed. Whenever you hear the phrase or title Soul Serenade or Memphis Soul Stew a picture of King Curtis comes up in ones mind. Surely, he would have contributed much more to the world had he lived.

For a sampling of some of the music of King Curtis, copy and paste the link below into your browser:



 Howard Burchette



Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 February 2015 21:06
A Stairstep Story: Remembering Clarence Burke, Jr. PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 20 June 2013 17:59

A Stairstep Story:

Remembering Clarence Burke, Jr.  

(The Invisible Man)

Clarence Newton Burke Jr. (25th May 1949 - 26th May 2013) of the family act The Five Stairsteps, known as the First Family of Soul was the brain child, the main songwriter, choreographer, musician, guitarist, and lead singer. The group consisted of four brothers and one sister, with Clarence Jr, Alohe Jean, James, Dennis, Kenneth "Keni", and Cubie.

The group first began performing after Mrs. Betty Burke organized her children for a talent fundraising show in benefit for the school library. They won first prize which led to other local talent shows with the Five Stairsteps winning first prize for every show. The group apparently also won first prize during amateur night at the Regal Theater just prior to their recording duet. Mr. Clarence Burke Sr. had known Fred Cash of the Impressions and he convinced Fred to come to their house where his kids auditioned for him. Fred was convinced that the children had talent and were marketable and set up a telephone audition for Curtis Mayfield. The result was a recording contact with Mayfield’s new record company called Windy C Records. In 1966 they released Don't Waste Your Time / You Waited Too Long which reached No. 16 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1966. This was followed by World of Fantasy / Playgirl's Love then the Come Back / You Don't Love Me. An LP quickly followed up in 1967 on Windy C produced by Curtis Mayfield. All of the songs on the album were written by Curtis Mayfield, Clarence Burke Jr, Clarence Burke Sr. and Gregory Fowler. Stage presence was taught to Clarence Jr. by Clarence Sr. in the beginning. In 1967 the group now billed as the Five Stairsteps & Cubie released Something's Missing which went up to No. 17 on the billboard charts. Windy C released a total of seven singles between 1966 and 1967 with heavy marketing for the Five Stairsteps. The singles Ain't Gonna Rest (Till I Get You), You Can't See, and Change Of Pace were not included on the freshmen album. In 1967 the album Jimmy Bishop On Stage Live At The Nixon Theater was released featuring Billy Stewart, The Delfonics, the Ambassadors, The Intruders and The Five Stairsteps and Cubie. The Stairsteps were recorded live performing Somethings Missing and Don't Waist Your Time plus dialogue

This was followed-up by an album in 1968 on Buddah Records produced by a 17 year old Clarence Burke Jr. assisted by the jazz great Johnny Pate called Our Family Portrait. The LP featured each one of the Five Stairsteps & Cubie including Mamma and Papa Stairstep. Lead singer Clarence Jr. shared the spotlight with Kenneth who sang lead on A Million To One, James III who sang lead on You Make Me So Mad, Alohe Jean who sang lead on The Look of Love, Cubie who sang lead on The New Dance Craze and Mama and Papa Stairstep who sang lead on Windows of the World/I Remember You. Our Family Portrait was a total family affair. Buddah would release three singles between 1967 and 1968 with The Shadow of Your Love being the last, which was not included on the album. Finally the record company released a variety album in 1968 featuring the Five Stairsteps & Cubie called Classmates highlighting similar acts like Judy White, Henry Lumpkin, Tony Lamarr, and Timothy Wilson.

The following year saw a different direction for the Five Stairsteps & Cubie with an album release on Curtom Records again produced by Curtis Mayfield. Their first release was Don’t Change Your Love which became a signature song for the group. Curtom released two 45 singles in 1968 titled Don't Change Your Love / New Dance Craze and Stay Close To Me / I Made A Mistake. A full album followed in 1969 called Loves Happening. Several of the selections were covers of the Impressions compositions like Loves Happening, Madam Mary, Stay Close To Me, and Little Young Lover. The Five Stairsteps and The Impressions had a bond. Curtis Mayfield referred to the Burke children as his babies. The Loves Happening album was written mostly by Curtis Mayfield and it did not include any Clarence Burke Jr. Compositions. The 1969 year was also a milestone for the Five Stairsteps, as they were featured in a concert and film called “It’s Your Thing”. This was an Isley Brothers concert movie recorded live at Yankee Stadium. Clarence Jr. and the Five Stairsteps performed on the show backed up by the Midnight Movers Unlimited. Other acts were Judy White, the Sweet Cherries, the Brooklyn Bridge, Patti Austin, the Young Gents, Ike & Tine Turner, the Winstons, Moms Mabley, the Carla Ward Singers, and others. The Five Stairsteps became a major force in the world of R&B. The final Curtom release in 1969 was We Must Be In Love that included duets from Clarence Jr, and Kenneth Burke. Two of the Curtom singles featured Kenneth Burke on lead vocals instead of Clarence which were Stay Close To Me and Baby Make Me Feel So Good. The last Curtom single Madame Mary was not included on the album which featured the lead vocals of Clarence Jr.

The year 1970 would be a milestone for the Five Stairsteps after the release of "O-o-h Child" written by Stan Vincent. This signature song reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while peaking at number fourteen on the R&B charts. The flip-side of Ooh Child was Dear Prudence which was also played on popular radio. Buddah Records would then release Who Do You Belong To and Because I Love You on several 45 releases. The self-titled album called  Stairsteps was a combination of songs written by Clarence Burke Jr, Stan Vincent, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It featured Clarence Burke on guitar, Kenneth Burke on bass and Bernard Purdy on drums. The album is a masterpiece and the year 1970 through 1971 was a metamorphosis for the Five Stairsteps. The Clarence Burke Jr. composition Vice The Lights was a total funk and psychedelic delivery and is a Stairsteps classic. The group would open up their stage show in 1970 with Because I Love You which was  a psychedelic soul ballad composed by Clarence Burke, Jr.

America Standing was released in 1970 by the Five Stairsteps which was a hard rock record. This was a cover of the Steppenwolf classic Monster. That year the group incorporated a funk and black rock psychedelic sound into their stage act. They would open up their show with a cover of Jimi Hendrix Purple Haze and Music Lover from Sly & the Family Stone. Their own composition Don't Change Your Love became a psychedelic production blended with slick choreography. Drummer Jerome Brailey from Richmond Virginia joined the act in 1970. His photo was included on the 1971 The Stairsteps album cover with the group. He would leave the group to join the Chambers Brothers and then eventually Parliament-Funkadelic. The 1971 The Stairsteps album was also produced by Stan Vincent containing compositions from Clarence Burke Jr, Stan Vincent and George Harrison. The lead vocals on the album were performed by Clarence, Alohe and Kenneth. Buddah Records would release Didn't It Look So Easy, I Love You – Stop, and Hush Child between 1971 and 1972. During this time Alohe Jean (Rami) Burke retired from the group and served her country in the United States military. Upon completing her service she enrolled in college and furthered her education completing her bachelors and masters degrees in the sciences. A final Buddah single was released in 1972 that would not be included on an album called Every Single Way / Two Weeks Notice, returning back to a sweeter softer soulful sound much like that of 1967.

Clarence Jr. would not appear again in recorded music until 1976 with the invitation of Billy Preston to appear on the Quincy Jones album called I Heard That!!. He and his brother Kenneth "Keni" recorded the chorus on the recording Superstition as the Stairsteps. They were joined by Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Billy Preston and the Brothers Johnson on the tune. That was also the year of the Stairsteps reunion resulting in the album 2nd Resurrection produced by Billy Preston and the Burke brothers. The lead vocals and instrumental solos were performed by the Burke brothers of Clarence Jr, James, Kenneth and Dennis.  The songwriting was done by the Burke brothers as well and Dark Horse Records owned by George Harrison released the album. It has become a masterpiece. The following year Kenneth Burke released his debut solo album Keni Burke also on Dark Horse. Clarence Jr. would appear again in 1978 as a guitarist on the Herbie Mann Super Mann album. The following year in 1979 he appeared again as a guitarist on the debut album for the R&B act Touch Of Class. Clarence one told me that the group Touch of Class substituted for his brothers as the Stairsteps shortly before the group finally retired. That year also Venus Dodson ‎who had been a singer with Leroy Burgess (Black Ivory) and Patrick Adams released her solo album Night Rider, and Clarence Jr. appeared on it as a background vocalist.

The year 1979 also became a milestone for Clarence Burke Jr. with his second reunion of his brothers under the project named The Invisible Man's Band. The first single All Night Thingwritten by Clarence Burke became a club hit and was played heavily on FM radio. The first album The Invisible Man's Band was released in 1980 featuring Clarence Burke Jr, James Burke, Kenneth (Keni) Burke and Dennis Burke. The follow-up album Really Wanna See You was released in 1981. The last release by The Invisible Man's Band was a 1982 12 inch single called Sunday Afternoon, which was the only completed recording from an unfinished album. The Invisible Man's Band would never tour.

 In 2001 he appeared in the chorus of the US progressive metal band Dream Theater’s on its recording called Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory. Lately, the fans of Clarence Burke Jr. have enjoyed seeing him perform as a solo artist and with others acts. His performance at Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar in NYC was well received with him performing his own compositions as well as Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield. The last release by Clarence Burke Jr. was a digital download of a live recording of “Somebody’s Watching You”.  He would appear on The Funk Show twice and we were planning for a third interview. Clarence N. Burke Jr. was the invisible man and will be missed by all for a long time to come.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 09:21
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