Sunday, November 29, 2009

The why of fly: Michael A. Gonzales' "Gangster Boogie" details the making of the Superfly soundtrack

If you still got 8-tracks lying around the house, you might be a Pinoy.
(Photo source: Michael A. Gonzales)
I got my first taste of the late Curtis Mayfield's Superfly soundtrack when I watched a tape of a faded-looking print of the 1972 blaxploitation flick in either 1996 or 1997. Three elements of the movie stood out for me: the late Ron O'Neal's Shakespearean performance as a coke dealer who wants to quit the game, Sheila Frazier's nice body during the bathtub love scene and Mayfield's exceptional original songs, which are more insightful than the screenplay itself (Elvis Mitchell noted that "Mayfield's score rebels against the movie's insidious mythologizing of Priest"). Any piece of music Mayfield wrote or produced for movies just plain sizzles, whether it's any of the tunes in Superfly, the Let's Do It Again theme he produced for the Staple Singers or the Claudine theme "On and On" by Gladys Knight & the Pips.

Superfly fan Michael A. Gonzales has written what has to be the definitive chronicle of the making of the Superfly soundtrack, "Gangster Boogie," the must-read cover story in the latest issue of Wax Poetics magazine (what an issue it is: Mayfield! David Holmes! Roc Raida! Do the Right Thing! Black Dynamite! Funkdafied '70s European library music!). The Superfly soundtrack's influence on R&B and hip-hop shows no signs of waning (I didn't notice "Little Child Runnin' Wild" was sampled in Kanye West's "Flashing Lights" until it was pointed out by

Freddie's dead. So are oversized headlight covers.

What makes Michael's piece stand out from other writings I've read about the 1972 soundtrack is that it doesn't neglect the importance of the sidemen and arrangers who helped Mayfield craft the soundtrack. Michael has said he wanted to avoid writing about Superfly through the lens of the auteur theory like other writings about classic albums he's read, hence the substantial interviews with Superfly guitarists Craig McMullen and Phil Upchurch and arranger Johnny Pate, who composed a terrific instrumental score for Shaft in Africa after Superfly.

"Gangster Boogie" also sheds light on the tensions between rock musicians and traditional film scorers that arise from projects like Superfly. I wasn't aware of Mayfield's lawsuit against his former friend Pate, who claimed he was solely responsible for writing Superfly's "Junkie Chase" and "Think" instrumental cues. It's one of many juicy tidbits in a fly article about the flyest of '70s movie soundtracks.

1 comment:

  1. I heard that custom Eldorado belonged to Isaac Hayes. I saw it on the cover of a JET Magazine when the Government was taking everything they could from Isaac because of back Taxes? Hum? He fooled them thought, He moved most of his priceless belongings to other places like California.Go head Superfly, we miss you Isaac