Saturday, 22 January 2011

An Evening with Alfred 'Pee Wee' Ellis

Exactly one week ago, as I sit here this evening and type this blog entry, I was sitting in the bar at the Grafton Hotel, London, with one of the most important figures in pop music history. He's not necessarily a household name - although that depends on your household - but behind the scenes he helped to change the direction of contemporary music and is listed as a co-writer on what musicologists acknowledge as some of the music important songs ever recorded.

Alfred 'Pee Wee' Ellis will turn 70 in three months time. Born in Florida in 1941, he was a professional sax player by the time he reached middle school and at age 16 trained under jazz legend Sonny Rollins. In a career now entering it's seventh decade (he began working in the 1950s and has a new album due in 2011) he has released a succession of solo albums and has arranged for everybody from George Benson to Van Morrison - but he's best known for his work with the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

Ellis joined Brown's band in 1965 thinking he'd earn enough money with the superstar to allow him to play jazz in his time off. Little did he know that his creative partnership with Brown would spark a music revolution, becoming one of the most significant milestones in the evolution of pop music and providing a soundtrack for the emancipation of black America.

Pee Wee Ellis performing with James Brown. (Source Unknown)

Perhaps the most celebrated of Ellis's collaborations with Brown is Cold Sweat, considered by many to be the first example of pure funk music. Relaxing after a gig one night in May 1967, Ellis - who had become Brown's arranger a year earlier - was called to the boss's dressing room. Brown had a groove in his head, a staccato bass lick, and wanted Ellis to see what he could do with it.

On the tour bus the next day, Ellis built a song around Brown's bass lick, the horn section inspired by Miles Davis's So What but stripped of melodic flourishes in accordance with Brown's directive that his band should 'play every instrument like it's a drum'. Ellis took the band to the studio, taught them their parts and awaited Brown's arrival.

When he appeared Brown tinkered with the arrangement. "He changed the guitar part, which made it real funky," Ellis once said, "and had the drummer do something different. He was a genius at it. Between the two of us, we put it together in one afternoon. He put the lyrics on it. The band set up in a semi-circle in the studio with one microphone. It was recorded live in the studio. One take. It was like a performance. We didn't do overdubbing."

In the ensuing years Ellis co-wrote some of Brown's most sampled grooves including Mother Popcorn, Licking Stick-Licking Stick and the groundbreaking Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud), which was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock & roll music, and listed by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Picture: Pee Wee Ellis Myspace

After leaving Brown in 1969 Ellis joined Kudu, a CTI Records imprint, where he worked as an arranger for artists including George Benson and Esther Phillips. In 1972 he and his band recorded an album - Pass The Butter - on Motown's Natural Resources label, under the name Gotham. His first solo album, Home In The Country, was released in the mid-1970s and his solo career, which has spanned jazz, funk and gospel, continues to this day with a new album due in March 2011.

I met up with Pee Wee ahead of a gig at Ronnie Scott's, the legendary Soho jazz club. Sipping tall orange juices and surrounded by the swirling jazz soundtrack in the bar, we spoke for an hour and a half about his lengthy career. Although reticent at first, Pee Wee was soon laughing and joking about the glory days in Brown's band as we recalled excerpts from Fred Wesley's hilarious memoir, Hit Me Fred: Confessions of a Sideman.

During our interview we also spoke about Pee Wee's life and career both before and after his stint in the James Brown band; how he wound up studying under Sonny Rollins, the culture shock of being given so much creative freedom at Kudu, why he decided to flee New York when the city went up in smoke during riots over racism and police brutality, and how he fell in love with a fan at London's Jazz Café and left America to live in the British countryside.

Pee Wee was both a witness to and an important part of arguably the most important musical shift of the 20th century, rivalled only by the invention of rock & roll. It was a pleasure and a privilege to spend an evening chatting and laughing with Pee Wee after enjoying his music for so many years and a unique experience to have him transport me back to the era, sharing his first hand recollections of life on the road and in the studio with James Brown. A book from Pee Wee is long overdue but he tells me he's quietly writing his life story with a view to publishing it at some point. In the meantime, I look forward to sharing with you the recollections that Pee Wee shared with me.

My exclusive interview with Pee Wee Ellis will be published in the coming months.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Jackson Music Video Extra: 'Tabloid lies disturbed me'

In November 2003, Ken Yesh was one of a few fortunate auditionees selected to appear in what would become Michael Jackson's last ever music video, 'One More Chance'. The video, designed to launch Jackson's colossal, multi-platform comeback, shot for one day in Las Vegas before Jackson's Neverland Ranch was raided, the video was abandoned and the comeback fell at the first hurdle.

In October 2010, while researching for an in-depth article about the making of Jackson's little-known final music video, I managed to track down and interview Ken Yesh as well as several other extras who took part in the production. During my interview with Ken we discussed the aftermath of the Neverland Raid, which ultimately didn't fit into my final article. However, Ken told me one piece of information which I thought was so important that I needed to put it into the public domain somehow.

Ken told me that in the weeks after the videoshoot he picked up a newspaper and was 'disturbed' to find a completely inaccurate report about the video shoot, quoting 'sources' claiming that Jackson had been swarmed by young boys on the set when in fact Yesh had been present all day and had not seen anybody under the age of 18.

In this exclusive excerpt from my interview with Ken Yesh, he talks about his shock at reading the false report.

Readers can subscribe to my YouTube channel in order to receive updates when I upload new clips.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

AUDIO: Live in conversation with Deborah Ffrench

Back in December I appeared on Blog Talk Radio to take part in a three hour broadcast, during which I was interviewed by the host, Rev Catherine Gross, then took calls from members of the public.

Earlier this week I began uploading edited highlights of my appearance on the show to my YouTube channel. Today I have added four clips from the segment during which listeners were invited to call in and ask me questions.

One of those listeners was Deborah Ffrench, a writer well known in the Michael Jackson community for her magnificant article 'Michael Jackson: The Making of a Myth', which explored the 1993 allegations against Jackson in great detail and highlighted the bias and sensationalism which dominated the media's coverage of the scandal.

Deborah is also well known in the fan community because for some time, Jackson's detractors have insisted that she and I are in fact the same person - even conducting syntax comparisons on our writing styles in order to 'prove' that we are one and the same.

So it is with great pleasure that I present the following four clips of Deborah and I in conversation, on live radio, on Friday 3rd December 2010. I keenly await the conspiracy theorists' explanations, which I'm sure will be every inch as humorous and imaginative as their previous efforts.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Dieter Wiesner: 'I caught Martin Bashir sneaking through Michael Jackson's luggage.'

Back in October I interviewed Dieter Wiesner, who served as Michael Jackson's manager between 1997 and 2003. At the time, I was writing an article about the making of Michael Jackson's last ever music video 'One More Chance' and had arranged an interview with Dieter because he was not only on the video set during filming but also integral to the planning of Jackson's wider comeback - which was scuppered mid-way through the video shoot by Tom Sneddon's raid on Neverland Ranch.

During my interview with Dieter he discussed topics that I'd never heard him discuss before, such as the moving story of how he had to break the news of Sneddon's raid to Jackson in his Las Vegas hotel room. But the most shocking claim was one about British TV journalist Martin Bashir, whose famous show 'Living With Michael Jackson' is considered by many to have renewed Tom Sneddon's interest in the popstar and instigated the allegations which would result in the 2005 trial that almost killed Jackson.

While discussing Martin Bashir, Dieter Wiesner claimed that during a 2002 visit to Berlin he observed Martin Bashir sneaking into Jackson's hotel suite and rummaging through his luggage. He also claimed that Bashir was running around, chasing Jackson's children with a camera while the popstar was elsewhere, despite agreeing not to film the children for the documentary.

Here is an audio excerpt from my interview with Dieter Wiesner in which he makes the shocking allegations:

I first revealed Dieter's claims in a live three-hour interview on Blog Talk Radio. I am now in the process of uploading edited highlights of that interview to my YouTube channel, to which fans can subscribe if they want to receive updates when further clips go online.

The first three segments of this interview are now online. In these clips I discuss little known information about Martin Bashir's documentary which came to light during Jackson's 2005 trial.

The Phantom TMZ By-Line

I received several emails today asking me why Google News was touting me as the author of an article on TMZ. At first, I thought there must be some sort of mix-up on the fans' part; Why on earth would Google be listing me as the author of an article on TMZ? I've never written for TMZ. But I made my way over to Google News and, lo' and behold, there was my name, listed underneath a TMZ story about Michael Jackson sound-alike Jason Malachi.

Fans suggested that this was some sort of petty retaliation on TMZ's part after I wrote a lengthy rebuttal last week to one of their articles. On Thursday 13th January, TMZ ran a story titled 'MJ Pushed Dr. To Improperly Give Son Anesthesia', accusing Michael Jackson of subjecting his youngest son to 'risky' medical treatment. I was contacted by Sawf News, with whom I have a rolling contract, who asked me to write some sort of commentary on the story.

After obtaining legal documents relating to the case, consulting official medical guidelines and putting TMZ's coverage under the microscope, I found that it was riddled with half-truths, misleading language and pure sensationalism. My resulting article, 'Making a Mountain out of a Molar: How TMZ turned a dental appointment into a global news story', generated huge traffic for Sawf News and became the website's most commented article.

My rebuttal was published on Friday 14th January and the TMZ article with my by-line attached appeared on Google News just two days later, causing fans to speculate that this was somebody at TMZ's idea of a joke, or an attempt to turn my supporters against me by giving the appearance that I had joined TMZ's ranks less than 48 hours after scrutinizing their reporting.

As it turns out, this phantom by-line is linked to my Sawf News article, but not in the way that the fans thought. I consulted an internet expert this evening who told me that my being listed as the author of TMZ's article is a result of a weakness in Google's news aggregation system.

After I wrote my rebuttal, lots of fans took to posting it in its entirity in the comments section underneath all of TMZ's latest entries on Michael Jackson. When TMZ's article about Jason Malachi went online, they did the same thing.

According to the internet bod I consulted, when the Google news aggregation system hosts an article, it scans for a by-line. In the case of this article, there was no official by-line. However, further down the page somebody had posted my Sawf News article in the comments section, including the words 'by Charles Thomson'. The news aggregator will have scanned for a by-line, picked up mine from the comments section and consequently listed me on Google as the author of TMZ's article.

Mystery solved!

To my knowledge, there is nothing I can do about this. In my previous dealings with Google I have found them to have what I consider to be the worst user support system I have ever encountered.

I have attempted to contact Google on various occasions throughout the last year to deal with people using their email service to impersonate me and their blog service to publish damaging lies about me. Upon telephoning Google I was consistently met with an audio recording telling me that 'Google does not authorize customer services at this time', whatever that means.

Their online assistance service was no more helpful, consisting of a text-based Q&A system which sends users around in circles and an advice forum full of knowledgeable but unpaid users who, however technically able, are not capable of dealing with slander and/or impersonation. I suspect they'll be equally incapable of removing inaccurate by-lines from Google News.

So this is just a quick blog to let you know that I am not the author of TMZ's article and explain why Google seems to think that I am.

Friday, 7 January 2011

An Update on the Impersonation Saga

I received an email today from Yola, the webhosting company responsible for the anti-Michael Jackson website whose owner has been impersonating me in correspondence with fans.

In light of its owner's illegal behaviour, Yola has suspended the offending website.

However, the owner's phoney gmail address, designed to look very similar to my own email address, will continue to exist because it is nothing to do with Yola. So if you try to contact me, please make sure you use the right address. Similarly, if you receive any correspondence claiming to be from me, please double check the email address.

Anti-Jackson Propagandist Posing as Charles Thomson

This isn't really how I intended to bring in the new year, but once again I am forced to use my blog to counter the pathetic actions of internet trolls.

Not for the first time, I have become the victim of impersonation.

Regular blog readers will remember that back in July I used my blog to explain that an imbecile was writing libelous comments in my name underneath Michael Jackson related articles on TMZ.

This time around the impersonation is slightly more serious. The owner of a vile and inaccurate anti-Michael Jackson website is posing as me when fans email to complain about the website's content.

The owner of the website replies to emails using my name and sends the messages from an email address closely modeled on my own.

In the above screengrab, a reader is seen asking the website owner whether he is Charles Thomson from the Huffington Post. The owner refused to answer this question which, combined with the confusing email address, could easily lead people to believe that the owner is in fact me - quite clearly the owner's intention all along.

So let me state loud and clear for the record - I do not have anything to do with this website. The only website or domain name I have ever owned is my current website.

The above email address does not belong to me. I do not use, and have never used, a gmail account.

The fraudster behind this website is impersonating me and has been reported to Yola, the webhosting company responsible for this domain name.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

VIDEO - James Brown's Widow: 'Conrad Murray was NOT my husband's doctor'

In this clip from our exclusive interview, Tomi Rae Brown - widow of soul singer James Brown - emphatically denies press reports that her husband was a patient of Dr Conrad Murray and recommended his services to Michael Jackson.

She also discusses her husband's relationship with Michael Jackson and the disturbing similarities between the circumstances of their deaths.

To read my interview with Tomi Rae Brown, click here.

To receive updates when I upload new clips, subscribe to my YouTube channel.