Jefferson Airplane was my favorite of the 60s San Francisco bands. I particularly liked the experimentalism of After Bathing at Baxter’s, and wore out my copy of Bless Its Pointed Little Head thanks to the astounding rush of Jack Casady’s bass playing. At the time, I believed in Volunteers. In the end, though, like so many, I found a special place in my heart for Surrealistic Pillow. It had iconic singles (“Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”), crunching rockers (“3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds”), an acoustic guitar classic (“Embryonic Journey”), and it introduced Grace Slick to the world at large. It also offered Marty Balin at his most romantic, and since I spent a lot of time that summer making out while the album played in the background, that romanticism went over quite well. Looking back, though, I seem to have lost my taste for fey balladry. So a song like “Today” brings back great memories, but it’s only the fine arrangement and Balin’s heartfelt vocal that prevents it from falling into a pool of sappiness.
Here’s a live version from the Monterey Pop Festival … the cameraman seems to be crushing on Grace:
Tom Scott was not my favorite musician. He had chops and taste, but “pop-jazz” doesn’t exactly blow me away. He worked regularly as a session musician while releasing albums under his own name; his band backed up Joni Mitchell on a mid-70s live album that is … well, buy the studio versions of those songs. Back when he was 19, in 1967, Scott released his first album, The Honeysuckle Breeze, featuring cover material and a singing group called The California Dreamers. One of the covers on that album was “Today” … if you thought Marty Balin was a bit sappy, you ain’t heard nothing yet.
So, what does this have to do with hip-hop in 1992, or with Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth? The duo released a debut EP in 1991 that got people’s attention … they were a perfect team, with Smooth’s delivery matching his name while Rock was already one of the top DJs and producers ever. In 1992, they came out with their first full-length album, Mecca and the Soul Brother. “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y)” was a tribute to Trouble T Roy, a dancer for Heavy D and the Boyz who died accidentally. There is nothing sappy about this one … Smooth spends the first verses reminiscing about his childhood, then gets to Trouble T Roy at the end.
How did Pete Rock come up with the musical backing for the song? Wikipedia cites a Village Voice interview with Rock:
I had a friend of mine that passed away, and it was a shock to the community. I was kind of depressed when I made it. And to this day, I can't believe I made it through, the way I was feeling. I guess it was for my boy. When I found the record by Tom Scott, basically I just heard something incredible that touched me and made me cry. It had such a beautiful bassline, and I started with that first. I found some other sounds and then heard some sax in there and used that. Next thing you know, I have a beautiful beat made. When I mixed the song down, I had Charlie Brown from Leaders of the New School in the session with me, and we all just started crying.
When I heard Tom Scott’s version of a Marty Balin song, I heard sap. Pete Rock heard different. You never know.