Searching for the Freddie Roach story

freddie-roach-portrait

Here at downwithit.info I’ve always attempted to explode the notion that ‘jazz’ is music that listeners have to have a special understanding of before they can listen to it. It is most definitely not the case that the music is a monolithic block that you have to either fully appreciate or fully reject. You don’t have to devote yourself to the study of music and artist biographies to actually listen and decide whether you like or dislike what you hear. How you respond is up to you, the listener.

Alongside this great tide of music, however, there are lots of interesting anecdotes and stories that deserve to be known about. I wanted to learn more about Freddie Roach because it seemed that there was a risk that a remarkable man was slowly being forgotten. It was an unsatisfactory biography that set me off down the track.

As of February 2014, Freddie Roach’s Wikipedia entry still stated that, after abandoning his recording career at the end of the 1960’s, he had moved to France and was never heard of again.

This left me wondering how a recording artist of Freddie Roach’s stature could disappear, seemingly without trace, and I set out to try to find the answer. You can read about some of the information that I uncovered in my posts about FR’s work.

My internet searches led me to several places on both sides of the Atlantic. I followed a promising lead about a mystery Hammond organist, which took me to the South of France and Barcelona, before I learned that it was Lou Bennett and not FR.

The French link took us to The American Centre for Students and Artists in Paris and a 1974 performance which almost certainly featured our main man FR. You can read a little more about this information here and below.

My investigation returned to New Jersey, where FR had lived and I sought out information about FR’s band mates and local clubs in the hope of finding some answers. I found out that FR had a rehearsal space and studio theatre in his former home in Newark and Internet mapping and images enabled me to take a virtual walk through a neighbourhood that has now changed significantly.

Then, suddenly, the biggest breakthrough in my search happened. Somebody else had uncovered and reported the answer! Jazz broadcaster, podcaster and historian, Pete Fallico had spoken to friends of FR and had discovered that he had actually moved to California where he had suffered a fatal heart attack and died in 1980.

As Pete Fallico’s excellent piece (which he has kindly given me permission to publish here) explains, there was far more to say than that. It is with great pleasure that I have been able to publish downwithit’s first guest contributor. A mystery becomes less mysterious- what a way to start!

Earlier this week (in November 2016) there was more news. A fellow writer, the excellent Francois from FlophouseMagazine had kept his eye on the ball when mine had strayed. He informed me that Pete Fallico had recently posted a podcast which featured an interview with one of FR’s sons, Gregory Payton Roach. In an superb broadcast which runs for nearly an hour, Mr Roach graciously tells us about his father’s last years. Mr Roach confirms that FR spent time working in France and Japan before moving to California, where, by the time of his death he had established links with Smokey Robinson and others in the musical community.

I have also discovered that FR’s grandson has been in touch with downwithit recently and I will invite him to add any further information that he may be willing to share with us, provided he is willing to forgive my regrettably slow response to his message.

I’m delighted that I can inform readers of what I hope you will view as a more satisfactory account of the mysterious later years of Freddie Roach’s life, although the really hard work was completed by Pete Fallico and the willingness of Mr Roach to tell the nub of the story through the podcast.

Information previously received:-

Freddie Roach recorded 8 albums as leader, including 5 sessions for Blue Note.
Down to Earth (Blue Note, 1962)
Mo’ Greens Please. (Blue Note, 1963)
Good Move! (Blue Note, 1963)
Brown Sugar (Blue Note, 1964)
All That’s Good (Blue Note, 1964)
The Freddie Roach Soul Book (Prestige, 1966)
Mocha Motion! (Prestige, 1967)
My People (Soul People) (Prestige, 1967)

Touch titles highlighted in red to visit the post on downwithit that digs a bit deeper about that recording and has YouTube clips (more to follow in due course).

He also played on sessions led by:-
Ike Quebec
Heavy Soul (Blue Note, 1961)
It Might as Well Be Spring (Blue Note, 1961)
Willis Jackson
Thunderbird (Prestige, 1962)
Donald Byrd
I’m Tryin’ to Get Home (Blue Note, 1965)

Internet research has also uncovered:

most significantly, that he passed away in 1980. RIP Freddie! (Source- initially, Bob Blumenthal’s notes to the RVG edition CD of Ike Quebec’s ‘Heavy Soul’ and later confirmed in Pete Fallico’s article).

– that somebody called Freddy Roach was involved as narrator of a Bob Reid opera that was presented in Paris at The American Centre for Students and Artists, Paris. This was a Foundation located on the Boulevard Raspail, Montparnasse, which promoted Franco-American cultural exchange hosting language courses and music and theatre performances. Although it was initially set up in 1931 by the American Episcopalian congregation in Paris to keep young visitors away from ‘the evil influences of the Parisian Cafes’s’ by the late 60’s it had become a centre for the avant-garde. By the early 70’s there is declassified documentary evidence that the CIA were keeping a close watch on members of the Black Panthers who were meeting there.

On 25 May 1974 there was a performance of ‘Africa Is Calling Me: A Modern Day Black Opera’. This was composed by Bob Reid and featured a vocal recitation from one Freddy Roach, who has to be our man. The performance was recorded and was later issued on Kwela Records in 1975. I haven’t got a copy…yet!

– that Freddie Roach was a playwright, with productions that were presented in Newark, NJ in the 1970’s.

– that he had at least two sons.

– there is even a suggestion that he may have performed as a movie actor.

– I haven’t seen any footage of Freddie Roach performing- nor have I seen any accounts of live concerts.

Any contributions or additions to what is known are very welcome.

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4 thoughts on “Searching for the Freddie Roach story

  1. Thanks so much for this! I was searching for information on Freddie Roach in pursuit of one of his compositions -- Sister Candy. His record version was instrumental, but I know it as a song and wondered if he had written the words. Now I know that he might have, as he was also a poet and a playwright, a polymath!

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    1. Thanks for the comment Akua. Freddie Roach certainly was a very interesting man and it has been fascinating to try to assemble and present the information that I've been able to glean. I'll seek out Betty Carter's version of Sister Candy.

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        1. Hi Makhaten, I'm really sorry that it has taken me so long to get back to you. I heard earlier this week that Mr Gregory Paton Roach (your father?) had helped the broadcaster, Pete Fallico with information for an hour-long story that appears on his podcast. I have just published another post about your grandfather which links to this.
          I would be delighted to receive any further information about your grandfather and his music. Once again, I'm sorry not to have replied to you earlier.
          My latest update is at: www.downwithit.info/2016/11/25/whatever-happened-to-freddie-roach/

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