Tag Archives: Freddie Roach

Whatever happened to Freddie Roach?

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.

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.

In addition to the story as outlined above on this static page, I have posted the information above as a regular blog entry on 25 November 2016.

Perhaps one day there may be a reissue and overdue revaluation of Freddie Roach’s music or perhaps even more? For that we will have to wait, since, as Joe Strummer once said: ‘The future remains unwritten.’

To play us out, here’s a link to Freddie Roach playing One Track Mind from The Freddie Roach Soul Book set:-

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All That’s Good: Frederick Roach

Freddie Roach All That's Good cover
Freddie Roach’s Wikipedia entry has has finally been updated with news of his untimely death in the early 1970’s. So the former statement that: ‘He moved to California and was never heard of again’ is no more. That’s a good thing because Freddie deserved much better. Although downwithit.info can claim some credit for this, it was really Pete Fallico’s excellent interview with Conrad Lester (friend of Roach and tenor on this set) reproduced here, that enabled the record to be set straight.

All That’s Good is the last of Roach’s five Blue Note outings and it is so different to any other recording that I’ve ever heard on that label that it is easy to surmise why his talents ended up elsewhere.

Roach penned the sleeve notes for many of his albums and they make it clear that he wanted his work to tell stories and capture images. With All That’s Good he is trying to paint a picture of a somewhat idealised Black inner city community, looking at the positives of everyday life.

Journeyman has a delightful born-again Baptist feel to it. Over at London Jazz Collector a recent post had fellow jazzers voting on instruments that they disliked. Although there is no vibraphone or bowed double bass here you should have a listen to this track which features two of the usual suspects and more in the form of: Hammond organ, a choir, tambourine and soul clapping. I imagine Rudy Van Gelder dancing at the controls as this one was recorded. Not one for the purist or the narrow minded, who will be sure to fulminate, but I think it is amazing and you can take a listen too thanks to YouTube:-

To listen touch or click on the arrow

The title track, All That’s Good, follows with the small choir going for a celestial effect with attendant ‘Oh Yeahs! before some delicate blues saxophone from Conrad Lester and an equally strong guitar solo from Calvin Newborn redeems matters. On Blues For 007 the feel created by Roach is that of a now archaic swinging sixties tune that is sub Aqua Marina (please excuse the weak Stingray reference and pun). The organ setting is a bit too rinky dink and trebley for me here.

Over on Side Two where Busted is played in waltz time and, once again a bit of muscular R n B saxophone saves the day. Club 788 is probably not the strongest blues that Freddie Roach ever wrote or played on. Finally, Loie the strongest track on this side, a Kenny Burrell number from his Guitar Forms album closes things in Bossa nova style.

This LP gets one of the worst reviews I’ve yet to read on the generally very helpful Allmusic website. Enroute to a poor 2 star rating, Stephen Thomas Erlewine opines:- “Roach never hits upon a groove, choosing to create a series of bizarre, hazy textures. That atmosphere is catapulted into the realms of the surreal by vocalists Phyllis Smith, Willie Tate, and Marvin Robinson, whose wordless, floating singing sounds spectral; the intent may have been to mimic a gospel choir, but the effect is that of a pack of banshees wailing in the background.”

Not the sort of endorsement to set the pulse racing and the hand reaching for the wallet then. That combined with the tatty sellotaped cover that you can see at the top of this page kept putting me off purchasing this album at my local second hand record store. Luckily for me the price reduced by 50% after several months due to the shop’s Dutch auction approach until my tipping point was finally reached yesterday. I expected the condition of the disc to match the cover and I was in for a great surprise when I was handed a shiny very strong VG+ first stereo pressing complete with Plastylite ‘ear’.

As you’ve read above, it is an enjoyable recording that I’m pleased to welcome as an addition to the Freddie Roach section of my collection (even if he does style himself as Frederick on the cover).

The band etc: Frederick Roach (organ); Conrad Lester (tenor saxophone); Calvin Newborn (guitar); Clarence Johnston (drums); Marvin Robinson (baritone vocals); Phyllis Smith (soprano vocals); Willie Tate (alto vocals)  Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded October 16, 1964.  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Frederick Roach.  Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Ronnie Braithwaite. Models: Grandassa Models.  Originally issued as Blue Note ST84190.

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The downwithit playlist: Twenty great tracks for you to listen to

The downwithit playlist is a list of 20 YouTube track selections that I have used to give readers a taste of the albums that I have looked at here on downwithit. They are highlighted and form part of a full post.

They are gathered together here for your further pleasure. Click on the burnt orange title to link directly to YouTube and listen.

If you would like to read my full post for the album, each one is available to read here on downwithit

The following six tracks should open on a tablet or mobile device and a computer:-

Tommy Chase: Grove Merchant: Killer Joe
Abdullah Ibrahim: Mannenberg
Pharoah Sanders: Africa: You’ve Got To Have Freedom
The Crusaders: Hollywood: Hollywood
Don Wilkerson: Preach Brother: Camp Meetin’
John Jenkins: John Jenkins with Kenny Burrell: Sharon

The following fourteen tracks should open on a computer, but will not open on a tablet or mobile device:-

Blue Mitchell: Down With It. Hi-Heel Sneakers
John Coltrane: Blue Train: Blue Train
Horace Silver: Six Pieces of Silver: Camouflage
Horace Parlan: Movin’ n Groovin’: On Green Dolphin Street
Joe Henderson: Mode For Joe: Mode For Joe
Johnny Griffin: The Big Soul Band: Wade In The Water
Freddie Roach: Brown Sugar: Brown Sugar
Fred Jackson: Hootin’ ‘N Tootin’: Southern Exposure
Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder: The Sidewinder
Grover Washington: All The King’s Horses: Lean On Me
Kenny Dorham: Una Mas: Una Mas
Jimmy Smith: Home Cookin’: See See Rider
Freddie Roach: The Soul Book: One Track Mind
Kenny Burrell: Out Of This World: Montono Blues

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A breakthrough in the Freddie Roach story

The Soul Book Cover

Great news! Regular readers will know that I have made it my business over the last few months to try find out what happened to Freddie Roach, an undeservedly underrated Hammond organist. His Wikipedia entry records that he stopped recording in the late 1960s, went to live in France and was never heard of again.

I felt that there had to be more to it than that. FR (an abbreviation I will take the respectful liberty of using) had recorded no less than eight albums as leader, including five that were issued on Blue Note.

From reading album sleeves I discovered that, sadly, FR passed away in 1980, aged 49 years. RIP. There were also references to his work as a writer, a plausible line for exploration given FR’s inventive sleeve notes on albums such as Mo’ Greens Please, Brown Sugar, Mocha Motion and, in particular, The Freddie Roach Soul Book (I can’t comment on Down to Earth, All That’s Good and My People, Soul People, as I haven’t yet heard them yet. The notes for Good Move were written by jazz critic, Nat Hentoff).

At the turn of the year I decided to see if a couple of references to FR working in Newark, New Jersey would lead me anywhere. I came across a website dedicated to The Newark Jazz Elders and was excited to discover that artists who had played with FR were celebrated on there. I contacted them but there is still no word as yet. I hope that their archivist is in good health.

The end of 2013 arrived and my disappointment at not being able to update things by the end of 2013 only made me re-double my efforts to find out more. I would see if anything would turn up through searches of French websites. I chased a wild goose briefly, when I read of a Hammond organist who lived outside Paris, but that turned out to be Lou Bennett.

My French digging did uncover something that was more promising though. On 25 May 1974 there was a performance in Paris 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. So there was substance to the references to FR being involved in dramatic performance.

The next jigsaw piece was on YouTube where in a comment on a Freddie Roach track where a respondent stated that he had lived in a house owned by FR on Clinton Avenue, Newark from 1971-72 and that he had heard FR playing the Hammond. So the disappearance to France was not to be the finale then.

IMG_1197-2

On Wednesday, I was whiling away my lunch break in a regular Brixton coffee shop haunt. I read of a twitter link to the Mosaic Records website and made a visit. Mosaic licence and re-package classic modern jazz sets on high quality vinyl and preset them with excellent and informative packaging. Their website, which I have yet to fully explore, features short films. It was there that I learned of a growing Hammond organ scene in San Francisco and of DJ and Hammond organ historian, Pete Fallico, which you can read here.

I was sure that if anybody could move this story on then it would be Pete Fallico, so I crossed my fingers and emailed him. He responded and I picked up his reply yesterday. I was not the first person to strike gold in California but Pete’s eloquent article, which he forwarded to me, was the Freddie Roach Mother Lode.

Pete has very kindly allowed me to reproduce his excellent article on Freddie Roach. You will discover that FR did not disappear to France; that he is fondly remembered by fellow musicians from the Newark NJ area and that he was:- ‘…an actor, storyteller, playwright and jazz organist’.

Pete mentioned that he hopes to publish a book about the Hammond organ and the jazz artists who embraced it. I am confident that you will agree that if his article is a taste of what it would be like then he will be offering up an exquisite, treat filled feast.

Pete hosts a superb webcast, the doodlin’ lounge, which I am beginning to explore. It includes artist themed podcasts featuring interviews with some of the greatest living Hammondistas. You can visit doodlin’ lounge here.

My recent introduction to Pete Fallico means that I can only note a couple of things about him and runs the risk of missing much. But I will say that he hosted a radio version of Doodlin’ Lounge for 29 years; that he actually owns no less than six Hammond organs, which are made available to organists performing in California; that he is the driving force behind the Jazz Organ Fellowship and the Doodlin’ Records label (which we will return to) and that he has been kind enough to allow me to reproduce his article on Freddie Roach here.

Without further ado, it’s time to hand over to this Master wordsmith and get the answers to some questions about FR and read some great comments from musicians who knew him. Select to read on. Some questions remain, particularly about FR as a writer and actor but Pete’s work reveals truth previous obscured by mystery.

There’s one more thing on this post. It’s about Freddie Roach, so here is some of his music. Nada Bossa From Mo’ Greens Please appears from YouTube courtesy of Funkgarciab

To listen click on or touch the arrow

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New information about Freddie Roach

My interest in finding out what happened to Freddie Roach after he stopped recording continues. I’m not satisfied with the current Wikipedia entry which reads “…he moved to France, after which he was not heard of again.” FR deserves better than that.

By the end of last year what I had found out was that Freddie Roach died in 1980 (from Bob Blumenthal’s notes when taking ‘a new look’ at Ike Quebec’s ‘Heavy Soul’, which featured FR). There is also a line from the notes to So Blue so Funky, a Blue Note Hammond organ compilation album released in 1991, which claim that Freddie enjoyed a second career as a movie actor. These were penned by Roy Carr, who had undertaken UK publicity work for Blue Note in the 60’s and is regarded as being very knowledgeable about the label and its artists.

As the year ended more internet mining resulted in what I thought was a great lead when I found something that linked his name with clubs in Barcelona but on opening it up I discovered that this was actually about another Hammond organist, Lou Bennett. I was disappointed.

Here’s a bit more of FR: Tenderly from Soul Book, courtesy of SuperXavier30 on YouTube

To play the clip touch or click on the arrow.

There was nothing new to report here until last week when a search on Freddy Roach (sic) + Paris unearthed a link to 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!

The eagle-eyed will note that the FR YouTube link contains a comment from Steven McCormack which says that he rented an apartment from FR in Newark, New Jersey from 1971-72 and that one of FR’s sons lived next door to him during this period and that he worked with his other son. He says that he knew that FR played well as he would sometimes hear him playing.

A further bit of digging informed me about a publicly funded feature-length documentary about the Hammond Organ entitled Killer B3. There’s a not to be missed link here.

To play the clip touch or click on the arrow.

It looks like a must-see film and I hope we get the opportunity of a screening here in London very soon. The film website is at:

http://www.killerb3.com

So if you know any more about FR, please let us know. My research will continue.

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