You are about to learn why music matters to the legendary Mother’s Finest. You’re also going to see some amazing photos and hear some funk that rocks so hard you’ll wonder why anyone in their right mind ever wasted money on a Limp Bizkit album (answer: nobody in their right mind ever purchased a Limp Bizkit album).
This is my fourth draft of this piece. Regular readers know that I am not a music journalist but a writer who happens to scribble about music. What’s the difference? As a non-journalist I don’t have to bother with objectivity — I can wallow in my personal obsessions to my heart’s content. The great thing about that kind of freedom is that I can write whatever the hell I want; the bad thing about that kind of freedom is that I can write whatever the hell I want.
As a result the first three drafts of this piece devolved quickly into slobbering lovefests. I might be middle-aged on the outside, but when I crank “Baby Love” I’m fourteen on the inside and Baby Jean is talking directly to me. I can thump and slap as hard as Wyzard, shred like Moses Mo, and wail like Murdock. The only downside is that the song eventually ends and I’m once again a bald guy with a mortgage.
One of those three pieces turned into a diatribe about why “Niggizz Can’t Sang Rock And Roll” as the band themselves put it on their self-title 1976 album. All of the funk-rock, rap-rock, etc. of the last forty years owes a tremendous debt to Mother’s Finest. Next month the Red Hot Chili Peppers will be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. I love the Chilis, but if they don’t acknowledge that they are standing on the shoulders of giants when they accept the honor then they can kiss my red hot chili pepper. That limo ride you guys took to the Hall was on a road paved by Mother’s Finest.
My personal connection to the band starts with 1977′s Another Mother Further, the album that finished what Hendrix started in terms of integrating the record collections of The Guys In Black Tee Shirts Who Jam. If you are new to Mother’s Finest this is the place to start — the album is a must-have for your playlist. It’s been on my desert island list for thirty-five years.
When I was old enough to finally attend concerts my buddy Hal The Drummer and I went to see Mother’s Finest in Greenville, South Carolina. They were opening for Molly Hatchet (fun fact: Joyce “Baby Jean” Kennedy contributed vocals to Molly Hatchet’s Take No Prisoners album), but they blew the headliners off the stage. Hal and I were literally hanging over the balcony in a screaming, delirious, funky thrall. Baby Jean pointed at us and laughed and we completely lost our shit. She wanted us, we just knew it.
But you’re not here to read why Mother’s Finest matters to me. You want to know why music matters to them. I hope that they don’t mind me putting a couple of words in their mouths, but it matters to them because you matter to them. Why else would they be gracious enough to take time out of their busy schedules to share their thoughts with you?
“Music matters because it keeps everything from falling apart, . . . the right song can be the answer to any problem you could have, . . . it keeps us high and full of hope.” — Jerry “Wyzard” Seay
Wyzard is the man, holding down the bottom end with the best of them. He’s been thumping the bass with Mother’s Finest since the beginning back in 1972. Forty years of funk and still getting it done, you have to admire that.
Growing up in Spartanburg, S.C. — just a three-hour ride from the band’s home base in Atlanta — it seemed like every teenaged bassist had a Wyzard story. I don’t know how many of them were true, but they all centered around him being cool, a friend, and a bad ass bass player. The man spread nothing but love through my little town.
“Music matters because music is magic. For those who do not believe, it’s the closest thing. The beat starts and 10,000 people can be connected, instantly. That kind of power is important and feeds the human spirit. Just close your eyes and see.” – Gary “Moses Mo” Moore
Mo is like some kind of bizarre stealth weapon. The guy shreds as hard as any guitarist out there, which is a big part of what makes Mother’s Finest unique. They rock too hard to be a “black” band and they’re too damned funky to be a “white” band. That might not seem like a problem in the post-Prince, Living Colour, etc., era, but that’s what makes MF the giant shoulders that all of those acts are standing on.
Check out this clip of Mother’s Finest tearing up “Give It Up” and you’ll see what I mean. Mo’s solo kicks in around 3:37 or so.
“Music matters because it expresses the inexpressible, speaks the unspeakable. Gives life a cool soundtrack. Is a gift that inspires many and can bring tears to the eyes of the hardest thug.” — Dion Murdock
Dion is the son of Mother’s Finest co-founders Glenn Murdock and Joyce Kennedy. He came on board with 1992′s Black Radio Won’t Play This Record. He’s also sat behind the kit for Phish, Macy Gray, and Holland’s Kane. Music “gives life a cool soundtrack.” Man, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Music matters because without it I would’ve never seen a thirteen year-old James hanging over the balcony in Greenville Memorial Auditorium and realized that he is the one and only true love of my life. If only time and geography hadn’t conspired against us all of these years. — Joyce “Baby Jean” Kennedy
Okay maybe I made that last one up, but can you blame me? Baby Jean is the total package — she can wail, she’s beautiful, and from all accounts she is a genuinely decent human being. She is one of those rare performers who can make any sized hall seem tiny — like you are the only other person in the room. The lady belongs in the same breath as whatever diva you choose to mention — Celine, Christina, Mariah, Madonna, Gaga. No, that’s not true. None of those women belong in the same breath as Joyce Kennedy. The world won’t make sense to me until Baby Jean gets the mainstream respect that she deserves. Here’s a classic piece of video that tells the story much better than I can:
Mother’s Finest is still out there getting it done, touring mostly Europe and the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. You can view their tour calendar at http://mothersfinest.fanbridge.com/tourdates/. Don’t miss them if you’re lucky enough to be within a few hundred miles of a tour date. It’s not often that you get to see legends and a great show at the same time. (No offense, Placido Domingo. You might be a legend but your funk rating is in negative territory. Know what? Send me a clip of your version of “Piece Of The Rock” and I’ll reconsider my “the legendary Domingo doesn’t put on a show as great as Mother’s Finest’s” position. )
But maybe you can’t make it to a live date. I’m stuck out here on the West Coast, for example, and there are no tour dates on the horizon in my neck of the woods. Well, the goods news is that Mother’s Finest has a new live CD that spans their entire career. MF4D is eleven fearsome tracks of Mother’s Finest goodness. With performances ranging from 1981 to 2006 you get to hear the original line up, including Michael Keck on keyboards and Barry “BB Queen” Borden on drums, and the new line up with John Hayes on guitar and Dion Derek on drums. Doc, Wyzard, Baby Jean, and Mo are there for the whole ride, of course.