John Bigham: The Soul Of John Black The Soul of John Black is a band with a sound every bit as varied as the musical experiences of its leader, John Bigham. Many people know Bigham from the ska-funk band Fishbone, but he was also a member of Miles Davis' band. Tony Cox talks with the musician, who also gives an in-studio performance.
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John Bigham: The Soul Of John Black

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John Bigham: The Soul Of John Black

John Bigham: The Soul Of John Black

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TONY COX, host:

We end the hour with the sounds of "The Soul of John Black." The group's lead singer John Bigham is right here, live in studio.

(Soundbite of song "Black John")

Mr. JOHN BIGHAM: (Singing) Black John was a fightin' man. Yeah, Black John was a fightin' man. Listen now. Black John fresh on the scene. Black John, mean machine. Black John, hot dolly queen from some suspicious type of business making crazy green. You know him got into some trouble out there. For shooting at 'em like you just don't care. Yeah, he took out of about two or three. And left a very special message Don't you mess with me. Oh, huh. Oh, huh. Oh oh, huh. Oh, listen now. Black John, let that pistol ring Ain't nobody come up outa that thing Heard the sound, bounce back a couple of times Before the boys even hit the ground.

COX: My, my. That is "The Soul of John Black," combining funk, hip hop, blues, rock and whatever else seems right. John Bigham is the mastermind behind the group, you just heard him. He's released the third album under "The Soul of John Black" banner, it's called "Black John," and that was the title cut, I'm presuming. John Bigham?

Mr. JOHN BIGHAM (Musician): Yeah.

COX: Black John, thank you and welcome to News & Notes.

Mr. BIGHAM: Oh, thank you for having me.

COX: It's nice to have you, man. I'm looking at you and I'm looking at cover of the CD because, you know, you got these big sunglasses on here, looking fierce. And your music - actually you look like your music sounds.

Mr. BIGHAM: Oh, good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Oh, yeah, that is a good thing. Tell us a little bit about - this is confusing to me, OK. "The Soul of John Black," "Black John," "John Bigham," all of those are you.

Mr. BIGHAM: Yeah.

COX: All right. So, but the "The Soul of Black John" is the title of the CD?

Mr. BIGHAM: "The Soul of John Black"...

COX: "The Soul of John Black."

Mr. BIGHAM: Is the name of the band. Black John is the name of this particular CD. "Black John" is standing in front of a church by the way, you know, so.

COX: Oh yeah.

Mr. BIGHAM: You know, it's - just, you know, it's that thing, good and evil.

COX: Oh, I've got you. I got you. Now, you just sang the title song from the new CD. One reviewer says about that, the lyrics are inconsequential, what matters is the soul and funk. I don't know if I agree with that. You agree with that?

Mr. BIGHAM: You know what, I feel like I may have been taken out of context because I said that about one song on this record, called "Emotions." I said on that song, you know, I mean, you don't really need the lyrics. But for - to put that on a whole album, no, I don't agree with that. I put a lot of time into it (laughing).

COX: Now, you actually - you played with a lot of different folks. You were with Fishbone. You were a member of Miles Davis's band. When was that?

Mr. BIGHAM: I was with Miles Davis. I started working with him in '87 as a writer, you know. Kind of, I was like a protege and I just kind of ended up in the band, you know, just because I was around, you know, I was working with him, writing music and I just ended up playing with him. I mean, it sounds casual...

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Oh, it is Miles Davis. And you did write a song on the Amandla album.

Mr. BIGHAM: Yeah, yeah I wrote a song on Amandla album, and he used to perform a couple of other songs that I wrote, live.

COX: Yeah?

Mr. BIGHAM: But that was one that you know, through all the red tape, it actually made it to the record.

COX: So, from an audience standpoint, Miles Davis, it was crazy to see him in the '80s. You know, back to the audience, head down, blow a couple of notes, walk off stage for half hour and come back. What was it like working with him during that time?

Mr. BIGHAM: Well, during the '80s I think he was passed that. I think it was more like that in the '60s. In the '80s, he was very open. I mean, he was a good friend to me. I spent a lot of personal time with him, you know, at his house and just chatting, and he would paint, you know, and we would just hang out, man. I spent a lot of quality time with him, you know.

COX: You also are into blues, obviously. "The Good Girl Blues" that was the last CD...

Mr. BIGHAM: Yeah, that was the last CD.

COX: That you guys put out. Do you think of yourself as a pure blues person?

Mr. BIGHAM: No, no. I don't think of myself as a pure blues person at all. But I am from Chicago and I grew up listening to, you know, Bobby "Blue" Bland and Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and stuff like that. And hearing about it, you know, secondhand from my parents, you know. And even - you know later on in life, I realized that my brothers, one of my brothers was quoting Howlin' Wolf all the time. And I didn't realize until after I listened to Howlin' Wolf that, you know, I was actually being fed that stuff, you know, all the time.

COX: We're going to ask you to play another song for us in just a second. But before I do that, I wanted to ask you this, because as I listened to the whole CD, man, it's got some of everything in here, this got a little blues, a little funk, a little hip hop. This - and when I say it's all over the place, I mean that in a good way, you know, by design, I'm imagining.

Mr. BIGHAM: Yeah, yeah. I kind of did it like, you know, it's more like a DJ, you know, or like a live show, that's my set for the night, you know. and it's not that it's not cohesive or, you know, that it doesn't, you know, go together, it's just that, you know, these - you know, each song kind of like has its own personality. But it all, you know, fits together.

COX: Man, I see you're a lefty too, huh.

Mr. BIGHAM: Yeah.

COX: All right, so what are you going to play for us?

Mr. BIGHAM: Oh, sheesh. I'll play a little bit of "I Knew a Lady."

COX: OK, I knew a lady too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIGHAM: I'm sure you did.

(Soundbite of song "I Knew a Lady")

Mr. JOHN BIGHAM: (Singing) I knew a lady. And she was fine. She had a pretty face And a troubled mind. All she wanted was a little fun. She got dancing feet. She wanted to get it on. All the Lord's children need to be saved All the Lord's children lost in these days All the Lord's children in the frying pan Good God, Almighty throw up your dang hands All the Lord's children out on these streets All the Lord's children fighting for peace All the Lord's children up off your knees Good God, Almighty Come dance with me Oh, oh, oh, oh All the Lord's children feeling the pain All the Lord's children trying to maintain All the Lord's children trying to kill the brain With two vodka din(ph) And a glass of champagne Don't do it Huh, it ain't gonna work All she wanted was a little fun She got dancin' feet she want to get it on.

COX: I like that. Yeah.

Mr. BIGHAM: It's a little Hollywood song.

COX: Yeah. Well, you know, that's - this is great. So tell me a little bit about the band.

Mr. BIGHAM: Oh, the band is, it's kind of a little community that we have going on. It's just me and a bunch of my friends who I've played with in different bands over the years, you know, we just became friends. And I play with them, and then whatever projects they've got going on, you know, when it's paying or not paying, and they do the same favor for me, you know. We just try to keep it going, you know, and work with each other, you know, from Adam McDougal who plays keyboards, he plays with the Black Crowes and he played - well, we played together with Nikka Costa, the bass player Sean Davis, we played with Nikka Costa together, but he also plays with Beck and, you know, so and so forth. A lot of local guys who are just really good at what they do, and we just happen to be friends.

COX: Well, you know, our time is up and I appreciate your coming on. I wanted to talk to you about Betty Jean...


COX: Because I know that's the song you wrote for Miles Davis'...

Mr. BIGHAM: Oh, yeah, Betty - Betty Davis.

COX: Well, I tell you what. Can you give me 30 seconds of it?

Mr. BIGHAM: Oh, yeah.

JOHN BIGHAM: (Singing) I've been (unintelligible) She dipped in chocolate and three kinds of honey I checked my list and she ain't got Everything that I need yes, indeed. And I'm so sweet on Betty Jean Oh.

COX: Thank you so much, man.

Mr. BIGHAM: You're welcome.

COX: Sweet on Betty Jean. This is John Bigham in studio with us. We do appreciate your coming by.

Mr. BIGHAM: Thank you.

COX: Good luck with the CD.

Mr. BIGHAM: Thank you, Tony.

COX: John Bigham is the mastermind behind the group The Soul of John Black. Their brand new CD is called "Black John."

(Soundbite of music)

JOHN BIGHAM: (Singing) To you know if you're free to go on a ride with me...

COX: That's our show for today. Glad you could join us. To listen to the show or subscribe to the podcast visit our Web site, To join the conversation or sign up for the newsletter visit our blog at News & Notes was created by NPR and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Tomorrow, as the U.S. recession deepens the Middle East and Latin America do not seem to be hit as hard. We'll take a look at the state of global economies.

COX: I'm Tony Cox. This is News & Notes.

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