Charles W. Wright: Where He’s Been and What He Saw
By Seth Sandronsky
Up from Where We’ve Come by Charles W. Wright is an autobiography by the world-renowned musician and songwriter. He is best known as the leader of Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, and for recording the enduring 1971 classic “Express Yourself”.
Wright’s book provides a first-hand account of racism and depicts how he went from poverty to prosperity. Written in the raw dialects and rhythms of how blacks and whites communicated with each other in the era, the book, available as an epub or pdf, is an insider’s riveting glimpse into the realities of the times. Visit <mileshighproductions.com/images/tracks/charles_wright/>. This interview was conducted via email.
What compelled you to write Up From Where We’ve Come?
Wright: Hello Seth, It’s as simple as this, I always wanted to write my life story. I used to tell people all the time that I was writing a book and I was. It just took me 40 years to finally decide to finish it and to go through the grueling pains of publishing it.
What do you aim to convey to readers?
The end of an era which codified the relation between slavery and sharecropping. It was an important event in American history, which took place without the least bit of fanfare, yet it was an important event in my life.
Can you give readers a sense of what made this era so important to you?
This was a time when black people were finally giving up the idea of living in the South and in semi-slavery. Consequently, many moved to Northern cities like Chicago or St. Louis, Philadelphia and New York City. It was also a time when America’s technology presented the invention of the cotton picking machine and chemicals, which could curtail the growth of grass and weeds. Thus, there would soon be no need for human beings to do such laborious chores such as chopping or picking cotton in the sweltering sun from sunup till sundown. Fortunately, my family relocated to California, which in my estimation is one of the best cities of the lot and especially where the weather is concerned.
How did living on the West Coast shape the evolution of your music in terms of culture, politics and teachers?
There was little if any politics involved in the music I grew up with on the West Coast. However there was so much emotion in the music of great arrangers like Maxwell Davis, Ernie Freeman and Rene Hall. These were the gentlemen who set the pace for R&B music on the West Coast. I indulged myself as deep as I possibly could in the works of these particular men as well as the music of many East Coast producers. There were so many great artists recorded and produced by these gentlemen in fact, too many to mention on a single page.
What instrument(s) did you play in the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band that recorded the 1971 classic “Express Yourself” (#3 R&B, #12 Pop – Billboard), “Loveland ” (sung by drummer James Gadson later a top session musician in Los Angeles), “Do Your Thing ” (featuring lead guitarist Al McKay later with Earth, Wind & Fire) and the racial equality anthem “Comment” (recorded by jazz legend Les McCann, alternative rockers Wilco and others)?
I played both guitar parts on that particular track. I played piano on “Loveland” and guitar on “Do Your Thing” of which Al Mckay played the lead guitar. “Comment” was covered by even more people than you mentioned in fact, I heard a beautiful rendition, but only once, by the master himself, Ray Charles.
Which writers did you read prior to penning your book?
One of the everlasting stories that is still haunting me was a book titled Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement by Devery S. Anderson. I hope you’ll read it and be as amazed of its content as I was.
Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2016