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
Time to funk up this gloomy morning with some new tunes from soul music legend, author, and founding member of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Charles Wright. He sent us over the single from his new album called “She Don’t Believe in Love” and we got a whole earful of funk.
What was great about the track was that it had that classic get down and boogey funk sound with some contemporary sounds. Another great thing about Mr Wright’s tunes is his distinctive soul voice, it really peaks through the funk around it giving you something to grab on to and enjoy — overall a solid track
Peep “She Don’t Believe in Love and leave your thoughts in the comments. If you are feeling his sound, pick up the full length album, Something to Make You Feel Good, from your favorite digital retailer.
On Sunday, July 20, 2016 I had the pleasure of sitting in at Agape Church. The speaker was moving and inspirational and I look forward to coming back. Thank you to brothers Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith and Akili Beckwith for the invitation.
I want to wish everyone a Good Monday Morning! How was your weekend? Any good stories, I want to hear them.
Think of Mondays as a new beginning, a new opportunity. A Fresh start. What will you do to make the most of it? Share it to me in the comments.
I both love and hate books that don’t leave a discrete ending for the reader. Have you ever felt the need to write sequels?
I am in the process of finishing the sequel of my book “Up From Where We’ve Come.” I realized early on that it would be impossible to cram my whole life into one volume, so I decided to break it up into multiple books.
There’s always another book in the pipeline to write… Tell me about it! Does it have a working title?
I am still early in the process, working on the first draft of the next installment, so I am not interested in divulging my next title, at least not yet.
Some advice other writers have given is that your first book is best sitting in a drawer for a while, because then you feel stronger about chopping up ‘your baby’. Do you still have a copy of your first draft? How different is this from the final published version of “Up From Where We’ve Come”?
I do still have a copy of the first draft. The difference is that the first draft has many more words, because once I get everything written down I have to make sure my writing is as concise as possible. The chopping up and process of elimination is very important to the final book.
Do you have a dedicated writing space? How does it meet your writing needs?
I write when and wherever the spirit hits me, but more often than not at my personal computer. Sometimes I will also write on the couch or in bed. The most important thing, though, is that I am comfortable, no matter where I am writing that day.
What is your writing process? Have you ever thought about changing it? Other authors I have interviewed talk about having an outline – post-it notes in an office, or writing in paper journals. Is there something like that in your writing technique? Or is it all digital for you?
I wrote my first draft of “Up From Where We’ve Come” on a typewriter, since I started writing the book before I owned my first computer. It was only later that I started typing it into a digital format. Because I am not a trained author and am writing my life story, it is straight from my memory bank instead of using outlines.
How do you know when a book or short story is finished? How do you know to step away and let the story speak for itself?
I am not a trained author so I simply go by rote. I simply follow my inner emotions. Like I said before, I knew I would have a difficult time putting my entire life in one book, so the move from Mississippi to California was a great place to pause for the first volume.
Do you have a preference for e-book or paperback format? This is for both your own reading and your writing.
Since I’ve never read an e-book, I guess that answer would be quite obvious. I can’t speak for an experience I’ve never had. I have however, read many paper books so, I guess you could call me ‘old- school’!
Social media is becoming a big thing. How does managing media outlets come into marketing your brand and your books?
I have a Twitter, and Instagram, and a Facebook, but I am so busy and do not usually have time to look after my social media profiles. I’m afraid I have to leave that up to the experts.
You have answered other sets of interview questions, is there something you wish someone would have asked you? Or conversely, something you wish they hadn’t asked?
No not really. Thanks for your time Rosemarie
It’s worth at this point detailing some of background to Wright’s book. Born in 1940 in the Deep South, Wright grew up in an America segregated by race. Although the Union had won the Civil War the century previously, a war fought over the slave system that had made Southern white landowners rich, and the slaves were supposedly given their freedom after emancipation, for many very little had changed by the time Wright was born. Slavery was replaced by another form of servitude, namely sharecropping. Now, instead of slaves being owned by the landowners, the landowners would provide some of their land to the newly ‘freed’ blacks, as well as poor white farmers, along with some rudimentary housing, equipment and maybe even a mule; a local merchant would provide the farmer with credit to purchase food and supplies. In return, at harvest the sharecropper would take a share of the crop produced; the sharecropper would take the rest, minus anything else was owed.
One of the stories that stand out in the book is the first time that Wright took a ride in a car into Clarksdale with the rest of his family. His amazement at being in a car for the first time is fascinating to read for a modern audience who’ve been around cars all their lives. Yet their ownership of the car did not last long: Wright’s father had bought the car with the financial help of Mr Miles, but further financial woes and the devious assistant to Mr Brookings, a man named Leo, conned Wright into selling the car, a blow to Wright’s father who tried for years to better his family’s desperate situation.