Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kickstarter Project Launched (Again)

We fell a little short on our initial fund-raising campaign, so we launched another Kickstarter project to raise money to finish The Other Side of Nashville book. We have a ways to go, so check out our video (below) and please give generously!

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Aashid - More Thoughts

The obituary I wrote below for the Blues website tells Aashid's story as succinctly and straight-forward as possible. Culled from my interviews with Aashid, the artist bio we worked on together for the All Music Guide, and from the biography on his goarchie website, this obit combines a lot of truth, some hyperbolic opinion, and a little mythology as only Aashid could spin it....

But, the obit doesn't tell the entire story, my story, and I'm betting, the story of many of his fans. I first met Aashid in the early 1980s, at an Afrikan Dreamland show. We would run into each other frequently through the years, at various local shows, and he was always hyping not only his own band, but those of various young rockers that he supported. It's safe to say that Aashid was the local rock music scene's biggest cheerleader, and while I wrote at length about local bands for out-of-town rags like Progressive Media, CMJ New Media, Trouser Press, and others, Aashid got more exposure for local artists by allowing them to open for Afrikan Dreamland's typically sold-out shows.

When Gus Palas launched The Metro magazine in 1985, he was already a big Afrikan Dreamland supporter, and I penned a number of articles on Aashid's band during the zine's first couple of years. Sometime near the end of The Metro's 6 or 7 year run, Gus decided he wanted a lengthy interview with Aashid, so I spent a lot of hours with the big man both at his house and mine, taping conversations for the article. Later, Aashid and I would work together on a pet project of his, the induction of Deford Bailey, the first African-American star of the Grand Ole Opry, into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Aashid and I worked on a big article for The Metro on Bailey, Gus commissioned a great painting of Bailey from local artist James Talley, and we interviewed Deford Bailey, Jr. The result was a great article that had little impact on the country music community...until a few years later, when it was reprinted by my friends at Big O magazine in Singapore. It caught the eye of country music fans in Australia, who began to write the Country Music Hall of Fame in large numbers, asking why Bailey hadn't been inducted? The popular harmonica player was finally honored with induction in 2005 or 2006.

During the 1990s, I moved from Nashville to a farm outside of Franklin, living with my (future) wife Tracey. Aashid was a frequent guest in our home, his visits usually announced by a phone call saying "I'm coming out," or by an unexpected knock on the door. We always had a lot of young visitors, especially during the early part of the decade, and Aashid would hold court, sharing stories, playing songs, and teaching the young 'uns his philosophy of life. On occasion, some other musician friends would be hanging out when Aashid showed up, and some great music would ensue. I only wish that I had the digital audio and video equipment then that I do today, to have been able to document the events.

Aashid and I sketched out his book together, worked on gathering photos for the project, and kept in touch into the 2000s on various things. We celebrated the induction of Deford Bailey into the Country Music Hall of Fame by long distance after my move to West New York, but we had sadly grown apart the last couple of years as he battled his own problems in Nashville and my wife and I adjusted to our new lives and responsibilities in WNY. But I never totally lost touch with Aashid, and still listened to his music frequently as I worked on The Other Side of Nashville book project.

I had planned on contacting Aashid a couple of months ago to talk about the book, get some more quotes to use, and ask some questions about his lengthy (and often confusing) discography. But then I heard about the tragic death of his wife Kristina from cancer in January, followed shortly thereafter by the health issues that eventually took Aashid's life. More than a missed opportunity, it was also a lost moment to let him know the influence he and his music had on so many lives. Aashid's immense body of work is unassailable, and his death leaves a big hole in the Nashville rock landscape....

Photo courtesy Ross Smith

Afrikan Dreamland - "Television Dreams"

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Aashid Himons - Blues Obit

Aashid HimonsArchie "Aashid" Himons, an integral part of Nashville's non-country music scene for better than three decades, passed away on Saturday, March 19, 2011 after a brief illness. Himons was 68 years old at the time of his death.

A musical innovator that fused traditional country blues with reggae and world music during the late 1970s, Aashid, as he is known to his many fans, is best known for his popular "blu-reggae" band Afrikan Dreamland, which put Himons' myriad of musical influences into play in creating an energetic and unique sound. With bandmates Darrell Rose and Mustafa Abdul Aleem, the trio recorded six albums and would be the first reggae-oriented band to receive airplay on MTV. Himons' roots ran deep, though, and included a formative background in blues and soul music.

Himons was born in rural West Virginia in 1942, learning the piano by age 3 and the drums by 5 years old. Like many blues artists of the era, Himons sang in the church, and the talented youngster subsequently appeared on several radio and television shows, including The Today Show with Dave Garroway. Himons left home as a teen, hitchhiking to New York City and later joining the army.

After serving his stint with the military, Himons settled into the Washington, D.C. music scene, forming the R&B group Little Archie & the Majestics. During the 1960s, Himons would record a number of sides for various labels and with different bands, but it was a 1966 deal with Dial Records that would result in a pair of singles – "All I Have To Do" and "You Can't Tie Me Down" – that would become known as classics of "northern soul" music, and highly collectible, especially by British aficionados of the genre.

During the late 1960s, Himons worked throughout the country as a blues musician, performing coffeehouses and street corners as "West Virginia Slim." He landed in Toronto in 1969, forming the short-lived duo God & I with musician and actor Jim Byrnes. Himons' restless spirit would lead him to Mexico City, where he performed with a local blues band, but it was during a trip to the Honduras in 1972, where Himons experienced a performance by Count Ossie & the Mystical Revelation of Rastafari, that he had a musical and spiritual epiphany that led to his conversion to Rastafarianism and the creation of his "blu-reggae" style.

A hybrid of country blues, R&B, and reggae that was influenced by Count Ossie's mesmerizing nyabinghi rhythms and the Jamaican style popularized by Bob Marley, blu-reggae would later influence contemporary blues artists like Corey Harris. Himons landed in Nashville during the late 1970s; now known as "Aashid," he formed Afrikan Dreamland with Rose and Aleem. The trio would quickly become one of the Music City's most popular bands, Afrikan Dreamland helping kickstart an original local music scene that had little to do with the city's country music tradition.

Mostly written by Himons, Afrikan Dreamland's positive lyrics preached a philosophy of peace and love, and triumph over adversity, whether caused by economic or social injustice…a thread that would carry through Aashid's entire career. Aside from their popular recordings and seemingly ubiquitous performances, Aashid and Afrikan Dreamland would use their drawing power to help young bands, and many of Nashville's early rock 'n' roll talents got their start opening for Afrikan Dreamland.

Little Archie HimonsAfter the break-up of Afrikan Dreamland in 1987, Aashid embarked on a lengthy and varied musical journey that saw the gifted artist applying his talents to blues, gospel, country, reggae, dub, ambient, and space music. Recording both as a solo artist and with a number of bands like the Pyramid Underground, the Blu-Reggae Underground, Akasha, and Aashid & the New Dream, Himons collaborated with a number of Nashville's most adventurous musicians, talents like Tony Gerber, Giles Reaves, Ross Smith, Gary Serkin, and Kirby Shelstad, among many others. Prolific to a fault, Himons would become one of the most popular artists on during the 1990s as his musical collaborations resulted in dozens of albums that would capture a worldwide audience for Aashid's unique musical vision.

In 1995, Aashid reunited with his former bandmates Rose and Aleem, as well as a number of his more recent collaborators, under the Afrikan Dreamland name to release the two-CD set The Leaders, which further explored the blu-reggae sound. In the late 1990s, Aashid formed the Mountain Soul Band to experiment with country blues and Appalachian-inspired hillbilly music. Working again with friends like Reaves, Gerber, and Shelstad, the Mountain Soul Band also included the talents of brothers Victor and Reggie Wooten, and multi-instrumentalists Jody Lentz and Tramp, then of the Nashville trio Bonepony. This collaboration resulted in a pair of critically-acclaimed albums, 1998's studio release Mountain Soul and the live West Virginia Hills, released a year later.

Himons continued to make music during the 2000s, albeit slowed down by recurring problems with his health. The definition of the DIY artist, Himons utilized cutting-edge technology to record and edit complex, textured, and thought-provoking music on his trusty iMac computer. While not well-known outside of the Southeast, Himons nevertheless has thousands of fans worldwide that have been touched by his positive message, exciting music, and indomitable spirit. For more about the artist and his music, visit the goarchie website.

Photo courtesy of Ross Smith

Reprinted from the Blues website

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