Norman Richmond interviews Rickey Vincent, author of Party Music

The following is Norman Otis Richmond’s interview with Rickey Vincent, author of “Party Music,” a book about the Black Panther Party’s band. The interview was done on the program Diasporic Music on UhuruRadio.com on October 20, 2013.
 
Norman Richmond: Join­ing me on the line from the Bay area is Rickey Vincent, who is the author of “Party Music,” the Inside Story of the Black Panther Party’s band and how Black Power transformed soul music. He is also a regular host of a popular show on KPFK ra­dio in the Bay area, a Pacifica station. He is also the son of Theodore Vincent, who wrote a great book called “Black Power and the Garvey Movement.” I will give you the mic right now for you to talk about how the book came about.
 
Rickey Vincent: I was working at UC Berkley. I was a graduate student. I also used to do a lot of radio, a lot of music.
 
I worked with Boots Riley from the rap group, the Coup, a well-known conscious rapper. He was actually doing an album called Party Music where he used a lot of funk samples. That’s when I played a “History of Funk” on KPFK.
 
So we would talk a lot about the music and where it came from and who played what. Then one day he just called me and said “Rick did you know that the Black Panthers had a funk band?” and we just kind of laughed. I said “That’s ridiculous. The Black Pan­thers are serious business, why would they get down and funky like that?” and said “Keep look­ing into it, keep digging into it. My sources, they don’t make this up.”
 
So I did and I found other for­mer Panthers who corroborated. They said, yeah, the Panthers had a musical group, and they were called the Lumpen.
 
They produced a single. Side A was a song called “Free Bobby Now,” and it had a James Brown groove on it. The chanting was “Bobby must be set free!”
 
I said “Woah, this is straight R&B from the 1970s Bay Area. There was a lot of good rock and rhythm and blues, funky music in­fluenced by James Brown.”
 
The B side of the single had a ballad that sounded like a Ray Charles type of ballad. It was about an uprising: “There won’t be no more!” That talked about all the suffering happening in the black community.
 
And the final chorus is “We will take up arms and drive these peo­ple out. There won’t be no more of this.” It had soul music standards all over it but it had the militant message of the Black Panther Party in all of the lyrics and it was amazing.
 
So I kept looking and through a couple of connections, I dis­covered that one of the sons of the Lumpen members had a rap group that was called The Fugi­tives. I invited this young rapper, James Calhoun to my radio show program, along with David Hill­iard, former Chief of Staff of the Black Panther Party, and they were promoting this record.
 
We played the music, and we talked and got a little into it, then I asked the young man about his dad. I asked, “Is he in a band?” He said “Yeah.”
 
I asked if I could talk with him, and we eventually had a phone conversa­tion with William Calhoun.
 
The man was all business. He said, “Yeah, I was a Black Pan­ther, what do you want to know?” I asked, “Were you with a band?” He said, “Well, we did have a band for about a year, but we were Panthers, don’t get it twisted, this wasn’t fun and games, and we were serious about it.”
 
He told me how he joined the Black Panther Party in 1969 during a lot of the student strike activity that revolved around San Francisco State University and a number of Bay Area schools had student strikes in support.
 
So he was working at San Jose State along with two oth­er Bay Area college students. One was Michael Torrence from Berkeley High School, and one was Clark Bailey from Oakland.
 
They were student organizers in 1968 and 1969, but they all had designs on becoming Panthers. So they regularly did the volun­teer work for the Panther Party, they regularly sold the Black Pan­ther paper, which was the main income source for the Party.
 
Grad­ually they became trusted rank and file Pan­ther Party members, and as time went on, when they would be asked to do a lot of busy work, they would just strike up music as they were.
 
There’s a weekly shipping night, where hundreds of Pan­thers would get together and vol­unteer to bind, label and ship out the Panther paper on Wednes­day nights. These guys became known as the Panthers that would sing and make up songs, hum along to tunes. Everybody did that, but these guys were good.
 
One day they were asked to perform at an outdoor festival in the Fillmore district. They wrote some songs and sang revolu­tionary rhythm and blues. At that point, Emory Douglas, the Min­ister of Culture, said, “You guys need to do this for real. Go get a band.”
 
So the band could play, and the lyrics were uncompromising expressions of the Panther Party line and what it would take to bring the revolution about in this coun­try. So they brought both of these standards of expression together.
 
Their performances were very well received. I obtained a tape of the live concert of the group, and that became the framework for the whole book. So once I tell the story of the Lumpen themselves, how they came together and the performances they did, then I go through each song and start a dis­cussion of Black Power and soul music based on each song.
 
So the narrative weaves from the black power narrative to the soul music narrative. People can see that these things are interre­lated because they all happened at the same time to the same people.
 
You see how these things overlap and that’s how people lived. That’s how you should be telling history. You should be tell­ing the lived lives of the people, not just the proclamations and le­gal documents and speeches, but how the people lived and what they went through.
 
Norman Richmond: How can people get your book?
 
Rickey Vincent: The book is called “Party Music” by Lawrence Hill Books, who also produced the Assata autobiography. It’s avail­able in many bookstores and on Amazon.com. Go to RickeyVin­cent.com and get some updates. The book “History of Funk” is also still in print.
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