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Curtis Mayfield is dead. And yet another of my nodes turns into an obit. I have few memories of the guy; my early-childhood listening was more about Top 40 WABC and the burgeoning freeform stations in New York - I remember the local soul station WWRL (I think it was) blaring from some of the houses, but it never became part of my own listening habits.

During the summer of the Apollo 11 landing, I spent a good deal of time with the North Carolina branch of the family, and The Impressions' old 45 of "Amen" was an oft-played one on the turntables of my aunt and uncle in Roseboro. But I didn't know that was Curtis.

I first saw him on The Midnight Special, around the time of Superfly; they'd pretty much given the show over to him that night. An old black guy with glasses and a scruffy beard, playing his guitar without a pick and in an unorthodox fashion. A weird falsetto voice - a cool weird. He'd written a "new theme song" for the show - a groovy ballad to "replace" the canned session player generica rock of the real theme, a theme that probably had Leadbelly cringing from the grave. Curtis' cool weird alternative theme made me happy to be a pre-adolescent insomniac.

But still, it was only years later that I would associate "Amen" and "Choice of Colors" and "People Get Ready" and "Keep On Pushin'" with that boho-looking Superfly singer. "So that was Curtis?" Yes it was. My old vinyl of "Future Shock", etc, are packed away, but it might be worth the effort to unpack 'em for a few minutes.

My greatest Curtis memory only has him on the periphery. The Jam, in the throes of breaking up, released an EP that included a cover of "Move On Up"; it quickly became my favorite song of the moment (and the horn arrangement is playing in my head as I write this). I was blindsided (wonderfully so) by the full-blown move to soul by the band, and the balls-out exuberance of the performance made me think that this is what it must have been like to have had a brand-spanking-new Impressions 45 in one's hands, back in the day. I'd play it, and raise a toast - real or imaginary, depending on the moment - to Curtis. And now that horn line is playing in my head for you, sir.

Move on up
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