Photo by Eli BreuggemannLou and Glo Wilson
in Philly after Mandrill Concert
by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
Today, October 25, 2013 marks the 72nd birthday of the Love of My Life, Lou Wilson, of Mandrill, who made his transition to the ancestors at the beginning of this year, on January 7, 2013. I definitely did not take his sudden departure from my life lightly or graciously or gracefully. It was all the more painful because he was 3,000 miles away from me when it happened.
At this writing, the first since his passing, a flood of memories come racing to the front of my mind, each one vying to be attended to first. So, I've got the Montreaux Jazz festival plugged into my ears, and I'm listening to his music the first time since his passing. And the magnitude of this magnificent man continues to blow me away.
But, since this is a tribute, not a tell-all, I'm going to push them back, and hold them off for another time when I'm not so sobby/weepy. Because, truth be told, there is not a day that goes by that I don't think about him, the life we had together, the life we planned together, and the fact that none of that's ever going to happen. At least, not on this plane of action.Lou was born October 25, 1941 in Colon, Panama. He was 11 when his parents emigrate to the US; his younger brother Ricardo (Doc) was 9. He would have been 72 on this upcoming birthday, but had the energy and spirit of a man half his age. He was the eldest of five boys, and the apple of his mom's eye. He was also the most mischievous of all the brothers, and kept both his parents hopping, trying to figure out what he was going to get into next. Lou had a great sense of humor, loved people, loved to kid around, but underneath that prankishness lurked a very serious, well thought out, creative and talented person; always exploring his inner depths, always seeking improvement. He was somewhat of a philosopher, and would spend a great deal of time picking other people's brains to see where they were coming from.His early days in Brooklyn was more or less culture shock. He had a thick Jamaican - Barbadian accent, and found that the kids made fun of his speech pattern. Of course, as they adapted to the community, and he learned to speak English more proficiently, the accent almost completely disappeared, only surfacing when he wanted to - when he was among family and friends.
And Lou had a ton of friends in Brooklyn. He always spoke fondly of PS 54 and Boys High - all the Wilson brothers attended and graduated from Boys High. Lou graduated with Vaughn Harper, class of 59. Both men went into the media and entertainment field - Vaughn with Inner City Broadcasting; Lou, formed the group MANDRILL, with his brothers - Ric and Carl, and friend Claude "Coffee" Cave.All of the Wilson brothers were required to learn music and master at least one instrument. It was mandatory, and Dad Wilson was a stickler for practice and perfection - he himself played the acoustic guitar. Lou chose the trumpet, although he secretly wanted to learn piano, and loved the drums. Younger brother Ric played the saxophone; Carlos played the flute and trombone, and youngest brother Wilfredo played the bass guitar.It was while he was attending Long Island University, with a psychology major, that Lou began dreaming of the idea of having his own group. The brothers had become quite proficient in their music, and had actually begun rehearsing in their mother, Doris Wilson's beauty parlor on Marcy Ave., which is where they grew up - between Willoughby Ave. and Hart Street. Lou had gone through a myriad of dead end jobs before he made the decision that he was going to follow his dream: He was a dental assistant, a taxi driver, among other things. But when he became a caretaker in a mental institution, he realized that he really wanted no parts of that arena, and began earnestly focusing on a career as a musician and an entertainer.Sure they were born to the Wilson's on the Panama Canal, where they (four of them - all boys, mind you: Luis, Ricardo, Carlos and Wilfredo) were raised by their parents, Doris and Wilfred Wilson, who instilled in them a lifetime love and reverence for music. Indeed, their Jamaican born father had each one of them playing some kind of instrument by the tender ages of four and five, and made it a responsibility, right up there with the other chores they had to do. In fact, if they didn't practice, they couldn't go out and play.
As their parents progressed, they soon sent for the other two sons (Carlos and Wilfredo), and established a household near the Marcy Projects on Marcy Ave., near Street, where the accents there, just as in Panama, were from all over the world - because Brooklyn, indeed was and is the mecca for Caribbean and Central Americans who likewise came to give their families better lives.
And now, music was in his blood - it was his air, he literally breathed the stuff - he was a master composer and wrote most of the original music, lyrics, concepts, drawing heavily on all he heard, saw and learned in his formative years - from a multi-cultural community, where people from all over the world came to live and work - the Panama Canal. People from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana, St. Croix, St. Lucia - you name it, there in their little enclaves, speaking in different dialects, with different cultural flavors - the Lou soaked it all up (though he didn't know he were doing so at the time).
But the world probably would never have heard of Lou Wilson and his talented brothers had their parents not decided to emigrate to America to give them better lives. So in the early fifties they sailed with the two eldest sons, Lou and Ric, for New York, and landed in the wonderful land of BROOKLYN. Talk about an adjustment. For Lou, his accent against that of Brooklynese was a challenge - by the time he had graduated from the famed Boys High School (yes he's a part of the Legends of the High!), he had mastered that and so much more.
Their mother, who originated from Barbados, and was the entrepreneurial spirit of the family, had her own beauty parlor, and provided services (as well as any and all community news) to the ladies of the neighborhood. The boys, now teens, rehearsed in their mother's shop, and, combining the flavor of Panama, Jamaica, Barbados, Cuba, Africa, with the flavor in the streets of Brooklyn, their unique musical style was forged.
Young men now, they morphed into Lou, Ric, Carl, and Wolf Wilson - each an incarnation of all that their parents instilled, coupled with an overarching love for their unique blend of cultural influences. While they initially pursued other careers, Ric, a Doctor, graduating from Harvard University; Carl served a stint in VietNam; Lou followed the trail of psychology at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY; Wolf attended Morgan State college, in Maryland - they decided that the only thing they really loved was their music.
Initially they were called the Wilson Brothers, and were just looking to play gigs in local clubs in and around Brooklyn, Manhattan, and other parts of the city. Most of their performances, early on, were at a club called the Blue Coronet, which was owned by the Parnells, who were neighbors in the community. As they became more popular, Lou suggested they expand the group, and began to audition for other musicians - expanding to Fudgie Kaye (Bass guitar), Charlie Padro (Gong and drums), and Omar Mesa (lead string guitar); Claude "Coffee" Cave played the vibraphone and the organ - and when I say he played - Coffee made that organ stand up and pay attention! (actually among the four brothers, they played a total of about 40 instruments).
At some point they decided, owing to the size of the group, and a pact they had made that everyone would have equal input in the group, and they would be like family, they would change the name from the Wilson Brothers. As fate would have it, Charlie Padro was visiting the Bronx Zoo - still don't know why, to this day - and happened to be in front of the Mandrill habitat. As he read the story of the Mandrill - loyal and fiercely protective of the family, most colorful member of the ape family, highly evolved and highly intelligent species - it would be a great name for the group. They loved it. The rest is history.
There are many former neighbors and friends who remember those early days, when it looked as if Mandrill would just be a good local band - playing in such local clubs as the Blue Coronet, among other places. But they were destined for greater things - and soon garnered national attention, leading them to major contracts with Polydor Records, Arista Records, several gold records, and world wide tours. In 1970 they finally got a break, when they were noticed by two producers/promoters - Beau Ray Fleming and Sparkie Martin. There is always a big issue as to who discovered them first - and since I wasn't there (yet), I'm not taking that one any further. The great thing was because of their attention, Mandrill ended up with a contract with Polydor Records.
L-R Mandrill Early 70's: Wilfredo Wilson, Lou Wilson, Coffee Cave (back),
Carlos Wilson, Ricardo Wilson from an old News ClippingIt was the era of funk, and Mandrill was making major inroads on the charts, both nationally and internationally. And because they were sons Brooklyn, they played Prospect Park, Von King Park, Washington Park, as well as Randalls Island, Central Park, Carnegie Hall (first funk group to do so), and other major venues. By 1971 they had cut their first album, Mandrill, and were going on tour - Hawaii, California, Texas, DC, Maryland, Detroit, and Philadelphia, PA - which is where I come in to the picture.
I actually had never heard of the group, and probably would never have paid them much attention, had it not been for my best friend Ann, an avid music lover. I was in graduate school at Temple University, majoring in Educational Psychology. She was raving about this new group, and their fantastic sound. But she kept going on about the spokesperson - this "tall fine brother with a blue butterfly on his fly." And for some reason that stuck in my mind - "Who does that?" I thought.
As luck would have it (or actually, it was as God would have it), Mandrill was appearing in concert at Temple U's Macgonigle Hall; and being a student, I was entitled to attend free. So, of course, I went - with my then 5 year old daughter - who danced throughout their music. In addition to the group, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway performed.
It didn't take me long to figure out who Lou was - from the moment he started talking, I was hooked. Articulate, with a sense of humor, intelligent, and tall. (Did I already say that? Oh well, it is what it is). He played those congas like a master musician who - in African parlance - had his hands blessed by the gods. He could ad lib and not split an infinitive. He held the audience (and moi) totally captivated as he engaged them in his world of music. And, the rest, shall we say, is history.
Many of their fans are still shaking their heads in wonder at how so much sound could come out of four men - who collectively play among them 45 instruments - African as well as european - as well as doing their own vocals, from four part harmony to a`capella. The total amount of energy on that stage was enough to generate electricity for a small country - and that was just Lou by himself. With all of them together they could, and did, light up New York.
Mandrill, the group has grown exponentially since the early days, and are a veritable explosion of music on the stage. I mean real music - because these are each consummate musicians in their own right. You might say that Lou was an ethno-musicologist because he began tracing and linking the musical roots of Mandrill to Africa, the Caribbean, African American Jazz and Blues, ballads, etc. He had it down to a science.
And because they were each musicians in their own right, if you sit in a rehearsal with them, you might hear such comments as "That's an E to the flatted fifth, man!" Now, unless you are musically trained, to you and I whatever he played sounded wonderful; but he was listening with the ears of a trained musician that would put most symphony orchestras to shame. I, along with the rest of the world, was impressed - these brothers played real music - not electronically reproduced - real instruments, real skills!! (In fact, Mandrill was the first funk/rock group to play Carnegie Hall in the early 70's because they were real musicians. They packed the house and turned it out!! And it was also the second time I had seen the group after the first time in Philadelphia. They were even better than the first time.
They got an offer from United Artist to move to California, in 1975 - and after much haranguing, because it meant pulling up stakes in New York, they finally consented to do so. Okay, I'll admit I was definitely not a happy camper in this move. Being a New Yorker, I thought it would be better to be bi-coastal. But we had just had our first son, Rais, and Lou did not want to shuttle back and forth, and miss out on seeing him grow up.
So we moved to California in February of 1975 - to perform at the Roxy, and then go on an extended tour afterwards. The move had mixed results, resulting in the next level of culture shock. Coming from a city where everything is convenient and at your finger tips, to a city where everything was spread out, and spoken of in terms of how long it takes you to arrive at your destination.
And, while there were some major successes, there were some set backs as well; it is to their credit - Lou and his brothers, that their love of music overrode the challenges they encountered on the left coast (yeah, I said it). It also meant getting new members for the group, since some members were no longer with them. The core group of original performers had long since left the group, and others had come and gone, as well - some through death (like Fudgie Kaye), and others to seek other careers.
Forty years later - where has the time gone - they were still performing, while many of their contemporaries are either in retirement, or disbanded. Lou's love for music remained and passionate as ever. But along the way, he had also discovered a new passion - Golf. Something no one would have ever figured him for. He not only became an avid golfer, he was pretty good. He was so good that he wanted to start a Senior Musicians Golf Tournament. He had also begun exploring his artistic skills, and hand done some nature paintings. He had a particular fondness for birds, and would sit and watch them interact.
His love of jazz led him to start his own jazz combo, called LUJIMIKE' - a combination of the his name and the two musicians - Jimmy and Mike, who played with him. When the group was not on tour, they would play in some of the small clubs in and around Los Angeles. They also had appearances on local TV and Jazz radio shows.L-R Ricardo "Doc" Wilson & Lou Wilson sporting their "Mandrill Beards"
Philly Dell East August, 2011Photo by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
In 2010 Mandrill celebrated their 40th anniversary. And, while it was such a milestone for them all, it got little, if any notice in the media, except for this wonderful bio write up:
"Clearly one of the most important pioneers of World Music and one of Funk and R&B's most progressive bands, MANDRILL is one of the most sampled groups of today. They have been introduced to a whole new generation of younger fans who are appreciating, in live concerts and through Internet access, the power and artistry of this band.
You can hear their signature sound on Kanye West's "Two Words" with Mos Def from Kanye's Grammy Award-winning College Dropout album as well as on Brandy's single "Talk About Our Love" featuring and produced by Kanye West from her Grammy-nominated Afrodisiac album. Other samples include Shawty Lo's' "Dey Know", KRS One's "For Example," Black Eyed Peas "Weekends," Floetry's "Have Faith," Wyclef Jean's "You Say Keep It Gangsta," Tweet and Missy Elliot's "We Don't Need No Water," Kindred's "If I," and Nas' "U Gotta Love It."
Their most recent project MANDRILL LIVE AT MONTREUX (DVD/CD) includes interviews, behind the scenes footage and a photo gallery, in addition to the 90-minute concert recorded in Switzerland at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Stravinsky Hall. MANDRILL LIVE AT MONTREUX is the very first "live" presentation of the legendary Funk/R&B/Latin/Jazz/Rock band and features a compendium of MANDRILL's greatest hits. The CD captures the raw magic for which MANDRILL is known with 10 electrifying tracks, unmatched in power and versatility, including classics "Fencewalk," "House of Wood," "Peace and Love" and others. Viewers are treated to bonus musical surprises on what is sure to become a collector's item. The concert CD is one of MANDRILL's finest albums. Both the CD and DVD are available on the official website at www.mandrillis.com and in stores worldwide. The DVD is currently featured on BET J's "Club J Concerts" (a division of the Black Entertainment Television Network).
On their"seventeenth" album, MANDRILL continues to promote positive messages of peace, harmony and social justice. This CD will reflect the full spectrum of MANDRILL, featuring the Wilson Brothers, innovators and composers of "Mango Meat," "Ape Is High," "Git It All," "Rollin' On," et al. It will definitely contain the booty shakin' fun and funk to which fans have grown accustomed. Additional collaborators include the great Gerald Albright and Chuck D of Public Enemy among others.
Still touring the U.S. and abroad, the Wilson Brothers remain the driving force behind MANDRILL. The current band is fueled by a new generation of multi-talented musicians including Marc Rey, Keith Barry, Michael Beholden, Gemi Taylor, Stacey Lamont Sydnor and Eli Brueggemann."
The Mandrill group of the 21st Century was totally different from the group that initially started out with them. This equally talented entourage that has joined the group is part of what could be called Mandrill's musical dream team - Marc Rey, Keith Barry, Michael Beholden, Gemi Taylor, Stacey Lamont Sydnor and Eli Brueggemann - taking what is already great to extraordinary.
For the Mandrill aficianados, Lou wrote most of the lyrics and of course the music that made Mandrill famous "Fence Walk," "Mango Meat," "Hang Loose," "Land of the Golden Baboon," "House of Wood," "Git It All (Shake Some Boody)," "Polk Street Carnival." These were standard in almost all of their performances. But starting in 2000, but something new was added in the form of Spoken Word artist, the One Sun Lion Ra (Rais Wilson, our son; who has been making a name in his own right). He started traveling with his dad and the group, after having graduated from North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, NC.
|R-L: Ric Wilson, One Son Lion Ra (our son), Lou Wilson, Carlos and Philly Radio Hostess|
|L-R: Gloria Dulan-Wilson, Adiya Wilson (daughter) Lou Wilson|
This addition brought about a mix of the old (old?) with the new that has kept Mandrill a multigenerational favorite. From snippets of their music heard on countless albums from those who have bitten off their unique sound to augment their own, Lou's unique flavor of Afro/Latin/Caribbean/Soul/R&B/
Classic beats makes their work come alive.
As stated earlier, Lou ate, slept, and breathed music. He was either beating out a new rhythm, recording a sound he had heard and thought would be good for a new piece; or taping lyrics onto his pocket tape recorder to see how they would fold into his next song. He would be up til the wee hours of the morning playing his trumpet, his keyboard (Fender Rhodes I gave him for his birthday back in the 70's; or playing his congas. We were both incorrigible night owls - and he was definitely at his most creative then.
He was also a consummate educator, and loved to teach - especially young children - new things. The grandfather of seven (yes we have seven grandchildren), he was always coming up some new concept to share with them, as well as with the children of his nieces and nephews - and any other child he came across in the community.
And while he loved traveling to Morocco, Spain, Venezuela, Europe, and the rest of the world, blowing their mind with his music, to Lou, there was no place like home - and home to him was Brooklyn, NY. He could name each and every street, nook and cranny in Brooklyn and tell you what was there, or who lived where. They had performed at Von King Park, Prospect Park, and other sold out venues.Brooklyn was home sweet home. One of his best, life long friends was JiTu Weusi. They stayed in contact all their lives, and actually passed away within a few short months of each other. Ironically, they both share the same birth dates, but JiTu was 5 years older than Lou. JiTu was calm, Lou was energetic - they were both geniuses in their own right, and they both had a great deal of respect for each other.
Lou, to me, was absolutely awesome. I had never met a brother so self contained, creative, self expressed, but not egotistical about it. Not that he didn't have his challenges. But it goes with the territory, when you're dealing with geniuses.
And, by extension, Mandrill is awesome and the world knows it. That's why they've remained the standard bearers of true unvarnished musical pleasure over the years. Fans from Philly - their Iother favorite place to perform - would line up for tickets weeks in advance. It's been said that Philly is Mandrill territory, and I've come to believe that it's true. Whenever they arrived in Philly, the city would roll out the red carpet - they were on practically every radio and TV show; the West Oak Lane Street Festival would feature them every year, if they could. The Dell East had standing room only crowds. Likewise, DC, Atlanta, California, Detroit, Texas, among others come to concerts with their original Mandrill Albums, holding them lovingly in their hands, treasures from the 70's and 80's.
But what really warmed their hearts was the standing room only crowd at BB Kings in NYC, when they performed there in August of 2011 - which, as it turned out, was their last East Coast Tour. The management stated that no one had ever packed the house like that. It was amazing - Ken "Spyder" Webb, Vaughn Harper, Gary Byrd, and tons of artists and fans from their youth were there to welcome them. (Even some of Lou's old girlfriends that I beat out Black in the day, showed up. I didn't remember them, but they remembered me.)
Mandrill music is spectacular - like my man! I defy anyone to still listening to Mandrill music, and not be up and dancing on your feet - unless of course you are made of wood, and I've even seen wood vibrate in resonance to the syncopation of their unrelenting, unmitigated musical onslaught.
You can check out the music and his genius for yourself:
.Play VideoMandrill "Mango Meat" Montreux Jazz 2002
.Play VideoMandrill "Fencewalk" Live Montreux 2002
.Play VideoMandrill "Mandrill" 1971
.Play VideoMandrill - Get it All (Live)
.Play VideoMandrill "Fencewalk"1973 Rare Funk Footage
.Play VideoMANDRILL - PECK YA NECK
Fans from the Caribbean, Africa, Europe know every lyric of every song they ever sang and sing along with them in the audience. They turned them out in Montreaux, and are still talking about it. Often fans would bring their tambourines, cow bells and other instruments, or just drum on the table while the group is on stage jamming. They can't help it! In fact, when we were on tour in different states, Lou would have impromptu jam sessions in our hotel room, and would have people playing cups, plates, glasses or bottles, using the back of a spoon or the thick handle of a knife to bring out the musical sounds.
A prolific writer, composer, arranger, musician, vocalist, the following are some of the albums produced by the group, of which most of the songs and music were originated by Lou:
- 1970: Mandrill
- 1972: Mandrill Is
- 1973: Composite Truth
- 1973: Just Outside of Town
- 1974: Mandrilland
- 1975: Solid
- 1975: The Best of Mandrill
- 1976: Beast from the East
- 1977: The Greatest (with George Benson)
- On the Life of Muhammad Ali (the film soundtrack - including Ali Boombaye & others)
- 1977: We Are One
- 1978: New Worlds
- 1980: Getting in the Mood
- 1981: Energize
- 1981: The Warriors ("Echoes In My Mind"
- (with Luther Vandross) film soundtrack
- 1992: Rebirth
- 1997: Fencewalk: The Anthology
- 2000: The Ultimate Collection
- 2001: Peace and Love (EP for the 911 victims)
- 2001: Driving While Black and Brown
- 2002: live at montreaux
- 2004: Pre-nuclear War Blues (single)
- 2004: Sunshine (single from the movie Civil Brand)
- 2009: untitled featuring "ablessing" (tribute to Barack Obama
- “Spirit Of Hiroshima” “We Gotta Get It (Right This Time),”
- collaborators including George Duke, Gerald Albright, & Chuck D
- 2012 Sunny The Snowman (single with animation)
HAPPY HOLIDAYS from MANDRILL. Please CLICK & PLAY or DOWNLOAD our new video, "SUNNY THE SNOWMAN," as a GIFT to YOU. Feel free to SHARE THIS GIFT with friends & family. The WILSON BROTHERS--Lou, Ric, Carlos & Wolf--wish you PEACE & LOVE and NEW BEGINNINGS this Holiday Season.
Lou Wilson was dripping with soul out of every cell, nerve, fibre, every pore of his being; and Mandrill's music remains to this day the Best Jam you ever spread your bread on!!!His sudden passing has left a hole in my heart and in our family the size of a Mac Truck. We are each coping in our own way, as we approach this, his 72nd Birthday, knowing that this will be the first year we won't have him here among us to give him love, greetings, and load him up with his favorite Doozy Cartoon birthday cards. I know I should say that his spirit is still with us in his music, and his energy that is generated through our children and grand children. And I'm working on that.So I will just close by saying:
"Happy Birthday, Tall, Dark and Chocolate! You are much loved and much missed by us all. But I can just see you up there with Mom and Dad, my Dad, Gil Scott Heron and Jitu Weusi, talking philosophy and music Our children are well, our grandchildren are beautiful - and because they all have a little piece of the best of you they are creative, loving, talented, special, precious, and smart.
Luv4U - Always Your Lady
Glo.WStay Blessed &ECLECTICALLY BLACKGloria Dulan-Wilson