Black Merda – Black Merda – LP — Chess – 1970

From a volatile socio political climate to the drug induced kaleidoscopic hippie phenomenon, American music evolved in the 60s – and 70s into a wilder, more psychedelic state. The 60s not only birthed psych rock music, but also paved the way for African Americans to pair fuzzy, lurid electric guitars with rhythm and blues. The result was an enlivened sound of funk music that could pass for rock ‘n roll or soul music. Bands like the Isley Brothers, The Parliaments, Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix and others seamlessly fused blues, soul, rock ‘n roll, funk & psych so perfectly that they could be cross-filed in multiple genres from album to album or even song to song. Cross-genre appeal has preserved their music for decades and enabled them to embody a global audience of reverent fans and critics. But naturally most bands never last long enough to give us an extensive catalog – though they possess the talent to give us an album or two of utter genius- they simply fade into oblivion. The band Black Merda is a prime example of hard hitting, authentic psychedelic soul music forged out of the 60s, yet never truly attained the success that would have made them a house hold name.

Black Merda consists of four brothers from Mississippi, guitarists and song-writers Anthony & Charles Hawkins, Veesee Veasey on bass, and Tyron Hite on drums.  Released in 1970, their debut self-titled album is drenched in funky electric guitar work, genuine lyrics, soulful harmonies, tasteful chants, moments of reflection, and the rock n roll feel of 60s soul music. Black Merda kicks off with “The Prophet” an invigorating introduction with a bouncy riff and undeniably black vocals shouting “SET ME FREE” on the chorus. Another lively, funky track is “Cynthy-Ruth” which was released as a 45 rpm single (b/w “Reality) on Chess records the same year as the LP. “Cynthy-Ruth” has the signature mantra style chorus they do so well and is another great sampling of psychedelic soul. The flip is stacked with amazing sides including “Reality”, “I Don’t Want to Die”, the psych lament instrumental “Windsong” & my personal favorite “Good Luck”. Co-penned by the Hawkins brothers & Hite, “Windsong” is the type of song you could listen to ten times in a row and still want to hear it again. Led by Anthony Hawkins’ bluesy lead guitar, it evokes the feeling of wandering aimlessly trying to find a place to rest with whirling gusts of winds circling all around. “Good Luck” is Black Merda unhinged with wah-wah pedals, vocal phasing and delays, and an angry but catchy chorus. The final full song is the slower “I Don’t Want To Die” on which the group harmonizes “We don’t want to die. Noooo, we don’t want to die” to end the song. A stripped down acoustic harmonious refrain of “Set Me Free” softly punctuates the LP at well under forty minutes.

Although Black Merda only produced two albums they remain one of the most important soul bands of the 70s. Black Merda was the bands only release on Chess records and one could only speculate as to why it lacked commercial success. Record collectors like myself can only dream of travelling back in time to see four brothers on stage with afros black and proud and rocking out with wah pedals & mellifluous chants. Luckily, courtesy of Leonard Chess they gave us an unforgettably enticing LP that any 60s soul collector should own in any format!

AJ – 2017

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