Don Welch on the Gwen McCrae Benefit Concert & the Future of House Music

I was alerted to the plight of classic house diva Gwen McCrae by old friend Don Welch of the Underground Network. Ms. McCrae, best known for her smash dance track “Funky Sensation,” suffered a massive stroke in London on June 3rd. She has thankfully survived but is paralyzed on her left side. Her family is trying to get her home to Florida where they can take care of her. A fundraiser has been set up for next Wednesday the 22nd, at Ajna, 25 Little West 12th Street, from 6pm till 4am. The outpouring of support from the community has been spectacular. House legend Colonel Abrams is hosting, and I have been told that Melba Moore will also be on hand. The incredible number of participants is too long to list here so I’ll just post the invite. I am told that new people are getting involved daily. This is one of those must-attend events, not only because of the good that it will do for Gwen and her family, but because that room will be filled with genius and love and that’s hard to find these days.

Don Welch is old-school, old-school. He is one of those quiet, behind-the-scenes people who has shaped the house universe. As briefly as I can I’ll list some of his too-numerous-to-list accomplishments:

Don Welch is a DJ, co-founder of the internationally-renowned Underground Network, former Billboard reporter, CEO of OHM Music & Film Works, and an event promoter. He DJd Eddie Murphy’s wedding at the Plaza Hotel. He received gold and platinum records from Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, C&C Music Factory, Crystal Waters, and De La Soul. His Underground Network has hosted relevant events since 1992. Him, along with Barbara Tucker, created the Dance Music Industry Night, with legendary DJ Little Louie Vega doing what he does. The list of promoters and celebrities and DJs that have graced his events is a who’s-who of dance and pop culture. In 2006, Don launched Soul Party NYC, promoting classic R&B events. He’s still throwing that party. On September 8th, at Commodore Park, Barbara Tucker and Don will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Underground Network.

I caught up with Don as he was getting the word out about that Funky Sensation Gwen McCrae:

It’s amazing how the community has gotten together for this cause. Tell me about the event… who is involved?
Well, I was first told about Gwen McCrae’s condition from singer Colonel Abrams, who was in London on the same show; Gwen fell ill in her hotel room and never made it to the stage. When Colonel came back to the states he told me Gwen was still in London in the hospital after a massive stroke and was paralyzed on her left side. As a DJ, Gwen has brought me and my audience amazing memories of dancing to her music, so I’ve always felt very close to her. I posted her condition on my Facebook page & the love and support was incredible. That’s when I spoke to her family and was told about all the astronomical medical bills and the transportation to get her home to Pensacola, Florida. That’s when I reached out to friends like Louie Vega, Jellybean, David Morales, Rochelle Fleming, Bob Davis, Soulfinger, you, and so many stars in this business. They all said anything they could do to help count them in and I am so grateful for their support. We will feature some of the greatest DJs and classic singers. We have so much talent, DJs might only get to play five songs each and singers only one.  

Tell me about Gwen McCrae.
Here is the biography of Gwen McCrae: for over three decades, Gwen McCrae has been a soul and blues powerhouse singer entertaining audiences worldwide. She started out singing as a child with her mother who played piano in church. With a heartfelt phrasing for the blues and the spirit-filled sounds from her soul, Gwen has entertained audiences in countless sold-out venues and set her music in a Blues and Soul category of its own. Since the early ’60s, Gwen has paid her dues, on tour with the likes of Smokey Robinson, Luther Vandross, James Brown, The Temptations, The O Jays, Spinners, James Cleveland, and many more. Gwen’s entertaining has included concerts at The Apollo Theatre, Madison Square Garden, Cow Palace in LA, Disneyland, television shows such as American Band Stand, Soul Train, Midnight Special, In Concert, as well as various venues throughout the world in London, Paris, Germany, Scotland, and Venice, just to mention a few.

I remember house music. Nowadays the electronic dance music scene has grown enormous. Are young people still embracing house or does the energy lay elsewhere?
The electronic music scene is tremendous, but the soulful house music scene is making a strong comeback. It just needs better venues. Lots of club owners love the music but the bar sales aren’t as good as others because no real, true dancers can drink a bottle of Hennessy or Stolichnaya and dance with energy all night.

For a tourist coming to NYC looking for the real deal, what parties or clubs are true to the religion that is house?
The true house parties have become mobile… always on the move until you and I open one 🙂

Will this event, based of course on a tragedy, have the effect of reuniting different members and aspects of the house community, and possibly be the catalyst for future events?
Definitely, but I’ve been bringing different types of talent together for years and will continue to do so… stay tuned.

The Irrepressible Fun of Vulfpeck

There’s just no denying the contaminant pleasure when a band is really enjoying itself—and has the talent to match its enthusiasm. For example, the keyboard-heavy L.A. collaboration Vulfpeck, which in its Vollmich EP is both overjoyed by the possibilities of jazzy feel-good jams that could be bumper music for Nick at Nite.

“Outro,” for example, the intro to the EP, seems practically ripped from the credits of a classic Eddie Murphy movie. Don’t ask me why (something about the saxophone?), but it does. Then there’s “synth sleepover” video for “It Gets Funkier II,” which provides a nice mental health break from, you know, everything.

One YouTube commenter has got it right: “just lounging around creating some of the nastiest funk ever.” And without any apparent care that they’re doing so on camera. So go on, throw these dudes some cash for their weird and delightful passion project. God knows we can’t let them stop now.

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Morning Links: SNL Gets A New Cast Member, ‘Twins’ Gets A Sequel

Saturday Night Live has added a funny and also openly gay woman—a first for the show—to their cast. Kate McKinnon of The Big Gay Sketch Show fame will be welcomed on next weekend’s Sofia Vergara-hosted episode. [NYP]

● Tyler, the Creator wants Lana Del Rey to know that, should she be interested, he is totally "down" to make musical magic together and that he has some "pretty instrumentals," to boot. It is not too late to unplug your Internet. [Vulture]

● Kate Winslet says she feels "like throwing up" every time she hears Celine Dion’s "My Heart Will Go On." The stars, they really are just like us! [MTV]

● Lady Gaga rang in her 26th year with a birthday spin class set to Bruce Springsteen. [Us]

● Joining Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, Eddie Murphy will make three genetically engineered brothers in the totally insane sounding Triplets, the proposed sequel, of course, to DeVito and Schwarzenegger’s Twins. [THR]

● Questlove—who bought his first hoodie at the Gap after watching Tribe Called Quest’s "Can I Kick It" video—does "love" a hoodie, but ­he worries that their symbolic role in the Trayvon Martin protests might be a “distraction … to keep eyes off the ­issue of race relations in America. ” [NYM]

Ten Great Comedic Performances That Deserved Oscar Nominations

Steven Spielberg, Terrence Malick and Marin Scorsese all made lauded films in 2011, but their Oscar buzz has been stolen by a brave performer that delivered the year’s most tear-jerking sink defecation moment. Unless something goes terribly wrong — always a possibility when it comes to the Oscars — Melissa McCarthy is a lock to earn a Best Supporting Actress nod for her work in Bridesmaids, and Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo also have a reasonable shot at Best Original Screenplay. To which we say “great, and go ahead and give Wiig a Best Actress nomination while you’re at it, Academy.” Both actresses did commanding work that gave Bridesmaids a solid, emotional core to stack hilarious profane jokes on, and helped turn the movie from a fun summer comedy into a cultural phenomenon.

McCarthy’s nomination would not just be a victory for funny ladies (a subtext valiantly explored throughout 2011 by our nation’s think-piece authors), it would be a victory for all cinematic funny people. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has historically ignored comedic performances, even from big names in hit movies, even when it’s a performance that balances laugh getting with making a character’s journey feel real and hard-earned, no matter how silly. (Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, and everyone in Broadcast News being laudable outliers.) Everyone knows that winning the Best Actor statue is an easy feat for a Serious Dramatic Actor — just emote while in the vicinity of a Nazi. The ten giants in the following list had much harder jobs than any of those “serious actor” wusses could have stepped to. They each made us howl with laughter for nearly an entire movie while still going through a character arc, delivering a performance with earned emotion and all that other  thespian stuff, and for that they deserve a list-form tribute.

Steve Martin, The Jerk  (1979)
It goes without saying that the Oscars are stupid and no one should take them seriously, and not just because they gave Best Picture to Crash (honestly, we’ve never seen it. Maybe it’s better than its reputation?) but because they’ve never nominated Steve Martin. Not even once. That’s a massive body of work to ignore, and for our money he’s never been better than his first lead role the 1979 idiot opus The Jerk. Martin fully commits to Navin R. Johnson’s childlike innocence and zeal to discover the wider world, and it’s genuinely heartbreaking when that wider world begins to corrupt him. And really, he deserved the nod for “he hates these cans” alone.

Laura Dern, Citizen Ruth (1996)
As currently seen in the HBO series Enlightened, Laura Dern is a uniquely egoless actress, always willing to look as terrible as possible (in all senses) if it will lead to comedy or a greater truth. And she was never braver than in this underrecognized Alexander Payne blacker-than-coal comedy, an absolutely brutal satire of all sides of the abortion debate. As the fume-huffing, oft-pregnant Ruth Stoops, Dern captures the cadence and spirit of her character, a woman worn-down by life but not as dumb as expected, and absolutely nailed one of the greatest “oh shit, she really said that” lines in cinema history. 

Roddy McDowall, Lord Love a Duck (1966)
Proof positive that Generation X didn’t create the meta-movie, George Axelrod’s scalding satire of 1950s and ’60s teenager films goes to absurd length to tweak its subject materials (something about beach parties must have really stuck in Axelrod’s craw). But Duck  is kept from dissolving into pure mania by Roddy McDowall’s arch yet deeply sad performance as Alan Musgrave, a love-struck loser who do anything, including a bizarrely drawn-out murder attempt, to make Tuesday Weld happy, even as he knows his love will never be reciprocated.

Bill Murray, Groundhog Day (1993)
There’s no shortage of genius Bill Murray performances ignored by the academy, and choosing just one was a Herculian task. But really, it had to be this. Though Phil Connors’s surroundings, appearance and day never change. Murray subtly plays his character’s confusion, growing frustration and eventual transformation of a selfish man that learns to care about others. He also goes big for the most hilarious suicide montage in cinema history.

Myrna Loy, The Thin Man (1934)
As one-half of married detective couple Nick and Nora Charles, Loy set a standard for lightning-fast witty repertoire that has rarely been matched — though outspoken fans Quentin Tarantino and Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino certainly gave it a try. Loy helped define booze-soaked elegance throughout the Thin Man film series, but she also managed the much trickier balance of making her character’s love for her partner seem as exciting as the white-knuckle cases they were trying to crack. Loy was never nominated for her work, but her famous fans and industry peers campaigned for her to get an honorary life-time achievement award in 1991.

Reese Witherspoon, Election, 1999
The greatest role Reese Witherspoon has ever had (on some level even she must know this) sharpens her natural perkiness and poise into a lethal weapon that lays low all in its path, especially poor Matthew Broderick, the only one to see the quiet menace that pulses just beneath Witherspoon’s sunny demeanor. And the scene where she raises her hand to answer every single question is just too damn honest.

Eddie Murphy, Bowfinger, 1999
The last funny Eddie Murphy movie deserves some recognition, doesn’t it? While we’re not sure how he was able to pull deep enough within himself to play a paranoid, deranged movie star, the academy should have given him a Best Supporting Actor nom for his work in Steve Martin and Frank Oz’s witty parody about the movie business, which is notable for being one of the few “inside Hollywood” movies that is actually funny instead of toxically myopic. Though it’s sad that Murphy apparently absorbed none of Bowfinger’s messages about vanity destroying talent, Murphy tears into Kit Ramsey’s paranoid delusions about aliens and the KKK with a gusto that still serves as a reminder of what this man is capable of when he actually gives a shit.

Steve Carell, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, 2005
We’re not saying that Carell’s depiction of Andy Spitzer’s not-too-late maturation from man child to adult should have beaten Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Capote turn, but it’s a crime the best comedy of the first decade of this century didn’t even get some token recognition. While Hoffman’s weight loss was impressive, we’re not sure if even he would have been brave enough to submit to that chest-waxing scene. But beneath all the hilariously boorish behavior, Carell delivered a performance that was as sensitive and well-observed as any “real” acting, and had a lot to say about finding your place in an often terrifying modern world of modern dudedom.

Groucho Marx, Duck Soup, 1933
Groucho Marx, often considered the father of cinematic comedy, was never nominated for an Oscar, instead receiving an honorary award in 1974. If this depresses you, cheer up by watching Duck Soup, a film so famously stuffed with mischief, double entrees, and finely tuned physical comedy that it famously convinced Woody Allen’s character in Hannah and Her Sisters not to kill himself. Groucho and his brother Harpo’s “mirror scene” is one of the most iconic sequences of early Hollywood, and has been paid tribute countless times by everyone from Bugs Bunny to the X-Files, but it still wasn’t enough to earn him some damn respect in his time. 

Eddie Murphy to Play Marion Barry in Spike Lee-Directed HBO Biopic

Of the over one-hundred billion people who have ever lived on earth, one is worthy of an HBO biopic more than the rest: former Washington, DC mayor Marion Barry. The man’s life was full of power, intrigue, crime, sex, drugs, violence, and the Ramada Inn–a perfect concoction for appointment-viewing television. In what amounts to good news for lovers of entertaining things, The Washington Post reports Spike Lee and HBO have a Barry biopic in the works, with Eddie Murphy attached to star as the mayor.

Very little information has been released about the project, like whether it is a miniseries or a feature-length film, and how much of Barry’s life it will cover. There is plenty of ripe material for Lee to use from Barry’s four-term mayoral career, including the infamous FBI sting operation when he was caught smoking crack in a DC hotel room with Rasheeda Moore, a former model and girlfriend. Hell, that scene alone could captivate us for a 5-week miniseries.

Before becoming DC’s “mayor-for-life,” Barry was heavily involved in the civil rights movement and the victim of racism in the segregated south. He also has a Masters in organic chemistry. He was shot in 1977 during the Hanafi Muslim siege of the District Building, and was held hostage for two days. This was when he was serving as the chair of the District of Columbia Committee on Finance and Revenue and dealing with an economic crisis.

But most importantly, he once shouted, "Bitch set me up!" Damn, this is going to be a good biopic.

What Timing!: The Trailer for Eddie Murphy’s New Movie is Released

Timing has a way of adding an almost cosmic significance to otherwise banal events. Bumping into an old friend is a normal occurrence, but bumping into an old friend just after talking about them? Now, that’s something. The trailer for a lame-looking Eddie Murphy movie like A Thousand Words being released? That kind of thing is a yearly event. That trailer coming out right after he quit the Oscar hosting gig that was supposed to return his edge and revitalize his career? That’s kismet. 

As you’ll see below, A Thousand Words looks like the kind of cookie-cutter, inoffensive comedy Eddie Murphy has been making for years. It’s essentially Liar Liar, except with a tree instead of a birthday cake. A Thousand Words isn’t even a new movie: Tim Grierson of Yahoo’s The Projector blog relays that it was originally shot in 2008, “but apparently the test screenings were so bad that Paramount chose to keep the movie away from public view.” The studio went ahead with a March 2012 release to capitalize on Murphy’s sudden reemergence and relevance after hosting the Oscars. There’s that kismet again.

The shame is we were excited for Eddie Murphy to host the Academy Awards. He’s one of the best stand-up comedians in history, and the thought of him going all-out and channeling the same manic hilarity from Raw or Delirious got us excited to watch the Oscars for the first time since his heir apparent Chris Rock hosted. Instead, we are subjected to another bland Eddie Murphy comedy while the Oscars will be hosted by this guy.

Eddie Murphy to the Oscars: “I Quit!”

Just yesterday, Brett Ratner stepped down as co-producer of next spring’s Oscars ceremony following his use of a gay slur at the screening of his new film. Now, his Tower Heist star Eddie Murphy has backed out of his hosting duties, leaving the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences just three months to find a replacement. 

According to the New York Times, Murphy was hired "to bring an extra-heavy dollop of comedy…to a ceremony that might not have looked much different than the variety show-style ceremonies of years past." The AMPAS has long gotten flack for producing boring and loooooong ceremonies, and they were hoping that Murphy’s edgy brand of comedy would bring in a younger audience (and Murphy himself was hoping to revamp his image).

Murphy hasn’t yet given a reason for his departure, but it’s likely he didn’t want to continue without his pal in the producer’s seat. It’s not super surprising, considering Murphy’s egotistical behavior; he told David Letterman a few weeks ago that he would not be singing or dancing as part of his hosting gig. Do you think he was willing to wear a fat suit? I guess we’ll never know.

Eddie Murphy Is Over Family Movies and Is Going to Be Edgy Again

In the last few years Eddie Murphy has been known primarily for donning fat suits and playing the entire Klump clan. And while he’s currently starring in Tower Heist with Ben Stiller, as well as lined up to host next year’s Oscars ceremony, the actor is eyeing a return to his stand-up roots.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Murphy dishes on a lot of hot-topics, including his apparent grudge with SNL. “They were shitty to me on Saturday Night Live a couple of times after I’d left the show,” he says, but specifies that he doesn’t have any bad blood with the seminal sketch show where he got his big break.

And while he admits he has no interest in roles in family comedies, Murphy says he’s been considering a return to the stage where he can hold his own.

“If I ever get back onstage, I’m going to have a really great show for you all,” he says. “An hour and a half of stand-up and about 40 minutes of my shitty band… But I haven’t done it since I was 27, so why fuck with it? But that’s just weighing both sides. It comes up too much for me to not do it again. It’s like, when it hits me, I’ll do it, eventually.”

It sounds more like typical celebrity magazine fodder rather than a specific promise, but his hosting gig at the Oscars could make or break his chances at keeping a captive audience on his own. But really, with his current track record of only headlining films wherein he plays a significant majority of the cast, it’d be nice to see Eddie Murphy be Eddie Murphy all on his own.

Steve Martin Gives Oscar Advice to Eddie Murphy

Steve Martin has hosted the Oscars twice, making him something of an awards show professional – actually, they paid him both times, which makes him a literal professional – and that’s why he’s also in the best position possible to give this year’s host, Eddie Murphy, some advice. On his website, Martin posted an open letter to Murphy, offering his Bowfinger costar some insight and tips for the gig.

We personally think Eddie Murphy will do a bang-up job. Stand-ups have experience moving a narrative along in front of a live audience, as well as a natural facility for improvisation. James Franco and Anne Hathaway could do neither during their hosting gig last year, and the ceremony was widely panned because of it. They probably could’ve used Steve Martin’s advice:

Hi Eddie, I heard you’re hosting this year’s Oscars. First of all, CONGRATS. Even though you didn’t ask for my advice and specifically said, “please, no advice,” here are a few tips! Whatever you do, don’t have a co-host. They’re a big pain and they just end up breaking your SNL hosting record. Start slimming down now. You looked kinda paunchy in NORBIT. People always say it’s a disgrace that neither you nor I have ever won an Oscar, but they’re just being correct. The losers can feel very sad, so when you’re backstage with them, pat their backs, then shake your head sadly. It’s a blast! Fortunately, only you and I can get away with smuggling out an Oscar in our pants. Remember to relax and have a good time while 12,000 livebloggers rip you to shreds The accountants that certify the voting? Same chad counters from Florida. If you feel the show is running long, you’re probably thinking of 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, or any of the shows in the 90’s. If you feel tired midway through, give Neil Patrick Harris a Red Bull and throw some sheet music at him. Eddie, since you and I are old friends, and I sincerely thought you deserved an Oscar nomination for BOWFINGER, the movie we did together that stands alone in comedy history, from which we got no credit or acknowledgement except large paychecks and drivers and any type of food we wanted delivered to us every day in our really nice trailers, I wish you all the best on your Oscar hosting gig. Steve Martin

While we aren’t even a one-time Oscar host, we feel there is some other advice that Eddie Murphy could use: • Jokes about how long the ceremony is running do nothing but make said ceremony run even longer. • People love musical numbers because the orchestration drowns out all the self-conscious laughter from the audience. • If you feel you are doing a poor job, swear. The next day everyone will talk about you saying “ball sack” rather than your terrible overall performance. • Current events are great fodder for monologue jokes. Read a newspaper the morning of the ceremony. • There is a fine line between poking fun at a celebrity and cruelly insulting them. Cross that line as often as possible. • Dress nice, this is a formal event.