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Concert Review: The Sugar Retakes Brooklyn

Concert Review: The Sugar Retakes BrooklynI also was in attendance at this show in "The People's Republic of Brooklyn," a few weeks ago. But it's a good thing that our friend Tee Watts was also there to provide this review, since I was too busy dancing! Don't forget to check out the Bittersweet: Sugar Pie DeSanto Documentry site as well. (Bob Davis)
I stay here as long as I can, I'll leave when I cannot help myself,
I stay here as long as I can, I'll leave when I cannot help myself,
Well we all got to go hoo-hoo, Lord, Lord, and I ain't better than nobody else.

Don't bring me flowers when I'm dead, flowers that I can't smell,
Don't bring me flowers when I'm dead, well, well, flowers I can't smell,
Well, if I don't go to heaven, hoo-hoo, Lord, Lord, I can't smell no flowers in hell.

Bring Me Flowers While I'm Living - Champion Jack Dupree
Lyrics and music written by Champion Jack Dupree.

It was a gathering of those in the Brooklyn know. Some know-nots made it through a funky cosmic affiliation and were converted instantly. Brian Pace of The Pace Report was there. Bob Davis of Soul-Patrol was there making candid observational tweets. Sabrina Chap of Tom Tom Magazine was in the house. I heard that Kelsey Bennett of Vibe Magazine was there. (Oh, she's so hard to see!) Ron Taylor, the Godfather of Soul's former butler surprised The Sugar with a Sugar Pie DeSanto Go-Go power tee shirt imported from UK.

A standing room only throng of converts filled Littlefield's for the continuing Dig Deeper series in Brooklyn on Saturday 6/14/14 for the return of The Sugar. When she last took Brooklyn in 2011, the city of her birth, They proclaimed it Sugar Pie DeSanto Day.

The opening set was originally to be filled by East Coast legend Gene Toons. Sadly, Mr. Toons suffered a debilitating stroke while visiting his own father recently. His slot was filled by Eli "Paperboy" Reed who turned it into a Gene Toons Tribute.

I actually first heard about Eli "Paperboy" Reed from Bob Davis. He recently completed a tour of Europe with J.B. Flatt & the Brooklyn Rhythm Band, the house band for the Dig Deeper show. And yes, this cat has pipes. To be honest though, when I saw him at sound check sportin' argyle socks and Mack loafers, I really didn't know who he was until he jumped on stage and ran through his 3 song set of Toons tunes. They were Turn To Me, Every Now and Then and What More Do You Want.

To put the musicians in perspective, J.B. & the BRB are soul funk chums with Sharon Jones's Dap Kings and occasionally sit in when the Dap Kings are overbooked.

When "Paperboy" Reed was done sound checking, he hopped over to join forces with Jennie Wasserman as The Sugar's backing vocalists.

The Sugar is a driven diva and clearly knows her limits. During sound check, she diligently went completely over each song in her set list. Her voice was strong. I noticed no holding back, no saving some for later. She gave her all in sound check and frankly, I was concerned that she might pay for it later. When I tried to bring it to her attention midway through, she shrugged me off as if I didn't know what I was talking about. Turns out I didn't.

She killed them. The crowd was completely captivated by her dance moves, her command of the band, her showmanship, vocals and of course her black widow move when she lures an unsuspecting gentleman to the stage and charms him to do her bidding.

She reprised two of the duets she recorded with Etta James; Do I Make Myself Clear and In The Basement. Excuse me while I digress. From the time Etta and The Sugar recorded those duets till now Etta's has been the instantly recognizable name. If you analyze, for example, In The Basement, Pt.1, it has the divas trading lead lines that are at times so in the pocket that one can't tell who is singing what. Then on Part 2, Etta James voice is not even there, it's just The Sugar ad-libbing with the band lyrics that only she could have created..."I ain't got yo' girl! Oh, not me, oh yah, yah, well why don't you be cool there baby. My God! We got to party, get this thang together, wow, don't you know I'm feelin' good! Gon' party, in this basement baby. Wow, we havin' a gay time. In this basement...!

So in terms of the sum total of energy put in, The Sugar clearly is more vested on this recording than Etta. Adding insult to highway robbery is the fact that The Sugar got no songwriting credit for Part 2.

The snub has continued into 2014. On April 11, Country artist Martina McBride appeared on the Arsenio Hall show promoting her latest album entitled Everlasting, a concept album which features covers of classic Soul hits. On the album, McBride reprises In The Basement with duet partner Kelly Clarkson. The YouTube clip that The Arsenio Hall Show posted says, "Martina McBride knocks it out of the park with her cover of the Etta James classic, 'In The Basement.'

Get my drift? No mention of The Sugar. In another You Tube clip entitled, "Martina McBride explains her R&B cover album 'Everlasting,' Martina and Arsenio discuss how her she combed through 800 songs to pick the ones chosen for the album. Again Etta James is mentioned, but no Sugar Pie. I would think Arsenio would know better!

Back to her Dig Deeper set at Littlefield's on 6/14/14. The Sugar also performed Keep It Like It Is, Life Goes On, Soulful Dress, Use What Got, Slip In Mules, Go Go Power, Hello San Francisco and In the Basement. She left the stage to rapturous applause and returned to do an encore of In the Basement. Yes children. She retook Brooklyn.

Sabrina Chap of Tom Tom Magazine was stunned. She was not at all familiar with The Sugar and is doing research for her own article.

Brian Pace predicts the film Bittersweet will garner the recognition she so richly deserves. I for one, watched the accolades pour in for our revered artistic angels Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee, Horace Silver and Little Jimmy Scott. But did you wholeheartedly support their art?

Did you ever hear Dee's reading of Zola Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God? Yeah she did all the voices. I remember Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee doing a TV special on the most courageous Beat Poet there ever was; Black Bob Kaufman. The most fame went to Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Burroughs, Kerouac, etc., but Kaufman inspired Beats and Jazz Poets alike. Dee and Davis pleaded on national TV for Bob Kaufman to come out of his self imposed exile to take part in The Movement. These were artists who cared about their art and the masses even though all too often the masses don't give a heck.

Sugar Pie DeSanto's manager, Jim Moore once showed me an email from Little Jimmy Scott and his wife giving kudos and encouragement to The Sugar after she lost her husband. Let me say it again. This generation of artists that we are at the tail end of believed in our art and us as a people.

Yeah The Sugar retook Brooklyn on 6/14/14. Out of a packed house, less than a dozen were people of color. That being said, I humbly ask you to go to and click on Get Involved to help this film project entitled Bittersweet get done. Give her flowers while she's living.

T. Watts
West Coast Correspondent

Bob Davis - CEO Soul-Patrol
1636-44 Route 38 #310
Lumberton, NJ 08048

--Bob Davis


Welcome To The Soul-Patrol Newsletter

BITTERSWEET - Sugar Pie DeSanto Documentry

"BITTERSWEET" is a documentary film-in-the-making that traces Sugar Pie DeSanto's truly colorful life and career as a performer and songwriter who contributed more than 100 songs to American music. It will explore her music inspired by her life experiences, and a career that has many ups and downs.

As you all know, we have been covering the resurgence of interest in Sugar Pie's music for over 10 years, as she has become an "over night sensation," being "discovered" by the mainstream, much the same as our friend Bettye LaVette.

As such we are quite pleased to bring you this special edition of the Soul-Patrol Newsletter, devoted exclusively to introducing you to the upcoming film documentary about Sugar Pie DeSanto called "BITTERSWEET."

Directly below is a link to a special Soul-Patrol Internet Radio Broadcast, made by the producers designed to give you an audio introduction to the project. As you listen to the broadcast, scroll down thru the newsletter and learn some of the foundation and history of the production, we encourage you to click on some of the links, which will take you directly to the website of the filmmakers, where you can see and hear pieces of the film. Take your time, there is a whole lot to see and hear!

If after seeing and hearing all of this, you think it's all pretty cool, don't be afraid to share these links with your friends & family online who love great music. Heck, even share it with friends and family who don't love great music, they will thank you for the education...(Bob Davis)

Listen to this audio on the documentary film-in-the-making on Sugar Pie DeSanto, an American music legend:

Listen to this audio on the documentary film-in-the-making on Sugar Pie DeSanto, an American music legend:

Photo by Nathan de Hart

The Legend of Sugar Pie DeSanto

"Little Miss Dynamite" she was called. Only four feet eleven inches tall and seldom weighing over one hundred pounds, with a voice so powerful and a stage presence so explosive she brought down the house every night as hardest-working-man-in-show-business James Brown's opening act. As a result she became "The Lady James Brown," hardest working woman in show business. The Godfather of Soul complained he had to work really hard to keep up with her. And she continues to display that explosive stage presence as she approaches the ripe young age of eighty!

She also opened for Mr. Excitement Jackie Wilson and had the audience standing on tables even before she came out just so they could get a glimpse of how high she took off performing (this made Jackie jump off the stage even higher, and higher).
1964 American Folk Blues (AFBF) music album coverSugar Pie being photographed for the AFBF music album cover

In the 1960s, she toured with the American Folk-Blues Festival featuring giants of the blues music movement (literally and figuratively) Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf and other greats, wowing European fans and influencing the careers of future stars of rock n' roll. This, while she was signed to the illustrious Chess Records where she sang powerful duets with childhood friend Etta James. She also sang Slip in Mules (No High Heel Sneakers), the response to Tommy Tucker's hit, Hi-Heel Sneakers and wrote songs for Fontella Bass, Minnie Riperton, Billy Stewart and other famous peers. Overall, she has contributed over a hundred songs to American music and had hits over several decades of her career.

Sugar Pie's cover of Rock Me Baby (by B.B. King) and Baby Do What You Want Me To Do (by Jimmy Reed) at the 1964 American Folk Blues Festival are YouTube sensations. Then she killed it at the 2008 R&B Foundation Awards.

Soul Patrol's Bob Davis was first to tell how Amy Winehouse won five Grammys after doing what Sugar Pie did in the 1960s. Digging deeper finds Madonna causing a scandal at the MTV Awards in 1984 doing what Sugar Pie did in 1967 in the South! Sugar Pie wasn't a bad girl or a material girl, she was simply unafraid.

Sugar Pie in 1967 and Madonna in 1984

Who is this diva?

We will tell you more in the documentary film BitterSweet. Born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton, she was named after her Filipino grandmother, who was named after the ampalaya, a bitter vegetable that's a favorite among Filipinos. Bittersweet, her life is. You will learn about her beginnings: daughter of a Filipino immigrant father and an African-American mother, a family of 11 or so children, that included Etta James at some point, in a small house in San Francisco, member of a girl gang (the 7 of Diamonds), sneaking into music clubs, joining music contests and winning too often, and finally being discovered and renamed by the great Johnny Otis --- from Umpeylia to Little Miss Sugar Pie. You will discover the driving force behind her music, the connection each song has to her life, and how her mother encouraged her even though her father disapproved. She will tell us about the Fillmore renaissance of jazz & blues and the musicians that shaped the Northern California style (of blues), the Chicago music scene and Chess Records (and what went on there), the American Folk Blues Festival tour, more on Etta, and performing with James Brown, Tina Turner, Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding and other greats. You will also hear about her unique experiences in the South as an African Asian woman working the "chitlin' circuit" with her husband Pee Wee Kingsley, and finally coming home (and why) to San Francisco. She wrote most of her songs belonging to various popular music genres (blues, rock 'n roll, R&B, soul, etc). She became the "Queen of the West Coast Blues" after 60 years in the business. And when her Chess Records hits were finally compiled in 2009, Sugar Pie finally got an NPR feature.

James Brown, Jackie Wilson and Sugar Pie

Team BitterSweet

This documentary film-in-the-making, BitterSweet - From Ampalaya to Sugar Pie, is our way to honor her contributions, to remember and rediscover her music and relive the way she lit up the stage. This is the recognition she never received, but truly deserves.

For her storyteller, Sugar Pie has chosen Kanakan Balintagos (aka Auraeus Solito), an independent filmmaker acclaimed in Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Toronto and other major international film festivals, and included among the top emerging and most-talented filmmakers in the world. Auraeus directed the international hit The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros; winner in Berlin, selected at Sundance and nominated for an Independent Spirit Award (for Best Foreign Film).

Kanakan Balintagos (aka Auraeus Solito), Sugar Pie and Jim Moore
Kanakan Balintagos (aka Auraeus Solito), Sugar Pie and Jim Moore

Jong de Castro produced the gorgeous Cannes-selected film Busong, a documentary-like feature film and winner of several international awards including the FIPRESCI Prize at the Eurasia International Film Festival and the "Best of Stories" Merata Mita Award at National Geographic's All Roads Film Festival.

Benjamin Pimentel is a journalist and the author of the novel The Guerrillas of Powell Street, which won the 2007 National Book Award for fiction in Manila and was adapted for the stage by the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2008. He co-produced Toxic Sunset: On The Trail Of Hazardous Waste from Subic and Clark, which won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Jim Moore knows the blues. Jim previously managed Big Mama Thornton and personally knows many of the originators of popular blues music. Jim has been Sugar Pie's manager for over 40 years and was successful in obtaining for her the rights to some of her own songs. He is the owner of Jasman Records and eRoom Music Publishing, and the author of a manuscript, Throw Away People, on the post-WWII evolution of African-American Blues music specific to Northern California.

Meet Team BitterSweet, watch our video: On the Go Go! Road To Sugar Pie DeSanto.

Get Involved
Help us make this film and be the first to find out all that Sugar Pie and those around her will reveal. Visit our website, learn more and find out how to get involved:

You can also donate to our Indiegogo crowdfunding (closes on July 3, 2014, hurry!):

Watch this message from Sugar Pie herself. Share this film's information to everyone interested in independent films, in Sugar Pie DeSanto and rediscovering her music. The more people that know about the film, the better! More supporters will make this film a reality. It will be a very special film, and when it comes out you can say, "I'm part of that!"

Thank you! This is for Sugar Pie!

Listen to this audio on the documentary film-in-the-making on Sugar Pie DeSanto, an American music legend:

--Bob Davis


If you have a news item, update, review, commentary, etc that you would like to submit to the Soul-Patrol Newsletter, please send them via email for consideration to:

Hopefully you enjoyed this edition of the Soul-Patrol Newsletter.
We will be back soon with the next edition, with email alerts for local events, Soul-Patrol website updates/chat sessions or breaking news in between, as required.

If you have any comments, questions, etc feel free to drop me an email and let me know what's on your mind.
Bob Davis

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