Finest's Worksong

I plead ignorance. I beg forgiveness. On behalf of the entire music industry.
I first saw Mother's Finest live in early 1980 at the cavernous and generally worthless Hollywood Sportatorium as opening act for Aerosmith. It was weirdness, a racially different (and mixed) gang playing fried, get-it rock as sloppily as the white boys headlining? No thanks. And due to that bleak introduction, I wrote off the band from any future consideration. Apparently they did, too A Mother's Finest fell apart three years later, vanishing into the vortex from whence they came.

A few Living Colors later, and the now-all-black and now-five-piece band is back, with core members Joyce Kennedy (vocals), Glenn Murdock (vocals, guitar), and Wyzard (bass) trying again to get their deft hard rock across. They tried at the end of the Eighties (notably, after Living Color broke big) with an album for Capitol that was nothing more than a disaster in every way. And they tried again several months ago, under the Scotti Bros. imprint, releasing yet another album, and watching it scurry from beneath the giant industry foot that would crush it. Twenty years in the biz, and Mother's still hasn't learned. But I have.

I ignored their latest album, Black Radio Won't Play This Record. But when I found out they were coming to town, I figured I'd better give it a listen. What an idiot! I could've been jamming to this masterpiece for months. Black Radio is one of the best rock albums of the Nineties.

And, of course, "black radio" wouldn't touch it with a ten-pound pile of payola. "No, they haven't played it," says Murdock by phone from a Comfort Inn in Columbia, South Carolina. "But 'Generator' did okay as a single on album-rock stations. In fact, it went to number nine on the metal charts. But...."

But I don't look at charts, and I especially do not use them as a listening guide. After hearing the damn thing, though, I might start. It's really that good.

So I decided to get ahold of these cats and find out what's up. Wyzard had called me weeks before and left the phone number to the mountainside house in Malibu the group shares. I lost the message. That was before I heard the album.

So I called the booking agent, but he wasn't in. So I called Scotti Bros. Records and waited hours for a return call. The label gave me a home number A it wasn't in service. Then they gave me the number of the band's personal-management company. "We don't handle them any more." Finally, I reached Murdock at the soundcheck of the Columbia concert. He couldn't hear me, despite stumbling around for a quiet spot and injuring himself in the process (I heard a groan). "Call me at the hotel." I was finally getting an idea of what Mother's Finest has been up against, why they sing, in "Like a Negro," the amazing lead track from the latest album, "Like a rebel without a cause/I play my music to no applause."

"We've sent a letter to the label," Murdock reveals, "telling them we're no longer interested in working with them." He adds that the band has "been through a few managers" as well. Ironically, some of these troubles stem not from the music, but from that new thang, video. Murdock says the band filmed a clip for "Like a Negro." They were touring Europe and told their handlers to not release the vid until they'd seen the final edit. "But they did anyway," he says. "They were sure we'd like it. We were pressured. And we were unhappy with it." He says MTV gave it a little play, mostly as news snippets, and may have rotated it harder if it had been better made.

"With any band like ours," Murdock says, "you have to go through MTV. We're a live band, and we're perfect for MTV. After the label didn't do a video for 'Generator,' we told them MTV wanted a video. The label should have known that. They say, 'Well, if that's true, if they want one, we'll do one.' I knew right then we were in big trouble. Then they couldn't wait to do a video for [the album's crushing power ballad] 'Cry Baby.' We're not happy with it, either. I think the label dropped the ball. We're comically unlucky."

Comical? There's nothing funny about the ways of the music world getting in the way of great music. Songs such as "Like a Negro" (a send up of dopey white punks such as New Kids on the Block and Vanilla Ice, but also an overwhelmingly strong confessional and personal statement) need to be shared with the masses. "Head Bangin' and Booty Shakin'" is as buoyant a party tune as you'll not hear on radio A yet it breaks into a pedantic but nonetheless accurate "AIDS A sucks, crack A sucks," diatribe. A smart move A sugarcoating the pain with ultraheavy rocking, including a bass line and guitar solos that'll leave you stone stunned. And that ballad, "Cry Baby," is so beautiful you want to frame it and hang it in a gallery.

And that's not the half of it. Kennedy A constantly and not wholly accurately compared to Tina Turner by the few critics who've written about the group A makes every lead vocal her own, and, as importantly, laces the Murdock-sung tracks with penetrating counterpoints, fills, and breaks. And Murdock is not only a winning singer, he's a def rapper, as displayed in "Like a Negro." Hey, Beastie Boys A you can't touch this.

The big surprise, though, comes from newer members John Hayes (guitar) and Dion Derek (drums), both of whom contribute lots of songwriting and plenty of instrumental muscle.

Murdock says the band might record their next album themselves, or possibly sign with a label in Europe, where they do get their due. Kennedy will likely cut a solo R&B-oriented, and more commercial, album in the meantime. Murdock is also considering a solo offshoot project A "metal punk," he says. "We can't afford to trust anyone," he says. "So we'll do stuff on our own. We believe in ourselves. We have to cut through their bullshit. The record company has to believe in us, too. And if someone is willing to pay, we'll take our time with the next one. I know there's an audience. Mother's Finest is not dead." You'd never know it by listening to the radio.

Mother's Finest, with Conehead Bop and Skin Tight, performs at midnight Friday at Plus Five, 5715 S. University Dr., Davie, 434-1224. Tickets cost $8 and $10.


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