A seasoned music journalist and historian, Brian Chin documents popular music and its impact through writing, A&R work, and fabulous reissues. He's the producer of Rhino's The Disco Box and annotator of Universal Motown's The Supremes Box. He's also co-producer and annotator of dozens of reissues by Dusty Springfield, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Barry White, Rick James, Chaka Khan, and a dozen others. More recently Brian added music
supervision to his credits, and Boombox Serenade had a chance to chat with him about his work on Black Magic, a Dan Klores documentary about basketball at black colleges during Civil
Rights-era America, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.
Boombox Serenade: How did you learn about Black Magic and what appealed to you about the project? Brian Chin: Black Magic was my fourth project with the documentary filmmaker Dan Klores, whom I met through my research work for Craig Kallman, the CEO of Atlantic Records. All of Dan's films were compelling stories and astonishingly rigorous works of journalism -- "Ring of Fire," which was the story of boxer Emile Griffith and his fatal knockout of Benny Paret; "Viva Baseball," about the emergence of Hispanics in the sport, and "Crazy Love," the true story of a woman blinded by her jealous boyfriend, whom she married when he got out of jail. I was desperate to do that one.
That Black Magic traced the emergence of integration in the NCAA and parallel civil rights movement made it an obvious opportunity to also trace the history, artistic development and emergence of black music. Wonderful opportunity to celebrate music. And a pleasure for me to delve into my collection which I've built through 30 years of record reviewing and A&R research. I'm kind of sorry it didn't turn out to be a 10-hour series after all. Could have put many more records in! There were 51 over four hours, as it was.
I've really loved the musical breadth and period nature of all Dan's projects. Most folks in the music business associate me with dance music and rap because I wrote the Billboard dance column and signed the Rob Base party record "It Takes Two" when I worked for Profile Records. So I love knocking people back with a reel of pre-Beatles top 40, or total easy-listening stuff.
Boombox Serenade: What's your favorite music moment in Black Magic and why? Brian Chin: I have two. The opening song, "We the People" by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers I used to hear on the radio when I was a high-schooler, and it's one of the original underground club records that started the disco movement in the early Seventies. The brass in the record went with the images of marching bands and the raw excitement of the rhythm track was great to explode off the starting block. It's one of many R&B and early disco records that are proven hits in the underground of the past, but are undiscovered, fresh and exciting on the first listen. The songs parallel the creative and personal breakthroughs of the individuals in the film.
I've been privileged to write a lot of pop history in CD reissues, and I often write for Universal's Motown reissues. So the instrumental of the Temptations' "I Can't Get Next To You" was something I knew should be in a crucial moment on the court. The rugged Sly Stone influence of the track and the unrelenting drive, and the great changes, it's a wonderful thing to cut to, and the perfect period signature to a 1970 championship game. There's a whole CD of special instrumental rhythm tracks in the deluxe edition of the soundtrack of "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" and they are unbelievable.
I also love the two selections by the Stovall Sisters, who made a fantastic R&B/gospel record after singing back-up on the classic "Spirit in the Sky." In the clearance process, our great legal eagle, Marlies Dwyer, of Grubman, Indursky contacted one of the sisters through myspace, and it was a thrill and an honor to send them a Japanese reissue of their album, which they never knew existed. That's a favorite music moment, too.
Boombox Serenade: You mentioned that you had to make some soundtrack changes mid-stream with Black Magic. Can you explain why those changes had to be made and how you went about doing that? Brian Chin: Dan made a deal with Rhino Entertainment, the catalogue division of Warner Music, that gave us almost unlimited pick of the Atlantic, Warner Bros. and Elektra catalogues. That was wonderful. A very talented and knowledgeable Rhino creative staffer, Tarik Bradford, who has now just joined Universal, came to New York from Los Angeles to view the film and help evaluate how many Warner tracks could replace what had been temp-ed in, over the previous several months of editing. It was great to work with another record nerd.
There were songs that in the end were irreplaceable, and in any case, an overall master deal like that didn't account for the publishing. So clearances were still pretty far and wide, although a good many of the Atlantic and Stax oldies had common publishing owners.
Boombox Serenade: Were there any tracks you had to ditch that were hard to let go of? As a music supervisor, how do you typically deal with "temp love?" Brian Chin: I won't lie. Dan had picks in the film, of course, and so did the three editors, David Zieff, Michael Levine and Eliza Kurtz. They were provided with some of the comprehensive R&B boxed compilations from Atlantic's catalogue, and you couldn't really argue with any pick made out of them.
That said, I think the heartbreaker was a track that Dan picked from Sam Moore's recent album, "None of Us Are Free (Till All of Us Are Free)" that everyone loved as the finale song. We got caught in the holiday break and could not get the writers to sign off in time. That said, Dan picked "Wake Up Everybody" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and I picked Aretha Franklin's version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and both are in the end, and have the kind of bittersweet but strong vibe that's appropriate.
I try my best to foresee difficult or expensive license holders. I used to clear samples for my label's rap albums, so that gave me a hard lesson in who to walk a big circle around. One close call was "The Champ," by the Mohawks which was not in the Warner catalog although I had a European compilation that indicated it was. I would have hated losing that because it is such a strong hip-hop signifier. Luckily, Marlies was able to negotiate with the British owners over the holiday break.
I also did the major portion of music supervision for the Weinstein Co.'s "Factory Girl," which was re-done in the last month leading up to release date. When I saw the cut, it had Rolling Stones and Kinks songs in it, and two other supervisors had already worked on it! So at 11:59, I was able to come up with a slate of early-to-mid-Sixties rock and pop that set the period, commented on the action and cost far less. I actually enjoyed the challenge of that.
Boombox Serenade: What would your advice be to music supervisors who are told mid-project that they will need to work within a specific catalog or label? Brian Chin: It's like any outcome you have to dissociate yourself from. It would bring out the record geek in you to drill down into your own collection, or Rhapsody, and make new discoveries. I've got two rooms full of vinyl and CDs, so I should do something with them. In this case, Tarik's favorite secret-weapon songs and knowledge of the catalogue dovetailed with mine. The creative part of that was painless.
Boombox Serenade: Ray Charles and Wilson Pickett are, of course, fantastic, but I was also grateful for your inclusion of artists like Arthur Conley and Professor Longhair in the Black Magic soundtrack. In general, which artists from the 60's and 70's are your favorite to share with people who may not know about them? Those you feel are underexposed in proportion to their talent and contributions? Brian Chin: I came to music supervision relatively recently and most of my career has been in the music industry -- A&R, journalism, research, publicity. So it's a joy to see many of my favorite records used in this way, as they were the songs that accompanied my childhood and adolescence and early adulthood. I remember back to being 3 years old and watching records spin and learning to read from the label names and song titles.
So from listening to radio and the top 40 countdowns and going to clubs as a youngster, there are so many things that weren't massive mainstream hits that were for me the mood-setters of my life, and sure enough, they create compelling musical and emotional signatures in the films. Twice in Dan's previous docs, we used "Free Your Mind" by the Politicians, which was made by Holland-Dozier-Holland after they left Motown, and that was another song I heard on the radio because I didn't have the money to buy records as a child, and listened to every different music station to compensate.
As a journalist, and choosing to work in black music and dance music, which were outcast in the mainstream media prior to rap taking over, I always felt I was an advocate of music that wasn't getting prime time, and part of my specialty is knowing thoroughly the early pre-crossover records of star producers, songwriters and singers.
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The Black Magic Soundtrack, available on Amazon
1. "C'mon Children" - Earth, Wind & Fire
2. "Sweet Soul Music" - Arthur Conley editor's pick
3. "Boot-Leg" - Booker T. & The MG's
4. "Land of 1000 Dances" - Wilson Pickett
5. "Teasin'" - Cornell Dupree editor's pick
6. "Hey Little Girl" - Professor Longhair editor's pick
7. "Mess Around" - Ray Charles
8. "Morning After" - The Mar-Keys editor's pick
9. "Ghetto" - Graham Central Station
10. "Love the Life You Live" - Black Heat
11. "What is Hip?" - Tower Of Power
12. "Soul Finger" - The Bar-Kays
13. "Pick Up the Pieces" - Average White Band / AWB