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“Fresh and explosive…Greenman takes readers behind the rhythm and into the soul of a musician and the culture that made and destroyed him. It’s a haunting vision of a man, the music and a culture, driven by the author’s undeniable passion for his subject.” —Publishers Weekly [STARRED REVIEW]
“Please Step Back sings of the back-street, back-stage hyper-kinetic moment when music, stardom, and cultural sea changes pushed America irrevocably forward. Light-stepping and hard-hitting, Greenman gets it right from the power of the beat to the devastation when the silence takes over.” —Walter Mosley
“Please Step Back is a literary funk-rock novel with weight and power. Greenman nails the outsized characters who, in the midst of a cultural revolution, birthed the most thrilling movement in American popular music.” —George Pelecanos
“Anyone who has ever fallen in love with popular music knows the story of Rock Foxx and The Foxes: boy meets gift, boy meets girl, boy meets success, boy forgets to choose sides, demons take boy. Please Step Back doesn’t decode or interpret Foxx’s story—it does something better; this book sounds like a song, working with the rhythm of words that are like speech but never just talking. Greenman’s dialogue is as terse, piercing and easeful as Sly Stone’s lyrics.” —Sasha Frere-Jones
2. THE BOOK
The Encyclopedia of Rock and Soul has it, but they have it wrong:
“The Foxxes were a popular Bay Area rock and soul band led by the Rock Foxx, (nee Robert Franklin–born Boston, MA, March 15, 1943). The group made its name in the late sixties with a pair of ebullient anthems, ‘Make It Better’ and ‘We All Need A Place In the Sun,’ before going on to even higher heights and then coming apart in a haze of drug abuse, finger-pointing, and recrimination.”
The entry goes on for another four hundred words, but it leaves out as much as it includes. The rest of the story–a tale of fame and fortune, of genius and madness–is the subject of Ben Greenman’s new book Please Step Back, published by Melville House.
3. THE BAND
Few funk-rock bands have experienced the rapid climb to fame and then near-total disappearance of Rock Foxx and the Foxxes. During the heady days of the Summer of Love, the band–led by the vocalist Robert Franklin (a.k.a. the Rock Foxx) and shored up by the expert assistance of his cousin Lucas Sanders (on bass), Tony Clemente (on guitar), Kevin Moore (on drums), and Yvette Washington (on backup vocals and occasional percussion)–rocketed to the top with albums like “A Place in the Sun” (1967) and “Get the Picture” (1968). Building on the socially conscious soul of artists like Curtis Mayfield and the dynamic groove propulsion of James Brown, Rock Foxx and the Foxxes pushed funk forward.
As popular as the group became - in influence and reputation, they were clearly the early equal of other Bay Area bands - it was only the beginning. Franklin, the Rock Foxx himself, had absorbed his influences completely, and as the sixties shaded into the seventies, he demonstrated how completely with a trio of classic albums - Wreckered (1969), Pitch (1971), and Revolution (1973). These records exploded the foundations of popular music, rebuilt them, and exploded them again. No less an authority than Robert Scrivini called these records “a modern-day funk-rock Bible, moving quickly from Old Testament to New Testament and then to something else beyond that.” The band’s idiosyncratic funk and Franklin’s increasingly sophisticated lyrics grippingly detailed the lavish political and emotional promises of the sixties - and then, just as grippingly, detailed their destruction. The former is summed up perfectly by the title song of Wreckered, while the pessimism is represented by the skittish, blackly coming “Rap,” from Pitch.
In his book, which has already been hailed by authors such as Walter Mosley (”light-stepping and hard-hitting…Greenman gets it right”) and George Pelecanos (”a literary funk-rock [book] with weight and power,” Greenman charts the path of this mercurial funk-rock genius, who is strongly allied with such stars as Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield, looking unflinchingly at every aspect of his existence - victories, disappointments, lovers, enemies. He also paints a portrait of the world around him: the tumultuous sixties and seventies in America, filled with endless possibilities and shocking reversals.
4. THE SONG
“Please Step Back” is a book, but it is also a song, the name of the composition that Rock Foxx wrote but never had a chance to record. The lyrics, which dealt forthrightly — or as forthrightly as possible for Rock Foxx — with drug addiction and alienation (the theme of high versus low runs through the song) attained a unprecedented level of sophistication, but it was left to another musical mastermind to complete the thought. In 2009, the cult funk legend Swamp Dogg, who knew of Rock Foxx from his youth, obtained the lyrics to “Please Step Back” and recorded a cover version. The resulting song (available here and elsewhere as an exclusive free mp3) is both a milestone in musical reclamation and a new stage in Swamp Dogg’s venerable career.
For more information, please visit the book’s page at Melville House.