There's no real mystery why Mother's Finest didn't turn out to be one of the most popular bands in the world 30 years ago.
The group was one of those '70s groups like Wet Willie and Bruce Springsteen whose stage energy was difficult to translate to vinyl. Plus, it was based out of Atlanta, which wasn't the musical center of anything in those days. But other bands have succeeded with far less and, in truth, the greatest strength of Mother's Finest also turned out to be its greatest enemy. It was a predominately black band (the guitarist and drummer were white) that had a rock sound in an era when black groups were not played on rock radio unless their name was Jimi Hendrix. And, come to think of it, even today, when's the last time you heard Hendrix on a classic rock station?
The first time I saw Mother's Finest perform was at West Georgia College not long after the release of its second album. I was entertainment editor at the college paper and interviewed the group backstage before the show. Jerry "Wyzard" Seay, the bass player, was tall and thin, the jokester. Guitarist Mo Moore was quiet and shy. Singer Glenn Murdock was the businessman of the group. His wife and lead singer, Joyce "Baby Jean" Kennedy, was flirty and friendly, and just about the sultriest woman I'd ever met. They had brought their 12-year-old son with them; after she introduced us, Joyce grabbed my arm and smiled. "Don't mention that I have a son that old, OK?" she asked. It wasn't good for her onstage persona.
Before they hit the stage, an announcer introduced them: "Ladies and gentlemen, from Funk Rock, Ga.: Mother's Finest!" And thus began a concert that I will always remember. Aside from Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and Springsteen, I've never seen a better live band than Mother's Finest. Its musical foundation was funk rhythms that made you move your shoulders to the beat. But it wasn't truly funk because Moore was playing rock and roll licks over it. When Wyzard would really get into the groove, he'd bend his knees and lay so far backward, he looked like he was doing the Hawaiian limbo. Kennedy was dressed in a black full-body leotard and had shoulder-length braided extensions that bounced as she twisted her body to the music, singing with a voice that seemed to capture the very essence of soul. If there's any band that should have hit it big, it's Mother's Finest. But it never happened.
That second album, Mother's Finest, contained songs that became concert staples. It included the eight-minute opus "Give You All the Love (Inside of Me)" that showcased everything great about Mother's Finest: a tight and intricate arrangement, Moore's slashing guitar and Kennedy's soaring voice. And "Fire," the sexy funk-driven ode to passion.
But the song that got the most radio play in Atlanta was "Niggizz Can't Sang Rock & Roll," a song that spoke to the band's difficulty in getting airplay. The song, one of the few where Murdock took over the lead vocals, vented the group's frustration at the racial lines drawn in rock music and how Mother's Finest was pressed up against an artificial barrier. The song's title sparked controversy and Mother's Finest dropped it from the set list. Today, it's not even available: The album is out of print and the song has never been included on any of the group's greatest hits compilations.
The last time I saw Mother's Finest was at the Fox Theatre in the early '80s. Not long after that, the band broke up. Wyzard joined Stevie Nicks' band. Moore played a lot locally. Kennedy had a huge hit with "The Last Time I Made Love," a duet with Jeffrey Osborne.
Now, 25 years later, most of the original lineup is back together and about to release a new CD, Right Here, Right Now. The band is playing at Smith's Olde Bar, a venue usually reserved for acts on the way up. And Kennedy is, God forbid, old enough to be a grandmother. But I'll keep that a secret if you will.
Besides, I bet she still knows how to rock the house.
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