In 1971, Eddie Palmieri's album "Harlem River Drive" fused Latin, soul, funk and jazz music — all packaged within the tales of life in the inner city.
The album later went on to become a full ensemble by the same name.
Palmieri is a New Yorker, and draws inspiration from the psychedelic sounds of the 70s. This weekend — 45 years later — his group will reprise the original album live at the Red Bull Music Academy Festival, just blocks away from the street after which the album is named.
Palmieri says he created the album back in 1971 to reflect the social, economic and political turmoil at the time. It would be easy to say that that's why he's bringing it back today. But in fact, the festival's sponsors were the ones who came up with the idea. Regardless, Palmieri says his decades-old musical message is as relevant as ever.
"It only has gotten worse," he says. "We have to thank corruption, and then we have the unequal distribution of wealth and poverty. It's the same all over constantly, and that's why 'Harlem River Drive' was so important when it was recorded then. And it will be more important now."
However, the album's initial reception wasn't overwhelmingly positive. Writing for Wax Poetics, blogger Pablo Yglesias says the album was often panned. It was called "misbegotten," "tedious" and even "pretentious."
In fact, among the few people Palmieri seemed to be able to attract were violent, underground leftist radicals.
He originally was recording the album under a subsidiary of Roulette Records called Tico Records. Tico specialized in Latin music, but Palmieri had songs in English and wanted the album to be a crossover hit. He asked if they would release it under Roulette.
Seems like a good plan, right?
Well, it could have been. The problem was that soon after the album was released, members of the violent left-wing group Weather Underground heard the music — and loved it. They were among his biggest fans.
As the story goes, it didn't take long for the FBI to show up at the record company. And the head of the label, Maurice Levy, wasn't happy about it.
It turns out this wasn't the first time Palmieri's work had brought the government to Roulette Records' door. In 1965, Palmieri recorded an album called "Mambo Con Conga Is Mozambique." Some dissident Cubans, as well as an anti-Cuban militant group named Alpha 66, threatened to blow up any radio stations that played music off of "Mozambique."
"[Roulette Records chief Maurice Levy] told me, 'I don't need the CIA and the FBI to come to visit me for something I didn't do, is that clear Mr. Palmieri?'" Palmieri says, laughing. "I say 'Clear as a bell, boss!"
This time around, though, the government seems to be on Palmieri's side. Well, at least the local government.
New York City is officially declaring Saturday — the day of the concert — Eddie Palmieri's Harlem River Drive Day.
From PRI's The World ©2016 PRI