Interview with General Kane

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
General Kane Maybe we're not in the mood for message records right now. Even so, "Crack Killed Applejack" is a powerfully persuasive insight into the tragedy of American basketball star Len Bias, who, after a distinguished high school record, becomes addicted to crack, thereby ruining his life. It eventually killed him.

Maybe we're not in the mood for message records right now. Even so, "Crack Killed Applejack" is a powerfully persuasive insight into the tragedy of American basketball star Len Bias, who, after a distinguished high school record, becomes addicted to crack, thereby ruining his life. It eventually killed him.

Crack, lest a reminder is needed, is a violently potent form of cocaine and is America's greatest drug killer. Motown says "Applejack" is the first hard-core "street" record in its history (although Rick James could also take that honour), and is the first single to deal openly about the drug.
The innovator of all this is Mitch McDowell, whose mouthpiece is General Kane, and on the single he raps his message home in a similar way Grandmaster Flash did with "White Lines".

Mitch, once he had been found within the Motown offices, was a lively and joking sort of guy, who was astonished at our below-freezing conditions ? "it's hot and sunny here in LA" he laughed. Then was speechless when I told him "Reet Petite" had been number one here for several weeks ? "I know good records never die, but this is something else!"

Before signing to Motown General Kane recorded for Tabu. "I was very confident we'd get another deal", Mitch told me. "The parting was amicable, and the head of the label and I are still good friends today. Steve Buckley (later to become Motown's A&R director) also a good friend, said 'let's try Motown'."

When Buckley left Capitol to join Motown, General Kane was very much on his mind. The two often met. "I must have played at least three hundred songs for him. Some were different versions of the same song. I think there's eleven different versions of 'Applejack' before we were ready to record it properly." The song was originally titled "Death Lives In A Rock House". "Rock" is the West Coast word for "crack", while on the East Coast it was known as crack.

"I told Steve that rock was going to be the biggest problem in America, but he didn't know what I was talking about. Rock houses are where drugs are sold, thus the single's original title."
General Kane was signed to Motown for at least two years before anything was recorded. "We wanted to make sure everything was right. We call our music 'slam', a cross between rock and soul. In the eighties several black artists have shied away from making music that is really soulful. We're interested in keeping the life and feeling in what we do. So that's what this band is all about."

Mitch McDowell was one of six children, born in San Bemadino, California. His family planned a football career for him, but Mitch chose music. As a teenager he went to a military school because "it was happening and was not a punishment over here.

"I met this guy called Came, and he was the most unmilitary guy you've ever met. He had no stripes or anything, couldn't do much either ? not even clean his shoes. So he was nicknamed General Kane. I liked the name, and that's what the band became."
The General did have something going for him though because he was a mean drummer and taught Mitch the art. His ambition to be part of the music business was brought home when he was taken to a seventies concert by Sly and the Family Stone.

"I looked at Sly making his great music that moved the whole arena and said 'that's what I want to do'. Sly was the greatest influence on my life, it's only a pity he's not as popular now."
Upon leaving military school, Mitch joined the league of struggling musicians and writers. He led The Booty People, comprising future members of War. Eventually, they recorded an album for Tabu. A further two were released, then their contract expired. But Mitch was enthusiastic about his Motown deal.

"It's the first company I've been with that operates like every artist wants his company to. And they've been very supportive, so what more can an artist ask for? Yes, I'm very happy to be here. We maybe the latest 'streetwise' set-up but, let me tell you ... we're going a lot further!"

Right. Back to "Crack Killed Applejack", and although Mitch was very disappointed it didn't chart here, he appreciated that perhaps Europe wasn't ready for it. He was surprised to learn "Hairdooz" was its follow-up.

"I didn't know that had been released. However, maybe that will do better. I sincerely hope so because I want to come over. I've never been to England, so when I come I can explain the meaning of our music much better. And it'll give me an opportunity to see Andy McCoy. He used to be with Hanoi Rocks and we met over here."

Now, with "Applejack" he didn't, he said, want to come across a real old goodie-two-shoes. When he first played the finished single Motown's staff were overwhelmed and, he laughed, Berry Gordy showed great excitement. Then, Mitch stressed, "I'm not an altogether serious bloke but rather an individual who has strong feelings about drugs, but crack in particular, which the kids are using. I thought what better way to reach them than to speak their musical language? Should they listen to our record, then there's a chance they'll get something from it.

"Crack is something that knows no prejudice ? it .. destroys the lives of housewives, lawyers and the kids on the street. I wanted to paint not only an ugly picture but the most horrible, which might prevent someone experimenting with the drug in the first place. Somebody has got to stop it!"
You can't get more pointed than these lyrics: "It was a sad sight, I must confess. He died on the freeway in a mini-dress. His mama told him which way to go. He had to smoke something the Lord didn't grow, and what I thought was really odd. He died screaming 'Oh, my God'".
Mitch didn't know who Len Bias was. He chanced to be watching television when the Celtics drafted the player to the tune of several million dollars.

"Everyone was happy, then two days later, Len was dead. It was a most depressing and senseless thing. I've seen what crack can do to people. You've got a guy, say, who weighed about three hundred pounds. He now weighs one hundred lighter. He's gone crazy, with no sense of values. He's lost his car, his house and his wife. All he's got left is smoking crack. The stuff means death!"

Before recording the single on General Kane, Mitch told me, Michael Jackson wanted to do it with him, but in his own way with Quincy Jones producing.
"It was a great compliment and probably the song would have been taken more seriously if we had done it together. Michael Jackson is bigger than life itself which would have prompted more people to take notice."

I said I disagreed as Michael wasn't, I thought, really the person to push the message across because, of late, most folk here considered him to be a bit of a joke with face changes, oxygen capsules, etc. Mitch said I might have a point here.

Following "Applejack" is the album "In Full Chill" (aptly titled for our weather!) and its crammed with variety. Most of his ideas come from everyday things ? "life sells. People want to laugh, cry, get emotional over songs, whether they're humerous or sad. One track on the album "The Ticket' took five minutes to write. Other times it can take me up to two months to get a song right. Mind you, I don't want to get into the habit of writing message songs, although I do think we're pioneers of a sort right now."

"In Full Chill" was co-produced and written by Mitch, and he now plans to get a promotion tour underway.

"I want to go on the road, playjng some straight-out funk. Just the way Sly and George Clinton used to do because I feel it's time to get back to great live performances." (SD B&S)

Copyright © 2004 - 2024 SOULANDFUNKMUSIC.COM. All Rights Reserved.