So imagine this; you are one of, let’s say, nine-thousand or so fans who came to see Black Sabbath at the International Amphitheater on November 25th, 1976 in Chicago. Perhaps like some die-hard Sabbath fans, you weren’t super-jazzed with the band’s seventh album Technical Ecstasy, but like any devout headbanger, you go to the show because Black Sabbath still fucking rules. What you are not expecting is a mind-blowing performance by Sabbath’s opening act, funk ‘n’ roll outfit, Mother’s Finest. In fact, they gave the boys from Birmingham a run for their money and then some, by way of platform boots, raging guitar riffs and soul-soaked rhythms on par with Sly & the Family Stone. Hot damn.
Mother’s Finest had just released a self-titled album on Epic containing the single “Niggizz Can’t Sang Rock & Roll,” which the band had reworked from a single they recorded in 1972, “It’s What You Do With What You Got.” The album did well enough to get them the same bill as huge international acts like Sabbath, AC/DC and The Who, with performances so powerful they rivaled the headliners—earning them the title of “most dangerous opening band in rock.” The band’s second album, Another Mother Further featured a more amped-up rock sound which included lifted licks from none other than the king of riffs himself, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. Page’s guitar work on 1975’s “Custard Pie” was distinctly replicated by Mother’s Finest guitarist Gary Moore (not to be confused with Irish guitar god Gary Moore), on the band’s cover of The Miracles’ 1963 song, “Mickey’s Monkey.” Rock historians have often pondered why Zeppelin never sued the band for siphoning Page’s unmistakeable jams, though this also reminds one of Zeppelin’s long track record when it comes to ripping-off their musical predecessors.
At this point, I’d like to jaw a bit about Mother’s Finest’s vocalist, Joyce Kennedy—the funky fireball still fronting the act to this day. While she was in elementary school, Kennedy and her mother moved to the musical hotbed of Chicago in 1955. Chicago record label Chess was a huge champion of musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon. Chess’ success during the 50s and 60s would help pave the way for future superstars from the city like Curtis Mayfield, Chicago, and Rufus and Chaka Khan (who Kennedy would be compared to during her own career). So it should be no surprise that the young Kennedy started singing shortly after her arrival and even had a couple of minor local hits in her teens. After meeting another local vocalist, Glenn Murdock, the pair would start performing as a duo on stage and in real life after getting married. In 1975, Mother’s Finest was born and their timing could not have been better as they were surrounded by other stereotype-smashing diverse groups like War, and Brooklyn funk-rockers Mandrill.
I’ve posted photos and footage of the band performing back in the 70s, as well as Joyce Kennedy absolutely slaying a live version of Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 smash, “Somebody to Love” in 1979 below. Dig it.