Melvin Van Peebles and his band wid Laxative are at Johnny Brenda's this weekend. Credit: Melvin Van Peebles
It’s all about the song these days for Melvin Van Peebles.
Peebles, the 81-year-old film icon whose 1971 “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” started the black exploitation movement in movies, is coming to town to play Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown, Saturday, Feb. 8 with his band wid Laxative.
Peebles wrote the soundtrack to “Sweet Sweetback” as well as the soundtracks to his other films and solo albums.
“I was walking down the street about a year and a half ago and I heard a song and it was a song I had written 40-something years ago,” Van Peebles says from his New York City home. “It became the anthem of the Wall Street uprising and they’re using it everywhere. It was a song I had written for (the 1970 movie) ‘Watermelon Man.’”
“Love, That’s America” first appeared in “Watermelon Man,” which tales the story of a white bigot who turns black, and was also released on his ‘71 album “As Serious as a Heart-Attack.”
“Music — some people just don’t know that part of me,” says Van Peebles, the father of actor and filmmaker Mario Van Peebles.
The Van Peebles sound is a blusey, jazzy spoken-world flow with lots of groove and character — and characters, too. Wid Laxative is composed of members of the New York City-based collective Burnt Sugar.
“It’s storytelling, it’s like old blues or old country artists,” Van Peebles says. “It’s telling something and then you set it to music so you can dance the night away.”
Members of Burnt Sugar performed the live “Sweet Sweetback, the Hood Opera” with Van Peebles 2010 in Paris. The original music from the “Sweet Sweetback” film was performed by Earth, Wind and Fire.
“Forty years ago, I went to a drive-in in Dayton, Ohio, and saw ‘Sweet Sweetback’ and then it came on with that iconic bass, and me being a bass player, I was hooked right there,” says Nickerson of Burnt Sugar and wid Laxative. “For me, playing this music is my teen-age wet dream.”
Melvin Van Peebles wid Laxative and Ernest Stuart Saturday, Feb. 8, 9:30 p.m. Johnny Brenda’s 1201 N. Frankford Ave. $25, 215-739-9684 www.johnnybrendas.com