By Marcus Henderson
In reality TV show fashion, San Quentin residents demonstrated they “got talent,” at the Third Annual Talent and Karaoke event, sponsored by the San Quentin Music Program.
As the Lower Yard filled, about 150 people crowded around a makeshift stage to be treated to ’80s-style music by former Club Nouveau member, now incarcerated Jeffery Atkins.
Atkins’ keyboard skills dazzled the crowd as they sang along to Club Nouveau classics songs like Situation Number Nine and Jealousy. He also performed Rumors by Timex Social Club. Lee “Jazz” Jaspar’s guitar wizardry accompanied Atkins’ performance.
“I think this will be my last R&B performance,” said Atkins. “I’m going to follow my true calling in gospel music. Being with Club Nouveau is probably my last exposure at that musical level.”
Three hip-hop acts brought, style, passion and an ability to hype-up the crowd as they took to the stage and masterfully had heads bobbing with music arranged by David Jassy.
Maurice “#II” Reed’s verbal assault on I’m Just Saying displayed what true emceeing is all about—his vocal clarity riding a bouncing beat.
“I woke up one night thinking about all the bad stuff I was doing,” said Reed. “I had to find a way to turn my life into a positive and music is a way for me to express myself, instead of being angry.”
Jessie James bought to the stage his easy-going personality and shoulder-bouncing dance moves in a seriously complex song called Bottles and Funerals.
With profound lyrics like, “I reminisced about the days we had dreams when we was five, but they died when he died—at 17 he lost his life,” captured the harsh reality of street life.
“I lost about nine people to the streets in East Oakland,” said James. “This song was about celebrating their lives.”
James put fun back into his set when he performed Diamonds.
Joshua “JB” Burton showed what a veteran B-boy (an alternate name for a rapper) could do when he touches a microphone.
Songs included Big Talk for a Little Guy, a self-reflective song about doing what you say you’re going to do, and Fresh, a rap that used a mixture of new-school and old-school terminology to blend both generations. The song proved rapping is an art.
“Music is a way for me to explore my flaws,” said Burton. “It challenges me to rise above negative stereotypes back to my humanity.”
Not to be outdone, Howard “Pistol Pete” Poteet gave the crowd a shot of country with his original song Take Me Down, Lay Me Down, about grabbing your fishing pole and going down to the river and partying with the country folk.
“Music takes me away from prison,” said Poteet. “I don’t have a TV or radio, just my guitar.”
Another breakout voice was Gennie Bieninnie, who drew a standing ovation with his original piece So Much Love. The catchy tune had people singing the lyrics even when the song was finished.
“The song was about how a woman has so much love,” said Bieninnie. “How I have so much love and that’s what brings us together.”
The event emcee, Darrel Farris, struggled to get participants to perform karaoke. However, Jose Velazquez and Leonard “Funky Len” Walker stepped up to break the ice.
Velazquez gave a strong rendition of La Bamba to the delight of the audience. Walker drew laughter and smiles singing Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.
“That song speaks on what’s going on today,” said Walker. “We need to get back to the basic. I tried to inspire the youth to have fun, because everybody in prison is tight face.”
Aaron “Showtime” Taylor proved practice makes perfect with a medley of original songs on the guitar, two years after of picking up the instrument.
He also joined in the karaoke and sang I Want You Back by the Jackson Five, dance moves and all.
“I used to perform that song with my brother and a friend, when I was a kid in front of a West LA studio,” said Taylor. “I just wanted to give the people a flash-back; they didn’t think I could still dance like that.”
Kevin D. Sawyer displayed exceptional skills with a guitar instrumental of For the Love of God by Steve Vai. He enlisted James Benson on the drums, Terry Slaughter bass, and Atkins on the keyboard. Sawyer credits Jimi Hendrix and Prince as his influences.
“It means a lot to me to play and even more when people enjoy hearing me play,” said Sawyer.
The soulful Richie Morris’ velvet voice soared while singing Given Time and Santa Cruz.
Morris concluded, “As we start to mature we start to understand where we’ve been, where we are and where we want to be.”
Wilber “Rico” Rogers, who worked the mixing board along with Farris, thanked sponsor Raphaele Casale for her hard work arranging the Oct. 22 affair.