After after two years of COVID-19 shutdowns & false starts, live music is beginning to return. Let’s celebrate the power & importance of live music by looking back at a critical moment in history:

April 5, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated the day before. America was on edge and riots were breaking out in cities across the country. But the city of Boston, MA held it together. Why? Because the Godfather Of Soul– James Brown— was in town.

(Above Photo: Thomas Atkins (left) and Kevin White (right) speak with James Brown at the Boston Garden, April 5, 1968. It was one day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Atkins, Brown and White are credited with keeping the city quiet in the aftermath.)

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Sugar Pie DeSanto (born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton) was a ton of dynamite in a tiny 4′ 11″ frame… and still is, at the time of this recording. Let’s have a listen to this super-fun classic track, recorded with the great Etta James in 1966.

“In The Basement (Part 1)” (Billy Davis, Raynard Miner & Carl Smith) Copyright 1966 Chevis Music Inc BMI

Welcome to the party, friends! This is the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, coming to you on the Pantheon Podcast Network. I’m your Master of Ceremonies, Brad Page, and on this episode we’re tossing out all the pretensions and going to the place where we can dance to any music we choose– “In The Basement” with Sugar Pie DeSanto

Umpeylia Marsema Balinton was born in Brooklyn New York in 1935, to a Filipino father and an African-American mother. Her mom had been a concert pianist, so she had music in her blood. Her family moved to San Francisco when she was four. She was close friends with Jamesetta Hawkins, who was discovered by Johnny Otis and renamed Etta James. Umpeylia won a number of talent contests in San Francisco and LA, and eventually Johnny Otis turned his sights to her, signing her in 1955 and changing her name to Sugar Pie DeSanto.

Sugar Pie stood only 4 feet 11 inches tall, but she packed an explosive amount of talent in that small frame. She had a giant voice and boundless energy, doing backflips on stage. Her first hit came in 1960 with “I Want To Know”, which reached number 4 on Billboard’s R&B chart.


Sugar Pie moved to Chicago and signed with Chess Records, where she recorded more singles. Her biggest hit with Chess was a track called “Soulful Dress” in 1964.


In 1966, she reunited with her friend Etta James for a duet called “Do I Make Myself Clear”:


After the success of that single, Sugar Pie and Etta James went back into the studio in ’66 to cut another song together: “In The Basement”.

“In The Basement” didn’t turn out to be a big hit, but I think it’s one of the all-time great dance party songs– right up there with “Dancing In The Street”. “In The Basement” was written and produced by Billy Davis, Raynard Miner and Carl Smith. The song kicks off with a snare drum hit, then a classic bass guitar riff, doubled on the piano:


You can tell the party’s already started with the crowd noise in the background. After two bars of the intro riff, there’s a short one-beat pause then the intro riff transitions into the main riff. It is a bit of a different riff, and that’s where the guitar joins in.


This is where the first verse comes in, and to set the stage, here’s what Etta James said about the recording of this track:

“I flew up to Chicago where I recorded with my old friend from San Francisco, nutty wild-ass Sugar Pie DeSanto. I dug singing “Into The Basement”, a song that took us back to when we were kids; cutting up, smearing on lipstick, kissing on boys, being bad gang girls with our homemade tattoos and floppy jeans. With happy voices chattering in the background, the record is an all-night-long party, with funky music blaring.”

That pretty much says it all. Here’s the first verse:


“Where can you go when the money gets low? In the basement.” Kids with no money, no transportation, too young for the clubs… what do you do? You get together in a friend’s basement where you can turn up the music and have a space of your own.

Now, granted, we were suburban white kids, far from the inner city where I grew up, but we did basically the same thing; hanging out in the basement, playing tunes. A couple times a year, we’d set up our guitars and drums in a friend’s basement and play a show for a dozen of our closest friends. Those moments of escape, freedom and promise… pretty universal experience for most American teenagers, I think.

"Where can you dance to any music you choose, 
you got the comforts of home and a nightclub, too.  
There's no cover charge or fee, 
and the food and drinks are free, 
down in the basement."

That’s the second verse.


I love the scream and the backing vocals here.

Let’s bring up the vocals on this last verse


“In The Basement” by Sugar Pie DeSanto and Etta James.

Sugar Pie, like so many artists, never made it to the big-time commercially. She’s had to eke out a career over 50 years now, but she kept on going. In 2008, she received the Pioneer Award by the Rhythm And Blues Foundation. At the ceremony, she performed “I Want To Know”, her first hit. And in the middle of the song, she got down on the floor and did a backward somersault.

At the time of this recording, Sugar Pie DeSanto is 85 years old, still going strong. She’s overcome a lot in her life: drugs, alcohol, and tragedy– she was married five times, twice to the same man, Jesse Davis, who died in a fire at their apartment in 2006. Sugar Pie said “He saved my life, but he couldn’t save his own”.

If you’d like to hear more of Sugar Pie DeSanto, there’s a great compilation CD called “Go Go Power: The Complete Chess Singles” that I highly recommend.

Thank you for being a part of this episode. The “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast will be back again soon! Find us on Facebook, where you can write a review or leave a comment; you can find all of our previous episodes on our website,

This show is part of the Pantheon Network of podcasts, where you’ll find discussions and conversations on all the great bands and artists. Thanks again for listening, and let’s keep the party going with “In The Basement” by Sugar Pie de Santo.

Here’s the first episode of a new series that we’ll be exploring occasionally here on the “I’m In Love With That Song” Podcast. I’m always interested to hear about music that made a big impact on other people’s lives; in this series, I’m inviting some fellow podcasters and friends in the music industry to discuss an album that shaped their lives in some way.

For this first episode, Podcaster Extraordinaire Eric Miller joins us to talk about Living Color’s “Vivid”. And I discuss one of my influential albums, “Anthology” by Sly & The Family Stone. Hope you enjoy the conversation!

The Ohio Players paid their dues for 15 years before their first #1 Top 100 hit, but by then, they were on fire (pun intended). Built on an incessant groove that won’t quit, they brought heavy funk to the top of the pop charts. On this episode, we take a look at all the elements that make up this funky classic.

“Fire” (Ralph Middlebrooks, Marshall Jones, Leroy Bonner, Clarence Satchell, Willie Beck & Marvin Pierce) Copyright 1974 Play One Music and Segundo Suenos Music

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Merry Clayton never had a big hit, but her voice can be heard in dozens of songs you know (we’ve listened to one of them here before– see episode #42). One of the legendary background singers profiled in the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, most of her solo work is largely unknown– which is a shame, because there’s some great music on those albums. Take this example from her first album, Gimme Shelter. Merry takes this James Taylor classic to a whole new place, one of my favorite cover songs of all time.

“Country Road” (James Taylor) Copyright 1970 Blackwood Music Inc./Country Road Music Inc. (BMI)

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Rare Earth’s sound was equal parts funky soul and straight-up rock. For decades, when there’s cause for celebration, folks have been crankin’ up this chunk of funk rock. Let’s take a closer look at how Rare Earth carved their place in history with this track.

“I Just Want To Celebrate” (Nick Zesses, Dino Fekaris) Copyright 1971 Jobette Music Co., Inc (BMI)

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Earth, Wind & Fire’s 6th album, That’s The Way of The World, was ostensibly a soundtrack album; when the film bombed, the album was on the verge of fading away, too– until “Shining Star” was released as a single and it became their first (and surprisingly only) #1 Top 10 Hit. The whole band is on fire here; beneath the pop sheen is the heaviest of funk grooves, with particularly tasty guitar & bass work. Let’s climb inside this funk machine & see what it took to create this stellar track.

Earth Wind & Fire – “Shining Star” (Maurice White, Philip Bailey and Larry Dunn) Copyright 1975 (Renewed 2003) EMI April Music Inc. 

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The Temptations’ first #1 Hit on the Billboard “Hot 100” chart was “My Girl” in 1965. 4 years later, they had their 2nd #1 with “I Can’t Get Next To You”, and the difference between these 2 songs tells you a lot about the 1960’s. “I Can’t Get Next To You” features a different lead vocalist, a more aggressive, funky beat and a trippy vibe courtesy of producer & songwriter Norman Whitfield. The early Temptations songs are great, but for my money, they were never better than when they teamed up with Whitfield and created “psychedelic soul”. Let’s listen to each piece of the puzzle that created this masterpiece.

“I Can’t Get Next To You” (Barret Strong & Norman Whitfield) Copyright 1969 Jobette Music Co., Inc. All rights controlled and administered by EMI Blackwood Music Inc. on behalf of Stone Agate Music (A division of Jobette Music Co., Inc.)

Stevie Wonder was on an unrivaled creative streak starting in 1972, releasing 5 brilliant albums in a row, culminating with Songs In The Key Of Life in 1976. That album spawned 2 hit singles, including “I Wish”, the subject of this episode.  A masterpiece blending funk with pop sensibilities, it’s a celebration of youthful innocence and simpler times.  How does this song make *you* feel?  Let me know on Facebook, write a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to this show.  And share it with your friends!

“I Wish” (Stevie Wonder) Copyright 1976 Jobette Music Co. Inc, and Black Bull Music c/o EMI April Music Inc.

Who’s the greatest singer in rock history? You could make an argument that it’s Glenn Hughes. He’s played & recorded with Trapeze, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, KLF… and released a collection of great solo albums. He’s an amazing hard rock vocalist & bass player, but my favorite stuff is when he’s getting funky– real funky. This track combines the funk with the hard rock – the best combo since Reese’s put peanut butter in their chocolate. (Do you have to be a certain age to get that reference?) Regardless, Crank It Up! 

“Crave” (Glenn Hughes) Copyright 2008 Ponce Songs (BMI)