Funky guitar. As much as I love bass, sometimes what I really miss more than anything is raw, uncut, rhythmic funky guitar. So I was in love when I heard the intro to Nathan East’s recent tune “Daft Funk.” The playing reminded me of one of my most cherished funk records, Herbie Hancock’s 1976 “Doin It”, played by guitarist Ray Parker Jr of “Ghostbusters” fame. I didn’t know if “Daft Funk” was him, but I knew it was for sure his style, and I found out very soon, the guitar part was being played by Ray! “Daft Funk” begins with Ray’s signiture funky guitar style, four bars of lead guitar, rhythm guitar, and riff all wrapped up in the hands of one funky musician. Parker Jr’s riff reminds one of Sly and Freddie Stone’s funky guitar playing. Parker Jr’s guitar is allowed the spotlight for the tunes four bar intro. He’s soon joined by killer cracking live drums from the late great Ricky Lawson, who sadly passed away in December of last year. Ricky’s drums are joined by the man of the hour, famed session bassist Nathan East. Nathan East, aside from his work with Fourplay, Earth, Wind & Fire, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, and his beginnings with Barry White, among others, was the bassist on Daft Punk’s worldwide smash “Get Lucky.” “Daft Funk”, written by guitarist Michael Thompson, is a tribute to Daft Punk, East’s work with the group, as well as the same big studio band, well produced L.A disco-funk vibe that inspired Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” success.
East comes in playing an 8th note, anticipation, pulse type of bassline that lines up perfectly with Ricky Lawson’s kick drum, playing a kind of 8th note pattern that lines up perfectly from a rhythmic standpoint with the accent points of Parker Jr’s guitar part. The track gets very full at that point, featuring Rhodes and horn charts, with the funky guitar starting to fade into the background. East slides into his bass part.
East utilizes a musical technique many bassists such as Marcus Miller use when they record albums as the featured soloist. The pulse, heartbeat bassline continues, but East adds a higher, melodic bassline, playing sliding, vocal lines. The bass line is playing the main melody of the song in concert with keyboards, and the melody sets a dark minor mood. The keyboards play the melody and the bass guitar awnsers it. This gives the listener two bass guitars playing, one in the traditional supportive role of the bass and the other in a melodic role. The melody and the way the keyboard is EQ’d is a very obvious nod to East’s musical collaborators, Daft Punk. The melody section also seems to be written with a minor melodic cycle that recalls sections of Herb Alpert’s 1980 disco-funk mid tempo classic, “Rise.”
The chorus kicks in around 1;57, and much like Punk’s “Get Lucky”, the mood on the chorus is more celebratory, after a somewhat moody, reflective verse section. The Talkbox vocals of the great player Byron “Talkbox” Chambers are introduced on the chorus. This is reminiscent of Daft Punk, but Chambers plays and sings with great facility on his Talkbox, more reminiscent of a musician such as Roger Troutman. Chambers sings triumphantly “Tonight we’re gonna celebrate.” Lawson’s drumming goes to straight disco fours on the chorus section, a pounding throb emenating from his kit. The way the beat switches up from more rhythmically accented funk drumming to the smooth, consistent rhythm of disco, reminds me of the writing technique’s Quincy Jones used in working with Michael Jackson on “Off the Wall”, on cuts such as “Off the Wall” and “Burn This Disco Out”, the usage of funk and disco styles and feels as a writing device and a way to divide the sections of the song up. The chorus features guitars, strings, synths, and is somewhat more alive and celebratory than the verse section, as befitting the songs theme.
The verse section returns, but East adds other textures to the song at this point. The Talkbox begins to sing long sustained whole notes, going down in very close intervals, a melody of long sustained notes that takes about four bars to complete itself. At 2:52 we get a funky break, where both the Talkbox and Parker Jr’s funky guitar riffs become more prominent.
The second chorus of the song features Nathan East really throwing down. He plays tasty riffs, quarter notes almost like Bernard Edwards’ “Good Times” bass line, octaves, and other things that really stand out. Around 4;27 he plays a soulful, bluesy riff, that eventually leads to the song ending as it began, with Ray Parker Jr’s extremely funky guitar riff playing by itself.
East’s song shows the vitality of what Daft Punk did with “Random Access Memories” and “Get Lucky.” One of the main things about that album was that Daft Punk wanted to record in the way musicians and producers did in “the old days”, the heyday of funk and disco. Everybody in a room recording together, instead of the incredible ability to collaborate with musicians continents away modern technology offers us. They felt this would bring back some of the spontanaiety recorded music used to posses. East was the bass player on that album, but he also was the bass player on some of the best music of the “old days”, such as Barry White’s productions, as well as being a transitional musician into the modern days of digital. East sounds reinvigorated on “Daft Funk”, able to take all that musical history he has participated in and have fun with it, making real live funk in 2014 along with his baad LA musican colleagues. “Daft Funk” is a great funk tune that illustrates how modern funk music not only passes funk on to the kids but reinvigorates the pro’s love for the One as well.