“Sing a Simple Song”, first written and performed by Sly & The Family Stone on their landmark 1968 album “Stand”, is one of the prototypes of funk, a clear cut example of how it is done. It stands alongside songs such as Sly’s own “Thank You”, “Cold Sweat”, “Shotgun”, “Tighten Up”, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, “Respect”, “Funky Broadway”, “Express Yourself”, “I Thank You”, and many other songs that took the advance gaurd in delineating how to drop the funk bomb. In the case of this song, the funk formula was a monster two bar riff with a rolling consistency and some sharp, sassy syncopated accents, played with a sharp attack. Everything is based on the guitar and bass riff, and the riff itself has become one of the cliche’s of funk, a style of phrasing musicians return to regularly when soloing or playing. This is backed by Greg Enrico’s funky straight ahead drums, long extended horn notes and the joyful singing of the mixed choir that was Sly & The Family Stone. Daptone Records Brooklyn New York based The Budos Band’s rendition of this classic on their 2005 debut gives you this funk staple in a raw uncut form. Doing a song like this is a great realization of that portion of the Nu Funk movements goals. The Budos Band and their associated groups at Daptone Records make music that cleary evokes the glory of funk musicians coming up with their parts together and recording as a unit, in the style of the original bands.
The song begins with an extremely funky vamp that basically loops the second bar of the “Sing a Simple Song” riff. The harmonized bass and guitar play over drums and percussion, repeating the riff in the manner of an ostinato. This particular piece is the part of the song that grabbed me the most when I first heard it. In particular it reminded me of several things Miles Davis and Teo Macero put together on Miles’ landmark 1969 “Bitches Brew” album, which was in itself influenced by Sly and songs such as “Sing a Simple Song”. Miles would go on to base a section of his song “Right Off” from the Jack Johnson soundtrack on “Sing a Simple Song” as well, with that riff going on to become one Miles returned to for the rest of his career. The Budos Band’s opening vamp has the same repetitive, cut tape quality that Miles and Teo got on songs such as “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” and “Pharoah’s Dance.” They got it by extensive manipulation of tape, creating vamps that repeated themselves over and over, and The Budos Band achieves a similar sound here, which also has a very Blaxploitation scene quality.
After the vamp repeats the drummer kicks it off into the main groove. The bass player plays the classic riff to the song with guitars playing the same riff but harmonized on different notes. The whole sound is dark and skeletal, with the horn section playing a sustained rising riff behind the rhythm. Other horns come across that, playing where the voices of the Family Stone would be, adding the “Hey, Na Na Na Na’s” of the song. The Bands instrumental vibes stretch out and elongate the classic riff, atoning for the abscence of the joyus vocals. At around 1:20 in the music changes up to an extremely funky rendition of the chorus lead in. At 2:05 they hit the famous break section of which Greg Enrico’s drums have been sampled extensively. The song ends on a return to the opening “Miles Davis” vamp, only with more participation from the horn section.
The Budos Band’s rendition of this classic reminds me of what one would probably have heard from a nightclub funk band in the early ’70s, and I mean that as praise, not a slight by any means. Which means its a great vibe cut and would be excellent music for movies and various scenes. The band succeded in capturing a dark and funky undercurrent to this most joyful of funk songs (“Try a little do re me fa so la ti da!”) by incorporating the vibe of one of the countless musicians it influenced, sounding at times very much like the opening vamp on Miles Davis’ “Pharoah’s Dance.” They also show that live band instrumental funk is very much a part of musics present and (hopefully) future!