With the passing of Joe Sample in 2014 and Wilton Felder just last year, I had a plan to pay tribute to The Crusaders here in a major way. In a similar manner to Earth Wind & Fire and James Brown, the music of the Crusaders were a key reference point for everything Henrique Hopkins and myself have done as bloggers. Now today is the birthday of Randy Crawford. Her own solo body of work contains some strong funk,soul and jazzy pop on it’s own. But it was through the Crusaders that I even discovered that she existed. To goes back to listening to that double Crusaders cassette at age 14 in the car stereo with my father. One of those albums was 1979’s Street Life. And it’s title song.
A brushing cymbal opens the song-joined shortly by a soulful sax solo from Wilton. After that the strings come into play as the main melodic theme that Randy is singing-along with Sample’s accents on the Dyno-My-Piano Fender Rhodes. After the strings fade out,the song pauses for two seconds before the scaling horn charts and drums introduce the main body of the song. This main body of the song features Stix Hooper’s disco friendly funky shuffle that swings along at a thick 112 beats per minute. EWF’s Roland Bautista is one of the guitarists providing a liquid rhythm guitar in fine rhythmic harmony with Wilton’s popping bass line.
At the conclusion of each refrain,the strings come back into play as the rhythm increases in strength. The percussion and the horn charts accessorize the melody even further on the chorus of the song. After these,a second whole refrain chimes in. Here the liquid guitar pulses along with the low swing of the cymbal based percussive groove behind it while the strings scale over and around it. The next part of the song features the main body featuring Wilton improvising the vocal chorus on sax. After Randy comes in for another vocal chorus,the second refrain concludes the album. The percussion evolves into a marching drum in this section as the song fades out.
Over twenty years of listening to this song has engendered a huge growth process for my musical ear. At the time I first heard it,I was listening to a lot of late 70’s and early 80’s Jacksons/Michael Jackson. And heard a lot of sonic similarities while listening to this song. Of course with the participation of percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,plus the Crusaders participation on many early 70’s Jackson 5 records that comes as no surprise now. Instrumentally,it’s nearly 12 minute length blends the jazz orchestration of people such as Gil Evans with the band disco era jazz/funk rhythms. The addition of additional session musicians into the brew further beefs up the core Crusaders sound as well.
Another friend of mine named Calvin Lincoln hosts a TV program called Soul School in Vallejo,California on Saturday evenings. One time he and Henrique did an episode together following Joe Sample’s passing discussing how many records different Crusaders played on throughout the 70’s as session musicians. That really bought out what a clean,well oiled sound this song had. As Henrique also once pointed out to me, this song has the aural vibe of a slick OG walking down an urban downtown sidewalk after dark. It’s one of the finest,most multi faceted examples of funky jazz/pop/soul and a defining moment for both the Crusaders and Randy Crawford.