The Pointer Sisters-Anita,the late June and today’d birthday girl Ruth Pointer (also the eldest of them) have always stood to me as an example of a truly democratic group. Aside from the 1977 departure of sister Bonnie,the remaining three sisters developed a vocal approach that focused on the importance of groups in vocally centered funky music. Their 3 part harmonies assisted one or the others sisters’ vocal lead generally. Ruth’s voice has always stood out very strongly for me. Her gospel powered husky tenor calls to mind what I’ve heard from the iconic Mavis Staples and more recently Lalah Hathaway. So Ruth and her sisters have really prioritized uptempo music in their repertoire.
Diversity seemed to be the key for the Pointers while recording for the Blue Thumb label in the mid 70’s. Their first three albums on that label were a mixture of swinging jazz,jump blues and even country/western. Vocally they performed everything as if each was their chosen approach to music. Of course each of these albums got seriously funky at one time or another. And for me that’s where their musical soul really shined through. Their 1975 album Steppin’ is the best such example-containing contributions from Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. It was their classic writing partner of the era Allen Toussaint who provided Ruth’s shining groove on here called “Going Down Slowly”.
The drum and Melvin Ragin’s high pitched wah wah guitar give the basic beat a heavy reggae like skank to it. There are several layers of wah wah guitar-some of which trickle like falling rain while others burst forth like a revving engine. The piano comes down equally as hard while the bass line scales up and down as a strong,phat support system. Sharing the lead with her sisters Anita and June’s gospel/jazz style harmonies,Ruth even sometimes double tracks her own leads. After a brief bridge where the sisters “doo doo wop” harmonies scale up a pitch,the chorus repeats as the drums,guitar and piano to a fevered frenzy before fading down for the piano bring the song to an abrupt end.
One thing I love about this number is how it incorporates some of the static rhythm of reggae,itself a new and developing genre at that time,into it’s frenetic funk stew. The instrumentation of the song is pretty thick from the very start. But as the song evolves,the reverb and some more rocking guitar layers really thicken right up. In a more stripped down sort of way,this has a somewhat similar reggae/funk/rock approach that could be found a year later in the Rolling Stones “Hot Stuff”. Ruth’s voice has a power and elasticity that’s ideal for uptempo material. And she truly shines as the vocal lead on this example of musically powerful and lyrically assertive funk.