Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Yourself Go” by James Brown (April 1967)

James Brown made his name as a massively influential and inspiring bandleader and performer. The man was probably less regarded as an instrumentalist. He released a series of instrumental albums in the mid 60’s on the Smash record label. But he was also a drummer as well. That probably had a lot to do with his vision of turning his entire band into a drum. And this became the foundational rhythmic element of the funk genre he pioneered. As the 60’s entered it’s final three years, James Brown really began to allow his groove to expand on this path in earnest.

Because the key element to JB’s musical expression was pretty much nonstop touring,he and the JB’s didn’t often have the time to pop over to posh studios to record new singles right away. New songs would often come right out of the rhythms that came through from the stage performances. And James likely came at this with the attitude of “we’ve got to get this on wax while it’s hot!”. That’s likely just what happened on one chilly Philadelphia evening in mid January of 1967 at the Latin Casino nightclub where,after a performance there James and his band recorded “Let Yourself Go”.

Jimmy Nolan’s chicken scratch guitar starts the groove right off cold. The Motown style snare drum kicks right in,along with a scintillating up and down scaling jazzy bass line. The horns play either a 2 or 4 note chart between each guitar break-spiced up by some serious Afro-Cuban conga drums. On the breakdown of the song,the horns begin calling for a musical response while the guitar becomes a sustained rhythmic tone. The one turns right back around as this pattern repeats one last time. On the fade out,the breakdown finds the horns scaling up with increasing volume as the song rides away into the groove.

Around the time this song was recorded, James Brown and the Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti were said to have both been checking out each others shows. Eventually, both of their styles would influence the other. For James’s part,he took the more melodic horn sustains of popular African Highlife music. He also blended in the percussive congas from within the Afro-Cuban clave. That combined with the entire band becoming one big sheet of rhythm made this a key song in terms of where James Brown’s music was about to go. And probably one of the most Afrocentric examples of his time in the funk process.

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Filed under 1960's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, chicken scratch guitar, clave, drums, Fela Kuti, Funk Bass, funk process, horns, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, percussion, The JB's, Uncategorized

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