Shuggie Otis represents what I refer to as a “new old artist” who defined my musical interests just after the turn of the millennium. His only knowledge to me before that was a passing reference as the composer (and original recorder of) the Brothers Johnson hit “Strawberry Letter#23”. It was through a Luaka Pop label reissue of his under sung 1974 album Inspiration Information that got my attention,through my father of course. My first thoughts hearing it was “this was a Prince/Stevie Wonder type musician who never was”.
Otis’s father Johnny was a very famous musical impresario,known in the lingo of his day as the “white negro” singer/musician/arranger/talent scout/DJ out of the Bay Area of California. Shuggie began playing with his dad in the end of the 60’s. But his own career never truly took off. In fact,he spent over 33 years tinkering with his follow up to Inspiration Information. The album was finally released in 2013 and was entitled Wings Of Love. Recorded over several decades,the first full song on the album (recorded around 1980) really caught my own ear. It was called “Special”.
A wooshing sound drives in the fuzz/ringing rhythm guitar combo of the intro as Otis responds to his own echoplex vocally. Than the main rhythm of the song kicks in-driving both the refrain and chorus whose changes are carried largely by Otis’s vocal changes. The drums have a heavy Brazilian march approach. The bass line loops around several guitar parts. One a phat wah wah,the other a light chicken scratch and another playing a quavering,high pitched ringing melody. On the refrain parts,Otis singing’s in a higher and calmer voice. And on the refrains,with a heavier shout along with the ringing guitar part.
Again,this was a song that seemed to be recorded in the early 80’s. Yet its origins seems to come out of the psychedelic/cinematic funk sound of the late 60’s/early 70’s. The production is very trippy-full of echo and fuzz filter on nearly every sound. Yet the groove is strong and funky all the way. In the intro especially,it reminds me a bit of Curtis Mayfield’s “(If There’s A Hell Below) We’re All Gonna Go”. Needless to say,this is generally punchier and more stripped down than that song was. Still,its one of the finest grooves I’ve heard Shuggie Otis throw down since the mid 70’s.
Filed under 2013, chicken scratch guitar, cinematic funk, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, fuzz guitar, guitar, lead guitar, psychedelic soul, rhythm guitar, Shuggie Otis, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar
Robin Thicke’s musical star has always shined a lot of classic soul links onto the pop charts during the new millennium. First saw the white suited Thicke on late night TV during the early autumn of 2002 performing the song “I’m ‘A Be Alright”. As time marched on and I began to explore his subsequent album,a wonderful creative evolution unfolded from him. He started out doing a lot of heavy retro styled funk and soul,with some contemporary alternative touches. As the aughts transitioned into the 2010’s,his sound began to include more contemporary hip-hop/R&B elements such as guest rappers and cut up rhythm break samples.
In 2006 Thicke’s sophomore album The Evolution Of Robin Thicke began his relationship with Pharrell Williams as producer and collaborator. He had signed to the Star Track record label,originally founded by The Neptunes-themselves consisting of Pharrell and Chad Hugo. Thicke’s sound continued to evolve it’s mixture of phat grooves and melodies over the course of his next four albums in as many years. In 2013 Pharrell found himself on a commercial role with Daft Punk and Nile Rodgers for “Get Lucky”-helping to bring instrumentally strong funky disco-dance music strongly into the public eye. And that roll continued with the title song to Thicke’s album that year called “Blurred Lines”.
The song begins as many of Pharrell’s songs do-with a re-sampled electric piano playing a three hit horn chart. That Rhodes (or Rhodes-like) solo serves as the songs bass line. The instrumental end of the rhythm of this song is basically a clanking,rolling percussion. It’s serves to accent in,on and around a shuffling drum part. The vocal call and responses from Thicke and Pharrell provide as much rhythmic content in this song as it does melodic. Especially as they talk sing in equal measure to vocalizing them melodically. After T.I’s additionally rhythmic rap,the song strips itself down to the drum/percussion line before fading out on it’s main chorus.
Analyzing this song musically really gives me a chance to try at setting the record straight on another matter relating to this song. Itself a Grammy winner,one which he performed with Earth Wind & Fire at the ceremonies themselves,there was a bit of controversy over the perceived sexism of the lyrics and accompanying music video. Still the song represented a huge upsurge in instrumentally strong uptempo funk for the 2010’s in terms of pop success. But it was a law suit the next year by Marvin Gaye’s widow Janis Hunter and adopted son Marvin III that has dogged this song. The suit alleges that “Blurred Lines” plagiarized the sound of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” from 1977.
One of the things about music that’s continued on through Africa up through hip-hop is respect for the oral tradition. A musical idea begins with one person and is passed down from parents,to child,to friend and so on. It allows for music to progress through influence as well as individual innovation. As for “Blurred Lines”,the songs only resemblance to Marvin’s “Got To Give It Up” is the clinging percussion sound and use of electric piano. This song has quite a lot less melodic vocal content. What Thicke,Pharrell and T.I. do on vocal level here is focused more heavily on rhythm as well-rather than conventional pop song structure.
Of course as of today,Pharrell and Thicke lost the lawsuit. And it seems to be that a series of similar lawsuits such as the one by The Gap Band (regarding Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk”) last year seem to have created a conflict of interest in the 2010’s #1 funk revival. Most of the songs to emerge for the past year or so from funk oriented modern artists have gone more for an electro hip-hop sound or an alternative rock one. Something that can denote a non litigious sense of musical originality. It may not be that concerning as these things can come and go in phases. But as it stands in funk’s strong place in the musically oral tradition,”Blurred Lines” is very significant modern funk.
Filed under 2013, copyright, Fender Rhodes, law suits, Marvin Gaye, Nu Funk, percussion, Pharrell Willaims, Robin Thicke, T.I., Uncategorized
It wasn’t too long ago that I paid absolutely no mind whatsoever to the musical output of Brian McKnight. He seemed to be one of many groups and soloists who came out of the early/mid 90’s contemporary pop/soul scene. Most of these artists came across as possessing a docile performance ethic. And possessing little to no vocal and/or musical vitality. Without any undue cruelty? These artists didn’t seem capable of creating much in the way of uptempo dance music, let alone anything that was all that funky at all. One night while channel surfing half a decade ago,however? I came across The Brian McKnight Show.
This was an interview show at at contemporary artists involved in the creative process of music. Watching it a bit? McKnight revealed himself to be the same kind of multi instrumentalist (not merely a synthesizer/drum machine programmer),producer and composer he would generally be interviewing on the show. Often showcasing the artists and himself playing piano,bass and guitar? This got me curious enough to seek out some of McKnight’s current music. One such album, More Than Words opened with a song that continued this change of mind in the form of “Don’t Stop”.
Beginning with a jazz fusion style drum roll and synth-horn improvisation,the song goes into a pulsing drum beat (accenting by the snare on one occasion) that is accompanied by a thick,phat and very funky slap bass line mixed right up front. That drum then turns into a rolling dance floor friendly,slow groove while the rhythm guitar comes in to play the higher pitched variation of the bass line right along with it. Along with the fusion like intro introducing each chorus? Not to mention the electric piano accompanied refrain? This groove keeps grinding itself into the listeners subconscious until it finally comes to an end.
While McKnights light (and often mildly over souling) vocal doesn’t add a great deal to the song itself? The way the chunky style bass/guitar funk groove holds up the songs extremely sensuous lyrical content provide some of the heaviest and strongest funk that Brian McKnight has ever produced in his long career. In a similar manner to Trombone Shorty’s “Long Weekend”? This songs slow grinding uptempo groove evokes the work of the underrated Ohio funk band Slave. Especially the bass playing of the late Mark “Mr.Mark” Adams. By focusing more on the instrumental groove than the vocals? This song,as Rique might put it,evokes a hip young middle class black American male circa 1980 driving around in a small car blasting Slave’s song “Watching You”. That plus it’s jazzy flavor make this a high water mark for instrumental funkiness for Brian McKnight