Billy Preston has been gone for a decade now. Much to my surprise,it turns out none of his songs have been covered here on Andresmusictalk. This was child organ prodigy to gained fame by playing with Ray Charles and eventually for The Beatles. Miles Davis even named a song after the keyboard maestro on his 1974 album Get Up With It. Billy Preston is a very important musician due to his renowned session work. He also created a musical vocabulary of his own as a solo artist. Also this being both Black American Music Month and LGBT Pride Month,Preston was both of those things as a human being.
Preston actually had two solo careers. In his mid teens to early 20’s,he recorded a series of organ based instrumental soul albums for three different labels. During the late 60’s and early 70’s,he recorded two acclaimed solo albums for the Beatles Apple label. That led to him being signed to A&M in 1971 and beginning to hit his stride as a solo hit maker. While he did a lot of singing on these later solo albums,each one still contained at least on instrumental. His final A&M album from 1977 was called A Whole New Thing. It contained an instrumental Henrique Hopkins and I have often discussed called “Wide Stride”
A dense polyphonic synthesizer and a rhythmically accompanying synth bass begin the song over bell like percussion. A round whine of a keyboard brings the drum into the mix. This represents the refrain of the song. On the chorus,the polyphonic synth provides a rhythmic pulse while the main line is Preston’s trademark high pinched synth whir-playing the melody in more of a major key. As the groove goes on, the different synth lines begin to swell into a multi layered swell of bluesy funk-with Preston bringing in a highly digitized sounding synth pulse just as the song begins to fade out.
In many ways,this song is my favorite Billy Preston instrumental. And he’s had many wonderful ones. It gets right into the blues oriented funk groove. But the deep thing about it is that it came out a year before Prince’s debut album For You dropped. In his chunky 60’s style soul/funk/jazz/blues framework,Preston does here what Prince start a movement from-using layers of synthesizers to simulate heavy horn and string orchestrations. In that sense,this song is like one generation of funk instrumentation giving way to the next. And came at exactly the right time.
Filed under 1970's, A&M Records, Billy Preston, blues funk, drums, instrumental, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers, Uncategorized
Jesse Johnson has had been a major, if often commercial underrated, contributer to the modern funk age. From the mid 1980’s to the present day. His career arc has taken him from the Prince-derived funk band The Time to his current gig playing with D’Angelo’s band The Vanguard. No irony is lost that D’Angelo is an artist often mentioned in terms of carrying on Prince’s musical legacy now that Mr.Nelson is no longer with us. Johnson has also had a sporadic solo career over the years as well. Yet there was also his first group after leaving The Time who were vital to him getting his own groove on.
The Rock Island,Illinois native began playing guitar at 15. After moving to Minneapolis,he became a member of Morris Day’s first group Enterprise before becoming the lead guitarist in The Time. Seemingly frustrated over Prince’s lack of interest about his creative input in the group,Johnson left The Time after 1984. He signed to A&M as a solo artist. And took second tier Time members Mark Cardenas and bassist Gerry Hubbard with him-along with several others to his new band called the Jesse Johnson Revue. My favorite track on their self titled 1985 debut was called “She Won’t Let Go”.
The sound of low church bells begin the song before Bobby Vandell’s drum kick comes in with a revving synth bass. Vandell keeps the hefty rhythm going with a steady,brittle and funkified shuffle throughout the song. There are three main synthesizer parts. One is a quavering one that simulates the bell at the start of the song,on is a deep pulsing synth bass,and the other are Minneapolis style synth brass charts playing the changes. On the bridge of the song,Vandell’s drumming leaves more space between the beats for Jesse’s chicken scratch rhythm guitar to solo before the song fades out on it’s main chorus.
To me anyway,this song is a standout Jesse Johnson solo number because it extends on the direction he was taking on The Time’s “Jungle Love”. This song has the trademarks of the Minneapolis sound-with the heavy use of synth brass and bass. But the sound is far busier than the lean,stripped down sound Prince pioneered earlier. So it showcased purple funk as something evolving into a bigger and more dramatic synth/electro funk sound. Jesse’s guitar playing also has a lower,more aggressive sound to it. So this song is one of many songs that represent Jesse Johnson’s contributions to the evolution of twin city funk.
Filed under 1985, A&M Records, Bobby Vandell, chicken scratch guitar, drums, elecro funk, Gerry Hubbard, Jesse Johnson, Jesse Johnson's Revue, Mark Cardenas, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers, The Time
Jerry Knight is a name I’ve been hearing about for quite sometime. There seems to have been a number of funk/soul musicians who had one or two major songs. But didn’t have a long term career as solo artists. That appears to have been what happened to Knight. Online research on this artist was really sketchy. According to two separate sources he was born today in either 1952 or 1955. And according to another he died 19 years ago. What is known about the man is that he was born in LA. And was a founding member of Raydio with Ray Parker Jr. Most of the information on this man came courtesy of Allmusic.com columnist and personal Facebook friend Ron Wynn. So wanted to thank him indirectly.
One thing that is known about Knight is that as a bass player/singer/songwriter/producer he worked with many artists in the soul/funk spectrum during the early 80’s-many of whom were once members of major 70’s funk acts now seeking solo careers. Among them were Phillip Bailey and Howard Hewett. Upon leaving radio after their first album, Knight decided to pursue a solo career. He eventually landed on A&M Records where he recorded three solo albums between 1980 and 1982. The first of these was a self titled effort that featured some co-writing contributions from Raydio’s Arnell Carmichael. The biggest song on this album was a groove called “Overnight Sensation”.
Guitarist Skip Adams begins the song playing a very Larry Carlton styled jazz-fusion type riff along with Knights thumping,round bass and rhythm Fender Rhodes on the intro. All the while Quintin Dennard keeps the beat steady on drums. The Rhodes takes the main solo until Adam’s rocking guitar takes over for the rest of the song. On the choruses, Knight sings lead with his backup vocalists. On the refrain’s,Dennard’s drums have a more skipping rhythm while the Rhodes scales up in pitch. This chorus/refrain pattern repeats itself for most of the song-with a bridge where the P-Funk like backup singers take the lead vocal again. This pattern continues on the chorus that closes out the song.
Instrumentally this is a pretty bold song. The funk percolates pretty heavy,and a lot of the notes used have a distinctly jazz fusion styled flavor about it. Knight’s bubbling bass soloing throughout the song allows for Adam’s guitar solo to flourish. By taking a hard,steely funk rhythm and throwing down a hard rocking guitar solo this song takes the funk/rock hybrid the Isley Brothers had been pursuing around this time and adds those heavier fusion notations. That gives it a sense of transcending the sound of one decade’s groove onto another. Whole Jerry Knight may not have a massively available personal biography,his funk certainly spoke for itself.
Filed under 1980's, A&M Records, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, funk rock, jazz funk, Jerry Knight, Los Angeles, Quintin Dennard, rock guitar, Ron Wynn, Skip Adams, Uncategorized