Category Archives: bass guitar

Prince Summer: “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” (1991)

Prince was undergoing a major change during the early 1990’s. Following the release of his final motion picture Graffiti Bridge,he began putting together a whole new band. He named them the New Power Generation. They were as much a concept as they were a unified band. That’s because even during their first decade together,the NPG had its share of lineup changes. But the idea was an instrumental framework through which Prince could channel the talents of different musicians into his eclectic embracing of styles. This was especially true on his debut with them on 1991’s Diamonds & Pearls. 

On many tracks,this album showcased Prince embracing then contemporary elements of hip-hop and techno/house genres. As always,he had other ideas up his sleeve as well. During this time,Prince began a professional report with film director Spike Lee. They eventually decided to do a collaborative project together. What ended up happening was that Prince asked Spike to pick any song from the Diamonds & Pearls  album to direct as a music video. Spike’s selection was a song that has been speaking to me a lot in recent times entitled “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night”.

A drum kickoff gets the song going-the main beat being a steady funky/soul one that contains a slowed down break on every chorus of the song. Prince,singing the song in his lower voice,is accompanied melodically by bell like electric keyboard chords playing off his vocal changes. The guitar of the song is predominantly a soul jazz hiccup with a bass line,as was often typical of Prince,staying right along with it throughout rather than playing any counter chords. On some parts,the guitar hugs the melody completely. After a brief burst of string synthesizer,the guitar break brings the song to an abrupt end.

Musically speaking,this song is a bit different for Prince. With it’s relaxed jazzy pop flavor,the production has more in common with the natural style of instrumentation found in the neo soul genre a decade later. Lyrically,its clear why Spike Lee saw it as so imagistic. The song paints a series of pictures emphasizing the need to “look after ones soul” rather than pursuing financial gain-including then contemporary social commentary about the greed laying behind the Gulf War. Its one of my favorite Prince message songs. And certainly one of his most melodic and easy going in its sound.

 

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Filed under 1990s, bass guitar, drums, funk pop, keyboards, message songs, Neo Soul, Prince, rhythm guitar, Spike Lee

Paul McCartney: The Cute Beatle With A Bag Of Many Grooves

Paul McCartney

People have had discussions about who their favorite Beatle was. Each had their own distinct creative personality that made them work so well together. Yet if someone asked me which former Beatle appealed to me most musically,it would be Paul McCartney. As a composer/singer/multi instrumentalist,Sir Paul is possessed of the same multi faceted creativity of people such as Todd Rundgren and the late Prince Rogers Nelson-worthy of their mutual Gemini stars. He has his own distinctive approach to melody and groove-extending across hard rockers,easy going pop ballads as well as his most soulful side.

That soulful side of McCartney is what I’d like to talk about today. One of the key factors of him in general is how well he understands the importance of groups to his music. Between The Beatles and his second band Wings, McCartney always realized what other musicians from John Lennon to Denny Laine could offer him instrumentally than if  he just played everything. Between arranging horns and working with musicians such as fellow bassist Stanley Clarke,Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart, here are some of my favorite of the soulful,funkier songs from Paul McCartney.


“She’s My Baby”/1976

On the album Wings At The Speed Of Sound,the members of Wings all contributed their songs to the mix. This had mixed results,but one of my favorite contributions from McCartney himself was the stripped down melodic funk of “She’s My Baby”. Especially with it’s somewhat jazzy Fender Rhodes electric piano solos.

“Arrow Through Me”/1979

This dramatic blend of reggae rhythms and West Coast style jazz/funk was the song that caught my attention most. From the reverbed snare drum traps to the processed electric piano,it’s no wonder that this imaginative and melodic groove became the basis for Erykah Badu’s “Gone Baby Don’t Be Long” over three decades later.

“Coming Up”/1980

McCartney played everything again on this song,while channeling his inner James Brown. In this case,turning his one man band (including his chicken scratch guitar) into a drum. Not to mention having one of the snappiest melodies of McCartney’s career to boot.

“Secret Friend”/1980

This is another very early 80’s song from McCartney’s second proper solo album that truly blew my mind. It’s a technological carnival of Brazilian percussion,funky bass/guitar interactions and a very psychedelic East Indian type melody. And keeps it all going for well over ten minutes as well.

“What’s That Your Doing”/1982

Instrumentally speaking,this thickly bassy and percussive hard funk jam seems to be more the work McCartney’s duet partner on this song Stevie Wonder. But it leaves plenty of room for McCartney’s bass and guitar abstractions. Especially when the chorus of his Beatles classic “She Loves You” appears on the extended outro. My absolute favorite song from the McCartney/Wonder collaboration.

“Dress Me Up As A Robber”/1982

A superbly composed piece of Brazilian jazz/funk from Paul on his 1982 album Tug Of War. The rhythm guitar and synth bass are some of the hottest McCartney had done up to this point. Especially on the breakdown on the bridge of the song that reminds me Gap Band songs from that same period.

“Hey Hey”/1983

Stanley Clarke’s early 80’s collaboration with Paul McCartney continues on this expansively melodic jazz fusion instrumental from McCartney’s underrated 1983 album Pipes Of Peace. It starts out as a kinetic Afro-rocker almost,then mellows into a jazzy reverb laden keyboard and bass driven bridge. One of my favorite instrumentals from McCartney.

“Tug Of Peace”/1983

McCartney pulls out a full blown electro Afro funk percussion extravaganza on this song. Structurally,it’s a lyrical reboot of the title ballad of his previous album “Tug Of War”. But the feeling is much more revved up rhythmically-almost as if to say that peace is a source of joy while war slows you down. And this is all aside from McCartney delivering one of the finest bass like low rhythmic guitars of his career.


Discussing the music of Paul McCartney in a soul,funk and even jazz context might seem atypical. But it really isn’t when one considers the way in which musicians intermingle. In Liverpool,most of McCartney’s musical acquaintances were playing the same type of music basically. He the man traveled the world and gained more experience,the newer musicians he became associated with continued to expand his stylistic and rhythmic repertoire beyond even where the Beatles had take their music. And it’s his creative flexibility that is the core of the man whose turning 74 today.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, bass guitar, chicken scratch guitar, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, funk rock, jazz funk, Paul McCartney, pop rock, rhythm guitar, Stanley Clarke, Stevie Wonder, Wings

STEVIEWONDERLAND!: Celebrating An Icon In Three Decades-“Sensuous Whisper” by Stevie Wonder (1996)

Stevie Wonder seemed to have suffered a little writers blocks following his (subjectively) wonderful 1987 album Characters. Aside from performing the soundtrack to the Spike Lee Joint Jungle Fever in 1991,it seemed as if Wonder would continue his infrequency of releases in the 90’s as he had in the 80’s. When President Jerry John Rawlings invited Wonder to spend his weeks in the African nation of Ghana,Wonder wrote 40 new songs. He also stated the artist formerly know as Prince “helped him to see music again” in the liner notes to the 1995 album that came out of Wonder’s African visit: Conversation Peace.

Personally I have a vivid memory of hearing a new reggae styled song by Stevie Wonder called “Take The Time Out” used during the 1994 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to encouraging people to give food to the needy. It was a comforting reminder of Wonder’s ever present humanitarianism.And his new album finally came out in January of the following year. Took me a year or so to really give it a good listen. And a decade or so more to begin singling out my personal favorites songs from the last Stevie Wonder album of the 20th century. One of the strongest for me is a song called “Sensuous Whisper”.

Wonder gets the song rolling with a hi hat heavy drum swing and a shuffling bass with an Arabic type tone. Then he kicks into a funky chromatic walkdown on piano. This consists of the basic body of the song. Stephanie Andrew’s sexually charged grunts provide a vital percussive element as the sax of Branford Marsalis and trumpet of Terrence Blanchard provide unison horn breaks on the vocal changes. Wonder swings and scats the lyrics on the refrain,while Anita Baker sings the song title chorus as the back-round with Wonder’s call and response vocal lead.

The bridge of the song features Wonder singing a harmonically complex set of notes that I personally couldn’t begin to describe-scaling up and down between each phrase. He backs himself up with the same instrumentation as the rest of the song that,along with the horn charts,improvise strongly on the chordal changes he’s making throughout. After this,the song returns to the drum/bass intro before seguing back into the chorus of the song. This chorus repeats itself over and over again-with Wonder scatting the vocals more and more until the song itself just comes to an abrupt stop.

Stevie Wonder was always someone my family and I recognized as having a strong jazz influence-from his 1963 instrumental debut album to his 1991 song “Make Sure Your Sure”. This song not only found him collaborating up front with jazzy players and jazz derived singers,but also embracing the funkified jazz/hip-hop hybrid that the Native Tongues groups like Tribe Called Quest and even Miles Davis himself had started to embrace. So Wonder was not only heavily embracing jazz here,but showcasing it’s possibilities for the newer hip-hop informed style of funky soul.

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Filed under 'Conversation Peace', 1990s, Anita Baker, bass guitar, Branford Marsalis, chromatic walkdown, drums, funky soul, hip-hop jazz, horns, piano, Saxophone, soul jazz, Stephanie Andrews, Stevie Wonder, synth bass, Terrence Blanchard, trumpet

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “East River” by The Brecker Brothers

The late saxophonist Michael Brecker and his older,trumpet playing brother Randy were major session fixtures in the mid/late 1970’s. They would go on to have a 30 year long career both together and apart,with Michael often being touted as the most influential jazz sax player since John Coltrane.It was through George Clinton’s P-Funk that the Brecker’s  entered the Library Of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2011. That’s because Parliament’s 1975 album Mothership Connection was added to that registry. Funk officially became notarized in the capital in Chocolate City itself that day. And even so,the Brecker’s contributions didn’t end there.

Between 1975 and 1977,the Brecker’s released three studio albums as a duo. These albums were very heavy with funk. Not to even mention the horn blowing pair maintained their session work with P-Funk. They played with the JB’s own Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker on two albums by the Horny Horns. And through them they participated in albums by Bootsy’s Rubber Band as well. In 1978 they released a live album entitled Heavy Metal Be-Bop. The album showcased the brothers usage of Eddie Harris inspired electric sax and trumpet. It also contained a brand new studio track with additional personal that was entitled “East River”.

A thundering drum solo and discordant horn fanfare opens the song. A thudding,slow tempo funky drummer and a round,popping drum-like bass from Neil Jason.Barry Finnerty adds a thick layer of amp’d up rock guitar to the vocal changing and Michael’s bop style sax solos. The song breaks right down to an ultra funky mix of clanging percussion,hand claps,Dyno-My-Piano Fender Rhodes,rhythm guitar,horns and Jason’s lead vocals. This stomping refrain returns after an additional repeat of the chorus. That main chorus of the song basically repeats itself throughout the rest of the song-allowing Michael Brecker to take a solo bridge along with the lead guitar before fading out.

In addition to being a strongly P-Funk inspired jam,this song is a sonically impressive example of hard rocking funk at it’s most fiery. Barry Finnerty’s guitar solo rocks hard indeed. But as with the rest of the music here,it’s a total rhythmic element. It’s the horns,both as a collective and solo element,that are truly the instrumental voice of this groove out front. The high recording quality,with everything about the rhythm popping out with amazing clarity,has a punchy live sound. It showcases just how far P-Funk’s instrumental reach was by 1978. And how much musicians like Michael Brecker played in the evolution of the uncut groove itself.

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Filed under 1970's, Barry Finnerty, bass guitar, drums, Dyno-My-Piano, Fender Rhodes, funk rock, horns, Michael Brecker, Neil Jason, P-Funk, percussion, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, trumpet, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Nature Boy” by George Benson (1977)-Vocal

George Benson’s vocal style always reminded me a great deal of a higher pitched Donny Hathaway,with just a touch of Stevie Wonder’s melisma for good measure. His vocal tone had such a general strumming quality,his technique of scatting with his guitar became a signature technique. So it was no surprise for me to find out that Benson was in fact someone who knew personally. And they had a musical connection with Phil Upchurch as Benson later covered Hathaway’s “The Ghetto”. Also important is that Benson had always sang AND played throughout his career-long before his 70’s commercial peak. So he is very accessible to appreciate on a purely vocal level as well as instrumental.

In 1976 Benson had a humongous bit of luck with his album Breezin’-produced by Tommy Lipuma and featuring the Bobby Womack penned title hit and his iconic cover of the Leon Russell ballad “This Masquerade”. Also being his debut for Warner Bros. records,Benson was now firmly positioned as a singer/musician who’d have a strong ear as an interpreter. Especially with his back round as a viruosic jazz guitar improviser. His second Warner Bros. release came out in 1977 and was called In Flight. It featured the same lineup of musicians as it predecessor. My personal favorite song from this album is a version of the Nat King Cole standard “Nature Boy”.

Cinematic strings sweep through the beginning of the song. These strings literally segue into Harvey Mason’s drums clipping along at roughly 96 bpm along with Stanley Banks’s two note popping bass,while Jorge Dalto’s Clavinet drives right in the groove along with it. Ralph McDonald’s percussion takes that rhythmic stroll along the way as Ronnie Foster’s electric piano plays along with bell like beauty. This basic groove is the musical atmosphere of the entire song-with the strings moving to the forefront for every other chorus. Benson’s lead vocal carries the first half of the song. On the final minute or two, the melodic focus is on Benson’s guitar/scatting hybrid technique he is so well known for.

When I first heard this,I had no idea Nat Cole wrote  it. Benson sings the original melody very faithfully. At the same time,his timing along with the slow crawling, percussive romantic funk called to mind Marvin Gaye’s musical sound of the same period. Gaye had already done a version of this song in 1965. His interpretation was very close to the original. What Benson bought to the song vocally was not only a more modern gospel/soul flavor,but also that more contemporary Brazilian style jazz/funk instrumental atmosphere. It did an excellent job showcasing the evolution of black American music and to me represents an important milestone for George Benson the singer.

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Filed under 1970's, bass guitar, clavinet, drums, electric piano, George Benson, Harvey Mason, jazz funk, Jorge Dalto, Marvin Gaye, Nat King Cole, percussion, Phil Upchurch, Ralph McDonald, rhythm guitar, Ronnie Foster, Stanley Banks, strings, Tommy Lipuma, Uncategorized, Warner Bros.

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Funky Broadway” by Wilson Pickett

Wilson Pickett is yet another artist whose music was extremely familiar to me before even knowing his name. “Wicked Mr. Pickett” started out in a gospel group during called The Violinaires in the mid 50’s.  This led him to fame with the soul group The Falcons,who helped popularize gospel music to a broader audience. Pickett eventually got signed to Atlantic Records in New York where he recorded sides such as “If I Need You”,a ballad that the labels’ Jerry Wexler ended up giving to Solomon Burke. Burke himself liked Pickett’s version,but he had a huge hit with the song. So a dejected Pickett decided to focus less on soul ballads and more on uptempo numbers once officially signed to Atlantic.

Pickett’s mid/late 60’s recordings at the Stax in Memphis and Fame.in Muscle Shoals have become iconic songs. Especially in terms of marking soul music’s evolution from gospel based balladry into uptempo funk. Songs such as “In The Midnight Hour”,”Mustang Sally” and “Land Of 1000 Dances” came out of this era. One thing however that stands out to me is when an artist making funk music shows a lot of positive pride in declaring themselves to be funky. One such song from Pickett came courtesy of a band known as Dyke & The Blazers,written by it’s leader Arlester Christian in 1967. And the name of this song was”Funky Broadway”.

The bluesy guitar riff of Chip Moman opens the song. The rhythmic body of the entire is based on a thick,cymbal heavy  beat from drummer Roger Hawkins,a rhythmic organ from Spooner Oldham and the crunchy bass of Tommy Cogbill.  On the second chorus of the song, the horn section comes in playing call and response to Pickett’s vocals. They raise up in intensity as Pickett’s vocals grow even more powerful. There’s a bridge where Hawkins’ funky drumming is singled out with the bass/guitar interaction-with Pickett grunting along rhythmically. The horns are huge,thick and heavy on the final choruses of the song before it fades out.

This song fits pretty neatly into the vein of Wilson Pickett’s other mid/late 60’s uptempo numbers. They were all starting to move heavily toward funk. This song came out in 1967. It was the same year Aretha dropped “Respect”,and James Brown bought uncut funk to the masses with “Cold Sweat”. So Pickett and Chip Moman’s band were really bringing the gritty,countrified,slower tempo Southern soul dance thump into the funk process as it was actually happening. Again it cannot be stated enough how important having the word “funky” in the title of this huge hit song was to funk as a genre,rather than a mere musical term. So here Wilson Pickett officially earned his place in funk history.

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Filed under 1960's, bass guitar, Chip Moman, drums, Funk, horns, Muscle Shoals, organ, rhythm guitar, Southern Soul, Stax, Uncategorized, Wilson Pickett

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Judas” by Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding has always celebrated the ebb and flow of jazz in her career arc thus far. Being a bassist and therefore rhythm player,she’s adapted herself into a number of different tributaries of jazz. From small chamber groups,to vocal to funk. On the latter end her Radio Music Society album of five years ago dovetailed nicely into her work with Janelle Monae a year later on their collaborative song “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”. There is one concept that Spalding has been evolving over the last few years. It’s based on her understanding of the 60’s super group Cream consisting of jazz oriented members in Jack Bruce and the late Ginger Baker. And that’s her adapting her sound to a rock power trio.

That trio consists of guitarist Matthew Stevens,whose played with Christian Scott and on Harvey Mason’s newest album along with drummers Justin Tyson and Karriem Riggins-the latter of whom is also a DJ whose played for Erykah Badu and with Slum Village.  Their brand new album is titled for an alter ego (Spalding’s middle name) called Emily’s D+Evolution.  She describes this concept as dealing with a modern mind afflicted by a primal urge. And how great strides in creative development could be inspired from a less enlightened version of oneself. As applied to the music of Spalding’s new album, only one track with a groove that impacted strongly on me. And it is called “Judas”.

The song begins with the peddling swinging drum rhythm with Spalding scaling up and down on her electric bass. After that the high pitched electric/acoustic guitar comes in to accent the songs constantly scaling and complex chordal structure. The song itself is very chorus heavy-with the Afro-Latin rhythm breaks of the percussive,hi hat heavy drumming being the consistent element in a song where the main melodic change is from the major chords of the chorus to the more minor chords of the refrains. After each repeat,the calmer riff that opens the song repeats itself before the next set of choral refrains until Spaldings vocals and the hi hat cycle out of the song itself.

Because this song is stripped down with a vocal melody based around the chords of the rhythm section, this song has a similar musical technique to the be-bop styled singer/songwriter folk-pop of Joni Mitchell’s late 70’s work. Instrumentally the trio she’s playing with project a strong jazzy fluidity here. Having streamed this album early on,I was quite unimpressed with what came across as raggedy alternative rock instrumentation that seemed to get in the way of Spalding’s complex songwriting on the majority of the album. But the combination of the boppish Latin rhythms makes this one song stand out as both jazzy and funky.

About the “Emily” concept itself  it’s effects on this song,Esperanza herself describes this musical character as someone she does not yet know fully. She’s been touring for a year or so now with what’s known as the ACS trio-also consisting of Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington with the songs from this album.Lyrically the song “Judas” comes across as the childhood dreams that inspired Spalding for this musical act. If I were to try to break it down,the lyrics to this song seem to be about just making it in a complex world. And it’s described more in terms of stream of conscious actions than realistic events. So the music and lyrics of this song really look to providing Spalding clarity for her new concept.

 

 

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Filed under 2016, Afro-Latin jazz, alternative rock, bass guitar, drums, Esperanza Spalding, Jazz, jazz funk, Joni Mitchell, Karriem Riggins, Matthew Stevens, new music, Nu Funk, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Marching In The Street” by Harvey Mason

Harvey Mason’s drum sound is one of the key elements in mid 70’s jazz-funk. Next to the Crusaders’ Stix Hooper,it was Harvey’s approach that really calcified the rhythm beat of that particular musical hybrid. Pretty much any band doing live instrumental based jazz-funk of the past decade and a half-including Lettuce,Greyboy and Snarky Puppy are all rhythmically built around what Harvey did on drums. Even for me, it’s very likely that Harvey Mason was the very first drummer I ever heard. With Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” being a very early musical memory. He is also important for another reason outside of those things.

Also similar to Stix Hooper, Harvey was a powerful session drummer too. Especially when it came to jazz and pop artists in the 70’s looking to make their sounds funkier. I’ve tended to notice when a musician does a great deal of session playing,they accumulate a good deal of musical allies. Many of Harvey’s were iconic soloists/session players in their own right such as Lee Ritenour,Ernie Watts,Chuck Rainey,Dave Grusin and Randy Crawford. All of these artists played a huge part on Harvey’s 1975 solo debut album Marching In The Street. And it was an album that really started right off with a bang with it’s monster title song.

Harvey starts out the song playing a steady,unaccompanied march which gradually adds funkier snare accents before Rainey’s bass chimes in along with Grusin’s electric piano. Ernie Watts,George Bohannon,Bobby Bryant and Oscar Brashear provide the accenting horn charts. By this point,Harvey’s playing both a double time drum solo-one very funky and a straight march along with a whistle. Watts adds a melodic Piccolo flute while the collective lead vocals (including Crawford) sing the repeated choruses and chants and along a round,muted trumpet solo. As the song progresses,the marching rhythm becomes more prominent before the song fades out with it being unaccompanied again.

Since Harvey Mason’s debut is so thick with heavy funk numbers, it was a bit of a challenge selecting just one. The reason the title song of the album stands out for me is how strongly linked it is with jazz history. From the days of Buddy Bolden’s “gutbucket” music of late 19th century New Orleans,the musical term funk was born at the core of the big four jazz rhythm.  These earliest jazz bands were formed in many ways based on dis-guarded horns and drums left over from the Civil War,as well as local marching bands. So the idea of Mason returning this rhythmic concept to his 70’s sounds was sounding the call for the new revolutionary march of funk.

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Filed under 1975, bass guitar, Dave Grusin, drums, Ernie Watts, Harvey Mason, horns, Jazz-Funk, Lee Ritenour, Randy Crawford, Uncategorized

Smokey Robinson on Anatomy of THE Groove Part 2: “Can’t Fight Love”

Somehow or other I remember being five years old and thinking the song “Being With You” was sung by a woman. Had no clue who Smokey Robinson was then,what a high male voice was,or for that matter how to sing well. Still loved the song though. What I didn’t know until much later was that it was the title song of a 1981 album that was part of a huge musical comeback. That title song was a huge hit for him. It was also his first new album to be issued on the CD format if I heard it right. From song to song if this album were a baseball game,it would have a high batting average in terms of quality. Still there was one song that really stood out for me.

As with many albums in my collection, I first had this on vinyl. And eventually tracked it down as part of a 1980’s Motown CD twofer packaged with Smokey’s 1979 album Where There’s Smoke. Because this early 80’s entry into his catalog had a different kind of production sleekness due to advances in recording during the time, there was actually something a bit lost on the scratchy vinyl of this that I had when compared to the digital version on the CD. This really bought out one song that really stuck out at me on this album from the moment I first heard it. Originally it opened up the second side of the vinyl. And it’s entitled “Can’t Fight Love”.

A fast Afro Latin percussion rhythm opens the song with a round,bouncing drum acting as popping metronome. A conga drum introduces the main body of the song. It’s a thick,brittle and fast paced rhythm guitar and bass line. This is accented by a Clavinet-like synthesizer line along with a string like synthesizer counter melody. Hard horn charts blast in and out of the chorus heavy song. The bridge of the song returns back to the percussion based intro-with Harry Kim playing a Herb Alpert style trumpet solo. Suddenly the drum comes back to the mix where Kim’s horn solo is supplemented by an alternately slippery and brittle bass synth before returning to the chorus until the groove fades.

The thing that really makes this song such a strong groove aside from it’s thick bass/guitar interaction is the entire musical structure. Basically it’s melody has the Brazilian vibe of the Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)” with a more steady disco era 4/4 funk beat plus percussion accents. What really does it with this song for me is that it works a wonderfully arranged sophistifunk groove in with a song that’s composed in Smokey’s classic 60’s style-full of choruses sung at varying speeds and loaded with his soulful lyrical wordplay.  Though it’s an album track,it showcases just how powerful Smokey’s uptempo music can be.

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Filed under 1980's, bass guitar, Brazil, CD's, disco funk, drums, Motown, percussion, rhythm guitar, Smokey Robinson, Uncategorized

Smokey Robinson on Anatomy of THE Groove Part 1: “Open”

William “Smokey” Robinson was not only one of the co founders of Motown with Berry Gordy. He and his group the Miracles were also key architects of the labels approach to production and songwriting. Throughout most of my life,Smokey generally came across as someone who specialized in intricately written slow to mid tempo romantic ballads. Many of these were composed in partnership with guitarist and former Miracle Marv Tarplin. At the same time,there was a side to Smokey capable of delivering some of the most powerful uptempo music. And on his birthday today,it’s that side of the man’s artistry that I wish to celebrate.

In 1975 Smokey released an album called A Quiet Storm. It’s conceptually and musically linked ballads actually helped to spawn an entire radio format,which was named for the title of that album. A year later Smokey put a new group together referred to as the Family Robinson. Key to this was Reginald Sonny Burke. The keyboardist had once been a member of Clarence Wheeler & The Enforcers. And had done session work for Bobby Womack and Wah Wah Watson. Burke’s experience with the soul to funk transition of the 70’s helped re-focus Smokey’s groove into a faster tempo. One major result,featured on the 1976 album Smokey’s Family Robinson was entitled “Open”.

A mix of live and organ rhythm box percussion starts the entire song out. Then the heavy bass line scales deep into this groove-just before the horns scale up into the mix and into the basic groove of the song. That basic groove features Tarplin’s guitar playing James Brown style rhythms along with Burke’s equally percussive and thick Clavinet riffing. The horns act as vocal lines leading the rhythm along. That also represents the chorus. The refrain,featured just after the intro,features a heavily echoed Clavinet and bass line playing in very close harmony together. The final refrains scales down several bars before fading out with the chorus.

This was by no means the first time Smokey Robinson had made a funky record. His second solo album for example contained some strong funk on it. This was however the first time he really got celebrated for doing a record that was specifically funk oriented. Sonny Burke’s added element of textured Clavinet with Tarplin’s grooving guitar gave this song the general flavor of Smokey’s equivalent to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” basically. He would focus primarily on ballads and disco for the rest of the 70’s decade. All the same,this would not be the last time that Smokey Robinson would make a powerful musical statement with funk as it’s instrumental basis.

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Filed under 1970's, bass guitar, clavinet, Funk, Marv Tarplin, Motown, percussion, rhythm guitar, Smokey Robinson, Sonny Burke, Uncategorized