Syreeta Wright had a long and fascinating musical journey. She started as an aspiring ballet dancer from Pittsburgh who landed a receptionist job at Motown. Settling in Detroit,her backing vocals for latter day Supremes hits led her to be considered as Diana Ross’s replacement in the group. She met Stevie Wonder around that time. He encouraged her to begin writing songs. They two eventually married and recorded together for Wonder’s 1971 album Where I’m Coming From. Though the marriage ended in divorce,her and Wonder continued to collaborate creatively throughout the decade.
Syreeta had another short lived marriage a few years later,moving to Ethiopia in the mid 70’s to teach transcendental meditation. She returned to her solo career on Motown in the late 70’s and early 80’s Her second album of the 80’s decade was called Set My Love In Motion. I picked it up on vinyl in NYC around 1998 or so. Finally picked up a CD copy through the Funkytowngrooves reissue label. Its actually a very unsung classic in what I now understand to be the post disco/boogie funk genre. And the one song this album that signifies this most for me is called “Move It,Do It”.
This is a song dominated by instrumental layering. It starts out with a high pitched synth wail,a round bass one and an orchestral one right in the middle tone. These sweeten up the thick,slow rhythm guitar and equally slow funky drumming. On the vocal refrains of the song,the higher pitched synth plays a sunnier melody as the rhythm guitar goes up a bit in pitch. The song returns to the main chorus after this. The bridge of the song reduces that chorus down to the drums,rhythm guitar and synth bass before the main one returns to close out the entire song.
One conversation that Henrique and I had onetime had to do with the different musical courses Wonder and Wright were taking at the start of the 1980’s. Syreeta embraced the futurist synth funk/post disco boogie sound Wonder had helped to innovate in the 70’s during these years. Wonder meanwhile returned to a live band oriented sound during this period. “Move It,Do It” makes me wonder how Wonder’s sound might’ve been circa 1980-81 if he’d elected to base his sound of the time more on his one man band approach. Still the slinky sensuality of Syreeta’s attitude brings her own musical flavors right up front.
The Brothers Johnson continued on valiantly following the end of the partnership between them and Quincy Jones on their first four albums. While their first self produced 1981 album Winners picked right up where the brothers left off with Quincy,their next album in 1984’s Out Of Control found them having lost quite a lot of their distinctive sound. Of course at the time,Louis Johnson had gone onto phenomenal success as a session player at the QWest label in particular-coming to particular fame with Michael Jackson as “Mr. Billie Jean” with his iconic bass line for that massive hit record for MJ.
It would be another five years after that before George and Lewis reunited for their seventh and final studio album Kickin‘. It was 1988 by then. And hard funk was making a huge comeback with songs like Cameo’s “Word Up”,Prince’s “Kiss” and Earth Wind & Fire’s “System Of Survival” lighting both pop and R&B charts on fire in 1986/87. So this new Brothers Johnson album was heavily endowed with uptempo funk grooves. It wasn’t until my experience with ordering CD’s online did I manage to pick up this relatively rare album. And one standout song for me is the George Johnson sung “I Fresh”.
The song starts of with a heavy snare drum that only hits after every four light cymbal strokes throughout the entire song. Each beat is followed by a hand clap, a brittle synth bass pulse and a both the ethereal string synthesizer and George’s round wah wah guitar playing the same ultra bluesy melody. On the brief refrains,the key is taken up a bit higher and a higher pitched synthesizer comes in accenting the guitar. Towards the end of the song,the thickness of the bass and keyboard parts is bought more to the surface as the song finally fades out of itself.
Sly Stone arranged the horns for “Balls Of Fire” later in this album. But something tells me he was sitting in through this entire session. The main reason is this song,which sounds like an late 80’s instrumental update of the ultra stripped down, bluesy funk Sly was going for during his Fresh period in the early 70’s. The addition of digital keyboards, plus the fact George Johnson might’ve played most of the instruments on this song ,also keep it in line with the naked funk Prince had pioneered with the Minneapolis sound. It was very distinctive latter day jam from the Brothers Johnson as a result.
Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, blues funk, Brothers Johnson, drums, George Johnson, naked funk, Sly Stone, synthesizer, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar
Richard Fields,who apparently got the nickname Dimples by a female admirer who noted his ever-present smile,started his career as the owner of the Cold Duck Lounge in San Francisco. He released a couple of albums locally in 1975 and 1977. In 1981 he signed with Neil Bogart’s Boardwalk Records. His best known song was a remake of a song from his debut album called “If It Ain’t One Thing,It’s Another”, a message song of sorts that he was encouraged to re-do by an old high school friend he ran into at a used car lot. He had a good handful of hits in the 80’s that slowed over the years until he finally passed away in 2000 in the Bay Area city of Oakland.
During my childhood,a 45 of his hit “If It Ain’t One Thing It’s Another” was in rotation in the family home. It was the B-side to this entitled “Mr.Look So Good”,an uptempo disco/funk number that was the title song to his 1982 album,which got my attention most. Something about his soulfullness and conversational lyric style was always appealing. One day I came across another one of his albums while crate digging entitled Give Everybody Some!,also released in 1982. It’s the only full album by him I presently own. And it has a lot of excellent songs on it. The song that always stands out in my mind however is entitled “Butter”.
A pounding,deep bass Clavinet opens the song along with an uptempo,percussion laden drum beat. Two grooving rhythm guitar’s accompany this-one of which plays a more liquid line while horn fanfares call out on each break. A phat slap bass line brings in the main body of the song. It’s a very bluesy melody on the refrain and chorus. And once the intro is over,a brittle bass and higher pitched melodic synthesizer provide the man rhythmic hump whereas the horns and upfront bass carry the melody Dimple’s is singing more. Just before the song fades out,the synthesizers take a back seat to the drum,guitar and horn line that opened up the song on the intro.
This song is a touch post disco/boogie classic that actually focuses on a lot of harder 70’s funk elements,such as horns and a thick slap bass. But the synthesizers and sleek beat are still very much present. Especially on the JB’s style rhythm guitar and stripped down dynamics,this also brings out an early 80’s Minneapolis Sound flavor about it as well. Fields’ vocal style is very interesting one to me. It has the idiosyncratic nasal drawl of Michael Jackson,but also the quiet groan of Ray Parker Jr. There is surely a distinctive vibe to this funk. And a lot of that has to do with how strongly it straddles two generations of the music: the one of the present and that of the immediate past.
Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Bay Area, Boardwalk Records, Boogie Funk, clavinet, disco funk, drums, horns, Neil Bogart, Oakland California, percussion, post disco, rhythm guitar, Richard Dimples Fields, San Francisco, slap bass, synthesizers, Uncategorized
Cheryl Lynn was something of a rarity of her day. Her career came through a performance of the Joe Cocker hit “You Are So Beautiful” on a 1976 episode of The Gong Show-in a manner similar to how an American Idol or The Voice contestant would today. A juggler actually won that episode of The Gong Show she was on. But record companies began courting her to sign up. She ended up on Columbia by 1978. And that same year scored her first hit,and signature song in the disco era classic “Got To Be Real”. With her strong,rangy and loud gospel/soul vocal pipes Lynn was very much creatively suited to uptempo dance/funk as well as melodically complex ballads.
One of the big male producer of female soul/funk singers in the early 1980’s was Luther Vandross. With his sensitive approach and brilliant way with a ballad,his understanding of musical femininity applied in equal measure to uptempo songs. That had a lot to do with the fact that his keyboardist Nat Adderley Jr and of course bassist/composer Marcus Miller are just about two of the funkiest instrumentalists around. In 1982,Lynn worked with Vandross as a producer and his band backing her up for what would turn out to be her fourth album release entitled Instant Love. The title song of this particular album was a real standout groove from her on this album,and the one I’ll be breaking down today.
Marcus’s thumping slap bass begins the song,which moves into the drum playing in somewhat odd time. It’s assisted by a deep piano along with higher pitched synthesizer orchestration. Than the percussion kicks in along with a more brittle bass synthesizer and the higher ones playing horn like accents. Throughout the refrains and the choruses,a JB’s style funk rhythm guitar keeps the groove going strong-both as a higher pitched sound and a deeper one. On those choruses,Vandross himself is audible singing the songs title along with Lynn and his classic team of backup singers. After a bridge featuring her vocally gliding over the stripped down intro,the song fades out on it’s chorus.
Instrumentally this is heavy,thumping boogie funk at it’s finest. Marcus Miller has just about every musical aspect of this song playing in or around the bass line he lays out. One thing about he and Luther’s uptempo numbers is how they always seemed to equate hard funk jams with big voiced singers. And Cheryl Lynn fit the bill for that. Another thing that Miller and Adderley bring out is the influence of Prince’s Minneapolis sound. The high pitched synth lines are overdubbed to play horn lines throughout the song. So it finds Cheryl Lynn on the forefront of at least two different and exciting movements during the electro funk era.
Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Boogie Funk, Cheryl Lynn, elecro funk, Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller, Minneapolis, Nat Adderley Jr, percussion, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Uncategorized
Henrique and myself were chatting online a couple of days ago about a favorite recurring topic between us. And that topic is funk music in every section of the record store. I remarked that it was unlikely that there would be any funk in a stores new age section. Henrique answered me with this video,featuring a song by a group known as Rasa. He described the album as consisting primarily of Hare Krishna chanting. This lead to the conclusion that new age music was a conceptual idea as opposed to a musical genre. Of course hearing new age music as being mostly piano based,it never occurred to me that new age themes are common in a lot of the funk I love.
After doing a bit of research via an article done four years ago by Wax Poetics magazine,it turns out that Rasa was the brainchild of Christian oriented funk/soul artist Eugene McDaniels son London. He went to a Krishna temple with his teenage brother Chris at the advice of their mother-during the time London was studying at the Berklee College Of Music. A few of the temple heads managed to convince the brother to record an album of contemporary Hare Krishna music. It has apparently become a favorite among crate digging DJ’s/hip-hop samplers. The song that introduced into all of this,courtesy of Henrique is actually entitled “Chanting”.
Roger Panansky’s round bass synthesizer starts things out playing along with Anthony Jackson’s electric bass guitar tones. As well as the slow paced percussive drumming of Webb Thomas. London’s JB style rhythm guitar comes in on the main refrains,while the horns of (featuring Randy Brecker) melodically assist on the choruses. There is a two second break before a fluttering,round electric bass solo from Jackson bubbles up like instrumental champagne on the bridge-again with Brecker and sax player George Young playing call and response on their horns. These instrumental exchanges are accented by electric piano. The chorus and refrain repeat themselves until the song fades out.
This song is a wonderfully grooving jazz/funk piece,with a strong rhythmic thump and a full emphasis on the bass. Whether it be from a bass guitar or a synthesizer. The lead singer on this Vakresvara Pandit sings in a manner very similar to Jamiroquai’s Jason Kay. So this ends up being the type of spiritually inclined funk that would be the bass musical medium of the acid jazz/funk movement a couple of decades later. Though this album was apparently only ever sold at Krishna temples and events,it really fascinates me at the possibility that this famous offshoot of Vaishnaism based spirituality would chose “people music” funk as it’s own gospel. As it stands,it’s top notch late 70’s melodic jazz/funk!
Filed under 1970's, Acid Jazz, Anthony Jackson, bass synthesizer, Berklee College Of Music, Chris McDaniels, crate digging, drums, Funk Bass, George Young, Hare Krishna, horns, jazz funk, London McDaneils, Randy Brecker, Rasa, Uncategorized, Wax Poetics magazine, Webb Thomas
The Isley Brothers,to paraphrase writer and my Facebook friend Rickey Vincent do come off strongly as the embodiment of funky masculinity. That not only goes for their mixture of pragmatism and sensitivity. But also to their musical approach as well. The family group’s 3+3 combination adding younger brothers Ernie and the late Marvin Isley and cousin Chris Jasper added a strong instrumental element to the vocal harmony approach of the elder brothers Ron,Rudy and the late Kelly Isley. During the mid 1970’s, they came up with a distinctive approach to instrumental vital funk and rock along with keeping the soulful bedroom ballads cooking at all ends.
During this time,the sextet began recording in the TONTO synthesizer complex. This is where Stevie Wonder was than working his own electronic funk/soul masterpieces as well. Most of the 3+3 Isley Brothers classic albums were recorded using the complex-especially with keyboard maestro Jasper in tow. In 1976 they released their album Harvest For The World. The album continued to expand on the throbbing grooves they developed,along with the lyrical themes of sensuous eroticism and strong minded brotherhood. Nothing on this album could ever be underrated from where I sit. But it’s the song “People Of Today” that really pulls everything else here together on every possible level.
A rolling drum launches into the song itself. It’s a gurgling mix of bass synthesizer and guitar with multiple Clavinet parts. One of them even contributing to the bottom end of the song as well. This huge tonal array of sound is calmed somewhat on the vocal refrains from Ron Isley. On the end of each chorus,a second refrain features Ron singing a call and response vocal line to a Vocoderized voice singing “my world is fine”. After this a fast and bluesy Clavinet riff leads back into the central theme of the song in which it all begins. This pattern of two separate refrains and repeated choruses maintains itself from beginning to the fade out of this song.
If I were to describe this or any Isley Brothers funk from this period, it would be as the musical equivilant of chunky peanut butter. It’s caramel colored cream texture with a strong crunchiness mixed into it. And has the same strong flavor too. The layering of the keyboard parts of this song are amazing. And it’s the perfect accompaniment as Ron Isley sings about getting ones head out of comfortable denialism. At one point he even responds to the Vocorderized “my world is fine” with the vocal response “ah your jivin’ me”. As implied in the title, it’s a wonderful example of the type of classic 70’s funk that I’ve dubbed over the years as “people music”.
Filed under 1970's, bass synthesizer, Chris Jasper, clavinet, electro funk, Funk, Isley Brothers, Rickey Vincent, Ron Isley, TONTO, Uncategorized, vocoder
During the mid to late 1970’s, the Montreal native Gino Vannelli was Canada’s musical answer to Steely Dan basically. With a strongly grooving progressive jazz sound in tow, Gino and his keyboardist brother Joe had signed their group to Herb Alpert’s A&M Records about a decade into the labels inception. It was also time when new record labels were far more open to more creatively minded artists. So Gino and company were able to really stretch out in terms of making music that was both instrumentally meaningful and commercially successful.
I personally discovered Gino’s music about 8-9 years ago. And quite by accident, as it came from a music recommendation based on my own browsing habits on Amazon.com. It wasn’t long before I was ordering used copies of his 70’s albums on CD from there. One that made quite an impact on me was his third album from 1975 entitled Storm At Sunup. It was a concept album dealing with a male 20 something coming of age during the post 60’s sexual revolution. The second song on the album called “Mama Coco” was the one which really blew me away!
A metallic synthesizer bursts into a mix of Afro-funk percussion accompanied by electronics playing a classical opera melodic theme. It drives right into a righteous rhythm with round,burbling Moog bass and Fender Rhodes electric piano playing the songs bluesy melody. On the refrains,one of which features a deep vocalese on the talk box, the song suddenly goes into a swinging Brazilian jazz mode before returning to the original chorus. Another refrain hard rocking bridge with a screaming guitar and electric piano solo before ebbing out.
In terms of funk, this song covers all the bases beautifully. It has the blend of European classical and soulful modern electronics, the Afrocentric jazzy instrumental attitude as well as the progressive rock arrangements of the time. It’s a wonderful groove stew. Thematically Gino is wittily making a point about the exoticism black women can provide in the mind of a free and single young white men. Even pointing out to Mama Coco that he’s “just a male Caucasian/I’m virgin to your kind”. It’s one of many examples of fine funk Gino threw down in this era.
Filed under 1970's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afrocentrism, Amazon.com, bass synthesizer, Brazilian Jazz, Canada, concept albums, electric piano, Fender Rhodes, Gino Vannelli, Herb Alpert, jazz funk, Montreal, Moog, percussion, sexual revolution, Steely Dan, Uncategorized
With the beginning of the third official year of Andresmusictalk? It’s hard to realize that Kool & The Gang have never been officially covered in the Anatomy of THE Groove segment. James Brown himself referred to them as “the second baddest out there” during his prime funk period. And at least somewhere in their now 46 year strong career? The band have continued to find some way to give up the funk,and grow with it’s changes to meet great success. Still,it was the early to mid 1970’s that really showed just what Kool & The Gang were musically capable of.
Starting off primarily as an instrumental group with occasional unison vocals? The mid 70’s bought more concise and pop hook driven numbers that focused on individual vocal trade off’s. This resulted in their first massive crossover hits such as “Jungle Boogie”, “Funky Stuff” and “Hollywood Swinging”. In 1975 the band released their sixth studio album entitled Spirit Of The Boogie. It helped define them,and the Bell brothers burgeoning Muslim spirituality,through a stronger Afrocentrity. The song that pulls that all together for me is “Ancestral Ceremony”.
The chant”yeah yeah YEAH!” from the bands female backup singers Something Sweet begin it all with the accompaniment of Kalimba and nothing more. Shortly thereafter,drummer George Brown’s phased hi hat roll rings in the percussion,than the steadier main rhythm. A phat and thumping symphony of synthesized and electric bass sets the stage for the bands trademark horns to join into the musical festival. The entire group along with the backup singers join back into the opening chant with Khalis Bayyan’s jazzy tenor sax solo to close out the groove.
While just about any funk from Kool & The Gang in this time period is cream of the crop of it’s genre? Something about the instrumental,vocal and thematic attitude of this song sums up the “united funk” era in just over three minutes. 1974-1976 found them at the height of their artistic and commercial pinnacle. And it was good for them personally because the lyrics to this song found them with the understanding of being “scientists of sound,rhythmatically puttin’ it down” while “making merry music” all the way. So this is some of the very finest funk ever recorded!
Filed under 1970's, Afrocentrism, bass synthesizer, classic funk, drums, Funk Bass, George Brown, jazz funk, Kalimba, Khalis Bayyan, Kool & The Gang, Muslim, percussion, Uncategorized
It would seem that a year before her passing? Teena Marie pronounced her third album Irons In The Fire to be her personal favorite. And that’s very interesting because it’s the first of her original albums I ever encountered on CD-back in my rack digging days at Borders Books & Music in the late 1990’s. Just under a decade? Ended up getting it online as part of my introduction to her music. As far as her love of the album? It was her first self produced album. And one to be proud of. One song on the album did catch my ear very strongly.
The general spectrum of Lady T’s music ran between torchy jazz and smoldering funk. It was ideally suited not just for her vocal range, but her style of composing as well. One song from this album turned out to be a fully formed version of an acoustic guitar demo she’d made a year after she first arrived at Motown in 1975. Of course when I heard it? The song just leaped out at me. Yet another case of funk being it’s own reward. So the song in question is called “First Class Love”. And even to this day? I’m still surprised by it’s overall power and energy.
The groove goes into heavy gear with a big horn intro. The rhythm is thick,steady and slow in fine funk style. A big chunky splendor of electric slap and accompanying brittle sounding synth bass. All having an instrumental conversation with the horns along the way. On the refrains,a higher pitched version of this brittle synthesizers drips into the melody like a musical fondue. There is a potent instrumental bridge that reduces the song down to a slamming beat and a phat,processed slap bass before returning to the main theme to end the groove.
Something about this song just cooks the essence of feminine focused funk down to it’s base roux. Every rhythmic element of this song,from it’s drums to it’s bass line, is thickened up by Teena’s production of it. Lyrically it’s probably her most sexually charged songs to this point. Her “first class love” is presented as an endless journey to the moon, and blue skies six months out of every year. Everything about the music tonally reflects the crawling,thrusting nature of physical intimacy. And ends up to be first class funk for you and for me.
Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Borders Books & Music, CD's, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Motown, synthesizers, Teena Marie, Uncategorized