Category Archives: Bernie Worrell

Christmas is 4 Ever: The Bootsy Collins Holiday Album I Can’t Decide If I Like

bootsycollins-christmasis4ever

Of my many musical guilty pleasures, Christmas music is probably my guiltiest. I have a fascination that borders on the morbid for those silly, disposable albums of festive music popular artists tend to release between the months of September and November, to be listened to (if at all) between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. And while I certainly appreciate the classics–Bing, Elvis, Ella, Phil Spector, the Jackson 5–I almost prefer the also-rans: the goofy ones; the seasonal records few bother listening to and even fewer bother remembering.

The following is a review I wrote ten years ago (!) of one of those records: Christmas is 4 Ever by funk bass legend and real-life cartoon character Bootsy Collins. As you’ll see, I liked it a lot at the time. My opinion on it has fluctuated in the years since; these days, it’s pretty much a crapshoot whether I’ll think it’s a goofy good time or an infernal racket. But that’s the risk of pop Christmas music: depending on your mood, it can be as warm and nostalgic as a mug of hot cocoa or as obnoxious as a string of LED lights on the strobe setting. Sometimes, it can even be both at the same time. I haven’t given Christmas is 4 Ever my annual listen yet, but i think I will this week. Who knows, maybe I’ll finally like it as much as I did 10 years ago:

If anything about Christmas is 4 Ever is an unqualified success, it’s that the album is a blast from beginning to end–something that could probably be ascertained from a mere glance at its ludicrous snowglobe cover art and whimsically spelled track listing, with titles like “Jingle Belz,” “Chestnutz,” and “WinterFunkyLand.” Of course, as anyone who’s bothered to investigate his solo career can attest, Bootsy is nothing if not fun; and when it comes to the campy, cartoonish, but oh-so-heavy fun(k) that is his stock in trade, this Christmas effort does not disappoint. Just try to keep a grin off your face when “Boot-a-Claus” turns in a loose, effortlessly funky rendition of “Jingle Bells,” or when the man once dubbed “Player of the Year” (always the sexiest star in the P-Funk constellation) injects some lascivious eyebrow-wiggling into Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby,” crooning that he’s “about ready to come down your chimney.”

But Bootsy’s addition to the Christmas canon has more going for it than just kitsch appeal. For one thing, like all the best holiday R&B music, his arrangements boast an intuitive, yet unclichéd grasp on the Christmas mood. Boots’ version of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” (here rechristened as “Dis-Christmiss”) manages to conjure up images of snow-frosted windows and toasty firesides while retaining its essential throb and groove; “Silent Night,” while hardly guilty of taking its name literally (how could the Baby Jesus possibly have gotten any sleep with Bootsy slapping his Space Bass all over the other side of the manger?), adds the requisite dose of holiday sentimentality without ever laying it on too thick.

And even when Boots and company aren’t quite capturing the spirit of the season–it’s difficult to imagine the manic jam “Happy Holidaze,” complete with guest appearance by Snoop Dogg, getting much rotation in front of even the funkiest of Christmas trees–Christmas is 4 Ever succeeds in being the best straight-up album Collins has released in years. Not only is the material more consistent than 2002’s B-star studded Play with Bootsy, it just sounds like vintage Bootsy. It has that woozy, anarchic P-Funk clutter of horns, bass, guitars and synths: no doubt due at least in part to the presence of ex-Parliament keyboard legend Bernie Worrell, who rounds out a truly impressive guest list including former J.B.’s leader/trombone player Fred Wesley, ex-Zapp keyboardist Terry “Zapp” Troutman, former Rubber Band members Joel Johnson and Frankie “Kash” Waddy, ex-Funkadelic guitarist Michael Hampton, and soul institution Bobby Womack, as well as Bootsy’s own brother (and funk heavyweight in his own right) Catfish Collins. And if all that wasn’t enough, the songs themselves are littered with self-referential quips: a move typical of latter-day Bootsy, which could have been cloying if it wasn’t so goddamn fun to hear “Bootzilla”‘s indelible “wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiind me up!” in its umpteenth incarnation.

Indeed, it may be Christmas is 4 Ever’s firm grounding in Bootsy’s past that makes it such an enjoyable listen, particularly for those who don’t happen to share my perverse love for holiday music. Listen to “Be-With-You” without paying attention to the lyrics and it sounds like exactly what it is: a pitch-perfect remake of the 1976 Rubber Band hit “I’d Rather Be with You,” amped up with Zapp-style Vocodered vocals and just maybe sounding better than ever. But place such autobiographical touches within the context of yuletide nostalgia, and what you have is an album which reflects on holidays past and present even while it serves as a summation of the now 65-year-old (!) Bootsy’s lofty position in popular music history.

Case in point: the legendary funkateer opens “WinterFunkyLand” with “thank you”s to his former mentors James Brown and George Clinton; elsewhere, he dedicates “Chestnutz” (a.k.a. “The Christmas Song”) to the man who made it famous, Nat “King” Cole (also, probably not coincidentally, the first Black man to find a place in mainstream America’s holiday songbook). And that’s where Christmas is 4 Ever really triumphs, both as a Christmas record and as a watermark release for Bootsy himself. With its warmth and sentimentality, the album feels like a stack of season’s greetings addressed to loved ones from years past, inviting us to bask in the glow of friends and family that seems to burn brightest late in the month of December. Granted, that sentiment might come off as a little goopy for some potential listeners–or, you know, pretty much anyone who might be reading this. But if Christmas is about anything, it’s goopiness, and Bootsy has done well to recognize as much.

Besides, what other Christmas album can you name that features a holiday message from reformed pimp/Snoop Dogg “spiritual advisor” Bishop Don “Magic” Juan? I’ll tell you one thing: it sure as hell ain’t Christmas with Perry Como. And that, my friends, is as good a recommendation as any.

Check out Dystopian Dance Party next week for more of my thoughts on recent and vintage Christmas music, including the holiday albums of James Brown and, um, R. Kelly. Happy holidays!

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Filed under Bernie Worrell, Bobby Womack, Bootsy Collins, Christmas music, Donny Hathaway, Fred Wesley, James Brown, Snoop Dogg

Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic@40: P-Funk Taking It To The People

tales-of-kidd-funkadelic

Funkadelic not only represented P-Funk’s rockiest side. They also represented their link to the late 60’s psychedelic scene from which it all began for George Clinton and company. Beginning as the backing band for The Parliaments before they shortened their name,Clinton revived the Parliament name in 1974-pursuing a more horn funk style under that name. In a couple of short years,a P-Funk formula of sorts began to emerge as the musicians within it exercised their most distinctive instrumental traits-especially Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell. 1976 was the key year for all of this to happen.

Tales of Kidd Funkadelic turned 40 just under a month ago. For me,it represents that transition from Funkadelic representing psychedelia and (as some P-Funk admirers have stated) becoming “Parliament without the horns”. Personally,the summer of 1996 was a time when I was going to Borders Books & Music in Bangor,Maine to purchase the then 2-3 year old Funkadelic CD reissues. I remember picking this particular one up while spending a weekend with my grandparents. It was with a warning I’d in a music guide that Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic was the bands least conceptually unified record.

Today,its to my understanding that the album was made up of material recorded at the same time as Funkadelic’s Capital records debut Hardcore Jollies. But Clinton was contractually obligated to Westbound to deliver them one more album. So lyrically,the songs didn’t follow a concept. What the Westbound label did do was give each side of the original vinyl a certain sense of musical unity. On a personal level,its probably the Funkadelic album I’ve returned to more over the years. And perhaps its the way its assembled that draws me to it so much.

“Butt-to-Butt Resuscitation” and “Let’s Take It To The People” could both be described as heavy funk/rock hybrids. At the same time,the emphasis is still on the stronger rhythmic complexity Funkadelic were developing. “Undisco Kidd” stuck out instantly because,from the bass to the vocal rap,it drips of Bootsy’s musical personality. It actually reminds me of something from Parliament’s Mothership Connection-especially with Worrell’s orchestral synth. “Take Your Dead Ass Home” is a thick bass/guitar built number with a really humorous take on 3rd and 4th base making out.

The second half of the album is another matter entirely. “I’m Never Gonna Tell It” is a P-Funk style mid tempo soul ballad-later re-done by Phillipe Wynn after he joined P-Funk. The title song of the album is a 12+ magnum opus centered on Bernie Worrell’s classically inclined jazz/funk cinematically orchestrated melodies. “How Do Yeaw View You” is actually one of my favorite songs on this album. Its a very rhetorically reflective song that has a slight reggae funk overtone. That essentially rounds this part of the album as being its “slower side”.

From the first song to the eighth, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic stands to me as a model for funk albums released to fulfill a contract. Clinton offered Westbound songs that were not only solid and complete. But in my opinion,they were also funk jams that held together in terms of the sheer quality of song. If any of these songs had been singled out to lead off a fully conceptualized P-Funk album,they’d probably have all been amazing. As it is,its hard to hear that these songs are outtakes. So on its 40th anniversary,the most important thing to say about this album is that represented P-Funk’s major transition in the 70’s.

 

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Filed under 1976, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, classic albums, classic funk, Funk Bass, funk rock, Funkadelic, George Clinton, P-Funk, synthesizers, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic

George Clinton: Computer Games & Some Of His Best Jokes

George Clinton Album

George Clinton,at age 74 is among the final two principle architects of funk left alive. The other being Sly Stone. It was through his music,among others,that inaugurated me into the wondrous world of musical funkiness when I was a teenager. And that’s probably true for many people within a decade or so of my age. Clinton was the major funk innovator for the baby boomer up through the millennial generation. After a decade of leading the mammoth P-Funk ensemble,George Clinton introduced his music in a solo context in 1982. Here are two reviews of his first and second solo albums-from 1982 and 1985.


Computer Games (1982)

During the first five years of me getting into P-Funk? Part of my ever continuing education on the subject was the understanding of internal connectivity. When most people think of George Clinton? Motherships and clones might come to mind. Somehow the term I associate with him is atomic. An atomic detonation comes from a chain reaction of split atoms.

Originally from one source but,when unleashed,create a powerful burst of energy. That describes P-Funk extremely well to me: the forces of it are many,and ALWAYS behind it’s musical might. So this is not Parliament,Funkadelic or even P-Funk All Stars we’re talking about here. This is George Clinton. Yet Bootsy,Junie,Gary Shider,Fred Wesley are all still here on this 1982 debut of the man now recording under his own name. And as always? He had a lot to say,in his own kind of way.

“Get Dressed” is something of a “star is born” type setup to begin the album with it’s thick,bass heavy stomp with the Horny Horns really getting going with Junie’s funky stride piano for a classic call and response P-Funk jam. “Man’s Best Friend/Loopzilla” is a 12+ minute groove that…well as I told my friend Henrique? Could easily write an entire book chapter on this one song.

It begins with an electronic extension of “(Not Just) Knee Deep” basically. Than it goes directly into this stripped down,early hip-hop type pulse that lyrically references classic Motown to Sir Nose himself. “Pot Sharing Tots” combines reggae and jazzy electric piano for a very insinuating type of melody. The title song combines a scintillating rock solo on the choruses and a funkier rhythm guitar on the refrains.

“Atomic Dog” is the song this album is most remembered for-with it’s double live/backward looped drum machine rhythm and jagged bass synths with it’s bubblin bluesy  melody and iconic singalong choruses of the title and “bow wow wow/yippy yo/yippy yay”. “Free Alternations” is basically a new wave pop/soul re-imaging of the early Detroit R&B sound. “One Fun At A Time” is a sleek pop funk/bubbling bass synthesized fueled ode to romantic commitment.

At least three of these songs follow a conceptual thread of their own-seemingly about the hero’s journey of a player. Yet the concept of funk as a musically fissionable force is explored not only through the lyrics,but the music. Everything from bass,drums, guitar, keyboards and horns bubble up bigger perhaps than anything in P-Funk that came before. It was not only Clinton’s own debut. But the debut for the 80’s variant of P-Funk itself.

Some Of My Best Jokes Are Friends/1985

One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is the potency of P-Funk during the 1980’s. It was a musical organization that was still touring,still recording music and still maintaining a loyal fan base even when the societal odds were rather against what it stood for. And even with that? Some of the most challenging music from the band was being created during time time as well.

Difference was it was mainly being channeled through George Clinton albums where his personality was the central focus. But all the elements of the band were there. In this cast of musical characters we have future Living Color member Doug Wimbish and new wave/funk hit maker Thomas Dolby along for the ride. And it’s one that deserves to be taken more than once.

“Double Oh-Oh” is an electrified march extenuated by very Minneapolis style synthesized horns and female choir vocals. “Bullet Proof” is intense industrial funk-layer upon layer of bass synth combined with high pitched,laser like electronics and that Arabic type melody used in a lot of dance music of that era.

“Pleasures Of Exhaustion (Do It ‘Til You Drop)” is a long,extended jam with a jagged rhythm with both synthesized and electric slap bass accents-along with flutes. “Bodyguard” is a piano,drum and keyboard led dance/funk jam while “Bangladesh” is a slow,doo wop styled ballad. “Thrashin'”,featuring Dolby and the closing title song are both live bass//guitar and horn based P-Funk that only leaves in the contemporary drum machine for the electronic element.

Very much like it’s predecessor? This album ushered P-Funk into the fully electro funk edge. There’s no irony lost on me there since the band were even in their 70’s heyday pioneers of that sub-genre of funk-with Bernie Worrell’s “video game” style synthesizers. Conceptually this album is probably one of Clinton’s most important in the 80’s. It’s apparent that the Reagan era of SDI and the final days of the Cold War were proving fertile ground for his lyricism.

Again the metaphor of the atomic chain reaction is an important part of this album. But is used to make important points about how Clinton’s “pimping of the pleasure principle” prediction seemed to be coming true before his eyes. Yet both musically AND lyrically? He understood that black America had basic human feelings too. And were in the mind to demand another,better way to live. An album that’s a lot funkier and more significant in it’s day than one might think it to be.


Of course George Clinton’s solo debut Computer Games is now pretty much revered as a classic album. The reason why I included Some Of My Best Jokes Are Friends along with this album is that both of them represent an important transition in the focus of Clinton’s musical conception. On these albums,P-Funk met an electronic sound beyond even what it had already helped to bring to the funk genre. And of course George’s sociopolitical commentary never moved an inch either. So with Bernie Worrell now gone,we can only hope George is around long enough to give up just a little more funk.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Atomic Dog, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, elecro funk, George Clinton, message songs, Music Reviewing, P-Funk, synth funk, Walter Junie Morrison

Bernie Worrell: Rest In P (1944-2016)

bernieworrell

George Bernard Worrell was playing concertos at age 8,went to Julliard and the New England Conservatory Of Music and was a founding member of P-Funk. He wound up working with Bill Laswell,Fela Kuti and was a member of the expanded Talking Heads in the early 1980’s.  He died today of stage four lung cancer at age 72. The man was truly a musical genius who actually created whole new layers of solo and orchestral sounds on different keyboards. Here’s what I feel are some of his most powerful moments. I have nothing more to say. Listen and dance to the music!

“Atmosphere”/1975

“Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic”/1976

“Flashlight”/1977

“Dissinfordollars”/1993

“When Bernie Speaks”/2004

-Bernie you WILL be missed. Again,rest in P!

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 2016, Bernie Worrell, classic funk, Funk, Funkadelic, Julliard, keyboards, New England Conservatory Of Music, P-Funk, Parliament, synthesizers

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Woo Together” by Bernie Worrell

Bernie Worrell is turning 72 today. He was part of P-Funk from it’s earliest inception-being entrenched as a member of Funkadelic when they were still the instrumental backing band for George Clinton’s doo-wop group The Parliaments. This child prodigy from Plainsfield,New Jersey was of course writing a piano concerto by 8 years old. And went onto study music at Julliard and the New England School Of Music. As grim as this sounds,Worrell is still battling stage 4 lung cancer. So there’s no telling how long he’ll be with us. While I’ve covered his work as a member of Funkadelic,his solo career is a key aspect of his career.

When Worrell introduced his thundering minimoog bass to Parliament’s highly successful groove “Flashlight” in 1977,he basically wrote the blueprint for the synth/electro funk sound that would emerge in the decade to come. By the time that song really broke out,P-Funk began sprawling into a number of spin off groups and soloists. And Worrell decided to make a contribution of his own to the burgeoning outgrowths of P-Funk. The result was his first solo album entitled  All The Woo In The World. The entire group of P-Funk musicians from George Clinton himself,Bootsy,Mudbone,Gary Shider,Billy Bass Nelson,Fred and Maceo were all involved-including the opening number “Woo Together”.

Worrell’s Clavinet opens the song as part of a thick,cinematic intro along with the phat,squawking bass and low rhythm guitar. These are accented by the string arrangements of Dave Van De Pitte. The main thrust of the song is a bluesy groove where the strings keep on playing along with the bass line along with Clavinet and the ever present backing vocals of George,Bootsy,Junie and the Brides Of Funkenstein. There are also several instrumental bridges throughout the song that buttress each chorus and refrain exchange. These feature the strings playing call and response style along with Worrell’s Clavinet. The refrain is where the groove officially fades.

As a whole the P-Funk sound was pretty unique. In his autobiography George Clinton mused that many in the music industry were concerned he was creating another Motown on the terms of mostly black musicians. One thing he did take from that record labels approach was being able to add the touches of individual artists to a distinct instrumental approach. And Bernie Worrell’s debut certainly begins with that ethic. The strings of Dave Van De Pitte act in the same fashion that Fred and Maceo’s Horny Horns normally would-dancing directly by the beat of the rhythm section. Therefore Worrell was able to revive his own type of cinematic soul within the heavy P-Funk instrumental spectrum.

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Filed under 1970's, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, cinematic soul, clavinet, Dave Van De Pitte, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, P-Funk, strings, Walter Junie Morrison

Anatomy of THE Groove: “If You Got Funk,You Got Style” by Funkadelic

Bernie Worrell,P-Funk’s premier keyboard maestro was revealed a week ago to be living with stage 4 prostate cancer. With every major celebrity death of the new year having to do with some variation of this disease,it felt right to celebrate Bernie’s enormous musical contributions while he is still living. And that is also a key element of his talents as well. As a New England Conservatory Of Music and Julliard student who became drawn to the burgeoning sound of funk, he was able to bring his European classic training to the P-Funk mob just as the genre itself was in a crucial state of evolution. This made him key in the development of P-Funk’s first well known side.

Unsure if it was because they’d just moved from Westbound or not, but have always held mixed feelings for Funkadelic’s 1976 Capitol Records debut entitled Hardcore Jollies. Never seemed like an album that knew what it wanted to be: an exercise in funky serenity or the rock noisemaker. And the two musical elements were not particularly hybridized on this album. But of course the funk that was present was some of the strongest P-Funk ever made. Somehow it just occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve ever reviewed a Funkadelic jam on this blog. So now I’d like to present to you now one of the most powerful manifesto’s for the genre itself,”If You’ve Got Funk,You’ve Got Style”.

This is one those examples of funk that gets a stone cold start without any buildup or intro. And that’s great because it’s a heavy Brazilian jazz/funk drum provides the foundation for Bootsy Collins’ always intense duck face bass thump combined with multiple keyboard parts from Bernie. One of them is a high pitched,modulation filtered melodic line and the other is a thick Moog bass line. On the choruses, that higher keyboard line basically scales down with George Clinton’s vocal hook. On the rest of the songs refrains, the beginning theme of the groove is accentuated by some of the most powerful and ringing percussion parts I’ve ever heard on a funk number.

Funkadelic tended to be the side of P-Funk who had the most instrumental flexibility and adaptability. Especially early on even, their music didn’t particularly sound like funk at all as much as psychedelic bluesy rock grooves. By this time however,they’d locked the rhythm down a lot tighter and really allowed for the expansion of the one. What’s amazing is the the spot on ideal funk groove presented here dovetails right into the lyrical content. The basic ideas is “if you got funk,you got class/your out on the floor moving your ass”. So the more literal expression of the ideas that would shortly go into Sir Nose Devoidoffunk and the Bop Gun. This explicit statement of the funk is,for me anyway what gives the song and it’s accompanying album all of it’s musical might.

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Filed under 1970's, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, Capitol Records, drums, Funk, Funkadelic, George Clinton, keyboards, P-Funk, Uncategorized

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 1/24/2015: ‘Exit’ by Tangerine Dream-Dedicated To The Memory of Edgar Froese

Exit

It was actually bands like Tangerine Dream,along with the innovations of funk synthesizer pioneers such as Stevie Wonder and P-Funk’s Bernie Worrell and Walter Junie Morrison,who helped to develop the new wave/synth pop genre that was becoming the dominant form of dance,rock and pop music for the first several years of the 1980’s. Edgar Froese,Chris Franke and Johannes Schmoelling were still operating and going very strong by the time 1981 rolled around. And for their second non soundtrack studio album of the 80’s,the band were in a state of musical adaptation to the very approach they’d played a part in creating.

“Kiew Mission” marches along with a lightly rocking beat with more textural synth lines this time and a pounding,deep orchestral line that sounds similar to the one utilized a year later as the intro to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. “Pilots Of Purple Twilight” features a full range of synthesizers providing multiple rhythms,bass lines and melodies to create a full on,flat out electro pop extravaganza. “Choronzon” is a similar type of song only with each synth line marching along in a very strident,forward style. The title song is a very spare and probing number with a basic bass line and melody while “Network 23” has a very busy set of multiple rhythms,bass and melody parts again that sounds very much like something that could be used for the opening of a television news broadcast with it’s sense of tense drama.

“Remote Viewing” concludes the album with a a longer and sparer song where both the melodic and bass synthesizers respond to each other in a very similar musical language that one might hear from a horn section. When I learned of the passing of Edgar Froese today,it took my friend Thomas Carley to help me connect the name with Tangerine Dream. And one thing I realize about the late Froese’s synthesizer work is how much call and response there is to it. Especially on this album. At a period of time when almost every strain of popular music was becoming electronically derived,albums such as this one helped to showcase WHY things worked in electronic music’s instrumentation. And this might be a far more influential Tangerine Dream album than most realize purely on that level.

Originally Posted on January 23rd,2015

Link to original Amazon review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Bernie Worrell, Edgar Froese, Electronica, New Wave, Stevie Wonder, Synth Pop, Tangerine Dream, Walter Junie Morrison