Category Archives: Blues

Jazz Plus 1: Rhythm & Bayous,Will Downing & The Terry Hanck Band

Rhythm & BayousJazz Plus

New DVD spotlights Louisiana’s music excellence
By Ron Wynn
“Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous” (MVD, 120 minutes)
The Louisiana music experience epitomizes the scope and vitality of this nation’s cultural heritage, and ace filmmaker Robert Mugge’s new DVD “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous” showcases those qualities in marvelous fashion  What was initially supposed to be a travelogue feature documenting a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bus trip instead evolved into a comprehensive documentary with a host of informative interviews, reflections and encounters. Mugge dispenses with the bus trip portion via some early foundation footage that establishes the film’s premise. It is a series of visits to key locales across the state, plus interviews with knowledgeable experts, and most importantly, unforgettable performances from numerous Louisiana artists.
The film’s divided into three sections covering Northern Louisiana, New Orleans/Baton Rouge and the Southwestern region. There are stops at clubs, churches, record stores, and other key locations that collectively comprise key aspects of Louisiana’s amazing musical tapestry. The marvelous musical selections include blues, R&B, swamp pop, gospel, Cajun, Zydeco, jazzand rock, all delivered with an urgency and energy that comes only from those making music that live and love it, as opposed to cranking out whatever’s in vogue for strictly commercial purposes.
Kermit Ruffins, Frankie Ford, Rosie Ledet, Dale Hawkins, Henry Gray, Henry Butler, Nathan Williams, Warren Storm, Claude King, Hackberry Ramblers, La Famille Viator, and Rod Bernard are among the distinguished lineup. As with all his musical presentations, Mugge provides a stunning, comprehensive and varied portrait. Ford’s “Roberta” helps jump start things, while those who’ve either grown up in or experienced fervent church worship will be totally engaged by the marvelous Ever Ready Singers.
But it’s just as revealing to see lesser known acts like La Famile Viator, a family group whose young kids are doing traditional Cajun music with the identical flair and detail of grizzled veterans, or see personalities like legendary gospel DJ Sister Pearlee Toliver, doing the kind of programming that was once available on Black radio everywhere, but now can only be heard on a handful of legacy stations.
No matter your preference, there’s something you’ll enjoy hearing at some point on “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous.” The disc also delves into distinctive areas of regional interest, like the “Easter Rock” celebration that combines a religious observance with a dance/stepping tradition. He also spotlights newer artists such as Lil’ Bryan and Lil’ Alfred extending and tweaking vintage styles, and venerable types like Henry Gray, who’s returned home to Louisiana after spending decades in Chicago backing the greats of modern blues.
Although there’s quite like personally visiting these Louisiana sites, the next best thing is seeing them and hearing the music soar the way it does throughout “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous.
CD reviews
Will Downing – “Black Pearls” (Shanachie)
Will Downing
Downing’s first release in six years pays homage to women vocalists he’s idolized. Thankfully, he’s also won his battle with the auto immune disease Polymyositis, and is again singing with the robust sound and soulful ardor that characterized his past releases. It’s a treat to hear his approach on tunes previously done by vocalists ranging from Cherelle to Deniece Williams, Phyllis Hyman and others. Personal favorites include his soothing version of the Emotions “Don’t Ask My Neighbors,” a masterful interpretation of Brenda Russell’s “Get Here,” and a dazzling rendition of Williams’ “Black Butterfly.” Even tunes equally notable the first time around for dynamic arrangements (Cherelle’s “Everything I Miss At Home” and The Jones Girls’ “Nights Over Egypt,”) prove just as engaging and effective numbers when done as in Downing’s smoother, less driving fashion. His version of “Street Life” is slicker than Randy Crawford’s, but just as emphatic. Najee and Kirk Whalum add crisp sax assistance on “Street Life,” and atmospheric flute interludes on “Nights Over Egypt.” Downing is at his sensual best on “Meet Me On The Moon,” a suiting tribute to Hyman, and increases his ardor while reworking the Chaka Khan and Rufus number “”Everlasting Love.” “Black Pearls” proves a solid return for Will Downing, and is ample evidence he’s back in form and still an tremendous pure singer.,
The Terry Hanck Band – “From Roadhouse To Your House: Live” (Vizztone/TVR)
Terry Hanck
Saxophonist/vocalist and bandleader Terry Hanck’s Band seamlessly blends rocking blues, roadhouse R&B, soul covers and even a throwback tune or two in a rousing live session cut last year at the California State Fair. Hanck’s tenor sax style blends hot licks and high register effects with expressive melodic interpretations and fiery lines, while he’s an effective, alternately comical and earnest vocalist. The band’s best covers include solid versions of Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away,” Tyrone Davis’ “Can I Change My Mind” and the Louis Jordan war-of-the-sexes piece “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman.” The top originals are the surging opener “Good Good Rockin’ Goin’ On,” a testimonial to Junior Walker (“Junior’s Walk”) and “Peace Of Mind.” Besides Hanck, the tight group’s other stirring soloists include guitarist Johnny “Cat” Soubrand and masterful special guest Jimmy Pugh on an array of keyboards. The rhythm section of bassist Tim Wagar and drummer Butch Cousins keep the grooves tight and fluid, and the Terry Hanck Band offer 13 mostly engaging performances that show why they’re 2016 Blues Award winners.

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Filed under 2016, Blues, CD's, film reviews, Louisiana, Music Reviewing, musical documentary, rhythm & blues, Robert Mugge, Soul, The Terry Hanck Band, Uncategorized, Will Downing

Grooves On Wax: Black Wax In Black Music Month

James Brown Showtime

James Brown’s albums up to the beginning of the mid 60’s seem to be helpful in showcasing what was influential on the future Godfather Of Soul. This 1964 album,his debut for Smash,is an excellent example of this. JB starts out with a spirited cover of the R&B classic “Caledonia”,originally by Louie Jordan & The Timpani Five. As a studio album overdubbed with applause,these songs find JB singing the blues on a number of rhythm & blues shuffles-removed for the most part from his typical live show of the era.

Key Jams: “Evil” and “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”

Mirium Makeba

Miriam Makeba is an artist I’ve always interesting in hearing more from. This is an excellent album from 1967 for her. It really does a lot to bring out the sound of African soul-with a lot of elements that would eventually go into the world fusion sound in the future. Especially with the songs not all being sung in English. She even adds a folk song called “A Piece Of Ground”-which runs down the horrid inequity of apartheid in South Africa.

Key Jam: “Pata Pata”

Odyssey Of Iska

Wayne Shorter made this 1971 avant garde jazz album as he was transitioning from Miles Davis’s second quintet of the mid/late 60’s onto fusion pioneers Weather Report. And it really shows as Gene Bertoncini’s guitar-with it’s rhythmic overdrive along with former quintet made Ron Carter’s bass and Alphonse Mouzan’s drumming give this album the kind of Afro-Brazilian jazz/funk process sound Miles himself was already diving headlong into.

Key Jams: “Storm”,“De Pois Do Amor,O Vazio” and “Joy”osibisa-woyaya(16)

Osibisa are a  British,mostly Ghanan Afro pop group who were first described to me as being called “Obsidica”,and sounding like the Isley Brothers. Neither of those things being true of course,this 1971 album is in the Afro-Latin funk/rock/soul collection jamming much in the style of Mandrill and Santana.

Key Jams: “Beautiful Seven” and “Move On.

robertaflack-quietfire-cover

Roberta Flack is someone who today could almost be considered the godmother of neo-soul. Her understated vocal approach and naturally based instrumental style was a precurser of that. Especially on her earlier albums.  On these records though,they caught some heavily funky fire on a song or two. This 1971 release actually has a bit more than others-especially her ultra gospel drenched version of the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody”.

Key Jams: “Go Up Moses” and “Sunday And Sister Jones”

Edwin Birdsong

Edwin Birdsong,keyboardist and songwriter for the Roy Ayers Ubiquity who later worked with Stevie Wonder,really put himself out on this ultra funky 1972 debut album. He was a heavy purveyor of sociopolitical “people music” message songs as well. Even the lone ballad “It Ain’t No Fun Being a Welfare Recipient” tells the kind of story you generally don’t hear on too many slow jams. Birdsong’s holds-no-barred approach to humanitarian lyricism really inspires my personal funky emotions.

Key Jams:”The Uncle Tom Game” and “When A Newborn Baby Is Born,The Gets One More Chance” 

Open Sesame

Kool & The Gang totally reinvent the chemistry of their groove on this 1976 album,in their positions as The Scientists Of Sound. The jacket folds in half on the front to find portraits of the band members in the garb of Morrish royalty. From the casting of the “genie of sound” on the title song onward,this album finds their sound in direct transition from the heavy jazz/funk based sound of their earlier music to the disco era soul/funk melodicism of their under appreciated late 70’s pre JT Taylor period.

Key Jams: “Open Sesame”,“All Night Long” and “Super Band”

brick------_goodhigh-_101b

Brick’s sophomore album was where I discovered this heavily jazz based disco funk band. This 1976 debut album for them really helped put together their “disco jazz” type of music very well-with songs that featured more instrumental oriented jamming on many of the songs rather than the more heavily constructed pop type songs they would be known for on their following recordings.

Key Jams: “Dazz” and “Brick City”

Melba Moore

Melba Moore’s Broadway experience really helped her theatrical variety of heavily orchestrated soul balladry and disco/dance records she recorded during the 70’s. This 1978 album from her,produced by the Philly team of McFadden & Whitehead,contains one of my very favorite songs by her in the funkified “You Stepped Into My Life”.

Key Jams: “You Stepped Into My Life” and “It’s Hard Not To Like You”

Ohio Players - Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee -

The Ohio Players final album for Mercury from 1978 has gotten very mixed views from fans of this classic funk band. Yet from the very beginning,they make it more than clear that the then burgeoning disco sound was not yet effecting their heavy funkiness. As a matter of fact,this particular album is home to some of the hardest hitting funk the band ever made.

Key Jams: “Funk-O-Nots”,“Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee” and “Dance (If You Wanta)”

Pleasure

Pleasure’s jazz-funk sound out of Portland,Oregon is one that I am just beginning to explore. This 1980 album of theirs has become something of a big deal in recent years. With their sophistifunk production and jazzy instrumental solos,the band seem to have made their mark in the annals of funk as it transitioned from the 70’s onto the 80’s.

Key Jams: “Now You Choose Me” and “Yearnin’ Burnin'”

brass-construction-attitudes-20120328040716

Brass Construction’s title song for this 1982 album was one I thought came from Cameo due to a mislabeled MP3 sometime ago. It led me to the vinyl album,which is now recognizable as the bands transition to the stripped down,electro/naked/boogie funk sound of the early 80’s. It’s almost completely uptempo funk based saved for the jazzy mid tempo ballad “ETC”.

Key Jams: “Can You See The Light”,“Forever Love” and “Attitude”

slave-bad-enuff-1089025-1437603644

Slave were the last and youngest of the classic Dayton,Ohio funk bands,and were some of the architects of the boogie funk sound. That’s very prominent on this 1983 album,their first album of the 80’s without Steve Arrington. Actually,it’s a strong transition from their original live band approach to their more electro funk oriented sound that was about to come.

Key Jams: “Steppin’ Out” , “Turn You Out (In & Out)” and “Show Down”

isley-jasper-isley-broadways-closer-to-sunset-blvd-bonus-track-version-5954759-1448546073

Ernie and Marvin Isley along with Chris Jasper struck out as their own trio in 1984. This debut album from the same year is actually one of the strongest boogie funk albums of its era. That’s because the brittle drum machines are accented by the same powerful percussion the 3+3 Isley Brothers were known for.  That rhythmic approach mixed with layers of synthesizers,bass and guitar make this an superb extension  of the Isley sound as heard on the Between The Sheets from a year earlier.

Key Jams: “Serve You Right” and “Break This Chain

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Afro Funk, avant-garde, Blues, Brass Construction, Brick, Edwin Birdsong, electro funk, Funk, funk albums, Isley-Jasper-Isley, James Brown, Kool & The Gang, Melba Moore, Miriam Makeba, Ohio Players, Osibisa, Pleasure, rhythm & blues, Roberta Flack, Slave, Uncategorized, Vinyl, Wayne Shorter

Sammy Kershaw’s blues – Improvisations

sammy kershaw
Sammy Kershaw’s got the blues
By Ron Wynn
Though he’s enjoyed his greatest commercial success as a country artist, Sammy Kershaw’s always enjoyed all types of music. But even some longtime fans might not know that blues is a part of his idiomatic foundation alongside the country and Cajun sounds that have permeated and defined his biggest hits.
It’s taken a while, but Kershaw has finally released a blues LP. “The Blues Got Me” was actually completed in 2008 and mastered in 2009. However an extremely busy touring schedule, coupled with other releases, kept it on the shelf until May, when Kershaw decided it was time to get this one out. “I’ve been doing some of the songs in my live shows for a long time,” he told The Scene recently. “I had even put one or two of these on other albums, but did them in a country vein. So I just felt like the album had been on the shelf for a long time, and let’s get it out there.”
“I grew up in the dance halls and heard all kinds of music,” Kershaw continued. “The blues has most definitely had an impact on me, just like country and Cajun and Zydeco. A lot of times, when you’re talking about blues and country, it’s really the same feeling, but you’ve got different arrangements and instrumentation. They both speak to the soul, and they’re both about the soul, about expressing your true feelings from the heart about whatever your situation is in a song.”
“The Blues Got Me” includes a rollicking cover of Chuck Berry’s “No Money Down,” a poignant reworking of Solomon Burke’s hit “Honey, Where’s The Money Gone” and a dynamic rendition of the Allman Brothers’ “It’s Not My Cross To Bear.” But the most intriguing part of “The Blues Got Me,” aside from the stylistic departure, is it’s also a compositional showcase for Kershaw, who either wrote or co-wrote seven of the compositions.
“I don’t even consider myself a writer that way,” Kershaw explained. “But when we started cutting the songs, I just sat down and started writing and it really started flowing that way. I kept the blues in mind with all the tunes I was doing. Before I knew it we had a bunch of material that was ready to go, and I was really happy with what was happening.” Kershaw also points to Zydeco and swamp pop as two other influences that seep into the numbers, citing everything as part of what he heard in his youth.
Sammy Kershaw’s third cousin is the legendary Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw. He got his first electric guitar at 11, and a year later was touring the Southwest with area bandleader J.B. Perry. He endured some tough times personally and professionally during the ’80s, even at one point departing the music business for the retail world. But a tape submitted to Mercury Records by a friend in 1990, followed by a triumphant showcase performance, led to a deal and the ’90s proved his breakout decade.
Over that time, Kershaw enjoyed huge success doing traditional country and honky-tonk, as well as more pop-influenced material. His 1991 release “Haunted Heart,” one of two early ’90s platinum LPs he enjoyed, is still regarded by many as his finest, particularly the single “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful.” But he also had big hits on the other end of the country spectrum, among them a fine cover of the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ “Third Rate Romance” and the 1994 LP “Feelin’ Good Train.” His last big hit that decade was “Love Of My Life” from the LP “Labor of Love,” which peaked at number two.
Kershaw pursued both music and politics for several years, finishing second twice in bids for Lt. Governor of Louisiana, while also recording for a variety of labels with limited success and exposure. But he’s bounced back in a big way the past couple of years. The 2014 LP “Do You Know Me: A Tribute To George Jones” ranks alongside “Haunted Heart” in the Kershaw catalog. It features 13 Jones’ classics, plus one stellar original, “The Route I Took.” “That one I didn’t care whether it sold one copy or 100,000, that one was one I had to do,” Kershaw said. “George Jones has been one of my idols pretty much all my life. He’s one of those people who has so much soul and honesty in their voice, someone that you know when they sing, every thing that comes out is truth.”
Along with “The Blues Got Me,” Kershaw’s also issued another release this year “I Won’t Back Down,” which in addition is the first album he’s produced himself. It includes a fine version of R.B. Greaves’ “Take A Letter Maria,” plus the  strong title cut (a Tom Petty number), and a seasonal fun tune, “Grillin’ and Chillin’.” Kershaw is currently maintaining a busy performance schedule, while planning future releases.
“I want to put out a gospel album next, and then one of the swamp pop and rock and roll I grew up hearing,” Kershaw concluded. “I’m also working on my autobiography. I started out in the dance halls as a kid and I’ve been on the road 46 years. I still love my job and I really love all kinds of music. I think that music is something that unites people, and that’s what I want to do with all the projects that I’m going to put out there from now on.”
 When talking about his music philosophy, Sammy Kershaw always comes back to the same things: Don’t mess with the classics. Let a song breathe. Wrap up a record while it’s fresh. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if Kershaw is talking about recording or fine wine, but if we’re using metaphors, in the case of Kershaw’s latest project, The Blues Got Me, it’s a vintage that’s been bottled up for seven or eight years. Not that he’s been working on the album for that long; actually, Kershaw recorded the disc years ago and hasn’t touched it since.
“We didn’t change anything,” he tells The Boot. “We didn’t change a thing. It’s seven or eight years old. That’s it, period. It’s done.” Kershaw doesn’t believe in nitpicking. He trusts what he captured with the original recording.“I don’t want to lose the feel,” he explains. “And there’s a certain feel when you first record a song, there’s a certain feel you get in the studio from all the musicians. It’s fresh and exciting, and I want to keep that fresh and exciting feel on that record.
If we go in there and start nitpicking it every day — look, I could have a guitar player do his ride 50 times in one day, but by the time it’s over, you can’t tell which one you like out of 50.” The way Kershaw approaches guitar solos — and all aspects of recording — is much more organic. He likes to let it ride. “Nothing was planned,” he says of recording The Blues Got Me. “All four of us were sitting in a room … with a board and microphones, and that’s it. There was no planning out rides, there was none of that.
When I wanted somebody to ride, I’d just nod at them, and we’d take a ride … there was no planning. We just sat and did it. It was very raw.”To hear Kershaw talk, it sometimes seems as though all of the choices on his album were a happy accident. Take, for example, his cover of Solomon Burke’s “Honey, Where’s the Money Gone”: It just so happened that Kershaw heard Burke’s recording of the tune on the drive into the studio one day … and he decided to cut it.
“We Googled it and listened to it a couple of times, wrote the lyrics down, and cut it,” Kershaw recalls. “It was something I lived before, and I just loved the song.”
On The Blues Got Me, Kershaw also covers Chuck Berry‘s “No Money Down” and the Allman Brothers‘ “It’s Not My Cross to Bear.” His “no nitpicking” rule definitely applies to covers.
“A hit is always a hit,” he reasons. “I’ve done a lot of cover tunes in my career, but I’ve never changed the song, because the song was a hit for a reason … people liked it for a reason.”
Kershaw also won’t record a song, cover or otherwise, if he hasn’t lived it.
“When you listen to my music, it’s honest music,” he notes. “I’ve lived everything I sing about. If I haven’t lived it, I won’t sing it.” Even though he only sings songs that he’s lived, Kershaw is usually performing tunes written by someone else. But this album is different: He wrote or co-wrote seven of the songs on The Blue Got Me. That choice was “kind of unheard of for me,” he admits, but — another happy accident — the songs “… just came to me, and so I put them on this album.”
The Blues Got Me is a record that Kershaw has been wanting to record for nearly 35 years. But in many ways, “blues” is just the overarching genre umbrella; underneath that umbrella, Kenshaw says, is a lot of Louisiana-inspired music that’s hard to classify.
“There is some blues traditional-sounding things on here, but there’s also, like, Cajun-y-seasoned blues,” he says. The album also has “one song in there that’s got kind of a New Orleans shuffle … it’s just a zydeco-flavored blues song. It’s just different types of music that we have in Louisiana, and I don’t know … where you would put the music except in blues.”
Now that his blues album is finally out, does Kershaw feel the need to explore more genres? Not necessarily, the singer says — not unless the spirit moves.“Look, I just do what I feel. I just do what makes me happy,” he muses. But along with traditional country music, Kershaw does have plans to record a gospel album and a swamp-pop album. He likes having special projects in the works.
“I love all kinds of music … and when I’m not working on a country record, I don’t want to be not making music just because I’m not ready to make another country record,” he admits. “I’ve been doing this for 46 years, so special projects, to me, that’s exactly what they are — they’re special projects.”
As his career continues, Kershaw is adapting to the changes in the music industry. He says that “radio’s not gonna play me again,” but he’s fine with that. For him, the name of the game is finding a way to stay relevant while staying honest. He has his own label now and will continue to cut country records and special projects alike. And he’s thanking God for those years of making music. “I’m gonna use that gift He gave me,” Kershaw concludes. “I’m gonna use it all I can ’til I can’t use it anymore.”
(This piece originally ran in Nashville Scene’s Cream blog).

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Filed under 2009, Blues, Cajun, Country Music, country/soul, Doug Kershaw, Ron Wynn, Sammy Kershaw, swamp pop, Zydeco

Robert Mugge’s “Pride and Joy” reissued on Blu-ray

Pride And Joy Front
Robert Mugge’s “Pride and Joy” reissued.
By Ron Wynn
Even though Robert Mugge’s superb film “Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records” was originally issued in the early ’90s and has just been reissued on Blu-ray DVD, it remains every bit as vital and important now as it was over two decades ago. That’s because Alligator Records’ chronicle reflects the blues’ struggle and perseverance as an idiom. Though there are some fans in both genres who fail to grasp this, blues in the 21st century operates very much like jazz. Both are treasured and vital art forms that now lack front and center attention from their primary originating audiences: Black Americans.
Since its inception Alligator has always had on its roster a solid mix of veterans and newcomers. There have been both tremendous players well schooled in the music’s history and emerging artists who’d apprenticed, listened to and worked alongside past greats, but were now interested in crafting their own vision of this timeless music. “Pride and Joy” blends a marvelous 20th anniversary concert with a valuable documentary presentation on the label’s history. The mix of performance footage and insider interview analysis shows what makes Alligator special and also profiles the array of fine artists who’ve recorded for it.
It’s also a look at a true record man, the label’s founder Bruce Iglauer. If you’ve ever met, interviewed or spent any time around him, you’ve seen someone loves the music in a way only a genuine record person does. Every Alligator artist that I’ve ever interviewed says the same thing about Iglauer, that he’s never tried to tell them what or how to record, instead concentrating on finding ways to make the very best record possible. That sounds simple, but the bottom line is so much of what you often hear on commercial radio reflects much more the vision of a particular producer or studio than the individual artistic contribution of an artist or group.
Iglauer is frank and open in assessing both how the label started, and what it took to survive and become one among a handful of premier American blues companies. He didn’t get in the business to be a billionaire, nor did he strive to make a brand sound that you could plug any act into and create a hit. It is refreshing to hear someone talk about music in an easily understandable, yet also knowledgeable fashion. He knows sound and recording technique, but he also knows the importance of taking chances in the studio, of being able to shape a contemporary presentation while retaining a classic foundation, and the difficulty that any blues act faces in an era when many consider the sound at best something to be respected and admired, but incapable of having anything to say about what’s happening today.
Mugge’s documentary also explores thorny issues of class and race without getting bogged down in academic language or melodramatic rhetoric. It becomes clear rather early, even before Iglauer acknowledges it on camera, that the contemporary blues audience is heavily White, and that there aren’t many shows airing blues today that aren’t connected to either college or community radio. There’s a lengthy set of reasons for that situation, and a lot of complex factors that have filled numerous books penned by everyone from critics to academics to polemicists, and thankfully much of that isn’t in this documentary. However it is clear that Iglauer and many Alligator artists have done what they can to make music that reflects the era, something that’s even more evident when you listen to some of the current Alligator albums and artists.
One thing that would be nice if a second volume is ever made would be a discussion of how certain 21st century changes in the business have affected (or whether they have) how Alligator does business. For instance, the proliferation of streaming services and downloads, and the resurgence of vinyl. Would also love to know Iglauer’s views on the impact of record stores disappearing all over the place, and what the death of so many giants in the music means for the future.

There are other bonuses with the Blu-ray version to entice those who previously purchased the original DVD. There’s audio from 10 additional songs on the tour plus a short featurette that outlines some of the steps involved in making “Pride and Joy.” Anyone familiar with Robert Mugge’s lengthy, distinguished filmmaking history knows any project he makes is well worth purchasing, but “Pride and Joy” is a special treat both for music fans in general, and especially anyone who loves the blues.

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Filed under Alligator Records, Blu-Ray, Blues, Bruce Iglauer, record labels, Robert Mugge

Prince: I Rock Therefore I Am

prince-symbol-guitar

Prince’s music enviably would end up being the Minneapolis sound. It turned out to be a rather variable form where soul,synth pop,blues,rock ‘n roll and even jazz would all combine through a particular sonic framework. Personally speaking,the basis of Prince’s sound was always funk. He did however grow up listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix,Carlos Santana and Joni Mitchell too. Whether it be on electric or acoustic guitar,Prince also enjoyed rocking out. Be it on a possible hit single or to let his virtuosity on guitar have it’s way. So here are my personal favorite rock oriented numbers from ”

“I’m Yours” from For You (1978)

Prince always insisted that Carlos Santana was a major influence on him as a guitarist. Mainly because “Santana played prettier” to quote the man on the subject. With his use of sustains and Latin style melodies,this powerfully produced number from his debut album (with it’s heavy reverb and echo) is the earliest released example of his lead guitar chops.

“Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” from Prince (1979)

It was Prince’s childhood friend and fellow band mate in his earlier touring group The Rebels, Andre Cymone, who played bass and sang backup on this tune. This is where Prince really showcased his ability to write and perform radio friendly,hook filled rockers. With this one having that sleek West Coast production flair of his late 70’s albums.

“When You Were Mine” from Dirty Mind (1980)

Warner Bros executives have been said to have commented that “we signed the new Stevie Wonder,and he’s giving us the new Ric Ocasek” upon hearing Prince’s third album for the first time. And it likely has a lot to do with his song. Prince’s brittle,low rhythm guitar pump and melodic keyboards have The Cars’s musical flavor written all over it. With it’s hook filled singability and classic new wave guitar riff (not to mention becoming a hit agai with Cyndi Lauper covering it four years later),this might be one of Prince’s very finest rockers ever.

“Private Joy” from Controversy (1981)

While not a guitar rocker,this song really showcased Prince and his band the Revolution evolving into itself with synth pop/new wave based dance music. It has a simple rock style melody performed on the Linn drum machine plus a few layers of synthesizers. So it showcased Prince’s ability to rock even without guitar soloing.

“Let’s Go Crazy” from Purple Rain (1984)

With it’s gospel style theatrics,fast tempo,brittle guitar and keyboard? This song might just be the moment when Prince’s rock side fully matured musically. With rock ‘n roll really being divided along racial lines after the late 60’s,this song finds Prince “bringing it back to church” by joining Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix in re-introducing rock ‘n roll with a very heavy black American musical subtext.

“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” from Sign O The Times (1987)

Prince really bought out the hand clap powered,orchestral melodic guitar sound of Phil Spector via Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street band in this extraordinarily catchy heartland style pop/rock number. This is one of Prince’s catchiest rock songs since the days of “When You Were Mine”.

“Thieves In The Temple” from Graffiti Bridge (1990) 

Prince actually did something rather unique with this song. It has a mysterious,late 80’s arena rock flavor about it’s production and guitar sound during the main choruses. But the melodic construction has a theme similar to the type that a mid 60’s jazz musician might improvise off of. That probably has a lot to do with why Herbie Hancock did an acoustic jazz version of it on his The New Standard album seven years later.

“Cream” from Diamonds And Pearls (1991)

With it’s rhythmic mix of Southern soul and countrified blues rock, this Prince hit actually hits on a very similar musical vibe to Bonnie Raitt’s hit “Something To Talk About” from the same era. Prince also takes the instrumental sound he gets with the NPG and allows the melody to just drip with that rascally,old school blues sexuality.

“Cinnamon Girl” from Musicology (2004)

Been listening to this song lately. Since the turn of the millennium,Prince began writing hook filled protest rockers more than he ever had. This one has a similar acoustic texture to his more recent song “Baltimore”. This one tells a very significant story America is still dealing with today: post 9/11 racial profiling and discrimination against those with a Muslim back-round. Prince did himself a lot of good by being one of the view high profile musical voices taking a bold lyrical stance against America’s dog whistle heavy “war on terror” of the early aughts.

“Rock And Roll Love Affair” from Hitnrun Phase 2 (2015)

Actually a couple of years old at the time of it’s album release, this song has a similar vibe to “Cream” from a quarter century ago-in terms of it’s country/blues-rock approach. Prince adds dramatic Minneapolis style synth brass to this one though. Since there’s a good possibility this might’ve been among the very last rock numbers Prince recorded,it finds this element of his sound seeming to come full circle.

As with many of the list style Prince articles I’ve written o Andresmusictalk,the erratic presence of Prince’s music via YouTube is still a factor. Songs such as “I Rock Therefore I Am” and “Fury” are not present here for that very reason. While they will be dealt with on this blog later,and in different ways? This is really about how Prince was able to evolve as a guitar soloist and pop songwriter through the rock oriented side of his artistry. Now that the man isn’t with us anymore,the seeds he planted as a guitarist from Lenny Kravitz to Gary Clark Jr. have strong potential to carry on this particular side of his legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2000s, 2010's, Blues, funk/rock, guitar, lead guitar, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, protest songs, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, synth brass, synthesizer, Uncategorized, YouTube

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: ‘Around The World In A Day’ by Prince & The Revolution (1985)

Around The World In A Day

Prince is no longer alive for the first full day of my personal life. My Facebook friend Brandon Ousley posted up today that Prince & The Revolution’s 1985 album ‘Around The World In A Day’ turned 31 today. To quote Ousley,it truly does allow reality to set in about the loss of Prince Rogers Nelson. At the suggestion of Henrique Hopkins,among my oldest online friends, here is my Amazon.com review of Prince’s seventh studio album:

Prince was,as apparently expected catapulted into musical and theatrical super-stardom with his 1984 album and motion picture  “Purple Rain”. All of a sudden,the music charts were not only filled with his proteges such as The Time and Sheila E but also many imitation records such as Ready For The World’s “Oh Sheila”. Not to mention songs he’d penned for others such as Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls”. Having become the massive force in the music scene that he was hoping? It would seem that this had the effect of dividing Prince’s own creative ego.

While satisfied with his success,he was of course likely being pressured by the record company and the public to continue producing music of the same sort. Prince has always been a very exploratory artist. And the only way one could possibly pin him down is the fact he seems to delight in finding every different way he can be instrumentally funkified-with funk being a very broad and flexible genre in itself. According to my knowledge recording during the Purple Rain tour,this follow up album with the Revolution showcased Prince doing something that likely neither his admirers or record company would ever have expected him to do.

Starting out with an Arabic flute-type synthesizer effect,the title song begins the album with what starts out like a psychedelic East Indian type number but veers on into straight up bass/guitar oriented funk by songs end. “Paisley Park” is a carnivalesque LINN drum/guitar based romp through a lyrical tag that has the dreamy wonder of 1967 period Beatles all over it for sure. “Condition Of The Heart” is a truly wonderful song-starting out as a jazzy piano ballad and building up to a chordally complex number reflecting on the point of falling in love itself.

“Raspberry Berry” is actually similar in instrumental and melodic content to “Take Me With U” from the previous album-yet filled with cheeky and playful double entandre’s where Prince just seems to be having a little fun. “Tamborine” is a musically hard grooving number built mainly around thick percussion and a funky bass synthesizer with Prince metaphorically eluding to masturbation-so it seems. “America” is musically a potent song-starting off very much as a guitar heavy LINN based gospel rocker before getting into some seriously fast funk. But its red scare neo con lyrical content about “not saying the pledge of allegiance on a mushroom cloud” makes one wonder how arch conservative Prince’s politics really were at that time.

“Pop Life” is a dreamy slow funk number,musically one of my favorites on this album,reflecting again on whether fame is preferable to the journey of life itself. “The Ladder” is very much an epic arena rock type ballad-whose spiritually needy lyrics are presented by Prince in an echoplexed spoken narration. The closer “Temptation” is a dragging,amplified 12-bar blues which ends with Prince apologizing Scrooge style to a deep voiced figure for forsaking love for lust. And that in a word typifies the spirit of this entire album. Musically speaking? These songs are very much in the spirit of its predecessor with somewhat more of a psychedelic twist about them.

Lyrically they are totally different. Having discovered redemption on his previous album,Prince spends the majority of this album questioning his motivations and relationship with the spiritual and secular. His political and cultural views stand out in very stark contrast on this album. His melodic and lyrical concepts are reflected with clarity,but lack a resolution. In retrospect,I really enjoy this album. It showcases Prince moving away from his own Minneapolis sound and onto a much broader musical approach. On the other hand? It also showcased the uncertainty and restlessness Prince has exhibited in more recent years. Its a complicated record-akin to its predecessor as Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark would be to it’s follow up The Hissing of Summer Lawns-interestingly enough an artist Prince deeply admires. And therefore its a record that takes time to fully get into.

Originally Posted On June 6th,2014

* My review on Amazon.com can be found by opening this link

 

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Filed under 1985, Amazon.com, Blues, Funk, Linn Drum, percussion, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, synthesizer, Uncategorized

Record Store Stories: Another Sunny April Afternoon From Behind The Racks

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One of the ongoing points Henrique Hopkins and I have in our conversations about shopping for records has to do with my experiences with the record stores in coastal Maine towns. Whether it be Acadia Nation Park (the location of the famous vacationing town of Bar Harbor) or the mid coast region that includes Belfast,Camden and Rockland there is nearly always a brick and mortar record store to hang out in and find new grooves. These are also areas that flourish with great appreciation for the arts. Doesn’t matter of one is a painter,musician,writer or stone mason. These are usually wonderful places to enjoy,purchase and especially create new works of art.

Camden was always a favorite place to go. It was once the home of Wild Rufus. This is where a lot of my immediate pre and post millennial crate digging sessions took place. That store’s been closed down for some years now. However today I met the man who started it up before I was even born. His name is Matt Brown. He and his wife Karyl share a store front. He sells the music/music related media and she sells homemade jewelry and clothing. The music part is called Manny’s,the other is Karyl’s Handmade Jewelry. My father told me to go investigate this new store a couple of weeks ago while he was in Camden with my mom. So she  and I decided to venture  there today.

These are the four CD’s I picked up from Manny’s today. Mr. Brown sells modern vinyl as well as new and used CD’s. Many of his used items are actually from his personal collection. And they account for Larry Carlton and Billy Cobham albums I picked up. He professed to love jazz and blues,and even commented on how strong a guitar player he felt Carlton was upon seeing my purchases. We also talked about my seeing B.B. King with Dickey Betts five years ago at the Bangor waterfront. And how great it was to see Muddy Waters perform with Eric Clatpon,Albert Lee and Muddy’s band at the Augusta Civil Center in Maine on May 25th,1979.

This coming Saturday is National Record Store Day. It’s been a couple years since I began this “record store stories” concept for Andresmusictalk. Meeting this Matt Brown was a great experience for me. And am looking forward to future encounters in his record store. I’d like to conclude this article by saying something to every jazz/funk/blues/soul/rock crate digger/record collector reading this. If you travel and decide to visit mid coast Maine this summer,stop into Manny’s and Karyl’s if your in the town of Camden. They have a growing collection of records he Brown makes it a great experience for anyone interesting in music.

*Below is a link to an article in the Penobscot Bay Pilot about Matt Brown and Manny’s:

Wild Rufus founder opens new record and CD shop in Camden

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Filed under 2016, BB King, Blues, Camden Maine, coastal Maine, Eric Clapton, Jazz, Larry Carlton, Maine, Manny's, Matt Brown, Muddy Waters, Record Store Day, Record Stores, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “It’s About The Dollar Bill” by Johnny Guitar Watson

Johnny Guitar Watson was one of those artists whose back catalog is very like a very funky box of chocolates for me. If one enjoys chocolate,it’s very difficult to say you just enjoy one. Consequently it took a little time to determine which of the mans songs to chose to discuss on this blog. Watson was almost as enormous figure in the development of funk as James Brown in one important sense. He helped take the 12 bar blues soloing approach and applied it to a soulful rhythmic attitude from the 1950’s onward. His style of aggressively playing guitar without a plectrum was part of what made him one of R&B’s most theatrical performers in the day as a result.

The question of which song of Watson’s to talk abut today came from a talk with my dad about a memory. Almost two decades ago now, my maternal aunt used to visit my family once or twice a year. Since my father always had music going,a compilation of Johnny Guitar Watson was playing on one such visit. One song in particular got my aunts attention. It was called “It’s About The Dollar Bill”. On it’s own,the song came from Watson’s 1977 album entitled Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty. There are reason’s both musical and thematic for choosing this particular song today. So to get things started,best place to start is to get right into the center of the groove’s musicality itself.

A little light guitar ring introduces the opening and descending horn chart-with Watson chanting right along the chord changes in bassy vocalese. The song has a slow,shuffling swing of a rhythm with a bouncy Clavinet on the choruses. Horns continue to play the chords throughout both the refrains and all of the remaining choruses of the song. On the second refrain,Watson’s vocals are replaced by one of his trademark 12 bar blues guitar solos. The shuffling chorus/refrain pattern continues until the song reaches a conclusion of fanfaring horns,percussion and Watson’s multi tracked vocal harmonies-with all of their grunts,coos and groans to the songs’ fade out.

The more I listen to Johnny Guitar Watson’s music,what strikes me is how much jazzy his arrangements were during his 70’s funk period. Many of his rhythms,including this one have as prominent a swinging shuffling from big band and jump blues as they will have the classic funk breaks and rests. The horns follow the same pattern as well. Lyrically the song is very important to today’s bloated American economy based on consumerism. And coming from the idea of a black musician being in a good position to talk about capital due to having ancestrally been capital during slavery. So this funk’s advice to not let ones eyes be bigger than their pockets has the power to change up many a groove in life.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Blues, clavinet, drums, Funk, guitar, horns, Jazz-Funk, Johnny Guitar Watson, Late 70's Funk, message songs, rhythm & blues, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “On The Case” by Alphonso Johnson

Alphonso Johnson seems to me as a bassist whose contributions to the iconic fusion band Weather Report are rather under heralded. That could be because he was sandwiched in between their original bass player Miroslav Vitous and of course Jaco Pastorious. As a session man,he joined up with Billy Cobham on and off for many years. He also had stints back up Genesis/Phil Collins on multiple occasions as well playing on former LTD lead singer Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 solo debut. The reason I personally tend to view Johnson as a rather obscure artist is because I only found out that he even had a solo career at all just under a decade ago. And have the feeling I may not be the only one.

One of the greatest things to happen in the post millennium internet age is the advent of two things: reissue record labels and YouTube. If it weren’t for those two things, this blog would be a lot different than it is. In 1976-1977 during his years with Cobham,Alphonso Johnson recorded three solo albums on the Epic label. These featured the backing of some of the major fusion instrumentalists of the time-all touched by the music of Alphonso in some kind of way. I have two on vinyl,since the CD versions were difficult to locate upon going out of print. Only his second album Moonshadows was something I was able to locate on CD. And one song that stood out on it for me was “On The Case”.

Alphonso starts off with a shuffling bass solo that has a bluesy,up-scaling melody that is very similar in tone to the electric piano solo on Steely Dan’s ” Black Friday”. Drummer Narada Michael Walden keeps that shuffle going while Dawilli Conga adds a counter melody on electric piano. Separated by progressive fusion bursts of intense drums, Alphonso’s solos expand along with the electric piano into fuzz toned psychedelia. On the second refrain,Lee Ritenour plays a mid toned rhythm guitar solo. This grows to a heavier intensity with the solo Lee takes on the third and final refrain of the song. Conga’s electric piano leads the shuffling rhythm to the songs fade out.

This particular song always stuck out to me with how much it finds the funk in the blues and the blues when it rocks. The rhythmic base of the song is in a strong groove-with Narada staying on the one primarily through the use of hi hat. And all of the musicians understanding of the jazz/rock fusion style comes out here as well. Alphonso’s funkiness on the bass gives it all a phat center that keeps the focus consistent.  I’ve started to realize that rock ‘n’ roll is often a far simpler musical form than it might like itself to be. Yet with the combination of jazz harmonies and electric funk within the fusion genre,songs like this found a great middle ground in which to rock up the funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Alphonso Johnson, bass guitar, Blues, Epic Records, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lee Ritenour, Narada Michael Walden, Psychedelia, rock 'n' roll, Steely Dan, Uncategorized, YouTube

Anatomy Of THE Groove Special Presentation-Wishing A Happy Birthday To Mr. Leee John: “Music And Lights” by Imagination:

Perhaps in the US? It did seem as if the post disco backlash (and subsequent freeze out) did reduce the progress of black dance music to a slow crawl, at least commercially, during the early 80’s. Still there was boogie/electro funk,developing often rather more underground. On the UK music scene? The post punk and post disco scene were developing together,and very successful in it’s own context. There was no “death of” syndrome per se. The funky dance music scene was just allowed to evolve through the synthesizer/new wave era. Enter vocalist/keyboard player Leee John,guitarist/bassist Ashley Ingram and drummer Errol Kennedy.

The band emerged in 1981 with the album Body Talk and became a huge international success. Because John was also becoming interested in acting around this time? Their music started appearing in films-with John himself eventually appearing in the 1983 Doctor Who serial Enlightenment. A year before this in 1982? The trio of multi instrumentalists released their sophomore album In The Heat Of The Night. It continued the creative and commercial success as an album and through my personal favorite song from it “Music And Lights”.

It all begins with a round,mid toned bass synth pulse that goes into a slow,stomping rhythmic beat. Even with that? There’s also several pulsing melodic electronic keyboards each playing accompanying melodic parts. One is a straight up,bluesy melody. The other is a pulse that separates each instrumental refrain. And the final,which shows up in the first bridge of the song, is a glassy and almost otherworldly sounding jazzy piano. John’s vocals,presented both in his mid tenor and higher falsetto accompany the chorus and refrains until a complete break down of the chorus INTO the refrain near the end of the song.

To me anyway? This song represents some of the strongest musical qualities of the early 80’s electro funk sub-genre. Much in the style of the then enormously influential Minneapolis Sound pioneered by Prince,Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis? This song represents the idea of using synthesizers to replicate the horn and string parts that were still in use on some popular music even though-though for different reasons less so. While the music and lyrics have an airy space disco dressing-with it’s disco era glamour tale? The basic core of the song is a straight up blues/funk stomp-with a raw,prickly rhythm attitude. And that’s why,at least subjectively this song functions so well for me.

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Filed under 1980's, Blues, Disco, Doctor Who, electro funk, Imagination, Jam & Lewis, Jazz, Leee John, Minneapolis, post disco, Prince, synth bass, synth funk, UK Funk