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