Category Archives: Bootsy Collins

Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy,Baby…40 Years Old: Revisiting a P-Funk Classic

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When P-Funk first began to enter my life 22-24 years ago,Bootsy Collins was the first part of the outfit that really got my attention as an individual musician. As most of you reading this blog for some time know,have always been a big admirer of the bass and bass players. Which is awkward because as long as I can remember,hearing bass lines in songs isn’t always easy for me. True,most music listeners may be trained not to hear it. But still to this day,have trouble personally hearing the instrument in a busy instrumental mix. Bootsy has been refreshing for me in his pioneering of  a “bass in your face” style.

His 1977 album Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy,Baby! is a superb example of this. It was recorded with his Rubber Band,his own personal adjunct of the P-Funk musical army. In addition to P-Funk mainstays such as Bernie Worrell,his brother Catfish,Mike Hampton,Glenn Goins and Jerome Brailey,it also featured drummer Frankie “Cash” Waddy and vocalists Gary Cooper and Robert Johnson. The album itself is divided into separately themed halves. The first is uptempo and funk based,while the second is ballad oriented. On vinyl,those themes were divided in a “two sides of Bootsy” approach as it were.

The title song that begins the first side is the first Rubber Band song I ever heard,though originally as the first song on the Bootsy compilation CD Back In The Day. For the most part,the most prominent element is the deep,pounding Moog bass accentuated by  Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker’s horns. The song itself is a musically fictive meet and greet between Bootsy with his younger fan base known as “geepies” asking him questions about his general sense of funkiness. As jazz critic Gary Giddins said of Louis Armstrong,only the great musicians get their own theme song. And this one is certainly that for Bootsy.

“The Pinocchio Theory”,powered by a heavy wah-wah/horn interaction and “Rubber Duckie” are both two more superb examples of Bootsy’s funk style. Both are rhythmically and melodically flamboyant at the same time. All with a joyous sound played to draw people to the funk,and never to play over their heads. The invocation of preteen based pop culture elements,used similarly to George Clinton’s social satire,is well catered to Bootsy’s somewhat younger target audience. “The Pinocchio Theory” is also the origin point of one of P-Funk’s most famous quotes: “don’t fake the funk or your nose’ll grow”.

Interestingly enough,at my first time hearing this,it was still at a time when I skipped over ballads on funk albums generally. So am only hearing these as perhaps the most musically important aspect of this album. With funk,suppose one expects the rhythm to be strong and upfront. Much as with Larry Graham’s ballad approach,slow soul ballads such as “What’s A Telephone Bill?” and the more mid tempo shuffle of “Can’t Stay Away” are turned into funk ballads because of Bootsy’s hefty,quaking “duck face bass” (as I call it) that punctuates every melodic line of both songs.

The album is book ended in the middle and end by interludes such as “Preview Side Too” and a reprise of the title song. The later revisits the part of that song where Bootsy and Catfish play a Jimi Hendrix style revisit of the melody for “Auld Lang Syne “-seeming to express the album coming out early in the year-as well as a new generation of funk getting started. The former as well as “Munchies For Your Love” express far sleeker variation of Funkadelic’s earlier psychedelic rock ventures-only in a slower and more minor chorded jazzy sort of instrumental framework.

This represents one of a serious of albums where,on every song,some element of the bass instrumental sound is upfront and personal on every song.  Before funk emerged as a genre,bass players were not taken very seriously in any popular genre of music. Because it brought rhythm upfront,bassists became vital in funk from the get go. Through his time with James Brown onto George Clinton,Bootsy emerged as funk’s leading bass superstar in the late 70’s. And as this album has turned 40 a week ago now,the idea of the “bass hero” might be Bootsy’s most enduring legacies this album in particular has left on music.

 

 

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Filed under Bootsy Collins, Bootsy's Rubber Band, P-Funk

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

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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

Crate Digging in Reykjavik, Iceland

For the last several days, I’ve been on vacation in Iceland. Mostly, that means the usual things: visiting hot springs and gorges, eating overpriced (but delicious!) food, traipsing around landscapes that look straight out of Game of Thrones. But for a remote island nation with a relatively small population, Iceland also has a surprising amount to offer for the travelling pop music fan: including several record stores as good as any I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Here are my thoughts about two of them.

We visited the aptly-named Reykjavik Record Shop on our first day in the city, and it was a highlight of that (admittedly dreary, jet-lagged) day. Located downtown near the main restaurant strip, it belongs to the “small but curated” school of record stores, with a selection of new and used vinyl that is much more diverse than one would expect from a shop of its size. We picked up a very nice pressing of Parliament’s Chocolate City, complete with a misprint of Bootsy Collins’ name (“Bootsie”) that I initially assumed was European in origin, but upon further research seems to be a worldwide error:

It’s probably worth noting at this point that records (among other things) are expensive in Iceland, owing in large part to the fact that pretty much everything in the country is an import. New records seem to cost upwards of 5000 kroner (approximately $50), which is steep even by 2016 vinyl standards. But even in Iceland, it’s possible to score some sweet deals–like this German Colonel Abrams 12″ we picked up for less than the equivalent of a fiver:

There were even more finds to be had at the following day’s stop, Lucky Records on Rauðarárstígur. If Reykjavik Record Shop belongs to the “small but curated” school, then Lucky is the opposite: it’s a sprawling beast of a store, which I have to admit is slightly more to my taste (it’s also heavier on used than new–another completely subjective preference of mine). Honestly, Lucky Records might be my favorite record store I’ve ever visited. It’s the only record store I’ve seen where the soul section is as large or larger than the pop/rock section–plus there’s a whole separate room devoted to 12″ singles, where I found this beauty:

We also picked up some very reasonably-priced copies of Hotter Than July by Stevie Wonder and Don’t Be Cruel by Bobby Brown; and despite leaving with a bag full of eight records, I still felt like I’d barely even scratched the surface.

My personal preferences notwithstanding, both Lucky Records and Reykjavik Record Shop are world-class stores, and I’d love to visit them again if I’m ever back in Iceland. If anyone out there is considering a visit, consider both shops highly recommended. And for more on vinyl shopping in Iceland, look out next month on Dystopian Dance Party for new entries of my “Wrecka Stow” video series.

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Filed under 12 inch singles, Bootsy Collins, Parliament, record collecting, Record Stores, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized, Vinyl

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

Grooves On Wax: Summer Madness ’16

Ray Charles

Ray Charle’s early 50’s sides,recorded before his Atlantic years, were reissued by the Coronet label in 1963. They find the future Genius Of Soul finding his own voice through his earlier influences. These song sound a lot closer to Charles Brown and earlier jump blues/R&B songs than the gospel and country influenced soul sound Ray would become an icon with. It’s still wonderful to hear a very youthful Ray croon some blues here though.

Key Jam: “Misery In My Heart”

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My father gave me his vinyl copies of several of his mid 60’s Rolling Stones albums. This one is a classic album of spicy,bluesy rock ‘n’ soul that showcased the Stones really reaching their commercial and creative peak. Mick Jagger’s vocal personality,Keith Richard’s down ‘n dirty guitar and Charlie Watts’ righteous rhythm make the punchy sound of the original Mono mix of this 1965 album something not to be missed out on!

Key Jams: “Mercy Mercy”,“Hitch Hike” and “Satisfaction”

Love Child

Berry Gordy himself was part of a writing team he called The Clan,who came up with much of this matter following the iconic Holland/Dozier/Holland team left Motown. The title song of this album felt very different for the Supremes alone-it had a grittier cinematic funky/soul flavor. Even if most of the album,especially the second side followed the groups iconic Motown girl group sound,this 1968 release sure began with a bang.

Key Jams: “Love Child” and “Keep An Eye”

Spiral Starecase

Always enjoyed the horn heavy,soulful shuffle for the title song of this 1968 album whenever it came on oldies radio. I eventually found their full length debut album. With the reliance on interpretations, they do sound very much like an R&B/soul cover band from the time period. One thing they do with them,especially when the source material was a ballad,is add their uptempo horn based approach to it. That makes this a very satisfying listen overall.

Key Jams: “More Today Than Yesterday”,“Our Day Will Come” and “No One For Me To Turn To”

Come Back Charleston Blue

Donny Hathaway and Quincy Jones coming together to record a film score/soundtrack was a masterstroke for its time. It was musician Nigel Hall who recommended this albumf or me to seek out over a decade ago. It definitely has Quincy exploring his long of jazz history-from dixieland through modal on the scoring elements. Hathaway on the other hand delivers some of his most expansive funky soul on this album as well.

Key Jam: “Little Ghetto Boy”

Nuff Said

This 1971 album found Ike & Tina Turner in their prime period of creativity. Ike Turner had an approach similar to James Brown where earlier songs spun off into new ones-with at least one of these songs baring a strong resemblance to the then recent hit “Proud Mary”. Even though they duo were seeming to tire a bit creatively at this point,they could still rock up some heavy funky soul with their guitar and vocal might.

Key Jams: “What You Don’t See (Is Better Yet) and “Moving Into Hip Style-A Trip Child”

I Wrote A Simple Song

Billy Preston really came into his own on this 1971 debut album for A&M. It brought out the versitility across soul,blues,rock and hard funk that this organ virtuoso and vocalist brought to his music. Especially when adding the guitar like effects of the Clavinet electric piano to his renowned organ work as he did here-not to mention his abilities to deliver message music that could really stick. Billy Preston albums used to be pretty easy to come by in used vinyl crates in my late teens/early 20’s. Saw this over and over before finally picking it up. And wondered why I didn’t sooner.

Key Jams: “The Bus” and “Outta Space”

Nightbirds

In 1974,the song “Lady Marmalade” from this record really helped to bring the talents of Patti LaBelle and future new wave funk/Talking Head member Nona Hendryx firmly into the public eye. Producer/musician/songwriter Allen Toussaint really helped bring the high stepping and stomping New Orleans funky soul sound and gospel soul drenched ballads to this revived Philly trio on this album.

Key Jams: “Lady Marmalade” and “Don’t Bring Me Down”

Horizon_(Carpenters_Album)

Perhaps it was due to personal problems that made this Carpenters album from 1975 so depressing in parts. Richard and Karen Carpenter both came out of a jazz back-round. So on this album of finely crafted balladry as they did best,there’s a reality based soulfulness that would begin to influence their more complex later work together. Even though this has it’s flaws,notably in the cover material,at least one of it’s two uptempo numbers has it’s moments. Again as it points to it’s Brazilian flavored jazz orientation of some of their later 70’s faster songs.

Key Jam: “Happy”

T-Connection-On-Fire-524801

T-Connection reveal themselves to be a highly underrated band. This 1978 found the groups stylistic versatility keeping up the soul and funk through journey’s into disco,West Coast pop,some scorching rockers and even a couple country inflected numbers.

Key Jams: “Lady Of The Night”,“Groove To Get Down” and “Playing Games”

I Love My Music

Even in 1979 when this album came out,this Pittsburgh band were known for their 1976 hit “Play That Funky Music,White Boy”. And during the height of the disco era,the bands focus was still on hefty funk grooves and harmony driven soul ballads. So this album was more than a pleasant surprise for me.

Key Jams: “Lana” and “If You Want My Love”

Off The Wall

Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones’ work on this 1979 masterpiece resulted in so many strong musical performance,listening to this vinyl passed down to me from my parents turned me onto the instrumentalists here. People such as Greg Phillinganes,Jerry Hey,Louis Johnson and Paulinho Da Costa. Which…in turn led me to starting this blog really. Bringing out this old vinyl to check out was mainly based on nostalgia. But also brought out that with songs such as “Rock With You” and “Get On The Floor”,very different mixed were used on the mid 90’s CD reissue I have. So it was fascinating to hear those differences come alive again through vinyl on this iconic album classic from the late MJ.

Key Jams: ALL of the first side. Plus “I Can’t Help It” on the flip side.

Sweat Band

Bootsy Collins came out of the lawsuit that barred him from using the Rubber Band name on George Clinton’s Uncle Jam label with this 1980 album of 100% P-Funk power! Having some of the bands finest players such as Mike Hampton,Garry Shider and Maceo Parker aboard allowed Bootsy’s iconic funksmanship to shine through in a way that…well actually impacted heavier on me by the second listen.

Key Jams: “Body Shop” and “Hyper Space”

Hiroshima Odori

Hiroshima are among the most fascinating jazz fusion groups to emerge from the late 70’s. This sophomore album of theirs from 1980 showcases their Sansei Japanese founder/woodwind player Dan Kuramoto,along with his Koto virtuoso wife June,creating a pan ethnic jazz/rock sound that blended many Japanese instrumental approaches into that fusion framework. And while their 1979 was extremely strong,this second album made an even bigger musical statement.

Key Jams: “Crusin J-Town” and “Echoes”

Pieces Of A Dream

Pieces Of A Dream’s early albums extend very well on the late 70’s/early 80’s proto smooth jazz and latter day jazz/funk scene of Philadelphia. Grover Washington Jr. did a lot of work with this trio on this 1983 album. It even adds in a hip-hop styled turntable scratching synth effect on one of it’s songs as well.

Key Jams: “For The Fun Of It”,“It’s Getting Hot In Here” and “Fo Fi Fo”

1-style-cameo-album

Cameo didn’t have just one transitional album-they had a whole transitional period. This underrated 1983 album is a major part of it. As the mid 80’s came in,Cameo’s lineup seemed to get smaller and smaller. On this album,it was a stripped down quartet. But through the many scratches on my vinyl copy,it was clear that Cameo knew how to hit the groove loud and hard during their stripped down,early 80’s new wave funk period

Key Jams: “This Life Is Not For Me” and “Cameo’s Dance”

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Billy Preston, Bootsy Collins, Cameo, Dan Kuramoto, Donny Hathaway, Funk, Fusion, Hiroshima, Ike & Tina Turner, Labelle, Michael Jackson, Pieces Of A Dream, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, record collecting, rock 'n' roll, Rolling Stones, Soul, Spiral Starcase, Sweat Band, T-Connection, The Carpenters, The Supremes, Vinyl, Wild Cherry

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Funkentelechy” by Parliament

Not long ago,I learned that Parliament’s iconic 1977 album Funkentetelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome is turning 39 today. This album was extremely important in the P-Funk lexicon. It introduced some key concepts within such as the placebo syndrome. This reduced down to saying if you faked the funk,your nose would grow. It also introduced the character of Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk,the physical embodiment of George Clinton’s statement on the debut Funkadelic album seven years prior to this that “I was cool,but I had no groove”. Parliaments mid/late 70’s albums each extended on the theatrical structure of Clinton’s musical concept.  This one perhaps in at least two very significant ways.

When I first heard the album about twenty years ago,I wasn’t particularly impressed. The presence of slower ballad numbers such as “Wizard Of Finance” and the (as I know understand it funkier) “Placebo Syndrome” didn’t endear me much to this album as it’s most powerful songs seemed to be on the Tear The Roof Off compilation Parliament had out at the time. When I finally picked up the album on CD several years ago,there’d been years of experience with P-Funk experience in terms of albums to fully appreciate what this was. It contained the massively influential “Flashlight” of course. But probably the one song here that really advances it’s entire concept is the title song.

“Funkentelechy” has two distinct sections within ten minutes. The first one is built around the two constants that both sections have in common. One is a big drum beat that comes down heavy on the one and the close harmony African highlife style horn charts. It also has faster,more JB style horns and Junie Morrison playing what my friend Henrique referred to as a chromatic walkdown on piano. Bootsy’s duck face bass,which pops in and out of the mix with the low rhythm guitar on the first part, becomes consistently integral on the second half of the song. This half is more downbeat melodically and is based more on the harmonic horns and close vocal choruses. And this is where the song fades out on.

In a similar manner to the title song for the Mothership Connection,this song seems like two different musical themes put together. Though in this case,this is done more melodically than rhythmically as the one remains constant. Thematically it’s a commercial for funk as a musical/social ethic. Clinton introduces lyrical parodies on American commercial slogans such as “how do you spell relief?” and ‘fasten your safety belt”. Most importantly though he points out that “funk is not domestically produced”-perhaps pointing to the genre (and this songs) African origins in rhythm.  Both instrumentally and lyrically,this song goes really far in explaining why funk was no longer a bad word.

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Filed under 1970's, African highlife music, Afro Funk, Bootsy Collins, chromatic walkdown, drums, Funk Bass, George Clinton, horns, P-Funk, Parliament, piano, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized, Walter Junie Morrison

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

Anatomy Of THE Groove Presents Teena Marie Week: “Emerald City” (1986)

Much in the same manner as Prince and Joni Mitchell had? Teena Marie elected to follow up her huge commercial breakthrough of 1984’s Starchild by satisfying her’s and the people’s urges for a broader level of musical expression. Understanding the instrumental continuity through jazz,soul and funk already was certainly a help in doing this. But especially in the mid 80’s? It was still a nervy move for a female artist with Lady T’s level of creative control/input. The result of this was her 1986 album Emerald City.

As with her Epic label debut four years earlier? It was a concept album. But this time with a more richly picturesque Wizard Of Oz type setting. Only with a more racially aware sociopolitical subtext-the story of a girl named Pity who decided more than anything she wanted to be green,as the liner notes state. As an album? It isn’t particularly long on the funkier grooves of her earlier albums. But when that does pop up? It does so with dramatic abandon. The finest example I can think of here is the title song which opens up the album.

An orchestral polyphonic synthesizer opens the door to the kinetic,fast paced Afro-Cuban percussion that pulses in and out of the stop/start tempo throughout the song. On each of the instrumental refrains? A bell like keyboard plays a very Japanese industrial electronica style melody alongside very slick synth bass lines. None other than Bootsy Collins himself provides one of his rapped vocal intros to the proceedings. On the second refrain of the song? A hard rocking guitar solo is even referenced lyrically before the rhythmic intensity continues it’s own end.

By embracing instrumental elements of Afro-Funk and Asian styles of industrial electronica? This particular song reminds me a lot of the pan ethnic “neo geo” style of electro dance/funk being pioneered at this time by former Yellow Magic Orchestra member Ryuichi Sakamoto. It is wonderful to see how Teena Marie took a very different route from the stereotypical blue eyed soul/funk,which often looks to the music’s past approach,and took a more genuinely futurist view of it. Again it’s an example of her understanding of black American music’s continued evolution in her own creative context.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afro-Futurism, bass synthesizer, Bootsy Collins, concept albums, elecro funk, Epic Records, Industrial funk, Joni Mitchell, message music, percussion, Prince, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Teena Marie, Uncategorized