Category Archives: Bootsy Collins

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

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/11/2015: “Let It Ride” by Jermaine Jackson

I’ve over-viewed Jermaine Jackson’s music here before. Still,the man made some seriously funky albums from the mid 70’s up through the early 80’s. For being a key instrumentalist as the bass player of the Jackson 5? Continue to find it interesting how I had to discover Jermaine’s rather hefty discography not from literature, but purely from my own renowned crate digging in the 99 cent vinyl bins of Maine record stores. The vinyl was usually pretty beat up. And most of them were DJ copies with stickers on the lower front cover. But the musical content never ceased to excite me and get my mind wandering.

One of the latter albums I discovered in this way was a 1978 album called Frontiers. At this point? The only music I had by Jermaine came via an older CD compilation entitled Greatest Hits & Rare Classics. While it was unique in presenting a lot of album tracks? They weren’t in chronological order,nor labeled by album or year. So it wet the appetite for more of his music with me. Not to mention a rough guide for seeking out his full albums via familiar song titles. The opening track on this Frontiers  made an immediate impact on me,and it’s title “Let It Ride” actually said it all in terms of the music.

Jermaine opens the song with brushing high hats and two accompanying bass lines. The main line is a thick,hard grooving one and that is punctuated by the second-a quaking  Bootsy style “duck face bass”. This intro also showcases a high pitched,processed electric piano before the descending main bass line goes into the horn chart that opens the first refrain of the song. This maintains the basic instrumental flavors of the intro with a harder drum sound. The first chorus of the song goes into an one the one rhythm guitar,while the second refrain and chorus add harmonic horn charts-with a like minded sax solo on a bridge before a final chorus.

Having listened to a lot of Jermaine’s music over the years? This is one of the funkiest numbers he’s ever done. It showcases how much the older Jackson brothers,while in their teens,were inspired by George Clinton’s P-Funk. Especially with the powerful double bass attack that defines the groove itself. Jermaine also has a sizzling lyrical flair on this as well. Even asserting to his lover in the songs chorus “I don’t care what you do/just don’t mess with the groove/just let it ride”.  I truly appreciate Jermaine’s embrace of hard funk as a key bass player. And this is one of the finest examples of that in his catalog.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bootsy Collins, crate digging, Funk, Funk Bass, funk guitar, George Clinton, Jermaine Jackson, Motown, Record Stores, Vinyl

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/10/2015: “Crush It” by Parliament

Yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of the final (so far) album release from Parliament. It’s an album that had my curiosity from the get go. Ended up purchasing it right after trying in vain to skate to some late 90’s uptempo country music at the local roller rink which, ironically, would’ve been an ideal place to give up some funk. Even though I already knew that even some P-Funk admirers held this album in low regard?  There was one major source of comfort for me that I learned regarding this album later on.

Although I still feel funk needs to remain it’s own reward? The Oakland,California hip-hop duo Digital Underground elected to sample primarily from this album and it’s predecessor on their own debut album a decade after this was released. Since that duo share a home city with my friend Henrique? This album has wound up being a conversational reference when we’re discussing P-Funk. The first song on the album instantly leaped out  from my CD play at home, and set the tone for what was to come. It had a very earnest title too: “Crush It”.

A two beat call leads off with a wiggly bass synth that keeps up throughout the main rhythm- percussion accented dance beat with a bouncing stride style piano. This is soon joined by Bootsy Collins’ “duck face bass” as I call it,with the main melody courtesy of Fred Wesley and his Horny Horns. On the refrains? The Brides Of Funkenstein  provide some jazzy vocalese. The main vocals of the song are spoken word exchanges between Bootsy and George Clinton himself as Sir Nose. There’s a separate and harmonically complicated vocal refrain from The Brides as the song fades out.

Musically speaking? This song showcases just about every quality that made P-Funk what it is. Interestingly enough? The boogie funk sound of using synthesizers as bass and guitar sounds with live instrumentation was in full swing during this time. While P-Funk pioneered that “video game sound” in the late 70’s? It had by this point jelled into somewhat of an instrumental signature for them by 1980. Especially when it came to relative newcomer in keyboardist David Spradley,who’d come into P-Funk on Parliament’s previous album.

George Clinton’s use of conceptual metaphor was on full swing during the course of this song. While P-Funk itself was coming apart due primarily from music industry fear over it’s ambitions as a potential “new Motown” (as George put it in his recent biography)? The concept of musical blandness/fake funk personified by Sir Nose showcases that character itself flying apart. In this song? Sir Nose Jr pledges to give up the funk in opposition to his grooveless father. So in the end? This probably showcases P-Funk defiantly sticking with their funk. Even as the genre is coming under fire during the post disco radio freeze out of the time.

 

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Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Bootsy Collins, David Spradley, Fred Wesley, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, humor, Oakland California, P-Funk, Parliament, synth bass, synthesizers

James Brown-The MAN Who Started It All: Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation

James Brown-Funk

If there was any one musical artist I’d have to credit for inspiring this entire blog? It would of course have to be James Brown. From his coining of the funk aestetic itself to his iconic work ethic? It was Mr. Dynamite,the King Of Soul,The Hardest Working Man In Show Business,The Godfather and the minister of the new super heavy funk that really got this music taken seriously as a genre. And just about anyone who goes on a stage today dancing like Michael Jackson is connected completely to JB! Funny thing is at first? There were elements of his music I found somewhat tedious.

When someone is a fairly new music listener seeking melody? Sometimes you can miss out on someone fundamentally changing the nature of music itself. JB concentrated almost his entire musical energy with his band members on creating different types of rhythm. It was actually only after years of listening to many sorts of funk that it came to me just how musically innovative this man was. Despite being primarily a singles oriented artist? I wanted to present to you here today my favorite full length James Brown albums (that I’ve heard) from his extremely vast catalog.


James Brown & His Famous Flames Tour The USA (1962)

During the first six or seven years of his career James Brown was essentially known for his energetically performed soul ballads and stage shows. That is generally what soul was at the time. When the music was uptempo, it was generally considered to be rhythm & blues. And soul was generally the romantic ballad end of that still new spectrum of music. Only in revision to many people realize that even from the get go, James Brown was always changing the rules. He vocally performed his soul balladry with the theatrics and passion of the salvation gospel tent show. As the 1960’s began to come in, James began to embrace rhythm & blues to a greater degree. He was also listening to another type of music called boogaloo coming out of New York-with it’s African pop influence and use of musical breaks. With this new outlook on uptempo music in his arena, James’ music was beginning to change.

“Mashed Potatoes USA” is a very compelling song-a dancable yet fairly slow tempo rhythm & blues piece with a very raw rhythm attitude-filled with drum and horn breaks. Its quite possibly his first foray into the funk process,if not the full on funk itself. “Choo-Choo (Loco Motion)”,”Three Hearts In A Triangle” along with the instrumentals “Doin’ The Limbo”,”Joggin Along” and “Sticky” are all heavily rocking and organ/horn based R&B with a consistent and chunky rhythmic flavor that on the other hand is decidedly unbroken. “I’ve Got Money” returns for a bit to the possibility of the funk process again. “I Don’t Care”,interestingly one of the few examples of his original soul ballad style, actually begins the lyrical process for his funk innovation “Cold Sweat” with him stating “I DON’T CARE about your past”. “Like A Baby”,”Every Beat Of My Heart” and “In The Wee Small Hours” are examples or James’ earlier instrumental organ blues throwdowns to round this out.

Often mistaken for a live album because of its title, this 1962 studio recording by James Brown and his Famous Flames is a neglected but very important album for James’ catalog. Its his first album to put a significant amount of attention on heavy rhythm and uptempo tunes. You begin to hear him and the Flames beginning to find their signature instrumental style that they were still ironing out, by trying out different styles from soul to R&B to blues on their earlier recordings. Being from the era that it is, this album is of course likely a collection of James Brown “sides”,recorded originally in intention for release on 45 A and B and cobbled together on this long player to bring them together into a loose theme to resell them. Of course less cynically this also is influenced by Ray Charles’ intentionally conceptualized ABC-Paramount era albums as well. So this also finds James discovering the possibility that he could develop as an album artist perhaps. Despite its lack of popularity in James vast and vital recorded catalog, this album is an important dry run for his future that is very underrated.

Live At The Apollo 1962

Someone once described the film Purple Rain as “a timely event that captured a revolution as it was happening”. Much can be said of this particular album. So much has been made of this albums legendary status and it being one of the “greatest live albums of all time” it all just can’t help but diminish it’s impact. Now saying this is even JAMES BROWN’S greatest live album of all time would be padding things just a tad but the fact is this is one of his most defining albums of his late 50’s/early 60’s career.

One big reason is that it represented something of a concluding chapter onto this part of his career. At this point JB’s live shows with his Famous Flames were still based around a dozen or so of his early blues and doo-wop oriented singles such as “I’ll Go Crazy”,”I Don’t Mind”,the rollicking “Think” (one of my personal favorites) and his then new single “Night Train”. But it’s not the presentation of those songs musically that really makes this live performance what it was.

For one rather than playing before an Apollo audience so excited that his performance was interrupted by screams and applause the audience sounds serve more to cheer him on from tune to tune,stopping largely during the performance due to the wordless level of respect James’ presence seemed to demand.There’s a medley of songs here but the whole album plays that way;James and the tight Flames flow from one horn fueled soul workout into another with little more than a scream and/or a horn blast to indicate passing into another song.

Also elements from songs such as “Please Please Please” appear throughout the song and James often refers back to “Lost Someone” and “I’ll Go Crazy” as phrases throughout the album-treating his single songs as parts of a unified entity as opposed to separate statement. Since albums as a studio entity were almost unknown during this time outside Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra,for someone as single based as James Brown the live show seemed the best way to express this unity in his music at the time.

At the times when the audience does interact with James it’s very strong and mutual and seems to happen almost as a matter of course. Because the visual element of James’ dancing,the whole cape routine and sweating is missing you’ll have to refer to the liner notes for photographs of the event to get something of the idea of what it looked like if you even need to. In fact for the most part the musical presentation here should do the job nicely. They say music cannot create imagry but the nature of albums such as this will make many people wonder,as it did with me as to the all around truth of that statement.

It’s A New Day-Let A Man Come In (1970)

Okay that’s got to be my worst review title but after hearing this album you may have a similar reaction. True it took a several years and many a patchwork album for James Brown to finally get to this,one of his earliest full on album masterpieces. And in all honesty? It’s an album I only really knew a lot about recently due in part via a strong recommendation via the members of Breakestra in Waxpoetics magazine. In all likelihood this the earliest full length studio assemblage of the original JB’s lineup with Bootsy and Catfish Collins and such. One of the qualities that makes this such a unique album even by James’ standards is how much he goes for the cinematic approach to funk here-taking the basic framework of his sound and often augmenting it with either dynamic orchestrations,arrangements or both within his still intensely rhythmic framework. Not only that but he’s concentrating very heavily on melody. The idea of James combining melody and arrangements into his trademark tight funk sound opened up his music to many new possibilities and allowed his new musical recruits the change to challenge themselves instrumentally. The title,in fact is no lie.

It goes way beyond music here. Culturally James is at the PEAK of his Say It Loud: I’m Black And I’m Proud period. So the message in his music is in full swing. The first two numbers in the title song and “Let The Man Come In And Do The Popcorn” are perfect examples of his “new funk” as it were. Very much in the league of his early full on funk period but also superbly arranged as well. On “World” he actually showcases how the cinematic groove has bought him to a distinctive funk ballad style and he re-harmonizes his older “It’s A Man’s World” and “If I Ruled The World” in much the same way. The result is their original message is also deepened as well. “Georgia On The Mind” takes the song normally associated with Ray Charles and takes his own lyrical liberties,even adding “I’m from August Georgia”,an interesting reference for this South Carolina native. “Give It Up” is an instrumental rendering of one of his biggest funk era numbers. The closers “Man In The Glass” and “I’m Not Demanding” are additional great examples of his unique brand of cinematic funk-the latter making his social agenda more than clear as he insists (I’m not demanding,I’m begging and pleading),showing a type of…confident desperation if you can imagine it as he speaks to “the people” very directly and honestly.

In addition to the musical aspect of funk James Brown was more than key in developing the consciousness in it’s lyrical message. It’s a type of construct I myself refer to as “people music” and it was key to the development of what funk writer Ricky Vincent calls the united funk period in the music. On this 1970 album James is laying the groundwork for all of that. I am not sure if anyone does or ever will think of James Brown as an album artist in any way. But if they do,or ever do it’s likely works like this will be part of what’s mentioned in that context. It’s not merely the focus on longer songs. But also they fact there is a very flowing musical concept at work here. Something James had been putting together in one way or another since the mid 60’s. And it was finally coming into itself in the early 70’s on albums such as this. As for his 60’s innovations there are many compilations that tell the story about as perfectly as one could ask. But as for where James stood at the start of the album oriented 70’s funk era? This would be an excellent release to explore along with his many full length triumphs to come early in that decade.

Revolution Of The Mind-Live At The Apollo Volume III (1971)

During 1971,James Brown and his band were right in the eye wall of their hurricane of the groove. This perfect storm was the opposite of destructive,however. It was a storm that created,got people to move their feet and contemplate moving their minds as well. It was the beginning of a funk era-“united funk” as writer Ricky Vincent calls it. And James was leading the way. Every time I saw this album,the cover always attracted me. Of course the concept of the black man as a metaphoric prisoner in America was completely appropriated into the latter hip-hop culture’s imagery. But what I tuned into was the expression on James’ face as he looked between the bars. It was one of positive minded dreaming and wonder-about the possibilities of himself and others as liberated individuals-internally as well as externally. This photograph on the cover art really got my mind wandering in terms of what kind of music laid within. Since James Brown would’ve been 81 if he had lived this year? I thought this would be the perfect time to explore this albums contents.

Opening with the usual intro it goes right into the fast tempo funk of “Its A New Day So Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn”. That same fast paced groove continues onward through a fast medley of “I Can’t Stand It”,”Mother Popcorn” and “I Got The Feelin” along with “Call Me Super Bad” and “Soul Power”.. It gave the aural impression of James’ iconic quick footed choreography one can almost hear through the audio. The album itself actually starts off with a nearly eight minute “Bewildered”-a ballad wherein James actually gives a positive take on Woman’s Lib from a black female perspective. “Sex Machine”,”Escape-Ism” and a 12+ minute “Make It Funky” are a none stop funk workout-the latter containing a vitally street level conversational “rap” where James’ encourages his band members to proudly mention (and take pride in) their Southern home towns. After this James cools down with a short version of his soul ballad classic “Try Me”. “Give It Up Or Turnit Lose” and “Hot Pants” continue the heavy funk right into the end and applause.

If someone were to ask me what album do they think represents the core essence of James Browns’ musical character during the height of his funk prime,I would recommend this album without hesitation. As innovative and vital as his studio recordings were,there is something about the atmosphere of James Brown’s live shows that best showcase the nature of his musical talent. It gives him more time to personally interact with his band mates-bringing a level of intimate male bonding into his creative outpouring of talent. Of course the rhythmic nature of this music brings out the very finest in the exploratory organ solos of Bobby Byrd and the deeply percussive bass/guitar interaction between Hearlon Cheese Martin,Robert Coleman and Fred Thomas. But it also communicates James Brown’s multi faceted messages of action. When someone dances to this music,they will likely feel compelled by the sound of the groove and the words of James to do something very important for the world. This is live “people music”-straight up funk of the highest degree. And truly a testament to James Brown during his creative peak.

There It Is (1972)

Before I had much conception of James Brown in the 70’s,this animated and colorful CD cover always got my attention whenever I saw it. Of course nothing could prepare me for the musical virtues it embodied in terms of sheer funkativity. Though this was made smack dad at ground zero of his peak years in the early/mid 1970’s a new funk generation was already on the horizon. The “united funk” era was about to arrive. This meant a sound with a slicker,better production and sometimes more of a pop orientation than anything he’d had ever served up. However with his reputation for excellence being so well known by this point,he wasn’t in any danger of being out of date yet either. “The Godfather Of Soul” was know known as “The Godfather” PERIOD when it came to funk. So anything he did was by terms under influential AND under the influence of those who were following in the path he’d set. On the other hand,in terms of where James stood on funk this represents him setting the bar at a very high place because it’s his finest example of funk in an album context.

In the very beginning the title song gets into the groove right away. The slowest parts of this album are represented in a three part series of raps on “King Heroin” and “Public Enemy#1 Parts 1 & 2”,anthropomorphising the narcotic as speaking for itself and it’s parasitic effect on the world. James illustrates this in such emotionally effecting terms…well let’s just say the facts speak for themselves. On “I’m A Greedy Man” we’re presented with some of the fastest funk we’ve heard from James,appropriate with it’s implicit dialog on male sexual power. “Who Am I” is a slower ballad that showcases a change in his style. More of a cinematic soul ballad that’s an extension of the type he’d begun doing on albums such as Its a New Day-Let a Man Come in and,with it’s highly self analytically lyrics indicated a fuller on embrace of the “united funk” ballad style. Of course “Talkin’ Loud And Saying Nothing”,a Watergate era warning on trusting those people the song decries as “loud and wrong” rides that line between the Africaness of it’s rhythm and the bluesy harmonic nature of the song quite well with it’s type of funk.

On another faster funk groove of “I Need Help (I Can’t Do It Alone)” talks of his outlook on these newer people involved in funk in a way,bringing the message of the music out more than even he had. James’ future reputation as godfather of hip-hop is unintentionally established on his take of “Never Can Say Goodbye” at the end. Musically he takes more of a modern samplers approach to it,not covering the entire song wholesale but re-harmonizing by “looping” the songs initial melodic phrase. And he’s doing it using his band and not computers. So that shows how forward thinking he was,even if it wasn’t too deliberate. James Brown was riding in a high place during the years 1971-1974. His innovation of funk was inspiring a number of old and new faces who themselves were already making key contributions to the genre. Not only that but he had the advantage of still being at his own musical peak in terms of funk while this was happening. There are many great examples of this era of funk out there. But for a good example of where the man who started it all was when the genre was starting to change hands,this is a great place to go.

The Payback (1973)

1973 offered a lot of potentially difficult challenges for The Godfather. Road manager Alan Leeds illustrates them in timeline form in the liner notes to this particular CD. Basically it all comes together like this. James was branching out into the world of soundtrack scoring with ‘Black Ceaser’ and then ‘Slaughter’s Big Ripoff’. Much of the music on this album was intended for another such soundtrack. Well eventually the deal fell through. Not only that but his audience,who’d once looked to him for guidance regarding the sociopolitical environment of the time,felt betrayed by his endorsement of President Nixon. Especially during the Watergate scandal. Not only that by during this time his son Teddy was killed in a car accident. For the first time James was facing major burn out,even checking himself into a hospital for physical recuperation for a time. All the same,he was James Brown. He had work to do. So there were all these unused songs and out of it came…this.

This album is considered to be James’ finest of his 70’s funk period. One of the reasons is not only the fact all of the songs are of some extended length. But the emphasis is so firmly on the funk and the moods it’s transmitting. The title track of course is ground zero for big time sampling but also James’ assertions “I NEED THOSE HITS!”. Always incredible in his intended double meanings. The lone ballad “Doing The Best I Can” is very much in touch with the times musically,closer to the sweet funk of Curtis Mayfield than doo-wop. On the eight minutes “Take Some…Leave Some” and “Shoot Your Shot” that wah wah guitar packed groove re-emerges. A mildly slicker sort of funk considered the full immersion in the “united funk” era of the day. But the stress of his experiences,and those he is witnessing in his own community are very much felt. Sometimes even to the point of near heartbreak in “Forever Suffering”. This along with the near 13 minute epic “Time Is Running Out Fast” also showcase a heavy reliance on a somewhat jazzier style of horns from Fred and Maceo even more so than usual.

“Stone To The Bone” keeps that groove moving straight ahead. Of course the closer is another funk epic in “Mind Power”,with James urging us to understand that while we all have physical needs both athletic and sexual,our knowledge and consciousness deserves more TLC than we give it. This album is a very psychological exploration for James. For the first time in his career,he’s beginning to show some wear and tear from that cluster of difficult events. But James did with it what he always did in tense situations: he basically continued to work through it. This time though,life really inspired. Never on this album is he foaming at the mouth with anger. He’s expressing his emotions with a lot of candor and more than enough analyticalness. If the phrenology chart on the back (later referenced by The Roots) doesn’t clue you into the exploration of the inner sanctum that this albums represents,it’s place as James’ key contribution to the United Funk era should say something. In almost all cases,the grooves and messages speak for themselves.

Reality (1974)

Following his enormous success with The Payback,James Brown began to watch as the members of the JB’s began to splinter off-eventually jumping onto George Clinton’s mothership as The Horny Horns. At this point James found himself in a very different position in terms of recording. He was thinking in terms of recording in more advanced studios than he had in his 60’s heyday. To supplement his band he bought in session players such as David Sanborn,Joe Beck,Joe Farrell and Cornell Dupree-soon to become part of the band Stuff. Acutely aware of the importance of maintaining his cultural position in immediate post Wategate America? This album was right on time.

It’s the title song that sets the tone for the album-with James still very much in his blacksploitation mode of heavy orchestrated rhythms and the use of flute and string orchestrations. He’s in the same place on “Don’t Fence Me In” and “All For One”-one which he blends together several of his socially relevant numbers with the backup vocalists singing with him “say it loud-WE’RE PEOPLE AND PROUD!” “The Twist” revitalizes Hank Ballard’s Chubby Checker hit with JB’s “funk twist” as it were while “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” non too subtly reminds the black community of the importance of maintaining self reliance-and not thinking racism won’t take less overt forms-even advising to “save your money like the mob”. “Further Up The Road” and “Check Your Body”-with it’s whispery vocals evoke the “Doing It To Death” style funky shuffle.

Of the ballads “I’m Broken Hearted” again revives the blacksploitation style orchestral/cinematic production while his take of Anthony Newly’s show-tune “Who Can I Turn To” brings out his renowned soul pleader vocal approach. As for the mixture of Fred and Maceo transitioning out of the JB’s and session players gradually taking their place? James Brown’s production sound is becoming sleeker and somewhat less distinctive. That’s not to say that his grooves are not still instrumentally at their peak. And they are. This was a man who’d just triumphantly played for the Ali/Foreman fight in Zaire. Having been experiencing the schism of African and African American cultures alternately on his tours over the years? He understood the dichotomy of black people in the African continent being both the powerful and the poor versus the more one sided expectations of African America. And this album,in more ways than one,encouraged those around him to keep their eye on the prize of reality in his own funky kind of way.

Nonstop! (1981)

Now it’s actually pretty common knowledge that the years between 1980 and 1985 were not as innovative for James’ as was previously thought. Honestly I had no idea this album existed until fairly recently. One thing that should be said about this album is that musically it actually acheived something very special. Considering his already legendary status it would’ve been all too easy for James to just tour and do the same golden oldies the same way every time. In as much that James was also still holding true to his stage first/record-when-you-could mentality the pace of his live shows still influenced his studio music. But the recording quality,even in random studios of the kind he tended to make records in were better across the line by the early 80’s.

The album starts out with “Popcorn 80’s”,a good example of his classic sound functioning perfectly in a modern studio context. “Give The Bass Player Some” is just plain MEAN funk broadening his sound into the realm where….well 70’s style funk ended up during the disco freeze out,ironically a place where a great groove could just be what it is. “You’re The One For Me” is the lone ballad and it isn’t until the end you realize that the quiet storm-funk style (hard as that is to imagine,especially for James) is actually a tribute to Minnie Riperton. I wish I knew who was doing the vocal impersonation of her on the song-it might’ve been a borrowed clip of her voice I don’t know.

By this point electro funk was emerging from the underground and beginning to penetrate the charts and…of all people James was right where with “Work Cycle Inc” which,with it’s slightly clipped rhythm and synthesizer use is the closest thing he had at this point and is a high point of this recording. “Super Bull-Super Bad” again does a terrific job on extending a 70’s style JB groove within the contemporary production ethic,even to the point of using his classic “Super Bad” as a basis,something James had been doing all his career. On “Love 80’s” James promises a mini concert and delivers just that in slow jam style,introducing one of his newer musicians, as well as playing smidgens of “America The Beautiful” and paying tribute to people such as Louis Armstrong along the way.

As indicated in the song James was in the mood to go back to some of his early style of music from the Famous Flames era.Considering the political atmosphere of this period and the accompanying trend to “embracing traditional values” that was to come it’s no surprise that the album ends with a modernized version of “I Go Crazy”. So in keeping with the double edged cultural transitions of this time frame the sound of the album glides effortlessly from lightly contemporary funk to doo-wop inflected R&B. Also maybe the times had caught up with James in a way too seeing as that combination of those two styles had been occurring in the music since the mid 60’s. No matter how you add it up this is one of James Brown’s most powerful and driving records of his sleeper period. And I hope one day some country,somewhere will realize that and put this out on CD format.


Now this particular subject could very be someone that I expand on further in this blog. At least later one. With nearly 80 full length studio albums to his credit-not to mention live albums? James Brown is not only very likely the most prolific black American musician this side of Duke Ellington. But his enthusiasm for the creation and development of his art,on it’s own terms,could and should be a great source of inspiration on a new generation today. One with a far less certain approach to musical presentation. Thank you!

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Filed under 1970's, Alan Leeds, blacksploitation, Bootsy Collins, Famous Flames, Fred Wesley, James Brown, Maceo Parker, Rickey Vincent, The JB's

Bosses Of The Bass: Andre’s Top 12 Funk/Jazz/Soul Bass Players

Space Bass

Ever since my fourth grade music teacher Mrs. Gockle forced me to give up the upright bass due to her fascination with the melody based violins and violas? A deep life long interest in the bass as a musical instrumental emerged. Started listening for it closer in my fathers jazz records. And it was the foundational element in my favorite form of music-funk.  As time went on? I understood the sound it made to be so flexible,it could bring the melodies right out of the rhythms it created-when in the right hands of course.

As an adult? I’ve gravitated towards listening for how the bass is used on a song. It may have something to do with the old saying about how funk/soul lovers want to turn up the bass with rock fans prefer to turn up the treble. Since my understanding of the bass is almost totally oral rather than academic? The bass players I’m talking about here today may not all be the most renowned or well know. Though many of them are. These are people who have a distinctive approach that just reaches my type of musical ear. So here are my twelve (current) bosses of the funk bass.

James_Jamerson

James Jamerson is one of those bass players even non instrumentalist music lovers can pick out of the crowd in a second. Just listen to the opening of Motown hits he played on like “My Girl”,”Reach Out I’ll Be There”,”Don’t Mess With Bill” and “Just My Imagination”? And you understand how this key member of Motown’s now iconic Funk Brothers house band opened up the melodic possibilities of the electric bass probably more than anyone of his day. Jamerson’s sound probably got stuck in my consciousness those mornings half asleep going into town,from our family summer camp,in 1991 listening to the radio’s Motown Monday’s before I even realized it.

Larry Graham

Larry Graham,Bay Area bass player extraordinaire for Sly & The Family Stone,basically created the slap bass approach to playing that became one of the rudiments of the 70’s funk sound. Even before venturing out on his own with Graham Central Station,a solo career and session playing with Prince later on? Larry had already innovated the fuzz bass as well with the Family Stone’s breakout hit “Dance To The Music”. He’s probably one of the most renowned and famous funk bassist ever of course. And whatever I hear other bassists playing after? In some way it comes down to Larry in the end.

Bootsy Collins

Bootsy Collins,having spanned playing with the JB’s and than George Clinton’s P-Funk,picked right up in terms of bass innovation where Larry Graham left off. Bootsy’s effect on how I listen to music is one of personality. Rock musicians often call themselves guitar gods. And if I ever wanted to use such a term? Bootsy,with his glittering outfits and superhero like persona,is something of a bass god in that regard. He doesn’t just slap the strings. He pops out thundering,round tones. He snarls his bass like a guitar as well. Collins therefore probably has the most flexible and diverse style of playing the electric bass than many that I’ve heard.

Louis Satterfield

Fellow Earth Wind & Fire member Verdine White once said that everything he learned about bass came from this man,Louis Satterfield. One thing that really makes Satterfield fascinating to me is that he plays two low toned musical instruments: the trombone and the upright/acoustic bass. Often regarded more as a member of the iconic Phenix Horns,Satterfield has a long history playing for Chicago blues greats before essentially becoming the musical godfather of the totally rhythmic experience the bass played in EWF during their key years of the 70’s.

Wilton Felder

Wilter Felder,speaking of horn players,was only known to me to be a bass player as well when my blogging partner Rique informed me one day that Felder played bass on the Jackson 5’s first hit “I Want You Back”. As a bass player? Wilton did the reverse of what Louis Satterfield did. He helped to bring his melodic saxophone approach to his bass playing. Quite appropriate with the key role all the Crusaders played in late 60’s/early 70’s Motown-a label whose music always had a core of the melodic style of bass playing.

Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson,a musical disciple of James Jamerson,helped me to completely come to  terms with my understanding how the bass could be a powerful compositional instrument. Henderson played with Stevie Wonder,Miles Davis,Aretha Franklin and Dr.John in his earlier years before venturing out on his own solo career as a singer. He continued the tradition of melodic bass playing that came directly from his Motown education. And than took it onto a career as a premiere funk performer as well as being an instrumentalist.Louis-Johnson

Louis Johnson,much like James Jamerson before him,entered into my subconscious without me even fully realizing it the very first time I heard Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Johnson’s major contribution to my understanding of the bass came from his fusion of Larry Graham’s slap bass approach with the melodic innovations of Jamerson. This man was a monster play in the Brothers Johnson with his guitarist brother George. Not to mention an enormously important part of Quincy Jones’ iconic Westlake Studios instrumental crew who shaped much of the way I hear pop,funk and soul of the 70’s and 80’s

Bernard Edwards

Bernard Edwards,late of Chic and partner to iconic musician/producer Nile Rodgers in that band,probably did more for innovating the disco bass style within the musical sub-genre of funk than anyone else in his day. One of my very favorite basslines in fact comes from Edwards-the slippery jazz oriented intro to Chic’s 1977 hit “Everybody Dance”. Pretty much every electric bass player today playing danceable pop music has something of Edwards in what they’re playing.

Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller not only helped engineer the early 80’s comeback of Miles Davis. But he also went on to become a star producer and bass player for Luther Vandross at the same time. All before launching his own solo career in the 90’s up to the present day. What gets me about Marcus is how he took the slap bass approaches of funk players such as Larry Graham and Louis Johnson and bought jazz improvisation into the equation-a more hyper melodic alternative to earlier slap bass jazz icon Stanley Clarke. As a multi instrumentalist,he was also able to construct heavily funkified soundscapes with the bass as it’s core rhythmic element as well.

Mark King

Mark King was key of bringing of bringing the fast paced,jazzy slap bass style of Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller into the new wave world as the bandleader for the UK’s jazz/funk/pop band Level 42 during the early/mid 1980’s. Also quite a fluid composer,King was a bass player that I came to love and appreciate within the last decade. And has actually helped me a great deal to understand new wave/synth pop as often being an instrumental outgrowth of American funk.

© Sasa Huzjak

Jamaaladeen Tacuma came out of jazz great Ornette Coleman’s 70’s and 80’s group Primetime to have his own solo career in the 1980’s. Tacuma bought together the free harmelodic approach of Ornette to his bass playing. Listening to his abstract slaps,thumps and vamps really fuel my imagination on just how much the electric bass can really do.

Peter Muller 2

Peter Muller,Berlin resident and modern day bassist,is one of my most recent discoveries. Muller’s sound comes out of the slap bass flower that Larry Graham got going almost half a century ago now. And he’s channeled it all into the jazz-funk revival that’s grown out of the smooth jazz production approach and is currently independently releasing some seriously strong bass oriented jazz/funk albums that have really peaked my interest as a listener.


While I am aware that people such as Stanley Clarke and the late Jaco Pastorious didn’t make this list? Well,these are only the bassists that had the most personal musical influence on me. And the appreciation of what we listen to and for in the music in our lives has a highly individual approach too. At the same time? If you can dance to the beat of the drum? Your probably already on the road to being able to pop to the beat of the bass line as well.

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Filed under Bernard Edwards, Bootsy Collins, Crusaders, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Funk Bass, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, James Jamerson, Jazz, Larry Graham, Louis Johnson, Louis Satterfield, Marcus Mller, Mark King, Michael Henderson, Motown, Peter Muller, Wilton Felder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 10/25/2014: “Tha Funk Capital Of The World” By Bootsy Collins

The Funk Capital Of The World

If there was ever an example of a success in the funk music relm it would have to be Bootsy Collins. He was there during the infancy of the genre with James Brown and than onto George Clinton. He even survived some of funk’s more challenging periods by collaborating with other artists and doing more session work. And most importantly,he managed to come out of the addiction problems faced by many in the music world period to come out all the better. Now he is emerging as something of an elder statesman of the genre. And he has had enough experiences at this point to create what could be described as a magnum opus. And he also possesses the singular talent,versatility and personality to pull it off. On the other hand he’s also one of the chief architects of P-funk which,even during it’s original era was a lot more fragile than it seemed to be. So this album comes off as perhaps being a grand finale to an amazing career.

What’s good and not so good about it comes from it’s ambition. Bootsy is looking here to do a sort of P-Funk equivalent to Quincy Jones’ Back on the Block,pulling together elements from different generations-musical and culturally to show a generation cycle involved. But here there are some cracks in the jib that are just difficult to avoid. P-funk after the 90’s was always dependent on guest artists,especially hip-hop related. But this one is a bit too reliant on the worn out formula. Every song here has a guest. And often times their presence,considering some of them are relative unknowns,reduce Bootsy to being a sideman on his own recording. Samuel L Jackson rapping about the influence music played in his life on “After These Messages” is a meaningful and happy surprise. As is Al Sharpton discussing the often unheralded importance James Brown has in the culture,showcasing how he “changed the beat”.

On the other hand,the grooves outside of the clever horn melange of “The Jazz Greats” with George Duke and Ron Carter,mostly sound a bit by-the-numbers. And if they get a little more out of the box such as on the more rocky side of “Mirrors Tell Lies” and “Minds Under Construction” the musical ideas are so cluttered,some of the clarity of sound is missing. Bootsy simply overshot the mark just a little and flat out tried to do too much on this album. Had this been spread out over the course of a double set or couple releases with more varied music than it would’be been the intended masterpiece. As a history lesson on how funk is misunderstood nine times out of ten,it’s wonderful. As a musical concept,it simply doesn’t HAVE enough of Bootsy’s own identity to effect. In fact the Quincy analogy works there too. Here Bootsy is more of an MC (and presented as a weaker one actually) than an artist. Than again I enjoy Bootsy the artist. So maybe one more album that draws this concept out more fully might in order? Well I can only hope but what this album looks to is worth exploring further.

Originally posted on October 23rd,2011

Link to original review here!

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Filed under Bootsy Collins, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, George Duke, P-Funk, Quincy Jones