Category Archives: California

Anatomy of THE Groove: “California Woman” by Eddie Kendricks

Eddie Kendricks was the one member of the classic Temptations lineup who had a consistently successful solo career. He had many hits,many of them strutting uptempo numbers such as “Keep On Truckin'”,”Boogie Down” and “Girl You Need A Change Of Mind”. Many of these songs were produced by Leonard Caston Jr.  After mixed results with two 1976 albums recorded with Norman Harris,Kendricks turned back to Caston to fully produce his final Motown solo album in 1977 entitled  Slick. One song from the album actually found its way into my musical rotation very heavily this past year.

During this past summer of 2016,I actually took the time to do more bicycle riding. Unlike previous years,decided to take advantage of my phone’s MP3 player to listen to music while on these bike rides. Most of these songs were endowed with an appropriate sense of motion. And all of them were from within the soul/funk/jazz/Latin spectrum of music. During the course of the summer,I brought different songs in and out of this rotation in order to keep things fresh. And one of them was an Eddie Kendricks song that originally concluded his final Motown album. Its called “California Woman”.

A pulsing bass and drum pulse starts the song out-accompanied only by low rumble of strings. Shortly after,a loud vocal chorus scales up into Kendrick’s refrain. Here,the bass the and stomping shuffle of the drums are accompanied by lightly harmonic strings and horns-along with the vocal chorus serving the same function. On the chorus the horns and backup vocalists melodically descend with Kendricks. After a reprise of the intro on the bridge,the chorus of the song repeats for a couple more bars before the song abruptly ends on an outro of a very similar nature to its beginning.

In some ways,this song has some of the hallmarks of Leonard Caston Jr’s productions with Eddie Kendricks from before. The difference here is there isn’t as much focus on the bass/guitar interaction as there is the orchestration. Its basically just the kind of “sound with a good melody” as Kendricks himself preferred-with much care put into the production to make sure the groove was funky and the sweeteners on top had plenty of life to them. The lyrical tale of a “down home lady” becoming a movie star goes beautifully with the music’s strutting “OG” style of cinematic funky soul.

 

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Filed under 1970's, backup singers, California, cinematic soul, drums, Eddie Kendricks, Funk Bass, funky soul, horns, Leonard Caston Jr., Motown, strings

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Stand Up” by Atlantic Starr

Atlantic Starr were known to me (as I’m sure they are with a lot of radio listeners) with their two late 80’s adult contemporary ballad hits “Secret Lovers” and “Always”. Though these weren’t the most instrumentally exciting songs ever made,they still showcased how talented the band actually were. The big surprise to me was that Atlantic Starr began as a heavy funk septet out of Greenburgh,New York. Central to the band was three Lewis brothers in guitarist Dave,percussionist and trombonist Johnathan and keyboardist Wayne-all of whom shared vocal duties. Today is Wayne’s birthday. And it felt right to tell the story of the bands early days.

While performing in Westwood,California the band were known by the name Newban. That is until they were signed to A&M sand Herb Alpert requested they changed their name. The clarifier “Atlantic” came from the bands East coast roots. And they were off and running to record their self titled debut in 1978. My friend Henrique Hopkins referred to one song from their early days to me through another source. It was a commercial for the LA soul radio station 1580 KDAY,which featured a cameo of a 20 year old Michael Jackson dancing to a song from Atlantic Starr’s debut. Henrique mused if MJ was dancing off it,it had to have been a special groove. And the name of this groove was “Stand Up”.

Drummer Porter Carroll kicks off the song,whose opener is defined by Wayne Lewis’s sharp and ultra melodic space funk synthesizer darting. Over this,the three Lewis brothers vocally harmonizes in unison with equally melodic horn charts. The refrain that follows deals with a thick interaction of chugging rhythm guitar,solid bass thumping,ringing percussion with the horns playing the accents. The pattern between the choral intro and this refrain repeats a couple of times throughout the song. There’s a bridge towards the end of the song that reduces the song down to it’s core elements of drums,percussion,bass and backup vocals before the horns chime back in until the song fades out.

I really want to thank Henrique for giving me a chance to really appreciate this song. As both of us agreed,Wayne Lewis’s opening synthesizer riffs are some of the most ear catching and powerful of the disco era funk sound. This song packs a strong rhythm punch about it,and has a really thick bottom layer bought bubbling up to the top as well. Clifford Archer delivers a great foundational bass line as well. It thumps and slaps pretty heavy in parts,but for the most part it provides a solid bed for the percussion and beat that are at the heart of the songs groove. And it was an excellent way for Atlantic Starr to kick off to a good start as a funk band.

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Filed under 1970's, Atlantic Starr, California, disco funk, drums, Funk Bass, horns, KDAY radio, New York, percussion, rhythm guitar, synthesizer, Uncategorized, Wayne Lewis