Charlie Wilson has gained a great deal of popular acclaim in the last decade as a solo artist known as Uncle Charlie-a contemporary electro soul balladeer in a manner similar to Ron Isley’s Mr Biggs character. Following his 90’s era struggles with addiction and eventual homelessness, Wilson had already made a huge name for himself with his brothers Ronnie and Robert in the Gap Band. Their grooves such as “Oops Upside Your Head” and “Burn Rubber On Me” were enormous P-Funk inspired classics in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Many admirers of the bands music often think of this peak period of popularity as the beginning of their career. In reality,it was really their commercially fortunate mid point.
Forming in 1967 as the Greenwood Archer And Pine Street Band in their native Tulsa Oklahoma, the Wilson brothers’ first big taste of fame came in 1974 when they joined Leon Russell as backup musicians on his Stop All That Jazz album. Later that year,Russell’s label Shelter signed the rechristened Gap Band and released their debut Magician’s Holiday. At the time the group was a septet consisting of the Wilsons,percussionist Carl Scoggins, drummer Roscoe Smith,guitarist O’Dell Stokes and a horn section consisting of Buddy Jones,Chris Clayton and trumpeter Tommy Lokey. It was Lokey who wrote the groove I’m talking to you about today entitled “Tommy’s Groove”.
The jam gets a stone cold start with a thick,fast paced mix of wah wah guitar and Clavinet duetting together in tonal unification. This along with bursts of organ as a percussion life effect. The horn section leads the melody into the a fan faring chorus that begins on the same theme-both separated by a powerful funk break. As the rhythm section lays the foundation,the horns serve to carry the vocal parts of the song. Then a powerful gospel/soul organ solo gives way to another horn fanfare taken at a somewhat higher octave than the first. After a straight replay of the original theme,the song fades out on composer Tommy Lokey’s jazzy trumpet solo.
Primarily Charlie Wilson is known as the Gap Band’s lead vocalist-his fruity and somewhat idiosyncratic Southern drawl laying the groundwork for the vocal approach of the new jack swing genre of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Even during the groups prime hit period however,Charlie was still their keyboard player as well. Since Total Experience’s Lonnie Simmons wanted to showcase his vocals, it was up to early instrumentals such as this to showcase Charlie’s talents as a musician. Here he’s a unified participant in heavy duty jamming in the united funk era. His strong organ solo and Clavinet riffs showcase what a gifted keyboard groove master Charlie Wilson actually is.
Filed under 1974, Charlie Wilson, classic funk, clavinet, Funk, Gap Band, horns, Leon Russell, organ, Robert Wilson, Ronnie Wilson, Tommy Lokey, Uncategorized, Uncle Charlie, wah wah guitar
Much as injecting personal affairs into this blog has been controversial on many different ends? It’s unavoidable in this case. 2015 has proven to be a year consisting of many hardships, challenges and often misery for humanity. On the creative end of that? It was deeply soul destroying for me when Ronnie and Charlie Wilson sued both Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for credit in their massive hit “Uptown Funk”. Unsure what upsets me more: that the surviving Wilson brothers were negating their own possible comeback over greed? Or because of the fact that they themselves could be accused of musical plagiarism of P-Funk with their 1979 hit “Oops Upside Your Head”.
The matter was so distressing on this end that it became one of a bucket list of reasons why I took a six month hiatus from this blog to begin with. And why it may not be as it was again in the future. Still? Nothing in creativity is carved in stone. Not funk music,not the Gap Band and not even the future of either. And it reminded me of a time (the late 1990’s) when I was collecting Gap Band CD’s with great enthusiasm. And noticing the resemblance of the vocal timbre of “Uncle” Charlie Wilson and Stevie Wonder. At the conclusion of their 1983 release Gap Band V: Jammin’? A collaboration between the Wilson’s and Wonder finally occurred with a song entitled “Someday”. And it had a lot more to say beyond even that.
It’s actually one of the few funk,soul or R&B numbers I’ve heard that not only has a cold start both musically and vocally. But it also maintains that basic character throughout the entire song. The rhythmic body of the song is a steady drum beat accentuated by rolling percussion-that train like motion the Wilson’s tended to specialize in. The main melodic phrase is a very Wonder-like synthesized Clavinet-like baroque classical one-though likely played by Charlie himself. And this is accessorized by a slippery synth bass line. On the bridge? Wonder does provide an appropriate harmonica solo before leading into the pleasing,gospel soul vocal coda as the song fades out.
Charlie,Ronnie and the late Robert Wilson were not only successful at adapting the approach of Stevie Wonder into their own funk style on this song, but also gave up the props by gleefully collaborating with the artist himself-without whom the sound of the song wouldn’t have been so possible. This spirit of creative unity goes well with the beautifully stated tribute to the struggle for civil rights. And to the then yet unrecognized holiday in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s one of the most eloquently layered and topical of the Gap Band’s songs. It may never have been recognized due to not being a hit. But it may be one of the Wilson’s crowning musical (and proudly funky) achievements.
A major learning experience for me has come from writing this blog. And it’s that sometimes? Focusing on a single song can be very musically instructive. That’s especially true for an album listener. Of course? This all boils down to a matter of personal taste. An album might have a lot of a particular style of music that once doesn’t like,and very little of a style one does like. And that is a particularly important factor of the song I’m going to be talking about today. And it comes from famous West Coast funk veterans out of Vallejo.
One of the biggest surprises this year was that Con Funk Shun made a big album comeback. Michael Cooper and Felton Pilate reunited the band with the production team behind Charlie Wilson’s recent solo albums after a tour. And released the album More Than Love on the Shanachie label at the end of this past April. After previewing the album? I find the album far too contemporary soul ballad heavy for my personal liking. Still, among the few uptempo songs present on the album? One song stood out for me personally. And that was “Once I Get In”.
The song starts with a straight up amplified blues guitar riff before going into a thick,jazzy chorded funk groove. This is fed into a series of orchestral synthesizers,organ with thick slap bass accents. The choruses of the song are a call and response series of expansive multi tracked vocal harmonies singing along with the leads. These vocals and the stomping instrumental refrain lead each other through a couple of building choruses. Towards the end of the song? The horn and rhythm guitar accents back up an entire alternate vocal chorus before the song fads out.
On this song? Con Funk Shun function in a similar manner as they did in their musical heyday. The rhythm section including the bass,guitar and drums function to elevate the choruses,melody and more vocal oriented elements of the song. But do so in the funkiest possible way by keeping the groove phat and fluid. This song is a much slower and more direct funk stomp than the more uptempo,EWF like post disco style they are more famous for. While the vocals themselves and the rhythms aren’t quite as imaginative as they would’ve been in the late 70’/early 80’s? On this one song along? It’s a joy to hear Con Funk Shun spend 3 minutes back in the groove.
Filed under 2015, Charlie Wilson, Con Funk Shun, Felton Pilate, Funk, horns, Michael Cooper, organ, post disco, Shanachie, slap bass, synthesizer
A dozen years ago,Snoop Dogg’s career was revitalized by The Neptunes. Half of which is Pharrell Williams,now the modern day Quincy Jones (as producer) himself. This was on the song “Let’s Get Blown”,featuring guest singer “Uncle Charlie” Wilson himself-the original Gapper. Today Pharrell,withdrawn musically from The Neptunes is absolutely on fire as a funky hit making producer/musician in his own right. And having the same effect on Snoop and Charlie yet again on the new song “Peaches ‘N Cream”.
A rigid,insistent beat counts down the full body of the song. The chorus consists of a clean,bubbling mid to higher toned electric bass line backed by a looser and slower 4/4 beat,accented with the ringing percussion on the last bar of the that bass line. The refrain of the song,which showcases Snoop’s melodic singsong rap, adds in a wonderfully Nile Rodgers style rhythm guitar along with a very dreamy style 70’s jazz/funk high electric piano solo wash hugging the guitar like a musical pillow to a blanket. This dynamic stretches in and out in variations as the melody and rhythm evolve as the song itself fades out.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this song is how musically elastic it is. On that level alone? It treats funk as a genre worthy of great respect and dignity. The main rhythmic thrust of it is very much out of the boogie/post disco late 70’s/early 80’s dance-funk kick that’s defined Pharell’s current productions. Also in classic P-Funk style? The danceable mean beat really concentrates ones attention on the Paulinho Da Costa like ringing percussion and other rhythmic accents. That harmonic element of jazziness that comes from the keyboard playing on this song helps expand out it’s funky elasticity.
The vocal arrangement is fantastic. It seems to melt Snoop,Charlie and perhaps Pharrell himself on a thick vocal chorus of male tenor funkiness. Charlie himself provides his typically thick (and in this case distant) call and response cries in the back round. Snoop Dogg is clearly keeping up with the playing sexuality that’s at the core of his lyricism. Only thing is? I’ve heard him do this so many times before,in exactly the same way. Snoops lyricism goes very much to the core of funk at it’s most lustful end. Just feel he sounds bored here-as if it’s become a bit of a formula. Nonetheless that cannot diminish the musical power and funky serenity this songs instrumental and vocal arrangement provides.
Filed under 2015, Boogie Funk, Charlie Wilson, dance funk, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz-Funk, Nile Rodgers, P-Funk, Pharrell Willaims, post disco, Quincy Jones, Snoop Dogg, The Neptunes