Category Archives: Chicago

Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Little Ghetto Boy” by Donny Hathaway

Donny Hathaway was one of the earliest musical figures I remember hearing by name. Though at that time,it was seven years late to the party that was his musical life. He committed suicide over a year before I was born-apparently after suffering with paranoid schizophrenia during what would’ve normally been the peak of his career. An alumni of Howard University,the Chicago native first took up with Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label. He began producing and doing session playing for the likes of Aretha Franklin,the Staple Singers and The Impressions before embarking on a music career of his own.

Hathaway only recorded three studio solo albums in his lifetime. There were also a pair of live albums as well. Another project that Hathaway was involved with was a 1972 film score recorded with Quincy Jones entitled Come Back,Charleston Blue.  The album was brought to my attention by DJ,musician and Donny Hathaway admirer Nigel Hall. He encouraged me to seek the record out. And I finally discovered a vinyl copy online. It sat in my collection until several months ago when I dug it out for a vinyl based segment on this blog. And the song that stood out for me was called “Little Ghetto Boy”.

A funky conga drum shuffle begins the song with Hathaway’s bluesy,heavily reverbed Fender Rhodes piano serves as the intro to the song. As his vocal comes in,so do the climactic string arrangements and the stirring bass line. This essentially provides the choruses of the song-which provides the bed for the vocal narrative. Woodwinds come more into play for the refrains of the song-which lyrically serve to ask rhetorical questions of what was illustrated in the choruses. And its on this extended refrain that the song finally fades itself out.

Donny Hathaway has recorded some of the most amazing soul/funk standards over the years. Among them “Everything Is Everything” and the holiday favorite “This Christmas”. This song,with its Afro-Latin soul jazz shuffle is somewhat reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues”. Hathaway really set two different modes on this song too. He starts off talking about the title character with low expectations and opportunities. Then asks those ever important questions as to what will become of the “little ghetto boy” in the future. Its one of Hathaway’s finest message songs consequently.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Chicago, Donny Hathaway, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, funky soul, message songs, percussion, Quincy Jones, Soundtracks, strings, woodwinds

Grooves On Wax: Funk On The 4th Of July

Soul Survivors

These Philly one hit wonders made a big splash with “Expressway To Your Heart” from this 1967 album. It always reminded me of the Young Rascals. And most of this album does too. They do have some amazing Hammond B-3 organ work here,especially on a version of James Brown’s “Please Please Please”. Where the album gets most interesting is when the Indian classical and psychedelic soul influences come in.

Key Jams “Expressway (To Your Heart” and “Taboo-India”

Jackie Wilson

Jackie Wilson’s 1968 album reminds me of how close the musical flavors were between windy city soul and the Motown sound. Jackie was the link between the two as Berry Gordy wrote a lot of his big hits of the 1950’s. This represents his most uptempo soul oriented album (with only two show tune styled ballads) of his late 60’s comeback. And the Motown connection even begins the album with a version of “You Keep Me Hanging On”.

Key Jams: “I Get The Sweetest Feeling”,“You Brought About A Change In Me” and “Nothing But Blue Skies”

Rainbow Bridge

Hendrix was near the end of his tragically short life and career when he appeared in this film. I actually liked the story of a young woman’s journey to Hendrix’s music through a political awakening. The soundtrack showcases how he and the Band Of Gypsies (Billy Cox and Buddy Miles) were about to change the game on the funk/rock sound the same way Hendrix and the Experience had a couple years earlier with psychedelia.

Key Jams: “Dolly Dagger”,”Earth Blues” and “Star Spangled Banner”

Supremes_1970s_Touch

This beautifully arranged 1971 album by the post Diana Ross Supremes has some very loving liner notes from the now Sir Elton John. It actually showcases the revived trio’s sound as focusing their mid tempo cinematic soul sound more towards an album than a singles focus as well.

Key Jams: “Nathan Jones” and “Happy (Is A Bumpy Road)”

Ahmad Jamal

This Ahmad Jamal 2 LP collection came borrowed from my father,who loaned it to me. It’s a rare 1973 collection of Jamal’s not entirely common three Impulse albums such as 1968’s Tranquility and 1972’s Outertimeinnerspace. A lot of these songs have an Afro Cuban/ Caribbean vibe with a does of soul jazz thrown in with Jamal’s trademark cool,light piano touch. He even pulls out the electric piano on one occasion with amazing results.

Key Jam: “Bogota”

Bar Kays Coldblooded

The Bar-Kays third and final album for Stax in 1974 was probably their most funkified overall thus far. They still had a lot of the psychedelic soul/rock touches that had them freaking out hard on their earlier albums. Yet the wah wah continued to let go big time on the title song,and the influence of Sly Stone and their penchant for funky impersonation started to show up on “Fightin’ Fire With Fire” as well.

Key Jams: “Coldblooded”,“Smiling,Styling And Profiling” and “Be Yourself”

Bell & James

Leroy Bell’s career arc from success to obscurity and back reads almost like fiction,as it turns out. In partnership with Casey James,the multi instrumentalist duo served up this 1979 album that didn’t provide as big a commercial as they did on the hit “Livin’ It Up (Friday Night)”,but did really get down with some sleek Westlake studio sounding disco/pop/funk/soul straight out of the Off The Wall vibe. And with a lot of the same musicians playing on it as well.

Key Jams: “Shakedown”,“Laughing In The Face Of Love” and “Fare Thee Well”

stephaniemills-stephanie(1)

Stephanie Mills 1981 album is one of those boogie funk classics where every song,especially the uptempo ones,stand on just about equal footing in terms of success potential. Reggie Lucus and James Mtume’s writing and production help a lot in this degree. Even though it has it’s predictable aspects,the strong sound and Mills’ gospel/soul vocal chops really give this album quite a workout.

Key Jams: “Two Hearts” and “Top Of My List”

spinners-labor_of_love

One thing I really admire about The Spinners is that they kept up with uptempo boogie and electro funk sounds even after the disco era-rather than focusing solely on slow ballads.  This 1981 album,one of records very funky albums they put out that year,has perhaps even more harder driving funk material than their 70’s hit period with Thom Bell. One of it’s few ballads,”A Man Just Don’t Know What A Woman Goes Through” even focuses on male sensitivity to the opposite sex when it comes to aging. Not to even mention closing with a good attempt at an early rap/funk hybrid.

Key Jams: “Long Live Soul Music” and “The Deacon”Let There Be Sun

Sun were among the handful of iconic Dayton,Ohio funk bands who came out of the late 70’s. Each of these bands had their special qualities. This 1982 release being their next to last albums is actually the first Sun I’ve ever heard thus far. And want to hear more considering their own distinct approach to the P-Funk vibe they seem to have here.

Key Jams: “Slam Dunk The Funk” and “Super Duper Super Star”

Tyka Nelson

Yes,this 1988 album was presented to me on the selling point that Tyka Nelson was Prince’s sister. I knew all about Tyka before this,but not that she ever had a musical career. The overall vibe of this album is very much of a mid-tempo dance and ballad urban contemporary album of it’s day. Tyka’s soft,melodic voice actually carries these sleek numbers quite well.

Key Jams: “No Promises” and “Marc Anthony’s Tune”

 

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Ahmad Jamal, Bell & James, Boogie Funk, Chicago, Funk, funk rock, Jackie Wilson, Jazz, Soul, Soul Survivors, Stephanie Mills, Sun, The Bar Kays, The Spinners, The Supremes, Tyka Nelson, Vinyl

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Do Do Wap Is Strong In Here” by Curtis Mayfield

There was a concept perpetuated in much literature I read for years about Curtis Mayfield’s music. This had to do with Curtis’s music going on something of a slow decline after the mid 70’s-in similar manner to Stevie Wonder during the mid 80’s. Looking back on it all now,a lot of this might come from a popular/commercial standpoint. As independent as Curtis Mayfield was creatively,nothing he did stopped radio and chart formats from being racially divided. As based in Chicago blues,funk and soul as his music was Curtis continued to maintain his ceaselessly committed following among the black soul/funk listeners.

Curtis dealt with this head on when recording his second soundtrack album for the movie 1977 ‘Short Eyes’. This was a Robert W. Young adaptation of the Miguel Pinero. The film’s story revolved around the racial divide in a largely Hispanic and black men’s prison in New York-centering around a white middle class pedophile. Curtis himself made a cameo in the film as an inmate-performing the hit single taken from the film. It’s a song I first heard as an edited single on the compilation CD The Anthology 1961-1977. The name of the song in any version was “Do Do Wap Is Strong In Here”.

A grinding percussion accented funky drum opens the album-punctuated by an approaching wah wah guitar and a down scaling bass. The vocal part of the song opens with the refrain-finding the wah wah and bass accenting the vocal lines with a thick bed of fuzzed out blues/rock guitar in the back-round. Suddenly the song reintroduces itself with an orchestra of up-scaling strings. Then the song cuts down to the percussion and drums with that rocking fuzz guitar playing a spicy,bluesy solo over it. Then the chorus comes in,the backup singers doing leads with Curtis as the refrain/chorus repeats to it’s fade out.

“Do Do Wap” definitely has a stripped down funk aestetic all the way. The orchestral strings have a very menacing quality about them that advances the cinematic quality of the song. It’s also a strong reminder of the fact that the songs on Curtis Mayfield’s two soundtrack albums often tended to be on the stripped down side rhythmically. Especially when it came to the uptempo,funkier ones. In a lot of ways,this is my favorite Curtis Mayfield song of his solo career during the 70’s. And the continued re-use of it’s rhythmic break over the years showcases just how musical an impact it made.

 

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Filed under 1970's, blues funk, Chicago, cinematic funk, Curtis Mayfield, drums, Funk Bass, message songs, percussion, rock guitar, Short Eyes, Soundtracks, strings, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Future Shock” by Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield has one of the most important legacies to black American music of his era. He was probably the first to fully recognize recording contracts in his day as a form of creative slavery. And formed his own label Curtom in the 1968. He inspired artists  ranging from Stevie Wonder to Prince in terms of taking similar actions in their careers. By the time he began his solo career in 1970 with his iconic debut Curtis,he had already developed his melodic style of psychedelic funky soul into fine musical wine. And with each forthcoming album,his music just continued to develop in terms of breadth and scope.

Curtis’s choice of creative independence really paid off when he scored the 1972 Sig Shore film Superfly. It helped make Curtom an enormously successful indie label with it’s commercial success. Especially with Curtis’s songs for the album deliberately countering what he saw as the films promotion of cocaine. The next year Curtis released his fourth solo album Back To The World. It was a similar thematic concept to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On-only as a third person perspective of the post Vietnam War America. The song that really pulled it all together for me personally is “Future Shock”.

The drums kicks off into full funkiness-with Curtis duetting with himself on deep wah wah and higher sustained guitar tones. This is accompanied with a phat bass line scaling down and back up in the opposite direction. The horn charts sustain heavily on the fanfaring refrain. The bluesy chorus and refrains have a very close relationship-with Curtis guitar tones,the bass line and the drums getting all of their melodic responses from the darting horns maintaining the heavy instrumental conversation. By the final bars of the song,the flute plays the gentler elements of the melody as it fades out.

“Future Shock” is a superb example of a funk era tone poem. Curtis’s lyrics declaring “we’ve got to stop all men from messing up the land” sets the tone for the songs lyricism. On the refrains he states poverty,apathy and racism as all being a sinister triad that’s keeping humanity from taking care of the planet Earth. It’s a message that resonates up to today’s climate change problem. Curtis literally makes his guitar whimper and weep throughout the song-setting up the tone poem by the musical tracks of his tears. And throughout the groove preaching the ecological gospel to the people.

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Filed under 1970's, Chicago, Curtis Mayfield, Curtom Records, drums, Funk Bass, funky soul, horns, message songs, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Street Fever” by Terry Callier

Terry Callier is a lesser known figure among the Chicago music scene of the 1960’s. He was a childhood friend of some of the city’s future musical starts out of Record Row-in particular Impressions’ Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield. Callier eventually took after Mayfield as a guitar player and signed to Cadet at the end of the 60’s. Difference is Callier was as more of a folk storyteller. During that time,he began to take on a jazz influence to his pieces inspired by John Coltrane’s music. He recorded several acclaimed albums in the early 70’s and toured in support of Gil Scott-Heron and George Benson.

It was again my father who introduced me to Terry Callier about 12 years ago. It was through a reissue of a 1977 album called Fire On Ice,which was his debut on the Elektra label and was then getting a reissue on CD. It was also made clear about the gentle jazz/folk hybrid sound Callier was better known for. And that this 1977 album was not indicative of his usual sound. Sounded like something that was waiting to be heard based on that description. Of course there are still many folksy ballads on this album,the song that really stood out as being somewhat unique for Callier here was called “Street Fever”.

Michael Boddicker starts out playing a revving,unaccompanied guitar synthesizer-featuring a break with a thick popping sound before an up-scaling space funk synthesizer brings the cymbal heavy drum part in. On the refrain,the snare drums come in playing a slicker beat with the synthesizers playing multiple stacked melodies behind it. On the second chorus,the horns begin playing in close unison to the synthesizers. There is a screaming rock guitar solo on the final refrains-with eventually breaks off into the space funk synthesizer from earlier before the song comes to a quick halt.

This is a flat out amazing song in the sense it anticipates the brittle,new wave inflected sound of new wave and naked funk by several years. And that of course was the same thing the Isley Brothers were doing at the same time with tunes like “Livin’ In The Life”. Callier adds some tough 12 bar blues choruses to the affair-along with some percussive vocal grunts and shouts. At the same time,there is a strong production slickness to it. Since like the rest of it’s accompanying album it was recorded in Chicago,it showcased that the windy city was still rife with innovative funk/rock/soul sounds at the end of the 1970’s.

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Filed under 1970's, Chicago, drums, Elektra Records, funk rock, Michael Boddicker, New Wave, rock guitar, synthesizer, Terry Callier

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sun Goddess” by Ramsey Lewis with Earth Wind & Fire

Don Myrick,the tenor saxophonist for Earth Wind & Fire’s Phenix Horns from 1975 to 1982,passed away over twelve years ago. Today would’ve been his birthday. He played solos on key songs such as Phillip Bailey’s vocal showcase on the live rendition of “Reasons” on the bands Gratitude  album,as well their 1979 hit “After The Love Has Gone”. The mans way with jazzy harmonics was by no means limited to ballads. Myrick first met Maurice White as members of the Chicago band The Pharaohs-which also included future Phenix Horns trombonist Louis Satterfield. And it all came together for White and Myrick through the man that got Maurice’s career going to start with: Ramsey Lewis.

It was actually on EWF’s Gratitude album that I first heard the song “Sun Goddess”. It was a live version where Maurice announced that they were going to perform a song  they’d done with Ramsey Lewis. I knew of this windy city soul jazz piano master from my father playing his Don’t It Feel Good album on vinyl for me around the same time. Just before I wrote this,Henrique Hopkins informed me that the studio version of “Sun Goddess” was basically an afterthought jam. And he and EWF felt the song off the album of that same title would be “Hot Dawgit”. But in the end this song ended up redefining Ramsey Lewis as a major player on the 70’s jazz funk scene.

Johnny Graham just strums away on a thick,rhythmic guitar on two chords-going up and down note wise. Verdine White supplies the thick yet metronome like bass.. Maurice himself kicks in the song on bass drum before Phillip Bailey’s conga’s kick in. Charles Stepney himself adds both the ARP string countering the rhythm guitar while adding a Fender Rhodes solo right along with it. On the choruses,Maurice and Phillip sing a beautifully melodic Brazilian style vocalese. On the second refrain of the song Don Myrick comes in with a sometimes squonking free-bop jazz style tenor sax solo. On the third,Ramsey comes in for his own Rhodes solo which closes out the song.

For all intents and purposes, this is an Earth Wind & Fire song instrumentally. Ramsey himself acted as an arranger and producer for it. As well as a soloist. It’s a musical showcase for the sonically beautiful tonality that funk rhythms and jazz harmonies can create when combined together by great musical talents. The sound of this jam creates such a visual impression in the mind. The guitar and keyboard orchestrations Stepney provided bring to mind the rising sun on a clear and hot summer morning,at least to me anyway. And with this combination of two talent’s (Ramsey’s and EWF’s) whom I’ve always respected,this is a reminder why funk is my main and favorite basis for music.

 

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Filed under 1970's, ARP synthesizer, Charles Stepney, Chicago, Don Myrick, drums, Earth Wind & Fire, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Johnny Graham, Maurice White, percussion, Philip Bailey, Ramsey Lewis, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Uncategorized, Verdine White

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mean Mother” by Etta James

Etta James has one of the biggest voices,both literally and figuratively among the female blues and soul vocalists of her day. She was also a survivor. As much as many writers tend to literarily paint black artists of her day seem as if they lived within impenetrable emotional armor,Etta survived by being able to an occasional gentle laugh at some of the troubles that marred most of her life. As what could be described as a prime example of the Silent Generation OG figure at Chicago’s famous Chess Records,changes in music over the decades seemed to roll off of her. Not to mention the musicians and producers who helped her creatively reshape herself.

One of the saddest legacies of Etta’s life was the fact that so much of it was marred by periods of substance abuse. First it was heroin throughout the prime of her career. Than an addiction to prescription drugs in her final years. On the other hand,she almost always looked her best and gave her best performances outside of her personal situation. Following a 1970’s spent in and out of rehab, Etta transitioned in the next decade by teaming up with the recently passed New Orleans writer/producer/performer Allen Toussaint for her 1980 album Changes. The album begins with a bang right out of the box with “Mean Mother”.

That snarling,high pitched rhythm guitar wail that introduces many classic funk grooves gets this one going along with a powerful drum kick. Then the percussion accents kick in with thick sustained Clavinet riffing,blocky acoustic piano and the massive deep bass line holding everything up comes into play. On the rapped intro of Etta’s the drums are subordinated to the percussion. On each chorus,her vocals are accompanied by scaling down horns-which call out from the bottom up on the end of each rhythm statement of the song. The opening guitar snarl also takes a similar position on the last couple choruses of the song before it fades right out of earshot.

Etta James made some magnificent uptempo grooves and ballads over the years. The advent of funk in the 70’s seemed almost tailor made for her deep,resonant growl of a voice. This instrument of tough control and sophistication gets all it’s assistance from this song which showcase how funk is often blues played with a raw rhythm attitude instrumentally and a clean sound to top off on. The thickness of this groove is very similar in flavor to Gil Scott-Heron’s “Shut ‘Em Down” of the same vintage-only minus the synthesizer touches. It’s tale of living as “a child of god born to a family black” extends on the ever present soul power she possessed.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Allen Toussaint, Chess Records, Chicago, clavinet, drums, Etta James, Funk, Funk Bass, percussion, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Something For Nothing” by Natalie Cole

Several days ago? The new year of 2016 wrung in rather sadly with the news that Natalie Cole had passed away from complications with congestive heart familiar. Having been the daughter of Nat King Cole and growing up in a family she described as “the black Kennedy’s”? Natalie, in a similar manner to the also departed Whitney Houston, has occasionally been viewed as someone whose talents derived largely from genetics. Perhaps this led to the years of drug related self destruction that likely contributed to her death at age 65.

Being inspired by soul and rock  music more than a jazzy approach? It was now iconic Chicago producers Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy who really helped to beef up Cole’s career. After some unsuccessful label shopping,the team ended up at her fathers old label Capitol. There they all began polishing up work on Cole’s debut album Inseparable. While as a whole it’s gospel/soul ballads and uptempo numbers would define much of Cole’s musical output? The funk got turned up high on numbers such as one of my favorites here entitled “Something For Nothing”.

The groove kicks off with an ascending,classic funk riff from a bassy Clavinet. It’s assisted by a tickling soul stride type honky tonk piano. On each of these phrases? A high pitched,bluesy rhythm guitar riff rings into the next part of the song-all orchestrated by minor chorded strings. Assisted by stop/start funky drumming all the way? The Clavinet buoys the song until the strings and piano spin off into a bright,major chord 70’s Chi Town soul melody on the bridge before it all fades out on it’s original theme.

Listening to this makes me wonder why Natalie Cole,with her gospel heavy soul pipes,didn’t prioritize the evolution of funk as her career pushed forward. Considering how much this particular number has in common with Rufus’s “Tell Me Something Good”? It’s a song very much in the spirit of the “who says a rock band can’t play funk” ethic of taking the blues base,and smoothing it out for a more soulful and danceable groove. It’s still one of the finest examples of Natalie Cole with a strong groove and a strong tribute to her as a potential funky diva.

 

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Filed under 1970's, blues funk, Capitol Records, Chicago, Chuck Jackson, classic funk, clavinet, funky soul, guitar, Marvin Yancy, Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole, piano, Uncategorized, Whitney Houston

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 5/8/2015: “Another Trippy Day” by Chicago

It’s been over a year since I first heard the song being discussed here. Chicago (once known as Chicago Transit Authority) have reveled in the musicality which made them one of the most popular and acclaimed bands of the 1970’s. Their channeling of melodic pop song craft along with progressive jazz and soul instrumentation has made them a model for many instrumentally inclined bands since their heyday.

In a similar manner to Earth Wind & Fire,with whom they toured about a decade ago now,and how are about to go on the road again with the Heart & Soul tour? Founding members such as trumpeter Lee Loughnane,trombonist James Pankow,sax and flute man Walter Parazaider along with the singer/songwriter Robert Lamm have continued to keep the band going with new members and studio albums every so often. “Another Trippy Day”,presented as a bonus song on last years Chicago Now-XXXVI,stood out for me personally as a shining example of why this band is still so incredibly vital musically.

A digital percussion sound opens the song before two round,spacey synthesizers play major/minor chords before the trumpet plays a bright and melodic solo. That’s when the the body of the song kicks in. It’s all about a a stomping, funkified beat. A bluesy sound slap bass accents each rhythmic exchange. All with that spacey synth,wah wah guitar and muted trumpet weaving in and out. On the choruses,all of these elements thicken up into melodic unison. A refrain starts out with an electronic symphony of synthesized sound before a full melodic horn chart,following by a pulsing drum,slap bass,synth duet before the chorus fades the song right out.

For me this song is an excellent example of cleanly produced,modern day West Coast style funky soul.  The song is defined by funk. That slow,stomping beat that has the average rhythm of the human walking pattern. Lamm takes this setting and lyrically explores the romanticism of the urban landscape-with allusions to “a hint of jazz and lovers embrace”. This song also evokes it’s strong California vibe that stands it’s own with the sassy and sweet jazz voicings of Becker/Fagen compositions with Steely Dan. And a welcomed jazzy pop/funk urban contemporary sound for the modern age.

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Filed under 2014, Chicago, Donald Fagen, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Funk Bass, James Pankow, Jazz-Funk, Lee Loughnane, Robert Lamm, slap bass, Steely Dan, synthesizer, trumpet, wah wah guitar, Walter Becker, Walter Parazaider, West Coast

Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk for 4/27/2015: “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey)” by The Impressions

One of the important things I’ve learned about Curtis Mayfield over the years is the extent of which his social consciousness evolved. This was also an important factor in America’s silent generation as a whole-extending across the nations color and economic lines. Starting out as mainly the composer/guitarist for The Impressions,Curtis soon became the bands lead singer as well. He became something of a windy city whiz kid-writing and producing for other acts as well. This not only changed the entire trajectory of his musical career. But re-focused the thematic priorities of himself,Sam Gooden and Fred Cash as well.

Throughout the 1960’s,this Chicago powerhouse vocal trio continually churned out songs such as “Keep On Pushing”,”Amen” and of course “People Get Ready”-all anthems of the civil rights movement and released between the march on Washington and the murder of Malcolm X. With later songs such as “We’re A Winner”? It was clear the confidence of the civil rights movement was evolving into the black power movement-for America and The Impressions. In 1969,following the murders of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy a year before? Donny Hathaway co-produced the bands 1969 album The Young Mod’s Forgotten Story,which included another powerful song in “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey)”.

First thing heard on this song is an enthusiastic,youthful applause before a thundering drum roll inaugurates the calling outcry of the Memphis soul style  horn section that does a call and response dance with Curtis’s gurgling wah wah guitar. Throughout the main body of the song? The rolling beat is accented by a JB style mid pitched rhythm guitar. Before the horn sections emerge again,there’s a brief low blues guitar as well. On the chorus of the song,a sustained gospel style organ comes in to keep pushing the main melody of the song forward. Towards the end of the song,before the chorus closes out the song,the vocals of The Impressions completely recede while Curtis does a full Albert King style amplified blues solo.

In all honesty? Today is the first day that I’ve ever actually heard this song. Sometimes however? A first impression (pun more intended than I was hoping it to be) can say a thousand words. On two very important levels? This song speaks to two viewpoints of the cultural changes in race relations at that time. Musically the song is just about at the perfect intersection between the contemporary funk explosions of James Brown and the Chicago style urban blues that was coming out of the Chess label only a decade earlier. Lyrically it’s a similar situation. On one hand Curtis is very earnest in schooling the young that the power structure of America will be weakened as “we’re killing up our leaders” and “we all know it’s wrong”. By the end of the song he muses “if your cut you’re gonna bleed/might I get a little deeper/human life is from the semen seed”. This song musically and lyrically speaks so deeply into the primal nature of racial violence? It deserves to be understood in 2015 as much as in the late 60’s.

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Filed under 1960's, black power, Blues, Bobby Kennedy, Chess Records, Chicago, civil rights, Curtis Mayfield, Fred Cash, Funk, funk guitar, horns, James Brown, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Sam Gooden, The Impressions, wah wah