Wilson Pickett is yet another artist whose music was extremely familiar to me before even knowing his name. “Wicked Mr. Pickett” started out in a gospel group during called The Violinaires in the mid 50’s. This led him to fame with the soul group The Falcons,who helped popularize gospel music to a broader audience. Pickett eventually got signed to Atlantic Records in New York where he recorded sides such as “If I Need You”,a ballad that the labels’ Jerry Wexler ended up giving to Solomon Burke. Burke himself liked Pickett’s version,but he had a huge hit with the song. So a dejected Pickett decided to focus less on soul ballads and more on uptempo numbers once officially signed to Atlantic.
Pickett’s mid/late 60’s recordings at the Stax in Memphis and Fame.in Muscle Shoals have become iconic songs. Especially in terms of marking soul music’s evolution from gospel based balladry into uptempo funk. Songs such as “In The Midnight Hour”,”Mustang Sally” and “Land Of 1000 Dances” came out of this era. One thing however that stands out to me is when an artist making funk music shows a lot of positive pride in declaring themselves to be funky. One such song from Pickett came courtesy of a band known as Dyke & The Blazers,written by it’s leader Arlester Christian in 1967. And the name of this song was”Funky Broadway”.
The bluesy guitar riff of Chip Moman opens the song. The rhythmic body of the entire is based on a thick,cymbal heavy beat from drummer Roger Hawkins,a rhythmic organ from Spooner Oldham and the crunchy bass of Tommy Cogbill. On the second chorus of the song, the horn section comes in playing call and response to Pickett’s vocals. They raise up in intensity as Pickett’s vocals grow even more powerful. There’s a bridge where Hawkins’ funky drumming is singled out with the bass/guitar interaction-with Pickett grunting along rhythmically. The horns are huge,thick and heavy on the final choruses of the song before it fades out.
This song fits pretty neatly into the vein of Wilson Pickett’s other mid/late 60’s uptempo numbers. They were all starting to move heavily toward funk. This song came out in 1967. It was the same year Aretha dropped “Respect”,and James Brown bought uncut funk to the masses with “Cold Sweat”. So Pickett and Chip Moman’s band were really bringing the gritty,countrified,slower tempo Southern soul dance thump into the funk process as it was actually happening. Again it cannot be stated enough how important having the word “funky” in the title of this huge hit song was to funk as a genre,rather than a mere musical term. So here Wilson Pickett officially earned his place in funk history.
Filed under 1960's, bass guitar, Chip Moman, drums, Funk, horns, Muscle Shoals, organ, rhythm guitar, Southern Soul, Stax, Uncategorized, Wilson Pickett
Bobby Womack is understood to me today as being an enormous soul survivor. Both literally and figuratively. This Cleveland Ohio native came up in the same state would produce so many funk luminaries in the 1970’s. Particularly in Dayton. He started in his family gospel band The Womack Brothers,which included his famous brother Cecil. Once they were discovered by Sam Cooke and became his backup band,Sam changed their name to the Valentinos. He bought them to LA with him,and re-focused them from gospel toward pop flavored soul. Following Sam Cooke’s death,Womack worked as a session musician for Ray Charles for the next four years-having disbanded the Valentinos.
Having worked at Chip Moman’s American Sound Studios,famous for launch the late 60’s comeback of Elvis Presley,Womack found himself doing session work for Aretha Franklin on her major 60’s breakout albums. During this time Womack began to work on a solo album of his own. The rhythm section involved on his debut were bassist Mike Leech,organist Bobby Emmons,drummer Gene Chrisman,pianist Bobby Woods and a fellow guitar player in Reggie Young. His solo debut was the 1967 release Fly Me To The Moon. It’s title song was a doo-wop styled version of the Frank Sinatra hit. The song that moves me most off this album however was called “Lillie Mae”.
The song is heavy on the rhythm. The drum is playing a fast shuffle with the rhythm guitar chugging away with equal rhythmic energy. On each chorus and refrain,the horn section either burst out or sustain themselves melodically-depending on the chords of the given part of the song. On the refrain the organ comes in,again playing a very strong sustain. On the end of the songs second refrain,the organ transitions into the chorus with a big,up scaling psychedelic explosion of sound. The song concludes with the refrain of the song repeating as it fades out-having the organ play hi hat like percussive accents on the very last moments of it.
My very first reaction to hearing this song was that it sounded very similar to Elvis’s song “A Little Less Conversation”. That isn’t at all surprising as that was also recorded with Chip Moman’s production. And came out the same year as this. As it stands,this song is a quick tempo’d example at countrified funky soul at it’s finest. The guitar very much picks up on JB’s use of the instrument at the time as a fully involved rhythmic element to the drums in the song. It also includes the instrumental sustains used on Memphis/Stax soul records at the time. So right at the very time the funk was getting ready to burst out into a genre all it’s own,Bobby Womack was playing his part in the entire funk process.
Filed under 1960's, Bobby Womack, Cecil Womack, Chip Moman, country/soul, Elvis Presley, funky soul, guitar, Sam Cooke, The Valentinoes, Uncategorized