Category Archives: crate digging

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Chanting” by Rasa

Henrique and myself were chatting online a couple of days ago about a favorite recurring topic between us. And that topic is funk music in every section of the record store. I remarked that it was unlikely that there would be any funk in a stores new age section. Henrique answered me with this video,featuring a song by a group known as Rasa. He described the album as consisting primarily of Hare Krishna chanting. This lead to the conclusion that new age music was a conceptual idea as opposed to a musical genre. Of course hearing new age music as being mostly piano based,it never occurred to me that new age themes are common in a lot of the funk I love.

After doing a bit of research via an article done  four years ago by Wax Poetics magazine,it turns out that Rasa was the brainchild of Christian oriented funk/soul artist Eugene McDaniels son London. He went to a  Krishna temple with his teenage brother Chris at the advice of their mother-during the time London was studying at the Berklee College Of Music. A few of the temple heads managed to convince the brother to record an album of contemporary Hare Krishna music. It has apparently become a favorite among crate digging DJ’s/hip-hop samplers. The song that introduced into all of this,courtesy of Henrique is actually entitled “Chanting”.

Roger Panansky’s round bass synthesizer starts things out playing along with Anthony Jackson’s electric bass guitar tones. As well as the slow paced percussive drumming of Webb Thomas. London’s JB style rhythm guitar comes in on the main refrains,while the horns of  (featuring Randy Brecker) melodically assist on the choruses. There is a two second break before a fluttering,round electric bass solo from Jackson bubbles up like instrumental champagne on the bridge-again with Brecker and sax player George Young playing call and response on their horns. These instrumental exchanges are accented by electric piano. The chorus and refrain repeat themselves until the song fades out.

This song is a wonderfully grooving jazz/funk piece,with a strong rhythmic thump and a full emphasis on the bass. Whether it be from a bass guitar or a synthesizer. The lead singer on this Vakresvara Pandit sings in a manner very similar to Jamiroquai’s Jason Kay. So this ends up being the type of spiritually inclined funk that would be the bass musical medium of the acid jazz/funk movement a couple of decades later. Though this album was apparently only ever sold at Krishna temples and events,it really fascinates me at the possibility that this famous offshoot of Vaishnaism based spirituality would chose “people music” funk as it’s own gospel. As it stands,it’s top notch late 70’s melodic jazz/funk!

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Filed under 1970's, Acid Jazz, Anthony Jackson, bass synthesizer, Berklee College Of Music, Chris McDaniels, crate digging, drums, Funk Bass, George Young, Hare Krishna, horns, jazz funk, London McDaneils, Randy Brecker, Rasa, Uncategorized, Wax Poetics magazine, Webb Thomas

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

Funky Firsts: Andre’s Look Back On Key Moments Of Putting The Grooves On His Record Racks

Reading the autobiography of Amir Questlove Thompson entitled Mo Meta Blues has been very inspirational to the way in which I present my blog. Especially in the fact the book presents interstitial chapters between the main ones. These shorter chapters illustrate classic funk and soul albums Questlove heard growing up. As well as how they intertwined with different events in his personal life. This has long had me brainstorming about a similar concept as to how this music has been involved with my own life story.

There’s no particular rhythm or reason here. This isn’t a list of all of my first exposures to specific artists. Nor is it just musical events that personally impacted me. It includes both,yet what I’m focusing on here is all about the synergy of life and this particular art form and how it effected my outlook on music. All the way up to this blog here. There’s going to be a mixture of different stories and emotions here. And of course some important things might not get covered-possibly to be done as they come back to mind on another,similar post. But for now? Enjoy these stories!

First Album I Purchased On Cassette Tape

Music Of My Mind

I’d been listening to Stevie Wonder for many years before this. But I was deep into a literary research through the All Music Guide and read a description of this album as being Wonder’s first artistic breakthrough but that compared to what came after quote on quote “it paled just slightly”. Often times writing can cloud a music’s listener’s judgement on the auditory musical experience. At the time however? That’s exactly how I felt about this album. Musically my tastes and understanding had to grow into this album,rather than the album accommodate me.

First Album I Purchased On CD

The Jacksons

Actually this is by no means the first CD I ever owned. But it was the first one I purchased with my own money. 1994-1995 was ‘the year of the Jackson’s’ as it were for my life. The story of how the brothers signed to Epic Records to gain creative control was really fascinating me,something I was feeling inwardly as an artistic adolescent. So one day I was browsing the old Strawberries Records with my friend Joseph Stone and came across this album for $9.99. That’s just what I had in my wallet. For the next few weeks? Felt like “Think Happy”,”Show You The Way To Go”,”Enjoy Yourself”,”Living Together” and “Style Of Life” were the only songs I wanted to hear. And all were (and still are) very positively effecting on my day to day life.

First New Music I Purchased Through A Record Club

Isley Brothers Mission To Please

Turns out in writing this? I discovered several important musical firsts for me in the year 1996. While an active member of the BMG Record Club? They offered a featured selection that,if purchased at full price,would allow you to get a number of free CD’s.  This was one of them. I was reading a lot about the Isley Brother’s in Rickey Vincent’s book Funk at the time. And his description of the Isley’s as “the epitome of funky manhood” made this an easy choice. At the time? I was not keen on contemporary R&B at all. But something about the vibe R.Kelly created for this album is still appealing to me.

First Album Recommended To Me

Travelling Without Moving

Technically it was my mother who ended up purchasing this album. But I remember she and I had taken a rather long bike ride to Strawberries. And ran into a friendly young sales associate named Jeb. We got into a conversation about P-Funk and George Clinton. He mentioned in the conversation that a new band who were in a similar funk vein were Jamiroquai. And this was their newest album out. At the time I didn’t see how this had any resemblance to P-Funk at all. Of course I had yet to hear The Electric Spanking Of War Babies. Still as a channeling of psychedelia with the live instrumental boogie funk sound began a continuing interest in newly recorded funk music.

First Multi Album Set I Ever Had

Emancipation

1996-1997 was when I was seeking out any and all things Prince related. From his own music to his famous (and infamous) protegee’s. Seeing Prince and than wife Mayte on Oprah performing songs from this album,talking about his art and life,went right along with the appeal of this album. It is such a sprawling 3 CD set that,to this very day,I have yet to have heard the entire album. Something that I intend to change in the very near future.

First Piece Of Used Vinyl I Remember Purchasing

Earth, Wind & Fire - Faces

When Dr. Records was still in it’s original basement location in the college town of Orono,Maine? I remember having $5 dollars in my pocket and seeing this album on vinyl-yet again at just the right price. Had been collecting EWF’s 70’s classic on cassette tape already and was at this point upgrading to CD’s. This one was a bit expensive for me at the time. But the vinyl of this album was a different story. On the way home from the store? I remember feeling the raised gold letters of the bands name on the cover,and staring at the random photographs of people on the inner sleeve-not to mention the members of the band members and the Phenix Horns,which were proudly stated on the vinyl sleeves. The happiest surprise was to get home to find the album also contained the original poster of the band in full EWF regalia. Still have the poster,later picked up the CD but none of it eclipses the excitement of that 15 minute car ride home from picking this up as a vinyl album. Almost a brief history in how a classic funk band presents itself.

First CD I Purchased After The New Millennia

Alicia Keys

After the arrival of the year 2000,in those 500 or so days between then and 9/11? I kept feeling like the world of futurism was just about ready to happen. Flying electric cars,sustainable ergonomic homes,all of it. Another exciting event during the winter and spring of 2001 was seeing the face of this 19 year old singer/songwriter/musician from NYC who was about to break out almost exactly the same manner as Whitney Houston had, with Clive Davis and the whole deal. In all honesty? The albums contents were so far removed from my musical journey at that time,it didn’t quite live up it’s hype for me. In a lot of ways it still doesn’t.  But it succeeded in whetting my musical appetite for a promising new and popular musician. Something that was extremely rare in an era saturated with performers.

First CD I Purchased Online

Imagination Body Talk

Even at the time,the years 2002-2003 were weary and sad times with the dashed hopes of the immediate post 9/11 era. Interestingly enough,this was a time when I began exploring psychedelic 60’s classic rock and fusion more as well. The roots of this discovery was when I heard the song “Flashback” on a compilation belonging to my families late friend Janie Galvin called Pure Disco. It was by a British trio called Imagination. Loved the songs stripped down electronic groove. But it was when I’d just gotten online for the first time at the local public library computer.  Discovered that this album was kind of famous in post disco circles. My quest to order a CD copy led me to sign up for my first checking account so I could get a used copy off of Amazon. Body Talk turned out to be an excellent album. And was also the beginning of the end of my days as a member of the already fading mail order record clubs.

Biggest Surprise I Discovered In A Used Vinyl Record Store

Ghetto Blaster

It was on a ride home with my father after purchasing our first Toyota that I first heard the Crusaders. It was actually my first exposure to a complete jazz-funk band. One day I was crate digging at a now defunct record shop in Camden Maine called Wild Rufus. And there was this album for a dollar. On the back,it had a photo of Leon Ndugu Chancler with the band rather than Stix Hooper. Was deep into Ndugu at the time with my involvement with DJ/musician Nigel Hall,and our mutual interest in 70’s George Duke. So that actually peaked my interest as well. I had no idea the Crusaders were making records in the mid 80’s. So hearing them with a more synthesizer driven electro funk style was a very happy surprise for me,and probably my turntable as well.

First CD I Reviewed Online

Parliament (1978) - Motor Booty Affair (A)

For reasons that I don’t fully understand? Amazon.com forced me to create a totally new account with them when I couldn’t remember the password to my first one. So the reviews on that first profile are still floating around out there. So this is only my first Amazon review on this new account,the one I continue to use up to this very day. I remember posting the review on December 3rd,2004. That was also around the same time my family got it’s first PC,a Toshiba laptop to be specific. So this was also my first time dealing with that computers joint Windows account system

Link to original Motor Booty Affair review here*

First Time Hearing Questlove As A Producer

Al Green Lay It Down

Now the main reason I’m talking about this is because Questlove’s writing directly inspired this blog post. Prior to 2008? I knew of Amir not by name,or nickname. Only as the guy with the pick in his fro who drummed for The Roots. And I felt a lot of their music was rather bland for my personal tastes at the time. When my friend Henrique told me this man,named Questlove,was producing a comeback album for Al Green? I was skeptical. What I didn’t know was that Questlove was a session drummer at heart. And rather then make his own record here? He produced a total Al Green record-directly in the Willie Mitchell mold.  This significantly broadened my admiration and respect for Questlove. And for that matter other hip-hop live instrumentalists/producers who could tailor make records for iconic artists they respected and admired.

First Funny Music Buying Twist Of Fate

Rufus Stompin At The Savvoy

This could be a very long story. But it still makes me laugh at the absurdity of it all so will endeavor to condense it. 18 or so years ago when I was first getting into Rufus & Chaka Khan? I kept noticing this double CD on sale at Borders Books & Music in Bangor. With it’s $30 dollar price tag? I never gave it any thought,knowing only it was essentially a live album from the early 80’s. While that store always shuffled stock? This CD remained there at this same price into the new millennium. Finally in 2011 Borders closed down shop nationally. And all their stock,including CD’s,went on drastic mark down. I went there and bought a lot. Even saw other double CD sets marked down to $15 or less. Sure enough? Still this particular album seemed like the only one that never went on sale even at the bitter end.

Flash forward to about five years later. I’d noticed that this album was commanding prices well upwards in the double digits on Amazon and ebay.  And used no less. So one day a month or so ago while checking the website of my local record store Bullmoose? I noticed one of the stores had a used copy of this CD for under $10. So I picked it up. And as of today it’s one of my very favorite Rufus albums-with powerful live performances and great funk and jazz based studio tracks. So for an album that for almost two decades an album whose pretense in my life seemed to engender either reluctance or regret? A very happy musical experience came out of it in the end.

 


You might notice that the firsts indicated in this blog come primarily out of one spectrum of music. This wasn’t deliberate exactly. During my time online? I noticed many nostalgia based Top 10,20,50 music lists. With all kinds of subtexts. Still most people’s important experiences with music came from awkward moments with their peer group in terms of context. And the music that tends to be part of their journey is invariably punk or alternative rock of some variety. Occasionally even soul,jazz and blues too. And there’s absolutely nothing to be condemned about that. Any way that brings one to the joy of music has great meaning.

This blog actually extends into the very root of this blog. One can browse for info on the funk genre  and it’s offshoot musical children (such as disco and fusion) online. And they will album reviews,songs posted,downloads and a good deal of nostalgic comedy. But both Henrique and myself observed a void. One where there was litttle to no serious,well rounded online journalism on funk to the degree writers such as Rickey Vincent had done in the literary world. My aim with posts such as this is to help give the funk music spectrum the level of analyzation  and respect rock and jazz have received on the internet. And hopefully these personal stories will do so in an enlightening and amusing manner!

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Filed under 1980's, 1990s, 2008, 2015, Al Green, Alicia Keys, Amazon.com, Chaka Khan, classic funk, crate digging, Crusaders, Disco, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Fusion, George Clinton, George Duke, Imagination, Isley Brothers, Jamiroquai, Joe Sample, Late 70's Funk, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Nigel Hall, Prince, Psychedelia, psychedelic soul, Questlove, R.Kelly, The Roots

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/6/15 Rique’s Pick : “We Know We Got to Live Together” by Eugene Blacknell

Today’s Anatomy of THE Groove is special because I’m introducing a new to our blog that expands the definition of “New Funk.” The interest generated in Funk music by Hip Hop artists and movie directors and producers such as Quentin Tarantino and The Hughes Brothers also helped generate a wave of Funk re issues as well as wide releases for songs that were obscure even in the 1970s and ’80s. I guess it was natural that after the main hits of the big bands had been somewhat exhausted, the desire to hear classic era funk from lesser known artists would become greater and greater. In the case of today’s 1973 rediscovered Funk stomper, “We Know We Got to Live Together” by Eugene Blacknell and his band The New Bohemians, what we’re dealing with is a single that was released and played regionally but didn’t see widespread release until the ’00s. The region Eugene Blackwell came from and made his music in was my region, The East Bay Area of Northern California. Blacknell had a reputation as an ace guitar player who led bands from his teens on, making a handsome living playing in bars and clubs before the introduction of the Disc Jockey into the club scene. “We Know We Got To Live Together” is an anthemic, super funky, swaggering cut that fits right in with the very best of mid 70s funk. The song is so anthemic in quality that now, films have begun to use it as fresh music that has the classic funk sound, but by virtue of it’s obscurity, still fires the imagination as new music.

The song begins with a guitar riff from Blacknell, super funky, with bass notes leading up to a funky chord pattern. The guitar part is played through a wah wah of course, and the rhythmic feel is funky and laid back. Funky drum fills come in next and the sound is big and phat. The rest of the band kicks in and they strike up a stone cold groove, bass super funky in both note and feel, with the organ chiming in. The groove that Blacknell and his band gets is one that is so funky it could almost serve as a representative of mid ’70s laid back funk! The vocals come in and they’re super direct and down home soulful. The lyrical story laments several problems of the time and comes to a point where they say, “we’ve got to realise/its not the way/we want it to be.” After this the song goes to the vocal refrain of “We’ve Got to Live Together”, and under this vocal the band strikes up another super funky groove. When the lyric returns, Blacknell lays out the bleak mid ’70s scenario, taxes are going up and jobs are scarce. In this environment, the musician takes up the task of telling the people’s story “Help this population/understand this situation.”

The song next features a funky break, with the wah wah and the keyboard playing a call and response, with the wah wah letting a chord linger out and the organ answering with a tumbling piano riff and the vocals saying simply “Stay Together.” Blackwell then says, “Keep peace with me/I’ll keep peace with you/let me live and love my own way.” The song then goes to my favorite part, a heavy stomping tom tom drum lead part with Blacknell’s wah wah chiming on, that leads to the refrain “I’m so glad/Trouble don’t last always/no it don’t!” When I first got this CD back around 2007, that refrain, sung in Blacknell’s down home soulful style was my rallyinig cry, and it never failed to lift my spirits with its soulfully earnest optimism (and realism).

Eugene Blacknell and his various bands recorded many excellent sides in the 1970s and early ’80s, as well as performed and brought the funk to many audiences. It’s an amazing testament to the power and durability of the recorded mediums that their music has been rediscovered and accepted as part of the fabric of it’s time, regardless of it’s reception in that time. It also very useful for me as a Bay Area native to imagine what exactly the Bay Area sounded like in 1973. The message of “We Know We Got to Live Together” of course, is the right one, and its stated here in a very soulful and sensible way. We as people should be well aware of the alternative. But the groove Blacknell and co strike up is one that is highly distinct, funk that is laid back yet aggressive, a strong reputation of the hand clapping, whistle blowing, foot stomping mid ’70s. And I’m so glad it didn’t stay there, but that we now have it to enjoy for our times.

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Filed under 1970's, Blogging, crate digging

Seeing The Music: Andre’s Guide To Funk,Soul & Jazz Documentary Essentials!

SONY DSC

                   During the time I was growing up,the majority of men  around me were mainly interested in watching sports on television and action films in the movie theaters. From adolescence onward, the one thing that moved me in both media were musical documentaries about the black American musical spectrum that I was then absorbing like a sponge. The understanding of rhythm and harmony I received from seeing these musicians perform,speak of their histories along with the music they made provided me with a full sensory experience far beyond what I could’ve received from the limited literature of the era I was receiving.

                        Initially I was going to combine documentary films with biopics in the same blog. Since dramatizations  are a completely different medium of film making technique? Decided instead to break them up in separate but related blogs. Also because I received a very different level of education from them as well. Before hand,some of these documentaries are very hard to find even on YouTube. Many have never even been issued on DVD. Yet I highly recommend seeking all of them out if you are looking to seek out a first hand education on the soul,jazz,funk and R&B musical spectrum.

rock-n-roll

        This aired on PBS in 1995. The eighth part of it focused specifically on the genre of funk and it’s development from James Brown on through George Clinton. The final volume focused on hip-hop. The names of Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash first came to me through watching this documentary. Not to mention the knowledge of rap’s musical roots in Jamaican reggae DJ’s such as Kool Herc. While some of the narrative commentary shows a limited understanding of the connectivity of black American music’s connectivity? The insights of interviewees such as Maceo Parker,Alan Leeds,George Clinton,Afrika Bambaataa and Chuck D are extremely insightful to what drove the music forward.

record row cradle of rhythm and blues

Narrated by the late Chess Records icon Etta James,this documentary not only opened my eyes to understanding the history of blues,soul and funk in 60’s Chicago. But was also the first glimpse I got into the idea of black American financial empowerment. Jerry Butler explained it best in this when describing how Curtis Mayfield starting his Curtom label,taking control of his publishing,took the Chicago scene into the funk era by closing down the era of people such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker functioning as “musical sharecroppers”.

The strong emphasis this has on United Record Distributors,the only black American record distributors  in their time run by the Leaner brothers,proved extremely significant in my understanding of black America’s experience with capitalism for years to come. And the level of communication in the civil rights era through the iconic radio station WVON,such a significant force in the city that if an artist wasn’t on their play list,record stores would not stock their music. Possibly my favorite musical documentary all told.

motown40

It was this epic documentary mini series,hosted by Diana Ross that really allowed me to understand the internal workings of Motown records. From it’s foundational years when Berry Gordy,having failed as a record store owner in Detroit,began writing songs for Jackie Wilson. And then borrowed $800 from his family to start what become an American musical institution. A black American institution. The interviews follow Motown’s changes from it’s salad period in the mid 60’s,through the funk and disco era when the artists had the most creative control,on through Berry deferring ownership of the company in the mid 80’s through it’s resurgence with vocal boy bands and then Puff Daddy Combs remixing the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. A very complete and thorough history on The Sound Of Young America.

jazz-show

Overall I’d apply the same viewpoint to this documentary as I would apply to PBS’s  Rock ‘N’ Roll from seven years earlier. It’s understanding of musical connectivity,absolutely key to jazz,is more limited to the participants (such as Ken Burns  and Wynton Marsalis) perceptions of the music than it is lacking. Yet the decision to weave an internal documentary on the life and career of Louis Armstrong as a key figure in jazz is double edged: it didn’t quite succeed in term of historical continuity but did showcase how the aspect of modern black American musical might’ve derived from Armstrong’s approach. I learned about important sociological figures in the music such as Buddy Bolden,James Reese Europe and Sidney Bechet here as well. With the help of my father’s asides,this helped complete my historical understanding of jazz.

Scratch

Went to Portland Maine to see this movie,in a little movie theater underground of a local clotherie. It was actually a suitable environment for this film. It traces Grand Mixer DST’s pioneering turntable work with Herbie Hancock on his “Rockit” project. It than goes on to discuss the fine art of crate digging for used vinyl by hip-hop scratch artists. There was no irony to the fact that I was myself crate digging myself,only for my personal listening pleasure and musical enlightenment,less than an hour after seeing this in the used record stores of the city of Portland. One of those films that was both influential and validating exactly at the time I saw it.

Earth Wind & Fire Shinning Stars

Probably the one documentary I was the most excited to learn about upon it’s release. It follows the ascension of Maurice White from his childhood in Memphis to switching his college major from premed to music and playing with the Ramsey Lewis Trio before forming his first and second incarnations of Earth,Wind & Fire. The fact that bassist/trombonist Louis Satterfield,saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk,drummer Ralph Johnson and guitarist Al McKay go deeply into their own insights on how music functioned in terms of being a member of Earth Wind & Fire during it’s prime period.

Stevie Wonder Classic Albums

In terms of the Rhino Classic Album series? This now very hard to find DVD interviews all of the musicians involved in the long winded and dramatic recording sessions to what is considered Stevie Wonder’s shinning musical pinnacle. Stevie demonstrates the double keyboarded Yamaha GX-1 (known as the Dream Machine)- a polyphonic synthesizer I find sonically and visually impressive. Another favorite part is where Stevie showcases how his musical acumen allowed him to cover over for a harmonic solo at the end of “Isn’t She Lovely” that a harmonica player of his caliber shouldn’t have made. Hearing the musical insights of this mans inner visions was a hugely important musical milestone for me.

Marvin Gaye Life & Death Of

Marvin Gaye’s history has,especially in the hands of author David Ritz,was generally depicted for me literarily in extremely magisterial terms. This BBC documentary,one that came my way through a life changing act of barter in itself,really did a lot to put more of a human face on the complexities of Marvin Gaye’s musical and personal life. Through interviews with the artist himself and penetrating reenactments of the even of his childhood? I’d recommend this as the best available visual documentation on Marvin Gaye.

Tom Dowd

Tom Dowd is probably listed as the producer of more albums than anyone in American music history. This man started out working for the Manhattan Project on the atomic bomb. And his career as a producer extends throughout both the black music and rock era spectrum-an array of artists as diverse as John Coltrane to Lynyrd Skynyrd. The amazing about this documentary isn’t merely the musical history. But Down provides an inside look,right at the mixing board,onto how he instrumentally layered songs such as “Layla”. A key story for understanding the intricacies of the musical creative process.

Bob Marley

For many years Bob Marley was mainly known to me as a superficial icon of a certain local stoner culture,one that tended to feel sociopolitical change derived solely from drug use and how it changed the consciousness. This story chronicles the complex wheel of Marley’s musical life-starting from his childhood in Trenchtown,Kingston in Jamaica through his near assassination attempt in 1976 through his passing on from Melanoma in 1981. This really broke it down exactly what about his back-round and viewpoint on the Jamaican music industries corruption that motivated the sociopolitical consciousness of the reggae music he helped to pioneer and export the world over in his lifetime.

Respect Yourself

It was thanks to Netflix that I found out about this documentary about Soulville USA! Stax Records were both the rival and opposite to Motown’s business model during it’s mid 60’s heyday. This is extremely thorough on it’s representation of Stax literally rising back from the dead following the double cross of Jerry Wexler’s Atantic Records ownership over Stax’s catalog following the death of Otis Redding, the labels burgeoning social consciousness embodied in Isaac Hayes,the Staple Singers and Wattstax during the early 70’s and financial bloating bringing the label down mid decade. Than Stax came back decades later-with a music school for young musicians to boot. Especially following the creative managing of Al Bell and interviews with many of the artists from Stax’s heyday? This is the essential story of Southern Soul from when Stax really bought the funk into the music.

Michael Jackson Life Of An Icon

Michael Jackson’s story has been re-purposed in the media so many times? It is nearly impossible to approach his life story with total objectivity. Thus far,this is one documentary that does the best job of doing so. For one,it concentrates on Mike’s late teens and early adulthood in terms of his musical development. And by interviewing everyone from Bobby Taylor,who first discovered the Jackson’s performing onto 80’s era manager Frank Dileo? It strips away some of the overbearing adulation and downright hero worship that this distinctive and funky musical talent found somewhat responsible for his own end. An end that came far too soon. Probably the essential Michael Jackson documentary thus far.

unsung_logo2012-wide

Unsung is an unprecedented documentary series on the cable network TV One. The reason for it’s importance is that it profiles an often underrated musical icons from within the soul/funk spectrum. And does so with a great level of care and compassion. As of now I’ve not been privileged to see every episode of the series. Yet the stories of people such as Tammi Tarrell,David Ruffin,Donny Hathaway,Full Force,Angela Bofill and Heatwave lead singer Johnnie Wilder provided an excellent insight into artists either misrepresented or not even spoken of broadly in other media circles.

Finding Fela

It was a reference in Paul McCartney’s documentary Wingspan that first gave me indication to the name Fela Anikulapo Kuti. This story probably brings my understanding of the African American musical spectrum near to it’s final stages. My conversations with blogging partner Rique are consistently referencing Kuti. And this film really expands on that understanding. The understanding of Fela as the Nigerian James Brown,whom he in fact was very highly influenced by through travelling through America during the years of black power in the late 60’s.

While the man bought the sound and social consciousness of total rhythm into his combination of African Highlife and jazz-funk?  He also set upon living a lifestyle of breaking down conventions,largely coming out of the corruption that led to tragic events such as the murder of his own mother. This really embodies the full spectrum of emotion a life can have-from pioneering,to humorous to tragic. And it also helps bring out peoples understanding and misunderstanding of what African culture is really all about.


Sometimes when I try to encourage people to watch more documentaries,they often respond by saying that they find them boring. At the end of the day they say? They want to escape,not learn. What I’ve personally come to understand is that knowledge functions as both a destination and an escape. Just depends on how you receive it. Being lectured at about topics by a teacher isn’t always the idea method of education. Yet through documentaries on a favorite subject? One can experience first hand,sometimes comic history,joy and tears from the viewpoint of all involved.  And for me? These have all provided the ultimate in learning while being simultaneously entertained.

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Filed under 1990s, Bob Marley, Chicago, crate digging, Earth Wind & Fire, Etta James, Fela Kuti, Funk, George Clinton, Heatwave, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Jazz, Ken Burns, Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Maurice White, Mavis Staples, Memphis Soul, Michael Jackson, Portland Maine, reggae, Stax, Stevie Wonder, Tom Dowd, Unsung series, Vee-Jay