Patti Labelle shares the grown of 70’s funky diva’s as it were. Right up there with Aretha and Chaka. A Philly soul sister who’d started as the lead singer of the Bluebells,as well as almost marrying Temptations member Otis Williams,the group changed their name to Labelle. This trio of Patti,Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash started off backing up singer-songwriter Laura Nyro on her soul/R&B based 1971 album Gonna Take a Miracle. Several years later,the trio unleashed a major hit in “Lady Marmalade”,written by Allen Toussaint. It became a key number in ushering New Orleans funky soul straight into the disco era.
The trio began having creative difference,coinciding with their music declining in commercial success. After Hendryx suffered a nervous breakdown after a show in Baltimore,Patti decided to fulfill her own career and be a diplomat all at once by suggesting the trio begin perusing solo projects. Patti signed with producer David Rubinson,then working with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and who’d also helmed Labelle’s final 70’s album Chameleon. Patti Labelle’s self title solo debut came out in 1977. My favorite song on it, written by Motown’s Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, was called “Funky Music”.
A thick bass line starts off the song playing with a rocking verve about it. It’s soon totally accompanied by a slow crawling chicken scratch guitar. The drum then kicks in with with a medium tempo,snare heavy hit. Throughout the song,a round and bumping filtered “duck face” slap bass keeps a steady percussive vibe going. The horns on this song play in harmonized unison to the choruses and refrains. On the choruses,Patti is joined by a group of all star female backup singers for a strong gospel/soul choir. On the bridge,the drum starts swinging low on the cymbals before coming back up again before the song fades out.
Marrying Patti Labelle’s soul shouting dramatic soprano voice to the songwriting of Norman Whitfield was just about as ingenious as her groups pairing with Toussaint several years earlier. As the disco era was at it’s peak,Patti threw down a song that was raw and bass heavy funk as anything Sly Stone had done earlier in the decade. And the slow,punchy groove of it all really allowed the gospel joy always present in Patti’s voice to sour and groove high with the chunky bass/guitar/horn interaction. It’s one of the earliest and best examples of Patti Labelle giving up the funk during her solo career.
Filed under 1970's, chicken scratch guitar, David Rubinson, Disco, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Norman Whitfield, Patti Labelle, Philly Soul, slap bass
Herbie Hancock’s four pre Future Shock albums in the early 80’s albums have always been very special to me personally. They may not have been massively successful commercially, but were some of his most potent jazz/funk masterpieces of his electric period. One of my favorite albums of this period was his third released from the 1981’s entitled Magic Windows. The album was by and large a heavy funk set including heavy participation from Ray Parker Jr.,who’d been working with Hancock for six years and for whom Hancock composed the song “Tonight’s The Night” for his Raydio project a year before-during which Hancock released two albums of his own in Monster and Mr.Hands.
This album was recorded at David Rubinson’s Automat studio’s in San Francisco,a studio known for it’s early embrace of automatic mixing technology as well as some of the biggest producers and musicians who recorded there. Perhaps realizing how his using synthesizers to play horn charts was influences the oncoming 80’s boogie/electro funk sound,Hancock touted this album as having no strings,brass or other orchestral elements on this album outside his electronics. Having been inspired by Talking Head’s electronic Afro-Funk explosions on their Remain In Light album,Hancock bought in Adrian Belew from their band for the his new albums finale entitled “The Twilight Clone”.
The song builds from the funky shuffle of Hancock’s drums and Paulinho da Costa’s percussion (along with a host of others) accents. Louis Johnson chimes in with one of his thickest slap bass lines before Hancock comes back in with a brittle LinnDrum beat and bubbling,mechanical and percussive synths. George Johnson joins in for chugging rhythm guitar,and all of this is accented by Hancock’s own synth bass line. Belew’s trademark “zoo guitar” sound plays the lead line with a very Arabic style melody. Shortly after the song goes up in pitch melodically,the bridge showcases a guitar/percussive breakdown between Da Costa, Johnson and Belew before fading out on it’s own main chorus.
On many levels,this is my favorite Herbie Hancock song of the 1980’s. It’s a perfect example of the electro funk process functioning strongly on the rhythm of the one. Hancock sets the pass as the drummer on this song,as well as providing his synthesizers as a percussive element in much the same way as he had on “Nobu” eight years earlier. He brings in the Arabic melodic tones of Adrian Belew’s horn-like guitar into the Afrocentric percussion Paulinho Da Costa brings to it. Of course the heavy funk element is locked down tight by the Brothers Johnson. So this song essentially acts as the total nucleus of what Hancock’s mid/late 80’s sound would be on a technological and structural level.
Filed under 1980's, Adrian Belew, Boogie Funk, Brothers Johnson, David Rubinson, drums, elecro funk, George Johnson, guitar, Herbie Hancock, Linn Drum, Louis Johnson, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, rhythm guitar, San Francisco, synth bass, synth brass, Synth Pop, synthesizer, The Automat, Uncategorized
Many jazz musicians made funk albums during the late 60’s and throughout the following decade. Being that this was a music based primarily in rhythm,starting with James Brown’s concept of his entire band becoming a drum,it was a wonderful new medium for melodic piano and horn players to improvise over. Herbie Hancock took a very different path than his ex boss in this area,with Miles Davis playing his horn primarily over funky vamps. Hancock took the time to create strong funk compositions that are today considered jazz/funk standards. And both musicians innovated enormously during this time with their approaches to the jazz/funk sub genre.
By the middle of the decade,Miles had gone into temporary retirement. And Herbie continued to forge ahead musically. His relationship with producer David Rubinson dated back to his arrival at Columbia. As the 70’s progressed, jazz/funk began to evolve towards what the band Brick would describe in song as dazz-short for a new subgenre called disco jazz. With the new four on the floor dance beats providing optimal opportunities for a composer as keen as Hancock’s,he allowed his musical imagination to take flight right across the dancefloor in the same way he had with earlier forms of funk. The result was his 1979 album Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Know and it’s opening number “You Bet Your Love”.
The drum and percussion rhythm laid is laid down the the Headhunters’ Bill Summers and Kansas City session ace James Gadson. Ray Obiedo’s rhythm guitar and Eddie Watkins’ phat slap bass introduces Hancock’s spacy synth orchestrations. His lead vocals on vocoder are introduced by a breathy female backup group singing the chorus. These vocals continue throughout the refrain and with Hancock on the main choruses. They also introduce the bridge of the song where Watkin’s and Obiedo again solo with Hancock’s synths playing the horn charts-plus his Fender Rhodes soloing. The song concludes with a continual repetition of the chorus with vocoder improvisations from Hancock himself.
Writer Rickey Vincent referred to Feet’s Don’t Fail Me Now as being one of the best records of 1979. Sonically and in terms of funk,I have no argument with him. This song is important for Herbie Hancock in two ways. For one,the song is structurally right out of the big band swing school. At the same time,thick and phat bass/guitar lines and percussion beef up it’s glossy space disco/funk sound. This allows for the second important aspect of this song. On it’s bridge,Hancock uses polyphonic synthesizers to simulate big band horn charts-actually his variation of the Minneapolis sound on the jazz level. That makes this a rhythmically vital and musically innovative Herbie Hancock groove.
Filed under 1970's, Bill Summers, David Rubinson, disco funk, disco jazz, drums, Eddie Watkins, Fender Rhodes, Herbie Hancock, James Gadson, jazz funk, percussion, Ray Obiedo, rhythm guitar, slap bass, space funk, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder