Slave are a band that I’ve desired to talk about for some time now. They were among one of the great late 70’s/early 80’s Dayton Ohio bands along with Heatwave and Zapp. What made them unique in their time however is that they were likely the first Generation X funk band-all of its members still in high school when they formed in 1976. Their first album the following year got them an instant smash funk hit with the song “Slide”,now a mainstay of what many funkateers refer to as “Dayton funk” subgenre. By their 1979 album Just A Touch Of Love,singer/songwriter/drummer Steve Arrington joined the band.
Arrington was only a member of Slave for four years,before leaving to form a successful solo career of his own starting in 1983. But in the early 80’s,Arrington’s unique (and occasionally idiosyncratic) vocal approach allowed Slave to become one of the bands to lay the building blocks for what is now known as the post disco/boogie funk sound. Their first album of the 1980’s (and second album to feature Arrington) was called Stone Jam. Its one of the few Slave albums to remain consistently in print over the years. One of its most well known (and successful) jams is called “Watching You”
Arrington throws the strong dance beat along with Mark Hicks high,clean guitar tone that revs up into the main chorus of the song. This features Ray Turner’s high pitched synthesizer melody and and the late Mark “Mr. Mark” Adams delivers a great walking,slapping bass line holding the whole thing together. The falsetto choral vocals transition to Arrington’s narrative vocals on the refrains. The bridge of the song has Arrington’s drums showcasing M. Mark’s powerful bass line as a solo-with Turner’s synths on the accents. A new chorus with both vocal parts continues until the song fades.
My friend Henrique and I often have a lighthearted dialog about a “super hip young brother in the early 80’s” driving around in a sporty little car trying to impress the ladies around him. “Watching You” brings up this image strongly. Its got the thick,bass/guitar oriented groove that was Slave’s stock and trade. That combined with its playful lyrics of young black people giving each other the admiring,romantic eye made the song and the Stone Jam album Slave’s biggest commercial success since the bands debut four years earlier. And this helps to define “Watching You” a post disco funk masterpiece.
Ohio Players emerged in the early 70’s as the first wave of Dayton funk bands-which would later go on to include Sun,Heatwave,Slave and Zapp among others. Clarence Satchell,Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks and bassist Marshall Jones were originally members of the Ohio Untouchables. They started out as a backing group for The Falcons-whose members included Wilson Pickett,Eddie Floyd and the Untouchables original lead singer/guitarist Robert Ward. The apparently unreliable Ward was replaced by Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner . The band changed their to name to the Ohio Players by 1965.
The band signed to Westbound in 1970. There they added musicians such as Walter Junie Morrison. He provided their first major hit in the humorous funk groove of “Funky Worm” a couple of years later. In 1974,the band left Westbound and signed to Mercury while Junie stayed behind for a solo career and eventually joining George Clinton’s P-Funk-with George being an admirer of Ohio Players. Right out of the box on Mercury they had a hit which I discovered over 20 years ago in my parents 45 collection. But the album version is another entity altogether. It’s the title song to their Mercury debut Skin Tight.
Marshall Jones gets the party started with one of the most iconic bass lines in 70’s funk-with it’s bluesy base. Wah wah guitar joins in shortly before conga drums lead into the main song. It starts with ascending and descending horn charts. The drum plays a fast tempo that hits heavy on the snare on every other beat. The wah wah and percussion zero right in on the rhythm while the electric piano provides melodic accompaniment. Throughout the song,ascending horns define the chorus while descending horns define the choruses. After an electric piano solo on the bridge,the chorus fades out the song.
The first time I heard this song,it didn’t really occur to me that this was hearing funk 101 as it were. In terms of the mid/late 70’s sound of the genre,this song had it locked down. The call and response lead/falsetto vocals and horns,and the chorus staying right on the one for nearly eight minutes on the album version. Of course,Jones’ bass line became (as my friend Henrique pointed out) the signature riff on songs such as The Commodores “Brick House” a several years later. Ohio Players always gave up the funk after this. But “Skin Tight” is the song that truly got the party going for them on Mercury!
Filed under 1974, Clarence Satchell, Dayton Ohio, drums, electric piano, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Leroy Sugarfoot Bonner, Marshall Jones, Ohio Players, percussion, Ralph "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar
Out of the same melting pot of funk from which Slave and Heatwave emerged? Dayton,Ohio band Lakeside were the premier large funk band on Dick Griffey’s Solar label from 1978 up through 1984. One key element of this band that’s come up in the conversations I’ve had with Henrique is how committed Lakeside were to being a funk band. Truthfully, I didn’t fully understand everything in that particular discussion . Still there’s no doubt that Lakeside were vital in funk’s transition between the disco era funk and the post disco/boogie sound to follow.
The one thing I always loved about Lakeside was how their album jackets (in a similar manner to the Ohio Players) helped visually conceptualize their funk. Each one featured the band members acting out a particular event related to their album titles. Their 1981 release Keep On Moving Straight Ahead is a superb example as it features Lakeside as jockey’s-at the Kentucky Derby perhaps. And that one is riding a Zebra and being chased by a black bird showcases strong Afrocentricity. What actually caught my attention most was the last song on side A of the vinyl copy I had called “It’s Got To be Love”.
It’s a groove that starts moving with a powerfully percussive rhythm,with a sunny melody played within it by a round and high pitched synthesizer. Then a heavy acoustic piano chimes in as a bass line while a playfully liquid rhythm guitar plays the changes. On the refrains of the song? The bright synth that opens the song returns as an orchestral element. The soulful growl of lead singer/composer Mark Adam Wood Jr. is accompanied by the beautiful multi part harmonies of the bands other vocalists. After returning briefly to the stripped down percussion that opens it? The melody scales up in pitch before the song itself fades out.
This is a very strong representative of the type of funk I tend to be drawn most to. And again? Have noticed how much of it derives from either Ohio or California. It’s both a very singable,hooky song and a strong groove all at the same time. It mixes the churchy vocals,harmonies and melodies of the Philly sound with the bright,optimistic late 70’s/early 80’s boogie approach. Yet the live instrumental end is much more prominent here. So in the end? It’s the post disco era’s equivalent of the funky soul sound. One that was actually used often,and seldom discussed.At the end,it’s one of Lakeside’s finest and more unsung jams.
Filed under 1980's, Afrocentrism, albums, Boogie Funk, dance funk, Dayton Ohio, Dick Griffey, Funk, funk guitar, funky soul, Lakeside, Philly Soul, post disco, Solar Records