Dexter Wansel first became known to me as one of the Philly PIR team who worked on the 1976 debut album by the Jacksons. Being more broadly aware of the Philly soul sound now,Wansel seems to have a very different approach to music than Gamble & Huff and Thom Bell did. With disco era classics such as the Jones Girls “Nights Over Egypt” and “Keep On Dancing”,one of my favorite Jacksons’ songs off that Epic label debut,Dexter Wansel’s arrangements were based in his keyboard and guitar playing. Therefore his productions seem to have some of the funkiest bottoms of 70’s Phily funk and soul.
One thing Wansel also did was maintain a solo presence on PIR concurrent to his productions. One of these albums,which I never managed to pick up on vinyl despite seeing it all the time,was 1978’s Voyager. The album cover always stood out to me as a Trekker/sci fi admirer because of the prominent Star Trek model kit bash featured as some sort of robot riding through the desert. Through MP3 and YouTube,I’ve been fortunate enough to hear this album all the way through.And its an album that starts out with a funky bang with the jam “All Night Long”.
An otherworldly space funk Moog bass starts the song off. Then the drums come in playing a disco era friendly dance/funk beat. This is accompanied by a mid toned rhythm guitar sustain,accenting horns and a SERIOUS slap bass thump. With the addition of an accompanying Fender Rhodes piano and Wansel’s falsetto/tenor vocal leaps this represents the choruses and refrains of the song. On the last part of the song,a major horn chart segues into a percussive,jumping beat over which a sassy,rocking blues guitar riffs with the phat slap bass and keyboard lines before scratching hard as the song closes out.
Without any hesitation, this is one of the hardest straight up funk jams to come out of the PIR camp. The beat has a swaggering,percussive shuffle. The keyboard/synthesizer parts are layered in a manner that lays somewhere between early 70’s “united funk” and mid/late 70’s space funk. And Wansel’s vocals (I’m pretty sure they’re his) have some of the slyly sexy attitude of his particular musical camp. Honestly I tend to think of Philly soul as the breezy,string laden proto disco sound of the 70’s. This helps showcase Dexter Wansel as a major player in the harder groove based element of the Philly sound.
Filed under 1970's, dance funk, Dexter Wansel, drums, Fender Rhodes, horns, Moog bass, Philadelphia, Philly funk, Philly Soul, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, slap bass, synthesizers
The Jacksons self titled label debut on Epic is a very nostalgic one for me. For one thing, it’s the very first CD I purchased with my own money-if I remember sometime in the autumn of 1994. The history of the brothers breaking their contract with Motown,the record company who made them famous for the sake of gaining more creative control fascinated my burgeoning artistic ethic at the time. I was very interested to hear what the Jackson brothers sounded like having experienced their first tastes of artistic freedom. Even understanding they only wrote two of the ten songs on this album was still an exciting understanding to have as a teenager growing up near the turn of the millennium.
During the final years at Motown,the Jackson brothers had become fascinated by the Philly sound coming out of the PIR studios. Especially under the tutelage of Kenny Gamble,Leon Huff and Dexter Wansel. These were record producers who thought like artists-in the case of the latter two they made records under their own name. So they always approached the record from a quality control rather than a commercially geared manner. Because this was quite a different approach to the assembly line hit factory approach of Motown,it did allow for the brothers to gain a stronger uniqueness to their sound. And the result was the lead off song and single from their 1976 debut as The Jacksons on “Enjoy Yourself”.
A nasal bass pitched rhythm guitar opens with the main melody of the song. It’s accompanied with the medium tempo beat with a bouncing conga drums-perhaps from the Jacksons youngest brother Randy. The harmony’s of the brothers trading off with the leads of Michael are themselves harmonizing with a short chordal burst of electric piano and big band style horns. Those horns play more sustained phrases on the refrains. The bridge of the song is sung by elder Jackson brother Jackie in his gravely lower register along a jazzy funk electric piano part and horns that keep building in intensity up until the song fades out on an even more powerful variation of the chorus.
Conversing with my main musical inspiration right now Henrique about this song has bought me to a significant musical understanding. He describe this song, especially it’s opening rhythm guitar part as having a country sound. My drummer had me on the beat that in musical terms “country” was short hand for country/western music. In fact it referred to a very rural approach to playing an instrument-such as at a family reunion or county fair live band. Considering these brothers were taught old blues and country songs by their mom Katherine,it’s probably no surprise that Gamble & Huff would tailor an uptempo funk/soul tune for them with that strong down home instrumental flavor.
In any event this song was a wonderful way to begin the Jackson brothers adult career. The song really emphasizes them strongly as a group-with their deep,gospel drenched five part harmonies taking presidents on the choruses. The focus of the family was not yet focused so heavily as a dry run for the upcoming solo career of brother Michael. And as I listen to it as an adult with all these new musical understandings, the fact that Gamble & Huff put that country styled soul flavor into their new funk really gave the brothers more musical distinction than the production line approach Motown often used with them. In a lot of ways,it’s a song that says a lot about the Jacksons more personal musical interests.
Thematically the song also has it’s place in the creative liberation of the Jackson brothers. Basically Mike is singing about being at a party with a very insecure date whose “sittin’ over there starring into space” while everyone else is “dancing all over the place”. He’s advising this person to not obsess over what they can’t change. Finally he asks them flat out to have a good time instead of “sittin’ there with your mouth poked out just sweet as you can be”. It was recorded during the bicentennial year. Seems to have been the idea at the time of moving ahead from where the 60’s attitudes left off. And this song simply advises to live the life they’ve got and to enjoy themselves.
Filed under 1970's, country/soul, Dexter Wansel, electric piano, Epic Records, Funk, Gamble & Huff, horns, Jackie Jackson, Katherine Jackson, Michael Jackson, Philly Soul, Randy Jackson, The Jacksons, Uncategorized