Nile Rodgers remains one of my musical heroes to this very day. He’s survived the anti disco backlash his band Chic received,drug addiction and most recently a cancer scare. He’s also done so with gusto,a confident smile and strut,and plenty of new musical activity. Among them (so I hear) working with Janelle Monae on her upcoming album. His rhythm guitar style became one of the most identifiable and influential of the final quarter of the 20th century. That guitar style also shaped his second career as a producer for some of the 80’s biggest acts such as Duran Duran,Inxs and Madonna.
On another level,he actually had a third musical career. And its one that didn’t earn him quite the accolades that he had with Chic or as a producer. That was,irony aside,his own solo career. It all occurred when Chic petered out following their final album Believer. That same year Rodgers embarked on his solo career-presenting himself primarily as a multi instrumentalist/writer/producer/singer. This first solo album was a wonderfully conceptualized package called Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove. One song that stands out strongly for me is called “It’s All In Your Hands”.
A brittle yet rolling drum machine beat starts out the song unaccompanied-sounding very in keeping with early 80’s hip-hop spareness. After 10 seconds of this,a lead melodic synthesized piano comes in-along with a brittle synth bass line. Rodgers brings in a smooth,reverbed rhythm guitar repeating a rather jazzy melodic theme over this. This acts as the primary body of the entire song. The sexual surrender expressed in the lyrics also remain on the one throughout. The bridge of the song emphasizes Rodgers’ rhythm guitar riffing before that ongoing chorus fades out the song.
Listening to this song outside the context of the wonderfully grooving album its from,it becomes clear how many bridges this song actually crosses. It has the hard break beats and stripped down ethic of period hip-hop-along with the rhythmic instrumental exchanges of funk. Not to mention some of the smoother production values of new wave pop/rock of the mid 80’s. This song represented the transition between Chic’s funky,often jazzy type of disco to the rock friendly dance productions of Nile Rodgers career of the 80’s. And is a superb example of his solo sound.
James Brown and his sax player Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis wrote and recorded a song during JB’s 34th birthday month in 1967 called “Cold Sweat”. As with many James Brown songs,it was developed from part of an earlier song. In this case,a soul ballad entitled “I Don’t Care” from his 1962 album Tour The U.S.A. Ellis had heard James grunting out a very rhythm bass line. He had been listing to the Miles Davis song “So What” a lot at the time. And was thinking a similar horn chart would work well as James Brown was rebooting his song for what he called “the funky bag I’m into right now”.
Speaking personally,this song is actually the very root of Andresmusicalk. My father once wrote a musical breakdown of War’s The World Is A Ghetto album while in college. And he suggested that myself and my friend Henrique Hopkins do a two part breakdown of “Cold Sweat”,the James Brown song that inaugurated the funk sound we all really love. Many things have happened since than. But with my father and Henrique’s encouragement and information,I’m going it alone on talking about this song that not only launched this blog in a way,but did the same for an entire genre.
Clyde Stubblefield throws down his funky drum as the bass of this song right in the center of the Afro Cuban rhythmic clave. Both the rhythm guitar of Jimmy Nolan,Alphonso Kellum and the bass of Bernard Odum all utter a series of harmonically complex scaling lines in close concert with one another-with the JB horns playing those two note modal jazz style charts as Stubblefield comes down on the hi hats. On the refrains,James’s lyrical screams of “I DON’T CARE” keep the progression forward-until on the chorus,the drum breaks right out for the horns to scale right up with James’s vocals.
After the first vocal chorus,Maceo Parker delivers an expansion on the main horn charts of the song on his tenor sax solo. That’s also the first bridge of the song.After this,James calls out “GIVE THE DRUMMER SOME!” repeatedly to Stubblefield,who promptly delivers the percussive,break heavy drum solo that defines the whole groove. After this,the chorus refrain patter comes right back in. As the song begins the fade out,the second refrain becomes the main one. A refrain where the horns and Nolan’s guitar play in near perfect unison with the beat before the song does indeed fade away.
There are some times where studying any art you admire can dampen ones appreciation of it. That hasn’t been the case with myself and “Cold Sweat” at all. The more I learn about the nature of it’s instrumental content,the more musically revolutionary it reveals itself to be. James of course strips out most of the straight melodic elements to the point where the horns,drums,guitar and bass are playing melody,harmony and rhythm all at the same time. It truly was an extremely unique way to present music. And perhaps represents the very moment when James Brown forever reshaped American popular music.
Filed under 1960's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Alphonso Kellum, Bernard Odum, chicken scratch guitar, clave, Clyde Stubblefield, drum breaks, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Uncategorized
Aretha Franklin,having turned 74 today,has been alive during one of the most significant musical periods in terms of soul’s transition towards rhythm-towards funk.Her signature song at Atlantic was a version of Otis Redding’s “Respect”,which really showcased how the Southern soul style she embraced was edging towards that funky timing. Now Aretha has had some amazing uptempo songs,many of which were major hits,over her time as a recording artist. And they’ve all showcased how despite understandings to the contrary, that uptempo music can be just as timeless as balladry. Of course as with any artist,there were peaks and valleys for her. Some of those peaks were also pretty high ones.
Focusing to a degree on gospel soul/R&B ballads during the early 70’s,Aretha was becoming very well aware that the musical tide was shifting towards the more uptempo sound she’d pioneered in the late 60’s. So at some point in 1970-early 71 Aretha had a basic piano sketch of a groove that she presented to some of the new musicians she was working with. They were drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie,future Stuff guitarist Cornell Duperee and electric bass extraordinaire Chuckrh Rainey. This trio allowed for this song to be built directly from the rhythm up and become huge early 70’s hit for her. The name of the groove was “Rock Steady”.
Pops Popwell and Dr.John provide a hot Brazilian percussion accent to the bluesy organ of Donny Hathaway. From here Purdie’s drums really get going within this bed of percussion shaking along. Cornell get’s his James Brown rhythm guitar going on in a serious way in the center of this groove while Rainey’s bass is patted in with the sound of a deep, pulsating heart. On the choruses,Aretha’s vocals are echoed along with the backup harmonies from the Sweethearts Of Soul. Each refrain is buffeted by the very jazzy Afro pop charts from The Memphis horns. On the bridge,Purdie provides a percussive drum back that’s now one of the most famous in history before the song fades out.
There are times where the funkiness of a groove has to be discovered by listening closely. “Rock Steady” is not one of those grooves. It’s a song that demands moving and heavy booty shaking. With it’s strong Afro-Latin horn and percussion vibe,this is actually one of the songs that help inaugurate the “united funk” era of the early/mid 70’s. Everyone playing in on this song act in the manner of JB as one rhythm machine. The song construction is so advanced,it thickens the whole sound. Aretha even lets us know to “call this song exactly what it is” before declaring it “a funky and lowdown feeling”. So as with Wilson Pickett’s “Funky Broadway”,this groove really assumes it’s funkiness proudly.
Filed under 1970's, Aretha Franklin, Atlantic Records, Bernard Pretty Purdie, Chuck Rainey, Cornell Dupree, Donny Hathaway, Dr.John, drum breaks, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Memphis Horns, organ, percussion, Pops Powell, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized