Maurice White,one of the musical icons who passed away this year,it best known as the founder of Earth Wind & Fire-the most commercially successful of the 70’s funk bands in terms of crossover. On the other hand,the band broke up in 1984. And one of the many reasons brought up was that White had it in his mind that Columbia (the bands record label) were looking for him to do a solo album. This album got released in 1985. Its biggest single was with a (mostly) uptempo version of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”. But it still remains something of a footnote in EWF history.
When I first heard the album on vinyl album around 18-20 years ago,am not 100% sure it came off as anything all that exciting. Of course,that could’ve just been a case of seeking something different from it than what it was. And what Maurice White’s self titled (and sole) solo debut does is present a series of electronic,pan African rock/funk/soul fusions with a mild melodic pop new age vibe about them. The EWF message is still intact. Its just going more for an attitude than a sound by a large. The one song that always got my attention strongly was the opener “Switch On Your Radio”.
A totally electronic synth orchestration fades slowly on the intro. Than suddenly the song bursts with a bluesy funk melodic statement. And it has all the instrumental elements of the song itself. The drum machine and Paulinho Da Costa’s percussion play off the guitar,electronic hand clap and slap bass lines with this melodic electro funk wall of sound. This represents the choruses of the songs. On the refrains and the bridge,the mix is somewhat more stripped down to focus on the vocals a bit. An extended chorus with vocal ad lib’s finish out the song as it fades.
“Switch On Your Radio” has a sound that crosses a lot of musical bridges. The overall drum programming of the song has the bigness of sound that was very much of its time. Yet the live percussion accents along with Martin Page slap bass,Marlon McClain’s rock guitar and the ethereal synthesizers of Robbie Buchanan make for a powerful sound that basically amounts to a progressive dance/funk sound. And the melody has that strong song construction White and Page are so noted for. Its an extension of the EWF sound for sure. And it also pointed to a possible future solo direction for White which didn’t continue.
Filed under 1985, dance funk, drum machine, Earth Wind & Fire, elecro funk, Marlon McClain, Martin Page, Maurice White, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Robbie Buchanan, rock guitar, slap bass, synthesizer
Chuckii Booker is one of those artists whose intricate history is equal to the seeming few who have a strong knowledge of him. He was perhaps better known as the musical director,producer and opening act for Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation tour at only 23-24 years old. His talents as multi talented singer/songwriter/producer/multi instrumentalist got him signed as a solo artist to Atlantic in 1988. Not because of his original talents as primarily a bass player. But because execs accidentally listened to the other side of the demo tape that featured his vocals.
If funk/soul music had followed a totally straight line in the late 80’s/early 90’s,Chuckii Booker would likely have been the intermediary step between Prince and D’Angelo. After a couple Top 10 R&B smashes,Booker became regarded as a producer. In that respect touching on the work of artists ranging from Vanessa Williams,his godfather Barry White and EWF alumni Phillip Bailey. It took me a couple decades to go out and pick up Booker’s two solo CD’s. One of them (and his final one to date) was 1992’s Niice ‘N Wiild. One of the songs that’s really gotten my attention off of it is called “I Git Around”.
After a brief moment of party dialog,the main groove of the song sets in. This is a pounding drum machine that hits a very strong,electrified snare drum sound on the second beat. Along with that are two bass lines. One is a pulsing synth bass,the other is “possibly” a live one playing a “duck face” funky wiggle. Booker brings explosive synth strings,horn lines providing a strong “video game” sound along with the bluesy accents of the chorus. Not to mention a chromatic piano walk down playing in and out throughout the song. Just before the song fades,Booker brings in a tough chicken scratch guitar.
The new jack swing style could (and often was) made extremely generic by many in its commercial heyday. Yet Chuckii Booker used this song (along with many of his others) to point out the sub genres roots in 80’s funk. And even with the mildly new jack friendly rhythm,the instrumental toughness and electronic flamboyance is straight up P-Funk. Everything from the instrumentation to the lyric is pretty much a direct extension of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” from a decade before it. Makes one wonder how different 90’s uptempo music might’ve been had it followed this ultra funky model.
Filed under 1990s, chicken scratch guitar, chromatic walkdown, Chuckii Booker, drum machine, drums, Funk Bass, New Jack Swing, P-Funk, piano, synth bass, synth brass
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.
Barry White is probably best remembered as soul’s ultimate baritone. And as it were,one of the founding fathers of “baby makin’ music”. And on that level,he stands possibly only alongside Isaac Hayes. One of the things that has been bought more and more since his passing is that White was a brilliant arranger. When it came to combining percussion, piano and strings with a rhythm section,he was able to create some of the most defining arrangements of the funk AND disco era. And among his collection of side projects,this side of him came out most strongly on albums by the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
One of the things about Love Unlimited Orchestra that fascinated me is that,like Barry White himself,they recorded under that name with White long after their commercial peak was thought to have passed. The final Love Unlimited Orchestra to drop came out in 1983 and is called Rise. This was an album that I was unable to track down on CD,and missed out on one occasion in the vinyl format. When I finally did hear it from an MP3 copy,I was amazed what a strong and unexpected album it was. One song from it that stood out to both me and my mom is called “Do It To The Music”.
A resonant,buzzing synthesizer starts out the song. Then the drum machine kicks in playing a danceable Afro-Latin type beat-right along with a clean,round synth bass. On the chorus,the orchestra itself plays a spicy and melodic horn chart. The first three notes descend,while the final four ascend upwards. Throughout the song,the funky sounding vocal group The Voices Of Love sing call and response to the horns and buzzing synth that weave throughout the entirety of the songs. On the refrains,they mainly sing with the rhythm section. And its on the powerful chorus that the song fades out.
This is an excellent example of high octane Latin funk to come out of the Barry White musical camp in the early 80’s. With its prominent use of synthesizers and horns as opposed to strings,musically this song did for Barry White what “You’ve Got The Power” did for War a year earlier. It took the basic framework White had made famous,and updated the instrumental approach in an extremely positive way. And its solid proof that a lot of Barry White/Love Unlimited Orchestra’s music of the early/mid 80’s is a lot more obscure than it deserves to be.
Prince’s album 20Ten is celebrating its sixth anniversary this summer. It was Prince’s final album before laying low in terms of full length album released until he resigned with Warner Bros in 2014. It’s available for streaming and download today through the Tidal service. However not too many years ago,it was among the many rare Prince studio albums that wound up having a quirky distribution in terms of physical media. Personally, it’s one of the favorite Prince albums of his last decade. My favorite of that time period being Hitnrun Phase II-initially a Tidal exclusive until it’s CD release shortly after his death.
Always one to look to the futurism of his music,Prince seldom returned back to the stripped down,synth based Minneapolis sound he helped pioneer during his salad days. Wasn’t until well into the new millennium that he started to realize just how much the style of funk he’d spearheaded was effecting contemporary music. On the 20Ten album,he showcased this very successfully on a musical level. At the same time,these MPLS grooves were accompanied by his more matured lyrical content throughout a good majority of the album. One fine result of this is a song called “Lavaux”
A two beat drum machine pulse kicks off the song. A thick slap bass line comes in as part of the songs main section. This finds the thick sheets of analog synth brass accompanied by thick bass/guitar interaction and rhythm right in the pocket of the Afro-Latin clave. The rhythm guitar is very much out of the classic Prince school-chunky and played relatively high up on the neck of the instrument. Only on the choruses does the song break-changing melodic pitch with Prince’s vocals. After another few rounds of the songs main section,it very abruptly comes to a sudden stop.
In many ways,this song could’ve been something Prince had recorded during the 1999 sessions. Especially with it’s phat analog synths and the masterful drum programming. What makes this song stand out from Prince’s early 80’s sound is its thematic content. This isn’t a young man with seemingly conservative attitudes about fearing nuclear war and indulging in hedonism. This is a song from a middle ages artist who’s travelling across Europe because being back home is “another form of slavery” and that”the cost of freedom is anything but free”. Its therefore the MPLS sound most fully realized.
Filed under 2010's, analog synthesizers, drum machine, elecro funk, Funk Bass, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, synth brass, synth funk, Tidal
Miles Davis’s chief musical inspiration during the 80’s was Prince. He even referred to the late Minneapolis music icon as a “genius” in an interview with Bill Boggs. In 1986,Miles left Columbia after a decades long relationship and signed with Warner Bros.-the label Prince happened to be recording on. Prince did compose one song with Miles for a planned album session between them. The song was called “Can I Play With U”. As the story goes,Prince pulled the song because he felt the song didn’t fit with the other material Miles had planned for the album,which he named for the Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Miles ended up working with the multi instrumentalist /composer/arranger/ producer Marcus Miller. Miller had been part of Miles band since the beginning of his comeback in 1980. The album Tutu finally came out in September of 1986. While the album was largely reviewed in the same snide manner as much as anything of Miles’ electric period,it did totally bring his sound into the electro funk era. The impropriety of South African apartheid seemed to be on Miles’ mind while making this album as well. And therefore it ended with a very powerful groove entitled “Full Nelson”.
Starting out with a bit of trumpet practice,Miles mutters “go ahead” before the song breaks in. The song has a stomping,Cameo style drum machine beat. A pulsing,ultrasound type electronic bass sound bubbles into the back-round. Miller starts out playing a thick rhythm guitar. Than when his slap bass comes in,Miles improvise across the bass lines. Those lines descend into Miles on trumpet and Miller on sax playing the strong choral melody over an ethereal,orchestral synthesizer. After several rounds of Miles soloing across thick bass and synth pops,the song fades out again on it’s chorus.
Miles Davis really perfected his understanding of the full bodied funk song on “Full Nelson”. Marcus Miller totally embodies the Prince approach of multi layering digital horn synthesizers,melody and bass/guitar interaction with Miles trademark trumpet soloing style. Miller also lends that distinctive style of his own to the Minneapolis style groove here-including a somewhat thicker rhythmic stomp. Miles gets all the space and accents he needs to do his own thing as well. Tutu is a strong mid 80’s rebirth for Miles as it stands. And that it ends on possibly it’s most funky note says a lot.
Filed under 1986, drum machine, elecro funk, jazz funk, Marcus Miller, Miles Davis, Prince, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizers, trumpet, Warner Bros.
It would seem that 1973 bought a lot of changes into the Family Stone. Sly Stone had pretty much recorded There’s a Riot Going On by himself in a state of paranoid isolation. Band members were dubbed in as needed,with some such as Larry Graham and Greg Errico barely utilized-if even at all. This combined with Sly missing gigs during this era,to the point of it being blamed for starting a riot in Chicago in 1970 meant that some serious changes were needed within the band,if it was going to endure. In 1972 Larry Graham left the Family Stone to form Graham Centeral Station,with drummer Errico leaving during the same period.
During this time Sly himself began revamping the band. He bought in Rusty Allen to play bass during the time Graham was leaving and Andy Newmark as a drummer to succeed Errico. A vocal trio called Little Sister,including future Mrs. Leon Russel in Mary McCreary also came into the mix. Sly recorded with somewhat more involvement from the band for the album that would become 1973’s Fresh. Being a musical perfectionist, Sly insisting on remixing these songs even after the album came out. While this resulted in the original US CD release of it containing some of these alternate takes,the album began with a very defining groove for 70’s era Sly entitled “In Time”.
Sly begins the song with Newmark playing a very idiosyncratic march that intertwines with his own Maestro Rhythm King,an organ based drum machine,to play an Afro Latin percussive rhythm. Freddie plays a very probing melodic guitar with Sly’s organ providing a melodic pillow in the back round. Sly’s two note bass line seems to be present on this part. On the choruses,the drumming gets seriously on the one along with the horns and Allen’s more flamboyant bass parts. And the horns also play their usual call and response role on each rhythm. On the two instrumental refrains,Jerry Martini’s sax solos accompany Sly’s organ before the song closes on it’s own repeated choruses.
What this song does is serve the best possible purposes an opening tune can on an album. It sets the state for the sound for what is to come in that regard. Fresh is an album that blends a stripped down production with a slick sound and a full instrumental approach. And this song can best be described that way. The funk on this song,especially with it’s heavy rhythmic breaks and Sly’s drawling vocals,is more fully formed than it was on the previous album. The sound of the Maestro Rhythm King on early 70’s Sly records would also find it’s way onto Shuggie Otis’s work from the same period. So again,Sly was on the cutting edge of blending innovative instrumentation with strong rhythmic funkiness.
Filed under 1970's, Andy Newmark, drum machine, drums, Freddie Stone, Funk, Funk Bass, guitar, horns, Jerry Martini, Maestro Rhythm King, Mary McCreary, organ, Rusty Allen, Sly & The Family Stone, Sly Stone, Uncategorized
Eddy Grant first came to my attention in the same manner as he did most people around the world. And that was through his massively successful 1982 new wave funk/rock hit “Electric Avenue”. Actually that’s an excellent introduction to this artist. Fact is,Eddy Grant is a pretty amazing artist. This Afro-Briton multi instrumentalist was born British Guiana. He recorded his first album on his own Ice House label. And that label has since developed the largest catalog of Caribbean music in the world.. In addition to providing a wonderful business model for black DIY artists,Grant was also someone who absorbed a great deal from the 70’s funk/soul groove aestetic.
Grant’s musical grounding is so strong that he actually invented a specific genre himself called ringbang. It functions as a combination of different Caribbean musical styles. Grant himself describes this genre in very Afrocentric terms-that is as a music that’s totally oriented around using rhythm to communicate messages between those listening. As his music progressed,it took on a great deal of sociopolitical messages within the lyrics. Specifically focused on ending Apartheid in South Africa. At the end of the 70’s as the disco era was coming to a close,Grant spun his own take on futurist dance music with his 1979 hit song entitled “Waling On Sunshine”.
An uptempo percussive beat begins the song right off and keeps itself going throughout the song. A bassy Clavinet plays a purely rhythmic role throughout the song right along with the main percussive fueling the groove. On each chorus and refrain,the Afro Beat/reggae styled horns pulse and play away. When the song reaches a bridge,there’s a round wah wah guitar playing an extremely funky riff that keeps on going through some sweaty vocal call and responses. On the next instrumental section,a popping early drum machine pulses up and down before the horns come back into play for some heavy charts. The song fades out with Grant harmonizing with himself on some jazzy falsetto vocals.
Having listened to this song several times all the way through online over the past couple of years,something important about it really occurred to me tonight. This song might very well come as close as the planet Earth can come to perfecting late 70’s pan African funk. Even though it would be well over a decade before Grant would coin his ringbang genre, songs such as this made it clear that funk played a huge part in it. The combination of African style horn charts and percussion with electric piano would resonate onto other Afro Funk classics in the coming years such as Rim & Kasa’s “Love Me For Real” four years later. And this song is a prime example of Eddy Grant at his most fully funky.
Filed under 1970's, Afro Funk, Afrocentrism, Caribbean Funk, clavinet, drum machine, Eddy Grant, horns, Ice House Records, percussion, ringbang music, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar
Only a few moments ago,I received the official word from my friend Henrique that Denise Matthews,better known as Vanity passed away today. It was very likely to do with the kidney dialysis she lived with for years that derived from her drug use during the 80’s. It isn’t always the best move to talk about someone the moment they pass away. But Vanity is someone I’ve been wanting to talk about for some time. In a similar fashion to the also late Rick James, there was a time when I used to get the singer confused with the song with Vanity. Her romantic complexities with Prince,her troubled life and her cooing vocals often got in the way of the excellent Minneapolis grooves that she was involved with.
I first heard the Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” through the soundtrack for the Spike Lee Joint Girl 6 in in the late 90’s. It was right around the time I was heavily studying Princ and the Minneapolis sound’s history. While crate digging one day,I located a Vanity solo album from 1984 entitled Wild Animal. It was her first solo album,and was released on Motown. The album itself had the new wave/dance friendly grooves of Minneapolis. But there was a good dose of funk on it too. One track however caught my ears at the time. And it’s wonderful to have some further understanding of it today. And apparently the song was a decent hit too. It was called “Mechanical Emotion”.
A brittle,heavily percussive drum machine rhythm opens the song and keeps up without a break throughout the song. The melodic content of the song consists of several layers of heavily orchestrated synthesizers. The first is a flowing,low toned string tone. The other is a classic Minneapolis horn line tickling the rhythm while the last one is a rather jazzy synth bass line. Vanity’s lead vocals of the song are soon joined by the Time’s Morris Day,who sings the chorus of the song. Following each refrain,the lead synth plays scaling arpeggios while the next to last chorus features a synthesized rock guitar solo. Than Morris’s extends on his chorus along with this as the song fades out.
Multi instrumentalist Bill Wolfer gave this song an interesting take on the Minneapolis sound. As I often find the case looking back on different music, he combined rhythmically brittle electro funk with Gothic European classical melodic content. Vanity’s vocals are very operatic in this song-in the manner of a yearning cabaret diva. Morris Day’s vocals add the soulfully funky vocal flavor to this compelling combination of structured orchestration and controlled,funky rhythm. Wolfer had previously worked with Stevie Wonder,Teena Marie,Michael Jackson,Diana Ross and Shalamar. And the combination of approaches he utilized here made this a compelling number for Vanity.
Filed under 1980's, Bill Wolfer, Denise Matthews, drum machine, electro funk, Minneapolis, Morris Day, Prince, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, Uncategorized, Vanity