Category Archives: Epic Records

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Buttercup” by Carl Anderson

Carl Anderson came from the world of Broadway into the soul/funk scene,in a manner similar to Stephanie Mills. The key difference is the level of success. The only reason I even knew about Anderson’s music was through a YouTube search. In the mid 70’s,the Jackson 5 had done some recording of songs composed by Stevie Wonder. The one song from these sessions that have publicly surfaced was the song “Buttercup”. Turns out Carl Anderson had done a version in the mid 80’s as well. Never heard of the man before. But was very impressed with what I heard. Turns out this was not the first time that Anderson had recorded this song.

In 1982 Anderson signed up with Epic Records. There he recorded his debut album entitled Absence Without Love. The title song of this album was a strong boogie funk number featuring a vocal duet with Teena Marie,who like Anderson has since passed away. Richard Rudolph,having produced Lady T a couple of years earlier,was also behind the recording console for Carl Anderson’s debut. He was now singing in an environment with session aces such as Smokey Robinson’s keyboardist Sonny Burke,Nathan East,Omar Hakim,Jerry Hey and Lee Ritenour backing him up. It was here that Anderson first introduced his version of the previously unreleased Stevie Wonder song “Buttercup”.

The drum starts out playing a sauntering Caribbean rhythm with a round,electrified bump on each accent. The main bass line accompanies this-scaling up and down right up with the groove. Suddenly the main melody comes in. This features fan faring horn charts,a high pitched rhythm guitar and an equally higher toned electric piano playing around the chords. On the refrains,the horns take a back seat to Anderson’s vocals. On the choruses,the horns and vocals take on a totally harmonious role. This happens on a bridge where Anderson is doing some percussive scat singing before going onto his vocalizing of the refrain. This pattern repeats a few times before the song fades out.

This song,especially in it’s original 1982 version is one of the finest example of an unheard Steve Wonder composition being done in a way that’s special and distinctive. On both the vocal and instrumental level,this song has so many elements of the popular Afrocentric musical spectrum within it. It has the Caribbean style rhythm and horns,the slowness of tempo and slap bass lines of hard funk along with the harmonic and vocal qualities of jazz. The deep,gospel drenched pipes of Carl Anderson expresses a fullness of range and dramatic presentation that adds even more musical excitement. As far as I’m concerned,this is one of the finest musical moments for Carl Anderson.

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Filed under 1980's, Caribbean Funk, Carl Anderson, drums, Epic Records, funky soul, horns, Jerry Hey, Lee Ritenour, Nathan East, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Sonny Burke, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “On The Case” by Alphonso Johnson

Alphonso Johnson seems to me as a bassist whose contributions to the iconic fusion band Weather Report are rather under heralded. That could be because he was sandwiched in between their original bass player Miroslav Vitous and of course Jaco Pastorious. As a session man,he joined up with Billy Cobham on and off for many years. He also had stints back up Genesis/Phil Collins on multiple occasions as well playing on former LTD lead singer Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 solo debut. The reason I personally tend to view Johnson as a rather obscure artist is because I only found out that he even had a solo career at all just under a decade ago. And have the feeling I may not be the only one.

One of the greatest things to happen in the post millennium internet age is the advent of two things: reissue record labels and YouTube. If it weren’t for those two things, this blog would be a lot different than it is. In 1976-1977 during his years with Cobham,Alphonso Johnson recorded three solo albums on the Epic label. These featured the backing of some of the major fusion instrumentalists of the time-all touched by the music of Alphonso in some kind of way. I have two on vinyl,since the CD versions were difficult to locate upon going out of print. Only his second album Moonshadows was something I was able to locate on CD. And one song that stood out on it for me was “On The Case”.

Alphonso starts off with a shuffling bass solo that has a bluesy,up-scaling melody that is very similar in tone to the electric piano solo on Steely Dan’s ” Black Friday”. Drummer Narada Michael Walden keeps that shuffle going while Dawilli Conga adds a counter melody on electric piano. Separated by progressive fusion bursts of intense drums, Alphonso’s solos expand along with the electric piano into fuzz toned psychedelia. On the second refrain,Lee Ritenour plays a mid toned rhythm guitar solo. This grows to a heavier intensity with the solo Lee takes on the third and final refrain of the song. Conga’s electric piano leads the shuffling rhythm to the songs fade out.

This particular song always stuck out to me with how much it finds the funk in the blues and the blues when it rocks. The rhythmic base of the song is in a strong groove-with Narada staying on the one primarily through the use of hi hat. And all of the musicians understanding of the jazz/rock fusion style comes out here as well. Alphonso’s funkiness on the bass gives it all a phat center that keeps the focus consistent.  I’ve started to realize that rock ‘n’ roll is often a far simpler musical form than it might like itself to be. Yet with the combination of jazz harmonies and electric funk within the fusion genre,songs like this found a great middle ground in which to rock up the funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Alphonso Johnson, bass guitar, Blues, Epic Records, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lee Ritenour, Narada Michael Walden, Psychedelia, rock 'n' roll, Steely Dan, Uncategorized, YouTube

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Enjoy Yourself” by The Jacksons

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.

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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

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Spock Does The Bump At The Space Disco” by George Duke

In a lot of ways, the song being presented here today represents the passing of two great and different artists whom I admire. That was the actor Leonard Nimoy from Star Trek,who passed last year and the jazz pianist George Duke-who left us four years ago this coming august. It was about a dozen years ago now that I became very immersed in all things related to George Duke. This was thanks in part to my acquaintanceship with DJ/musician/Duke aficionado Nigel Hall. This led me to George Duke Online. It was on this site that George actually reviewed his own discography. This allowed people such as myself to get inside the man’s views on his own musical past.

In the early/mid 70’s during his tenure with Frank Zappa, Duke signed a solo deal with the German jazz label MPS. When he departed the label to sign with CBS/Epic in 1976, he recorded what amounted to a solo piano album where, with the help of Genesis drummer Chester Thompson, Duke played other instruments as well. It was released in America in a slightly altered form in 1982. But throughout most of Europe in 1978 as the now quite rare record entitled The Dream. The song I’m going to talk to you about today is one whose sound and title were originally quite different from the early 80’s variation. The name of the original song was “Spock Does The Bump At The Space Disco”.

Duke starts off the song with a lone funky drum-accented by a percussive bump on between the first and second beat. Starting with some of his own grunts and groans, Duke’s low piano than comes in playing the songs bluesy theme along with a distant, popping bass ARP synthesizer in the back round. A huge,deeply popping slap bass chimes in along with another theremin like synthesizer solo pipes up in the back round. Duke’s Fender Rhodes electric piano than comes in playing an accessory solo. By which time all the instrumentation that built up from the beginning of song all comes together beautifully before the song ends on a three note slap bass riff.

George Duke was the man behind some of the most potent and experienced funk that the jazz world had to offer from the early 70’s up until his death. And in every possible way? This song is among his very funkiest. It falls somewhere between the stripped down funk of Rufus and Prince. The one man band that is George Duke on this album does something fairly unique. Though multi tracked in creation? This groove showcases Duke’s experience as both a session player and band leader by being able to play off his own instrumental strengths and weakness. It does in fact sound like a band playing together-with the pianos and synthesizers creating a thick bed of funk one can always swim deeply within.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Chester Thompson, drums, Epic Records, Fender Rhodes, Frank Zappa, George Duke, George Duke Online, Jazz-Funk, Leonard Nimoy, piano, slap bass, Spock, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove Presents Teena Marie Week: “Emerald City” (1986)

Much in the same manner as Prince and Joni Mitchell had? Teena Marie elected to follow up her huge commercial breakthrough of 1984’s Starchild by satisfying her’s and the people’s urges for a broader level of musical expression. Understanding the instrumental continuity through jazz,soul and funk already was certainly a help in doing this. But especially in the mid 80’s? It was still a nervy move for a female artist with Lady T’s level of creative control/input. The result of this was her 1986 album Emerald City.

As with her Epic label debut four years earlier? It was a concept album. But this time with a more richly picturesque Wizard Of Oz type setting. Only with a more racially aware sociopolitical subtext-the story of a girl named Pity who decided more than anything she wanted to be green,as the liner notes state. As an album? It isn’t particularly long on the funkier grooves of her earlier albums. But when that does pop up? It does so with dramatic abandon. The finest example I can think of here is the title song which opens up the album.

An orchestral polyphonic synthesizer opens the door to the kinetic,fast paced Afro-Cuban percussion that pulses in and out of the stop/start tempo throughout the song. On each of the instrumental refrains? A bell like keyboard plays a very Japanese industrial electronica style melody alongside very slick synth bass lines. None other than Bootsy Collins himself provides one of his rapped vocal intros to the proceedings. On the second refrain of the song? A hard rocking guitar solo is even referenced lyrically before the rhythmic intensity continues it’s own end.

By embracing instrumental elements of Afro-Funk and Asian styles of industrial electronica? This particular song reminds me a lot of the pan ethnic “neo geo” style of electro dance/funk being pioneered at this time by former Yellow Magic Orchestra member Ryuichi Sakamoto. It is wonderful to see how Teena Marie took a very different route from the stereotypical blue eyed soul/funk,which often looks to the music’s past approach,and took a more genuinely futurist view of it. Again it’s an example of her understanding of black American music’s continued evolution in her own creative context.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afro-Futurism, bass synthesizer, Bootsy Collins, concept albums, elecro funk, Epic Records, Industrial funk, Joni Mitchell, message music, percussion, Prince, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Teena Marie, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove Presents Teena Marie Week: “Starchild” (1984)

While Teena Marie’s 1983 album Robbery was a creatively strong label debut? It was not a commercial success. The sound of it might’ve been a bit to instrumentally transitional for that. The following year Prince & The Revolution had a major breakthrough with the Purple Rain  soundtrack. This was a very new wave inflected album that showcased the Minneapolis Sound-basically replacing horn and string arrangements  with various synthesizers. With this burgeoning sound and Teena’s talents as a multi instrumentalist? Her music had new  possibilities.

While adding strong synth rock elements on her aforementioned Epic debut? Teena probably realized that  her career (as a white artist advanced forward by the black community) meant she needed to understand the progression of soul/funk music with the advent of newer technology. The result was her 1984 album Starchild. Along with it’s debut single “Lovergirl”? It crossed Lady T over onto the pop charts-the one and only time she’d ever do so. Still it’s the title song of this album that personally caught my attention.

The beat gets going with a brittle,funky proto hip-hop drum machine rhythm-accompanied by Brazilian jazz styled percussive whoops and hollers.  Then a mid toned electronic bass kicks into gear-accompanied by the quavering,higher pitched synthesizers playing the horn style accents. All this being emphasized by a strong rhythm guitar. On the choruses,Teena is echoed by a Vocorder singing the song’s title. On the bridge? The quavering synth plays the ancient Egyptian snake dance melody as Teena raps loosely surrounding it.

While very clearly her variation on the Minneapolis sound? The overall production of the electro/boogie funk sound is actually much cleaner. And strongly emphasizes writer Rickey Vincent’s point about how the chugging rhythm guitar survived the synthesizer based 80’s funk sound intact.  Instrumentally it’s in the vein of Chaka Khan’s “This Is My Night” from the same year. Teena’s lyrics take on a classic Afro-Futurist space funk flavor-inserting sexual innuendo about “drinking from the milky way cup” as well. So it’s a very well rounded electro funk exercise.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Brazilian Jazz, drum machines, elecro funk, Epic Records, funk guitar, Minneapolis, New Wave, Prince, space funk, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizers, Teena Marie, Uncategorized, vocoder

Anatomy Of THE Groove Presents Teena Marie Week: “Playboy” (1983)

Teena Marie was leaving Motown behind at a critical time for funk/soul artists in general. In the United States anyway? That genre was mired in what myself and friend Henrique referred to as the post disco freeze out. The synth pop/New Wave genre that had come up in Europe during this time,itself an extension of Eurodisco and funk,seemed to be a good new direction to go into for radio play. Meanwhile,this was colliding with the synth accented boogie sound. And basically Lady T was as caught up as anyone in this shift of instrumental priorities.

Lady T signed with Columbia subsidiary Epic Records in the fall of 1982-with the promise of more autonomy over her business career. The result was her own publishing company known as Midnight Magnet. This event plus the dissolution of her romantic affiliation with Rick James became the centerpiece of her concept album Robbery from September 1983. While it integrated the synth rock elements of the era with her jazzy ballad framework? There was still plenty of time of strong funky grooves. My favorite of which is called “Playboy”.

Another strong drum kick introduces the song into it’s powerful stop/start Afro-Cuban rhythm that is mixed high and defines the song. What comes next is an elaborately arranged mixed of instrumental melody and harmony. The horn charts basically define the sound-while a round,mid toned synthesizer takes over the minor chorded elements that might’ve normally been done with strings.  On the refrains,the synth becomes more brittle and the rhythm more strident. On the final chorus,Teena gently raps the lyrics over the original rhythm and a subtle electric bass line.

Something about this song’s arrangement perfectly encapsulates it’s lyrical concept. It’s a complex series of instrumental solo an rhythmic changes,and it goes along with Lady T’s uncertain mood throughout the song itself.  As she questions her position as being closer to Rick James mistress than apparent fiancee? Her own little private soap opera unfolds via this uniquely urbane,Latin hued funk groove. It’s one of the most well rounded examples of the boogie funk sound. And a wonderful example of the new type of funk Teena Marie was giving up for the people.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, concept albums, Epic Records, Funk, Funk Bass, New Wave, post disco, Rick James, Teena Marie, Uncategorized