Category Archives: Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Put The Word Out” by Rickey Vincent

Rickey Vincent is not only one of the key inspirations for this blog. But also for my own expanded funk education. Am sure that’s a story for many.  20 years ago,this occurred when Vincent’s guide book  Funk: The Music, The People, and The Rhythm of The One hit the stores. It not only offered a buyers guide,but serious literary commentary on funk as a genre and way of playing music. Vincent also hosts a radio show called ‘The History Of Funk’,whose Facebook group is also a key platform used to share the articles written here with the funk loving community.

On October 27th of this year,Vincent released an album called Phool 4 The Funk,which celebrates the genre Vincent has devoted his life to. Of all possible twists,I was personally interrupted in writing this article a month ago by the news that Donald Trump was suddenly winning the US presidential election. That event struck me with a bizarre sense of literary catatonia . Today is Mister Vincent’s birthday. So in tribute to him and his new album,wanted to discuss a version of a song he,Ziel McCarter and Will Magid did that I know very well. Its “Put The Word Out”,originally done by Heatwave.

An Afro Brazilian style conga/percussive rhythm opens the album with a jazzy bass improvising just below the groove. A somewhat scratchy synthesizer opens into the main groove. This consists if a loping drum,melodic organ along with 6 not bass riff and chunky rhythm guitar right up front with the hot horn charts. This represents the refrain. On the choruses,it comes to a hand clap/wah wah based breakdown after which Herb Alpert style trumpet solos on the bridge of the song. The chorus repeats to fade,with the trumpet eventually duetting right along with the vocals.

This might be one of the first times I’ve reviewed a cover of a classic funk song. And for what they are,both versions are theatrically funky. Rickey Vincent’s version however comes at a somewhat slower and more live band funk approach to it. And everything has a huge instrumental punch here. The drums,bass,guitar and horns all emerge as a rhythmic monster on this wonderful remake. Vincent and his band take the funkiest aspects of Heatwave’s already hard groove original.,and just builds them up with (as Vincent himself might call it) a great “united funk” groove mixed with a strong late 70’s influence too.

Rickey Vincent’s Phool 4 The Funk available in physical media here

*Also available for download on Amazon.com and iTunes

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Funk, Rickey Vincent

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Devil In Mrs. Jones” by Jerry Butler

Jerry Butler,known as the “Iceman” from Philadelphia DJ George Woods,is someone I consider to be one of the prime architects of the soul ballad. He co wrote the song “For Your Precious Love” with the Impressions. And as Rolling Stone magazine once put it,it embodied that marriage of gospel and doo-wop pop music that became the essence of soul music. Shortly after this 1958 crossover hit,Butler went solo. Many of his early hits such as the calypso flavored”He Will Break Your Heart ” were written by the late,great Curtis Mayfield. He currently serves as County Commissioner for Cooks County,Illinois.

The first time I heard Jerry Butler was from a very unusual source. It was via one of many free vinyl albums from a 1994 WMEB radio giveaway at the University of Maine in Orono that I often reference. The album was a 1976 Motown release entitled Love’s On The Menu. Didn’t yet know anything about Butler’s importance to the history of soul. The song that first stuck out to me was the “Motownphilly” style opener “I Don’t Want Nobody To Know”. Looking into the album today,another stand out song was its only R&B hit in the song “The Devil In Mrs. Jones”.

A cymbal heavy drum swing opens the album,with a thick Moog bass rising into a clucking wah wah guitar. That gives way to the slow crawl of a drum shuffle that’s the rhythm foundation of the song. The thick,ultra funky bass line is uppermost in the song-filling in the empty spaces between the Moog and drums. Female backup vocals and horns color the bluesy melody that leads directly into the chorus of the song.  All the instrumental elements of the song come most prominently into play during the choruses. And its on that chorus that the song repeats on as it fades out.

Somehow when I first heard this album,this song got ignored. Today,it emerges as the heaviest funk I’ve yet heard Jerry Butler record. And of course,the vast majority of Butler’s recorded catalog isn’t something I’m particularly familiar. Known for his deep,smokey baritone on melodic pop soul numbers,”The Devil In Mrs. Jones” not only gives up the funk,but does so with the heaviest possible stomp. Its got the walking wah wah guitar,snaky bass,ticklish Moog synthesizer and slow shuffle that really defined mid 70’s “united funk”. Right along with Butler’s growling vocal turns as well.

 

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Filed under 1976, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Jerry Butler, Moog bass, Motown, musical innovators, wah wah guitar

Leon Russell: 1942-2016-Thank You 4 Your Service,Leon!

Stop All That Jazz

Leon Russell had an extremely good early 70’s. Not only did he release a series of highly well received albums but he would collaborate with George Harrison and Bob Dylan on Concert for Bangladesh in 1972. The same year he wrote “This Masquerade”,a song which would several years later become a huge hit for George Benson. Leon,an Oklahoma native had a musical sound that was almost impossible to classify. There was a very heavy country/blues component to his sound. But he is also clearly a part of the singer-songwriter era.

And he is always open about expressing the strong jazz and soul aspects of his sound. On earlier albums it was that country-blues side of him that took presidents for the most part. For this 1974 album,Leon began using synthesizers in his music. He also bought in a trio of brothers named Ronnie,Robert and Charlie Wilson from Tulsa to back him up. These brothers than called themselves the Greenwood,Archer & Pine Band. Later this would be abbreviated into The Gap Band. This albums serves as their introduction to the world. And that’s fitting since it’s the beginning of an important music breakthrough for Leon himself.

The title of this album is not meant ironically since it is in fact a very jazz oriented album. But since this is Leon Russell we’re talking about here. He starts out the album with a stomping New Orleans style R&B version of “If I Were A Carpenter”. That particular side of this album stays with him on originals such as “Leaving Whipporwhill” and “Working Girl”. On “Smashed” this very pointed jazzy soul groove comes out of this sound once the Wilson’s begin participating. This is one of the albums strongest numbers. That plus a very like minded soul-jazz version of “Spanish Harlem”,filled with Ronnie Wilson’s soulful horn charts and the appropriate dash of Latin percussion.

“Streakers Ball” blends a bit of a stronger,funkier groove into this sound with the synthesizers providing some otherworldly electronic orchestral touches to the almost countrified soul groove. Now in terms of serious funk there’s a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown”. It’s a deep,uptempo,heavy bass and drum led funk march. With the Charlie Wilson’s vocal harmonies on full display the song is not quite full funk,or full blues or full gospel. But a hybrid strung together of the most powerful elements of all three. It’s unlike any other song I have heard before really. Closest comparison would be something like Rose Royce’s “First Come,First Served”.

The album ends with “Mona Lisa Smile” and the title song. Both are easy swinging jazz numbers,the latter with this heavy southern soul chorus blended in for good measure. The bonus tracks are some lush country-western takes on “Wild Horses” and a ho down of “Wabash Cannonball” sung with Willie Nelson. Especially with the bonus tracks,Leon Russell is out to do a lot of different things on this album. And he does. What keeps it from being a sloppy mess is that there is one strong unifying focus to everything on this album: that not so simple little factor of soul.

It’s part of everything from Leon’s…unique vocal style (an odd combination of Willie Nelson and Dr.John in a way) to the very way in which he composes,produces and arranges music. This album was recorded deep in the middle of what I will refer to as the funk era. And while it’s not an album defined by one particular genre,including funk,that particular musical era and the atmosphere it produced is evident from the very beginning of this album to the very end.
After hearing it,and it’s a very very difficult CD to track down I’ll tell you that,I have some trouble understanding why it’s not better liked than it is. It’s a carnival tent show of songs with a groove and directly in the eye of the groove. And the melodies and instrumentation are absolutely enchanting. It’s one of Leon Russell’s most musically and creatively potent works I’ve ever heard.

Will O' The Wisp

Now this album is not my introduction to the music of Leon Russel but it is as far as full length albums and,as far as I’m concerned there’s absolutely no disappointments to be heard. Now just to go back a bit to another point I made with a friend that,if one is looking for it you can easily find great funk in any aisle of a record store/department. It was a genre that consistently bled into rock,jazz,blues and during the mid 70’s the genre of funk was helping so much music to bleed together that it all came together (much as jazz’s creation from the outside) into a tasty musical gumbo with a lot of diverse herbs and spices of sound.

It’s not surprising with the Wilson Brothers’ (known today as The Gap Band) appearance on Leon’s previous album Stop All That Jazz that this was going to be the direction his music would continue to take and it did. The music on this album is a decidedly southern flavored blend of jazz,funk,country-soul,blues and excellent pop songwriting with some wonderfully fluid piano playing,occasional tasty sax riff and some wonderfully textural use of synthesizers. Some heavy duty funk such as “Little Hideaway”,”Make You Feel Good”,”Down On The Deep River” and the tasty groove of “Bluebird” really bring all of this together.

In addition all of these songs showcase the close back round harmonies of Mary McCreary,whose presence in both Leon’s music and life would grow only by leaps and bounds in the very short future. When you get to the elongated,percussive “Can’t Get Over Losing You”,”My Father’s Shoes”,”Stay Away From Sad Songs” and the tropically inclined harmonies of “Back To The Island” slow the funk down to a breath taking slow crawl in which the groove really has a chance to burn really hard.

Even though Leon was from Oklahoma and not New Orleans his music came out of a similarly torrid spirit as Dr.John,Allen Toussaint and The Meters and even though he never exactly gained the same type of recognition as any of those people this along with a handful of other excellent recordings Leon Russell made during his prime years would certainly put him easily in the same league.

 

Wedding Album

After the release of his excellent Will O’ the Wisp Leon Russell wed his backup singer Mary McCreary and the pair commemorated the event with a duet album between the two of them. One of the most exciting parts of the album is not only do the two share vocals on this album but Mary herself  a very active participant in this music with her new husband,playing synthesizer and percussion quite often and creating these beautifully elaborate choruses of back round vocals as well as her leads. The spirit of sharing and mutual cooperation,an integral component of any marriage lends itself here as a musical element as well.

Musically this album embraces styles Leon always had in his music as this is a full out funk-soul/R&B album with the textural synthesizers are enlarged in number,mixed far higher in the music and the melodic/harmonic arrangements of the music are more complex and elaborate. These songs are not in fact all too separated from what you might find on a Stevie Wonder,Smokey Robinson or Ashford & Simpson recordings of the period. The introductory song,the romantic “Rainbow In Your Eyes” is one of the very strongest and romantic songs Leon ever wrote.

The melodic keyboard/synth sound carries the song along with the intricate melody and it was so strong Al Jarreau covered the song very quickly on his album Glow of the same year,also opening the album with that song as well. The swelling “Love’s Supposed To Be That Way”,the cosmic sounding “Fantasy”,”Satisfy You” and “You Are On My Mind” all maintain the exact same level of quality and dynamic arrangements. Mary’s elastic,powerful vocalizing is a great combo with Leon’s tougher,rubbery singing style and the way they work them into the songs is just so wonderful to behold.

Unlike a lot of albums made after a musician gets married the intensity of the music actually increased in this case,largely because the couple were involved in making music and were already very experienced at doing so. “Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly)” gets down into a heavy honky tonk/funk groove with Leon and Mary trading off some very meaty lyrics. On the midtempo “Quiet Nights” and “Windsong” the jazziness really gets going in the music. I would never call these songs sappy at all;they are beautifully cool and reflective in flavor and give both the music and vocals a chance to glide across each other smoothly.

“Daylight” closes the album again on a more uptempo melodic funk not. Considering it’s celebratory title this album fully lives up to it’s ambitions and concept in every way and upon hearing it I am very surprised it wasn’t more popular in it’s day than it was. Still it’s wonderful to have this very unsung and buried 70’s funk/soul masterpiece available (thanks to Wounded Bird again) and give modern listeners a chance to hear it with remastered sound and just the plain dignity of having it around again.

Leon and Mary Russell’s debut album together Wedding Album was a personal and musical triumph for everyone involved. So it seemed obvious that a fairly immediate follow up album was in order and they delivered one. At the very same time this is a completely different musical experience. Mary’s participation on this album on every front is somewhat played down as Leon gets a bit more involved. There’s more of a similarity to his earlier solo albums in parts and generally speaking is a mix of tunes similar in flavor to their debut album and some that follow Leon’s own musical lead a bit more.

“Easy Love” and the title song bare the most similarity to the previous album as somewhat uptempo soul/funk but the groove is a lot slicker and the synthesizer arrangements are a lot less thick overall. Still the music on these songs is every bit as brilliantly written as before. A good number of these songs such as “Joyful Noise”,”Now Now Boogie”,”Say You Will” and “Hold On To This Feeling” have a more organic,chunky honky tonk style funk groove more in keeping with some of the earlier Leon Russell solo albums and showcasing the band more than the individual styles of himself and Mary.

This album was released the same year as Saturday Night Fever so some of the style of disco does show up on a few of these tracks. Actually the ones that do;”Love Crazy” and “Love Is In Your Eyes” are harder edged disco-funk flavor tunes with some chunky,heavily processed Clavinet’s and some nasty rhythmic exchanges. The swoony romanticism of the previous album is replaced by a heavier sensual passion on this album and these two cuts display that more than others.

The last tune on the album features Mary the most on the somewhat psychedelisized Caribbean groove of “Island In The Sun”. As with the previous album there really are no bad cuts at all on this album. They’re all different though and that can be a wonderful thing often enough. In this case the pair require a cohesive musical concept to be their very best and this album doesn’t really possess that kind of cohesiveness so it’s only one star less powerful than the previous album.

 

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Filed under 1970's, country/soul, Funk, funky soul, Gap Band, Leon Russell, Mary McCreary, Music Reviewing

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Changes’ by Charles Bradley

About five years ago,I got seriously into the whole Daptone label music scene. The whole theme they had was very authentically retro. It wasn’t just the instrumental style of the music that came out of it. It was the sound of the recordings,even the old school film based photographic style of cover art. Charles Bradley is their key male solo artist. And his chief musical influence was James Brown-even working part time impersonating the man. As for me I have his first two albums. And was very excited to pick up his third when it came out. Again,there’s no disappointment.

The album opens with a partially spoken word,organ/piano based version of “God Bless America” where Bradly discussed the pros and cons of being black in this country. “Good To Be Back Home” is stomping,bluesy funk with phat electric guitar and horn accents throughout. “Nobody But You”,the title song,”Crazy For Your Love” and the closer “Slow Love” are all reverbed guitar heavy ballads.

“Ain’t Gonna Give You Up” is a thick,slow deep funk groove with a bee like synthesizer buzzing. “Things We Do For Love” is a brightly melodic uptempo gospel/soul number filled with multiple backup singers and “You Think I Don’t Know (But I Know” has the same vibe about it. “Change For The World” is an brief late 60’s/early 70’s Ike Hayes like psychedelic funk message song warning about the revival of segregationist racial behavior.

In a lot of ways,this might just be the very best album Charles Bradley has made thus far. The backup instrumentation of instrumentals such as the Budos Band provide a sound that is squarely in both the deep Southern soul and psychedelic funk sound of the late 60’s. The vocals and arrangements are full of enormous drama as well. Bradley’s voice,especially on his impassioned howls,are echoed intensely throughout nearly every song here. With a large focus on uptempo songs,this really brings out the full power of what this artist has had to offer up musically from his very outset.

Originally posted on April 8th,2016

Link to original review here!

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Filed under 2016, Amazon.com, Budos Band, Charles Bradley, Dap Tone, Funk, funk albums, funky soul, Music Reviewing, new music

Anatomy of THE Groove: “DooWhatChaWannaDoo” by Con Funk Shun

Con Funk Shun are among my favorite funk bands of the 70’s. Originally hailing from Vallejo,California,this band is someone whom my friend and blogging inspiration Henrique Hopkins has a good deal of musical knowledge of. Based on what I heard beforehand, Con Funk Shun were a band with many similarities to Earth,Wind & Fire. They favored well recorded grooves with strong melodies. They also often enlisted the writing/instrumental assistance of Skip Scarborough. Band founder Felton Pilate went into fame on his own by producing MC Hammer on his debut album in 1988.

This band first came to my attention via my dad’s cassette copy of the Best Of Funk Essentials  compilation around 1993. Later on while browsing the cutout CD’s at Borders Books & Music,I came across a reissue of the bands 1977 sophomore album Secrets. At the time,Borders had a CD player behind the counter. And opened CD’s for customers to listen to before purchase. If they didn’t want them after,they’d reseal them. This particular CD was not one I asked them to reseal. And a big part of this was due to the fact the first song really jumped out at me. Its called “DooWhatChaWannaDoo”.

A fast snare drum kick starts out the song. After that,the drum takes on a mild Brazilian flavor-accenting a faster three hit drum on the second beat. Scarborough builds both a high pitched melodic synthesizer and an elaborate Moog bass into the mix as well. The bands horn charts play the main melody of the song-accented by climactic strings. The refrains emphasize the bluesiest aspects of the keyboard parts-while intro represents the chorus. The bridge takes it all down to a chunky high/bass synth duet with accenting strings before the chorus repeats up to the fade out of the song.

“DooWhatChaWannaDoo” is one of those songs that represents the sophistifunk sound at some of its very finest. The keyboards and horns both have an equally thick,gurgling throb about them. And it all manages to accent the very singable (and also elaborate melody) as well. Its a great example of starting off an album with one of its strongest songs that could draw in the listener to its melody and groove. Con Funk Shun ably blend a harder edged Dayton style hard funk vocal and rhythm attitude with the slickness of their West Coast funk contemporaries. And it makes this song a shining example of their funk.

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Filed under 1970's, Con Funk Shun, drums, Felton Pilate, Funk, horns, Moog bass, Skip Scarborough, synthesizer, West Coast

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Wild And Peaceful’ by Kool & The Gang (1973)

Wild And Peaceful

It would take a very long time to even begin to explain why I’ve neglected purchasing this album for such a long time. It would also take a long time to explain my viewpoints on funk music at this point. All I can say is this. A friend of mine once described funk as the “punk music of the black community”,mainly in the sense it was the hardest edge (and by and large most sociopolitical) of the soul music genre. Difference was funk required a very high level of musicianship,usually in a band context to bring out the best in it.

When this album came out Kool & The Gang had been a musically successful recording and performing band for almost half a decade. And had released loads of excellent music,both in the studio and live. But something clicked with this release. It was the “united funk” era. And the music in every sense was in it’s peak period. And this is one of a slew of albums that represents that.

This album got three big pop chart hits for Kool & The Gang,their first if I recall with “Funky Stuff”,”Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging”. These songs are 100% first period era K&TG: with the heavy horns,dynamic rhythms and these looseness of playing that defined the bands sound. Aside from that this albums goes deep into another important factor of the funk. Though almost a breezy ballad the conversational “Heaven At Once” finds an adult and teenage man engaged in a dialog over what they should expect of themselves in society.

“This Is You,This Is Me” offers a really charged up rhythmic section,with a churning bass/guitar and the message of “in the ghetto I’ve never seen a tree/this is you/this is me” indicating funks central message of the celebration of difference rather than us all being alike. On “Life Is What You Make It”,it’s a very upbeat and empowering groove. The album ends on the 9+ minute title song,a soothing jazz oriented instrumental number giving members Spike and Dee Tee,on trumpet and flute respectively more chances to solo.

In a way this album links one era of Kool & The Gang to the next. Earlier on in their career,before this album they’d been a band that emphasized instrumentation more than vocals. Their vocal set up was even looser than their sound was. Even when the harmonies were looking to be close. They seemed to be a band more about music than getting pop hits. Somewhere along the line with this album,pop hits found them. Although in two cases on songs that had a very implicit sexual impulse and one that celebrated their success.

At least I’d like to hop it attracted people to the album because the non hit material is often what has the most musical and lyrical value. The message of this album is one that the band would continue on with over the next several albums: a strong awareness of Afrocentric spirituality and a call for unity among all those deemed as unique. This was the conclusion of one era for the band but the beginning of another. But that’s another story.

Originally posted on July 25th,2012

Link To Original Review Here*

 

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Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, classic albums, classic funk, Funk, jazz funk, Kool & The Gang, Music Reviewing

Prince 4Ever: His Name Was Prince And He Was FUNKY!

Prince was an artist who defined himself by seldom looking to his past musically. That ties in well  with his deep connection to the black American creative attitude. On November 22nd,Warner Bros is releasing its first posthumous Prince album 4Ever. Its a 2 CD anthology consisting of hits and B-sides that have already been released. And not in chronological order. It will however showcase one famous outtake from his vault entitled “Moonbeam Levels”-a song taken from the 1999 album sessions. Aside from the very nature of this release,the choice of unreleased song got me thinking.

“Moonbeam Levels” is a rock oriented song,recorded during an era when Prince was extremely concerned about crossover. On Sunday,my boyfriend exposed me to an iTunes exclusive music podcast called Coverville. It showcases different covers of either songs by a particular artist or theme. One covered Prince songs. Not only were most of the songs originally pop/rock oriented,but the covers were generally either rock or…even country versions of “Raspberry Barrett” and “Alphabet Street”. Still even with Prince being so well known as a rock star,at the end of the day Prince Rogers Nelson WAS a funk/soul artist.

Prince’s first two albums,1978’s For You and his self titled sophomore record a year later,were mostly funk/soul with a couple of rock tunes on them. It wasn’t until 1980’s Dirty Mind,released in time for the extremely anti black post disco radio freeze out,that Prince’s music took on a heavier rock flavor. Over the years,Prince explored many different hybrids of funk and jazz with rock guitar solos and attitudes. But it basically amounted down to his base music being funk,and him seeing rock as good for him as a guitar soloist and to get big crossover hits in the 80’s and especially the 90’s.

This idea worked well for his purposes. Still now that he’s not with us anymore? I still hear so many,even my own mother,refer to Prince as a rock based artist. Even though his music and press in his commercial prime disconnected him from musical blackness,it was always there. Now that he’s gone,the floodgates are open for album after album of unreleased music from the late Mr.Nelson. I can only hope that,as a truer understanding of his musical back round continues on,that these posthumous albums of unreleased music will focus on Prince the soulful and Prince the funky. Therefore,as the artist he truly was.

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Filed under compilation albums, Coverville, Funk, Minneapolis, Prince, Prince 4ever

‘Prince’@37: A Sophomore Album That Wasn’t Treated So Bad

Prince 1979

Prince really did create a technical and musical marvel with his debut album For You. Still out of Prince’s two albums of the late 1970’s,its his second self titled effort that proved to be his commercial breakthrough. That is in the sense he had a tremendous hit with it. That hit was “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. This was late 70’s sophistifunk at its sauciest-with a sleek groove that’s both sweetly melodic,but has a full on chunky bass/guitar groove about it. It started off this album. And its also the song that many mainstream pop music listeners pre 1980 might cite as the very first Prince they’d remember hearing.

I first became aware of this record through a handful of its songs making the cute of Prince’s first anthology set The Hits/B-Sides. So its probably best to discuss those songs first. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” is a very mainstream rock tune with some glistening,melodic power chords from Prince on this song written by Andre’ Cymone. The other is a classic Prince one man band version of “I Feel For You”. This is the first version I heard. And due to that reason,much as I love Chaka Khan’s far more famous cover,that’s pretty much its own thing next to this version.

Whats so interesting about this album for me is 3/4 of it is slow ballad oriented. When I first picked up the CD pre-owned,all there was to listen to CD’s were undependable bar code scanners some stores had. So it was a surprised that some songs such as “When We’re Dancing Close And Slow” and “Still Waiting” were rather country western/pop flavored ballads. “With You” has a 1950’s doo wop flavor to its slow ballad flavor. Of the slow songs on the album,my personal favorite is “It’s Gonna Be Lonely”-which has a then contemporary progressive soft rock flavor about it with its processed guitar reverb.

My favorite song on this album of course is “Sexy Dancer”. This is almost an instrumental. Prince’s panting becomes a percussive element to this lean,mean bass/guitar extravaganza that points to Prince’s signature early 80’s funk sound. Not to mention the jazzy Yamaha electric piano solo he takes on the bridge. “Bambi” is the other rocker here. This is a crunching hard rock number too. The focus of the song is on Prince having a crush on a woman who turns out to be a lesbian-spending the chorus trying to convince her “its better with a man”-seemingly for his own physical benefit only.

In the end,I have to agree with Prince on this album. It served its function very well in getting more people interested in his music.  And as he implied,it did what it he intended it to do by featuring some strands of late 70’s pop music. On the other hand,Prince’s frank take on the sexual revolution of disco era and the albums general emphasis on funk made it clear the type of musician Prince would be. He would make melodies,rock out but never totally give up on the funk. In as much as it laid the blueprint for his commercial approach of the early 80’s,this album is a very significant one for Prince.

 

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Filed under 1979, ballads, classic albums, Funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, rock and soul, rock guitar

Prince 1958-2016: “Rebirth Of The Flesh” (1986)

Prince’s history in terms of his unreleased vault material,shrouded in mystery as it is,does have a vital history all its own for the artist. He recorded during most of his free time. And loads of songs for each album project. One period that myself and many admirer’s of Prince’s music love to dip into is his huge 1986 production. In the early 80’s,Prince was seeking to make a name for himself as a new wave/synth pop artist with heavy rock overtones. And his funkiness would be a side dish. By 1985,Prince added The Family’s sax player Eric Leeds into the Revolution. And funk would no longer be a side dish for him.

There were two Prince projects that came and went in 1986. There was a Revolution album Dream Factory, a three album set called Crystal Ball (not to be confused with the self released 1998 outtake collection) and an album credited to the name Camille. This would feature Prince singing in a chipmunk-link voice he slowed down,then sped up. Many tracks from this album found their way onto albums and as B-sides. One,”If I Was Your Girlfriend” became a major hit later. One very exciting song I’ve heard from this album that hasn’t been widely distributed is “Rebirth Of The Flesh”.

An ultra sound like synth pulse starts out the song. And remains the primary percussive element throughout the song. Within a minutes time,Prince adds a brittle fuzzed out guitar and big,funky drums with tons of space in it as part of the mix. As the song progresses,with Prince’s vocals having a rangy and tonally complex conversation with itself,the horns of Eric Leeds and Matt Bliston accentuate the melody JB’s style. On the refrains,the deep fuzzy guitar and Leeds’ sax merge into a heavy sounding sustained melody. At the end of the song a goulish,thundering sound brings it to a halt.

“Rebirth Of The Flesh” was one of those songs that brought every element of Prince’s musical artistry together. Its got a hard driving funky rhythm-with some of the most intense horn lines Leeds and Bliston ever provided. It also has a very industrial rock tone-with some Hendrix like bluesy guitar licks. Its also got some of the melodic and rhythmic dissonances of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington. It lends much credence to George Clinton’s comment that Prince would be “one of the baddest out there if he released some of what he had in the can”. So here we have Prince’s funk at its hardest and most daring.

 

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Filed under 1986, Atlanta Bliss, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, funk rock, horns, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, rock guitar, Saxophone, synthesizer, unreleased

Look Out For #1@40-George & Louis Johnson Tell Us About The Funk That All Of Us Release

Somehow it never occurred to me that the Brothers Johnson’s debut album Look Out For#1 was celebrating its 40th anniversary. Sadly,it did so without the presence of the late great Louis Johnson-who passed away in the spring of 2015. One of the most important things to say about this album,released on new years day of 1976,is that it represents the very peak of #1 funk-a time when the music was at its strongest in terms of crossover. It was also Quincy Jones’ first major funk/soul production for another artist. Which in turn paved the way for Quincy’s success in that arena in the early 80’s.

George and Louis Johnson started playing professionally with Billy Preston as teenagers. As they approached adulthood,the guitar/bass duo backed up Quincy Jones on his 1975 album Mellow Madness. The setup was that the brothers wrote the songs,played the guitar and bass parts while George did the majority of the vocals with his high,percussive vocal stutter.  This was essentially the setup for Look Out For #1. Other prominent jazz/funk instrumentalists such as Dave Grusin,Ian Underwood,Lee Ritenour ,Billy Cobham,Toots Thielemans and Ernie Watts were among the musicians who played on the album as well.

One thing I’ve come to appreciate about this album is how it presents funk at its best recorded,produced and with its highest variety. “I’ll Be Good To You”,the primary single for the album,has a strong Sly & The Family Stone melodic singability. The instrumental “Tomorrow” has a similarly melodic vibe about it. Of course the song that gets the most harmonically advanced about that style is “Land Of Ladies”,the one song sung by Louis in his grunting,cooing vocal approach. Of course,after one goes from there Look Out For #1 is extremely dense with funk.

“Get The Funk Out Of My Face” is the most commercially successful example of this albums funkiness-with its fast tempo and processed wah wah effects. “Free And Single” and ‘Dancin’ And Prancin'”,with their heavy horn charts,take that same sound to the next logical step. A version of The Beatles “Come Together” and the closing “The Devil” are slow,gurgling deep funk that just grind the groove into the subconscious very deeply. The groove that pulls the sound of this entire album together in one song is titled for the brothers nicknames “Thunder Thumbs And Lightin’ Licks”.

There’s a deep point to this album that actually passed by even me,an avid funkateer,for sometime. A lot of times,even the most classic funk albums of this period mixed heavy funk in with jazz,rock or heavily arranged ballad material on an album. Even though this album has at least one slower ballad type number,the main priority of this album is on heavy uptempo funk. The immense talent of the Johnson brothers,as well as the instrumentalists playing with them,showcase how much the funk genre celebrates instrumental,melodic and rhythmic complication at its finest.

Conceptually,this album attracted me from the first time I saw the album cover on CD 20 years ago this year. It was a fish eye view from below,featuring the brothers playing their bass and guitar in front of a bright blue sky-both seemingly in the middle of singing. George is wearing a silver shirt and slacks with Louis has a silky,Indian looking shirt draped over him while in jeans. The whole image is that of just what they were-two super hip young brothers looking to play funky music for the people with enormous skill,style and flair. And that is what Look Out For#1 represents to me as it turns 40 years old.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1976, Billy Cobham, Brothers Johnson, classic albums, classic funk, Dave Grusin, Ernie Watts, Funk, funk albums, Funk Bass, funk guitar, George Johnson, Ian Underwood, instrumental, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Quincy Jones, Toots Theilmans