Funkadelic not only represented P-Funk’s rockiest side. They also represented their link to the late 60’s psychedelic scene from which it all began for George Clinton and company. Beginning as the backing band for The Parliaments before they shortened their name,Clinton revived the Parliament name in 1974-pursuing a more horn funk style under that name. In a couple of short years,a P-Funk formula of sorts began to emerge as the musicians within it exercised their most distinctive instrumental traits-especially Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell. 1976 was the key year for all of this to happen.
Tales of Kidd Funkadelic turned 40 just under a month ago. For me,it represents that transition from Funkadelic representing psychedelia and (as some P-Funk admirers have stated) becoming “Parliament without the horns”. Personally,the summer of 1996 was a time when I was going to Borders Books & Music in Bangor,Maine to purchase the then 2-3 year old Funkadelic CD reissues. I remember picking this particular one up while spending a weekend with my grandparents. It was with a warning I’d in a music guide that Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic was the bands least conceptually unified record.
Today,its to my understanding that the album was made up of material recorded at the same time as Funkadelic’s Capital records debut Hardcore Jollies. But Clinton was contractually obligated to Westbound to deliver them one more album. So lyrically,the songs didn’t follow a concept. What the Westbound label did do was give each side of the original vinyl a certain sense of musical unity. On a personal level,its probably the Funkadelic album I’ve returned to more over the years. And perhaps its the way its assembled that draws me to it so much.
“Butt-to-Butt Resuscitation” and “Let’s Take It To The People” could both be described as heavy funk/rock hybrids. At the same time,the emphasis is still on the stronger rhythmic complexity Funkadelic were developing. “Undisco Kidd” stuck out instantly because,from the bass to the vocal rap,it drips of Bootsy’s musical personality. It actually reminds me of something from Parliament’s Mothership Connection-especially with Worrell’s orchestral synth. “Take Your Dead Ass Home” is a thick bass/guitar built number with a really humorous take on 3rd and 4th base making out.
The second half of the album is another matter entirely. “I’m Never Gonna Tell It” is a P-Funk style mid tempo soul ballad-later re-done by Phillipe Wynn after he joined P-Funk. The title song of the album is a 12+ magnum opus centered on Bernie Worrell’s classically inclined jazz/funk cinematically orchestrated melodies. “How Do Yeaw View You” is actually one of my favorite songs on this album. Its a very rhetorically reflective song that has a slight reggae funk overtone. That essentially rounds this part of the album as being its “slower side”.
From the first song to the eighth, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic stands to me as a model for funk albums released to fulfill a contract. Clinton offered Westbound songs that were not only solid and complete. But in my opinion,they were also funk jams that held together in terms of the sheer quality of song. If any of these songs had been singled out to lead off a fully conceptualized P-Funk album,they’d probably have all been amazing. As it is,its hard to hear that these songs are outtakes. So on its 40th anniversary,the most important thing to say about this album is that represented P-Funk’s major transition in the 70’s.
George Bernard Worrell was playing concertos at age 8,went to Julliard and the New England Conservatory Of Music and was a founding member of P-Funk. He wound up working with Bill Laswell,Fela Kuti and was a member of the expanded Talking Heads in the early 1980’s. He died today of stage four lung cancer at age 72. The man was truly a musical genius who actually created whole new layers of solo and orchestral sounds on different keyboards. Here’s what I feel are some of his most powerful moments. I have nothing more to say. Listen and dance to the music!
With George Clinton’s increasing interesting in bringing in more and more newer (and often younger) musicians into his P-Funk musical empire? It was bound that not only would financial and generation clashes as well. This all came to play in the late 70’s when the core of George Clinton’s original vocal group Fuzzy Haskins,Calvin Simon and Grady Thomas abruptly re-emerged in 1981 with the name Funkadelic in hand and bought in a group of their own with Michael Williams,Billy Moms,Ben Powers Jr.,Johnny Quad Riley,Stan Thorn and Ken Blackmon and put this album out,as they announced at every chance possible,without any participation from Clinton.
“Phunklords” starts out the album with a brightly melodic layer of synthesizers of the plassic P-Funk “video game” sounding variety before launching into a straight up bass heavy,percussive keyboard sound with vocals that trade off very singable melodic lines as well as the call and response chants of classic style funkativity. This also extends into “You’ll Like It Too”,the title song and “Come Back” as well. All are very strong on that level. “The Witch” ends the first side in three parts: a low voiced vocal proclimation at the beginning,then onto a slinky new wave electric and synth bass driven slither on “The Infunktation” and ending on the rocking guitar groove of “The Cellfunction”.
“Call The Doctor” is a slow crawling,wah wah power deep voodoo funk groove while “Whose A Funkadelic” is led by a round synth bass pulse and a high pitched chipmunk style vocal rap with a sea of Eddie Hazel style guitars. Considering this album is led essentially the melodically inclined vocal end of the original Parliaments group of the 1960’s? Their barber shop style gospel soul leads and harmonies help beef up what is essentially a very uptempo funk oriented album that strips away the more eccentric elements of Clinton’s spin on P-Funk and concentrates on a very coherent sound that is incredibly rhythmic and melodically powerful.
It’s an excellent album that succeeds at being P-Funk which works as both a singers and a keyboardists/musicians album all at the same time. And despite the damage it caused to the whole of P-Funk to release this as it was? It’s a powerful album embracing the side of P-Funk that would help spearhead the smaller group,synth/electro funk of the early/mid 80’s that had arrived. Highly recommended!
Bernie Worrell,P-Funk’s premier keyboard maestro was revealed a week ago to be living with stage 4 prostate cancer. With every major celebrity death of the new year having to do with some variation of this disease,it felt right to celebrate Bernie’s enormous musical contributions while he is still living. And that is also a key element of his talents as well. As a New England Conservatory Of Music and Julliard student who became drawn to the burgeoning sound of funk, he was able to bring his European classic training to the P-Funk mob just as the genre itself was in a crucial state of evolution. This made him key in the development of P-Funk’s first well known side.
Unsure if it was because they’d just moved from Westbound or not, but have always held mixed feelings for Funkadelic’s 1976 Capitol Records debut entitled Hardcore Jollies. Never seemed like an album that knew what it wanted to be: an exercise in funky serenity or the rock noisemaker. And the two musical elements were not particularly hybridized on this album. But of course the funk that was present was some of the strongest P-Funk ever made. Somehow it just occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve ever reviewed a Funkadelic jam on this blog. So now I’d like to present to you now one of the most powerful manifesto’s for the genre itself,”If You’ve Got Funk,You’ve Got Style”.
This is one those examples of funk that gets a stone cold start without any buildup or intro. And that’s great because it’s a heavy Brazilian jazz/funk drum provides the foundation for Bootsy Collins’ always intense duck face bass thump combined with multiple keyboard parts from Bernie. One of them is a high pitched,modulation filtered melodic line and the other is a thick Moog bass line. On the choruses, that higher keyboard line basically scales down with George Clinton’s vocal hook. On the rest of the songs refrains, the beginning theme of the groove is accentuated by some of the most powerful and ringing percussion parts I’ve ever heard on a funk number.
Funkadelic tended to be the side of P-Funk who had the most instrumental flexibility and adaptability. Especially early on even, their music didn’t particularly sound like funk at all as much as psychedelic bluesy rock grooves. By this time however,they’d locked the rhythm down a lot tighter and really allowed for the expansion of the one. What’s amazing is the the spot on ideal funk groove presented here dovetails right into the lyrical content. The basic ideas is “if you got funk,you got class/your out on the floor moving your ass”. So the more literal expression of the ideas that would shortly go into Sir Nose Devoidoffunk and the Bop Gun. This explicit statement of the funk is,for me anyway what gives the song and it’s accompanying album all of it’s musical might.
The Bar Kays have and will probably always continue to funk’s most enduring band for two important reasons. One is that they’ve continually recorded for nearly half a century at this point-always re-imagining the new sounds and grooves of each new time period. Another is that they survived all but two of their original members dying in the same plane crash that killed the singer they backed up: Otis Redding. James Alexander is the only one of these two still in the band. But these Memphis soul survivors have never failed in some way to give up the funk with verve and vitality. And the 70′ were a huge breeding ground for their burgeoning search of the perfect groove.
After 1975 the reformed band,who’d modeled themselves into something of a Southern version of Funkadelic,their original label Stax folded. This put them into a position of having to sign with Mercury Records. Since that was the home of fellow funkateers Ohio Players at the time? It was an excellent move. The Bar Kays first album for the label entitled Too Hot To Stop came out in 1976. There was no shortage of strong funk within it’s eight songs. And it was kind of hard to pick which one to talk about in all honesty. But there was one leaped out at me. One that carried a sound I’d never really heard come from any of their grooves before. It is called “Bang Bang (Strike Em Dead)”.
The band are calling out to each other in rough Spanish or Portuguese from the sound of it over the kinetic Brazilian drums of the intro-just before the Afrocentric percussion comes into play. On the main groove an acoustic piano,Clavinet and a bopping bass are all having one serious conversation as the horn section rises from below into the mix. On the choruses? There is a big descending synthesizer melody along with the wordless, harmonized vocalese of the band members. As the song progresses,the horns begin to take faster and more elaborate solos as the vocal chants and calls of the group members become a total instrumental element all their own.
Somehow the Bar Kays heavy Southern fried funk took on a whole different groove on this song. The thrust of this rhythmically is an Afro-Brazilian groove with somewhat jazzier flavors to the melodic construction,and the nature of the vocals. One thing it continues to carry over from the bands signature sound is it’s extremely high energy and fast tempo. And that’s one thing I’ll say about the Bar Kays. While normally a slower tempo music when you listen to it? The funk this band often came out with was very uptempo and fast paced. And the strong musical Afrocentrism of this percussion based jam really helped to calcify this bands way with strong,thick uptempo funk.
One of the things that could be said for Nona Hendryx is that she constantly challenged just what a black woman had the potential to deliver in the music world. She had her beginnings with Patti Labelle and Sarah Dash of course. But she became the first black female artist to release a hard rock album on a major US label in the 70’s-something even Tina Turner didn’t do in the next decade.
After fronting her own progressive art/funk band Zero Cool and releasing a number of groundbreaking solo albums-recording with the expanded Talking Heads and working with Prince during the 1980’s? She was absent from music for 22 more years until her next album Mutatis Mutandis emerged in 2012. It was led off by the extremely appropriate number called “Tea Party”.
Beginning with a unison of horn and rhythm guitar fanfare from Jay Jennings and Ronny Drayton,the song goes into a classic Clyde Stubblefield style drum part with that percussive accent between the second and third beat. from Trevor Gale. Nona,Keyontia Hawkins and Keith Fruit provide the backup vocals as Nona rap-sings in the classic JB approach with Drayton coming on with an amplified Stevie Ray Vaughn style blues rock guitar on the refrains. Following a hard grooving sax workout from Jennings,the song closes off a gospel drenched soul-jazz organ from Etienne Stadwijk.
Not only does Nona Hendryx pull off a wonderful funk groove that totally relates the funk structure provided by James Brown,the Southern Soul of the Memphis sound with soul-jazz and blues rock instrumentation? But brings the same level of social activist preaching she’s put into matters such as LGBT rights into a song that puts the hypocrisy and high level racism of the tea party-referencing it as represented the “castration of the nation” and being the “me party”-melodically referencing the opening vocal line from Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under A Groove”. It’s a wonderful total rebirth of the strong live band funk of many colors-“people music” that addresses an urgent human rights issue with a striking combination of wit,intelligence and humor.
Somehow it took my good and oft referenced friend,blogging partner Henrique to point out to me that the sheer bulk of this three CD set consisted of 33 songs to represent the 33 years that Funkadelic have released any music. Just about anything connected to George Clinton and P-Funk is extremely complex. And that’s in both musical and legal terms as well. Considering George Clinton put out his (to many) long awaited autobiography to coinside with this release? This comeback itself was complicated. First it was released digitally,and than in a CD package that seemed to put up in different record stores at different times-at least to my own personal observation anyway. Of course the major fact is a lot of P-Funk’s key instrumental players have passed since the last released Funkadelic album Electric Spanking of War Babies. Among them are Cordell “Boogie” Mosson,Garry Shider,Glen Goins,Tiki Fulwood,Phillipe Wynne,Jessica Cleaves and of course Mister Maggot Brain himself Eddie Hazel. But the question on my mind remained how would Clinton,Bootsy,Junie,P-Nut and the few remaining original members make any sense from all this chaos?
“Baby Like Fonkin’ It Up” begins this album with a groove that sounds a bit off musically-very lowly mixed instrumentation and upfront vocal choruses. “Get Low” and “Not Your Average Rapper basically deal with a modern hip-hop/pop type dance number with a lot of programmed drum machines and on the latter a slower,slogging live drum beat. “If I Didn’t Love You”,with it’s spare bass and light keyboard harmony based instrumentation as well as stretched out improvised numbers such as “F***** Up”,”In Da Kar” and “I Mo B Ydog Fo Eva” are all very hi hat spacey jazz fusion oriented pieces. “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kind Hard On You” and “Radio Friendly” bring back that most popularly known P-Funk sound of blipping melodic “video game” style synthesizers. “Creases” has the slower end of that sound only minus the synthesizers. The title song is a very tribal African dance percussion type number while “Rollar Rink”,”Nuclear Dog Part II”,”Old Fool”,”Pole Power”,”Boom Here We Go Again” “Zip It” and “Catchin’ Boogie Fever” all keep that classic P-Funk danceable synthesizer oriented sound going right along.
On the rockier end of the album “Jolene” has a bluesier groove about it along with the guitars while “Dirty Queen” basically melds together edgy speed metal with a grungy guitar flavor. “Talking To The Wall”,”Where Would I Go” and especially my favorite of this area “As In” are all wonderfully instrumentally layered slow jams. “Bernadette” takes the Holland/Dozier/Holland Motown classic and reworks it in a manner that goes with the slow crawling blues/gospel style of the earliest Funkadelic albums-reflecting the songs George Clinton composed while working for Motown-with the long instrumental jam to close out. “Meow Meow” is a sexually charged crawl focused on a reversed rhythm/drum track. “The Naz” features a very deep bass/guitar driven groove powered by Sly Stone revisiting his classic DJ shtick in his elderhood. “Yesterdejavu”,”The Wall”,”Snot N’ Booger” and “Dipety Dipety Doo Stop The Violence” are all elaborate cinematic psychedelic soul numbers-all with heavy bottoms b but yet a modern production twist as well.
It’s difficult for anyone with as long a history with listening to P-Funk such as myself to be at all subjective about new releases from them. So I’ll just elect to say what I feel. After all,that is also what George Clinton’s vision is all about. The pluses of this album IS that there is a lot of music. It allows old and new Funkadelic members to be able to explore a pretty broad range of ideas and for George himself to both come up with new material. The minuses go with the fact this album has some material that doesn’t quite coincide with how Funkadelic fit into the P-Funk cannon. And it doesn’t even matter that many of these songs feature Fred Wesley,when the original Funkadelic didn’t generally have horns. A good chunk of these songs feature modern style grooves that I’d think George Clinton would consider “placebo syndrome”-many of them shamelessly using auto tune. Sometimes however? There are indications this is a massive musical satire-using a modern musical quality to prove a point against it. Conceptually it is also quite a bit sadder than most other Funkadelic I’ve heard. George and company seem to be of the opinion that art has become so reduced down to committee thinking that any expression of quality will have to remain underground for a time. As contradictory and lyrically dour as this album can occasionally be? Have to say it’s all worth it just to have Funkadelic back with more quality funk and other grooving hybrids than not.
Have to totally agree with my blog partner here Rique and fellow WordPress blogger The International Review Of Music that 2014 has been a tremendous all around year for funky music. And funky is Rique and my favorite kind of music from my understanding. And this year we’ve had that become popular on a massive level thanks to starting the year out grooving with Pharrell William’s “Happy”. This was a global phenomenon-with people all across the world doing their dance to the song on YouTube. For the first time in history,a number one funk song connected billions of people in the internet age. And that alone is no small feat. And one Pharrell should be proud of for his entire life.
If “Happy” was standing by itself this year? That would have been wonderful. But it did so much more. Kelis and even 90’s quiet storm soul singer Joe released tremendously funky music this year! And massively welcomed comebacks from Prince,Funkadelic,War,D’Angelo and posthumously from the late Michael Jackson were also enormously successful events. In fact D’Angelo’s Black Messiah ended off the year with a major surprise release in the wake of the tragic and highly topical police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. That album may have had to wait until 2015 to see the light if that dark day hadn’t have shinned the light on the need to talk,sing and play about it.
Since funk was the key to providing not only great music but positive and enriching messages this year? I wanted to conduct our first interactive blog here on Andresmusictalk. There have been many wonderful releases this year in the funky spectrum of sound. Hoping all of you have been enjoying them. So presented below is a list of key funk,jazz and soul related albums from 2014. Inviting all of you to select which ones interested you most! Wishing everyone a new dance and new vitality of life for the year to come and enjoy the polling everyone! Thank you!