Category Archives: Generations

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/24/14 Rique’s Pick : “Rural Renewal” by The Crusaders ft Eric Clapton

The Crusaders 2003 album “Rural Renewal” on the legendary jazz record label Verve, marked a reunion of three of the four major principals of the mighty groups original lineup, drummer “Stix” Hooper, Tenor Saxophonist and bassist Wilton Felder, and the recently deceased great pianist and composer, Joe Sample. The only memeber who did not join them was trombonist Wayne Henderson, who passed in early 2014. Henderson would again join the group around 2010 for concert appearances. The Crusaders, just as they’d done in years past with great musicians such as Leon “Ndugu” Chancelor, Larry Carlton, “Pops” Popwell, Barry Finnerty, Randy Crawford, Paulino DaCosta and many other excellent players, buttressed the core lineup with great musicians. Freddy Washington, the bass player who co wrote Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots” participated on bass, the great Ray Parker Jr took over the standard guitar chair, and Steve Baxter came in on trombone, allowing the group to recapture its original sound of tenor sax and trombone playing in unison. Stewart Levine, the producer for the groups ’70s run is the producer here as well. Two songs on the album also feature the guitar talents of Eric Clapton, one called “Creepin”, and today’s Friday Funk song which ushers in the period of Scorpio, called “Rural Renewal.”

The song begins with the eerie tones of Joe Sample’s Wurlitzer electric piano. Sample is one of the pianists most identified with the Fender Rhodes electric piano, but he has been known to use the bite that the Wurlitzer provides as well. The Wurlitzer is well known for its eerie tone as demonstrated on classics such as Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Here, Sample plays a strong bass note along with a melody and chords in his right hand. Sample’s piano intro is backed up soley by “Stix” Hooper’s drums, and he plays his trademark jazz/latin meets funk and disco pulse, with a syncopated kick drum, cross sticks on the snares, and his dancing, straight but somehow swinging hi hats. After they go through the intro a couple of times the whole band kicks in with the type of hard, stomping Bayou/southewestren funk groove they rode to success and acclaim.

The guitars, bass, and electric keyboards all play off the same swamp groove, creating a sense of propulsion. This full band sound is almost like a tease though, after they go through it once around, the composition returns to the eeriness of Sample and Hooper playing together. The next time the full groove comes back, Eric Clapton is added, playing his fills and soloing over the groove. In a real humurous jazz quotation, Sample plays a riff almost like Claptons most famous, “Layla”. The “Layla” style riff, which comes from the blues anyway, sets up the intro of the horn line of Felder on sax and Baxter on ‘bone, which I love because it rekindles the sound of Felder and Henderson. The band grooves with Clapton and the horns playing around each other.

After that the song reaches its chorus section, with the horns playing a part that is built off the main groove as well, although with more space in it. The chorus section might be the most stomp down Crusaders sounding section of the whole, very “Crusaders” sounding piece. After that chorus the arrangement goes right back to Sample’s tumbleweeds and candlelight electric piano groove.

Clapton plays a very tasty and stinging blues solo on acoustic guitar, even incorporating some of the hard double stops of Johnny “Guitar” Watson. After another electric piano breakdown, Sample comes in with a very funky solo on acoustic piano, going back to that barrellhouse sound he got on Crusaders songs such as “Greasy Spoon” from “Southern Comfort.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Crusaders song without a solo from Wilton Felder. Mr. Felder plays some of his trademark phrases, which combine both a funky rhythmic sense, very peppy and energizing, along with his great patented tone. The song coasts out on an extended groove section in which Clapton gets space to cut up a little bit more.

“Rural Renewal” represented a rebirth of The Crusaders. While they still did not put out an album a year as in their ’70s heyday, it did lead the way to future concert appearances featuring various members of the original band, in concert with Ray Parker Jr and Freddy Washington. The title of the song and the spooky country funk vibe reminds me of the many older people I knew from the Bay Area who retired back down south in the 1990s through the ’00s. Of course in the ’60s, “Urban Renewal” was the phrase used to describe one anti poverty program after another. By the ’00s things had changed, with older black people in particular seeing a return south as a way to get more for their dollar and also to enjoy another standard of life. Joe Sample himself was an example of this, relocating down to Texas in his last decade, going back home. This song, the reunion of Hooper, Sample and Felder with their producer Levine, and even the presence of an excellent guest guitarist like Eric CLapton represent the Crusaders figuratively and literally going, as Wilton Felder once wrote, “Way Back Home.” From the funk on this song and album? They demonstrate that it is possible to go back home every once in a while.

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Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Crusaders, Funk, Funk Bass, Generations, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, Late 70's Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/10/14 Rique’s Pick : ” What Goes Around Comes Around” by Lenny Kravitz

Today’s Friday Funk “Anatomy of THE Groove” feature returns back to the 1990s and one of that decades great artists, Lenny Kravitz. I was discussing Kravitz with my good friend Calvin last week, and I came to somewhat of a realization about him and his career. I’ve heard lots of criticism of him, even from people one would think would make up his core constituency. The main complaint always seems to be that his Gemini versatility and gift for emulation prevent him from having his own style and somehow lack authenticity. When one considers Lenny’s upbringing however, one finds a resume that is quite unusual for an artist smack dap in Generation X as he (b.1964). Kravitz, growing up the son of star actress Roxie Roker of “The Jeffersons” fame, saw most of the major stars of the great ’60s and ’70s boom of soul, rock, and funk. Kravitz saw artists such as Miles Davis, James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, P Funk, and The Jackson 5 LIVE. He also talks of going to see the great jazz drummer Buddy Rich play live. At the same time he was playing and learning instruments himself. The great R&B star Teena Marie personally took him in and encouraged his music. By the time he began recording and found his trademark eclectic groove and image, what the world had was a young musician, younger than M.C’s such as Chuck D, Ice T and Kool Moe Dee, who had the music of the ’60s & 70’s music explosion deep within him. Where the rap acts did as well, their non instrumental direction took them to making new tracks over the old sounds. Kravitz paid homage in the way he knew how, making songs such as “What Goes Around Comes Around” in the style of his great hero and fellow Gemini master, Curtis Mayfield.

Kravitz had just produced a song for Mayfield with Ice T providing a guest rap, called “Superfly 1990” for a little seen (and rightfully so) sequel to that blaxploitation classic. That song amazed me with its perfect update of the Curtis Mayfield classic funk vibe. Kravitz doubled down on the Curtis Mayfield sound with this song from his breakthrough 1991 album “Mama Said.”

A drum kick paves the way for the Curtis Mayfield inspired funk. Kravitz himself is on drums, and he plays the classic Curtis Mayfield funk drum beat, a Motown drum beat, which features the snare drum playing a consistent pattern on all four beats. Instead of the loud snare and rim shots you’d get from a great Motown drummer like Benny Benjamin, Curtis’ drummers like Quentin Joseph would play that snare drum on the cross sticks, which gives the groove a mellower, cooler, Afro Latin derived feel. With the snare holding steady, the kick drum is used to dance.

One of the interesting things I found out about this track recently is that Kravitz used Curtis Mayfields great bass player, “Lucky” Scott on this track. And he lays down exactly the type of bass line he would behind Curtis, a melodic bass line with a lot of space that creates a feel of walking, or more accurately, strutting down the avenue. On top of that Kravitz lays some very sensitive clean guitar chording.

The vocals are sung in falsetto, just as Curtis would, and the moral of the lyrical text is also Curtis influenced. Kravitz basically sings a song about Karma, using a blues type story in the first verse where the character is not living right and suffering because of it. The next verse tells the story of a persons who’s “cup over runneth/with fullness and grace.” Kravitz total devotion to the classic sound on this song is evident when the horns come in, and he used Earth, Wind & Fire’s renowned Phenix Horns to play the horn chart, which is a snappy accompanying riff. Kravitz also includes an interesting string part that he sings along with in falsetto. The third verse is about how we can’t afford to destroy the planet, and hte last verse takes on another Curtis like topic, encouraging the children of the future. And he speaks directly of Gen X and the Milenials, with a Mayfield like twist of phrase and rhyme : “Your forefathers said/but they did not do/the things that would show/that they cared for you.”

Lenny truly goes for the soul-funk crown on this one, adjusting his guitar comping in several sections and adding a Phenix Horn (probalby Don Myrick) sax solo. I really dig the solo, especially the way the horn player starts off in a totally conventional matter and moves way out into free jazz Coltrane/Dolphy/Sanders abstraction. It reminds me of the sax solo on EWF”s live rendition of “Sun Goddess.” Kravitz plays some very responsive guitar underneath the solo, actually adjusting what he’s playing to support and provide interest behind the soloist. By the end of the song Lenny is singing “I’m gonna take you higher.”

When Lenny Kravitz recorded and released this song, the late great Curtis Mayfield was in a wheel chair, paralyzed from an accident at a New York concert. Curtis himself was no longer able to play his guitar, on which he was a great innovator and stylist. It was very special then, that Lenny did this song, and brought Curtis’ voice, wisdom, and healing through music to those times. And he did it in a way that was stylistically true to one of the most unique styles in funk music history. “Mama’s Said” was a diverse album that featured all sorts of variations of rock and funk, including the great Philly Soul love letter to Lisa Bonet, “It aint over till it’s over.” I would love to play this song now for an old funk fan who ignored Kravitz because of his percieved weirdness. I’d bet they’d marvel at how well one up and coming master captured the unique artistry of another. And by “marvel”, I do mean GROOVE!

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Filed under 1970's, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Funk Bass, Generations, Lenny Kravitz

The Anatomy of THE Groove 07/25/14 Rique’s Pick : “Generation Wrekkked” by Chuck D

The strange thing about the “Golden Age” of Hip Hop was how quickly many of the writers and fans turned on its artists, even when, in the cases of MC’s like Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, they were still relatively young. One of the most troubling things about it was not simply the fact that musical styles change and we all understand that, but also, the “Self Destruction” era thinking of an M.C making a difference was rejected as corny and out of touch by many in the hip hop journalist community. Nobody sufered from this more than the premier group of Hip Hop activism, Public Enemy. P.E’s 1993 album “Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age” was a direct sonic and lyrical antidote to Dr. Dre’s classic 1992 masterpiece “The Chronic”, basically, grown men who were not afraid to teach and preach and who’s music shook you out of your conformity (Get up offa that thang!) rather than lulled your head into a funky nod. The reviews for that album signaled the end of the classic P.E period. But it did not diminish Chuck D’s talent, voice, or his concern for his people and his art. On his 1996 solo album “The Autobiography of MistaChuck”, he struck back at the nihilism of the hip hop generation under him with “Generation Wrekkkked”, a play on the name of the generation everybody was talking about at the time, “Generation X.”

“Generation Wrekkked” features a totally different type of funk than the old P.E funk of the Bomb Squad. P.E created one of the signature funk sounds of the late ’80s and early ’90s alongside Prince, Go Go, Teddy Riley, Rick James, and Cameo. But the recognition of the gold mine in grooves of samples restricted that approach as the decade wore on. Chuck hooked up with a talented musician and singer named Kyle “Ice” Jason, and on this song, they deliver a straight up laid back funk track. The track is very simple and powerful, and it’s straight up funk. It features a classic, high toned rhythm guitar lick, sharp snare drum hits, powerful bass that does little but direct you to the power of the ONE, some sound effects, and Kyle “Ice” Jason crooning his Curtis Mayfield inspired falsetto. Over this funky soundscape, MistaChuck detailed his dissatisfaction with the Hip Hop culture of the times.

The phrase “If I can’t change the people around me/I change the people around me”, is a powerful one and one that has been a part of my thing ever since I heard it back in the ’90s. It’s also one that could be used in the “hood” or any negative environment in which ones associates and relatives stunt their growth.Chuck sounds defensive, this time not from “sucker critics”, but from Hip Hop fans and critics themselves, the very people he was doing it for! He sits “Johnny Cum Lately’s/Who didn’t recognize/how great and clever/some of these rhymes be”, on his knee for a rap lesson. Chuck’s lyrical skill had even been called to question by the new breed critics, seeing him as more motivator than talented M.C! Chuck tells them “Think quick/been flowing over those/mad vocabs and silly crabs/’for metaphors be passing your ass/like taxi cabs”- a clear riff on black mens difficulty catching cabs in New York City. Chuck basically structured his first verse as a battle rap, a scolding battle rap from a hip hop pioneer of whom “mad kids/never checking for what I said.”

Chuck’s next verse directly raises his issues with the hip hop music and culture that had then become the norm. After an extende Kyle “Ice” Jason vocalizing, Chuck talks about a “million doomed consumers” who “traded their medallions for fourty dozen six packs.”  These rappers were, like Puff Daddy, “Born under a terrible sign in 1969”. Nobody is safe, as he attacks those “Getting kicks from wack karate flicks”, as well as the mafioso style of the late ’90s rap ethos, realizing “I didn’t know under Fros we got so many Black Italians.” Chuck is basically attacking the conforming non conformity of the late Generation X rap kingdom. In the ’90s, the images of individuality, rebellion, and freedom that were popularized in the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s had become its own stifiling cultural norm. Clothing styles, language, attitudes and lifestyles that had once been a breath of fresh air from “suburban conformity” had become the new “suburban conformity”, and once more, this could mean nothing but harm for the black community.

Chuck’s solo album was like water in the desert for me in the late ’90s. Almost no artist who existed or was popular at the time, from the Notorious B.I.G to Jay Z had any kind of larger social voice or promoted anything beyond themselves. One could say “they were just pure entertainment”, but unfortunately, there was much they talked about that was actually negative and harmful. This would be remedied by the rise of people such as Lauryn Hill. Now, some of the generation of fans who were fans of the Gangster talk are upset hip hop has gone toward pure entertainment. I must say, if its not going to preach a message, I’d rather see it be pure entertainment than preach negativity! If I can’t change the people around me, I change the people around me! Big props to Chuck D!

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Filed under 1990s, Blogging, Funk, Generations, Hip-Hop

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 7/19/2014: ‘A.J. & The Jiggawatts’

AJ & The Jiggawatts

 

Its been known to me for quite a few years that,even after the crossover potency of funk had diminished on the radio,that the music still had a home on radio and in the record stores of the American South. That extended onward into the 90’s era when the Southern hip-hop sub-genre emerged with acts such as Mystikal,The Goodie Mob and of course OutKast as some of the most thoroughly funk oriented of hip-hoppers of their era. With the emergence of the whole Dap Tone scene during the new millennium,it also seemed that large live funk bands were suddenly becoming the domain of indie record labels-much the same as the earliest music of the original funk and early disco era had actually been. While randomly leafing through the R&B section of the record store,I came across this album. It was a large horn funk band from Nashville,usually known to me as a mecca for country music. It described AJ & The Jiggawatts as a blistering live band. But what would the studio make them out to be on this CD?

Right of the bad with the intro the album is of course abound with fast paced,uptempo horn funk such as “Throw A Fit”,”Get Wild”,”Pushin’ Forward”,”98 Degrees”,”Once And A Lifetime”,”Don’t Mess With Me” and the intense “The Drop”. These numbers are some of the most hyperactive funk I’ve ever heard,since its usually a genre I tend to associate with a slower rhythmic structure. Might be good to use James Brown’s “I’m A Greedy Man” to describe the tempo and flavor of the funk on those songs. “Back Alley Beale St” and “Brown Bottle Fever”,both with a bluesier New Orleans groove,use the lyrical metaphor of intoxication. “Typical Feeling” is a sunny,melodic groove that deals with the virtues of skepticism and reason-citing what sounds like the contemporary climate crisis as an example. “Shake It For Me” has a commanding horn fanfare throughout it while “Pimp Decisions” espouses the virtues of balancing ones needs with those of others while “Stand Up” ends the album (as a bonus track) with some strident,wah wah heavy funky soul.

Musically this is a fantastic album through and through. One of the best things about it is that it updates the sociopolitical lyrical impulses of classic funk for the post Generation X years. The ideas of “do what you want to do” and “come together,people” are superseded with the concepts of reliance on ones own views and abilities. There’s also a strong working class sensibility about the album as well-dealing with people in tight economic situations trying to keep relationships and the like afloat amid their stresses. The musicians,especially the cracker jack horn section are superb. And the production is clean and loose as they come. The only thing I am not 100% taken with is AJ Eason’s singing. While he has a powerful,assertive vocal tone and is an extremely strong songwriter/lyricist? His vocal technique itself is extremely sloppy,similar to the lead singer of the Intruders where he often loses control of his voice and is very badly off key on the choruses. While people probably have their own ideas about Eason’s singing that will differ from mine,its not enough from keeping this a stand up example of a contemporary live band funk juggernaut!

Original Review Written On July 14th,2014

*Link to original review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R1JKY3VXYHMOQL/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

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Filed under A.J. & The Jiggawatts, A.J. Eason, Blues, Funk, Generations, James Brown, Nashville, New Orleans

The Inspiration Information of Shuggie at the Turn of the Millenium: Rique’s Outlook

The 2001 release of Shuggie Otis ‘Inspiration Information’ on David Bryne’s Luaka Bop  represented a great musical landmark in the lives of both of us here at Andresmusictalk, myself, Henrique Hopkins, and Andre Grindle. While both of us were busy in various musical activities on the opposite coasts of the United States, serving our apprentischip as musical fans and critics, Otis album came along and had a huge impact on our personal and musical lives. Otis’ album presented something new and familiar at the same time,  a melange of funk, soul, jazz, gospel, blues and rock and roll, similar in tone to the most advanced and creative of his contemporaries, but also illuminating the paths of  future innovators and stars such as Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Outkast and Beyonce. One of the appeals of this was the mixture of the familar, represented by Shuggies’ original ‘Strawberry Letter 23′ and the general funk/soul/blues/rock vibes, with the unfamiliar, Shuggies’ unique genius and talent for combining sounds, as well as his gentle, plaintive voic. The 13 years since that release have seen Shuggie actually return to the stage and recording, and we have this release to thank for that. This album then, has a unique place in our lives as a classic era funk recording that actually belongs to us even more than its time. We aim to explain why:

 

When I first purchased Shuggie Otis “Inspiration Information” in late 2001 or early 2002, I can’t quite remember, I was no virgin to the purchase of back catalog funk, jazz and soul CD’s. I’d spent most of high school exploring deeply music and styles I’d had a familiarity with my whole life, but instead of just dipping my toes into the pool, diving in fully, getting truly wet. I still remember the exact day I bought Miles Davis “On the Corner” for instance, a rainy June day at the end of my 11th grade school year. Most of these purchases were of artists I was familar with, but my crate diggers mindset caused me to seek out their lesser known recordings, especially since my father had so many of these artists recordings already. Many times it focused on recordings that were scorned or disregarded at the time of their release, such as “Hear My Dear” by Marvin Gaye. Some of these were already lying in obscure corners of the families collection like unhugged Teddy Bears. But even with all this acquring of classic music, Shuggie Otis’ album was something different, an artist from the ’70s whose music and person I was only vaguely familar with but who’s music very quickly became a part of not just my perception of the ’70s or classic funk and soul, but who’s music existed in my life contemperaneously with Outkast, Mos Def, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, D’Angelo, Maxwell,  The Goodie Mob, Common, the Roots, Beyonce, and other artists who were catching my ear with new, contemporary but classic sounds.

When I first heard of  “Inspiration Information through a review in VIBE magazine, I knew for a fact I’d seen Otis’ face somewhere before. The musical name of “Otis” was most definitely not unknown to me. My father had been a big fan of Johnny Otis in the 1950s. Johnny Otis himself, who passed a few years ago, is an incredible figure in Black music history and American history as a whole.  Otis was a Greek American Bay Area hipster who identified strongly with African American people and culture. So much so that my father said Otis used to “play Black” when he was younger. It is a well discussed narrative that certain blacks who had the ability to do so “passed” for white in order to enjoy the priviliges that provided, but the reverse story is not often told. Johnny Otis surpassed Norman Mailer’s “White Negro”, because instead of simply appropriating black style to his own ends, he actually cast his lot with black people, placing his music on the R&B charts, marrying a black woman, leading and aiding black musicians, living in the black community and even pastoring a black church. I would later find out that Johnny Otis was a Bay Area man as well, born in Vallejo and raised in Berkely, and he represented the unique racial history of the Bay.

Dad had a recording he’d made of a Monterey Jazz Festival featuring The Johnny Otis Revue.  I remember that tape very fondly because it had a Soul Train episode from 1987 featuring Jody Watley on the beginning of it. The Monterey Jazz Festival section was something I didn’t understand at first, but came to enjoy more and and more as time went on. Part of that enjoyment was just remembering how much I enjoyed watching it with Dad, and having him detail and tell tales about the world of West Coast Blues and R&B back in the 1950s. The tape featured the Johnny Otis Revue and I remember Otis, a tall white man resplendent in a white suit with a red shirt and tie, hair slicked back, speaking in a hip and cool cadence. Otis played the MC for such great acts as Big Jay McNeely, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Etta James and others. I remember Dad laughing at his childhood favorites getting on stage wearing wigs and other vanities. He also told me Otis used to do what amounted for passing for black, with most fans thinking he was simply “high yellow” like Billy Eckstine.

Behind Otis on stage, there was a quiet, handsome, deathly serious looking guitar player. The young man in the red band outfit had a large Afro, even then in the ’80s. I remember Dad mentioning he resembled a friend of the family, a man named Derek Love. I would find out almost 12 years later that this was Shuggie Otis, Johnny’s son and an artist who was critically acclaimed and had an extremely promising future back in the ’70s.

Fast forward to the early millenium, 2001. I was still getting VIBE magazine at the time. VIBE was my favorite, even over The Source and XXL, which I also subscribed to, because the range of music covered was wider. But even then, by 2001, I felt the ads were getting too prominent and the music was being smothered. One thing I admired about VIBE in its Quincy Jones owned hey day, was that it also ran great features on historical black music right alongside new artists. Even Rickey Vincent, the author of the Funk book, wrote for VIBE in those days, and I found out about his book through the magazine.  Funk, jazz and soul rereleases got album review space right next to the latest from Mary J Blige and Foxxy Brown, sometimes done by Greg Tate or Nelson George. One month, a review was done on the rerelease of Shuggie Otis album “Inspiration Information”, from 1974, on Luaka Bop.

The review fascinated me because it positioned Otis as a predecesor of Prince, due to his ability to play all the instruments in his recordings through multi tracking. It also informed me that he was the writer of “Strawberry Letter 23” which I knew in its popular form as a song by The Brothers Johnson, and a song that had seemed to have been very special to me my whole life. I didn’t run right out and get the album, but it was definitely on my list of things to check out.

Sometime after I came back from my first trip to Paris, and the events of September 11, 2001, I started hanging out with a friend from my job, Dameion. The world seemed to be going crazy with wars and reports of wars. The Bay Area was its usual stout anti war self, with ’60s type protest now being ingrained as a part of the culture, so much so that the city of Berkeley got rid of its military recruitment office. Though it was fodder for conversation, this didn’t affect me and Dame much. Our goal was to put together a band that would capture the worlds attention through music.

Me and Dame would cruise around town, with him playing me demo’s off his Mac Book. The Mac Book he had was a near magical device to me at the time, because whenever I’d buy a CD, if Dameion liked a song, he’d immediately rip it straight to his Itunes, right then and there. He’d do the same with music I liked, burning me a CD of music right then and there. At the time, we were still buying CD’s heavily. I remember buying Shuggie Otis CD from a Borders Books and music. I bought the CD with a bushelful of other CD’s as well as music books like Charles Mingus “Beneath the Underdog.”

I don’t even remember the other CD’s I bought on that day. Very soon after I put the CD in Dame’s MacBook, Shuggie’s music became for a time, the only music I seemed to care about. Dame felt it too because he ripped it to his computer right then and there. We were blown away by an album of funky songs, unique stop and start grooves, tender ballads with morbid, almost funerary sounding music, funky rock and roll guitar playing, and Otis quiet, intimate falsetto. We’d later learn the album, besides the cuts where Otis did his one man band thing playing all the instruments, had some cuts that featured top notch studio names we knew such as Wilton Felder, Leon Haywood, and George Duke, ’70s L.A/Bay Area musical royalty.

What was it that captivated us so? Well, for one thing, we were both fledling musicians who wanted to have a band that played instruments, but were also deeply influenced by hip hop and sampling. So we were constantly on the lookout for music that SOUNDED old in its analog recording quality and groove, but was also NEW, by virtue of it being unheard or less heard. Otis album fit that category for sure.

But Otis’ music was most valuable for its own qualites. The Luaka Bop release was actually a combination of two Otis’ albums, “Inspiration Information” and “Freedom Flight”, which of course, presented a different picture than listeners in 1974 would have gotten. The sound of the album itself was highly unique. The first song “Inspiration Information” was Shuggie’s unique take on a joyful but heavy Sly Stone type of vibe, a very happy type of funk but with a deep seriousness to it as well. “Island Letter” had a deep warm, underwater sound to it, and was a song dominated as much of the album by the organ. “Sparkle City” was Shuggie’s unique variant on mid ’70s funk, low down, bluesy and mean.

The album was full of layered stop and start grooves, seeming to move in all directions. One of the most prominent sounds was the drum machine on Shuggie’s organ, which played a classic organclave pre set drum pattern on “XL-30.”

One of the funkiest songs on the album was “Happy House”, which was an all too brief one minute, sixteen second cock tease. I remember me and Dame cracking up over Shuggies lyrics about “from me/and your mama too.” While a cut like “Ice Cold Daydream” would be a soundtrack to the great chase movie we havent made yet, driving and grooving to it’s arch ’70s stop and start groove. Through it all was Shuggie’s soothing voice, fragile, soulful, and speaking loudly by whispering where others would shout.  You almost wondered how that voice could come from the same person who produced such fire elsewhere in the music.

A song like “XL-30” was nearly frieghtning in its early electronic, killer clown fun house groove. The song we already knew, and which I’d use to introduce the album to other people like my dad with, was “Strawberry Letter 23.” That song was one that had been around for my whole lifetime plus a few years. I remembered it very well in my teen years, becakuse in the ’90s, our adolescent and teenaged horny selves would walk around asking a girl, “is it cool” to get with them. It was like I was hearing the song for the first time when I heard George Johnson say “If you try to ask/is it cool/is it cool.” Quincy Jones laced that production with the type of state of the art mastery that would later lead to the greatest selling and possibly most comprehensive pop recordings of all time, done with Michael Jackson. The Brothers Johnson’s “Starwberry Letter 23” was a modern, grooving, mid tempo ballad that was also funky, extremely funky and clean and slick at the same time. The song was powered by Louis Johnson’s highly individual slap bass sound and climaxed with a triumphant guitar part played by Lee Ritenhour.

“Strawberry Letter 23” on Shuggie’s album is another song. Strangely enough, it’s the same song, the basic notes of the bassline are there minus Louis propulsive style, the ending guitar solo is there, the lyrics, the tinkling bell melody, all the musical aspects of The Brothers Johnson and Jones’ later hit are present in Shuggie’s original, but Shuggie’s vibe is more stoned out, and hippie, with acoustic guitars sounding like sunset on Hippie Hill in San Francisco.

Shuggie’s two albums, together on one CD, became a soundtrack for my young ’20s, thirty years after they were recorded and ignored. “Strawberry Letter 23” has become a kind of a basic meme in black music, a foundational melody. I wonder sometimes if it came from the far bigger hit and classic The Brothers Johnson recorded, or if it came from the crate digging culture and David Bryne’s 2001 re release. I know Outkast quoted it in their megahit “Ms. Jackson” (the rhythm of the singing of “Never meant to make your daughter cry), Westside Connection quotes it on “Gangsta Nation” sung by the late Nate Dogg, and Beyonce quotes it as well on “Be With You.” In fact, I view those “Uh Oh’s” on “Crazy in Love”, the rhythm of them, as a child of “Strawberry Letter” as well.

Beyonce in fact is an artist who’s made her connection to Shuggie quite plain. She mentioned getting his album and it being an inspiration to 2003’s “Dangerously in Love.” If you listen to that, her song “Gift From Virgo”, is a song laid on top of Otis’ instrumental “Rainy Day.” Also as mentioned, the album has numerous references to “Starwberry Letter”.

Beyonce’s usage of the album just goes to strengthen the feeling I have that the rerelease of Shuggie’s music came at exactly the right time. Since then I’ve gotten into other re releases such as funk music from Nigeria, and another one from the Bay Area, Eugene Blacknell’s music, another album that though old, defined a certain period of my life. Shuggie is like blues artists who were ignored in their time and then rose to popularity in the ’60s when the Blues was acknowledged as the cornerstone of Rock. Shuggie hit the Bay Area last  year and unfortunately, I missed his show to see one of his inheritors, Prince, in Vegas. But I’m elated he’s begun to perform again, because back when I got his music, he was treated as one of those great disappearing geniuses who could only be enjoyed in recorded form. I’m glad he’s back and I wish him the recognition and joy from playing his music now that he may not have gotten in the past, on HIS terms! And I hope in particular, he has some sense of how music he did 40 years ago lingered around like a funky landmine to hit the sweet spot of listeners many years in the future.

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Blogging, Blues, Dialog, Funk, Generations, LA, Music, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Psychedelia, rhythm & blues

Anatomy of THE groove 5/30/14 Andre’a Pick : “Sweet Thing” by Ashford & Simpson featuring Maya Angelou

One of the most surprising musical moments of my life was when I was browsing through Bull Moose Records in Bangor and found a copy of an EP by Ashford And Simpson from 1996 featuring…Maya Angelou? I was so puzzled by the seemingly odd creative fit that I avoided the album time and time again. Yesterday I was met with the unfortunate news that Miss Angelou had passed away at the age of 1986. She was one of those individuals who had an amazing life-a black Silent generation woman who achieved an enormous level of literary respect on her own. And someone whose prose,verse,dignity and grace of person not only earned her much acclaim but was an enormous influence on the careers of many diverse figures-from Oprah Winfrey to Barack Obama. Realizing Motown being founded by a group of eager Silent generation artists looking to present music with grace and dignity? I suddenly realized just how appropriate Maya’s collaboration with Nick & Val was. Especially upon hearing their song together entitled “Sweet Thing”.

The song opens musically with an echoing, Clavinet like synthesizer that rings out a tinkling blues riff before the drums kick in and this foot stomping rhythm & blues shuffle kicks in,full of hard gospel/soul style horns and a thumping bass-all with a slickly contemporary production twist of course. Nick and Valerie start in by alternately harmonizing on what begin as passionately romantic lyrics that have that great storytelling quality that most classic Motown songs possessed. After their their harmonized chorus,Maya chimes in offering her own spoken word impressions of a similar impulse. She utilizes her imagistic metaphors,which would not be out of place had they actually come from the pen of a Smokey Robinson. A favorite lyrical aspect of Maya’s part of the song for me is when she says “when the world asks me what’s my favorite film,I say St.Louis Blues and he plays it a little” . She goes on to say “If someone asks me how to call your name,your a riff by Bird and solo by John Coltrane,your the whole Misssissippi river the the whole coast of Maine”

The lyrical imagery that Maya Angelou bought to this song enhances the fact that this is actually extremely hard driving,high quality funky music-especially for its era. During the mid 1990’s,many Silent generation veteran musicians were rather concerned with sounding “new” rather than being true to themselves. A trend that continues to this day to  a degree. While musical styles of past decades accomodated many generations? The post hip-hop world was a bit more fickle in that regard. What Maya Angelous and Ashford & Simpson did on this song was not only modernize classic shuffling rhythm & blues music,by that time largely a brand name whose true meaning seemed lost,and looked to remind a younger and often more profane youth culture that the concerns of the three generations of black people living at the time were not as divergent as they seemed to be . While Maya herself could politely ask her friend Richard Pryor to leave her home due to his profane language? She also realized that romance and hope were something that would far outlast one rather cynical age. And both musically and lyrically,this song with Ashford & Simpson bought that to the table when it was perhaps most needed. Both the late Nick Ashford and Maya Angelou will be missed,yet their legacy together as artists will remain in works such as this

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Filed under 1990s, Ashford & Simpson, Funk, Funk Bass, Generations, Maya Angelou, Motown, Poetry, rhythm & blues