Category Archives: harmonica

STEVIEWONDERLAND!: Celebrating An Icon In Three Decades-“Never In Your Sun” by Stevie Wonder (1985)

Stevie Wonder has an interesting quality in his reactions to personal relationships that’s personally relatable. While generally viewing his lack of physical sight as a gift,this view gets complicated when he is i emotional turmoil. When his first and only marriage to Syreeta Wright broke up in the early 70’s, Wonder put out two albums dealing in part with his breakup-Music Of My Mind and Talking Book. On these records,Wonder’s heartbreak seemed linked to his own vulnerability-even removing his trademark shades on the second of those albums to showcase he was blind. And at the time,even a bit in the dark.

While not blind,I too live with a very different type of disability that makes my life quite different than many around me. And when personal relationships in my life become troubled,there’s a personal tendency to feel very…disabled. Now not knowing Stevie Wonder personally,some of this is only speculation based on his lyrics and my own romantic experiences. Still when Wonder sang “things you cherish most in your life can be taken if they’re left neglected” on 1972’s “Looking For Another Pure Love”? It resonated on a number of different personal levels along with jazzy soundscape of the music.

By the time the 1980’s came along,Stevie Wonder was facing vulnerability of a different kind. Ever the musical perfectionist,Wonder found the boogie/synth funk of musicians such as Kashif and Prince were picking up where he’d left off in terms of the instrumental sounds he’d created with electronics. So rather than being a pioneer,he found himself somewhat running with the pack at the time. These factors might’ve been part of why he held onto releasing his second album of the 80’s In Square Circle for half a decade. One song from it expressed vulnerability in a very soulful way. It was called “Never In Your Sun”.

Wonder starts out the the song playing a heavily spaced two beat drum pattern-spiced with heavy Brazilian style percussion. After that,a fairly low lead synthesizer comes in playing a gentle major key melody-backed up by a deep synth bass thundering in the back-round. The takes the key of the song a bit higher-with a hollow,low horn like synth line. That sound resonates through the second refrain-where Wonder takes one of his renowned harmonica solos. After another vocal refrain,the chorus returns for a few more rounds-raising in key yet again before the song fades out.

Instrumentally,this song finds Wonder exploring his harmonically rich,jazzy style of music and songwriting in a new way. Perhaps in keeping with the innovations of the Minneapolis sound,Wonder strips the song down to a drum/percussive track and layers of synthesizers playing lead,horn and string type parts. Lyrically it’s quite a lonely song in a way-about a woman whose the opposite of a fair weather friend in comforting Wonder only in the harder times. Musically it’s assured naked funky soul for the mid 80’s. In lyrical terms,the questions it poses seem more significant than the answers.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1985, Boogie Funk, disability, drums, electro funk, harmonica, Minneapolis Sound, Motown, naked funk, percussion, relationships, Stevie Wonder, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizer

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Our Road (Now That It Feels Good So Tell Everybody)” by Lee Oskar

Lee Oskar had been a major part of the band War (now known as the Lowrider Band) during their entire run. Aside from Stevie Wonder,he was one of a few funk based artists who emphasized melodic harmonica as a key part of that bands diverse musical repertoire. During 1976,Oskar took a break from War to release a self titled solo album. He had a hit from this record called “BLT”,and it was all successful enough to garner him a solo career of his own coinciding with War’s ongoing career in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Today he’s a renowned player in musicians circles. And he has parlayed his musicianship into other creatively minded ventures over the years.

Two things I didn’t know about him until recently represent these ventures. Henrique Hopkins informed me about Oskar’s line of custom harmonica’s for sale. Starting in 1983,Lee Oskar Harmonica (the company name) has been manufacturing harmonica’s suited for different Western and pan ethnic musical genres. In a manner similar to Joni Mitchell,Oskar is a fine painter with a vivid and colorful way with the paint brush from what I’ve seen. His rich,melodic and soulful approach to his craft came to light on a song from his 1981 solo record entitled My Road,Our Road. It was an extended number that was part of the album title itself entitled “Our Road”.

A sweeping string orchestration begins and ends the song-as a hot horn chart blasts into the main groove. This main groove has War member Harold Brown’s slow,deep in the clave drumming-with Lonnie Jordan’s timbales and Abraham Laboriel’s phat slap bass. At first Oskar duets with the synthesizer of Barnaby Finch. On the second refrain,Gary Grant and Pat Rizzo blows out  loud (and somewhat discordant) jazz trumpet and sax solos. On the third chorus,hand claps and backup singers all join in for the title chorus. Everything quiets down midway-as the final half of the song focuses on Oskar’s solo upfront-with the ringing,bell like percussion of Airto Moreira and the vocals of his wife Flora Purim.

Produced by The Family Stone’s drummer Greg Errico,featured on percussion on this song as well,something about this song is very otherworldly. With a handful of it’s members aboard,this is still for all intents and purposes a War song. It has the bands signature bluesy Latin funk throughout it all. For the first half,it drives really hard. On the second,it becomes a more ethereal experience-with Airto and Flora’s Afro-Latin percussion and shamanistic vocal chanting providing a meaningful spiritual vibe. With the slap bass,the Brazilian percussive flavor as well as the blending of dreaminess and reality,this is some of the deepest instrumental funk of the early 80’s.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Abraham Laboriel, Airto Moreira, Barnaby Finch, Brazilian Jazz, clave, drums, Flora Purim, Gary grant, Greg Errico, harmonica, Harold Brown, horns, jazz funk, Lee Oskar, Lonnie Jordan, Pat Rizzo, percussion, Saxophone, slap bass, strings, synthesizer, trumpet, Uncategorized, War