Category Archives: Heatwave

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Send Out For Sunshine” by Heatwave

Heatwave are a band I tend to avoid writing about because of a perceived personal bias. Readers of this blog are well aware of how my moms 8-track copy of their Central Heating album started me on asking serious questions about music. Such as those about songwriting,instrumentation and production. The band members were and (of those still alive) are among the very best of late 70’s disco era funk. Yet this year,we lost the most prominent songwriters for Heatwave with the passing of Rod Temperton. Yet with him an Johnnie Wilder Jr now gone,one member of the band prominent for me is still alive.

Keith Wilder,brother of the late Johnnie,is celebrating his birthday today. It was an exciting day for me when Mister Wilder accepted my friend invite on Facebook. He actually contributed to a number of Heatwave songs I love in the focus department. His voice has similarities to his brothers. Yet was generally in a lower range. And while in Heatwave, Keith’s singing had a gruffer soul/funk attitude about it. That made it ideal for the bands harder edged songs. One of my favorite Heatwave songs is from Central Heating. And its called “Send Out For Sunshine”.

An catchy,up-scaling Clavinet opens before a processed guitar brings the song directly into the refrain. This is an extremely funky lead Clavinet riff on the bassiest end of the instrument,backed up by a thick conga/percussion rhythm. Some heavily filtered,bluesy guitar riffs and occasionally bouncy synthesizer effects accent this mix. Between each refrain,a chunky rhythm guitar plays along. This guitar extends into the chorus along with the strings. On the final choruses,the song moves up a chord while Keith and Johnnie Wilder duet off each other until the song fades away.

“Send Out For Sunshine” is a song that has everything a funk song could offer. The groove is very Afrocentric -especially with Johnnie on conga’s,the Clavinet grooves and rocks at the same time and the rhythm guitar of Eric Johns really brings the song to life. The production sonics on this also have a strong space funk vibe in with the rawer elements-giving it a futurist flavor as well. Lyrically,using what might’ve been seen by some as a drug metaphor really demonstrates the power of natural serotonin  from the sun as a positive element in the often bleak scenario’s painted in the songs lyrics.

 

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Filed under 1970's, clavinet, Eric Johns, hard funk, Heatwave, Johnnie Wilder Jr., Keith Wilder, Rod Temperton

Rod Temperton: The Star Of A Story I Love So Well

rod-temperton

Rod Temperton is my personal favorite composer of the last four decades. The funk and disco era he was a part of is generally thought of to be all rhythm based-simply to make you want to dance. But along with people such as Stevie Wonder,Con Funk Shun’s Felton Pilate and Earth Wind & Fire’s Maurice White,Temperton showcased how to write funky music with very singable,jazzy melodic scaling and modulation. He is yet another one of those figures who not only inspired this blog itself. But also the entire way I listen to music. And probably how I’ll continue to listen to it.

Temperton sadly passed away on October 5th,2016. Sources say of cancer,at the age of 66. His family wishes to protect his privacy. Which is totally logical as he lived as pretty much of a recluse. He was born in post WWII Lincolnshire,England. He apparently described his family,particularly his father,parenting him more with a radio by his bedside than their own presence. That began his lifelong love of music. From spending time as a drummer,working in the office of a frozen food company in Grisby he continued his fascination with music. This eventually landed him in Germany as a keyboardist.

In 1974,he answered the personal ad of Johnnie Wilder for the new band his was forming called Heatwave. He  became the chief songwriter for the band-honing his craft with hits such as “Boogie Nights” and “The Groove Line”. This earned him the attention of Quincy Jones. He than became a household name as a composer for Michael Jackson,namely the song “Thriller”.This is what Temperton is best known for. He wrote with the Westlake Studio crew for The Brothers Johnson,George Benson,Patti Austin and maintaining a songwriting relationship with Heatwave until they stopped recording after 1982.

The late Johnnie Wilder described Temperton’s personality as possessing a good sense of humor and a friendly attitude. This naturally made him a good musical partner for Quincy Jones. The man composed so many funk/soul/dance classics in the 70’s and 80’s that it would be too long to go through all of them. So today,I’m going to run down only the Rod Temperton songs that personally moved me the most. And chances are,many of them are being played on a radio station in your town at this very moment too. And that level of popularity is part of what makes many of these songs so enduring and distinctive.


Heatwave

“Boogie Nights” (1976)

The very idea of putting a swinging drum/jazz guitar opening and closing to the Moog bass led funky disco of this song gave it a strong and thoroughly musical sense of continuity.

“The Star Of A Story” (1978)

This might very well be my very favorite ballad of the late 70’s. With it’s processed electric pianos and orchestral sonics,its essentially a jazz tune with some tremendous multi tracked harmonies from Johnny Wilder. It was such a strong song,George Benson covered the song two years after Heatwave originally recorded it.

“The Big Guns” (1982)

In a lot of ways,this song became the instrumental prototype for what Temperton would do with Michael Jackson on the song “Thriller”. What this has is a slower,more complex percussive rhythms,jazzy scat singing and even a synthesizer solo from Herbie Hancock.

The Brothers Johnson 

“Stomp” (1980)

Temperton really know how to compose melodies spacious enough for both vocalists and instrumentalists. This song does both as a collaboration with Louis (also deceased) and George Johnson. Its a total bass/guitar showcase of course. But it also allows space for George Johnson’s vocal leads as well.

George Benson

“Give Me The Night” (1980)

This song is instrumentally a fairly close cousin of MJ’s “Rock With You”. Difference being the rhythm is far leaner-allowing Benson’s different guitar and lead vocal/scat playing parts to be more prominent in the mix.

“Off Broadway” (1980″

Oddly enough I first heard this as incidental music on a rerun of SCTV. Its built around Moog bass and horn/string interactions-all allowing Benson to shine on an evolving solo on this fine instrumental.

Patti Austin

“Razzmatazz” (1980)

This is probably one Patti’s most vibrant uptempo songs. The song is very stop heavy with horns,strings,guitar,keyboards and drums all playing the high key melody and rhythm. On the other hand,its a dance funk masterpiece where everything seems to fit just where it needs to go.

“Love Me To Death” (1981)

This album track from Austin’s Qwest debut  Every Home Should Have One is a gurgling mid tempo jazzy post disco groove with a deep,liquid guitar riff. To me a wonderful example of the clean production,molten instrumentation and harmonically powerful melody.

Michael McDonald

“Sweet Freedom” (1985)

This sonically heady dance/pop song from the 1985 comedy Running Scared is a song I remember singing to when I was 6 years old. So whether I knew it or not,Temperton’s songwriting style was deeply impacting on me before I even knew who he was. It has all the hallmarks of his writing and production style-emphasizing a rhythmically heady uptempo number with vast (in this case more electronic) instrumental sonics.

James Ingram

“One More Rhythm” (1983)

This song from Ingram’s debut album Its Your Night has an extremely singable melody. And uses modern production touches such as bass synthesizers and dancable refrains to what essentially amounts to a big band swing jazz revival. One of my all time favorite Temperton compositions-showing his understanding of Quincy Jones’ outlook on the musical continuity of black America.

Michael Jackson

“Rock With You” (1979)

One of the songs that helped launch MJ into a popular musical force of the early 80’s,”Rock With You” has such mellow instrumental sonics (including bass from Rufus’s Bobby Watson) that this steamy uptempo disco pop groove seems more like a ballad. And that’s probably not an easy quality to achieve.

“Thriller” (1982)

This is of course the song Temperton is best known for. It sounds like it sprang from a late in the day Heatwave demo. Its led by light percussion,hefty synth bass lines and a brittle liquid rhythm guitar on its bridge. Instrumentally,its one of Temperton’s finest compositions.


2016 is reminding me of the fact that today,most casual music listeners are again associating songs with singers. That instrumentalists,arrangers and composers are often afterthoughts. That’s because of the non stop parade of death this year of big musical icons. On a happier note,the internet and newer documentary films are bringing the creative history of these icons to live on a broader level. For me,Rod Temperton is such an artist. I could mention him in the same sentence as Nat King Cole and Burt Bacharach as one of the greatest mid/late 20th century musical composers.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Brothers Johnson, Funk, George Benson, Heatwave, James Ingram, Michael Jackson, Michael McDonald, Patti Austin, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, songwriting, UK

Heatwave Holiday: A Summer Celebration Of A Band Too Hot To Handle

Heatwave 1978

Heatwave are a band that remind me of summertime perhaps even more than the Beach Boys do. I’ve told the story over and over of being introduced to the bands second album from 1978 Central Heating at the family summer camp during hot early 1990’s summers on 8-track tape. Sometimes,you can be very euphoric about a band’s music in the beginning. But as time goes on,the luster wears off. That’s never happened with Heatwave for me. Each time listening to them,I get something different. Much as with James Brown’s music,each listening to Heatwaves albums have me hearing things I never heard before.

2016 marks the 10th anniversary of Heatwave founder Johnnie Wilder Jr’s passing away. He was the co-founder,heart and soul of the band. And along with Rod Temperton,he helped write man songs for them as well as singing most of them. As Independence Day is on the way-with immigration is a hot topic this hot summer election year,Heatwave remind me of a wonderful cross continental American musical spirit-with members from the UK,Switzerland and the Czech Republic as well as Dayton,Ohio. So I’d like to present my favorite Heatwave jams that showcases Wilder’s amazing lead vocals!

“Ain’t No Half Steppin”/1976

It surprised me to hear such a raw live instrumental funk number from a band I’d always associated with studio slickness. But with it’s Jimmy Nolan style guitar and Wilder’s low leads and falsetto harmony vocals,this songs percussion break might possibly have also inspired Soul II Soul’s 1988 smash “Back To Life”-showcasing how one UK based live funk success could inspired one from a whole other era.

“Always And Forever”/1976

From my understanding,Johnnie Wilder’s iconic lead vocals on this classic slow jam were recorded live in a single take. The band wanted the vocal freedom Wilder would have in their live shows. And this song truly bought the stage to the studio-with  Wilder’s soulful extravaganza of vocal cries across his range talking up the entire last half of the song. It has as slow a tempo as a song could have. But it’s straight up gospel energy bursts with boundless musical magnetism.

“Put The Word Out”/1978

The intensely processed Brazilian drum breaks,percussion and atmospheric strings of the intro on this Rod Temperton song is truly an instrumental spectacle for the ears to behold. Then the rhythm guitar and bass get going with Wilder giving it his all on this melodic,harmony laden uptempo disco/funk marvel.

“The Star Of A Story”/1978

The ultra low strings,Brazilian guitar flourishes,the processed Fender Rhodes piano along with Wilder’s cosmic falsetto vocal turns showcase how amazing Temperton and Wilder’s sense of musicality was when working in close concert. This is my favorite Heatwave ballad and another technical marvel of sound and production. George Benson even interpreted this three years later-showcasing the strength this song had to a guitarist who sang too.

“Raise A Blaze”/1979

Heatwave’s third album in 1979’s Hot Property used to be one of the most obscure albums to find while crate digging. Produced by Phil Ramone,Johnnie Wilder really got a chance to shine on the bass/guitar heavy dance funk delight of this song. Again,it showcases much compositional power and energy Heatwave put in their uptempo tunes.

“Turn Around”/1980

This is one of those arrangements where the strings and horns really let the bass/guitar interaction shine as the main thrust of the rhythm. Much like Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You”, this is one of those deep soul/funk grooves whose slinky,stripped down rhythm section can fool the listener into thinking its actually a ballad. As always,Wilder shines on the vocal leads and harmonies.

“Posin’ ‘Til Closin”/1980

Something about this Temperton song,with it’s bass/guitar heavy rhythms and witty lyrical storytelling,reminds me of something from the Chic Organization from this time period. Wilder singing the line “she’s a TV star/she watches all the shows/had a face like Farrah Fawcett since they corrected her nose/that’s the way it goes” never ceases to make me giggle and hum along to this catchy disco classic.

“Find It In Your Heart”/1982

Heatwave’s 1982 album Current is probably their most underrated album-with it’s ultra glossy production,top notch compositions and aurally electric synthesizer use. This mid tempo,urban contemporary sort of funk has a strong bass/guitar part and some of Wilder’s finest vocals ever. Has a flavor similar to early Luther Vandross solo material.


Of course there are many more Heatwave songs I could go on about for many other write ups. And am intending to do just that. This particular list of Heatwave songs merely emphasizes my favorites that involving the participation of Johnnie Wilder. While there’s a lot of focus on uptempo funk and disco here,Wilder had a tremendous talent to pack a vocal punch on powerfully arranged slow jams as well. Being that listening to Heatwave will likely lead the listener to seek out George Benson,Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson albums from that same era out,turn up their music for a sizzling summer groove!

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Brazilian Jazz, disco funk, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Heatwave, Johnnie Wilder Jr., percussion, Phil Ramone, rhythm guitar, Rod Temperton

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Goin’ Crazy” by Heatwave

Heatwave might be my personal favorite  of the classic Dayton,Ohio funk bands. Difficult to be too objective about that. Interesting thing is,they represented a cross continental group-many of whom derived from Europe.  The band sadly had very little recording longevity and a whole lot of bad breaks. But the five albums they recorded from 1977 to 1982 were all such well produced,well played on and well written funk/disco delights.  The groups central composer was Rod Temperton. But the heart and soul of the band rose and fell along with their late lead singer/composer Johnnie Wilder Jr.

Wilder showed a great respect for good musicianship,good grooves and good melodies. It would also seem he ran Heatwave in a very paternalistic manner too. Apparently even deciding that members couldn’t get married-due to possible interference in the bands dynamic. With all the great funky dance hits Heatwave had, a 1979 car crash left Wilder a paraplegic and unable for perform for some time. While he began recuperating,Wilder was succeeded by future Commodore JD Nichols on the bands 1980 album Candles. Wilder composed one of my favorite jams on the album entitled “Goin’ Crazy”.

Heatwave’s keyboardist Calvin Duke begins the song with multi layered lead and bass Clavinet riffs-playing in staccato to three note riffs from the Fender Rhodes piano. On the choruses the drums kick in-ably accented by the highly prolific session master Paulinho Da Costa. Derek Bramble’s bass pops hard alongside Ernest Berger’s steady 4/4 beat and Duke’s high synth melody. On each refrain,the focus returns to Duke’s Clavinet solos. On the bridge,that Clainvet powers everything from climactic strings to the stop/start horn and Rhodes breaks that eventually bring the groove to a cold start.

This jam has that rare mix of professional studio sleekness  and raw instrumental power. Heatwave are a tight unit on this song-with Calvin Duke,Da Costa and Johnnie’s brother Keith holding down the vocal fort on the refrains with his percussive “let’s clap,let’s clap”. The two types of electric piano used here are left the most raw-with the piano like tones of the Clavinet and melodic Rhodes really giving the song much of it’s instrumental power. It’s finely composed arrangement and funky danceability make this a fine example of why Heatwave threw down some of the most amazing disco era funk.

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Filed under 1980's, Calvin Duke, clavinet, Derek Bramble, disco funk, drums, Ernest Berger, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Heatwave, Johnnie Wilder Jr., Keith Wilder, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, post disco, Rod Temperton, strings, synthesizer

Seeing The Music: Andre’s Guide To Funk,Soul & Jazz Documentary Essentials!

SONY DSC

                   During the time I was growing up,the majority of men  around me were mainly interested in watching sports on television and action films in the movie theaters. From adolescence onward, the one thing that moved me in both media were musical documentaries about the black American musical spectrum that I was then absorbing like a sponge. The understanding of rhythm and harmony I received from seeing these musicians perform,speak of their histories along with the music they made provided me with a full sensory experience far beyond what I could’ve received from the limited literature of the era I was receiving.

                        Initially I was going to combine documentary films with biopics in the same blog. Since dramatizations  are a completely different medium of film making technique? Decided instead to break them up in separate but related blogs. Also because I received a very different level of education from them as well. Before hand,some of these documentaries are very hard to find even on YouTube. Many have never even been issued on DVD. Yet I highly recommend seeking all of them out if you are looking to seek out a first hand education on the soul,jazz,funk and R&B musical spectrum.

rock-n-roll

        This aired on PBS in 1995. The eighth part of it focused specifically on the genre of funk and it’s development from James Brown on through George Clinton. The final volume focused on hip-hop. The names of Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash first came to me through watching this documentary. Not to mention the knowledge of rap’s musical roots in Jamaican reggae DJ’s such as Kool Herc. While some of the narrative commentary shows a limited understanding of the connectivity of black American music’s connectivity? The insights of interviewees such as Maceo Parker,Alan Leeds,George Clinton,Afrika Bambaataa and Chuck D are extremely insightful to what drove the music forward.

record row cradle of rhythm and blues

Narrated by the late Chess Records icon Etta James,this documentary not only opened my eyes to understanding the history of blues,soul and funk in 60’s Chicago. But was also the first glimpse I got into the idea of black American financial empowerment. Jerry Butler explained it best in this when describing how Curtis Mayfield starting his Curtom label,taking control of his publishing,took the Chicago scene into the funk era by closing down the era of people such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker functioning as “musical sharecroppers”.

The strong emphasis this has on United Record Distributors,the only black American record distributors  in their time run by the Leaner brothers,proved extremely significant in my understanding of black America’s experience with capitalism for years to come. And the level of communication in the civil rights era through the iconic radio station WVON,such a significant force in the city that if an artist wasn’t on their play list,record stores would not stock their music. Possibly my favorite musical documentary all told.

motown40

It was this epic documentary mini series,hosted by Diana Ross that really allowed me to understand the internal workings of Motown records. From it’s foundational years when Berry Gordy,having failed as a record store owner in Detroit,began writing songs for Jackie Wilson. And then borrowed $800 from his family to start what become an American musical institution. A black American institution. The interviews follow Motown’s changes from it’s salad period in the mid 60’s,through the funk and disco era when the artists had the most creative control,on through Berry deferring ownership of the company in the mid 80’s through it’s resurgence with vocal boy bands and then Puff Daddy Combs remixing the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. A very complete and thorough history on The Sound Of Young America.

jazz-show

Overall I’d apply the same viewpoint to this documentary as I would apply to PBS’s  Rock ‘N’ Roll from seven years earlier. It’s understanding of musical connectivity,absolutely key to jazz,is more limited to the participants (such as Ken Burns  and Wynton Marsalis) perceptions of the music than it is lacking. Yet the decision to weave an internal documentary on the life and career of Louis Armstrong as a key figure in jazz is double edged: it didn’t quite succeed in term of historical continuity but did showcase how the aspect of modern black American musical might’ve derived from Armstrong’s approach. I learned about important sociological figures in the music such as Buddy Bolden,James Reese Europe and Sidney Bechet here as well. With the help of my father’s asides,this helped complete my historical understanding of jazz.

Scratch

Went to Portland Maine to see this movie,in a little movie theater underground of a local clotherie. It was actually a suitable environment for this film. It traces Grand Mixer DST’s pioneering turntable work with Herbie Hancock on his “Rockit” project. It than goes on to discuss the fine art of crate digging for used vinyl by hip-hop scratch artists. There was no irony to the fact that I was myself crate digging myself,only for my personal listening pleasure and musical enlightenment,less than an hour after seeing this in the used record stores of the city of Portland. One of those films that was both influential and validating exactly at the time I saw it.

Earth Wind & Fire Shinning Stars

Probably the one documentary I was the most excited to learn about upon it’s release. It follows the ascension of Maurice White from his childhood in Memphis to switching his college major from premed to music and playing with the Ramsey Lewis Trio before forming his first and second incarnations of Earth,Wind & Fire. The fact that bassist/trombonist Louis Satterfield,saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk,drummer Ralph Johnson and guitarist Al McKay go deeply into their own insights on how music functioned in terms of being a member of Earth Wind & Fire during it’s prime period.

Stevie Wonder Classic Albums

In terms of the Rhino Classic Album series? This now very hard to find DVD interviews all of the musicians involved in the long winded and dramatic recording sessions to what is considered Stevie Wonder’s shinning musical pinnacle. Stevie demonstrates the double keyboarded Yamaha GX-1 (known as the Dream Machine)- a polyphonic synthesizer I find sonically and visually impressive. Another favorite part is where Stevie showcases how his musical acumen allowed him to cover over for a harmonic solo at the end of “Isn’t She Lovely” that a harmonica player of his caliber shouldn’t have made. Hearing the musical insights of this mans inner visions was a hugely important musical milestone for me.

Marvin Gaye Life & Death Of

Marvin Gaye’s history has,especially in the hands of author David Ritz,was generally depicted for me literarily in extremely magisterial terms. This BBC documentary,one that came my way through a life changing act of barter in itself,really did a lot to put more of a human face on the complexities of Marvin Gaye’s musical and personal life. Through interviews with the artist himself and penetrating reenactments of the even of his childhood? I’d recommend this as the best available visual documentation on Marvin Gaye.

Tom Dowd

Tom Dowd is probably listed as the producer of more albums than anyone in American music history. This man started out working for the Manhattan Project on the atomic bomb. And his career as a producer extends throughout both the black music and rock era spectrum-an array of artists as diverse as John Coltrane to Lynyrd Skynyrd. The amazing about this documentary isn’t merely the musical history. But Down provides an inside look,right at the mixing board,onto how he instrumentally layered songs such as “Layla”. A key story for understanding the intricacies of the musical creative process.

Bob Marley

For many years Bob Marley was mainly known to me as a superficial icon of a certain local stoner culture,one that tended to feel sociopolitical change derived solely from drug use and how it changed the consciousness. This story chronicles the complex wheel of Marley’s musical life-starting from his childhood in Trenchtown,Kingston in Jamaica through his near assassination attempt in 1976 through his passing on from Melanoma in 1981. This really broke it down exactly what about his back-round and viewpoint on the Jamaican music industries corruption that motivated the sociopolitical consciousness of the reggae music he helped to pioneer and export the world over in his lifetime.

Respect Yourself

It was thanks to Netflix that I found out about this documentary about Soulville USA! Stax Records were both the rival and opposite to Motown’s business model during it’s mid 60’s heyday. This is extremely thorough on it’s representation of Stax literally rising back from the dead following the double cross of Jerry Wexler’s Atantic Records ownership over Stax’s catalog following the death of Otis Redding, the labels burgeoning social consciousness embodied in Isaac Hayes,the Staple Singers and Wattstax during the early 70’s and financial bloating bringing the label down mid decade. Than Stax came back decades later-with a music school for young musicians to boot. Especially following the creative managing of Al Bell and interviews with many of the artists from Stax’s heyday? This is the essential story of Southern Soul from when Stax really bought the funk into the music.

Michael Jackson Life Of An Icon

Michael Jackson’s story has been re-purposed in the media so many times? It is nearly impossible to approach his life story with total objectivity. Thus far,this is one documentary that does the best job of doing so. For one,it concentrates on Mike’s late teens and early adulthood in terms of his musical development. And by interviewing everyone from Bobby Taylor,who first discovered the Jackson’s performing onto 80’s era manager Frank Dileo? It strips away some of the overbearing adulation and downright hero worship that this distinctive and funky musical talent found somewhat responsible for his own end. An end that came far too soon. Probably the essential Michael Jackson documentary thus far.

unsung_logo2012-wide

Unsung is an unprecedented documentary series on the cable network TV One. The reason for it’s importance is that it profiles an often underrated musical icons from within the soul/funk spectrum. And does so with a great level of care and compassion. As of now I’ve not been privileged to see every episode of the series. Yet the stories of people such as Tammi Tarrell,David Ruffin,Donny Hathaway,Full Force,Angela Bofill and Heatwave lead singer Johnnie Wilder provided an excellent insight into artists either misrepresented or not even spoken of broadly in other media circles.

Finding Fela

It was a reference in Paul McCartney’s documentary Wingspan that first gave me indication to the name Fela Anikulapo Kuti. This story probably brings my understanding of the African American musical spectrum near to it’s final stages. My conversations with blogging partner Rique are consistently referencing Kuti. And this film really expands on that understanding. The understanding of Fela as the Nigerian James Brown,whom he in fact was very highly influenced by through travelling through America during the years of black power in the late 60’s.

While the man bought the sound and social consciousness of total rhythm into his combination of African Highlife and jazz-funk?  He also set upon living a lifestyle of breaking down conventions,largely coming out of the corruption that led to tragic events such as the murder of his own mother. This really embodies the full spectrum of emotion a life can have-from pioneering,to humorous to tragic. And it also helps bring out peoples understanding and misunderstanding of what African culture is really all about.


Sometimes when I try to encourage people to watch more documentaries,they often respond by saying that they find them boring. At the end of the day they say? They want to escape,not learn. What I’ve personally come to understand is that knowledge functions as both a destination and an escape. Just depends on how you receive it. Being lectured at about topics by a teacher isn’t always the idea method of education. Yet through documentaries on a favorite subject? One can experience first hand,sometimes comic history,joy and tears from the viewpoint of all involved.  And for me? These have all provided the ultimate in learning while being simultaneously entertained.

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Filed under 1990s, Bob Marley, Chicago, crate digging, Earth Wind & Fire, Etta James, Fela Kuti, Funk, George Clinton, Heatwave, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Jazz, Ken Burns, Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Maurice White, Mavis Staples, Memphis Soul, Michael Jackson, Portland Maine, reggae, Stax, Stevie Wonder, Tom Dowd, Unsung series, Vee-Jay

Andre’s Funk Essentials: Mixing It Up With The Groove’s Greatest Hits

funk

Funk has long been something that I’ve viewed as being an album oriented genre-one that blends uptempo dance music and jazzy or blues oriented ballads that has a certain approach to rhythm. But is often built around a certain concept as well. While funk albums has always been part of the family musical experience? I only fully understood funk as a specific genre due to compilations albums. In fact have often stated that at that place and time in the mid 1990’s? The only feasible and fiscally practical way in which to experience funk was through different types of compilations.

Much the same as you’d have with full length albums? The nature of compilations of pretty diverse when it comes to the funk genre. Funk is found on various artists compilations that otherwise consist mostly of rock,jazz and blues songs. They can be found on soundtracks in much the same manner. While in the 90’s there was not only a major up-swell of various artists compilations that were all funk, but also a series of compilations by a single funk band/soloist. Tracing down the timeline of where I personally started with the music? Here is a list of the various varieties of funk compilations that inspired me along the journey into the groove.


Funk Essentials

It was a cassette dub of this album from my dad, playing on the car stereo on the way home from a family trip from the city of Portland. I’ve discussed this on my previous blog The Rhythmic Nucleus. What still amazes me is that I could listen to songs such as “Let’s Star The Dance”,”Rigor Mortis” and “Flashlight” were all from a band actually called the Funk Essentials. Still this served it’s intended purpose with me: to whet the appetite to explore the artists within. And through BMG Music Service’s well stocked lineup of Funk Essentials compilations for individual artists I was able to take that journey a bit later

Heatwave Greatest hits

          Having already been exposed to Heatwave’s Central Heating album on 8 Track tape as a child? This album was a cassette of my mothers when she was unable to find that album on another format. While featuring the biggest hits from that album? It was my first exposure to classics such as “Boogie Nights”,”Always And Forever” and the 1980 jam “Posin’ ‘Til Closin”. It also led me on the path to other full length Heatwave albums like their 1982 masterpiece Current. The music of Rod Temperton and the late Johnnie Wilder have had an incalculable effect on how I perceive funky songwriting and composition.

Michael Jackson - Anthology (1986)

It’s very likely that Michael Jackson represented my very first introduction to funk music and I wasn’t even aware of it. His music was a direct link to me for the music of Berry Gordy’s Motown records where he began his career onward to Quincy Jones and the Westlake studio crew of musicians such as bassist Louis Johnson (one half of the Brothers Johnson of “Stomp” fame) and Greg Phillinganes (renowned session player for the likes of Eric Clapton,Stevie Wonder and his own solo albums Significant Gains and Pulse) as well as Toto’s Steve Lukather.

Jackson 5 Anthology

On these Motown sessions? People like the Mizell Brothers (who’d go on to work with jazz great Donald Byrd) and members of The Jazz Crusaders in Joe Sample and Wilton Felder provided the instrumental power and excitement to songs such as Michael’s early solo hits such as funked up show tunes such as “All The Things You Are” to epic fare such as “We’re Almost There” and “Take Me Back”. Not to mention a roll call of Jackson 5 triumphs such as “I Want You Back”,”Mama’s Pearl” and “Dancing Machine” along with far lesser known but still powerful songs such as “Looking Through The Windows”,”Get It Together”,”Whatever You Got,I Want” and “Body Language”.

Best Of Earth Wind & Fire Vol.1

As with The Jacksons? Some songs from Earth Wind & Fire were part of my musical core from the outset. Yet it was the experience of borrowing this vinyl from my dad in my early teens that really got me started on exploring this band. Songs such as “Shining Star”,”Fantasy”,”Can’t Hide Love” and “Getaway” were completely new to me at the time. Cannot diminish the excitement of hearing them for the first time. Add to that viewing the inner gate fold sleeve of this vinyl to see the joyous expressions of the band before I even knew names like Ralph Johnson,Al McKay,Larry Dunn or even Maurice White.

Parliament-Tear_The_Roof_Off_1974-1980

It was the Funk Essentials series that led me to this. During 1995 the name George Clinton was ringing through my head all the time. And this particular album was my entry point into the world of Parliament. Of course some of these songs lyrically made little sense to me. But it didn’t take the liner notes to begin to understand that characters such as Sir Nose,Starchild,Mister Wiggles and Dr.Funkenstein were part of a vast concept Clinton had set up that spanned across the Parliament albums as a whole. This really elevated my understanding of funk as an album based genre. And therefore was one of the key individual artist-based compilations that entered into my world at the time.

Move To The Groove

Interestingly enough? My father was more attracted to the holographic CD cover for this set than he seemed to be with the music within. Yet during the spring and summer of 1996? My father and I actually began our many musical conversations while listening to the songs here. It was my very first exposure to artists such as Roy Ayers,Mandrill and George Duke. These artists would become hugely significant in my expanding musical explorations in years to come.

Prince The Hits-B-Sides

Always compelled by the multi talented and expansively funky Prince Rogers Nelson,this album really showcased for me how versatile and entrancing  this innovator of the Minneapolis sound’s music truly was. Not only that but it included a number of non album B-sides on the final disc-the best of which (for me anyway) were the magnificent “17 Days” and “Erotic City”. When I collected all of Prince’s full length albums? I actually sold my original copy of this for pocket change basically. But I recently bought it again-not only because of the B-sides but simply because it’s a compilation of songs I still love to listen to set up this way. And from the look of the back? I feel as if I might’ve bought back my own copy I sold so many years ago.

Rick-James-Greatest-Hits

Seemed only natural to explore the music of Rick James during the same time as Prince’s. Interestingly enough? This particular collection was one of the very first CD’s bought into our home in 1990 when my father got his first CD player as a Christmas gift. It took me six more years to get into it. While I danced and hummed along to “Give It To Me Baby”,”You And I”,”Cold Blooded” and my favorite at the time “17”? Listening to this man’s lyrics provided me with a bucket list of things I would never even think of doing myself. Good example to me of funk that was almost totally lyrically un-relatable for me.

Nuyorican Soul

This mixture of Latin style acid jazz music of the mid 90’s was again something that my father purchased-during a time when both of us were on trajectories of exploring funk and it’s many tributaries. While not every one of these songs made a lasting impact on me? Singer India’s performance on the song “Runaway” helped me to understand something Roy Ayers,who also appears on this album, would continue to teach me later: how funk functioned in the context of the disco era.

Pure Disco Volume 1

It was a family friend,the late Janie Galvin,who first loaned us this CD. A lot of the songs and artists I knew well at this point. At the same time it was first hearing of Diana Ross’s amazing disco-funk extravaganza “Love Hangover”. Not to mention my introduction to two artists who would become enormous parts of my musical future in the UK group Imagination and the incomparable Teena Marie.

Star Time

I’d been reading over and over again about this man who,by 1997 I only knew three songs by. Only after being fully educated on how this man was essentially responsible for funk and hip-hop on his own? I went for it and purchased the highly recommended James Brown box set. I don’t know if I have words to described the feeling of what hearing “Think”,”Let Yourself Go”,”Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothin'”,”The Payback”,”Get Up Offa That Thing” and “It’s Too Funky In Here” for the first time. Perhaps I was more than a little late in the game to James Brown. At the same time? It actually opened the door for another,deeper stage in my understanding of the thoroughly instrumental structure of funk.

JB's Funky Good Time

On the way back from an long road trip to New York State? The two CD’s were part of the soundtrack for the trip home. At the time? I found some of these long instrumental jams a bit monotonous. Though I was deep into James Brown at this time? The idea of repetition in funk and being “on the one” was an element of the music’s core I could only take in limited doses. Still this was very educational for broadening my ability to listen to extended instrumental numbers. Somehow? The song I found myself doing a total call and response to on that road trip was “More Peas”. Today with the JB’s? Can hardly get enough of them. Proof of how funk can evolve a music lover fast!

Funk Essentials 1999

This discount compilation,found at Sam’s Club I believe,had one song on it that I kept repeating over and over again. And that was Tom Browne’s “Funkin For Jamaica”. This was a song and artist I wanted to know more and more about. This was a direct line to some of my more recent explorations of the last decade or so of artists such as Bernard Wright,Lenny White and Weldon Irvine.

Gramavision Jazz,Funk & Composers of Distinction

From solo projects by P-Funk’s Bernie Worrell onward? Grammavision was a label I was beginning to investigate during the late 1990’s. This compilation of my fathers provided me with a song by an artist named Jamaaladeen Tacuma called “Trouble” that really caught my ear. Tacuma’s music is one of my more recent investigations. And all because of this one little song that simply never left my mind upon hearing it.

Luaka Bop

The new millennium had officially arrived with this album-a free giveaway to my father from Bull Moose records,the local Maine record haunt. One song on this album excited my father so much he gleefully gave me the “you’ve GOT to hear this” routine. The song was “Masturbation Session” by a band called Arepa 3000-a P-Funk style number sung in Spanish. It was my first (and one of very few) exposures to funk sung in a completely foreign language.


After the year 2000? Compilations no longer provided any influence in my musical experiences. Full length albums were generally the route I was beginning to go on from then on- with my burgeoning interest in reissue CD’s and used vinyl. Interestingly enough? That was the year I received my GED diploma after eight years of home/un-schooling. My funk education directly coincided with my academic education: from 1993 through 2000.

One thing my blogging partner Henrique and I often discuss is how most people seem to either understand funk as a musical fad heavily connected to the disco era,nor even worse know nothing about it at all. After writing this? I am proud that funk,a music based so fully in rhythm,was as strong a musical influence on my life as rock ‘n’ roll is for the majority of people so it seems. Going from collections of songs to coherent album statements? It’s been an exciting journey which wound up with me discussing individual songs today,only in music terms,here on this blog. My own advice? Never fear changing up the groove in your own life!

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Filed under 1980's, 1990s, Boogie Funk, compilation albums, Funk, George Clinton, Heatwave, James Brown, Michael Jackson, P-Funk, Prince, Rick James