Eddie Kendricks was the one member of the classic Temptations lineup who had a consistently successful solo career. He had many hits,many of them strutting uptempo numbers such as “Keep On Truckin'”,”Boogie Down” and “Girl You Need A Change Of Mind”. Many of these songs were produced by Leonard Caston Jr. After mixed results with two 1976 albums recorded with Norman Harris,Kendricks turned back to Caston to fully produce his final Motown solo album in 1977 entitled Slick. One song from the album actually found its way into my musical rotation very heavily this past year.
During this past summer of 2016,I actually took the time to do more bicycle riding. Unlike previous years,decided to take advantage of my phone’s MP3 player to listen to music while on these bike rides. Most of these songs were endowed with an appropriate sense of motion. And all of them were from within the soul/funk/jazz/Latin spectrum of music. During the course of the summer,I brought different songs in and out of this rotation in order to keep things fresh. And one of them was an Eddie Kendricks song that originally concluded his final Motown album. Its called “California Woman”.
A pulsing bass and drum pulse starts the song out-accompanied only by low rumble of strings. Shortly after,a loud vocal chorus scales up into Kendrick’s refrain. Here,the bass the and stomping shuffle of the drums are accompanied by lightly harmonic strings and horns-along with the vocal chorus serving the same function. On the chorus the horns and backup vocalists melodically descend with Kendricks. After a reprise of the intro on the bridge,the chorus of the song repeats for a couple more bars before the song abruptly ends on an outro of a very similar nature to its beginning.
In some ways,this song has some of the hallmarks of Leonard Caston Jr’s productions with Eddie Kendricks from before. The difference here is there isn’t as much focus on the bass/guitar interaction as there is the orchestration. Its basically just the kind of “sound with a good melody” as Kendricks himself preferred-with much care put into the production to make sure the groove was funky and the sweeteners on top had plenty of life to them. The lyrical tale of a “down home lady” becoming a movie star goes beautifully with the music’s strutting “OG” style of cinematic funky soul.
Filed under 1970's, backup singers, California, cinematic soul, drums, Eddie Kendricks, Funk Bass, funky soul, horns, Leonard Caston Jr., Motown, strings
Sheila E has been written about so well by blogger on here Zach Hoskins,in his segment about Prince’s female protege’s. Her back story is so well known,and that pulled it all together. It was my mom who gleefully encouraged me to pick up Sheila’s debut The Glamorous Life on CD on a 1997 visit to Rochester,New York. She has never been someone too emphatic about recommending music. But on this one,she was very insistent. Hearing the song had me interesting in hearing as much Sheila E as existed at the time. And luckily within the next 6-7 years,I had all her output up to that point.
In the immediate post Purple Rain period,Prince began pursuing a far jazzier style of music. He began augmenting the Revolution with horns-starting with sax player Eric Leeds. And the music he was producing for (and with) his proteges was really starting to reflect this. The songs continued to stretch out in length too. One such song was one Prince had recorded in August 1985. And it was actually done in very close collaboration with Sheila as well. It was the final track on the first side to her 1985 LP Romance 1600. It was called “A Love Bizarre”.
Prince’s classin LINN LM-1 with the flanger filter effect starts out as the main rhythm for the entire song. Than his round,popping synth bass comes in just before Sheila’s percussion. Eric Leeds’ presence on the song takes two forms. First there’s him playing the main vocal chorus of the song pretty much by rote. Than he continues with a jazzy improvisation throughout the rest of the song. Matt Bliston joins him of a very Sly & The Family Stone pitch dip on some of the rhythmic accents of the song. Prince provides a West Montgomery like guitar solo as the song finally fades out.
The central rhythm to “A Love Bizarre” is very basically funky. But its the many instrumental touches that add the bite to this driving groove. There are musical ideas from all across the spectrum of classic funk in the 60’s and 70’s. There’s the jazzy soloing on the final half of the 12+ minute opus. Also Prince’s guitar solo starts playing the melody for “Frere Jacques” on the bridge of the song. That rounds out to this being a strong collaborative effort between Sheila E.,Prince and his growing band. At the same time,its got that Minneapolis funk touch that just never quits.
Jerry Butler,known as the “Iceman” from Philadelphia DJ George Woods,is someone I consider to be one of the prime architects of the soul ballad. He co wrote the song “For Your Precious Love” with the Impressions. And as Rolling Stone magazine once put it,it embodied that marriage of gospel and doo-wop pop music that became the essence of soul music. Shortly after this 1958 crossover hit,Butler went solo. Many of his early hits such as the calypso flavored”He Will Break Your Heart ” were written by the late,great Curtis Mayfield. He currently serves as County Commissioner for Cooks County,Illinois.
The first time I heard Jerry Butler was from a very unusual source. It was via one of many free vinyl albums from a 1994 WMEB radio giveaway at the University of Maine in Orono that I often reference. The album was a 1976 Motown release entitled Love’s On The Menu. Didn’t yet know anything about Butler’s importance to the history of soul. The song that first stuck out to me was the “Motownphilly” style opener “I Don’t Want Nobody To Know”. Looking into the album today,another stand out song was its only R&B hit in the song “The Devil In Mrs. Jones”.
A cymbal heavy drum swing opens the album,with a thick Moog bass rising into a clucking wah wah guitar. That gives way to the slow crawl of a drum shuffle that’s the rhythm foundation of the song. The thick,ultra funky bass line is uppermost in the song-filling in the empty spaces between the Moog and drums. Female backup vocals and horns color the bluesy melody that leads directly into the chorus of the song. All the instrumental elements of the song come most prominently into play during the choruses. And its on that chorus that the song repeats on as it fades out.
Somehow when I first heard this album,this song got ignored. Today,it emerges as the heaviest funk I’ve yet heard Jerry Butler record. And of course,the vast majority of Butler’s recorded catalog isn’t something I’m particularly familiar. Known for his deep,smokey baritone on melodic pop soul numbers,”The Devil In Mrs. Jones” not only gives up the funk,but does so with the heaviest possible stomp. Its got the walking wah wah guitar,snaky bass,ticklish Moog synthesizer and slow shuffle that really defined mid 70’s “united funk”. Right along with Butler’s growling vocal turns as well.
Jeff Lorber has remained one of the major jazz/funk keyboard players whose continued through the smooth jazz era by remaining consistently funky. Music will always change. And artists will have to change with it. Lorber has realized that as long as he keeps the rhythms tough and strong,and his solos jazzy and hummable,that the jazz/funk/fusion sound he’s now a veteran of,he can modernize his sound but keep its basic flavors intact. This is something he’s shown with his recent comebacks. On the other hand,his grooves hit a fevered pitch in the early 1980’s.
About 12 years ago when discovering Jeff Lorber’s albums from approximately 1980 to 1986, it came to me how much he was able to do with in the time period when analog based synthesizers were transitioning to digital ones. This also arrived at the same time that the Jeff Lorber Fusion were beginning to focus on heavy rhythm along with improvised instrumental soloing. That played a big part in their final album together for almost 30 years entitled Galaxian. The opening track of this album is one of the best examples of this that I can think of. It was called “Monster Man”.
The thick drums and slap bass start out the song before a fruity voice does a short rap at the beginning-while the bass burbles with an accenting rhythm guitar beneath him. After this,Donnie Gerrard’s vocals come in. And each of his vocals lines is accented by the horn charts from Jerry Hey. This represents the chorus of the song. On the refrains,Lorber’s keyboards lead a group lead the harmony vocals. On the bridge of the song,the drums take on a Brazilian flavor as the slap bass gets a duetting solo from non other than Stanley Clarke himself before the song fades out on the main theme.
‘Monster Man” is indeed a heavy funk monster. The bass leads the way from beginning to end. And the entire song never takes its eyes off the groove. I dare say it is the most thoroughly funky song Jeff Lorber made in the 1980’s. I’m not entirely sure if Stanley Clarke plays all the bass lines here,or is accompanying bassist Danny Wilson (who plays on the rest of the album) on this song. Either way,its still one of those “bass in your face” songs where the funk is very accessible to identify. Since Lorber is celebrating his birthday today,this is just the song I’d personally chose to represent his groove.
Filed under 1980's, Donnie Gerrard, drums, horns, jazz funk, Jeff Lorber, Jeff Lorber Fusion, Jerry Hey, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Stanley Clarke, synthesizer
Con Funk Shun are among my favorite funk bands of the 70’s. Originally hailing from Vallejo,California,this band is someone whom my friend and blogging inspiration Henrique Hopkins has a good deal of musical knowledge of. Based on what I heard beforehand, Con Funk Shun were a band with many similarities to Earth,Wind & Fire. They favored well recorded grooves with strong melodies. They also often enlisted the writing/instrumental assistance of Skip Scarborough. Band founder Felton Pilate went into fame on his own by producing MC Hammer on his debut album in 1988.
This band first came to my attention via my dad’s cassette copy of the Best Of Funk Essentials compilation around 1993. Later on while browsing the cutout CD’s at Borders Books & Music,I came across a reissue of the bands 1977 sophomore album Secrets. At the time,Borders had a CD player behind the counter. And opened CD’s for customers to listen to before purchase. If they didn’t want them after,they’d reseal them. This particular CD was not one I asked them to reseal. And a big part of this was due to the fact the first song really jumped out at me. Its called “DooWhatChaWannaDoo”.
A fast snare drum kick starts out the song. After that,the drum takes on a mild Brazilian flavor-accenting a faster three hit drum on the second beat. Scarborough builds both a high pitched melodic synthesizer and an elaborate Moog bass into the mix as well. The bands horn charts play the main melody of the song-accented by climactic strings. The refrains emphasize the bluesiest aspects of the keyboard parts-while intro represents the chorus. The bridge takes it all down to a chunky high/bass synth duet with accenting strings before the chorus repeats up to the fade out of the song.
“DooWhatChaWannaDoo” is one of those songs that represents the sophistifunk sound at some of its very finest. The keyboards and horns both have an equally thick,gurgling throb about them. And it all manages to accent the very singable (and also elaborate melody) as well. Its a great example of starting off an album with one of its strongest songs that could draw in the listener to its melody and groove. Con Funk Shun ably blend a harder edged Dayton style hard funk vocal and rhythm attitude with the slickness of their West Coast funk contemporaries. And it makes this song a shining example of their funk.
Prince’s history in terms of his unreleased vault material,shrouded in mystery as it is,does have a vital history all its own for the artist. He recorded during most of his free time. And loads of songs for each album project. One period that myself and many admirer’s of Prince’s music love to dip into is his huge 1986 production. In the early 80’s,Prince was seeking to make a name for himself as a new wave/synth pop artist with heavy rock overtones. And his funkiness would be a side dish. By 1985,Prince added The Family’s sax player Eric Leeds into the Revolution. And funk would no longer be a side dish for him.
There were two Prince projects that came and went in 1986. There was a Revolution album Dream Factory, a three album set called Crystal Ball (not to be confused with the self released 1998 outtake collection) and an album credited to the name Camille. This would feature Prince singing in a chipmunk-link voice he slowed down,then sped up. Many tracks from this album found their way onto albums and as B-sides. One,”If I Was Your Girlfriend” became a major hit later. One very exciting song I’ve heard from this album that hasn’t been widely distributed is “Rebirth Of The Flesh”.
An ultra sound like synth pulse starts out the song. And remains the primary percussive element throughout the song. Within a minutes time,Prince adds a brittle fuzzed out guitar and big,funky drums with tons of space in it as part of the mix. As the song progresses,with Prince’s vocals having a rangy and tonally complex conversation with itself,the horns of Eric Leeds and Matt Bliston accentuate the melody JB’s style. On the refrains,the deep fuzzy guitar and Leeds’ sax merge into a heavy sounding sustained melody. At the end of the song a goulish,thundering sound brings it to a halt.
“Rebirth Of The Flesh” was one of those songs that brought every element of Prince’s musical artistry together. Its got a hard driving funky rhythm-with some of the most intense horn lines Leeds and Bliston ever provided. It also has a very industrial rock tone-with some Hendrix like bluesy guitar licks. Its also got some of the melodic and rhythmic dissonances of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington. It lends much credence to George Clinton’s comment that Prince would be “one of the baddest out there if he released some of what he had in the can”. So here we have Prince’s funk at its hardest and most daring.
Filed under 1986, Atlanta Bliss, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, funk rock, horns, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, rock guitar, Saxophone, synthesizer, unreleased
Nu Shooz were an 80’s freestyle funk duo from the 1980’s who,among others,represented some of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio. Of course this came in form of the iconic 80’s hit “I Can’t Wait”. Hailing from Portland Oregon,currently 9 member group were led by the married couple of John Smith and lead singer Valerie Day. In the United States,they are considered something of a one hit wonder. Yet from the moment I began exploring that hit’s ultra funky flip side “Make Your Mind Up”,I know this would be a group worthy of exploration for any aficionado of strong 80’s soul/funk music.
Nu Shooz still record and perform today-occasionally recording independent online releases now and then. Its clear from listening to these new songs from them that they are indeed some of the funkiest bands of the 80’s still functioning today. Right up there Cameo to me,anyway. Over the years of course,there instrumental sound and priorities have changed. But there are still some core elements,such as emphasis on hummable melody,that remain intact. That’s very much in the case in the title song of the newest release from May 2016 entitled Bagtown.
A thick hard bop style synth solo begins the song. Then the shuffling funky drum/percussion rhythm kicks into high gear. The chicken scratch rhythm guitar is accompanied by a phat bass line playing the empty spaces within that guitar riff. In and around this,the harmonically complex horns play musical hide and seek with Valerie Day’s lead vocals. Towards the middle of the song,a vibraphone enters the mix as both a melodic and percussive element before the drums lead into a lower guitar solo. The bass/guitar dynamic becomes the focus until the horn chart and percussion close out the song.
“Bagtown” really showcase Nu Shooz having evolved into a sharp,live instrumental based jazz/funk outfit. Everything from the drums,vibes,bass and guitar just smoke on this song with a super hot mix. The harmonic nature of the horn voices brings my mind to something else. Its like a mixture of the soul jazz inspired hip-hop of Us3 in the early 90’s and the final musical decade of Miles Davis. Its got the funk,its got the soul but when it comes to how the horns treat the melody,its built upon a hardcore hard bop/soul jazz foundation. That makes this a standout jazz/funk jam for 2016 so far.
Filed under 2016, chicken scratch guitar, drums, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, John Smith, new music, Nu Shooz, percussion, soul jazz, synthesizer, Valerie Day, vibraphone
The Spinners were a group who had two of the most distinctive lead singers in 70’s soul. During their years in Philly,their main lead singer was Phillipe Wynne-a master of powerful vocal idiosyncrasy. In their Motown years,their final lead singer of that era was George Curtis “G.C.” Cameron. He was a Vietnam vet who recorded a couple of solo albums for Motown after his years with the Spinners. In 2003,he became one of the lead singers of the Temptations. Today at age 71,Cameron has had a rich and varied career celebrating music on both a creative and political level in the state of New Jersey.
In 1970,The Spinners recorded their second and final Motown album entitled 2nd Time Around. Story goes that they were not creatively prioritized on the label. On the other hand,Stevie Wonder felt the opposite because he wrote two songs for the group which were featured on this album. The first was “Its A Shame”. This went on to become their biggest hit for Motown. And is probably the song most people associate with G.C. Cameron. The other song Wonder wrote didn’t perform as well commercially,but to me stands on equal level musically. The name of this song is “We’ll Have It Made”.
A deep honky tonk styled (though not honky tonk sounding) piano opens the song. The bass drum kicks into the main rhythm-which is a big percussive sound marked by epic hi hat hits. These are accented by screaming,melodic horn charts. These instrumental parts mark both the chorus and the refrain of the song-using different chord modulations for each segment. After the chorus,there are these jazzy bridges where Cameron goes into his smoothest low baritone. Towards the end of the song,all the musical elements come together for a huge chorus that closes out the song.
“We’ll Have It Made” is a song that instrumentally bridges a hot,heavy uptempo and a stomping country soul sound beautifully. Even more so,Stevie Wonder’s jazzy modulations give the song its complex character. Cameron sings each vocal part as different characters. On the refrains and choruses he’s a huge soul shouter. On the jazzier bridges, he’s a smooth and almost poppy crooner. The moment I heard this song,it made me think about what might’ve happened to the Spinners on Motown had Stevie Wonder worked more fully with them. This and “Its A Shame” still stand as shining moments of this collaboration.
Filed under 1970's, country/soul, drums, G.C. Cameron, honky tonk piano, horns, Motown, Motown Sound, piano, soul jazz, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners
Barry White is probably best remembered as soul’s ultimate baritone. And as it were,one of the founding fathers of “baby makin’ music”. And on that level,he stands possibly only alongside Isaac Hayes. One of the things that has been bought more and more since his passing is that White was a brilliant arranger. When it came to combining percussion, piano and strings with a rhythm section,he was able to create some of the most defining arrangements of the funk AND disco era. And among his collection of side projects,this side of him came out most strongly on albums by the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
One of the things about Love Unlimited Orchestra that fascinated me is that,like Barry White himself,they recorded under that name with White long after their commercial peak was thought to have passed. The final Love Unlimited Orchestra to drop came out in 1983 and is called Rise. This was an album that I was unable to track down on CD,and missed out on one occasion in the vinyl format. When I finally did hear it from an MP3 copy,I was amazed what a strong and unexpected album it was. One song from it that stood out to both me and my mom is called “Do It To The Music”.
A resonant,buzzing synthesizer starts out the song. Then the drum machine kicks in playing a danceable Afro-Latin type beat-right along with a clean,round synth bass. On the chorus,the orchestra itself plays a spicy and melodic horn chart. The first three notes descend,while the final four ascend upwards. Throughout the song,the funky sounding vocal group The Voices Of Love sing call and response to the horns and buzzing synth that weave throughout the entirety of the songs. On the refrains,they mainly sing with the rhythm section. And its on the powerful chorus that the song fades out.
This is an excellent example of high octane Latin funk to come out of the Barry White musical camp in the early 80’s. With its prominent use of synthesizers and horns as opposed to strings,musically this song did for Barry White what “You’ve Got The Power” did for War a year earlier. It took the basic framework White had made famous,and updated the instrumental approach in an extremely positive way. And its solid proof that a lot of Barry White/Love Unlimited Orchestra’s music of the early/mid 80’s is a lot more obscure than it deserves to be.