Category Archives: James Brown

James Brown’s ‘Get On The Good Foot’-An Extended Album Overview For The Godfather’s 84th Anniversary

James Brown was one of few artist who,upon first hearing the box set Star Time,made a thoroughly positive musical impression on me. Only one song didn’t then nor fully does now make a huge impact on me. And of all songs it was “Get On The Good Foot”. Its one of many 70’s funk classics of course. Just when set up with so many of his classic extended funk pieces such as “There It Is”,”Hot Pants”,”Soul Power”,”The Payback” and “Funky Drummer”? Something about the groove didn’t have the same vitality to me somehow. And that opinion seems strange to any friend or family member I tell it to.

This song is also the title song of James Brown’s second 1972 album. Its one which I saw for years on CD. Mostly at the old Borders Books & Music. Yet my lack of interested in the title song had me avoiding it. That continued onto the period when I began exploring original JB albums-always favoring The Payback or any of the Apollo live albums over Get On The Good Foot. It became somewhat rare on CD and vinyl in my area during this time. When I started to here more about what the rest of the album had on it,was luckily able to snag an inexpensive used CD of it and take the whole thing in.

James Brown seems to have presented even his studio records in much the same manner he did his life shows. You would have re-workings of classics from his catalog. And he’d take the grooves and songs he was currently working-and put them into that mix. That had the effect of making JB’s studio offerings in his salad days rather more intimate affairs than most. I personally was first exposed to the title song of this album plus “I Got A Bag Of My Own” via JB’s box set ‘Star Time’. After taking many years to track this,Brown’s first double studio album,down on CD, it became clear just how important this enormous musical statement was to The Godfather at the height of his funky innovations.

The title track of this album is one of his known classics. For unknown reasons,this particular groove is the only JB funk jam that never totally moved me. Surprising considering how bass/guitar/horn driven it is. On “The Whole World Needs Liberation” a Latin soul jazz styled groove-filled with percussion,electric piano,heavy bass and strings illustrates a vocal call for freedom. “Your Love Was Good For Me” is a beautifully orchestrated Chicago type sweet soul number. “Cold Sweat is done up as a faster,slightly more modern take six years after the original. There’s also a recitation over a cinematic soul backdrop from Hank Ballard about JB’s musical cultural importance.

“I’ve Got A Bag Of My Own” is one of JB’s most fiery funk jams-with its percussion rhythm and deep bass/guitar chord. The almost rocking intensity of “Funky Side Of Town” keeps a similar groove percolating along with “My Part/Make It Funky”. “Nothing Beats a Try But A Fail” is a 6/8 time bluesy soul ballad of determination whereas the album ends on a similar note with “I Know Its True”. “Please Please”,a retake of JB’s first hit from 1956 is a 12+ minutes musical treatise on everything from brotherly love to his bands origins in the American South. There’s also a retake of the earlier R&B shuffle of “Ain’t That A Groove”,there’s the slow jazzy blues instrumental horn shuffle of “Dirty Harri”.

Since I first began listening to James Brown intensively just over two decades ago,have been gradually exploring his original albums. Especially the ones from the early/mid 70’s. It would seem from listen to this album that 1972 was an extremely strong year along for him musically. With the classic JB lineup in full affect here,this album is assembled as something of an in studio concert. With no breaks between the songs. Some songs are cinematic soul in par with the early 70’s blackspoitation era,some are tone ballads and others are just seriously funky. Its got all sides of classic James Brown of the early 70’s-perfectly capable as keeping it just as live in the studio as he would on stage.

Its kind of a funny afterthought that my friend Henrique and I both grew up during a time when James Brown’s 70’s studio albums were all back in print on CD along with his numerous compilations. As for my case,ended up passing them by for purely monetary reasons. Even though many of them were out of print by the time I could’ve afforded them,have always endeavored to hunt them down. And each time I do,there’s something to learn about the way James Brown presented his recorded music. In every way what the Star Time box set did for me when I first heard it.

Get On The Good Foot actually has the total opposite effect for me that the song first had. And even has me appreciating more hearing it in its native context. This is an album that actually pushes the JB funk sound-based on repeating phrases “on the one” and lushly orchestrated mid tempo/ballad melodies into an album length concept. And in doing so, Get On The Good Foot was a dry run for JB’s next double album opus in late 1973’s The Payback. In the end, this is an album that might’ve been the one that really put it all together for James Brown in terms of the best way to present his studio albums.

*Here’s a link to the Amazon.com review I did of this album that this article is based on. Please click on the review and click the yes or no button there if it helped you or if you liked it. You’ll be glad that you did. And it might even be good to you!

 

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Star Time At 26: Celebrating James Brown And The Grandest Record Of His Funky Legacy

Image result for James Brown Star Time

Star Time will have been around for 26 years this coming Sunday. And tomorrow would’ve been The Godfathers 84th birthday. The interesting thing about my history with JB is that for a couple of years in the 80’s,I thought that “Unity” and “Living In America’ were his very first songs. There was a huge disconnect between my youth in Maine and the musical arc of JB that still continues to run deep within the African American community. Of course by the end of the 80’s, it was important to my family that JB be appreciated beyond having been arrested for domestic abuse.

That 1988 arrest barely phased me because at the same time, I heard “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” on oldies radio for the first time. So knew this was an artist with serious history. Then almost a decade later,my father played “Cold Sweat” for me. And suddenly the music of James Brown became a necessity rather than a footnote in adolescent musical appreciation. Was deeply exploring funk music than. And JB was the one innovated that genre. Different music books I was reading then stated the definitive way to get into JB’s music was a 4 CD box set entitled Star Time.

Star Time is now a huge key notation between myself and friends online,such as Henrique Hopkins. In fact,it was part of many musical topics that helped he and I develop our friendship earlier on. Far as I’m concerned, its also one of the best multi disc compilation any artist has put together. I actually first discovered JB songs that are among my favorites such as “Think”,”Let Yourself Go”,”Funky President” and “Get Up Offa That Thing” on Star Time. And that is huge encouragement to dig deeper into the vast musical world of James Brown.

During this period, Star Time was a volume far outside the price range my  17 year old self. Luckily I was a member of the old BMG music club. And they had this particular box set on sale for half price. When I ordered it,my father wanted to borrow it disc by disc of course. It made sense. About 90% of JB’s recorded music was unknown to both of us. Of course that’s because James Brown is likely the most prolific black American recording artists in terms of released material. Even Star Time could only scratch the surface. What the box set does do is showcase exactly why James Brown was a major musical icon.

Star Time is a box set that covers JB’s music from 1956 through 1984. It starts out with he and his Famous Flames rhythmically unique take on doo-wop on “Please Please Please” and ends with the first part of his duet with Zulu Nation founder/hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa on “Unity Part 1”. What’s between that is a musical journey that you do not even need to read the wonderful essays included (by writers such as Nelson George) to comprehend. Its just 5 hours of music that showcases the many key points on the musical road of James Brown.

One of the most vital thing about Star Time is how it emphasizes how James Brown’s career wasn’t like a freight train run with a bunch of different stops. It was actually a fluid continuum. James Brown’s nickname “the hardest working man in show business” often referred directly to the almost super human level of touring/live shows he did for much of his life. During these shows,he didn’t merely present his present music of the time. All the periods of his musical progression were covered-adding newer songs as they applied to JB’s performance flow.

Although this is a box set of studio singles presented in chronological order, Star Time still presents that JB continuum in the same way his live shows tended to. Hence it also presents JB as an early precursor to the remix artist too. Original early 60’s versions of “I Got You” and “Its A Man’s World” are presented in the same setting as their better known hit versions as a result. This box sets nearly 30 years worth music music showcases JB going from doo-bop/R&B ballads into his funk innovation-with disco and hip-hop entering the mix later on. Not to even mention hitting on his instrumental music as well.

Even though this album was part of the huge 1990’s CD box set boom,there are few of these box sets that project the musical breadth of the given artist quite the way Star Time does. Given all that, this set doesn’t only entertain. It teaches while your dancing (and even singing) along to the music. Again that’s right in the key of what JB brought to funk: the idea that life was a soulful dance. And that everyone was living to the rhythm whether they realized it or not. So Star Time wasn’t only a musical lesson for myself and others. It can often be a live lesson at the same time.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Unity,Part 1” by Afrika Bambaataa and James Brown

Afrika Bambaataa,born Kevin Donovan in the Bronx to black activist Barbados immigrants,was at one point a lieutenant in the NYC borough’s most powerful gang-known as the Black Spades. Interestingly enough,he often used the idea of unity and brotherhood to promote recruitment into the gang. It was also a gang known for clearing the streets of drug dealers and assisting in community health care projects. When he won an essay contest and a trip to Africa,his life changed around. He left the Black Spades behind. And began to promote pro black unity through music.

That music was the burgeoning hip-hop scene of the mid/late 70’s. By 1982,he and the Soul Sonic Force,inspired by Bambaataa’s love of Kraftwerk,released their iconic song “Planet Rock”-a reworking of Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” and “Trans Europe Express” credited as the beginning of the electro funk sound. In 1984,Bambaataa helped revive the recording career of funk innovator and hip-hop icon James Brown. That 12″ inch single Unity  has been a mainstay in my family’s vinyl collection since it first came out. And its first part alone is a wonderful cornerstone of funk onto early recorded hip-hop.

JB and Bambaataa begin the tune with a similar call and response acapella exchange as JB did on “Get Up,Get Into It And Get Involved” 13 years earlier. Keith LeBlanc comes in with the funky drum-with Doug Wimbish and Skip McDonald providing some classic spiraling bass/chicken scratch guitar interaction play along with some round synth bass washes. On the refrain of the song,that same bass and guitar do their business with the horn section known as Chops. After several exchanges between the chorus and refrain,the song outro’s to the next segment of the suite with the same drum rhythm.

“Unity Part 1” is a straight up JB style funk jam. Using then contemporary musicians, everyone involved really gets the flavor of what the classic JB’s lineup achieved as they built the genre of funk from the ground up. With Bambaatta acting as something of a new Bobby Byrd for JB on this record,the lyrics of the groove state that the solution to the self hate and violence within the black community during the 1980’s would be “peace,unity,love and having fun”. Its an amazingly funky collaboration between funk and hip-hop’s earliest icons. And musically bridges two generations of funk.

 

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A Few Words on Public Enemy, 30 Black History Months In

It’s almost too fitting that the anniversary of Public Enemy’s debut album should fall during Black History Month. For people like me–’90s kids from majority-white towns where “Black History” meant half a class period on George Washington Carver every February–Public Enemy was our connection to an invisible history of Black radical thought: from Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois to Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton. Their music opened me up to ideas I didn’t even know existed; ideas that, in the wilderness of White (supremacist) America, were truly life-altering. Discovering P.E. as a teenager was an experience as radicalizing as discovering punk rock; more so, in fact, because they represented a threat to racial hegemony that even the likes of the Clash did not. They were insurrection in musical form, with a visceral cut-and-paste aesthetic that continues to sound cutting-edge to this day.

None of that, of course, was the point of Public Enemy. More than any other rap group of their era, P.E. was music by and for Black people; the radicalized white kids like me were collateral damage. But I can only speak from my experience, as someone for whom Fear of a Black Planet and, especially, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were an introduction to an entirely new kind of politics, a new way of seeing the world. If nothing else, I have Public Enemy to thank for introducing me to a rich canon of African American literature and art: to Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and for that matter to James Brown, John Coltrane, and Gil Scott-Heron. Without that initial spark of interest I felt the first time I heard “Bring the Noise,” I might have missed out on a whole universe of ideas that have made me a definitively better person.

Granted, not everything about the group has aged well. Public Enemy may have exposed millions of listeners like myself to Black Power and the Panthers, but they also regurgitated a lot of less progressive influences: the anti-Semitism and homophobia of Louis Farrakhan, most famously, along with a host of conspiracy theories and pseudo-history that contemporary listeners are likely to file away as Hotep bullshit. Their politics are more akin to a firebrand anarchist zine than a well-reasoned essay–which is probably why they appealed more to my teenage self than they do to me as an adult. But there will always be a place for firebrands, and P.E. were as incendiary as they came: it was what made us sit up and listen in the first place. And in early 2017–a time when racism in America is arguably the worst it’s been in my lifetime–their fire might just be needed more than ever.

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Filed under 1980's, 1987, 1988, conscious rap, James Brown, John Coltrane, Malcolm X, Public Enemy, rap

James Brown: The Man’s Christmas Legacy & A Decade Without Him

James Brown will have been gone from the world a decade this coming Sunday. JB’s song “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” was part of a special Christmas themed cassette tape that my father and I recorded for his mom and dad in the early 1990’s. Usually during the holiday season,I have zero guilt about enjoying softer Christmas music. In particular jazzy music. Maine winters can be very icy,bitterly cold and generally somewhat harsh to the senses.  Hearing at least that one song from JB at the holidays goes right along with the season too. Especially for providing vitality in the cold weather.

Zach Hoskins just wrote an article on his blog about James Brown’s Christmas albums. This was an excellent chronological analysis of them. Wanted to do my own article as well. For reference,I went right to Henrique Hopkins. At least every other conversation we have references James Brown in one way or another. Either we are discussing what we already know,or I’m being taught something new. And while JB seemed to disappear off the map some from my viewpoint during his final decade,his presence was apparently being felt in ways I didn’t even now. One example came shortly before his passing.

During the first few weeks of December 2006,James Brown was ill with pneumonia. Finally it came time for one of his annual James Brown Toy Giveaway’s for children,which was to take place at the Imperial Theater in Augusta,Georgia that year. Brown made his final public appearance there and handed out some toys. One associate named Don Rhodes noticed how frail JB seemed to be,and many things he was letting other people do. Even though Brown would be gone shortly thereafter,the idea of this toy giveaway being his last public appearance showcased the sorts of things that were truly important for JB.

As a young man,JB had been dismissed from school for shabby cloths. His adolescence showcased him as something of a black Robin Hood: stealing clothes for himself and to help other kids. Considering the fact he’d funneled so much of the millions of dollars he earned during his 50 years as the “hardest working man in show business” into pro black businesses and charitable events,the spirit of giving at Christmas continued to bring out the best in Brown-giving back to the underprivileged in the black community after having done so well for himself. Its a story of Christmastime giving many should learn from.

*To learn more (and contribute to) the James Brown Family Foundation,perhaps to participate in future toy giveaways,click on the link below!

The James Brown Foundation Official Website

 

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Christmas is 4 Ever: The Bootsy Collins Holiday Album I Can’t Decide If I Like

bootsycollins-christmasis4ever

Of my many musical guilty pleasures, Christmas music is probably my guiltiest. I have a fascination that borders on the morbid for those silly, disposable albums of festive music popular artists tend to release between the months of September and November, to be listened to (if at all) between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. And while I certainly appreciate the classics–Bing, Elvis, Ella, Phil Spector, the Jackson 5–I almost prefer the also-rans: the goofy ones; the seasonal records few bother listening to and even fewer bother remembering.

The following is a review I wrote ten years ago (!) of one of those records: Christmas is 4 Ever by funk bass legend and real-life cartoon character Bootsy Collins. As you’ll see, I liked it a lot at the time. My opinion on it has fluctuated in the years since; these days, it’s pretty much a crapshoot whether I’ll think it’s a goofy good time or an infernal racket. But that’s the risk of pop Christmas music: depending on your mood, it can be as warm and nostalgic as a mug of hot cocoa or as obnoxious as a string of LED lights on the strobe setting. Sometimes, it can even be both at the same time. I haven’t given Christmas is 4 Ever my annual listen yet, but i think I will this week. Who knows, maybe I’ll finally like it as much as I did 10 years ago:

If anything about Christmas is 4 Ever is an unqualified success, it’s that the album is a blast from beginning to end–something that could probably be ascertained from a mere glance at its ludicrous snowglobe cover art and whimsically spelled track listing, with titles like “Jingle Belz,” “Chestnutz,” and “WinterFunkyLand.” Of course, as anyone who’s bothered to investigate his solo career can attest, Bootsy is nothing if not fun; and when it comes to the campy, cartoonish, but oh-so-heavy fun(k) that is his stock in trade, this Christmas effort does not disappoint. Just try to keep a grin off your face when “Boot-a-Claus” turns in a loose, effortlessly funky rendition of “Jingle Bells,” or when the man once dubbed “Player of the Year” (always the sexiest star in the P-Funk constellation) injects some lascivious eyebrow-wiggling into Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby,” crooning that he’s “about ready to come down your chimney.”

But Bootsy’s addition to the Christmas canon has more going for it than just kitsch appeal. For one thing, like all the best holiday R&B music, his arrangements boast an intuitive, yet unclichéd grasp on the Christmas mood. Boots’ version of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” (here rechristened as “Dis-Christmiss”) manages to conjure up images of snow-frosted windows and toasty firesides while retaining its essential throb and groove; “Silent Night,” while hardly guilty of taking its name literally (how could the Baby Jesus possibly have gotten any sleep with Bootsy slapping his Space Bass all over the other side of the manger?), adds the requisite dose of holiday sentimentality without ever laying it on too thick.

And even when Boots and company aren’t quite capturing the spirit of the season–it’s difficult to imagine the manic jam “Happy Holidaze,” complete with guest appearance by Snoop Dogg, getting much rotation in front of even the funkiest of Christmas trees–Christmas is 4 Ever succeeds in being the best straight-up album Collins has released in years. Not only is the material more consistent than 2002’s B-star studded Play with Bootsy, it just sounds like vintage Bootsy. It has that woozy, anarchic P-Funk clutter of horns, bass, guitars and synths: no doubt due at least in part to the presence of ex-Parliament keyboard legend Bernie Worrell, who rounds out a truly impressive guest list including former J.B.’s leader/trombone player Fred Wesley, ex-Zapp keyboardist Terry “Zapp” Troutman, former Rubber Band members Joel Johnson and Frankie “Kash” Waddy, ex-Funkadelic guitarist Michael Hampton, and soul institution Bobby Womack, as well as Bootsy’s own brother (and funk heavyweight in his own right) Catfish Collins. And if all that wasn’t enough, the songs themselves are littered with self-referential quips: a move typical of latter-day Bootsy, which could have been cloying if it wasn’t so goddamn fun to hear “Bootzilla”‘s indelible “wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiind me up!” in its umpteenth incarnation.

Indeed, it may be Christmas is 4 Ever’s firm grounding in Bootsy’s past that makes it such an enjoyable listen, particularly for those who don’t happen to share my perverse love for holiday music. Listen to “Be-With-You” without paying attention to the lyrics and it sounds like exactly what it is: a pitch-perfect remake of the 1976 Rubber Band hit “I’d Rather Be with You,” amped up with Zapp-style Vocodered vocals and just maybe sounding better than ever. But place such autobiographical touches within the context of yuletide nostalgia, and what you have is an album which reflects on holidays past and present even while it serves as a summation of the now 65-year-old (!) Bootsy’s lofty position in popular music history.

Case in point: the legendary funkateer opens “WinterFunkyLand” with “thank you”s to his former mentors James Brown and George Clinton; elsewhere, he dedicates “Chestnutz” (a.k.a. “The Christmas Song”) to the man who made it famous, Nat “King” Cole (also, probably not coincidentally, the first Black man to find a place in mainstream America’s holiday songbook). And that’s where Christmas is 4 Ever really triumphs, both as a Christmas record and as a watermark release for Bootsy himself. With its warmth and sentimentality, the album feels like a stack of season’s greetings addressed to loved ones from years past, inviting us to bask in the glow of friends and family that seems to burn brightest late in the month of December. Granted, that sentiment might come off as a little goopy for some potential listeners–or, you know, pretty much anyone who might be reading this. But if Christmas is about anything, it’s goopiness, and Bootsy has done well to recognize as much.

Besides, what other Christmas album can you name that features a holiday message from reformed pimp/Snoop Dogg “spiritual advisor” Bishop Don “Magic” Juan? I’ll tell you one thing: it sure as hell ain’t Christmas with Perry Como. And that, my friends, is as good a recommendation as any.

Check out Dystopian Dance Party next week for more of my thoughts on recent and vintage Christmas music, including the holiday albums of James Brown and, um, R. Kelly. Happy holidays!

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Filed under Bernie Worrell, Bobby Womack, Bootsy Collins, Christmas music, Donny Hathaway, Fred Wesley, James Brown, Snoop Dogg

Prince 1958-2016: “Musicology” (2004)

Prince came into the new millennium with a revived sense of energy. One thing Henrique and I have been discussing recently is how much one can become frustrated chasing Prince’s career motivations. And I’ve recently found myself dealing with that. One thing that’s for sure is that Prince 90’s era output found him courting the present rather than making the future of music. With his 2001 release The Rainbow Children,the middle aged artist had re-emerged with the name that made him famous. And more so his musical trajectory had come back into better focus. Especially in terms of finding the funk.

The Rainbow Children didn’t come across strongly with the mass audience of its time. But four years (and two online only album releases) came his second album of the 21st century. It was titled Musicology. Interestingly enough,financial realities kept me from exploring the album when it was fresh on the record store racks. I would up picking it up two years later along with 3121 when that album was new. There is one common feeling I have about the album from when I saw a music video from it in 2004 to hearing it on the album. And its that the albums successes was likely carried heavily by the opening title song.

Prince’s yelp starts the song into a Clyde Stubblefield style funky drum starts out the song with Prince playing a deep strutting rhythm guitar. This is soon accompanied by one of Prince’s trademark middle to high on the neck chicken scratch guitar lines-along with an organ like sustained synth line. This is primarily the main body of the song. The solo drum bridge has Prince famously shouting ” don’t you TOUCH my stereo! these is MY records!” On the last few bars of the song,Minneapolis synth brass accompanies the song as it fades out on a radio dial switching between several of Prince’s 80’s hits.

In a similar manner to 1987’s “Housequake”,this song would’ve served well as a James Brown comeback for the early aughts. On the other hand,this song is much more purely a retro JB style rhythm section based funk stomp. But in its stripped down nature,it funks super hard. And Prince substitutes the live JB horns with his own MPLS style synth brass. Lyrically Prince is extremely nostalgic about funk on this song-alluding to Earth Wind & Fire,Sly Stone and of course James Brown. That along with its semi autobiographical seeming music video give it the feel of Prince looking to the past for his future.

 

 

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Filed under 2004, chicken scratch guitar, classic funk, drums, Funk, James Brown, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Musicology, New Power Generation, Prince, synth brass

Prince Summer: “Housequake” (1987)

Sometimes,there are songs discussed on this Anatomy of THE Groove feature that have a little extra excitement in terms of me writing about them. Many of these are songs often discussed between myself and blog co-founder Henrique Hopkins on Facebook. So many of his ideas come across in them. Today is such an occasion. Its taken a long time for me to actually locate this particular content. As with any song from Prince,it has its share of rich history all on its own. And as usual before getting into my rundown of the song,wanted to share some of that history with you.

Following the release of his second motion picture Under The Cherry Moon,Prince embarked on a year long recording session throughout 1986 and early 1987. These songs were originally intended for three separate album projects. Seems Warner Bros weren’t keen on Prince’s prolific nature forcing his albums to actually compete with each other on the charts. One of these projects was to be released under a pseudonym known as Camille-sung in a sped up voice.. It was a very funky album,a handful of whose tracks appeared on 1987’s Sign O The Times. The one I’m talking about today is called “Housequake”.

A loud,halting screech beings the song. Then the drum intro kicks in-a nine beat drum machine rhythm with the four notes after the third in a faster cluster. A live drum and a breezy synth horns come in over the call and response vocals. Then the refrain takes over for most of the rest of the song. Its the basic live drum beat with a mid range rhythm guitar playing the changes. There is also an electric and synth bass both playing the same six note line. The horns of Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss come in to accent on the second part. Eric solos on the bridge before playing a jazzy unison with Bliss on the jam’s outro.

The key point that Henrique and I discussed so much is that if James Brown had continued innovating his 70’s era funk sound with 1980’s instrumental innovations,it would likely have sounded somewhat like “Housequake”. The horns are there,and the opening drum break was even used to open a song by Stevie Wonder in a concert during the same era. Still the production style still has Prince’s touches of instrumental subtlety. So even though the instrumentation and lyrical references to “green eggs and ham” are totally JB derived, Prince still managed to maintain his own touches on this driving funk groove.

 

 

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Filed under 'Sign 'O The Times', 1987, Atlanta Bliss, call and response, drum machines, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown, Prince, Saxophone, synth bass, synthesizers, trumpet, Warner Bros.

Anatomy of THE Groove: “She Drives Me Wild” by Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s passing is still being felt seven years on. With him not being with us anymore,its getting easier to see beyond the idolatry (which both helped and hindered him) to the essence of his musical and performance artistry. This artistry was very much defined by MJ’s performance ability. This included his distinctive variety of rangy vocal hiccup. And it was also defined by his aggressive,brittle mixture of Broadway show dancing and the James Brown moves with which he began on as a child at Motown. By the early 1990’s,Jackson’s persona was becoming  more defined by his personal eccentricities.

Now this brings MJ up to his fourth post Motown solo album Dangerous. Quincy Jones was jettisoned as a producer,for among other reasons that Jackson wanted to update his sound in a different ways than perhaps Quincy did. One of the biggest success in the soul/funk world in the late 80’s/early 90’s was Teddy Riley. He’d helped pioneer the new jack swing variant of danceable funk music. Jackson was recording this fourth album during this time,and enlisted Riley to help out. Teddy Riley would up producing seven songs on the album,including the first six. My personal favorite of which is “She Drives Me Wild”.

Traffic sounds begin the song. Then a car horn effect playing an actual horn chart introduces the refrain. The refrain consists of a shuffling uptempo new jack drum machine,with each second beat seemingly played backwards. Synthesized MIDI effects are used to create digitized sounds of bells,clocks,more car horns,the sound of walking along with other effects one would expect to hear on the urban street in mid day. On the chorus,the growling vocals of Jacksons throughout the song return to his whispery falsetto as the drums and keyboards play it straighter. Its on such a note that the song fades out.

Personally,I tend to see new jack swing as being (which was also the case with some types of disco) as having potential to be somewhat cookie cutter and generic. In the hands of talents such as Teddy Riley and Michael Jackson,that brought out the very best the genre had to offer. These industrial electronics on this song sound much like an early 90’s extension of James Brown’s concept: turning digital MIDI sound effects and synthesizer layers into a drum. Wreckz-N-Effects perform an equally rhythm rap that appears on the instrumental bridge of the song

Henrique Hopkins and myself have had many discussions about how,while a strong album on a musical level,1987’s Bad  album wasn’t particularly innovative for its time. Susan Fast discussed in her excellent 33 1/3 volume on Dangerous that this was an album that actually found MJ very much on the cutting edge musically-along with keeping his strong sense of pop craft and funky dancibility. Listening to it today, its not an album that’s short on exciting and strong songs-especially the uptempo material. But this song really goes to another level for me.

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Filed under 1990s, dancing, Dangerous, drum machines, Industrial funk, James Brown, Michael Jackson, MIDI, New Jack Swing, synthesizers, Teddy Riley, Wreckz-N-Effects

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “I Gotcha” by Joe Tex

Joe Tex’s name first came to my attention when I read a story about a pre Motown Michael Jackson cheekily eyeing under woman’s dresses while singing Tex’s “Skinny Legs And All” in some of the raunchier nightclubs Joe had his sons playing in during the late 60’s. It was within the last year actually that Henrique and I got to talking about Joe Tex more in depth. It was during this conversation that I was informed about Tex’s rivalry with James Brown. It apparently goes back to the earliest days of their career-complete with hiss song from Tex in response to one of JB’s called “You Keep Her” in 1960.

Joe Tex had a fascinating musical career of his own. Again like JB,he was a major soul singles act for the decade between 1955 and 1964. From then on to the end of the 60’s,Tex released a number of albums in the country soul vein-filled with his hard driving gospel style vocal cries and shouts. Throughout the 70’s,his music went into a funk direction that (yet again) was very similar to JB’s. He even ended the 70’s when a pair of funk based disco records before his death of a heart attack in 1982. The only song I’ve really heard from his funk period is considered a classic,and really stands out for me. Its called “I Gotcha”.

The song begins with Tex singing over a cymbal heavy drum intro in his gospel drenched soul wail. That’s when the main body of the song kicks in. This is a very thick instrumental mixture. A thick piano line more or less dominates,with a round bass line that exactly counters the melody. On each accent of the song,there’s a high pitched and very smooth rhythm guitar playing  and horn blasts on the transitions between choruses. After each chorus,the song reduces back down to the drum and Joe Tex only approach that made up the intro of the song. Its all back to the instrumentally thick chorus as the song fades.

When I first heard this song,courtesy of Henrique, the James Brown influence hit me right over the head. This came mostly from Tex’s shouts and holler based vocal approach. When I actually listened to this song,it became apparent that the instrumentation and production are quite different. Joe Tex isn’t looking for his funk band to be a drum on this song. Each instrument plays its own role. The piano and bass dictate where the melody is going,while the drums serve as the beat for which Tex’s voice is the hard driving percussive element. That gives this 1971 funk classic its own spicy groove.

 

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Filed under 1970's, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, James Brown, Joe Tex, piano, rhythm guitar, Southern Funk, Uncategorized