Category Archives: Jesse Johnson

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Condensate’ by The Time (Credited As The Original 7ven)

During the 2008 50th Grammy Award presentation,the original seven members of The Time appeared for a performance along with Rihanna. In the coming years,members such as Jesse Johnson began making some serious noise about a reunion tour and album. Of course nothing had come from the band since 1990. Only a Morris Day project featuring different members and a semi reunion on the Rosie O’Donnell show in the late 90’s.

Finally this album dropped in 2011,apparently independently distributed. It was credited to The Original 7ven-apparently at the bands own choice seeing as they didn’t want to keep delaying an album release simply due legal complications between them and Warner Brothers over their name The Time. The question was what would this album have to offer musically.

The album begins (and eventually continues) with an interlude where Morris Day is asked first by the band and by a mock news reporter if he’s “lost his cool” in terms of attitude. The musical response to this is “Strawberry Lake”-full on arena friendly Minneapolis style synth funk admirers of The Time should already know well. “#Trendin” uses a similar template and a lyrical theme humorously revolving around online social networking and the trendy phenomenon of hash tagging.

“Toast To The Party Girl” melds both the post punk guitar based new wave and hard JB style Minneapolis synth funk styles of the Time’s salad years perfectly together. The title song comes out with a heavier live band JB style bass and rhythm section while “If I Was Yo Man” is more a melodic pop/rock number with chiming,bell like percussion throughout.

“Role Play” brings out a far slower grinding bluesy funk flavor about it-with it’s witty fetish setup. “Sick” has a straight up hard rock flavor while “Lifestyle” has the flavor of a modern R&B ballad…inspired somewhat by Minneapolis though…melodically not quite as interesting. “Lifestyle” is another bluesier piece again in a modern setting while “Cadillac” comes at the music with some powerfully live band oriented funk.

“Aydkmn” brings back out the bluesy hard rock guitar groove again while “One Step” brings out a stomping juke joint style shuffle that actually goes perfectly with Morris Day’s funky gigolo persona. “Gohometoyoman” is a classic slow shuffling soul ballad to close out the album. Only “Hey Yo” seems like a very stereotypical contemporary R&B type of song from this album to me,anyway.

Overall? My impression of this album is that many of the tracks do keep the funk alive. In fact,the band add elements of the Afro futurist types of funk,which seeks to reconcile the past,present and continuing journey of the funk/soul music spectrum together,on many of these songs. In fact a lot of them sound as if they could come out of a Janelle Monae right now more than anything the Time were once associated with. The only quality about this album that drops it a bit in quality is that the handful of attempts to modernize their sound.

This modernization really drag the grooves and instrumentation of the album down a lot. I doubt many will remember the popular dance/R&B/hip-hop styles of say 2004-2008 as being any wondrous contributions to funk. And frankly? It just doesn’t seem like something a band of this caliber,whose members have been so responsible for key developments in funk based dance music in the last three decades,need to be at all concerned with. Aside from this,a decent album to get if you can still locate it inexpensively.

Adapted from my original Amazon.com review from December 13th,2014

Link to original review here!

 

 

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Filed under 2011, Amazon.com, Jellybean Johnson, Jerome Benton, Jesse Johnson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Monte Moir, Morris Day, Music Reviewing, synth funk, Terry Lewis, The Time

Prince (Protegé) Summer: Vanity/Apollonia 6

VANITY-6

Toward the end of last week‘s post, I called the Time “arguably the most highly-regarded of Prince’s various side projects.” So allow me to start this post with another superlative: if the Time was the most highly-regarded of the purple protegés, then their “girl group” sister project, Vanity 6, was perhaps the most underrated and misunderstood.

To be fair, though, the very concept behind the group encouraged such misreadings. Originally conceived shortly after the Time as “the Hookers”–because the Time were pimps, geddit?–Vanity 6 appeared at first and maybe even second glance to be little more than a cynical play on pornographic tropes. Every member was an obvious “type”: Vanity, born Denise Matthews (and almost, disastrously, rechristened “Vagina”), was the vampish seductress; Brenda (Bennett) was the saucy, chain-smoking “bad girl”; and Susan (Moonsie) was, most problematically, the thumb-sucking, teddy bear-toting jailbait. The “6” in their name, if you haven’t already guessed, was a sophomoric reference to their total number of breasts.

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If the lowest-common-denominator pandering wasn’t enough, there was also a severely diminished emphasis on musical talent. Prince, while stingy about allowing the Time to play on their own albums, had nevertheless stocked the group with the hottest musicians in the Twin Cities. Vanity, on the other hand, was a Canadian B-movie actress, and Susan was Prince’s on-and-off girlfriend; only Brenda was a professional musician, having performed as a backing vocalist with the blues-rock group Tombstone in the mid-1970s. By many accounts, this led to dissension even within Prince’s camp: there was a prevailing sense that he was wasting time on a glorified burlesque act, when he could have been spending it with a more conventionally qualified group.

These criticisms would have held more water, however, if the trio (/sextet’s) self-titled 1982 debut wasn’t legitimately great. Vanity 6 is not only a stronger debut than the Time’s (yeah, I said it), but also one of the quirkiest and most interesting records in the whole extended Prince canon. In an earlier post, Andre already mentioned the funk workout “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)“–featuring a campy vocal cameo by Mr. Jamie Starr himself–as well as the immortal “Nasty Girl,” which prefigured the sounds of everyone from the Neptunes to Peaches to Beyoncé (who, incidentally, has recently taken to covering the song in concert). But there’s also “Make Up” and “Drive Me Wild,” two of the most futuristic-sounding cuts from the Purple One’s electro period; the Dez Dickerson-penned “He’s So Dull,” a.k.a. the best song the Go-Gos never recorded; and the New Wave-flavored “Bite the Beat,” which was co-written by Jesse Johnson of the Time.

Vanity 6 joined Prince and the Time on the Triple Threat tour in 1982 and 1983, and were meant to appear in Purple Rain; as with the other group, however, relations with Prince hit the skids soon before shooting was to commence. There are a variety of possible reasons for Vanity’s falling out with Prince, including disputes over royalties and romantic turmoil; her growing dependency on cocaine was also a likely factor. Whatever the specific reason, however, she left the group for a solo career with Motown in late 1983, leaving Prince in the peculiar situation of having to recast both the female lead for his film and the frontwoman for his group. Her replacement, another unknown actress named Patricia Kotero, was hired after responding to a casting call. But “Patrica 6” would have been an even dumber name than “the Hookers,” and so Kotero adopted the nom de Prince Apollonia.

Due in large part to these inauspicious beginnings, Apollonia has gotten a bit of a raw deal from the Prince fanbase; I’ll be the first to admit that I was overly dismissive of her when I recorded my podcast on Prince’s side projects last month. If fronting Vanity 6 was already a thankless job, then filling in for Vanity–who Prince remembered as “the finest woman in the world” after her passing early this year–was even more so. Nor did it help that Prince seemed to be losing interest in the Apollonia 6 project by mid-1984, stripping the proposed album of many of its most promising songs: he gave “The Glamorous Life” to Sheila E., “Manic Monday” to the Bangles, and even his own “17 Days” still has Brenda’s original backing vocals clearly audible on the chorus. I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes, the Apollonia 6 record is an inarguably inferior clone of its predecessor; but the group’s signature song, “Sex Shooter,” remains a Minneapolis Sound classic in its own right, and Apollonia’s Purple Rain performance will forever be iconic (ask any person who came of age in the 1980s and has a sexual interest in women about the “Lake Minnetonka” scene, and watch them get misty-eyed with nostalgia).

apollonia6

Like the Time, Apollonia 6 dissolved quickly after the release of Purple Rain; unlike the Time, however, there was no triumphant aftermath, no series of high-profile reunions–though three of the groups’ former members, at least, seem to be leading happy and fulfilling lives. Brenda Bennett took time off from the music industry, returning only fairly recently as an independent artist. Susan Moonsie quit the entertainment business entirely. Apollonia went back primarily to minor film and television roles–though she did release one, forgettable solo album in 1988.

And then, of course, there was Vanity. Hers is one of the saddest stories in popular music: though she went on to some measure of success as a solo recording artist and (especially) an actress in the latter half of the 1980s, she also developed a crippling addiction to crack cocaine. Finally, after suffering a near-fatal renal failure in 1994, she experienced a conversion as a born-again Christian and dedicated the rest of her life to evangelism, renouncing her stage name and her past as a secular entertainer. It’s a strange feeling, to be a fan of Denise Matthews’ work as Vanity with the knowledge of the pain she was in at the time. It seems, however, that she was able to find peace later in her life; I only hope that she realized how much authentic joy she brought to the world, even in her darker moments.

So what else is there to say about Vanity and Apollonia 6? If the Time was the Prince spinoff act that threatened to upstage the headliner, then the “6” represented Prince in full puppetmaster mode: putting together a singing group comprised of two-thirds non-singers, then underlining just how disposable they were by seamlessly slotting a different frontwoman in the lead. And yet, the group had undeniable personality: one listen to Vanity and Brenda tearing “Jamie Starr” a new one in “If a Girl Answers” is more than enough to demonstrate that. And the original incarnation in particular gave Prince and his collaborators a framework in which to create some of their most unique genre experiments of the early 1980s; making them, in their own way, a precursor to more “respectable” side projects like the Family. Finally, if nothing else, the ladies could definitely fill out a camisole.

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Next Saturday, Prince (Protegé) Summer continues with an artist who stretches the definition of “protegé”: Ms. Sheila E. In the meantime, you can read more of my writing about Prince on my chronological Prince blog, dance / music / sex / romance; and more about whatever else crosses my mind on Dystopian Dance Party. See you soon!

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Filed under 1980's, Apollonia, Denise Matthews, Dez Dickerson, Jesse Johnson, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Time, Vanity

Anatomy of THE Groove: “She Won’t Let Go” by Jesse Johnson’s Revue

Jesse Johnson has had been a major, if often commercial underrated, contributer to the modern funk age. From the mid 1980’s to the present day. His career arc has taken him from the Prince-derived funk band The Time to his current gig playing with D’Angelo’s band The Vanguard. No irony is lost that D’Angelo is an artist often mentioned in terms of carrying on Prince’s musical legacy now that Mr.Nelson is no longer with us. Johnson has also had a sporadic solo career over the years as well. Yet there was also his first group after leaving The Time who were vital to him getting his own groove on.

The Rock Island,Illinois native began playing guitar at 15. After moving to Minneapolis,he became a member of Morris Day’s first group Enterprise before becoming the lead guitarist in The Time. Seemingly frustrated over Prince’s lack of interest about his creative input in the group,Johnson left The Time after 1984. He signed to A&M as a solo artist. And took second tier Time members Mark Cardenas and bassist Gerry Hubbard with him-along with several others to his new band called the Jesse Johnson Revue. My favorite track on their self titled 1985 debut was called “She Won’t Let Go”.

The sound of low church bells begin the song before Bobby Vandell’s drum kick comes in with a revving synth bass. Vandell keeps the hefty rhythm going with a steady,brittle and funkified shuffle throughout the song. There are three main synthesizer parts. One is a quavering one that simulates the bell at the start of the song,on is a deep pulsing synth bass,and the other are  Minneapolis style synth brass charts playing the changes. On the bridge of the song,Vandell’s drumming leaves more space between the beats for Jesse’s chicken scratch rhythm guitar to solo before the song fades out on it’s main chorus.

To me anyway,this song is a standout Jesse Johnson solo number because it extends on the direction he was taking  on The Time’s “Jungle Love”. This song has the trademarks of the Minneapolis sound-with the heavy use of synth brass and bass. But the sound is far busier than the lean,stripped down sound Prince pioneered earlier. So it showcased purple funk as something evolving into a bigger and more dramatic synth/electro funk sound. Jesse’s guitar playing also has a lower,more aggressive sound to it. So this song is one of many songs that represent Jesse Johnson’s contributions to the evolution of twin city funk.

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Filed under 1985, A&M Records, Bobby Vandell, chicken scratch guitar, drums, elecro funk, Gerry Hubbard, Jesse Johnson, Jesse Johnson's Revue, Mark Cardenas, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers, The Time

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation for Record Store Monday: ‘Black Messiah’ by D’Angelo

Black Messiah

For the last 16 years? D’Angelo has been missing in action as far as studio albums are concerned. While an enormous live revue in 2000 featuring his band the Soultronics-including people such as ?uestlove among the other members were hailed as some of the most promising new bands of it’s time. Of course so much as gone down in the music world since D’Angelo’s most recent and lengthy absences from recording. The call he and the Soultronics made about musicians taking the musical creative process back for themselves as really started to show itself during the latest recession-particularly within the last year or so. And with the reality of the need to free ourselves from racial hatred and privilege has all come together to create just the right atmosphere for D’Angelo and his new band the Vanguard-including former Time member in guitarist Jesse Johnson along with ?uestlove still on skins. And musically the man has a whole lot to say.

The album starts out with a deep,steely,thumping rock/funk number-both the guitar and bass lines possessed of massive funky bottoms and D’Angelo himself delivering his broad ranging,multi tracked Southern soul drawl of a voice. “1000 Deaths” samples a preacher talking about the idea of a nappy headed Jesus as the “new black messiah” over heavy funky drumming and slap bass thrusts with “D’Angelo’s heavily processed vocals accompanied closely by a staticky,revved up keyboard. “Sugar Daddy” gives a sitar led forwards/backwards looped drum oriented psychedelic soul rocker with a very probing melody. “Sugah Daddy” has this clapping,tickling percussion and this bluesy jazz/juke joint style piano commonly heard on many mid/late 70’s P-Funk records with some very scatting vocals-both solo and multi tracked. “Really Love” is a mixture of a hip-hop beat with a beautifully sensual Brazilian jazz melody.

“Back To The Future” is a two part number here-both of which take a strong countrified jazz-funk bounce with a melody that comes right from “The Charleston”,the iconic stride pianist James P.Johnson’s famous song that originated the famous dance. The second part coming near the closing of the album adds more of a bouncing Southern danceable funk rhythm to the outro. “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” is full of heavy bluesy guitar reverb and a very melodic slap bass line sharing the musical space with D’Angelo’s elaborate vocal turns. “Prayer” is a slow,dragging wah wah powered groove with a spacy synthesizer melody floating over the top. “Betray My Heart” is a swinging dyno’d up electric piano powered jazz-funk number with tons of liquid groove from top to bottom. “The Door” is a whistling powered instrumental slice of sweetly melodic sunshine pop/soul. “Another Life” closes the album with a beautiful orchestrated,thick soul ballad with D’Angelo’s high falsetto vocal calls and the ascending melody the perfect accent to the piano/sitar/drum/string swirls of the song.

One thing to say about this album is that it’s simply an amazing total musical experience! Yes that in a sentence does some it up! In fact I had to listen to much of it twice before this review to absorb just what comes out of it. If D’Angelo never recorded another album the rest of his life? This could easily be his defining swan song. Why is that? Well it just channels all the threads of D’Angelo’s musical influences. It has Stevie Wonder’s love of creating instrumentally new melodic sounds. Duke Ellington’s sense of swing and rhythmic dissonance. Al Green,Sly Stone and OutKast’s Andre 3000’s drawling vocal hiccups and stutters. Prince’s psychedelic mixtures of funk,rock and soul. Ron Isley’s high vocal cries and wails. And it doesn’t leave out the jazz age with it’s love of modern time and stride piano. And in the end? It’s all D’Angelo and all funky! Not to mention awe inspiring melodies with the power to connect to the people. And even if some of the lyrics are difficult to make out? The music says all it needs to say: differences should always be different,and lay comfortably side by side-not far apart. A grand comeback for D’Angelo linking the sociological and musical chains that made contemporary black America so special TO America!

Link To Amazon Review Here*

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Filed under 2014, Afro-Futurism, Afro-Latin jazz, Al Green, alternative rock, Amazon.com, Blues, Brazil, D'Angelo, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Jesse Johnson, Marvin Gaye, Memphis Soul, Minneapolis, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Nu Funk, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm & blues, rock 'n' roll, Sly Stone, Southern Soul, Stevie Wonder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 8/23/2014: “Bare My Naked Soul” by Jesse Johnson

Jesse-Johnsons-Bare-My-Naked-Soul-1996-FLAC

Apparently there had been many people since the beginning of Jesse Johnson’s career who had wanted the former Time guitarist to make a more thoroughly guitar oriented album. A musician is not necessarily creatively bound to the demands of their admirers. After all if someone really admires someones art,why would they want them to change it? As with Prince Jesse was instrumental (pun more than intended) in bringing the sound of the rock guitar into the Minneapolis funk context. And he especially bought it to the Time’s 1990 release Pandemonium with the song “Chili Sauce” as well. Than a couple years after that the punk revival known as grunge broke out. Suddenly every rock music lover began demanding only like minded music be released and heard. The alternative era had begun-with the unspoken credibility war soon to follow. Jesse hadn’t had the easiest time either. The Time dissolved again-forcing Jesse to have to do a lot of anonymous soundtrack session playing,some of which never got released. He signed with the indie label Dinasaur Entertainment in the mid 90’s and for the first time in years eschewed the multi instrumentalist format. Teaming up with drummer Brian Edwards,back round singer Kim Cage and on one occasion former Band Of Gypsies/Hendrix alum Billy Cox on bass,Jesse put out this album in 1996 to at last fully explore his talents as a guitarist.

The title song,”My Life”,”Let Me In”,”Walk Like Me Talk”,”Shock To The System”,”Brand New Day” and “War Babies” all represent the hardest rocking songs on this album. Jesse’s ability as a guitarist is impressive as he goes from playing the amplified blues crunches to the technicolor psychedelic reverbed harmonies and melodies at a moments notice. “I Miss”,featuring Billy Cox and “Cry Like The Skies” both strong echo Jimi Hendrix’s fluttering ballad style a great deal-with cleaner,high pitched riffs and heavy reverb again. Only this time on the vocals as opposed to the instrumentation. “You Don’t Love Me The Same” is an out and out twangy modern country/western number with just a little touch of a blues attitude about it. “Mr. Heartache” is a pointed folk-rock ballad that,as with most of the lyrics here,focus in on a need for positive minded change and resolution to cynicism. “Bella Bella” is a similarly pretty folk minded affair-this time apparently a tribute to his then newborn daughter. “Bring Your Love Down Hard On Me” is straight up 12-bar blues-finding Jesse working out at his Muddy Waters-ish best. “Mokika” is a folky rhythm & blues shuffle that reminds me a bit of what KT Tunstall has done in recent years while “Nevermind Saturn Sunrise” closes the album with a psychedelic instrumental reverb guitar explosion.

Considering how ubiquitous guitar oriented music was becoming during this era? This album is expertly played with a number of instrumentally vital ideas and musical directions. The only question I have is why did Jesse Johnson even need to do this? While it has a lot of strong material,everyone already know what a great guitarist Jesse was. There really isn’t anything on this album that Lenny Kravitz hadn’t already dealt with a few years earlier. The fact Jesse’s hopeful and optimistic lyrical tone on this album stands so much in contrast to the attitude of this era speaks volumes. I feel Jesse himself was in the process of coming out of a dry spell when this album came out,so he just gave rock guitar admirers what they wanted from him while countering that impulse with his words. The pompous liner notes written by Steven Ivory also emphasize the most repulsive aspect of the “credibility wars” for me. He rails on about a “twilight zone of commercial pop/R&B”-where as he puts it,scientists in white coasts “dutifully create depressing amounts of Moog powered mutant soul that has about as much passion as a Happy Meal”. He even goes on to say “funk IS rock ‘n roll”-that “the groove” is simply rocks funky derivative. And how Jesse instinctively knows this. From this its too easy to have the impression Jesse made this album simply to survive in the restrictive musical climate of the mid 90’s. Basically if one admires the full spectrum of Jesse Johnson’s instrumental talents? This is worth picking up if you can find it for under $10.00. If your an admirer of Jesse’s work as a funk dynamo in the 80’s? This is definitely not going to be the album for you.

*Original Amazon.com review here

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Filed under 1990s, alternative rock, Amazon.com, Funk, Jesse Johnson, Music Reviewing, rock 'n' roll