James Brown began recording instrumental albums in 1963. At this point,James tended to think very much like jazz and blues musicians when recording. Meaning that he tended to think in terms of sides in the studio rather than the relatively new (at the time) long playing record. On these instrumental albums played both originals or reboots of songs he’d already recorded with vocals. As an instrumental leader,he sometimes played drums. But quite a lot of the time he played organ. And that bought out another important factor to how the man approached his non vocal musical approach as well.
James Brown actually had a recording contract that positioned him as recording his vocal numbers for the King label,and instrumentals for the Smash label. That created some conflict when he released a vocal album Out Of Sight on Smash in 1964-only to have it swiftly withdrawn. That probably had a lot to do with a point that Henrique and I discussed about James competing more with hard bop jazz players such as Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff as an instrumental organist. Still it was a lot more likely James was playing drums on a 1966 instrumental he did entitled “James Brown House Party”.
Jimmy Nolan’s low chicken scratch guitar defines the groove. The JB horns generally play a bluesy 7 note horn chart-going from major to minor chord on each melodic phrase. Maceo abstracts on this theme as the first instrumental soloist to appear on this song,with his tenor sax. Nolan plays the second solo on this song,which has a more open string approach to his guitar than usual. Towards the end of the song,there’s a trumpet solo that comes in playing a fast theme that follows right along with the bluesy horn charts of the song that themselves serve to fade out the very song they begin.
“James Brown House Party” is another wonderful example of James Brown developing a brand new song from an old one. And it’s interesting on two levels. For one,the song is based on his 1962 song “Mashed Potatoes U.S.A”. For another,the key difference between the original and this instrumental is that latter version is significantly faster. James’s foray’s into uptempo funk in the mid 60’s is showcased here by showcasing how he already had the funky approach from the hard bop/soul jazz players down pat on the original version. Which makes this an important showcase for his musical creativity.
Filed under 1960's, chicken scratch guitar, drums, hard bop, horns, instrumental, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, Maceo Parker, Saxophone, soul jazz, trumpet, Uncategorized
James Brown and his sax player Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis wrote and recorded a song during JB’s 34th birthday month in 1967 called “Cold Sweat”. As with many James Brown songs,it was developed from part of an earlier song. In this case,a soul ballad entitled “I Don’t Care” from his 1962 album Tour The U.S.A. Ellis had heard James grunting out a very rhythm bass line. He had been listing to the Miles Davis song “So What” a lot at the time. And was thinking a similar horn chart would work well as James Brown was rebooting his song for what he called “the funky bag I’m into right now”.
Speaking personally,this song is actually the very root of Andresmusicalk. My father once wrote a musical breakdown of War’s The World Is A Ghetto album while in college. And he suggested that myself and my friend Henrique Hopkins do a two part breakdown of “Cold Sweat”,the James Brown song that inaugurated the funk sound we all really love. Many things have happened since than. But with my father and Henrique’s encouragement and information,I’m going it alone on talking about this song that not only launched this blog in a way,but did the same for an entire genre.
Clyde Stubblefield throws down his funky drum as the bass of this song right in the center of the Afro Cuban rhythmic clave. Both the rhythm guitar of Jimmy Nolan,Alphonso Kellum and the bass of Bernard Odum all utter a series of harmonically complex scaling lines in close concert with one another-with the JB horns playing those two note modal jazz style charts as Stubblefield comes down on the hi hats. On the refrains,James’s lyrical screams of “I DON’T CARE” keep the progression forward-until on the chorus,the drum breaks right out for the horns to scale right up with James’s vocals.
After the first vocal chorus,Maceo Parker delivers an expansion on the main horn charts of the song on his tenor sax solo. That’s also the first bridge of the song.After this,James calls out “GIVE THE DRUMMER SOME!” repeatedly to Stubblefield,who promptly delivers the percussive,break heavy drum solo that defines the whole groove. After this,the chorus refrain patter comes right back in. As the song begins the fade out,the second refrain becomes the main one. A refrain where the horns and Nolan’s guitar play in near perfect unison with the beat before the song does indeed fade away.
There are some times where studying any art you admire can dampen ones appreciation of it. That hasn’t been the case with myself and “Cold Sweat” at all. The more I learn about the nature of it’s instrumental content,the more musically revolutionary it reveals itself to be. James of course strips out most of the straight melodic elements to the point where the horns,drums,guitar and bass are playing melody,harmony and rhythm all at the same time. It truly was an extremely unique way to present music. And perhaps represents the very moment when James Brown forever reshaped American popular music.
Filed under 1960's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Alphonso Kellum, Bernard Odum, chicken scratch guitar, clave, Clyde Stubblefield, drum breaks, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Uncategorized
James Brown made his name as a massively influential and inspiring bandleader and performer. The man was probably less regarded as an instrumentalist. He released a series of instrumental albums in the mid 60’s on the Smash record label. But he was also a drummer as well. That probably had a lot to do with his vision of turning his entire band into a drum. And this became the foundational rhythmic element of the funk genre he pioneered. As the 60’s entered it’s final three years, James Brown really began to allow his groove to expand on this path in earnest.
Because the key element to JB’s musical expression was pretty much nonstop touring,he and the JB’s didn’t often have the time to pop over to posh studios to record new singles right away. New songs would often come right out of the rhythms that came through from the stage performances. And James likely came at this with the attitude of “we’ve got to get this on wax while it’s hot!”. That’s likely just what happened on one chilly Philadelphia evening in mid January of 1967 at the Latin Casino nightclub where,after a performance there James and his band recorded “Let Yourself Go”.
Jimmy Nolan’s chicken scratch guitar starts the groove right off cold. The Motown style snare drum kicks right in,along with a scintillating up and down scaling jazzy bass line. The horns play either a 2 or 4 note chart between each guitar break-spiced up by some serious Afro-Cuban conga drums. On the breakdown of the song,the horns begin calling for a musical response while the guitar becomes a sustained rhythmic tone. The one turns right back around as this pattern repeats one last time. On the fade out,the breakdown finds the horns scaling up with increasing volume as the song rides away into the groove.
Around the time this song was recorded, James Brown and the Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti were said to have both been checking out each others shows. Eventually, both of their styles would influence the other. For James’s part,he took the more melodic horn sustains of popular African Highlife music. He also blended in the percussive congas from within the Afro-Cuban clave. That combined with the entire band becoming one big sheet of rhythm made this a key song in terms of where James Brown’s music was about to go. And probably one of the most Afrocentric examples of his time in the funk process.
Filed under 1960's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, chicken scratch guitar, clave, drums, Fela Kuti, Funk Bass, funk process, horns, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, percussion, The JB's, Uncategorized
James Brown’s grooves importance to me is that they came to me pretty late in the game. That is in terms of discovering funk. Long before that happened on a personal level,the discovery of The Godfather within the newly emerging musical genre of hip-hop came at the same time as the advent of the computer sound sampler. Public Enemy’s Bombsquad made samples of JB’s music a mainstay in their rhythmic based sound. While I feel it important for the funk to always remain it’s own reward,JB’s music in particular would probably not be so well known to so many American’s between the ages of 20-50 without the funk archive that is sampling.
There are many JB numbers that remain a key part of the vocabulary of the samples library. One of them however remains key. It was recorded on November 20th,1969. And was released as a single five months later. Originally it was released at a two part single version-each of the parts less then three minutes a piece. When I first heard the full version on the JB box set Star Time,it made little impact on my ears or me feet. After coming back to it over a decade later,it became clear how much an understanding of JB’s rhythmic intent opened this song right up. And the name of of this important groove is called “Funky Drummer”.
The trumpets of Joe Davis and Richard Kush Griffith both play right on the beat with the songs own funky drummer Clyde Stubblefield. The main groove of the song is a vamp based on Stubblefield hitting the snare high on the second or third beat-depending on where Kush,Fred Wesley,Maceo Parker and the rest of the JB horn section happened to be hitting on the groove from. Of course Jimmy Nolan’s trademark chicken scratch guitar locks it all down along Charles Sherrell’s busy,jazzy bass line. JB plays a number of organ solos-starting short and ending more elaborately near the end of the groove while sharing a space for Maceo to solo too.
Of course what really gets it going is when JB calls out Stubblefield solo with just his snare-on-the-one beat twice in the groove. That’s the part that became the nucleus of the hip-hop beat during the sampling age. As it’s own groove,”Funky Drummer” is a straight vamp without any long musical breaks or changes in melody. In a lot of ways,it almost stands as pretty raw funk material from the JB’s. What keeps it so fresh and exciting is the amazing musical precision involved. This is probably where JB himself might’ve fully succeeded in his ambition to get his entire band to sound like a drum. And that will probably continue to remain this songs legacy in the anatomy of the funk groove.
Filed under 1970's, Charles Sherrell, chicken scratch guitar, Clyde Stubblefield, drums, Fred Wesley, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, horns, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, Maceo Parker, organ, Richard Kush Griffith, Sampling, Saxophone, The JB's