Category Archives: keyboards

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Tokyo Joe” by Bryan Ferry

Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music were something that I only began to explore within the 2010’s. Henrique Hopkins and myself have discussed Bryan/Roxy a great deal. And these conversations have tended to emphasize their unique place on the rock scene. My personal feeling from all this talking and listening was that Roxy were British glam rock’s answer to Steely Dan. Their songs rhythmic and melodic structures were based more in contemporary  soul and funk than allusions to amplified blues. And this was reflected in their visual attitude,which in the end comes down to Ferry.

There was somewhat of a choice to be made in terms of writing this article. Whether or not to overview a Roxy Music classic such as “Love Is The Drug”,or focus on Bryan Ferry’s solo career. Both Roxy and Ferry alone have their fair share of sleek grooves to choose from. Both from the 70’s and 80’s. In the end,seemed best to focus on Ferry as a solo artist. His initial solo career ran concurrent with Roxy Music’s first run. These albums consisted primarily of cover material. His first solo album of all original material In Your Mind contained a fantastic example of Ferry’s groove in “Tokyo Joe”.

A gong like cymbal opens up the song. The intro consists of a processed keyboard melody in close unison with plucked orchestral strings. All to the best of a swinging,hi hat heavy drum rhythm. After that the orchestra begin flat out playing the same melody-assisted by some rhythmic fuzz guitar. The rhythm then falls into a heavy 4/4 disco beat with the fuzz guitar,strings and several layers of keyboards (including what sounds like a Clavinet) playing deep inside the groove. On the choruses,the plucked strings of the intro return before the refrain closes out the song with the same gong like cymbal from the intro.

Its been awhile since I’ve really given this song a listen all the way through. But with the keyboards,drums and guitar delving so deeply into the groove,”Tokyo Joe” really showcases all the special qualities about the Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music sound. Ferry’s sleek,somewhat adenoidal vocal croon adds its distinctive character to this groove. Being from the final two Bryan Ferry solo albums of the 70’s,this song and others in a similar vein help write the musical map for what was to occur on Roxy Music’s three following comeback albums-from 1979’s Manifesto to 1982’s Avalon.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bryan Ferry, disco funk, drums, funk rock, fuzz guitar, keyboards, Roxy Music, strings, UK Funk

Prince Summer: “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” (1991)

Prince was undergoing a major change during the early 1990’s. Following the release of his final motion picture Graffiti Bridge,he began putting together a whole new band. He named them the New Power Generation. They were as much a concept as they were a unified band. That’s because even during their first decade together,the NPG had its share of lineup changes. But the idea was an instrumental framework through which Prince could channel the talents of different musicians into his eclectic embracing of styles. This was especially true on his debut with them on 1991’s Diamonds & Pearls. 

On many tracks,this album showcased Prince embracing then contemporary elements of hip-hop and techno/house genres. As always,he had other ideas up his sleeve as well. During this time,Prince began a professional report with film director Spike Lee. They eventually decided to do a collaborative project together. What ended up happening was that Prince asked Spike to pick any song from the Diamonds & Pearls  album to direct as a music video. Spike’s selection was a song that has been speaking to me a lot in recent times entitled “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night”.

A drum kickoff gets the song going-the main beat being a steady funky/soul one that contains a slowed down break on every chorus of the song. Prince,singing the song in his lower voice,is accompanied melodically by bell like electric keyboard chords playing off his vocal changes. The guitar of the song is predominantly a soul jazz hiccup with a bass line,as was often typical of Prince,staying right along with it throughout rather than playing any counter chords. On some parts,the guitar hugs the melody completely. After a brief burst of string synthesizer,the guitar break brings the song to an abrupt end.

Musically speaking,this song is a bit different for Prince. With it’s relaxed jazzy pop flavor,the production has more in common with the natural style of instrumentation found in the neo soul genre a decade later. Lyrically,its clear why Spike Lee saw it as so imagistic. The song paints a series of pictures emphasizing the need to “look after ones soul” rather than pursuing financial gain-including then contemporary social commentary about the greed laying behind the Gulf War. Its one of my favorite Prince message songs. And certainly one of his most melodic and easy going in its sound.

 

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Filed under 1990s, bass guitar, drums, funk pop, keyboards, message songs, Neo Soul, Prince, rhythm guitar, Spike Lee

Bernie Worrell: Rest In P (1944-2016)

bernieworrell

George Bernard Worrell was playing concertos at age 8,went to Julliard and the New England Conservatory Of Music and was a founding member of P-Funk. He wound up working with Bill Laswell,Fela Kuti and was a member of the expanded Talking Heads in the early 1980’s.  He died today of stage four lung cancer at age 72. The man was truly a musical genius who actually created whole new layers of solo and orchestral sounds on different keyboards. Here’s what I feel are some of his most powerful moments. I have nothing more to say. Listen and dance to the music!

“Atmosphere”/1975

“Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic”/1976

“Flashlight”/1977

“Dissinfordollars”/1993

“When Bernie Speaks”/2004

-Bernie you WILL be missed. Again,rest in P!

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 2016, Bernie Worrell, classic funk, Funk, Funkadelic, Julliard, keyboards, New England Conservatory Of Music, P-Funk, Parliament, synthesizers

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Uh-Oh,Love Comes To Town” by Talking Heads

David Byrne,Tina Weymouth,Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison had been honing their performance persona and songwriting skills at NYC’s CBGB’s for a few years before. They started as an opening act for The Ramones in the very late spring of 1975. Looking back at their early performances,the bands stripped down and precise grooves must have been very strange amidst the noisy atmospherics of mid/late 70’s CBGB’s. Their early recorded demos didn’t make of an impact until later the next year-when Seymour Stein of Sire Records signed them up and they began recording their debut album.

This first album entitled Talking Heads 77 has a very different vibe than most albums that came out of NYC’s original punk scene. The main inspiration for it’s sound wasn’t as much raggedy 60’s garage rock as it was the cleaner instrumental sounds of early 70’s soul and funk music. My personal experience with the bands music started more with their early/mid 80’s album and worked backward to this one. Not being the loud guitar thrasher type album I half expected,it’s opening song gives a good idea of the grooves that lie within. The name of this song is “Uh-Oh,Love Comes To Town”.

Byrne and Weymouth begin the song with a bass/guitar that scales up and down with each other until Chris Frantz hi hats turns over to a slow,shuffling funky drum with bouncy percussion fills. Weymouth turns out a late 60’s James Jamerson style bass line throughout in the spirit of “I Was Made To Lover Her” while Harrison deals with a sustained chicken scratch rhythm guitar line. Harrison’s organ like keyboards play a horn-like roll on the choruses which take the melody up a key. The bridge adds a shuffling steel drums solo before another refrain/choral pattern brings the song to a slowed stop.

One of the key elements of much late 60’s/early 70’s pop/rock was an imitation of the early/mid 60’s Motown sound. Now Motown has an effect on this song too. But Talking Heads were somewhat unique among funk inspired rock groups in that they were inspired by the present and the future of the music-not the recent past. So this song has the funkier melodic vibe of early 70’s Jackson 5ive style Motown-with the use of more James Brown inspired bass/guitar interaction and a light Caribbean flavor. In that way,it’s an excellent template for what Talking Heads groove would evolve into.

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Filed under 1970's, CBGB's, chicken scratch guitar, Chris Frantz, David Byrne, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, James Jamerson, Jerry Harrison, keyboards, Motown Sound, New Wave, New York, pop funk, steel drums, Talking Heads, Tina Weymouth

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Phunk Shui” by John Oates

Hall & Oates indirectly propagated the first music I remember hearing while in public with their hit “I Can’t Go For That”. John Oates is turning 68 today. He recorded his first single the same year he enrolled at Temple University,where of course he met Daryl Hall. And as for them as a duo,the rest is history. Throughout their decade and a half career peak of being the most commercially successful American duo in rock history,Oates generally only had one or two songs on each of their albums that he sung lead on. While Daryl Hall began a solo career in the mid 1980’s,it would take Oates another 16 years to release his very first solo album,which he entitled Phunk Shui.

Around the time I picked up this album,there was a lot of talk within my family about the Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui. This basically reduces down to harmonizing everyone with their surrounding environment. In that case,it had to do with the structural orientation of doors in our townhouse apartment closing directly onto each other. But seeing the title associated on this John Oates album with the funk music genre,before even hearing the album,reminded me of how much of an effect the energy created by this rhythm based music had on my own spacial orientation. When I finally heard the title song of John Oates album,the whole idea that the title projected completely clicked.

A heavily processed Clavinet sounding keyboard opens the song,before the hit hat kicks in the groove starts right up. The James Brown style rhythm guitar gets going heavy on the refrain. The melody changes up just before the chorus with the organ mixed high while the keyboard sound that opens the song opens up for the choral refrain. Oates sings the song in both the middle,high and bass end of his vocal change. On the bridge of the song,the organ references the descending opening electric sitar of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed,Sealed And Delivered” before going into a rock guitar solo from Oates. This solo continues onward as the chorus repeats to the songs fade.

Considering that live band funk was few and far between from the late 90’s through the 2000’s,this song was a tremendous revelation. It also showcases how important funk was to the success that Hall & Oates had during their late 70’s and early 80’s peak. Songs such as the aforementioned “I Can’t Go For That” and “Method Of Modern Love” both showcase that influence. He mentions P-Funk,Ohio Players,Gap Band and Morris Day as making a huge impact on his sound. Along the way he even brings out how so many contemporary pop acts have neglected funky musicianship just to make money. And that now that “things have gone wrong”,the time has come to relight the funky fire.

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Filed under 2002, drums, Feng Shui, Funk, Hall & Oates, John Oates, keyboards, organ, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “If You Got Funk,You Got Style” by Funkadelic

Bernie Worrell,P-Funk’s premier keyboard maestro was revealed a week ago to be living with stage 4 prostate cancer. With every major celebrity death of the new year having to do with some variation of this disease,it felt right to celebrate Bernie’s enormous musical contributions while he is still living. And that is also a key element of his talents as well. As a New England Conservatory Of Music and Julliard student who became drawn to the burgeoning sound of funk, he was able to bring his European classic training to the P-Funk mob just as the genre itself was in a crucial state of evolution. This made him key in the development of P-Funk’s first well known side.

Unsure if it was because they’d just moved from Westbound or not, but have always held mixed feelings for Funkadelic’s 1976 Capitol Records debut entitled Hardcore Jollies. Never seemed like an album that knew what it wanted to be: an exercise in funky serenity or the rock noisemaker. And the two musical elements were not particularly hybridized on this album. But of course the funk that was present was some of the strongest P-Funk ever made. Somehow it just occurred to me that this is the first time I’ve ever reviewed a Funkadelic jam on this blog. So now I’d like to present to you now one of the most powerful manifesto’s for the genre itself,”If You’ve Got Funk,You’ve Got Style”.

This is one those examples of funk that gets a stone cold start without any buildup or intro. And that’s great because it’s a heavy Brazilian jazz/funk drum provides the foundation for Bootsy Collins’ always intense duck face bass thump combined with multiple keyboard parts from Bernie. One of them is a high pitched,modulation filtered melodic line and the other is a thick Moog bass line. On the choruses, that higher keyboard line basically scales down with George Clinton’s vocal hook. On the rest of the songs refrains, the beginning theme of the groove is accentuated by some of the most powerful and ringing percussion parts I’ve ever heard on a funk number.

Funkadelic tended to be the side of P-Funk who had the most instrumental flexibility and adaptability. Especially early on even, their music didn’t particularly sound like funk at all as much as psychedelic bluesy rock grooves. By this time however,they’d locked the rhythm down a lot tighter and really allowed for the expansion of the one. What’s amazing is the the spot on ideal funk groove presented here dovetails right into the lyrical content. The basic ideas is “if you got funk,you got class/your out on the floor moving your ass”. So the more literal expression of the ideas that would shortly go into Sir Nose Devoidoffunk and the Bop Gun. This explicit statement of the funk is,for me anyway what gives the song and it’s accompanying album all of it’s musical might.

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Filed under 1970's, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, Capitol Records, drums, Funk, Funkadelic, George Clinton, keyboards, P-Funk, Uncategorized