Category Archives: Larry Graham

Bitches Broth: Betty Davis, The Columbia Years, 1968-69

bettydavis1

Betty Davis is, as her ex-husband Miles would undoubtedly have put it, a bad bitch. Her trio of mid-1970s albums–including 1974’s They Say I’m Different, which Andre posted about last summer–constitute some of the rawest, nastiest funk-rock ever released. Imagine prime Tina Turner, but with a heavier rock influence; and what she lacks in vocal prowess, she makes up for with a persona so aggressive, you’d swear she was the one beating up on Ike. If you’re even the slightest fan of powerful women and/or heavy funk, then you need to hear Betty Davis.

That being said, my recommendation for the latest release of Betty Davis’ music, The Columbia Years, 1968-69, is a little more conditional. I received the compilation’s (gorgeous!) vinyl release for Christmas last month, and I love it; it sits proudly on my shelf even as we speak. But I can also understand why it wasn’t officially released until last year.

Comprised of two sessions recorded for Columbia Records in 1968 and 1969–the first produced by trumpeter Hugh Masekela, the second by Betty’s then-husband Miles Davis–The Columbia Years is, if nothing else, a fascinating historical document. For fans of the more famous Davis, it’s effectively ground zero for jazz fusion: the moment Miles hooked up with the circle of acid rockers and funkateers in Betty’s orbit, including Jimi Hendrix sidemen Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell. Without Betty, there would be no Bitches Brew (in more ways than one–that album’s title is said to have referred to Betty and her entourage of countercultural socialities). According to the compilation’s liner notes, Betty’s come-hither purr in her cover of Cream’s “Politician” even ended up inspiring Miles’ song “Back Seat Betty,” a full 12 years after the couple split.

But just as Betty was never “Mrs. Miles Davis,” The Columbia Years is also of interest for reasons beyond its significance in Miles’ body of work. You can hear the seeds of Betty’s own unique stylistic hybrid being planted, as she tries her hand at a version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou” heavily indebted to “Stone Free” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience; or even her own composition “Hangin’ Out,” which comes across as a tamer version of later party-girl anthems like “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up.” For existing devotees, the opportunity to hear her earth-shaking style in embryonic form is priceless.

For newcomers, though, I’m afraid the appeal will be significantly lessened. The fact is, in 1969 Betty Davis didn’t really sound like Betty Davis yet; her vocals are thin, and she hadn’t yet developed the hellion’s rasp that made her voice on later records so distinctive. And, while the personnel on the sessions is impressive–not only Cox and Mitchell, but also John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and others–the arrangements lack grit and verve; they have the slightly patronizing feel that comes with the territory of crack jazz musicians slumming in “lesser” genres. It’s telling that Davis’ best music would be recorded with players who were funk and rock musicians first: her 1973 debut, for example, featured Santana‘s Neal Schon, Larry Graham, and other members of Graham Central Station and the Family Stone. It’s also telling that her music got better the more she was at the helm: her second and third albums, in 1974 and 1975 respectively, were both self-produced.

So, yes, everyone should listen to Betty Davis; and, since to know Betty Davis is to love her, then sure, eventually everyone should probably listen to The Columbia Years. But if you’re just getting started, don’t start at the beginning. Check out Betty DavisThey Say I’m Different, or Nasty Gal; hell, check out her canned 1976 album Crashin’ from Passion, later reissued as Is It Love or Desire? Then, circle back to The Columbia Years and see how it all began. With records like this being released and a new documentary set to premiere this summer, the time has arguably never been riper to rediscover Betty Davis. I can attest that she’s a discovery well worth making.

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Filed under 1960's, Betty Davis, Columbia Records, funk rock, Graham Central Station, Herbie Hancock, Hugh Masekela, Ike & Tina Turner, Jimi Hendrix, Larry Graham, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, Sly & The Family Stone, Wayne Shorter

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Victory” by Larry Graham

Larry Graham was described by Bootsy Collins one time on a PBS Rock N Roll documentary I saw as being “definitely” the innovator of funk bass. A lot of times,new instrumental ideas in music are an organic,collaborative process. In this case,Graham brought out a new approach for,what was in the late 1960’s the relatively new bass guitar. A lot of people who help write the musical vocabulary for a key part of a whole musical genre (as Graham did for funk) simply rest on their creative laurels .Graham didn’t. Upon leaving Sly & The Family Stone,he continued to innovate as the bandleader of Graham Central Station.

When I first began seeing Larry Graham solo albums while crate digging in the late 90’s and early aughts during summertime visits to the coast of Maine, the thoughts of both myself and my dad was “these albums must’ve really funked up the early 80’s”. It wasn’t until hearing “One In A Million You” did I realize that Graham’s initial solo focus was as a bass voiced soul balladeer. Then I  discovered  a vinyl copy of Graham’s 1983 album Victory,which I later got on CD. Its rich with rhythmically fat,often horn heavy post disco and boogie funk. What really hooked me in was the closing instrumental title song.

A high pitched synth brass plays a 12 bar blues type horn chart as the intro to this jam. After that,shuffling drums kick in. The main bass line of the song is a synth bass line playing its own 12 bar blues accompaniment to the higher lead line. On the refrains of the song,the melody becomes a bit more complicated and jazzy. The synth bass introduces a rocking electric guitar solo playing a driving,bluesy solo yet again. After another refrain,the song reduces down to bass and percussion-with Graham’s slap bass sololing being assisted by the high pitched synth brass as the song fades out.

This instrumental was written,produced and performed entirely by Larry Graham. Its a powerful song for me because it’s essentially a classic 50’s style rhythm & blues shuffle totally updated for the early/mid 80’s electro/boogie funk era. It uses modern synthesizers and drum machines. But the general feeling of the melody and rhythm is very much of the juke joint and the 60’s proto funk shuffle. Instrumentally,its all very powerful. The synths are played very intensely. And the slap bass is some of Graham’s finest thumping on the outro. Its a wonderful and unsung example of Larry Graham’s early 80’s solo funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, blues funk, Boogie Funk, drum machines, electro funk, Larry Graham, musical innovators, rhythm & blues, rock guitar, slap bass, synth bass, synth brass

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) by Sly & The Family Stone (1969)

Sly & The Family Stone had a really big year in 1969. Their fourth album Stand! is now considered a landmark for the band. It was a full on effort featuring hugely popular hits such as “Everyday People”,”Sing A Simple Song” and the title song. Up until that time,funk was relatively new as a genre (had been a musicians term for decades beforehand),and was generally a singles medium. This new Sly album showcased funk as an album medium-with many hard grooving and melodic songs with equally popular potential. Being so important to funk as he is,it’s amazing I’ve personally never covered Sly on Andresmusictalk so far.

Sylvester Stewart was an artist whom I know about long before knowing his name,or the name of his band. It started at 11 years old when recording songs off the radio during a time of schoolwork induced insomnia. That was when I first heard “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”. At the time,I personally had no idea what I hearing was funk. And despite having heard a lot of it before had didn’t even know what funk was. The song itself was released in December 1969 as a double A side single to “Everybody Is A Star”. Sly Stone was getting ready to start work on what would become There’s A Riot Goin’ On at the time. So this gave him a placeholder to again change the face of funk during the wait.

On the intro,Greg Errico’s peddling hit hat drumming plays second to Larry Graham’s bass line,which accompanies Freddie Stones  James Brown like rhythm guitar throughout the song. Here he pulled the strings away from the fingerboard for a deep,round tone. This became known as slap bass. It’ more the rhythmic foundation for this song than Errico’s drums as it’s mixed up higher. As the collective vocals of the group come in to sing the refrains,Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini’s horn lines play call and response to Larry’s bass and the vocals. They do so on the refrain by wiggling in pitch,and on the choruses in full on fanfare. These horns swell to the thickness of the bass line as the song fades out.

Lyrically speaking,this song is somewhat more weary than is usually associated with Sly’s 60’s output. He references his past hits and some of the paranoia that comes with big time show business. The title even seems to imply a whole phase of the Family Stone’s creativity has come to an end. The melody also showcases funk’s blues base more than the gospel/pop melodies of the bands previous hits. It’s Larry’s slap bass that’s the star of the show here. While this technique had already been used in rockabilly,the level of rhythmic thumping on this song allowed for the instrumental vocabulary of funk to be forever altered. As such this wound up being Sly’s final funk innovation of the 1960’s.

 

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Filed under 1960's, Cynthia Robinson, Freddie Stone, Funk, Greg Errico, horns, Jerry Martini, Larry Graham, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Sly & The Family Stone, Sly Stone, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/1/2015: “Questionnaire” by Chas Jankel

Chas Jankel is a very key figure in the development of the UK funk scene that thrived alongside new wave in the early 1980’s. Something of a child prodigy who began learning Spanish guitar and piano at the age of 7? Jankel joined up with Ian Dury in 1977. He was a part of their group together known as The Blockheads,who expertly integrated American funk and disco into their English pub rock framework. In particular on their heavily funkified 1979 double album Do It Yourself. In 1980, Jankel decided to leave the Blockheads in order to pursue a solo career. His self titled debut album,with it’s lead-off song “Ai No Corrida” even inspired a hit remake shortly after-courtesy of non other than Quincy Jones.

I personally first heard of the man through a book entitled Funk-The Essential Listening Companion. It mentioned Jankel with a thorough discography. But the fact that the book was highly critical of Chas’s creative choices was negated by the fact the entire book itself was very sloppily written and printed-full of typographical errors. So I sought out the man’s difficult to locate music on my own. Some years later? YouTube emerged as a huge help in this-with only his debut readily available on CD to this date. Deciding on which of his songs to discuss was like a chocoholic contemplating a Whitman’s Sampler from where I stood. Somehow? His 1981 song and accompanying music video “Questionnaire” came just a little ahead of the crowd in that regard!

The intro to this song builds up powerful musical drama by actually fading into the song in the same way most fade out. And it does so into a powerful swell of Afro-Brazilian percussion. Shortly the trumpets blare-accenting the jazzy salsa piano that changes melody in the primary chorus of the song. On the refrains,this is heavily accented by powerful bursts of Larry Graham-style slap bass-only appropriate as Sly & The Family Stone were apparently a major inspiration for Jankel getting into funk to start with The trumpets blare even louder on a chorus filled with a throbbing snare drum solo over the percussion before joining a full chorus of trumpets and organ solos. On the final instrumental refrain? A quieter and more plaintive trumpet solo leads out the song.

To my ears? This is one of the finest merging’s of Cuban jazz and poppy funk to come out of the early 80’s UK jazz/funk scene. The insertion of American funk elements such as thick slap bass goes right in perfectly with the unifying instrumental force joining Afro-Latin dance music and funk/soul together-thick and strong percussion accents. The lyrical content is simple enough. Just a single man daydreaming of a potential future lover in the form of a personal ad. Yet Jankel states it very eloquently-asking important questions of possible mates about people’s priorities in life rather than concerning himself totally with matters of economy . As the song implies? This is one musical journey that is indeed quite important!

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Latin jazz, bass guitar, Chas Jankel, Funk, Funk Bass, Ian Dury, Jazz-Funk, Larry Graham, lyrics, slap bass, Sly Stone, UK Funk

Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk: “Tis Your Kind Of Music” by Graham Central Station

Welcome to this first ever volume of Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk. This (so far) bimonthly segment is going to be devoted to classic songs in the jazz/funk/soul spectrum from the 60’s and 70’s. It was first conceived by friend and blogging partner Henrique Hopkins. It started to make sense,with this blog’s emphasis on newer grooves,to begin exploring their points of origin in a more in depth kind of way. Decided to take on this idea for now while I am flying solo with Andresmusictalk for a little while. In the spirit of my concept on writing about songs from the classic funk era that are lesser known? I’ll start the concept with one of my personal favorites.

Larry Graham was in a very interesting position during the first few years of his band Graham Central Station. Sly & The Family Stone were still operating and even having hits. So the two,with Larry being the connecting thread to both,were at this point very much in tandem. Larry’s own take music was on a very uptempo gospel oriented type of funk built around the interaction between keyboards and this iconic,thick slap bass playing. For the bands second release in 1974’s Release Yourself, the band forged ahead heavily into an instrumental direction that Sly actually began but which GCS were already about to take to the next level. And for me at least? The crowning achievement of this was in the song ‘Tis Your Kind Of Music”.

The song begins with a nasal burst of ARP synthesizer from Larry himself,which melds into pulsing bass tones playing the counter point to the main theme.All along with the pulsing burble of Patrice “Chocolate” Bank’s organ drum programming. After a bar of this,the synthesizer begins playing a staccato type of bluesy lead line-with a string synthesizer orchestration backing it up and the electric piano of Hershall “Happiness” Kennedy playing the different changes. Chocolate sings the first vocal verse of the song in her deep,thick churchy gospel wail-trading off with Larry’s deep bass voice on each refrain. Each of which is followed by a repeat of that second instrumental verse. The song closes out out with a band unison vocal of the songs title-sang as an exploratory chant.

On the very first time I heard this song? It’s instrumental boldness absolutely blew me away. Realized it would be a song I’d be learning from for years to come. And it has been for sure. Most importantly? It brings up a matter Henrique and I have recently been discussing about the pan ethnic forms of music. In fact,it’s very possible to have a situation on many songs with Afrocentric structure but European content. And vice versa. This is a song of a type that,very much in the original spirit of the Family Stone,blows that ethic right out of the box. It not only presents an almost totally electronic mix of still very new synthesizers and drum machines. But also does so with European classical orchestration,spiritual/gospel melodicism (especially on the vocal arrangements) and that heavy jazz oriented funk grind in terms of how the instruments themselves are played. In many ways? This song represents what the entire 70’s “united funk” age meant at it’s absolute,and most futurist pinnacle.

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Filed under 1974, ARP synthesier, classic funk, drum machines, Funk, Funk Bass, Gospel, Graham Central Station, Larry Graham, Sly Stone, synth funk

Bosses Of The Bass: Andre’s Top 12 Funk/Jazz/Soul Bass Players

Space Bass

Ever since my fourth grade music teacher Mrs. Gockle forced me to give up the upright bass due to her fascination with the melody based violins and violas? A deep life long interest in the bass as a musical instrumental emerged. Started listening for it closer in my fathers jazz records. And it was the foundational element in my favorite form of music-funk.  As time went on? I understood the sound it made to be so flexible,it could bring the melodies right out of the rhythms it created-when in the right hands of course.

As an adult? I’ve gravitated towards listening for how the bass is used on a song. It may have something to do with the old saying about how funk/soul lovers want to turn up the bass with rock fans prefer to turn up the treble. Since my understanding of the bass is almost totally oral rather than academic? The bass players I’m talking about here today may not all be the most renowned or well know. Though many of them are. These are people who have a distinctive approach that just reaches my type of musical ear. So here are my twelve (current) bosses of the funk bass.

James_Jamerson

James Jamerson is one of those bass players even non instrumentalist music lovers can pick out of the crowd in a second. Just listen to the opening of Motown hits he played on like “My Girl”,”Reach Out I’ll Be There”,”Don’t Mess With Bill” and “Just My Imagination”? And you understand how this key member of Motown’s now iconic Funk Brothers house band opened up the melodic possibilities of the electric bass probably more than anyone of his day. Jamerson’s sound probably got stuck in my consciousness those mornings half asleep going into town,from our family summer camp,in 1991 listening to the radio’s Motown Monday’s before I even realized it.

Larry Graham

Larry Graham,Bay Area bass player extraordinaire for Sly & The Family Stone,basically created the slap bass approach to playing that became one of the rudiments of the 70’s funk sound. Even before venturing out on his own with Graham Central Station,a solo career and session playing with Prince later on? Larry had already innovated the fuzz bass as well with the Family Stone’s breakout hit “Dance To The Music”. He’s probably one of the most renowned and famous funk bassist ever of course. And whatever I hear other bassists playing after? In some way it comes down to Larry in the end.

Bootsy Collins

Bootsy Collins,having spanned playing with the JB’s and than George Clinton’s P-Funk,picked right up in terms of bass innovation where Larry Graham left off. Bootsy’s effect on how I listen to music is one of personality. Rock musicians often call themselves guitar gods. And if I ever wanted to use such a term? Bootsy,with his glittering outfits and superhero like persona,is something of a bass god in that regard. He doesn’t just slap the strings. He pops out thundering,round tones. He snarls his bass like a guitar as well. Collins therefore probably has the most flexible and diverse style of playing the electric bass than many that I’ve heard.

Louis Satterfield

Fellow Earth Wind & Fire member Verdine White once said that everything he learned about bass came from this man,Louis Satterfield. One thing that really makes Satterfield fascinating to me is that he plays two low toned musical instruments: the trombone and the upright/acoustic bass. Often regarded more as a member of the iconic Phenix Horns,Satterfield has a long history playing for Chicago blues greats before essentially becoming the musical godfather of the totally rhythmic experience the bass played in EWF during their key years of the 70’s.

Wilton Felder

Wilter Felder,speaking of horn players,was only known to me to be a bass player as well when my blogging partner Rique informed me one day that Felder played bass on the Jackson 5’s first hit “I Want You Back”. As a bass player? Wilton did the reverse of what Louis Satterfield did. He helped to bring his melodic saxophone approach to his bass playing. Quite appropriate with the key role all the Crusaders played in late 60’s/early 70’s Motown-a label whose music always had a core of the melodic style of bass playing.

Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson,a musical disciple of James Jamerson,helped me to completely come to  terms with my understanding how the bass could be a powerful compositional instrument. Henderson played with Stevie Wonder,Miles Davis,Aretha Franklin and Dr.John in his earlier years before venturing out on his own solo career as a singer. He continued the tradition of melodic bass playing that came directly from his Motown education. And than took it onto a career as a premiere funk performer as well as being an instrumentalist.Louis-Johnson

Louis Johnson,much like James Jamerson before him,entered into my subconscious without me even fully realizing it the very first time I heard Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Johnson’s major contribution to my understanding of the bass came from his fusion of Larry Graham’s slap bass approach with the melodic innovations of Jamerson. This man was a monster play in the Brothers Johnson with his guitarist brother George. Not to mention an enormously important part of Quincy Jones’ iconic Westlake Studios instrumental crew who shaped much of the way I hear pop,funk and soul of the 70’s and 80’s

Bernard Edwards

Bernard Edwards,late of Chic and partner to iconic musician/producer Nile Rodgers in that band,probably did more for innovating the disco bass style within the musical sub-genre of funk than anyone else in his day. One of my very favorite basslines in fact comes from Edwards-the slippery jazz oriented intro to Chic’s 1977 hit “Everybody Dance”. Pretty much every electric bass player today playing danceable pop music has something of Edwards in what they’re playing.

Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller not only helped engineer the early 80’s comeback of Miles Davis. But he also went on to become a star producer and bass player for Luther Vandross at the same time. All before launching his own solo career in the 90’s up to the present day. What gets me about Marcus is how he took the slap bass approaches of funk players such as Larry Graham and Louis Johnson and bought jazz improvisation into the equation-a more hyper melodic alternative to earlier slap bass jazz icon Stanley Clarke. As a multi instrumentalist,he was also able to construct heavily funkified soundscapes with the bass as it’s core rhythmic element as well.

Mark King

Mark King was key of bringing of bringing the fast paced,jazzy slap bass style of Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller into the new wave world as the bandleader for the UK’s jazz/funk/pop band Level 42 during the early/mid 1980’s. Also quite a fluid composer,King was a bass player that I came to love and appreciate within the last decade. And has actually helped me a great deal to understand new wave/synth pop as often being an instrumental outgrowth of American funk.

© Sasa Huzjak

Jamaaladeen Tacuma came out of jazz great Ornette Coleman’s 70’s and 80’s group Primetime to have his own solo career in the 1980’s. Tacuma bought together the free harmelodic approach of Ornette to his bass playing. Listening to his abstract slaps,thumps and vamps really fuel my imagination on just how much the electric bass can really do.

Peter Muller 2

Peter Muller,Berlin resident and modern day bassist,is one of my most recent discoveries. Muller’s sound comes out of the slap bass flower that Larry Graham got going almost half a century ago now. And he’s channeled it all into the jazz-funk revival that’s grown out of the smooth jazz production approach and is currently independently releasing some seriously strong bass oriented jazz/funk albums that have really peaked my interest as a listener.


While I am aware that people such as Stanley Clarke and the late Jaco Pastorious didn’t make this list? Well,these are only the bassists that had the most personal musical influence on me. And the appreciation of what we listen to and for in the music in our lives has a highly individual approach too. At the same time? If you can dance to the beat of the drum? Your probably already on the road to being able to pop to the beat of the bass line as well.

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Filed under Bernard Edwards, Bootsy Collins, Crusaders, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Funk Bass, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, James Jamerson, Jazz, Larry Graham, Louis Johnson, Louis Satterfield, Marcus Mller, Mark King, Michael Henderson, Motown, Peter Muller, Wilton Felder