Dennis Edwards, lead singer of the Temptations from 1968-1976 and again from 1980 to 1987 and Leon Ndugu Chancler, best known as the drummer on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”, both passed away within two days of each other this week. The former at age 74, the later at 65. The interesting part of it was Ndugu passed away on what would’ve been Edwards’ 75th birthday-on February 3rd, 2018. Edwards was a singer, Chancler was a jazz session drummer. And it was still surprising to me the breadth of commonalities these two late musical figures have in common.
Dennis and Ndugu both hailed from the South. Edwards from Alabama, Chancler from Louisiana. They both left the South- Edwards for Detroit and Chancler for California. Both men studied their craft at universities in their adopted home towns. Their career paths differed-as Ndugu became a session player for artists ranging from George Benson to Kenny Rogers. And he was even George Duke’s main drummer for a decade or so. Edward’s became the lead singer of The Tempts during their psychedelic soul period. And the two finally crossed paths on the 1982 song “Money’s Hard To Get”.
Kerry Ashby’s synth bass provides the intro to a song-played in close unison to Stevie Wonder’s bassist Nathan Watts. Ndugu’s powerful drums then come in playing right in the the pocket. Along with Melvin “Wah Wah Watson” Ragin’s nimble rhythm guitar, that also comprises the refrains of the song. The chorus features Benjamin F. Wright Jr’s ultra funky horn arrangements-whereas those two sides of the songs are linked by a unison vocal passage with Ashby’s synth bass playing a more clomping style. After a bridge featuring a synth solo with the horns, an extended chorus fades out the song.
“Money’s Hard To Get” finds both Dennis Edwards and Ndugu Chancler at some of their very finest. Edward’s second tenure with The Tempts as at its peak vocal powers here-in a reunion with the seven then surviving members. His voice follows the emotional attitude of the song too-itself a classic soul tale of “love or money” somewhat in the vain of The Isley’s “Work To Do”. Chancler’s drummer, along the the horns, rhythm guitar and electric/synth bass fusion make this a terrific example of early 80’s post disco/boogie melding the live sounds of the 70’s with the electronic/new wave ones of the 80’s.
The Crusaders were a band whom I somehow would’ve thought were out of commission by the mid 80’s. In 1983,the bands original drummer Styx Hooper left the group. And they hadn’t recorded any new studio material under their own name for a few years at that point. The core of the Crusaders,by any other name,was always Joe Sample and Wilton Felder. Neither are with us anymore. But in 1984 they rebounded as a trio with George Duke’s former drumer Leon Ndugu Chancler as the successor to Hooper. That year they released the album Ghetto Blaster,with cover art by the ever distinctive Ernie Barnes.
Ghetto Blaster is the first album to help me to realize the Crusaders were very active as a group during the 80’s. They continued to record and tour every few years during the decade. I found the vinyl copy for under a dollar about 15-16 years ago. Every song on the album was so diverse and impressive,actually decided to hunt down the original CD. It wasn’t terribly easy to find,but managed to get hold of it last year. Its an album that I always wanted to cover a song from here on Andresmusictalk. In the end,the best track I could pick to break down would be its first,entitled “Dead End”.
Ndugu and the songs composer Joe Sample get the groove started with their combination of a two bar drum that kicks heavy on the snare around the middle and the slithering 9 note synth bass. One of the five guest guitarists present on this album picks a rhythm guitar lick into another rhythm guitar lick on top of the basic groove. Sample comes back in with some heavy polyphonic synth brass-changing chords at the B section before adding his trademark electric piano solo on the first bridge. Wilton Felder takes a solo on the second bridge before the song fades on its original theme.
“Dead End” is a wonderful example of the Crusaders updating their signature well oiled jazz funk sound for the boogie/electro funk era. The lean production of the era was actually really good for the Crusaders rhythm section based sound. Where this differs from a lot of boogie/naked funk productions is that it totally maintains the jazz/funk genre’s emphasis on instrumental soloing. Sample provides a superb and very vocal lead synth brass melody. But he and Wilton also take the time to solo in their classic style. That makes this song perhaps the ideal Crusaders song for the mid 1980’s.
Carlos Santana’s recording career has now spanned 46 years. From his upbringing in Mexico to being the band leader of Santana,his 69th birthday today is an excellent to point out one of the qualities that likely led to his longevity as a musician. One that’s not related to him having one of the most distinctive guitar tones of the last four decades. Like many jazz musicians,Santana’s music has evolved across a number of distinct periods. His percussion heavy Latin sound has remained intact for all of them. Yet the framework’s that sound settles into are always expanding with new developments in recorded music.
During the transition from the early to mid 1970’s,the Santana band itself was was going through one such transition. Starting out as major players on the Bay Area psychedelic rock scene in San Francisco,Carlos was doing more playing with musicians such as John McLaughlin and Alice Coltrane. His interest in jazz extended into funk,always an aspect of Santana’s sound too. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the bands album Amigos, which emphasized their new jazz funk sound most prominently. One such song of this style that keeps growing on me all the time is called “Tell me Are You Tired”.
A processed Fender Rhodes two note scale,separated by a cymbal crash,begin the song. David Brown’s bass then leads the congas and percussion along with the same two note Rhodes solo through the remainder of the refrain. The upcoming chorus has two parts. One contains a massively funky drum with an equally funky Clavinet solo. The second part is built around a lively Afro Brazilian rhythm and female choir vocals. After a second refrain and chorus,an increasingly intense improvisational Rhodes solo takes over the song even as the female choir vocal end of the refrain fades out the song.
Written by the songs drummer and Leon Ndugu Chancler and it’s keyboardist Tom Coster,this song really showcases Carlos Santana’s presence as a bandleader and inspiration more than a soloing instrumentalist. Coster really takes off on this song-both on Fender Rhodes and Clavinet electric pianos accompanying Greg Walker’s lead vocals. Santana’s funkiness seems to come from him always favoring a highly collective style of instrumental band style. And the funk genre made that ethic it’s strongest emphasis. And this unsung album cut is a shining light for Santana’s funkier grooves.
Filed under 1970's, Carlos Santana, clavinet, David Brown, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Greg Walker, jazz funk, Leon Ndugu Chancler, percussion, San Francisco, Santana, Tom Coster