Category Archives: Louis Johnson

Look Out For #1@40-George & Louis Johnson Tell Us About The Funk That All Of Us Release

Somehow it never occurred to me that the Brothers Johnson’s debut album Look Out For#1 was celebrating its 40th anniversary. Sadly,it did so without the presence of the late great Louis Johnson-who passed away in the spring of 2015. One of the most important things to say about this album,released on new years day of 1976,is that it represents the very peak of #1 funk-a time when the music was at its strongest in terms of crossover. It was also Quincy Jones’ first major funk/soul production for another artist. Which in turn paved the way for Quincy’s success in that arena in the early 80’s.

George and Louis Johnson started playing professionally with Billy Preston as teenagers. As they approached adulthood,the guitar/bass duo backed up Quincy Jones on his 1975 album Mellow Madness. The setup was that the brothers wrote the songs,played the guitar and bass parts while George did the majority of the vocals with his high,percussive vocal stutter.  This was essentially the setup for Look Out For #1. Other prominent jazz/funk instrumentalists such as Dave Grusin,Ian Underwood,Lee Ritenour ,Billy Cobham,Toots Thielemans and Ernie Watts were among the musicians who played on the album as well.

One thing I’ve come to appreciate about this album is how it presents funk at its best recorded,produced and with its highest variety. “I’ll Be Good To You”,the primary single for the album,has a strong Sly & The Family Stone melodic singability. The instrumental “Tomorrow” has a similarly melodic vibe about it. Of course the song that gets the most harmonically advanced about that style is “Land Of Ladies”,the one song sung by Louis in his grunting,cooing vocal approach. Of course,after one goes from there Look Out For #1 is extremely dense with funk.

“Get The Funk Out Of My Face” is the most commercially successful example of this albums funkiness-with its fast tempo and processed wah wah effects. “Free And Single” and ‘Dancin’ And Prancin'”,with their heavy horn charts,take that same sound to the next logical step. A version of The Beatles “Come Together” and the closing “The Devil” are slow,gurgling deep funk that just grind the groove into the subconscious very deeply. The groove that pulls the sound of this entire album together in one song is titled for the brothers nicknames “Thunder Thumbs And Lightin’ Licks”.

There’s a deep point to this album that actually passed by even me,an avid funkateer,for sometime. A lot of times,even the most classic funk albums of this period mixed heavy funk in with jazz,rock or heavily arranged ballad material on an album. Even though this album has at least one slower ballad type number,the main priority of this album is on heavy uptempo funk. The immense talent of the Johnson brothers,as well as the instrumentalists playing with them,showcase how much the funk genre celebrates instrumental,melodic and rhythmic complication at its finest.

Conceptually,this album attracted me from the first time I saw the album cover on CD 20 years ago this year. It was a fish eye view from below,featuring the brothers playing their bass and guitar in front of a bright blue sky-both seemingly in the middle of singing. George is wearing a silver shirt and slacks with Louis has a silky,Indian looking shirt draped over him while in jeans. The whole image is that of just what they were-two super hip young brothers looking to play funky music for the people with enormous skill,style and flair. And that is what Look Out For#1 represents to me as it turns 40 years old.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1976, Billy Cobham, Brothers Johnson, classic albums, classic funk, Dave Grusin, Ernie Watts, Funk, funk albums, Funk Bass, funk guitar, George Johnson, Ian Underwood, instrumental, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Quincy Jones, Toots Theilmans

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Twinkle” by Earl Klugh

Earl Klugh is an artist who really changed my perception of the acoustic guitar. Growing up,I saw it as sounding a somewhat trite sound. Primarily a folk instrument to accompany singers doing verse upon verse type songs. That changed a bit when hearing my dad play records by the classical guitarist Julian Bream. But Klugh blew it out the box for me. He really brought out the gutbucket blues and jazzy licks on his guitar. And got me closer to the understanding that the earliest blues numbers were written and played on acoustic guitar.

A Detroit native,Klugh was inspired to play guitar by first hearing Chet Atkins play on TV. As he grew as a player Wes Montgomery,Ray Parker Jr. and pianist Bob James (with whom he’d later collaborate) became huge influences on him. Not just his sound,but his smooth jazz/funk rhythm section. This ethic bought him multiple Grammy nominations and wins over the years. One of my favorite grooves of his came…from his 1981 album Crazy For You-given to me on a cassette a janitor at my dad’s old job saved from the dumpster. The song on this album that keeps my attention up to this very day is called “Twinkle”.

Greg Phillinganes and Pauliho Da Costa start the song off with a percussion/Fender Rhodes melody before Raymond Pounds’ drums kick in over Phillinganes synth solo and the slap bass of Louis Johnson. The refrain adds Pounds drums to the opening melody as Klugh’s guitar is playing and improvising off the bluesy main melody. On the choruses,the same rhythm section play closer to Klugh’s melody. On the second refrain,Philliganes Rhodes takes a bit more presidents. On the bridge,Johnson’s slap bass solo is accompanied by Da Costa’s percussion Phillinganes’ synth brass and Klugh’s guitar riffs fade out the song.

With 16 years to live with this song across the tape,vinyl and CD formats,this represents as close to sheer musical perfection in the sophistifunk end of the jazz funk/fusion genre. The Westlake studio musicians bring to this song the same level of production sheen,razor sharp instrumental chops that Quincy Jones would’ve brought to his productions at the same time. Klugh’s guitar solos had a somewhat old timey blues/jazz flavor in the melodic department. Yet the modernistic early 80’s instrumental production gave the song a sparkling blend of old and new.

 

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Filed under 1980's, acoustic guitar, drums, Earl Klugh, Fender Rhodes, Greg Philinganes, jazz funk, Louis Johnson, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Raymond Pounds, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizers, West Coast

Off The Wall At 37: The Album That Forever Changed Michael Jackson’s Career

MJ Off The Wall

Yesterday,Michael Jackson’s 1979 album Off The Wall celebrated its 30th anniversary. The album was reissued on CD with its full cover art for the first time in the new millennium in the US. A special bonus edition also features Spike Lee’s documentary film ‘Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown To Off The Wall’. Personally I’ve come to view Off The Wall this way: the people who love MJ’s most musical aspects love this album,whereas those who appreciate him more as a commercial phenomenon showcase his finest album as being 1982’s Thriller.

Before 1979,Michael Jackson was mainly the charismatic lead singer for The Jackson 5/Jacksons. He had a four album solo career on Motown in the early/mid 70’s too. Still,that album was very much connected to the music he was doing with his brothers. It was becoming more apparent as he grew that he would again have a solo career. Not sure if anyone anticipate that after 1979,MJ would become the Sammy Davis Jr. of his day-only one where the post civil rights era really allowed him to shine more as performer. On that musical level,here’s the content of a review I wrote about it six years ago.


In terms of someone like Michael Jackson,different phases of his career will impact on people differently. For some reason this album pretty much locks into my own brain as his general peak of his career. Despite the record breaking success he’d have in the 80’s,this album stands as one that says the most about his musical character. We all know the history. Mike meets up with Quincy Jones during the production of [[ASIN:B000XUOLNO The Wiz]],they begin recording this album with the help of some of the biggest musicians and songwriters of the era and so begins a new chapter for him.

No longer would Mike’s solo career be an adjunct to that of his brothers. And while still a functional member of The Jacksons at the time of this recording,his own self identity was being developed here as well. This album has some very unique hallmarks. It’s heavy on production but musically focused. It’s sophistifunk of the highest degree but heavier on the funk than the sophistication. Most important,pop considerations are very important here but Mike is not yet defining himself as the King Of Pop.

“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”,which despite may hearings flaunts it’s obvious late 70’s Barry White influence heavily couldn’t be a better way to start this album.”Rock With You” of course owes it’s grooving sleekness in part to Rufus’ Bobby Watson’s fluid bass line as much as it does to Mike’s elastic vocal. Now “Working Day And Night” is one of the most inspired and strong minded funk jams Mike ever made. He’d never quite got on the one in the same way before or after this.

“Get On The Floor” and the title song both work the disco floor,the former heavier on the funk end and the latter more on the urban dance side moving to the post disco era a bit more. Over the years I always say his cover of McCartney’s “Girlfriend” as a week link but it’s a vital straight ahead pop piece with some modern R&B/funk production elements for a little spiciness. “She’s Out Of My Life”,a very sad ballad Mike actually cannot keep a dry eye to himself is a rich interpretation of an orchestral,non rhythmic ballad.

Of course to my ears the finest ballad tune here is the more mid tempo “I Can’t Help It” from Stevie Wonder-featuring both Wonder’s unique way with chord progressions and electronics that Mike takes to maximum vocal effect. “It’s The Falling In Love”,a mid tempo pop/soul type duet with Patti Austin comes to “Burn This Disco Out”,a steamy horn funk closer finding Mike throwing down his best and underused bass vocals.

There are many people who to this day contest that this is Michael Jacksons finest solo album for a musical perspective. And I cannot say there isn’t a point there. Something about the music he made with and without his brothers circa 1978-1981 had a certain flavor to it that I don’t honestly think he ever fully recaptured. This period,culminating in a way with this and The Jacksons [[ASIN:B001BKMC9K Triumph]],recorded around the same time but released the following year, really allowed Mike to fully take command in interpreting  his own compositions

But it also let him be the most involved with the creative environment provided via Quincy Jones and his engineer Bruce Swedien. This wasn’t a Michael Jackson who wasn’t very concerned about breaking records,media attention,adulation of fans or indulging in potentially scandalous behavior. This WAS a Michael Jackson who had matured into adulthood creatively. And on that front was in a similarly energized state as he was a decade earlier when the J5 first debut for Motown. As such this album is as much as the conclusion of something as it was a new beginning. And that enthusiastic quality drips from every pore of the music you’ll find here.


Off The Wall  winds up being one of those albums where one’s perception of it evolves with time. Its instantly lovable,especially for any funk and post disco enthusiast. Considering the artist itself and the primary bass player here Louis Johnson aren’t with us anymore,I now look at the album this way. It represents the era when each Michael Jackson/Jacksons album was distinctly different. This album really prioritized live strings,horns and a rhythm section. The same personnel also produced the more electronic boogie sounding number “Sunset Driver” for this session. Shows just how distinctive MJ hoped this to be.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bobby Watson, Bruce Swedien, classic albums, disco funk, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Off The Wall, post disco, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, Spike Lee

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Tonight We Love” by Rufus

Rufus are extremely important to how funk music has translated into more recent years. As Questlove pointed out so well in his book  Mo Meta Blues while breaking down the 1977 album Ask Rufus, the bands fairly stripped down rhythm section based sound was a stylistic precursor to the neo soul sound of the early/late aughts. When guitarist Tony Maiden joined Rufus in 1974,he came a key focus of the band-often duetting with his voice and guitar with the bands iconic lead vocalist Chaka Khan. When Chaka left the band in the late 70’s to pursue a solo career,Rufus started recording albums without her.

The second of these post-Chaka Khan Rufus albums was 1981’s Party ‘Til You’re Broke. On this album the main instrumental,songwriting and vocal focuses shifted directly to Tony and the bands late 70’s keyboardist David “Hawk” Wolinksi. It was yet another album that music literature of my adolescence instructed readers to avoid. Ended up finding a vinyl copy at a small record shop in NYC while visiting my aunt. More recently I picked up a Japanese import CD of it. Still it really stopped me in my tracks to throw this vinyl on my aunt’s old turntable and be blown away RIGHT away with “Tonight We Love”.

John Robinson kicks right on the snare heavy funk drums. Hawk accents every other beat with his deep descending Moog bass. That synth bass worms it’s way trombone style into the main song. This consists of that squiggling synth bass accompanied by a higher pitched synth melody,Tony Maiden’s brittle drum-like chicken scratch guitar and the thick slap bass of Louis Johnson. Johnson’s bass and Tony’s rock guitar throw down hold down the refrains-while an easy going rhythm guitar holds down the fort along with more synth accents from Hawk and Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements.

On the choruses of the song,the main melodic statement turns to beginning theme of the song afer the main synth bass/drum intro-with Hey’s horn charts playing direct call and response to the vocal hook. There’s a second refrain after the second play of the chorus-this one in a more major key and featuring Hey’s woodwinds for the melodic statement. After a huge horn fanfare and drum roll,the song strips down to the drums again with Louis Johnson throwing down an ultra funky slap bass solo. After this-the song essentially reboots itself for another round of refrains/choruses before the groove fades out.

“Tonight We Love” is simply an amazing song. I’d personally put it up there as the finest funk Rufus made after Chaka Khan went solo. The late Louis Johnson almost acts as an official member of Rufus hear-his slap bass as much the star of the show as Tony’s many different guitar licks and Hawk’s many keyboard parts. This is a very Westlake studio oriented boogie/post disco type production-very well played on and produced. All the same,the funk kicks extremely hard in that classic “rufusized” sort of way. With the driving synths,guitar,drums and bass this is some serious early 80’s hard funk.

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Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, chicken scratch guitar, David Hawk Wolinski, drums, Funk, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Louis Johnson, Moog bass, post disco, rock guitar, Rufus, slap bass, synthesizers, Tony Maiden

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Twilight Clone” by Herbie Hancock (1981)

Herbie Hancock’s four pre Future Shock albums in the early 80’s albums have always been very special to me personally. They may not have been massively successful commercially, but were some of his most potent jazz/funk masterpieces of his electric period. One of my favorite albums of this period was his third released from the 1981’s entitled Magic Windows. The album was by and large a heavy funk set including heavy participation from Ray Parker Jr.,who’d been working with Hancock for six years and for whom  Hancock composed the song “Tonight’s The Night” for his Raydio project a year before-during which Hancock released two albums of his own in Monster and Mr.Hands.

This album was recorded at David Rubinson’s Automat studio’s in San Francisco,a studio known for it’s early embrace of automatic mixing technology as well as some of the biggest producers and musicians who recorded there. Perhaps realizing how his using synthesizers to play horn charts was influences the oncoming 80’s boogie/electro funk sound,Hancock touted this album as having no strings,brass or other orchestral elements on this album outside his electronics. Having been inspired by Talking Head’s electronic Afro-Funk explosions on their Remain In Light album,Hancock bought in Adrian Belew from their band for the his new albums finale entitled “The Twilight Clone”.

The song builds from the funky shuffle of Hancock’s drums and Paulinho da Costa’s percussion (along with a host of others) accents. Louis Johnson chimes in with one of his thickest slap bass lines before Hancock comes back in with a brittle LinnDrum beat and  bubbling,mechanical and percussive synths. George Johnson joins in for chugging rhythm guitar,and all of this is accented by Hancock’s own synth bass line. Belew’s trademark “zoo guitar” sound plays the lead line with a very Arabic style melody. Shortly after the song goes up in pitch melodically,the bridge showcases a guitar/percussive breakdown between Da Costa, Johnson and Belew before fading out on it’s own main chorus.

On many levels,this is my favorite Herbie Hancock song of the 1980’s. It’s a perfect example of the electro funk process functioning strongly on the rhythm of the one. Hancock sets the pass as the drummer on this song,as well as providing his synthesizers as a percussive element in much the same way as he had on “Nobu” eight years earlier. He brings in the Arabic melodic tones of Adrian Belew’s horn-like guitar into the Afrocentric percussion Paulinho Da Costa brings to it. Of course the heavy funk element is locked down tight by the Brothers Johnson. So this song essentially acts as the total nucleus of what Hancock’s mid/late 80’s sound would be on a technological and structural level.

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Filed under 1980's, Adrian Belew, Boogie Funk, Brothers Johnson, David Rubinson, drums, elecro funk, George Johnson, guitar, Herbie Hancock, Linn Drum, Louis Johnson, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, rhythm guitar, San Francisco, synth bass, synth brass, Synth Pop, synthesizer, The Automat, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of The Groove: “Off Broadway” by George Benson (1980)-Instrumental

George Benson is one of my favorite overall musicians. Both my friend Henrique and I both agree on this. For the last couple of years,one major topic between us is how much of a virtuoso player Benson is. Over years of playing and singing,the man developed a technique of scatting over his guitar playing that became part of his signature sound. When thinking about paying tribute to this man’s rich and full musical legacy,it seemed right to showcase his talents on two levels: as a singer and as an instrumentalist. And considering Benson’s vast body of recorded music,that is no easy task. There was one song that bounced right into my head however.

Growing up,I always spoke of Benson’s hit “Give Me The Night” and Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” in the same sentence. It wasn’t for years that I learned that both were in fact recorded with the same group of musicians. And both were produced by Quincy Jones. Give Me The Night is also Benson’s album from 1980. And a huge commercial success too on the strength of the title song and “Love X Love”. Taken as a whole it was a wonderful and diverse album. And there is one song on it that really catches my ear on a strictly musical level. It’s title is something an extension off another of Benson’s big hits from four years earlier and is called “Off Broadway”.

Rufus’s John Robinson’s drum kick gets the song rolling with Jerry Hey’s melodic horns, the late Louis Johnson’s bass thump and a duet between Benson’s bluesy guitar horn with Lee Ritenour’s more ticklish accessory line . Greg Phillinganes adds in blipping,chiming synthesizers along with a bass one. This goes into before Paulinho da Costa’s high every percussion comes in for the Brazilian style chorus where Benson plays the melodic solo. Hey’s horns and strings scale out of this-on two occasions within the song. The final refrains find Benson taking one of his chordally thick solos-vocalizing with it in his classic style on the final bars of the song.

Composed by Rod Temperton,one of my favorite jazzy funk/dance songwriters. The musicianship on this song is pretty close to amazing. Everyone involved is at their melodic and rhythmic best on this song. Although these are most of LA’s finest and most prolific session musicians of the day,Benson sounds as if he’s playing with a self contained jazz/funk band who’ve been playing for years like The Crusaders. Benson plays both a very basic melodic line on this song-one that’s very open and vocal in tone. That virtuoso style of soloing really lets go on those final refrains. And this song therefore gives you a groove that jams along by virtue of two different approaches of George Benson’s boss  of a guitar.

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Latin jazz, drums, Funk Bass, George Benson, Greg Philinganes, guitar, horns, jazz funk, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, strings, synth bass, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Dude” by Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones has been on my mind a lot lately when thinking about music. Last week in fact,my friend Henrique pointed out something he read on the back of a vinyl album about how important Quincy was to the jazz world in general. And this was at the height of his career no less. From being mentored by Clark Terry in the 1940’s up to helping shape up and coming hip-hoppers 60 years later,the evolutionary nature of Quincy’s career had me wondering how to present his music here today. The question was would it be good to express that musical arc by overviewing several songs from several decades,or focus on one song that might tell it’s own kind of story about Quincy Jones.

Last year at this time,I posted up an older review I had done for the 1981 Quincy Jones release of The Dude. Albums released under his own name always had a specific flavor to them. For example,his early albums showcased him largely as an instrumental band leader. His releases since the 70’s have generally been showcases not only for his evolving production approach,but also with the different musicians and vocalists he was involved with or mentoring at the given time. In the case of this early 80’s album,the spotlight was on James Ingram and Patti Austin. And the title track of the album said so much about where the classic Quincy Jones sound was going to be at that time.

A pulsing,nasal synthesizer starts off the song before the drums and horns kick in. This is accompanied by opening backup that includes Syreeta Wright and Michael Jackson among a massive chorus. The horns lead into a stripped down percussion break  that’s accented by a slow crawling drum beat-over which a bluesy Fender Rhodes plays the lead keyboard line accented by Louis Johnson’s slap bass lines. The refrains start off with Austin and Ingram trading off vocals along. with Michael Boddicker’s Vocoder. Quincy himself provides a rap as the title character on several choruses after which the horns the male backup singers provide an accompanying chorus.

On the third of these choruses, the backup chorus led along by Austin sings a swinging variation of the chorus. Steve Luckather comes in to play a wah wah pedal heavy guitar line that mimics the low volume,bluesy solo on the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that comes out of Stevie Wonder on the bridge,which basically repeats the melodic theme of the refrain. After this the fanfarring horns that generally introduce Quincy raps instead segues into Austin’s swinging vocal choruses. There’s a repeat of the refrain after this. And the song fades out on a repeat of the chorus. Only on this one,Ingram accentuates the lyrics vocally before the song comes to an end.

Getting back to Quincy’s varied musical career,there are many qualities in this song that sum up everything he had done in his then nearly four decades of creative activity. The classic Westlake studio crew including drummer John Robinson,percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,trumpeter/arranger Jerry Hey and of course Louis Johnson play on this number. On the surface,this song written with Patti Austin and Rod Temperton has that sleek west coast production matched with the deep funk groove Quincy had been perfecting over much of the 1970’s. On that level,it’s alternately stripped down and boisterous depending on the mood the song is trying to project at a given time.

On the broader level,this song totally epitomizes the musical evolution of Quincy thus far. The accessory vocal harmonies on the chorus reflect the big band swing era as do the horns. And Stevie Wonder’s synth solo additionally brings the flavor of the blusiness that came from jazz to rock ‘n roll and onto funk and soul as well. The character of “The Dude”,represented as a stone sculpture on the cover and later to become Quincy’d mascot for his media production company,is basically an elder statesmen whose philosophy could be summed up by him stating “don’t put your moth around a check that your body can’t cash”. In this instance for me,this is Quincy’s most defining song overall up to this point.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, big band swing, blues funk, Fender Rhodes, horns, James Ingram, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Quincy Jones, QWest, rap, Rod Temperton, slap bass, Steve Luckather, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder, wah wah guitar, West Coast

Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk for 5/25/2015: “Thunder Thumbs And Lightnin’ Licks” by The Brothers Johnson

1976 now emerges for me as a tremendous year in funk. Name dropping in this case doesn’t only seem required, but very necessary. You had Earth Wind & Fire with “Getaway” and “Saturday Night”,The Isley Brothers with “People Of Today”,Graham Central Station With “Entrow” and “Mirror”,Isaac Hayes’s “Groove-A-Thon”,Kool & The Gang with “Open Sesame”,Herbie Hancock’s “Doin’ it”,The Crusaders with “Spiral” and “Feeling Funky”,Stevie Wonder with “I Wish” and “All Day Sucker”.And the list goes on.

Even in the jazz and rock sections of record stores? The funk seemed to be everywhere by this time with Steely Dan,Jeff Beck,The Doobie Brothers and Edgar Winter. Also during this year? There were the appearances of a few new artists who my friend Rique described so well as basically saying to the world “we’re the new generation of funk”.

George and the now late Louis Johnson were an LA bass/guitar duo who began their career as session people for big name stars of the early 70’s such as Bill Withers,Bobby Womack and Billy Preston. On an apparent audition for Stevie Wonder’s band Wonderlove? They were overheard by Quincy Jones. He bought them in to play,write and sing on his 1975 album Mellow Madness.

The Johnson’s could not have had a more totally complete introduction if they tried. They had the support of Quincy,the access to the huge bevy of instrumentals that his reference provided and signing to the (at the time) artist owned A&M Records for their 1976 debut Look Out For #1. The second song on this album is an instrumental that, for me, showcases what really made them musically. It’s titled after the brothers nicknames-“Thunder Thumbs And Lightnin’ Licks”.

The song begins with a delayed drum from Harvey Mason-accented by a bassy,greasy Clavinet solo from Dave Grusin introducing the first refrain. He then comes in with a higher,pitched bent synthesizer playing a bluesy guitar like riff that launches into a similarly themed full on melody of the song. This main chorus features George and Louis bass/guitar interaction mixed up high along with the melody. On the second refrain? Sahib Shihab plays an improvisation of the bluesy theme on flute.

After another chorus and refrain that again improvises on their two melodic themes? There’s a bridge which heavily emphasizes the timbale work of Billy Cobham-with a little vocal jiving from the brothers themselves. After this the song returns to the man chorus-with swells into a James Brown like sustained rhythm guitar-let along by Glenn Farris’s trombone to the fade. Throughout the song? The trumpets and sax’s of Chuck Findley,Ernie Watts and Bill Lamb  play call and response to everything else going on in the song itself.

The first time I ever heard this song,when I was about 11 years old? It was played at the beginning of a late 70’s Saturday Night Live sketch starring Steve Martin,which took place in a disco. I instantly loved the groove,though it was a very minor aspect of the sketch itself. But did not know what it was. Nor who the Johnson brothers were. First time I heard this album in my early 20’s? It was very exciting to be able to identify this song I’d loved for years.

While I have many examples of this I could rattle off? This is one of those songs that, for me, represents funk at it’s most solid and complete. Both instrumentally and production wise. Quincy polishes up the sheen of this groove-featuring jazz/funk session greats with the new artists’ for some of the most expertly enthusiastic playing of the 70’s funk era. Rhythmically it’s a direct transition from the thick,phat approach of the “united funk” years to the more polished rhythms of the disco era to come. It’s one of the my favorite, and most defining funk instrumentals of all time.

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Filed under 1970's, Billy Cobham, Brothers Johnson, Dave Grusin, Ernie Watts, Funk, Funk Bass, George Johnson, Harvey Mason, Jazz-Funk, Louis Johnson, Quincy Jones, Sahib Shihab

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 5/23/2015: ‘Winners (Expanded Edition) by The Brothers Johnson

Brothers Johnson Winners

Released in the immediate aftermath of the Johnson’s split with the Quincy Jones production team they had the excellent sense to take the same talented people they’d worked with over the years along with them. All the same this album proved an enormous dip in commercial success and,as far as I know this is the first CD reissue of this particular album. I had the vinyl for years and barely ever played it. In that format it always seemed a little lacking to me musically and it still is in some ways.

The main reason is that the one thing the Johnson’s couldn’t take with them from Jones was the years of arranging and production experience so when they produced and arranged this album themselves everything was given a similar flavor at times but overall it lacks the clever touches,especially certain electronic ones that Quincy often added to spice up his productions. Otherwise,in some ways it’s actually a pretty logical follow up to it’s predecessor even if it doesn’t break any new ground musically.

“The Real Thing” is basically the most obvious response to “Stomp”,lacking only that songs sense of rhythmic build-it comes out of nowhere and more or less stays there. “Dancin’ Free” and “Caught Up” are similarly grooving affairs whereas “Do It For Love” and “Teaser” easily emerge as the harder funk on the album-actually very stripped down production wise which is very appropriate for the times and the emergence of “naked funk”,although none of these songs are the least bit electronic as all the music on this album is extremely organic in nature.

The last half of the album is very unusual as it presents a series of songs with more rock oriented musical devices in keeping with the sound of the Toto members participating in this album. “Hot Mama” in fact is pretty straight out rock n roll with a bit of a funk edge. “I Want You”,”In The Way” and the closer “Daydreamer Dream” actually sound more like arena friendly early 80’s Toto style pop/rock track than anything by The Brothers Johnson. It was an interesting unexplored direction but might have taken people off guard as it did me.

Luckily this reissue solves another problem. Up until now The Brothers Johnson entire recorded output on CD has remained incomplete because all the four “new” cuts featured on their 1982 compilation Blast! were never released on a compilation together. This compilation straightens that out by adding all four of those cuts as bonuses,giving this some of the best bonus cuts I’ve heard on a CD since usually bonus tracks are single edits or alternate takes. Three of these cuts “Welcome To The Club”,the autobiographical “Funk It” and “The Great Awakening” are all a nasty,lightly electro style hardcore naked funk-the latter whose lyrics (as illustrated in the excellent liner notes) are George’s plea to his philandering brother Louis to stat true to certain important people in his life.

This ends with “Echoes Of An Era”,a full on hardcore early 80’s on the Sly Stone style funk groove with a tribute to funk itself. Big Break Records is currently THE BEST funk,soul and R&B reissue label currently around. Particularly in the way they present rare albums such as this with excellent sound,great liner notes with well written information and photos and bonus tracks the same way rock and jazz albums have been getting domestically. And this is an excellent reissue in a series of them that actually helped me reappraise music I’d previously had uncertain thoughts about.

Originally Posted On May 10th,2011

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Big Break Records, Brothers Johnson, electro funk, Funk, Funk Bass, George Johnson, Louis Johnson, Music Reviewing, Quincy Jones, reissues, Sly Stone

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 5/22/2015: “A Touch Of Class” by Louis Johnson

After waking up and having the usual inner dialog about what song to blog about this week? Rique informed me of the sad news that Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson had passed away at the age of 60. Now,I was very back and forth about whether or not this matter should be addressed so soon. For one? Just did a major piece on the Brothers Johnson on the birthday of Louis’s eldest brother George. Another was that I didn’t want to come across as exploiting a tremendous talent I had nothing but respect and admiration for.

Took a 10-15 minute Facebook conservation with Rique to decide me on the matter. Louis’s career as a huge hit making and critically acclaimed musical success peaked at a crucial point in the music. A point where the circular nature of taste was veering away from instrumentalists again and back towards popular vocalists-following the post disco era. Taking a break from recording with brother George? Louis released his first and only solo album entitled Evolution in 1985. And smack dab in the center of the album was a song called “A Touch Of Class”. A song that left a strong impression on me personally.

Beginning with a slow paced,brittle uptempo drum machine rhythm accented with electronic hi hat on the second beat? Johnson’s slap bass comes right in and fast becomes the central body of the song. After this? A series of synthesizer based melodies build. The first is a more percussive oriented one-joined almost immediately by a light improvised trumpet melody from Bobby Rodriquez. Following this? Three more orchestral synthesizer elements come into the song that create something of the environment of big band horn sections-including voicing’s for trumpet,sax and trombone interactions. Following yet another solo for Johnson’s slap bass? A jazzier keyboard solo comes in before a series of twittering bird like,and more abstract electronics close out the jam.

First thing about this song that really impressed me was the fact that it was an instrumental. On a pop album rather than a jazz one. This was very common during the height of the 70’s funk era. Yet by 1985 in particular? Full on instrumentals were, in fact a lot less common on pop,rock,funk and soul records of the period. Louis Johnson celebrated his instrumentally based musicality in another important way on this song. Using then contemporary synthesizers and drum machines? He uses the medium of electro funk production to created a series of solos which accent (and emulate) his iconic slap bass playing. As a multi instrumentalist here? He accents Rodriquez’s single trumpet solo here with Quincy Jones-like orchestral synth arrangements. As a high quality joining of big band jazz and funk in the style of his mentor? This song in particular is, for me anyway, a wonderful solo musical legacy for the man to have left behind.

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Filed under 1980's, Bobby Rodriquez, Brothers Johnson, electro funk, Funk, Funk Bass, George Johnson, instrumental, Jazz-Funk, Louis Johnson, Quincy Jones, slap bass