Category Archives: Luther Vandross

Never Too Much At 35 : The Sugar And Spice Of Luther Vandross

Never Too Much

Luther Vandross is someone whom I’ve come to view as the 80’s era Smokey Robinson. His focus was on the sensitive male soul singer of the 70’s era Thom Bell variety. At the same time, he over a decade of experience as a backup singer before his performance on the band Change’s song “The Glow Of Love”. This in turn led to his solo debut album in 1981’s Never Too Much. This album turns 35 today. Vandross had a difficult time crossing over throughout his life.  But this debut is one of his most defining for many reasons. Here’s an Amazon.com review I wrote five years ago about some of those reasons.


Considering that,similar in manner to the career of Huey Lewis that it took over a decade for the musical career of Luther Vandross to really take off it may also come as no surprise I also got into him rather late. My first exposure to this album came from a cassette tape I found at a yard sale almost a decade and a half ago. At the time what I knew of Luther’s musical accomplishments came from books. Honestly? The album had a pretty near instant appeal when I first heard it.

Considering the fact I was at that point already deeply interest in early 80’s post-disco urban funk/soul and the music of Marcus Miller for that matter,that too was a plus. Two things surprise me. For one,I apparently haven’t reviewed this album I’ve listened to many many times before. Not only that but in the time I’ve listened to this on both tape and CD how much every part of it just gets better and better with the passing of time.

Especially considering the late Vandross’s reputation as a balladeer the music on this album is primarily based in uptempo urban funk. It’s full of great guitar/bass interaction and plenty of heavy popping bass from Marcus Miller. The title song is a great debut hit for Vandross,sophisticated jazzy funk/soul pop with a great guitar line,a popping bass,terrific arrangement and powerful hook.

Even though it wasn’t a hit,the major key “Suger And Spice” has a really heavy bass/guitar rhythm and some great soul/gospel type back round chorus including Vandross himself. “I’ve Been Working” blends in this album Donald Fagen type rock and soul shuffle with one of Vandross’s most powerful vocals on the whole album. “She’s A Super Lady” is basically “Jump To It” mark 1,with this great drum/bass funk break at the beginning from Marcus and Buddy Williams.

While the slow funk grooves of “Don’t You Know That” and “You Stopped Loving Me” are the best slower numbers here to me I’ve actually warmed up a lot to “A House Is Not A Home”. This elongated cover is actually very tastefully and sparingly done,with Vandross actually incorporating some near acapella and bittersweet vocal breaks,particularly near the end. For a debut album this is very effective. It’s fully arranged even though it primarily emphasizes the music of the five core musicians involved.

Not only that but it’s a true showcase for Vandross’s writing and producing talents. Because of the sensitive and sassy nature of his writing,his style in that area lent itself very well (stereotypically that is) to producing for female talent. Most famously Aretha Franklin. And while I enjoy all of Luther’s music on different levels,this album still holds a special place in my heart. And I am sure many others as well.


One of the things about this album that keeps endearing it to me is how much it focuses on Luther Vandross: the funk based post disco soul/pop uptempo artist. For one thing,big time jazz/funk players such as Nat Adderley Jr. and slap bazz maestro Marcus Miller are all over this album. And mixed up high on all these songs. While the melodic singability of Vandross’s writing,producing and arranging are all over this album,its truly amazing how much he was making gospel drenched soul and funk the major priority on his very first solo album. And that’s why its such a special album to me,for what it is.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, classic albums, funky soul, Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller, Music Reviewing, Nat Adderley Jr, Never Too Much, pop funk, post disco, slap bass

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “For The Sweetness Of Your Love” by Luther Vandross

Luther Vandross is one of the later journeyman soul/funk artists of the late 20’th century. This native New Yorker ended up writing for David Bowie,Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway and even a song for the original stage production for The Wiz. A year later he joined up with former members of his early group the Shades Of Jade to form the singing quintet called Luther,who had a couple of minor hits before he sang on Quincy Jones Sounds…and stuff like that album in 1978 before landing a gig with the band Change-singing lead on their 1980 song “The Glow Of Love”. And all of this occurred before he turned 30.

In 1981 he was finally signed up to Epic records and recorded his debut Never Too Much. That and his sophomore solo Forever,For Always, For Love album established his relationship bassist/composer Marcus Miller. This team began additionally writing songs for female soul singers Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin-especially when it came to helming Aretha’s two major comeback hits “Jump To It” and “Get It Right” between 1982 and 83. During that year the pair assembled to put together Vandross’s third solo album. This album was entitled Busy Body. And the song that stands out on the uptempo side for me is called “For The Sweetness Of Your Love”.

Drummer Yogi Horton starts off the groove playing a fast 4/4 beat with some ultra speedy hi hats before Marcus Miller’s metallic synth bass introduces the melody. Doc Powell’s clipped,bubbling rhythm guitar doubled up with Georg Wedenius’s. Marcus plays two lead synth  lines. One has only several notes and plays the slower aspect of the melody,while a slightly higher toned one plays the faster part. On Vandross’s vocal parts,the opening part of the song acts as the refrain along with Marcus’s lightening fast slap bass playing along. Meanwhile his two synth lines represent the chorus. The bridge features a stripped down,instrumental variation of the refrain featuring a percussive synth line before the song closes out with the repetition of the chorus.

Luther Vandross is generally not known for his faster songs-with most of his career arc position him as a balladeer of slower,heavily orchestrated songs. At the same time,Marcus Miller and Vandross’s talents as instrumental arrangers add a lot to his more danceable side. This song not only contains Luther’s Smokey Robinson style lyrical wordplay,but also integrates the brittle energy of early 80’s electro funk. Another thing about this song is how bass heavy it is. The liquid rhythm guitar has a low,heavy tone-as does the two prominent synth bass lines and Marcus’s slap bass itself. The fact this song is so percussively bottom heavy makes this some of the finest funk of Luther’s solo career.

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Filed under 1980's, dance funk, Doc Powell, drums, elecro funk, Georg Wedenius, Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller, rhythm guitar, slap bass, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizers, Yogi Horton

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Instant Love” by Cheryl Lynn

Cheryl Lynn was something of a rarity of her day. Her career came through a performance of the Joe Cocker hit “You Are So Beautiful” on a 1976 episode of The Gong Show-in a manner similar to how an American Idol or The Voice contestant would today. A juggler actually won that episode of The Gong Show she was on. But record companies began courting her to sign up. She ended up on Columbia by 1978. And that same year scored her first hit,and signature song in the disco era classic “Got To Be Real”. With her strong,rangy and loud gospel/soul vocal pipes Lynn was very much creatively suited to uptempo dance/funk as well as melodically complex ballads.

One of the big male producer of female soul/funk singers in the early 1980’s was Luther Vandross. With his sensitive approach and brilliant way with a ballad,his understanding of musical femininity applied in equal measure to uptempo songs. That had a lot to do with the fact that his keyboardist Nat Adderley Jr and of course bassist/composer Marcus Miller are just about two of the funkiest instrumentalists around. In 1982,Lynn worked with Vandross as a producer and his band backing her up for what would turn out to be her fourth album release entitled Instant Love. The title song of this particular album was a real standout groove from her on this album,and the one I’ll be breaking down today.

Marcus’s thumping slap bass begins the song,which moves into the drum playing in somewhat odd time. It’s assisted by a deep piano along with higher pitched synthesizer orchestration. Than the percussion kicks in along with a more brittle bass synthesizer and the higher ones playing horn like accents. Throughout the refrains and the choruses,a JB’s style funk rhythm guitar keeps the groove going strong-both as a higher pitched sound and a deeper one. On those choruses,Vandross himself is audible singing the songs title along with Lynn and his classic team of backup singers. After a bridge featuring her vocally gliding over the stripped down intro,the song fades out on it’s  chorus.

Instrumentally this is heavy,thumping boogie funk at it’s finest. Marcus Miller has just about every musical aspect of this song playing in or around the bass line he lays out. One thing about he and Luther’s uptempo numbers is how they always seemed to equate hard funk jams with big voiced singers. And Cheryl Lynn fit the bill for that. Another thing that Miller and Adderley bring out is the influence of Prince’s Minneapolis sound. The high pitched synth lines are overdubbed to play horn lines throughout the song. So it finds Cheryl Lynn on the forefront of at least two different and exciting movements during the electro funk era.

 

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Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Boogie Funk, Cheryl Lynn, elecro funk, Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller, Minneapolis, Nat Adderley Jr, percussion, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/17/2015: “I’ll Be There” by Chic featuring Nile Rodgers

The contributions to every sub-genre of instrumental oriented funky dance music owes a great debt of gratitude to Nile Rodgers and the Chic Organization. Ever since his major commercial comeback in 2013 with creatively promising most millennial nu funk/disco icons Daft Punk Pharrell Williams on “Get Lucky”. Back in the game of hit production work with new artists such as Tensnake and Sam Smith? Nile began fine tuning some discarded tapes recorded originally for Sister Sledge and featuring the late bassist Bernard Edwards and singer Luther Vandross on vocals, and re-introduced his much anticipated comeback with Chic on a new groove entitled “I’ll Be There”.

It begins with the rolling percussion of Ralph Rolle,with Jerry Barnes bass weaving itself into the mix for a colorful rhythmic tapestry. ‘Nard himself then chimes in on his iconic mid toned rhythm guitar for his always danceable,rhythmic and chunky groove along with melodic (and sometimes spacey) accenting horns.-having Barnes take over on bass as the lead instrument on the vocal refrains. Just before the bridge of the song,the music again reduces down to the bass and percussion sound before even the bass strips out-leaving nothing but the fast paced Afro-Latin percussion before the song fads out on Nile’s chorus.

First thing that I can say about this Chic groove is that it has the complete flavor of a Chic song from their late 70’s,early 80’s heyday. The emphasis is again on the rhythm instruments such as bass,guitar and percussion. These are the elements that made Nile and Chic some of the funkiest musicians of the disco era. As well as being the core element of the post “Rapper’s Delight” take on commercially viable hip-hop that used live musicians as opposed to samples. The music video featuring a then and now look at a fashion conscious lady enjoying old Soul Train episodes,and spinning Chic vinyl records while the current band perform in a contemporary club perfectly captures their modern/retro disco vibe.

Wanted to close off with a little personal story time about myself and Chic. My own adolescence in the mid/late 90’s seemed to represent a gradual change in the music world’s attitude towards disco. It started out with a very virulent hatred in the “disco sucks” mold of the early 80’s freeze out of the music. Yet it ended with huge popular rappers such as Biggie Smalls and even Will Smith sampling disco/post disco era songs with total pride. Not to mention the importance of those songs complete embrace by the public in a positive light. This reminds me of my favorite lyric in this song which says “I don’t want to live in the past,but it’s a nice place to visit”. The disco era at it’s most musically vital represented a full channeling of Afro-Latin world music,big band jazz and the long form rhythms of funk. And it’s wonderful to hear that Chic and Nile Rodgers are still able to pull it all together so wonderfully!

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Filed under 2015, Bernard Edwards, Chic, Daft Punk, Disco, Funk, Funk Bass, Get Lucky, Jerry Barnes, Luther Vandross, Nile Rodgers, nu disco, Pharrell Willaims, Ralpe Rolle, Sam Smith, Sister Sledge, Tensnake