Time and again,instrumentalists who make hit songs function as they do take a faraway back seat to the performers in front of them. This is especially true for session musicians. But it happens in self contained bands as well. One such case was T.J Tindall,the guitarist for the Philadelphia International Records house band MFSB. He not only played on the Soul Train theme song “TSOP”, but contributed that famous down home guitar solo from The Jackson’s “Enjoy Yourself” which I recently overview’d on this blog. The news came to me yesterday from my friend Henry Cooper that Tindall had passed away at age 65. Saddest part is that I’d never heard of this musician before in my life.
MFSB had a similar musical function on the East Coast that Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra had on the West Coast. That is fusing a string orchestra with a hard grooving rhythm section and backup vocalists. Both bands had records of their own out. The difference was that MFSB were not focused on backing up a single artist,much as Stax’s Booker T & The MG’s and Motown’s Funk Brothers had been before them. And they allowed for that ethic to transition from the earlier funk/soul age into the disco era. One song that struck me strongly came from later in their career-their 1980 swansong in fact. And it’s the title track to that final album called “Mysteries Of The World”.
Starting out with a synth phaser’d hi hat accompanied by sweeping cinematic string arrangements,the uptempo rhythm sections kicks right into gear after this intro. It features the drums accentuated by dancing percussion. The bass line has a harmonically rich jazziness about it with a strong thump-with the liquid guitar popping along like musical dewdrops falling on top of it. The processed keyboards providing the melody are accompanied by high pitched,bell like synthesizers on the choral refrains. On the second refrain,a synth solo duets with the strings and extends into a Brazilian style bridge where everything comes together before a more rocking guitar solo fades the song out.
Admittedly I have not heard a lot of MFSB in terms of their full length albums. A lot of what I did hear of them focused on the big orchestration. This song is very different. It strips the song right down to the drums,bass and guitar. On that groove,T.J Tindall’s sound on this seems like a small one-accenting the bass line mainly. But it actually provides a key part of the instrumental flow. Generally speaking I’ve noticed that rhythm guitarists seldom reach out to listeners the way the lead “guitar heroes” who step out front do. Still this proto post disco/boogie number is among my favorites that MFSB put to wax. And a fitting tribute to a now passed instrumental icon in Tindall.
Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, Brazilian Jazz, disco funk, Funk Bass, MFSB, percussion, Philly Soul, post disco, rhythm guitar, synthesizers, T.J. Tindall, Uncategorized
Gene McFadden and John Whitehead had a significant musical legacy before going from being creators to becoming performers of their own. Along with Philadelphia International Records house band MFSB,this pair of songwriters were responsible for some of the labels biggest and most enduring hits-among them “Back Stabbers” for the O’Jays and “Bad Luck” for the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. As such,they were major melodic architects for the music of the burgeoning disco era. The fact that their legacy touched on even Motown acts of the era showcases the extent to which their synergy went while working primarily in the musical backwaters.
Towards the end of the 1970’s, the post disco era seemed to be beginning in earnest. Albums such as Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall came to represent that transition in black dance music. The Philly sound was still doing fairly well at the time. But many of the original groups were re-focused as some of their lead singers went solo in the manner of Teddy Pendergrass. At this point,the strong voiced singers McFadden & Whitehead decided to make the leap from songwriter to artist with their self titled 1979 debut album. It’s first song was one that I personally knew of on a more peripheral level long before I knew of the albums existence. It was called “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”.
The slower tempo four on the floor dance beat gets the groove cooking up with the spacey keyboard washes and PIR’s climactic string arrangements. That same beat seems to develop a high swinging bump about it when the female backup singers began the chorus duetting with fan-faring call and response horns-then the bubbling Brazilian jazz style bass line really gets going in the song. The chorus actually strips down a bit,with less arrangement for the vocal parts as the intro becomes a prelude to the additional choruses of the song. On some of the latter chorus,the bubbling electric burble of the early drum machine adds yet another percussive element into the groove.
With this song,one of Philly’s finest songwriting teams come out on their own with what basically sets the stage for the immediate post disco era. The heavy string and horn orchestrations are still there,as well as the 4/4 dance beat. But the bass lines and additional drum kicks have an extra added spice about them. It all goes right along with the songs lyrical ode to optimism itself. It’s become such an important anthem for many black Generation Xers that Barack Obama used this song during his original campaign for president in 2008. And a part of me would like to hope his last eight years in office owe something to this fine dance floor friendly funky soul/disco classic.
Filed under 1970's, Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now, Barack Obama, Disco, disco funk, Funk Bass, funky soul, Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, McFadden & Whitehead, MFSB, Philly Soul, post disco, Uncategorized