Category Archives: Moog bass

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Devil In Mrs. Jones” by Jerry Butler

Jerry Butler,known as the “Iceman” from Philadelphia DJ George Woods,is someone I consider to be one of the prime architects of the soul ballad. He co wrote the song “For Your Precious Love” with the Impressions. And as Rolling Stone magazine once put it,it embodied that marriage of gospel and doo-wop pop music that became the essence of soul music. Shortly after this 1958 crossover hit,Butler went solo. Many of his early hits such as the calypso flavored”He Will Break Your Heart ” were written by the late,great Curtis Mayfield. He currently serves as County Commissioner for Cooks County,Illinois.

The first time I heard Jerry Butler was from a very unusual source. It was via one of many free vinyl albums from a 1994 WMEB radio giveaway at the University of Maine in Orono that I often reference. The album was a 1976 Motown release entitled Love’s On The Menu. Didn’t yet know anything about Butler’s importance to the history of soul. The song that first stuck out to me was the “Motownphilly” style opener “I Don’t Want Nobody To Know”. Looking into the album today,another stand out song was its only R&B hit in the song “The Devil In Mrs. Jones”.

A cymbal heavy drum swing opens the album,with a thick Moog bass rising into a clucking wah wah guitar. That gives way to the slow crawl of a drum shuffle that’s the rhythm foundation of the song. The thick,ultra funky bass line is uppermost in the song-filling in the empty spaces between the Moog and drums. Female backup vocals and horns color the bluesy melody that leads directly into the chorus of the song.  All the instrumental elements of the song come most prominently into play during the choruses. And its on that chorus that the song repeats on as it fades out.

Somehow when I first heard this album,this song got ignored. Today,it emerges as the heaviest funk I’ve yet heard Jerry Butler record. And of course,the vast majority of Butler’s recorded catalog isn’t something I’m particularly familiar. Known for his deep,smokey baritone on melodic pop soul numbers,”The Devil In Mrs. Jones” not only gives up the funk,but does so with the heaviest possible stomp. Its got the walking wah wah guitar,snaky bass,ticklish Moog synthesizer and slow shuffle that really defined mid 70’s “united funk”. Right along with Butler’s growling vocal turns as well.

 

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Filed under 1976, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Jerry Butler, Moog bass, Motown, musical innovators, wah wah guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “DooWhatChaWannaDoo” by Con Funk Shun

Con Funk Shun are among my favorite funk bands of the 70’s. Originally hailing from Vallejo,California,this band is someone whom my friend and blogging inspiration Henrique Hopkins has a good deal of musical knowledge of. Based on what I heard beforehand, Con Funk Shun were a band with many similarities to Earth,Wind & Fire. They favored well recorded grooves with strong melodies. They also often enlisted the writing/instrumental assistance of Skip Scarborough. Band founder Felton Pilate went into fame on his own by producing MC Hammer on his debut album in 1988.

This band first came to my attention via my dad’s cassette copy of the Best Of Funk Essentials  compilation around 1993. Later on while browsing the cutout CD’s at Borders Books & Music,I came across a reissue of the bands 1977 sophomore album Secrets. At the time,Borders had a CD player behind the counter. And opened CD’s for customers to listen to before purchase. If they didn’t want them after,they’d reseal them. This particular CD was not one I asked them to reseal. And a big part of this was due to the fact the first song really jumped out at me. Its called “DooWhatChaWannaDoo”.

A fast snare drum kick starts out the song. After that,the drum takes on a mild Brazilian flavor-accenting a faster three hit drum on the second beat. Scarborough builds both a high pitched melodic synthesizer and an elaborate Moog bass into the mix as well. The bands horn charts play the main melody of the song-accented by climactic strings. The refrains emphasize the bluesiest aspects of the keyboard parts-while intro represents the chorus. The bridge takes it all down to a chunky high/bass synth duet with accenting strings before the chorus repeats up to the fade out of the song.

“DooWhatChaWannaDoo” is one of those songs that represents the sophistifunk sound at some of its very finest. The keyboards and horns both have an equally thick,gurgling throb about them. And it all manages to accent the very singable (and also elaborate melody) as well. Its a great example of starting off an album with one of its strongest songs that could draw in the listener to its melody and groove. Con Funk Shun ably blend a harder edged Dayton style hard funk vocal and rhythm attitude with the slickness of their West Coast funk contemporaries. And it makes this song a shining example of their funk.

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Filed under 1970's, Con Funk Shun, drums, Felton Pilate, Funk, horns, Moog bass, Skip Scarborough, synthesizer, West Coast

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Fancy Lady” by Billy Preston

Billy Preston was,in a similar manner to Stevie Wonder,an artist who used analog synthesizers,organs and pianos to create totally new sounds during the early/mid 1970’s. Wonder often utilized jazz oriented chord progressions-often emphasizing European classical arrangements as well. The sounds that Preston created were all based in hardcore soul,R&B and what had already occurred thus far with the innovation of funk. What both of them emphasized was a strong love of instrumental layering and love of leading their whole show by soloing on the Clavinet.

By 1975,the connection with Stevie Wonder’s music by Billy Preston became extremely evident. The album he recorded that year,It’s My Pleasure,was recorded at the TONTO synthesizer complex-the same facility used by Wonder,The Isley Brothers and Gil Scott Heron & Brian Jackson during this era. One of this albums hits actually featured a vocal duet with ex wife and frequent creative collaborator of Wonder’s in Syreeta Wright. She would eventually go on to do a duet album with Preston in the early 80’s. The name of this song was called “Fancy Lady”

Preston starts off the song with a descending Moog bass before the drum kicks in. This is a thick snare/cymbal kick surrounded by a bluesy sea of synth layers. This continues on the chorus-with the Moog bass and Clavinet weaving through it all like needle and thread. The refrains that Syreet sang on repeats the intro of the song instrumentally. Their are two instrumental bridges. One features polyphonic synths playing a call and response horn chart while the second is a percussive,unaccompanied drum break. Preston plays a full on synthesizer solo for the last minute and a half or so of the song before it fades out.

From the first time I heard it over 12 years ago,this song always stood out to me. Always had a special affinity for the early synth/proto electro funk that emerged out of the mid 70’s. Especially in such cases like this,it again brought the bluesy soul musical past into the electrified/digitized future. As synthesizers expanded in complexity,electro based music began to rely more on the sound than the musical base. And this is a good example of music that didn’t. Its funky because the synths are fat,play bass,guitar and horn lines and always maintain a heavy,chunky instrumental flavor.

 

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Filed under 1975, Billy Preston, blues funk, clavinet, drums, Moog bass, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers, Syreeta Wright, TONTO

Anatomy of THE Groove: “All Night Long” by Dexter Wansel

Dexter Wansel first became known to me as one of the Philly PIR team who worked on the 1976 debut album by the Jacksons. Being more broadly aware of the Philly soul sound now,Wansel seems to have a very different approach to music than Gamble & Huff and Thom Bell did. With disco era classics such as the Jones Girls “Nights Over Egypt” and “Keep On Dancing”,one of my favorite Jacksons’ songs off that Epic label debut,Dexter Wansel’s arrangements were based in his keyboard and guitar playing. Therefore his productions seem to have some of the funkiest bottoms of 70’s Phily funk and soul.

One thing Wansel also did was maintain a solo presence on PIR concurrent to his productions. One of these albums,which I never managed to pick up on vinyl despite seeing it all the time,was 1978’s Voyager. The album cover always stood out to me as a Trekker/sci fi admirer because of the prominent Star Trek model kit bash featured as some sort of robot riding through the desert. Through MP3 and YouTube,I’ve been fortunate enough to hear this album all the way through.And its an album that starts out with a funky bang with the jam “All Night Long”.

An otherworldly space funk Moog bass starts the song off. Then the drums come in playing a disco era friendly dance/funk beat. This is accompanied  by a mid toned rhythm guitar sustain,accenting horns and a SERIOUS slap bass thump. With the addition of an accompanying Fender Rhodes piano and Wansel’s falsetto/tenor vocal leaps this represents the choruses and refrains of the song. On the last part of the song,a major horn chart segues into a percussive,jumping beat over which a sassy,rocking blues guitar riffs with the phat slap bass and keyboard lines before scratching hard as the song closes out.

Without any hesitation, this is one of the hardest straight up funk jams to come out of the PIR camp. The beat has a swaggering,percussive shuffle. The keyboard/synthesizer parts are layered in a manner that lays somewhere between early 70’s “united funk” and mid/late 70’s space funk. And Wansel’s vocals (I’m pretty sure they’re his) have some of the slyly sexy attitude of his particular musical camp. Honestly I tend to think of Philly soul as the breezy,string laden proto disco sound of the 70’s. This helps showcase Dexter Wansel as a major player in the harder groove based element of the Philly sound.

 

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Filed under 1970's, dance funk, Dexter Wansel, drums, Fender Rhodes, horns, Moog bass, Philadelphia, Philly funk, Philly Soul, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, slap bass, synthesizers

Stanley Clarke: His First Solo Decade

Stanley Clarke painting

Stanley Clarke showcases yet another example of how the City Of Brotherly Love sometimes comes across like the most musical city north of New Orleans. Since NYC and Miami lays between them,it’s more complex than that. That describes Stanley’s approach to bass playing too. He was of course one of the premier jazz fusion bass players of the 70s alongside Jaco Pastorious-with whom he recorded.  He also had a distinct style on the two different bass types-a Larry Graham inspired slap on the electric,and a smooth vamp on the upright acoustic. That helped give his playing style it’s distinctiveness.

I’ve covered one Stanley Clarke song from his most recent album Up,as well as having him be a part of my list of key funky bassists. Thought of covering one or three of his songs on this blogs Anatomy of THE Groove feature. But there’s something about the breadth and expansion of Stanley’s career that lent itself to something else. Recently I’ve been doing individual articles that focus on a large number of songs by such artists with vast musical catalogs. So here is a rundown of the Stanley Clarke numbers that made the funkiest impact on me personally out of his now 44 year old solo career.


“Vulcan Princess”/1974

This song rips right out of Stanley’s self titled sophomore album as a vital extension of Return To Forever’s   (with whom he was bass player still) “Vulcan Worlds”. This version takes the powerful Minimoog based melody into a phat funky slap bass groove on the refrain. Actually,my very first time hearing Stanley Clarke playing funk.

“Hot Fun”/1976

It is very easy to lean on the title song of Stanley’s 1976  release School Days. While that has one of the most iconic funk bass lines in history,something about the horn arrangements building up this song and it’s slap bass improvisations really bring out the funk. And showcases Stanley really developing as a cinematically strong composer.

“Modern Man”/1978

Stanley Clarke really paved the way for his ability to score arrangements with this song. With it’s multiple sections ranging from jazzy ballad to melodic uptempo pop-funk,this busily cinematic groove also showcases Stanley playing a lot of higher toned bass links and really working very well with his developing vocal abilities.

“Just A Feeling”/1979

Stanley’s partner in funky music,the late George Duke,provided some bluesy chromatic walks on the Yamaha electric piano on this bouncy disco-funk tribute to Louis Armstrong. On the choruses,Duke and Tom Scott on wah wah lyricon provide a sunny and triumphant melody.

“Together Again”/1979

On this very hummable disco pop number,Stanley Clarke plays all the instruments. Again it points to his talents to score a number that could’ve easily been a film or television show theme song of the time. Has some similarities to a Bob James composition in that area,only with a more stripped down instrumental style.

“We Supply”/1980

With it’s slow dragging beat,horn charts,synth washes and intense slap bass ruffs from Stanley this song was a great way for Stanley to bring in the 80’s with one of the heaviest P-Funk inspired grooves the man ever came up with.

“New York City”/1982

Stanley Clarke was working with Carlos Santana a lot during this time. Both artists were pursuing a vocally oriented boogie/post disco pop-funk sound. Stanley’s Let Me Know You album is defined by it and this stripped down number-with it’s drumming that seems to gradually slow on the intro and the bubbling bass licks help this tribute to NYC come right to life.

“Are You Ready (For The Future)”/1984

With it’s use of sequencers,brittle synthesizer riffs and drum machines this song is one fellow blogger Zach Hoskins might refer to as “the Jheri curl sound”. With it’s use of processed,ghostly back vocals and chipmunk’d leads,the real star of the show on this song is Ray Gomez’s scratching rhythm guitar along with Stanley’s equally chugging lines.

“Time Exposure”/1984

The title song to Stanley’s 1984 album stands as a synth pop/new wave showcases for some of Stanley’s heaviest slap bass riffs-even playing in a duet style with his own higher pitched riffs.


It’s true that Stanley Clarke has recorded many albums and many songs since the mid 1980’s. At the same time,very little he has done since that time has stood out in terms of individuals songs. He became more of an album artist. And one of the best in terms of bass at that. Of course he continued to parlay his talents in scoring films and television. So it felt important to showcase how funk helped Stanley to develop the compositional style that has served him well-both creatively and commercially.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, cinematic funk, elecro funk, Funk Bass, funk rock, jazz funk, Moog bass, Ray Gomez, slap bass, Stanley Clarke, upright bass

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Area Code 808” by Deodato

Eumir Deodato de Almeida, generally referred to as merely Deodato,is probably the finest jazz/funk keyboardists to emerge from the Brazilian scene in the 1970’s. This Rio native was a natural prodigy-almost mastering the piano,Accordion and even arrangement skills before he began recording bossa nova based albums starting at age 17. Far as I was concerned,Deodato was the producer who helped popularize Kool & The Gang’s 80’s funk sound on songs such as “Big Fun” and “Get Down On It”. As my own adolescence continued,it became more and more clear just how amazing Deodato was as his own artist.

There was a period about 12-15 years ago where it seemed like Deodato albums were turning up everywhere I went. And somehow I wound up buying them every time too. My first exposure to him came with my father playing me Deodato’s version of “Also Sparch Zarathustra”,the theme from one of my favorite sci fi films 2001: A Space Odyssey. It wasn’t long before I picked up an inexpensive copy of his 1972 album Deodato 2 from one of my mom’s co-workers at the time who also distributed CD’s to record stores-and was selling the leftovers at a discount price.

Deodato himself recorded on a number of different labels during the height of his career. This had a lot to do with the fact he often switched between his original style of bossa nova/Brazilian jazz onto jazz-funk approach that showcased his arrangement talents and electric piano playing. Between then and the late 80’s,Deodato moved from CTI,MCA and finally to Warner Brothers-where he remained up to 1989. His Warner Bros. debut was 1978’s Love Island. Picked up the now hard to find Wounded Bird CD up while traveling with my ex over a decade ago. It blew me away right off with it’s opener “Area Code 808”.

A very theatrical Moog bass sustain starts out the album before a growling,rocking rhythm guitar crunch comes in. Gradually a marching funky shuffle rhythm,cascading strings and Deodato’s bluesy Fender Rhodes solo comes in. On the opening chorus,Deodato duets with himself playing two synth horn lines-accenting one another very much like a trumpet and saxophone. Pops Popwell plays a counterpoint bass line,even a slap  bass one accenting every horn-like chord of Deodato’s. Ray Gomez plays a blistering bluesy rock guitar solo in front of some ultra funky chicken scratch rhythm guitar on the second refrain.

The most amazing thing about this song is what happens during the second refrain,which sustains itself for the remainder of the song. The string play the melody that leads directly from Gomez’s guitar solo into Deodato accenting the two rhythm guitar licks and bass line with his Fender Rhodes piano. After this both the strings and woodwinds play a theme that leads back to Deodato playing a stomping riff on the acoustic piano. The arrangement then takes the rhythm guitar into playing another,more elaborate riff before the woodwinds and hi hats take over just as the song begins to fade.

Deodato has made some of the strongest jazz/funk of his era-not doubting that. There is just something about “Area Code 808” that strikes out from the Love Island album as being especially grooving. Harvey Mason delivering a drum part that’s in a similar family to James Brown’s “Funky President” helps out a lot. Deodato’s synth horn and Rhodes soloing really add something spicier to the live string and horn arrangements. In that way,it has a foot in the past,present and future for cinematic jazz funk of it’s day. The groove is ultra funkified. And a major musical triumph for Deodato.

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Filed under 1970's, Brazilian Jazz, chicken scratch guitar, drums, Eumir Deodato, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Harvey Mason, horns, jazz funk, Moog bass, Pops Popwell, Ray Gomez, rhythm guitar, strings, synthesizers, Uncategorized

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

STEVIEWONDERLAND!: Celebrating An Icon In Three Decades-“Bird Of Beauty” (1974)

Stevie Wonder’s life was almost lost on August 6th,1973. A truck driven by his late brother Calvin hit the back of a truck. Wonder was in a coma for four days. And the ensuing health complications almost denied him his sense of taste and smell. Blind from shortly after birth due to overexposure to an incubator leaving him with retinophothy of premurity, this knowledge of near death combined with losing two more of his senses had a profound effect on Wonder’s artistry. Already in a state of commercial and creative revelry with his music,these events deeply informed his music that was just yet to come.

Having dealt with a near death experience really informed Wonder’s next album entitled Fullfillingness’ First Finale. It was originally planned (and seemingly recorded) as a double album that Wonder decided to release in two parts. He never did. The part we did get in 1974 was a more somber,reflective album with a more stripped down instrumental approach. With songs such as “They Won’t Go When I Go” and “Creepin'” being fairly representative of the albums overall sound,it’s interesting that the album closes with two more upbeat songs. The first of which was called “Bird Of Beauty”.

Wonder begins the song with a 2 beat salsa rhythm-sticking the clave percussion in around the middle while Bobbye Hall plays a solo on the hollow sounding guica drum. The main body of the song has intertwining,jazz melodies played on the Clavinet and Fender Rhodes electric piano-with a rhythmic Moog bass bubbling in around the bottom. The  chorus of the song has Wonder building up the hi hats before returning to the refrain. In addition to a bridge sung in Portuguese Denise Williams,Lani Groves and Shirly Brewer provide the backing vocals-with the song extending ethereally on the chorus as it fades.

Stevie Wonder’s fascination with Brazilian rhythms became very apparent after he gained his creative freedom in the early 70’s. They were very prominent before this on “I Love Every Little Thing About You” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”. This songs blend of sunny Latin jazz/salsa rhythms and funky rhythmic keyboards really emphasize it’s joyous sound. One that allows it to instrumentally dance and sing in so many different ways-all at the same time. Rhythm,melody and harmony all come together in the most beautiful ways here-all under the light of the musical sun Wonder creates.

The songs lyrical content has a double meaning for me. One is very personal. To overcome a fear of flying,my mother went skydiving  14 years ago. The words of “mind excersions” of this song made it part of the soundtrack to the video they assembled of the dive for her. It’s actually a song about altering ones state of consciousness naturally-without “black,white or yellow pills”. One could speculate this may have derived from Wonder having perhaps been given pain killers after his accident. With the recent and possibly pain killer related death of Prince,this is something to think about.

 

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Filed under 1970's, backup singers, Bobbye Hall, Brazilian Jazz, clave, clavinet, Denise Williams, drums, Fender Rhodes, guica, Lani Groves, Latin Funk, Moog bass, Motown, Shirley Brewer, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Me In Your Life” by Ronnie Foster

Ronnie Foster was one of Buffalo,New York’s prime funkateers next to the far more famous Rick James. The primary reason for this was likely because Foster was a session keyboardist who recorded solo albums rather than a headliner. That meant a lot though because the man played on some of the finest sessions of the mid 70’s to early 80’s by Roberta Flack,The Jacksons,Flora Purim and Earl Klugh. He was particularly involved musically with George Benson-playing and composing for his blockbuster mid/late 70’s releases.

What first got me into Ronnie Foster was a funk based blog some years ago that linked the man with Stevie Wonder. Foster was one of an enormous cast of players who participated on Wonder’s magnum opus Songs In The Key Of Life. That led me to his two late 70’s Columbia albums entitled Love Satellite  (1978) and the following years Delight. Wonder played drums on one song for each album. On Love Satellite, he did so on the instrumental”Happy Song”. On the follow  up Delight,Wonder did the drumming on a vocal tune this time. And the name of that song was “Let Me In Your Life”.

Foster starts the song with an elegant,jazzy melodic phrase played on polyphonic synthesizer-with his acoustic piano tickling the chord changes. After two phrases of this,Wonder’s drums come dancing with their funky swing. On the refrains,the piano and synthesizer are joined by a rhythmic Clavinet and bouncy Moog bass.  On the chorus,the melody descends into a minor key gospel key as a synth string ensemble accents the vocal. The bridge of the song features Foster playing a rhythmic electronic organ type solo over a popping disco bass line before the song closes out with the repeating chorus.

Ronnie Foster and Stevie Wonder were born in the same year,one day apart. Today Foster turns 66. This number showcases how much of Wonder’s compositional influence Foster had absorbed while working with him. Playing every instrument on this song,with backing vocals from people such as George Benson himself,Stevie’s musical sound is omnipresent. It’s in the layers of rhythmic keyboards. Not to even mention those Duke Ellington/George Gershwin style chord/melodic exchanges Wonder used. It really showcased what a strong and thoroughly musical influence Stevie Wonder could have on another instrumentalist.

 

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Filed under 1970's, clavinet, drums, jazz funk, Moog bass, piano, Ronnie Foster, session musicians, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized