Wilson Pickett is yet another artist whose music was extremely familiar to me before even knowing his name. “Wicked Mr. Pickett” started out in a gospel group during called The Violinaires in the mid 50’s. This led him to fame with the soul group The Falcons,who helped popularize gospel music to a broader audience. Pickett eventually got signed to Atlantic Records in New York where he recorded sides such as “If I Need You”,a ballad that the labels’ Jerry Wexler ended up giving to Solomon Burke. Burke himself liked Pickett’s version,but he had a huge hit with the song. So a dejected Pickett decided to focus less on soul ballads and more on uptempo numbers once officially signed to Atlantic.
Pickett’s mid/late 60’s recordings at the Stax in Memphis and Fame.in Muscle Shoals have become iconic songs. Especially in terms of marking soul music’s evolution from gospel based balladry into uptempo funk. Songs such as “In The Midnight Hour”,”Mustang Sally” and “Land Of 1000 Dances” came out of this era. One thing however that stands out to me is when an artist making funk music shows a lot of positive pride in declaring themselves to be funky. One such song from Pickett came courtesy of a band known as Dyke & The Blazers,written by it’s leader Arlester Christian in 1967. And the name of this song was”Funky Broadway”.
The bluesy guitar riff of Chip Moman opens the song. The rhythmic body of the entire is based on a thick,cymbal heavy beat from drummer Roger Hawkins,a rhythmic organ from Spooner Oldham and the crunchy bass of Tommy Cogbill. On the second chorus of the song, the horn section comes in playing call and response to Pickett’s vocals. They raise up in intensity as Pickett’s vocals grow even more powerful. There’s a bridge where Hawkins’ funky drumming is singled out with the bass/guitar interaction-with Pickett grunting along rhythmically. The horns are huge,thick and heavy on the final choruses of the song before it fades out.
This song fits pretty neatly into the vein of Wilson Pickett’s other mid/late 60’s uptempo numbers. They were all starting to move heavily toward funk. This song came out in 1967. It was the same year Aretha dropped “Respect”,and James Brown bought uncut funk to the masses with “Cold Sweat”. So Pickett and Chip Moman’s band were really bringing the gritty,countrified,slower tempo Southern soul dance thump into the funk process as it was actually happening. Again it cannot be stated enough how important having the word “funky” in the title of this huge hit song was to funk as a genre,rather than a mere musical term. So here Wilson Pickett officially earned his place in funk history.
Filed under 1960's, bass guitar, Chip Moman, drums, Funk, horns, Muscle Shoals, organ, rhythm guitar, Southern Soul, Stax, Uncategorized, Wilson Pickett
One of the things that made Bobby Womack have such musical longevity is the fact that he was such a renowned songwriter playing even outside his own field. This was particularly true for the jazz world. George Benson’s iconic instrumental hit “Breezin” was of course composted by Womack. He also worked with Crusader’s sax/bassist Wilton Felder on the 1980 album Inherit The Wind. This album became a smash in London,and was likely part of the still gestating UK acid jazz scene. The man still continued to maintain his solo career-making a new album every year throughout the 7o’s. The decade ended in a very unexpected way for him however.
After dealing with a cocaine habit during his time recording with Sly Stone on his There’s A Riot Goin’ On,Womack lost his four month old son Truth in 1978. This apparently turned the habit into a serious addiction over the next decade. Still the man was on a musical roll. In 1979 he released his final album of the 70’s on Arista Records entitled Roads Of Life. I first encountered the CD during the late 90’s at Borders Books & Music. And only recently picked it up as part of a classic album vinyl reproduction box set of Womack’s Arista period. The album is seriously funky overall. The song that said it all for me was called “Mr. D.J. Don’t Stop The Music”.
After a screaming call to “come on with the music!”,the percussion accented drum beat rolls on with a wah wah pedal fueled Clavinet rings in the song. As the percussion increases,Womack and the band vocally contribute to the songs party atmosphere while a round,pulsing synthesizer and a funky harpsichord really pump up the choruses of the song. After the third chorus of the song, Womack plays one of his amp’d up blues/rock guitar solos. This goes into a piano solo fueled by climactic strings-bleeding into a wailing sax and back into a more rhythmic piano call and response. The strings segue out of this into the repeated chorus that continues on into the songs fade out.
Recorded at Muscle Shoals studios with former Motown Funk Brothers Jack Ashford and Eddie Bongo Brown (on drums and percussion),this song is another superb example of the type of orchestrated,danceable funk that could function very easily under the mirrored ball of the disco floor. The party sound vibe that always worked so well for the stomping disco/funk sound really brings out the groove as well. Womack’s ability to play and write funky music had really come into it’s own by the end of the 1970’s. And it really shows how much clout he held among the big funk/soul/jazz session players at the time that he could get together with them to jam out strong grooves like this one so regularly.
Filed under 1970's, Bobby Womack, clavinet, disco funk, drums, Eddie "Bongo" Brown, guitar, Jack Ashford, Muscle Shoals, piano, Saxophone, strings, The Funk Brothers, Uncategorized