Stacy Lattisaw first came to my attention via reading Aretha Franklin’s first autobiography. She described Lattisaw’s duets with future New Edition vocalist Johnny Gill as inspiring her to choose Narada Michael Walden to produce her on 1985’s Who’s Zoomin Who album. Aretha made note of the strong production involved. A DC native,Lattisaw debut at age 12 in 1979,produced by the late Van McCoy. As soon as she began her involvement with Walden as her producer in 1981,he had a string of five albums through 1986. Not to mention being the opening act for the Jackson’s 1981 Triumph tour.
Along with the aforementioned New Edition and (solo) Johnny Gill,Lattisaw represented the major teen idols of the black community for America during the early/mid 1980’s. I made it my business to seek out her many find post disco records on CD over the last three or four years. Interestingly enough,I haven’t absorbed them in as strong a way as they probably deserve to be. One of these albums was 1983’s 16,released at a key transitional period between the live instrumental post disco sound and the electro funk/dance style that was about to emerge. So far,its opening title song says an awful lot.
A loud howl inaugurates Walden’s opening drum line-a strong 3-4 beat hit with pounding percussion accents. His synth bass collides with Randy Jackson’s ticklish 6 note bass line. On the many refrains and choruses, Corrado Rustici’s rhythm guitar either plays a straight one chord groove or a deeper liquid one. On the second half of each bridge,there’s a dance friendly,melodic digital bell sound. On the bridge,David Sancious plays an improvisational synthesizer solo. On the repeating choruses that lead the song out,the discordant sax improvisations of Marc Russo play on with Lattisaw’s vocals as the song fades out.
As with pretty much any uptempo number Narada Michael Walden sunk his teeth into in the early 80’s,”16″ grooves extremely hard. Its definitely possessed of the synth brass oriented electro dance/funk approach of its time. On the other hand,its electro dance/funk played by some of the most creative jazz/funk instrumentalists to emerge from the mid to late 1970’s. And none of them every simplify their talents to suit the more poppy electronic grooves. They and Lattisaw bring out the funk,and all the musical improvisation,they can in this song. Which in turn is some of the finest funk of its time.
Filed under 1980's, Corrado Rustici, David Sancious, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, Marc Russo, Narada Michael Walden, percussion, Randy Jackson, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Stacy Lattisaw, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizer
Narada Michael Walden,who got his current first name from guru Sri Chimnoy in the early 70s,was probably one of the busiest musician/producers of the 1980’s. The Kalamzoo,Michegan born drummer/vocalist started out as the successor to Billy Cobham in the Mahavishnu Orchestra-working with Cobham later on his solo dates as well as playing with the late guitar hero Tommy Bolin. In the mid 70’s he began making solo records. While his 1976 debut Garden Of Love Light followed in the jazz-rock fusion mode he’d been in,his solo works veered towards funky soul by the late 70’s. These albums had a big Quincy Jones type arrangement style,often with a pronounced rock edge.
His theatrical style of melodic funk transitioned from the disco era to the electro/boogie one with ease as his solo career continued into the 1980’s. During that time,he began a career as a producer of largely female talent in a similar vein to Luther Vandross. This went from working with Sister Sledge in 1981 to his stellar work introducing Whitney Houston to the world in the mid/late 80’s. His work with Stacy Lattisaw and Johnny Gill got him hooked up with Aretha Franklin for her big comeback. In 1983 he recorded his third solo album of the decade called Looking At You,Looking At Me. One song it really achieves full funkiness in “Shake It Off”.
Walden and Sheila E open up the brittle, polyrhythmic drums/percussion of this song on the intro. Walden asks a musician named RJ to “play it right” before a thick slap bass line comes churning in scaling down and around the melodic chord changes. “RJ” turns out to be bassist,arranger and more recently American Idol talent scout Randy “The King” Jackson. This combination of drums,percussion and phat slap bass holds in the funk heavy by the time two densely arranged horn charts from Jerry Hey come in. That along with glossy synthesizer washes of Frank Martin and some churning chicken scratch guitar of Carrado Rustci. There’s also a vocal bridge where Walden provides a full jazz scat.
The adenoidal talk singing approach of Walden plays call and response with the rhythm for most of the song. On the chorus and it’s refrains,he’s in direct contact on that same level with the darting horns. On the bridge,the horns subside for Jackson to thump out his thick slap bass solo over the rhythm before the choruses re-emerges to close things out. All of these qualities make this song perhaps one of the most unsung examples of how the boogie funk era blended together both the live band flavors of the 70’s with newer synthesized/electronic touches. The instrumentation is brittle while still keeping deep in the Afro-Latin rhythmic clave. For me,it’s one of Walden’s finest funk numbers ever!
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, Carrado Rustci, clave, drums, elecro funk, Frank Martin, horns, jazz funk, Jerry Hey, Narada Michael Walden, percussion, Randy "The King" Jackson, rhythm guitar, Sheila E., slap bass, synthesizer, Uncategorized
Alphonso Johnson seems to me as a bassist whose contributions to the iconic fusion band Weather Report are rather under heralded. That could be because he was sandwiched in between their original bass player Miroslav Vitous and of course Jaco Pastorious. As a session man,he joined up with Billy Cobham on and off for many years. He also had stints back up Genesis/Phil Collins on multiple occasions as well playing on former LTD lead singer Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 solo debut. The reason I personally tend to view Johnson as a rather obscure artist is because I only found out that he even had a solo career at all just under a decade ago. And have the feeling I may not be the only one.
One of the greatest things to happen in the post millennium internet age is the advent of two things: reissue record labels and YouTube. If it weren’t for those two things, this blog would be a lot different than it is. In 1976-1977 during his years with Cobham,Alphonso Johnson recorded three solo albums on the Epic label. These featured the backing of some of the major fusion instrumentalists of the time-all touched by the music of Alphonso in some kind of way. I have two on vinyl,since the CD versions were difficult to locate upon going out of print. Only his second album Moonshadows was something I was able to locate on CD. And one song that stood out on it for me was “On The Case”.
Alphonso starts off with a shuffling bass solo that has a bluesy,up-scaling melody that is very similar in tone to the electric piano solo on Steely Dan’s ” Black Friday”. Drummer Narada Michael Walden keeps that shuffle going while Dawilli Conga adds a counter melody on electric piano. Separated by progressive fusion bursts of intense drums, Alphonso’s solos expand along with the electric piano into fuzz toned psychedelia. On the second refrain,Lee Ritenour plays a mid toned rhythm guitar solo. This grows to a heavier intensity with the solo Lee takes on the third and final refrain of the song. Conga’s electric piano leads the shuffling rhythm to the songs fade out.
This particular song always stuck out to me with how much it finds the funk in the blues and the blues when it rocks. The rhythmic base of the song is in a strong groove-with Narada staying on the one primarily through the use of hi hat. And all of the musicians understanding of the jazz/rock fusion style comes out here as well. Alphonso’s funkiness on the bass gives it all a phat center that keeps the focus consistent. I’ve started to realize that rock ‘n’ roll is often a far simpler musical form than it might like itself to be. Yet with the combination of jazz harmonies and electric funk within the fusion genre,songs like this found a great middle ground in which to rock up the funk.
Filed under 1970's, Alphonso Johnson, bass guitar, Blues, Epic Records, jazz funk, jazz fusion, Lee Ritenour, Narada Michael Walden, Psychedelia, rock 'n' roll, Steely Dan, Uncategorized, YouTube