Category Archives: Nat King Cole

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Nature Boy” by George Benson (1977)-Vocal

George Benson’s vocal style always reminded me a great deal of a higher pitched Donny Hathaway,with just a touch of Stevie Wonder’s melisma for good measure. His vocal tone had such a general strumming quality,his technique of scatting with his guitar became a signature technique. So it was no surprise for me to find out that Benson was in fact someone who knew personally. And they had a musical connection with Phil Upchurch as Benson later covered Hathaway’s “The Ghetto”. Also important is that Benson had always sang AND played throughout his career-long before his 70’s commercial peak. So he is very accessible to appreciate on a purely vocal level as well as instrumental.

In 1976 Benson had a humongous bit of luck with his album Breezin’-produced by Tommy Lipuma and featuring the Bobby Womack penned title hit and his iconic cover of the Leon Russell ballad “This Masquerade”. Also being his debut for Warner Bros. records,Benson was now firmly positioned as a singer/musician who’d have a strong ear as an interpreter. Especially with his back round as a viruosic jazz guitar improviser. His second Warner Bros. release came out in 1977 and was called In Flight. It featured the same lineup of musicians as it predecessor. My personal favorite song from this album is a version of the Nat King Cole standard “Nature Boy”.

Cinematic strings sweep through the beginning of the song. These strings literally segue into Harvey Mason’s drums clipping along at roughly 96 bpm along with Stanley Banks’s two note popping bass,while Jorge Dalto’s Clavinet drives right in the groove along with it. Ralph McDonald’s percussion takes that rhythmic stroll along the way as Ronnie Foster’s electric piano plays along with bell like beauty. This basic groove is the musical atmosphere of the entire song-with the strings moving to the forefront for every other chorus. Benson’s lead vocal carries the first half of the song. On the final minute or two, the melodic focus is on Benson’s guitar/scatting hybrid technique he is so well known for.

When I first heard this,I had no idea Nat Cole wrote  it. Benson sings the original melody very faithfully. At the same time,his timing along with the slow crawling, percussive romantic funk called to mind Marvin Gaye’s musical sound of the same period. Gaye had already done a version of this song in 1965. His interpretation was very close to the original. What Benson bought to the song vocally was not only a more modern gospel/soul flavor,but also that more contemporary Brazilian style jazz/funk instrumental atmosphere. It did an excellent job showcasing the evolution of black American music and to me represents an important milestone for George Benson the singer.

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Filed under 1970's, bass guitar, clavinet, drums, electric piano, George Benson, Harvey Mason, jazz funk, Jorge Dalto, Marvin Gaye, Nat King Cole, percussion, Phil Upchurch, Ralph McDonald, rhythm guitar, Ronnie Foster, Stanley Banks, strings, Tommy Lipuma, Uncategorized, Warner Bros.

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Something For Nothing” by Natalie Cole

Several days ago? The new year of 2016 wrung in rather sadly with the news that Natalie Cole had passed away from complications with congestive heart familiar. Having been the daughter of Nat King Cole and growing up in a family she described as “the black Kennedy’s”? Natalie, in a similar manner to the also departed Whitney Houston, has occasionally been viewed as someone whose talents derived largely from genetics. Perhaps this led to the years of drug related self destruction that likely contributed to her death at age 65.

Being inspired by soul and rock  music more than a jazzy approach? It was now iconic Chicago producers Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy who really helped to beef up Cole’s career. After some unsuccessful label shopping,the team ended up at her fathers old label Capitol. There they all began polishing up work on Cole’s debut album Inseparable. While as a whole it’s gospel/soul ballads and uptempo numbers would define much of Cole’s musical output? The funk got turned up high on numbers such as one of my favorites here entitled “Something For Nothing”.

The groove kicks off with an ascending,classic funk riff from a bassy Clavinet. It’s assisted by a tickling soul stride type honky tonk piano. On each of these phrases? A high pitched,bluesy rhythm guitar riff rings into the next part of the song-all orchestrated by minor chorded strings. Assisted by stop/start funky drumming all the way? The Clavinet buoys the song until the strings and piano spin off into a bright,major chord 70’s Chi Town soul melody on the bridge before it all fades out on it’s original theme.

Listening to this makes me wonder why Natalie Cole,with her gospel heavy soul pipes,didn’t prioritize the evolution of funk as her career pushed forward. Considering how much this particular number has in common with Rufus’s “Tell Me Something Good”? It’s a song very much in the spirit of the “who says a rock band can’t play funk” ethic of taking the blues base,and smoothing it out for a more soulful and danceable groove. It’s still one of the finest examples of Natalie Cole with a strong groove and a strong tribute to her as a potential funky diva.

 

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Filed under 1970's, blues funk, Capitol Records, Chicago, Chuck Jackson, classic funk, clavinet, funky soul, guitar, Marvin Yancy, Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole, piano, Uncategorized, Whitney Houston