Category Archives: Pee Wee Ellis

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Cold Sweat” by James Brown (July 1967)

James Brown and his sax player Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis wrote and recorded a song during JB’s 34th birthday month in 1967 called “Cold Sweat”. As with many James Brown songs,it was developed from part of an earlier song. In this case,a soul ballad entitled “I Don’t Care” from his 1962 album Tour The U.S.A. Ellis had heard James grunting out a very rhythm bass line. He had been listing to the Miles Davis song “So What” a lot at the time. And was thinking a similar horn chart would work well as James Brown was rebooting his song for what he called “the funky bag I’m into right now”.

Speaking personally,this song is actually the very root of Andresmusicalk. My father once wrote a musical breakdown of War’s The World Is A Ghetto album while in college.  And he suggested that myself and my friend Henrique Hopkins do a two part breakdown of “Cold Sweat”,the James Brown song that inaugurated the funk sound we all really love. Many things have happened since than. But with my father and Henrique’s encouragement and information,I’m going it alone on talking about this song that not only launched this blog in a way,but did the same for an entire genre.

Clyde Stubblefield throws down his funky drum as the bass of this song right in the center of the Afro Cuban rhythmic clave. Both the rhythm guitar of Jimmy Nolan,Alphonso Kellum and the bass of Bernard Odum all utter a series of harmonically complex scaling lines in close concert with one another-with the JB horns playing those two note modal jazz style charts as Stubblefield comes down on the hi hats. On the refrains,James’s lyrical screams of “I DON’T CARE” keep the progression forward-until on the chorus,the drum breaks right out for the horns to scale right up with James’s vocals.

After the first vocal chorus,Maceo Parker delivers an expansion on the main horn charts of the song on his tenor sax solo. That’s also the first bridge of the song.After this,James calls out “GIVE THE DRUMMER SOME!” repeatedly to Stubblefield,who promptly delivers the percussive,break heavy drum solo that defines the whole groove. After this,the chorus refrain patter comes right back in. As the song begins the fade out,the second refrain becomes the main one. A refrain where the horns and Nolan’s guitar play in near perfect unison with the beat before the song does indeed fade away.

There are some times where studying any art you admire can dampen ones appreciation of it. That hasn’t been the case with myself and “Cold Sweat” at all. The more I learn about the nature of it’s instrumental content,the more musically revolutionary it reveals itself to be. James of course strips out most of the straight melodic elements to the point where the horns,drums,guitar and bass are playing melody,harmony and rhythm all at the same time. It truly was an extremely unique way to present music. And perhaps represents the very moment when James Brown forever reshaped American popular music.

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Alphonso Kellum, Bernard Odum, chicken scratch guitar, clave, Clyde Stubblefield, drum breaks, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Step On Your Watch Part II” by The JB Horns

Maceo Parker was a musician that I began to appreciate long before James Brown’s music actually came into my life. In the mid 90’s,Parker came to the city of Portland Maine to perform with the road band he maintained at the time. Unfortunately I was not yet 17,and he was playing in a tavern where alcoholic beverages were being served. It was actually not too long after that when my father was constantly playing the compilation set Funky Good Time by the JB’s. He also pointed out a CD to me that was simply called The JB Horns. He said that even then it was pretty rare and recommended I check out a groove on it called “Step On Your Watch”. Very happy that I took his advice.

A delayed drum beat accompanied by two rhythm guitars-one a classic JB style higher pitched one and a lower dripping one is the way the song itself begins. At the end of each rapped vocal refrain an amp’d up,bluesy guitar segues between the breaks. Each instrumental chorus of course features two sets of horn solos between Maceo,Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis. One is a very intense one,the other one has a gentler and more romantic tone about it. The vocal calls continue to keep the multiple guitars,back beat and the horn charts going on and on with a sustained level of funky intensity until the song finally fades itself out.

One of the qualities I appreciate about this song is that it presents a very professionally recorded variation on the classic James Brown funk approach. Being made around 1990,this song still has it all. The open rhythm in the beat that allows for solos to take flight, the calculated use of breaks and of course the renowned horn charts of Maceo,Fred and Pee Wee. Again it still gets to me that the music of the JB’s on their own came into my life before the music of James Brown really did. Hadn’t yet heard “Cold Sweat” all the way through at this point. So even to this day,there’s a quality about this song that really brings out the most exquisitely produced end of the JB style groove.

Maceo turned 73 yesterday. Much as I’d like not to admit it,with the recent passing of EWF’s Maurice White it feels appropriate to keep giving props up to the major instrumental icons of funk and soul while they are still living. Maceo is a musical institution who pretty much wrote the book on rhythm based funk saxophone playing. It was no easy task selecting one of the many James Brown,JB’s,Maceo & The Mack’s or Horny Horns songs that the man was involved with. The fact this one came right to mind showcases how it’s the music this man made,as opposed to enormous popular acclaim,that impacts most on the listeners funky emotions.

 

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Filed under 1990s, Funk, funk guitar, James Brown, Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis, Saxophone, trombone, trumpet, Uncategorized