Category Archives: Philadelphia International Records

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Am I Black Enough For You” by Billy Paul

Billy Paul is another of far,far too many music icons of the 20th century who passed away during 2016. The Philly native grew up listening to jazz based singers such as Nina Simone,Carmen McCrae and Billie Holiday. After a stint in the army,where he was was stationed in post WWII Germany in the late 50’s along with Elvis Presley. Using this as an opportunity to further his love of music,he launched a jazz trio while in Germany. After getting out of the army,he became part of the burgeoning Philadelphia International Records,eventually releasing his debut album in 1970.

As with most people in America,my primary knowledge of this artist was via the ballad “Me & Mrs. Jones”. My father purchased a compilation of Billy Paul’s music. And after that,it became clear that this man did some amazingly cinematic uptempo tunes. Many of them with a very strong pro black sociopolitical bent lyrically. It was about a year ago when watching a documentary about Oakland’s Black Panthers that I heard a very funkified song with a very familiar voice. Turns out that voice belonged to the late Billy Paul. And the song (from 1972) was called “Am I Black Enough For You”.

A bluesy Clavinet riff dovetails into the percussive accented funky march of the drums. That Clavinet maintains itself throughout the song. At first,this is assisted by a bluesy rhythm guitar. The song has a rather elaborate,jazzy bass line holding the rhythm section together. The horns are both melodic and climactic-scaling upward on each of the songs choruses. Towards the end of the song,a fuzzed out guitar plays an eerie sustain in the back round as the percussion and a bluesy organ and guitar take over on the bridge. Then the songs main chorus takes over until it all fades out

“Am I Black Enough For You” is a psychedelic,bluesy funk number musically. One featuring a dense,thick instrumental sound. The melody is very overtly blues based too. Lyrically,the song speaks as much to the present day as it did for 1972. In both cases,an unpopular and widely disliked politician had become president. And anti black attitudes were a causal factor in both cases. This song lyrically suggests that strength in numbers will help black Americans to have power and dignity of person. And with Billy Paul no longer with us,that’s as fine a musical concept for him to heave us with as any.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Billy Paul, blues funk, civil rights, clavinet, drums, Funk Bass, fuzz guitar, horns, message songs, organ, percussion, Philadelphia, Philadelphia International Records, Philly Soul, pro black, psychedelic soul, rhythm guitar

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Tight Money” by Leon Huff

Leon Huff is,along with Kenny Gamble one of the two production architects of the Philly Sound in the 1970’s. As such he represents the last time in the 1970’s that uptempo music was having enormous commercial success during that decade. During the earlier part of Gamble started the ‘Clean Up The Ghetto” projected,which had theme songs through a number of PIR message songs and allowed for the youth of impoverished communities  to help repair damaged and neglected residences. Following a payola scandal involving Gamble in the mid 70’s, Huff decided to record a solo album under his own name in 1980 entitled Here To Create Music.

The main reason I know about this albums existence was finding a somewhat beat up vinyl copy at that University Of Maine vinyl giveaway that their radio station put on 22 years ago this year. When the free vinyl we picked up was sifted through,it was my father who ended up with this album. Several years ago,I located it as a PIR CD reissue. The album itself was written,produced and arranged by Huff alone. Overall the flavor of the albums songs leans more towards the abstract,cinematic aspect of the Philly Sound with more jazz and blues influenced pieces. One song in particular stood out for me as a funk admirer. And it was called “Tight Money”.

A rhythmic up-scaling piano and upright bass line begin the song which goes from there into a slow swinging dance rhythm. On the instrumental intro a Fender Rhodes provides the solos backed up by a rhythm guitar. On each refrain,the up-scaling rhythm that begins the song repeats and something new is added to the arranged. At first it’s a female backup group providing the vocal chorus,next up it’s a spacey synthesizer wash and by the final refrain a muted trombone and a low violin are added into the mix. Just before the final few links to the refrain,there’s a mellower Rhodes solo before going into the next one before the song finally fades out.

Instrumentally speaking,Leon Huff brings to this particular song a very similar bluesy jazz/funk flavor that Marvin Gaye bought to his “Inner City Blues” nearly a decade previous to this. Interestingly enough,the lyrical theme of the song has a similar note of economic upheaval making it more difficult to advance and grow culturally. Though in this case,it’s more a repetitive chorus than Marvin’s narrative lyrics telling the story. Because the song builds on the instrumental as well,which each section adding a new musical element,it maintains Huff’s talents as an arranger. And found him doing so in a very intimately funk manner.

 

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Filed under 1980's, blues funk, Fender Rhodes, jazz funk, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, message songs, Philadelphia International Records, Philly Soul, piano, rhythm guitar, synthesizer, trombone, Uncategorized, upright bass, violin