Category Archives: Ramsey Lewis

Grooves On Wax: Funky Music Spinning On A Rough Week

Up Pops Ramsey Lewis

This is the first in a series exploring the vinyl records I’m spinning on my turntable. Often at the very same time these articles are being shared with the online community of soul funkateers who support this blog. This first on today’s list is the 1967 album Up Pops Ramsey Lewis.  It was during the period when Maurice White was the drummer in the band and is super heavy funk process soul jazz straight out of Chi-town.

Key jam: “Party Time”

Changing Times

Frank Wilson takes the Four Tops in a grand cinematic soul direction on this 1970 album. It was changing times for Motown,moving out to the West Coast when this was recorded. And it was changing times for America 60’s had just come to an end. The Tops mixed covers and originals here in a strong song cycle across two sides of the record!

Key Jams: “These Changing Times” and “Try To Remember”

Bautista

Roland Bautista was Earth Wind & Fire’s supplicant lead guitarist-both preceding and succeeding Al McKany in 1972 and 1981 respectively. In between that time,he recorded two albums as a leader. This is his first from 1977. It’s a wonderful mixture of funk,Latin rock and jazz fusion.

Key Jam: “Diggin’ It In”

Slick

Eddie Kendricks’ final album for Motown in 1977 finds the former Temptation  really getting into the grooves with ballads and uptempo songs bring that big band R&B/jazz flavor out in the type of melodies that Motown’s king of falsetto loved so well.

Key Jams: “Intimate Friends” and “California Woman”

Brasil 88

Sergio Mendes followed on his New Brasil 77 with a new idea the following year. Some years ago,this album cover lured me in. Not only was it a happy find on vinyl,but the fact it contained two ticket stubs to one of his concerts from 1978 was more than the icing on the cake for this bright and slick Brazilian pop jazz set.

Key Jam: “Tiro Cruzado (Crossfire)”

feel the phuff

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds got his first band big with this Indianapolis band after a stint with Bootsy Collins,who apparently gave him the Babyface name to start with. Manchild had a very adventurous funk/blues/rock flair,not to mention a few potently arranged ballads. Edmonds really ripped on the rocking guitar solos here Ernie Isley style too on the bands 1978 sophomore set.

Key Jams: “The Phuff” and “Rowdy-Dowdy Blues”

Summertime Groove

Hamilton Bohannon,former Motown session drummer and member of Stevie Wonder’s late 60’s band, gives the drums the extreme funky workout on “Let’s Start The Dance” to get this party started. But it doesn’t stop there. Especially on the uptempo songs,the songs have a heavy and funky danceability with a distinctive kind of focus on the funky drummer himself.

Key Jams: “Summertime Groove” and “Let’s Star The Dance”

minnie_riperton_love_lives_forever

Minnie Riperton’s posthumously released final album from 1980 is a sleek,jazzy affair. Plenty of West Coast style light funk and soulful pop well suited for Minnie’s amazing range. She recorded the vocals for the this song in 1977 while people such as Greg Phillinganes,Harvey Mason,Lee Ritenour,Paulinho Da Costa,George Benson,Tom Scott,Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder helped to complete the music for this as produced by her widower Richard Rudolph.

Key Jams: “Strange Affair” and “Island In The Sun”

Learning To Love

Rodney Franklin is one of the more unheralded jazz-funk keyboard player so late 70’s and early 80’s. Known primarily as the composer and performer of the TV theme song Hill Street Blues,his 1982 album Learning To Love goes from slick,liquid pop/funk songs to exploratory fusion funk/jazz improvisations.

Key Jam: “Enuff Is Enuff”

Game Of Life

T-Connection keep getting better to my ears. And loved their grooves the first time I heard them years ago. This Nassau band really impressed me with a copy of their 1983 album The Game Of Life that I found at my local record store Bull Moose. This is a fine example of melodic,well composed boogie funk. With a jazz Afrocentric twist of course. It even delivered a “people music” message song right off the bat with the title song as well!

Key Jams: “The Game Of Life” and “I’ve Got News For You”

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Babyface, Bohannon, Boogie Funk, Brazilian Jazz, disco funk, Eddie Kendricks, Four Tops, jazz funk, Latin Funk, Manchild, Minnie Riperton, Motown, Ramsey Lewis, record collecting, Rodney Franklin, Roland Bautista, Sergio Mendes, soul jazz, T-Connection, Vinyl

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Skippin” by Ramsey Lewis

Ramsey Lewis always kept close connection with Earth Wind & Fire during the mid/late 70’s. The band were technically his musical child-being formed by his former drummer Maurice White.  Ramsey’s 1975 album Don’t It Feel Good and it’s 1976 follow up Salongo had both been produced by Charles Stepney,who shared production credits with Ramsey and EWF over the years. Of course Stepney died later that same year. Ramsey compensated by giving EWF keyboard player Larry Dunn a try at the production side of a few cuts on his second album of 1977 entitled Tequila Mockingbird.

Personally I was first made aware of the song “Tequila Mockingbird” itself due to it’s appearance on the CD compilation set called The Electric Connection about a decade ago,after picking it up at a record store in Burlington Vermont. A couple years later,my personal fixation on mid/late 70’s Ramsey Lewis and it’s funky sounds led me to seek out the album itself. One of the songs on it instantly got my attention and featured  most of the EWF musicians as it’s rhythm section-similar to the Sun Goddess from a few years earlier. The name of the song was called “Skippin”.

A drum kick from Fred White and a revved up guitar from Al McKay open up the song. The the drums are joined by Philip Bailey’s conga drums for an uptempo Brazilian rhythm Ramsey plays a horn chart like melody on his mini Moog-accompanied by Eddie Del Barrio’s arranged flute call and responses. McKay’s guitar and Verdine White’s bass provide potent accompanied. On the refrains,the settles settles down into an EWF style groove with Ramsey’s orchestral synthesizers. Del Barrio’s orchestration leads out into the next chorus of the song.

The bridge of the song comes after this second chorus. It starts with a Ramsey up-scaling on the Fender Rhodes-with Verdine playing the changes on slap bass. A high pitched tone on the Yamaha electric piano ushers in a third chorus. This time Ramsey’s plays one of his Chicago hard bop/soul jazz piano solos. He tickles the ivories into another who refrain. This one is defined by Ramsey orchestrating synthesizers around Del Barrio’s call and response woodwinds and Bailey’s percussion. The song goes back to the original chorus that started out the song as it fades out.

“Skippin” is a wonderful example of melodically simple,yet instrumentally complex Brazilian jazz/funk. The charts normally played by EWF’s Phenix Horns come by way of breezier woodwind instruments. Most important though is Ramsey’s use of chorally arranged synthesizers-which seemed to be the way to orchestrate in the late 70’s with Euro-disco and emerging new artists such as Prince. Larry Dunn exhibits a clear understanding of the qualities that Charles Stepney. He bought in Stepney’s sense of melodic ease with a funky rhythm section for “funk sweet as funk can be” for sure!

The reason this song got my attention was realizing I’d heard it before-in a very peculiar place. On Bangor Maine’s local NBC affiliate WLBZ,local TV personality Eddie Driscoll had utilized “Skippin” as the theme for his program The Grover Swale Show. Portrayed by Driscoll himself,Swale was a buck toothed flannel shirt wearing Maine salt type character. It really goes to show how a song with such a string singable melody can easily become a TV theme for somebody,somewhere. Upon hearing the song in it’s native context however,”Skippin'” really epitomizes Ramsey Lewis’s late 70’s jazz/funk approach.

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Filed under 1970's, Al McKay, Brazilian Jazz, drums, Earth Wind & Fire, Eddie Del Barrio, Fender Rhodes, flute, Fred White, jazz funk, Larry Dunn, Maine, Moog, percussion, Philip Bailey, Ramsey Lewis, rhythm guitar, slap bass, synthesizers, Verdine White

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sun Goddess” by Ramsey Lewis with Earth Wind & Fire

Don Myrick,the tenor saxophonist for Earth Wind & Fire’s Phenix Horns from 1975 to 1982,passed away over twelve years ago. Today would’ve been his birthday. He played solos on key songs such as Phillip Bailey’s vocal showcase on the live rendition of “Reasons” on the bands Gratitude  album,as well their 1979 hit “After The Love Has Gone”. The mans way with jazzy harmonics was by no means limited to ballads. Myrick first met Maurice White as members of the Chicago band The Pharaohs-which also included future Phenix Horns trombonist Louis Satterfield. And it all came together for White and Myrick through the man that got Maurice’s career going to start with: Ramsey Lewis.

It was actually on EWF’s Gratitude album that I first heard the song “Sun Goddess”. It was a live version where Maurice announced that they were going to perform a song  they’d done with Ramsey Lewis. I knew of this windy city soul jazz piano master from my father playing his Don’t It Feel Good album on vinyl for me around the same time. Just before I wrote this,Henrique Hopkins informed me that the studio version of “Sun Goddess” was basically an afterthought jam. And he and EWF felt the song off the album of that same title would be “Hot Dawgit”. But in the end this song ended up redefining Ramsey Lewis as a major player on the 70’s jazz funk scene.

Johnny Graham just strums away on a thick,rhythmic guitar on two chords-going up and down note wise. Verdine White supplies the thick yet metronome like bass.. Maurice himself kicks in the song on bass drum before Phillip Bailey’s conga’s kick in. Charles Stepney himself adds both the ARP string countering the rhythm guitar while adding a Fender Rhodes solo right along with it. On the choruses,Maurice and Phillip sing a beautifully melodic Brazilian style vocalese. On the second refrain of the song Don Myrick comes in with a sometimes squonking free-bop jazz style tenor sax solo. On the third,Ramsey comes in for his own Rhodes solo which closes out the song.

For all intents and purposes, this is an Earth Wind & Fire song instrumentally. Ramsey himself acted as an arranger and producer for it. As well as a soloist. It’s a musical showcase for the sonically beautiful tonality that funk rhythms and jazz harmonies can create when combined together by great musical talents. The sound of this jam creates such a visual impression in the mind. The guitar and keyboard orchestrations Stepney provided bring to mind the rising sun on a clear and hot summer morning,at least to me anyway. And with this combination of two talent’s (Ramsey’s and EWF’s) whom I’ve always respected,this is a reminder why funk is my main and favorite basis for music.

 

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Filed under 1970's, ARP synthesizer, Charles Stepney, Chicago, Don Myrick, drums, Earth Wind & Fire, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Johnny Graham, Maurice White, percussion, Philip Bailey, Ramsey Lewis, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Uncategorized, Verdine White

Maurice White Remembered On Andresmusictalk, Part 3: “Uhuru” by the Ramsey Lewis Trio

Five years before he left to found Earth Wind & Fire, Maurice White was the second drummer for the Ramsey Lewis Trio. He had succeeded the groups original drummer Isaac “Red” Holt after he’d left to form Young-Holt Unlimited in 1966. That group in turn had a huge instrumental hit with “Soulful Strut” three years after leaving Ramsey’s trio. Maurice observed that while the trio played on a lot of college campuses while he was in it, most of the audience were more in his age group than Ramsey and bassist Cleveland Eaton. In the latter period of his being part of the trio,began to envision a jazzy funk/soul sound that would appeal more to latter silent generation people.

Maurice’s final album as the drummer for the Ramsey Lewis Trio was 1969’s Another Voyage. For the most part,it continued in the groove and rhythm centered soul jazz the trio had pioneered throughout the 60’s. A groove that became crucial to the development of the jazz/funk genre as much as that of the Jazz Crusaders. For his part,Maurice had already developed a strong interest in Egyptology. That cultural ethic and music had also been popular with free jazz pioneers such as Sun Ra beforehand. And Maurice was intent on integrating that into Ramsey’s trio by the end of the 60’s. The result was my favorite song on this particular album entitled “Uhuru”-the Swahili word for “freedom”.

Eaton’s funky upright bass popping opens the song. It lays the groundwork for the rhythm of the song-most of which is supplied courtesy of Maurice White himself. His percussive drumming on the song is based on a slower Clyde Stubblefield style rhythm with a lot of jazzier fills on brushing cymbals and hi hat. Over that Maurice brings in the main melody on the African thumb piano known as the Kalimba. This melodic statement evolves into a thick,purely rhythmic solo as the song continues. The sound of the trios members hooting and hollering ques to one another comes together with hand claps on the final verses of the song for an extra thick groove.

When I first heard this song,it occurred to me that the melody Maurice played on Kalimba here was one which I’d heard before. That same Kalimba melody did in fact show up 14 years later on the EWF album Powerlight in 1983. It was used on the more electronic interlude of “Mizar” at the end of the albums first side on vinyl. The sound on this song,it’s title and general atmosphere showcased the beginning of Maurice White’s expression of Afrocentricity as a positive social and musical force as the 1960’s transitioned into the 70’s. On the more personal level,it was  exciting to hear the main framework of EWF’s sound begin while Maurice was the drummer in another group.

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, Afro Funk, Afrocentrism, Cleveland Eaton, drums, Earth Wind & Fire, Egyptology, jazz funk, Kalimba, Maurice White, Ramsey Lewis, Ramsey Lewis Trio, soul jazz, Uncategorized, upright bass