Category Archives: Sheila E.

Prince (Protegé) Summer: Vanity/Apollonia 6

VANITY-6

Toward the end of last week‘s post, I called the Time “arguably the most highly-regarded of Prince’s various side projects.” So allow me to start this post with another superlative: if the Time was the most highly-regarded of the purple protegés, then their “girl group” sister project, Vanity 6, was perhaps the most underrated and misunderstood.

To be fair, though, the very concept behind the group encouraged such misreadings. Originally conceived shortly after the Time as “the Hookers”–because the Time were pimps, geddit?–Vanity 6 appeared at first and maybe even second glance to be little more than a cynical play on pornographic tropes. Every member was an obvious “type”: Vanity, born Denise Matthews (and almost, disastrously, rechristened “Vagina”), was the vampish seductress; Brenda (Bennett) was the saucy, chain-smoking “bad girl”; and Susan (Moonsie) was, most problematically, the thumb-sucking, teddy bear-toting jailbait. The “6” in their name, if you haven’t already guessed, was a sophomoric reference to their total number of breasts.

vanity6back

If the lowest-common-denominator pandering wasn’t enough, there was also a severely diminished emphasis on musical talent. Prince, while stingy about allowing the Time to play on their own albums, had nevertheless stocked the group with the hottest musicians in the Twin Cities. Vanity, on the other hand, was a Canadian B-movie actress, and Susan was Prince’s on-and-off girlfriend; only Brenda was a professional musician, having performed as a backing vocalist with the blues-rock group Tombstone in the mid-1970s. By many accounts, this led to dissension even within Prince’s camp: there was a prevailing sense that he was wasting time on a glorified burlesque act, when he could have been spending it with a more conventionally qualified group.

These criticisms would have held more water, however, if the trio (/sextet’s) self-titled 1982 debut wasn’t legitimately great. Vanity 6 is not only a stronger debut than the Time’s (yeah, I said it), but also one of the quirkiest and most interesting records in the whole extended Prince canon. In an earlier post, Andre already mentioned the funk workout “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)“–featuring a campy vocal cameo by Mr. Jamie Starr himself–as well as the immortal “Nasty Girl,” which prefigured the sounds of everyone from the Neptunes to Peaches to Beyoncé (who, incidentally, has recently taken to covering the song in concert). But there’s also “Make Up” and “Drive Me Wild,” two of the most futuristic-sounding cuts from the Purple One’s electro period; the Dez Dickerson-penned “He’s So Dull,” a.k.a. the best song the Go-Gos never recorded; and the New Wave-flavored “Bite the Beat,” which was co-written by Jesse Johnson of the Time.

Vanity 6 joined Prince and the Time on the Triple Threat tour in 1982 and 1983, and were meant to appear in Purple Rain; as with the other group, however, relations with Prince hit the skids soon before shooting was to commence. There are a variety of possible reasons for Vanity’s falling out with Prince, including disputes over royalties and romantic turmoil; her growing dependency on cocaine was also a likely factor. Whatever the specific reason, however, she left the group for a solo career with Motown in late 1983, leaving Prince in the peculiar situation of having to recast both the female lead for his film and the frontwoman for his group. Her replacement, another unknown actress named Patricia Kotero, was hired after responding to a casting call. But “Patrica 6” would have been an even dumber name than “the Hookers,” and so Kotero adopted the nom de Prince Apollonia.

Due in large part to these inauspicious beginnings, Apollonia has gotten a bit of a raw deal from the Prince fanbase; I’ll be the first to admit that I was overly dismissive of her when I recorded my podcast on Prince’s side projects last month. If fronting Vanity 6 was already a thankless job, then filling in for Vanity–who Prince remembered as “the finest woman in the world” after her passing early this year–was even more so. Nor did it help that Prince seemed to be losing interest in the Apollonia 6 project by mid-1984, stripping the proposed album of many of its most promising songs: he gave “The Glamorous Life” to Sheila E., “Manic Monday” to the Bangles, and even his own “17 Days” still has Brenda’s original backing vocals clearly audible on the chorus. I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes, the Apollonia 6 record is an inarguably inferior clone of its predecessor; but the group’s signature song, “Sex Shooter,” remains a Minneapolis Sound classic in its own right, and Apollonia’s Purple Rain performance will forever be iconic (ask any person who came of age in the 1980s and has a sexual interest in women about the “Lake Minnetonka” scene, and watch them get misty-eyed with nostalgia).

apollonia6

Like the Time, Apollonia 6 dissolved quickly after the release of Purple Rain; unlike the Time, however, there was no triumphant aftermath, no series of high-profile reunions–though three of the groups’ former members, at least, seem to be leading happy and fulfilling lives. Brenda Bennett took time off from the music industry, returning only fairly recently as an independent artist. Susan Moonsie quit the entertainment business entirely. Apollonia went back primarily to minor film and television roles–though she did release one, forgettable solo album in 1988.

And then, of course, there was Vanity. Hers is one of the saddest stories in popular music: though she went on to some measure of success as a solo recording artist and (especially) an actress in the latter half of the 1980s, she also developed a crippling addiction to crack cocaine. Finally, after suffering a near-fatal renal failure in 1994, she experienced a conversion as a born-again Christian and dedicated the rest of her life to evangelism, renouncing her stage name and her past as a secular entertainer. It’s a strange feeling, to be a fan of Denise Matthews’ work as Vanity with the knowledge of the pain she was in at the time. It seems, however, that she was able to find peace later in her life; I only hope that she realized how much authentic joy she brought to the world, even in her darker moments.

So what else is there to say about Vanity and Apollonia 6? If the Time was the Prince spinoff act that threatened to upstage the headliner, then the “6” represented Prince in full puppetmaster mode: putting together a singing group comprised of two-thirds non-singers, then underlining just how disposable they were by seamlessly slotting a different frontwoman in the lead. And yet, the group had undeniable personality: one listen to Vanity and Brenda tearing “Jamie Starr” a new one in “If a Girl Answers” is more than enough to demonstrate that. And the original incarnation in particular gave Prince and his collaborators a framework in which to create some of their most unique genre experiments of the early 1980s; making them, in their own way, a precursor to more “respectable” side projects like the Family. Finally, if nothing else, the ladies could definitely fill out a camisole.

prince_and_vanity_rolling_ston_0_1461253588

Next Saturday, Prince (Protegé) Summer continues with an artist who stretches the definition of “protegé”: Ms. Sheila E. In the meantime, you can read more of my writing about Prince on my chronological Prince blog, dance / music / sex / romance; and more about whatever else crosses my mind on Dystopian Dance Party. See you soon!

5 Comments

Filed under 1980's, Apollonia, Denise Matthews, Dez Dickerson, Jesse Johnson, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Time, Vanity

Grooves on Wax, Prince Summer Edition-Zach & Andre’s 12″ inch Prince Singles Collection

Normally I guest post on Saturdays, but Andre wanted to do a Grooves on Wax of all Prince 12-inches and I was only too happy to participate. So below are some highlights from both of our collections. I’ll be back tomorrow, as previously promised, with a post on Vanity/Apollonia 6!

Zach’s Wax

letspretendweremarried

The last single released from the 1999 album in November 1983, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” isn’t actually a “maxi cut” in the traditional sense; just a repackaging of the seven-and-a-half-minute album version, in all its filthy electro-funk glory. But the real reason to own this is the B-side, “Irresistable Bitch”: an amazing (if just a tad misogynist) quasi-rap with a cavernous drum sound that clearly inspired the likes of the Egyptian Lover. Plus, it marks the earliest recorded appearance on a Prince track of Wendy Melvoin, who had replaced Dez Dickerson as the Revolution‘s second guitarist just a few months earlier.

iwoulddie4u

Now this one is all about the A-side. “I Would Die 4 U” has always been my choice for the funkiest song ever written about Jesus, but the 12″ version’s extended rehearsal jam (featuring percussion by Sheila E., with her band members Eddie M on sax and Miko Weaver on guitar) takes you straight to church. At ten minutes and 15 seconds, it’s actually edited down by about two-thirds (!) from the uncut version circulating on bootlegs; that one’s for devotees only, but in the right frame of mind, it’s an appropriately religious experience.

mountains

1986’s Parade is one of my favorite Prince albums and eras, and part of the reason for that is the amazing run of 12″ singles it produced. The best of the bunch, in my opinion, is “Mountains,” which gives the funkiest song on the album ample room to breathe. Once you hear it, there’s no going back. This is also the only place to hear the extended version of “Alexa de Paris,” a grandiose instrumental from the Under the Cherry Moon soundtrack that stands as one of Prince’s most successful experiments with jazz fusion.

anotherloverholenyohead

Another Parade cut, “Anotherloverholenyohead” is actually one of the few Prince singles where I prefer the regular version to the extended (another one, actually, is “Kiss”). I just think the tighter construction of the album version works better for the song’s wiry funk-rock, and the closing jam (“there’s gonna be a riot if you don’t clap yo’ hands…”) doesn’t really take off on the 12″ like I wanted it to. Still, it’s worth picking up if you can–if only for this dope picture of Brown Mark on the flip side, which I actually had hanging on my living room wall for a while (yes, I know, I’m a weirdo).

anotherloverbrownmark

Andre’s Wax

Let's Go Crazy 12'

In the film Purple Rain the song “Let’s Go Crazy” had an extended drum sequence and a chromatic piano walk bridge. It was played in the continuity scenes that introduced Morris Day and Jerome Benton, as well as Apollonia arriving at First Avenue and stiffing the cab. And that version is what the extended mix of this song is-my favorite version of it actually. On “Erotic City”,the song is extended by showcasing the instrumental synth exchanges to an even greater degree. That makes this a definitive Prince 12″ inch single.

Prince+Kiss+-+1st+Issue+3336

“Kiss” was a 45 that I remember being one of only two Prince songs my parents had in their record collection when I was growing up. On this extended 12″ version,the middle of the song is extended into a drum and synth brass heavy funk breakdown-very James Brown style. “Love Or Money” is one of my favorite Prince B-sides next to “Erotic City” and “17 Days“. It’s got a great gated drum machine line, rhythm guitar and Prince’s Chipmunk’d Camille voice. On this extended version,it all gets even better when the horn solos really interact on the extended instrumental bridge.

2 Comments

Filed under 12 inch singles, 1980's, 1986, Brown Mark, James Brown, Jerome Benton, Miko Weaver, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Uncategorized, Under The Cherry Moon, Wendy Melvoin

Prince (Protegé) Summer: The Time

the_time_vinyl_front_cover

As an avowed fan of His Royal Badness and the tradition of silky, wet 1980s R&B he inspired, I was thrilled and honored to be asked to guest blog during the holiday season that is Prince Summer. Since Andre is covering the mainline Prince projects, however, I thought it would be best for me to fill in with some material on Prince’s extensive stable of side projects, from the 1980s to his untimely death in 2016. And where better to start on the Prince spinoff tip than with the greatest band in the world: the muthafuckin’ Time.

The Time were formed in early 1981 as an outlet for Prince’s more conventionally R&B-oriented material, after 1980’s Dirty Mind took his own music further in the direction of New Wave. His connection with several of the individual band members, however, goes back much further. Frontman Morris Day actually got his start as the drummer for Prince’s first band, Grand Central, while the pair were still in high school; they used to play in battles of the bands around Minneapolis in the mid-1970s with a rival act called Flyte Tyme, whose lineup included drummer Jellybean Johnson, keyboardist Monte Moir, and of course, future Minneapolis Sound architects Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on keys and bass, respectively. The Time, then, started life as a combination of the two older groups, with Flyte Tyme singer Alexander O’Neal on lead vocals–that is, until clashes with Prince led to O’Neal’s removal and Day’s promotion from behind the drums to the front of the band. Finally, Prince rounded out the group with the addition of lead guitarist Jesse Johnson, a recent transplant from Rock Island, Illinois.

the_time_vinyl_back_cover

It’s this lineup that would appear on the Time’s self-titled debut album–or at least, that’s what Prince wanted you to think. Production on the first Time album was credited to Morris Day and “Jamie Starr”: a mysterious figure who was, of course, none other than Prince himself. And he didn’t just produce the record, either: he largely wrote and performed it, using the same “one-man band” approach (with uncredited assists from his band members) as on his own solo records. His guide vocals are even clearly audible on songs like the opening track and lead single, “Get It Up.”

The Time was a commercial success for Prince (who, as the artist directly under contract with Warner Bros., pocketed the vast majority of the profits), and it helped to solidify Minneapolis’ standing as a new musical hotspot, even if it was still almost entirely through the efforts of one guy. For today’s listeners, though, it’s of interest mostly as a historical document. The aforementioned “Get It Up” is good: its lascivious lyrics, Oberheim OB-X synthesizer squeal, and borderline heavy metal guitar solos make it sound like the Controversy outtake it is. And other standout tracks, like followup single “Cool” and the Lisa Coleman-penned workout “The Stick,” laid the groundwork for Morris Day’s larger-than-life persona: a more cartoonish version of the gravel-voiced “pimp” character Prince would adopt while cutting up behind the scenes. But Morris’ singing voice was thin, especially on the slow numbers–“Girl,” inexplicably released as the third single, is just painful to listen to–and Prince still hadn’t hit on quite the right tone for his ghostwriting.

On stage, though, the Time were monsters–which of course resulted in tension when Prince took them on as the opening act for his Controversy tour in late 1981 and early 1982. By hiring some of the best musicians in the Twin Cities as a ghost band, then feeding them deliberately crowd-pleasing material, Prince effectively created his own competition; and by paying the band a pittance of a salary and severely limiting their creative control, he bred resentment and a desire for the puppets to upstage their puppetmaster. These tensions ultimately came to a head on the last date of the tour in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Prince and his band threw eggs at the Time during their opening set, then handcuffed Jesse to a coat rack and pelted him with Doritos. Later, after Prince left the stage, the Time retaliated, and a food fight raged all the way back to the hotel. All in good fun, I suppose–until Prince billed the damage to Morris, claiming that he’d started the whole thing.

what-time-is-it

Shenanigans aside, Prince recorded another Time album, What Time Is It?, in early 1982, Morris once again replicating his guide vocals with exacting precision. Andre already posted about this one back in 2014, so I won’t dwell too much on it, but suffice to say that if you only listen to one Time record, this is the one to hear. The grooves are skin-tight, the comedy is on point–hell, Morris even figured out how to sing a ballad (see: “Gigolos Get Lonely Too“). But on the ensuing “Triple Threat” tour with Prince and Vanity 6, the rivalry from the previous jaunt continued unabated. This time, tensions flared after Jam and Lewis, who had been producing a few tracks for SOLAR Records on the side, missed a date in San Antonio after being grounded by a blizzard during sessions with the Atlanta-based S.O.S. Band. Prince scrambled to cover for their absence, drafting Lisa to fill in for Jam on keyboards and having auxiliary Time member Jerome Benton mime on stage while he played Terry’s bass parts from behind the curtain. When the duo finally caught up with the rest of the tour, Prince docked their pay, then fired them entirely; Monte Moir also departed in their wake.

The result of all this turmoil was a strange irony: the Time were in shambles, at the very same moment that they were poised for their greatest success. 1984’s Ice Cream Castle, recorded to dovetail with the group’s appearance in Prince’s breakout feature film Purple Rain, was another middling record, but its breakout hits “Jungle Love” (see above) and “The Bird” introduced them to a massive crossover audience. Ultimately, however, it was too late: Morris took off for a solo career soon after the release of the film, leaving Prince to tour for Purple Rain accompanied only by the Revolution, his costar Apollonia, and his newest protegée, Sheila E.

Each of the former members of the Time stayed active in the ensuing years. Jerome, Jellybean, and St. Paul Peterson (Jimmy Jam’s replacement) formed the core of yet another short-lived Prince project, the Family (more on them later). Morris pursued music and acting, both to mixed results. Jesse released a few well-regarded solo albums, to modest commercial success. Jam and Lewis, who frequently retained Moir as a collaborator, had the best run of them all–their former mentor arguably included, as their production of Janet Jackson‘s Control managed to keep Prince and the Revolution‘s Parade off the top spot of the charts in 1986.

By the end of the decade, however, a reunion was brewing. Prince recorded a full “Time” album with just Morris and Jerome in 1989, to be released under the title Corporate World. Warner, however, wanted the full lineup involved; so the album was cancelled, and Morris, Jerome, Jam, Lewis, Jesse, Jellybean, and Moir all reunited to costar in Prince’s ill-fated 1990 sequel to Purple RainGraffiti Bridge (see above). In other words, W.B., be careful what you wish for.

Thankfully, 1990 also saw the release of the band’s much-better album Pandemonium, which combined re-recorded leftovers from Corporate World with resurrected ’80s outtakes like “Chocolate” and “Jerk Out” (see above). The record is a little overstuffed–at 11 tracks not including skits, it’s almost twice the length of any previous Time album–but it’s probably their most satisfying since What Time Is It? Unfortunately, the bonhomie didn’t last, and the group disbanded again shortly after.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of the Time’s official recorded tenure; the group has had an impressive afterlife, however, with Morris, Jerome, Moir, and Jellybean still touring as “Morris Day and the Time” to this day. The original lineup also reunited again in 2011–albeit billed as “the Original 7ven,” due to Prince’s strict control over the “Time” name–for a fun, well-received album called Condensate. Some of the material is unquestionably hokey (was anyone really clamoring for a Time song with a hashtag in the title?), but it’s nevertheless a strong argument that after 30-plus years in the game, the Time’s irrepressible charm remains intact.

There’s a deeper reason, too, why the Time remain arguably the most highly-regarded of Prince’s various side projects. Their rivalry with Prince, both in real life and as dramatized in Purple Rain (we won’t speak any more of Graffiti Bridge), stands as a potent symbol of one of the defining tensions of the Purple One’s career, between humble generosity and iron-fisted tyranny. Prince was more than happy to help his brothers out with a slice of his success–just as long as it was on his terms and they didn’t step on his toes. But the group Prince once described as “the only band that I was afraid of” stepped on his toes with aplomb, all while looking sharp in their Stacy Adams. So let’s hear it for the Time: the original seven lunatics who ended up running the asylum. Like a great man once said: “The Wright Brothers can’t fuck with that.”

I’ll be back next Saturday with a post on the second big project from “Jamie Starr”: the delightfully campy Vanity 6. In the meantime, for more of me blathering about Prince protegés, check out the podcast I recorded for my blog Dystopian Dance Party last month. And of course, come back during the week as Andre resumes his regularly-scheduled programming.

6 Comments

Filed under 1980's, 1990s, 2010's, Apollonia, Jerome Benton, Jesse Johson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, Prince, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Solar Records, The Time, Vanity, Warner Bros.

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: ‘Lovesexy’ by Prince (1988)

Prince_-_Lovesexy

It was during the era of Sign O the Times that Prince was by far at his most musically exploratory and vital. He had one of his greatest bands during this period-the “Revolution Part 2” as I personally tend to call them in drummer/percussionist Sheila E.,longtime keyboardist Matt “Doctor” Fink,the late vocalist/organ player Bonnie Boyer,bassist Leaver Seacer Jr. and on sax and trumpet Eric Leeds and Matt “Atlanta Bliss” Bliston along with vocalist/dancer Cat. They not only provided an exciting stage presence for Prince during this era,but also expanded his musical sound.

 On the other hand? Prince was inwardly troubled. He recorded an album following the tour for his previous album. It had no title or name attached to it. And when it finally came out eight years later? It had been widely known (and bootlegged) as The Black Album. Prince apparently dream’t one night of a field with a shadow spelling out the word ‘god” written on it. Somehow this motivated him to shelve the rather profanely lyric’ed funk of that for an entirely different musical concept.

By posing on the album cover tactfully naked in front of three Georgia O’Keefe styled lilies-in the manner of Botticelli’s The Birth Of Venus? Prince not early earned a degree of censor from record stores. But also the perception his notorious narcissism had transgressed to full fledged megalomania. As with most things involving Prince? The entire conceptual tract of this album was nothing remotely that simplistic.

“Eye No” starts out by declaring “rain is wet/sugar is sweet/clap your hands/and stomp your feet”. After Prince himself declares over a psychedelic chorus that his voice sounds so clear because “there’s no smack in his brain” this intensely percussive funk groove-built around a dancing high bass line and Atlanta Bliss’s joyous muted trumpet solos. After this,with an echoed “OWW!” Prince goes into “Alphabet Street”,one of my personal favorite songs of his and this albums main hit.

Starting with some of the greatest funky drum/rhythm guitar I ever heard,a bluesy bass line introduces one of the many breaks which define the song. On the third break? There’s a brief wall of rock guitar before returning to the funk until fade out. “Glam Slam” starts out with a lightly percussive Arabic type melody with a Latin rock style guitar solo before going into a more new wave rock style melody that isn’t at all far removed from Little Red Corvette. “Anna Stesia” is a pensive,piano based jazz/pop type number with some unexpected major/minor chord transitions.

“Dance On” has a wild,high octane funk drumming and again a wall of rock guitar and bass seeming to bubble from below,but never to the front of the song with it’s gospel/soul organ led vocal chorus. The title track itself is an instrumentally thick contemporary synth funk number-again like an updated 1999 while the tender “When 2 R In Love”,the only holdover from the unreleased (at the time) Black Album is really the only stripped down number here. “I Wish You Heaven” is a somewhat ethereal arena rocker type with a powerful chorus while the closer “Positivity” is a jazzy,cinematic psychedelic soul/funk number with a gospel-type chorus at the end.

Throughout this album? Prince is completely playing the preacher. “Lovesexy” would seem on the surface to be some sort of “sexuality being next to godliness” type philosophy. He never defines it here. Lyrically there are constant references such as “I know there is a heaven and I know there is a hell” and “Love Is God/God Is Love/Girls and boys love god above” that reflect Prince’s embrace of the soul singers conflict between the secular and the spiritual. So its nothing unique in that respect. However on a more personal level it does seem that Prince was unsure what to make of his own revelation.

Prince seems to imply lyrically,throughout this album,a complete embrace of cynical paranoia where he is frightened of too much money,frightened of loosing it and frightened of the forces of evil. And those forces he combines into a character he describes in the end of the album as being called Spooky Electric. Musically speaking? Prince plays out his spiritual crisis to music that is far more loose than anything he’s done so far. His typically tight arrangements are replaced by a thick band oriented sound that can change in rhythm and melody almost on a whim.
In a way? That type of instrumentation is ideal in expressing the lyrical confusion this album seems to have. For reasons of which there are many interpretations,Prince also presented all nine songs on this CD onto one track. So the listener cannot jump between the totally different songs. Its one of his very best albums musically and is filled with memorable,highly funkified and even pop friendly songs. On the other hand,the lyrical confusion and aforementioned song presentation make this one of his less approachable albums.
Originally posted on June 8th,2014

Leave a comment

Filed under 1980's, Atlanta Bliss, Bonnie Boyer, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, horns, Lovesexy, Matt Fink, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, percussion, Prince, psychedelic soul, Sheila E., spirituality, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Dance On” by Prince

Prince was facing some important musical milestones in 1988. It would be the decade anniversary of recording career at Warner Bros. And consequently this year would see the release of his tenth studio album entitled Lovesexy. The album would be most famous for it’s cover art. Intended to express the albums concept of spiritual conflicts between good and evil,it would up prompting many record stores of the day to censor the album. Since Prince saw it’s nine songs as a full length statement,most CD copies of it were created with all the selections on one 45 minute track-rather than separated as with most CD’s.

It was only with the advent of computer CD burning technology that  people were able to hear these as individual songs outside their original context. Taken in that way,this record has that far reaching funk/pop/jazz/rock fusion that defined Prince mid/late 80’s music. And many of it’s songs are very dense and full sounding instrumentally. There is one song on this that really stands out for me personally. And it has to do with the fact that it takes his live instrumental sound of the time with his earlier production approach. The name of this song is called “Dance On”.

Sheila E begins the song-shaking the percussion like a rattle snake after which Prince calls out “OW!! PICK IT UP!!!” before Cat calls back “there’s a bass guitar in this” as Sheila throws down one of her powerful Brazilian style jazz/funk drum/timbale beats that provides the rhythm for the entire song. The refrains of the song showcase rhythmic scratch samples and Prince thundering the bass like a runaway freight train. On the chorus of the song, Prince sings with Bonnie Boyer in his falsetto voice while she provides some gospel hued accents on her Hammond organ.

Musically this song comes at you with a tremendously powerful groove. It’s stripped down instrumentally. But Sheila E’s drums are mixed up super high. And the bass line brings out how much Prince’s style on the instrument is based on his guitar playing-with it’s thundering,hard rocking power. Prince brings the guitar in on the later refrains of the song-using the metallic,electric thump of it almost like a police siren. While the refrains express a frightened,foreboding chase scene the choruses express straight up gospel joy. And therefore captures the classic spirit of the soul/funk genre.

The rhythmic instrumental approach of the song is ideal for the lyrical content. Thematically,this song balances the socially conscious vibe of “Sign O The Times” with the determination for joy in a time of crisis to be found on “1999”.  What makes this song for me is that Prince integrates a strong musical observation. Throughout the song,he evokes how the gang violence and loss of hope he sings about was draining away an interest in musical creativity during the 1980’s-even declaring “a bass guitar in spider webs looking for the funk”. So musically and lyrically,this is a bold declaration for funk in it’s time.

 

2 Comments

Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Bonnie Boyer, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, organ, Prince, rock guitar, scratching, Sheila E., Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Erotic City” by Prince

Prince’s musical legacy has a lot to do with his prolific level of recording. He was a very private man who didn’t make a lot of public appearances. And was known to have spent a good deal of his time recording new music. The end result of this is a now legendary vault of songs on his Paisley Park estate,containing thousands of unreleased songs. Of course there were many times when some of these songs not intended for albums were so strong,Prince just had to get them out there. The result was him being an artist known for some extremely high quality B-sides.

In the days of 45 RPM vinyl,I  was one of those people who used to love turning the record over to see what song was on the other side. Some B-sides,for Prince included,were actually album tracks that had never been hits. Prince for his part seemed to delight in putting these new grooves that inspired him onto the B-sides of his hits. During the extensive recording sessions for Purple Rain,Prince recorded one such song that ended up as such a flip side to his big single from that album called “Let’s Go Crazy”. The name of this song was “Erotic City”.

Prince starts the track by pulling an electric guitar string high up on the neck-producing a quavering theremin-like tone before the Linn drum machine kicks into gear with it’s hollow,open snare accents. The main rhythm of the song is built around this,along with a high pitched,bleeping synthesizer playing a 5 note blues riff call and response with a chunky chicken scratch rhythm guitar.  The round bass line pays the melodic changes as the chorus add a fairly low,minor chorded synthesizer orchestration while Prince trades off vocal leads with Sheila E.

The bridge of the song comes in with a lot of attitude. The bleeping synthesizer becomes more hollow and plays more of a two note pattern. Meanwhile Prince really gets going with the wah wah rhythm guitar. On the next choral parts,Prince accompanies he and Sheila’s vocals with that sped down/sped up “chipmunk” vocal that he’d later bring out further with his Camille persona. On the final part of the song,Prince really lets go again on that chicken scratch rhythm guitar-eventually pulling that string high up on the neck until the instrumentation simply falls apart as it fades.

Prince said at Parliament-Funkadelic into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame that he recorded “Erotic city” after seeing a P-Funk show at LA’s Beverley Theater. And it really does show on this song. In addition to holding down the stripped down Minneapolis sound,this song also integrates the quirky vocal styling’s and unexpected instrumental tones that defined George Clinton’s P-Funk crew. It’s one of Prince’s finest B-sides,and surely among his funkiness. In addition to Prince’s musical proteges,this is dedicated to Henrique Hopkins-with whom I share a mutual admiration for this strong 1984 naked funk classic.

1 Comment

Filed under 1980's, chicken scratch guitar, Funk Bass, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, Sheila E., synthesizer, wah wah guitar

Purple Funk: The Wonderful World Of Prince’s Spin-Off Acts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Prince had a very strong influence and popular acclaim in advancing the Minneapolis sound before the 1980’s even came in. At the same time,it was actually a very collaborative effort from the get go. From mid 70’s bands such as Flyte Tyme,Champagne and Pepe Willie’s 94 East onward,there were plenty of musicians in the twin cities hungry to lay down a new kind of funky groove. When Prince began lining up his roaster of acts first under the Starr Company then on his custom label Paisley Park,this ethic took on a whole other dimension.

There were many spin off acts from the Minneapolis music scene of the early/mid 1980’s. They stemmed from the Revolution,The Time and other people who had been involved with the concert scene at the major twin city hot spot First Avenue. Now there are a number of these spin offs I don’t yet have access to. So this may be a multi part concept. For now however,here’s a list of some of the key acts outside of Prince’s own recorded repertoire who played an important part in advancing the “purple funk” sound of Minneapolis as it was at it’s most active point.

MINNEAPOLISGENIUS94EAST-1

Prince’s first recordings in the mid 70’s with his cousin’s ex husband Pepe Willie. While this was a full band effort with only a small level of participation by Prince,it was remixed and released in 1985 on vinyl (and CD two years later) to fit in more with the synth brass heavy Minneapolis sound these rough jams grew into. Highlights are the live band grooves of “If You Feel Like Dancin”,the ultra funky breakdown of “Games” and the catchy “Just Another Sucker”. It really showcased an artist not yet ready to emerge on his own as a major musical power,but rather acting as a band member of some note.

Vanity 6

Prince turned the classic girl group image on it’s head with the Vanity 6. Featuring three vampish ladies in ex musician Brenda Bennett,his girlfriend Susan Moonsie and the provocative Vanity herself, this album showcased a stripped down,new wave based sound. The musical highlights are the Afro-Latin electro rhythms of “Nasty Girl”,key to the production style of Pharrell Williams today as well as the ultra funky “If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)”.

What Time Is It

The Time’s sophomore album showcased how much the band lead by Prince’s old school chum (and one time drummer) Morris Day had the strong potential to step right up front alongside Prince as Minneapolis funk royalty. Actually one of the most powerful new funk albums of it’s era,”777-9311″ showcased just how strongly percussive the Linn Drum could be in Prince’s hand while “Wild and Loose” and “The Walk” showcased the “original 7’s” groove power actually is in terms of driving the one right home!apollonia-6-album-cover

Vanity  6 were rechristened Apollonia 6 when Patricia “Apollonia” Kotero ended up replacing Vanity as Prince’s leading lady in the film Purple Rain. The album basically copies the formula of it’s predecessor. And Apollonia sounds like a literal Vanity stand in on most of her vocal leads-including the major hit in the hyper-kinetic single “Sex Shooter”. My personal two favorite number are sung by Brenda in the pounding “Blue Limousine” and the ultra groove bluesy funk thump of “Some Kind Of Lover”.

Sheila Escovedo had gone from George Duke’s late 70’s band to playing with Narada Michael Walden just before this Bay Area percussion veteran bought her heavily timbale based sound to the Minneapolis sound in 1984 on her Prince collaboration on the amazing Latin-funk of “The Glamorous Life”. Highlights of her debut solo album in addition to that are the funky instrumental “Strawberry Shortcake” and the slinky “Oliver’s House”. Her followup Romance 1600 was a jazzier big band flavor with swinging numbers like “Yellow”. The major funk highlight of that album is the phat Prince penned groove of “A Love Bizarre”.

The Family

The Family were a short lived spin off of The Time. Featuring Jerome Benton and introducing sax player Eric Leads,the lead singers were The Time’s Paul Peterson and Wendy Melvoin’s twin sister (and then Prince’s girlfriend” Susannah.  The album introduces the jazzier and more cinematic sound Prince was going for during the mid 80’s. It contained two huge funk monsters in the thick “High Fashion” and “Mutiny”. Not to mention the cinematic soul masterpiece of “The Screams Of Passion”.

Mazarati

Produced by the Revolution’s Brown Mark,Mazarati were the band who also got Prince’s massive hit “Kiss” until he realized it’s potential and decided to take it back. He did gift Mazarati the ultra funky “100 MPH”. Considering this album threw down thick jams such as “Players Ball”,”Stroke”and “Suzy”, this 1986 debut for the band is one that should’ve catapulted this talented,funky band a lot higher than it did.

These very obscure 1987 releases showcase Prince leading a jazz-funk fusion group featuring Eric Leeds and Sheila E’s band of the time. The titles of the two albums songs are sequential. The first of the albums is the jazzier of the two,while the second is built around gurgling instrumental funk including Prince’s early use of sampling-with parts from the first two Godfather films added to the mix.

Gold Nigga

Perhaps anticipating the demise of Paisley Park later in 1993,Prince did for his band the New Power Generation what he didn’t manage to accomplish with the Revolution: record an entire album on them with himself as producer. And on their own self named record label no less.  Due to his infamous battle with Warner Bros. during this time,the lyrics follow a concept of the NPG making mock phone calls to the label about regarding more creative freedom. And with hardcore JB’s style funk jams such as “Deuce A Quarter”,”Johnny” and “Call The Law”,this reflects a new type of “people music” as it were that stands with Prince’s railing against creative oppression.

Hey Man Smell My Finger

This second George Clinton release for the Paisley Park label from October of 1993 featured a production update that showcased how much of an impact P-Funk’s “video game” synthesizer style was having on the G-Funk end of hip-hop at the time. Prince himself contributed the house style dance number “The Big Pump” to the album. Even though it was released just before Paisley Park folded,it showcased Prince’s deep respect for the music icons that inspired what he had been doing.

An artists impact is usually felt most fully by their influence upon others. Even during the period where Prince’s peak years were starting to wane,new distribution projects such as the 1-800-NEW-FUNK number and his early websites allowed for more spin off’s from Paisley Park to be made available for the people. Due to the come and go nature of some of these mediums,a lot of these side projects are very rare now. But they were worth seeking out in order to understand just how broad reaching Prince and his protege’s musical vision actually was.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1980's, 94 East, Apollonia, Brenda Bennett, cinematic soul, electro funk, Eric Leeds, George Clinton, jazz funk, Jerome Benton, Linn Drum, Madhouse, Mazarati, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, New Powe Generation, NPG Records, P-Funk, Pepe Willie, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Sheila E., Susannah Melvoin, The Time, Vanity

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Shake It Off” by Narada Michael Walden

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!

2 Comments

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