Con Funk Shun are among my favorite funk bands of the 70’s. Originally hailing from Vallejo,California,this band is someone whom my friend and blogging inspiration Henrique Hopkins has a good deal of musical knowledge of. Based on what I heard beforehand, Con Funk Shun were a band with many similarities to Earth,Wind & Fire. They favored well recorded grooves with strong melodies. They also often enlisted the writing/instrumental assistance of Skip Scarborough. Band founder Felton Pilate went into fame on his own by producing MC Hammer on his debut album in 1988.
This band first came to my attention via my dad’s cassette copy of the Best Of Funk Essentials compilation around 1993. Later on while browsing the cutout CD’s at Borders Books & Music,I came across a reissue of the bands 1977 sophomore album Secrets. At the time,Borders had a CD player behind the counter. And opened CD’s for customers to listen to before purchase. If they didn’t want them after,they’d reseal them. This particular CD was not one I asked them to reseal. And a big part of this was due to the fact the first song really jumped out at me. Its called “DooWhatChaWannaDoo”.
A fast snare drum kick starts out the song. After that,the drum takes on a mild Brazilian flavor-accenting a faster three hit drum on the second beat. Scarborough builds both a high pitched melodic synthesizer and an elaborate Moog bass into the mix as well. The bands horn charts play the main melody of the song-accented by climactic strings. The refrains emphasize the bluesiest aspects of the keyboard parts-while intro represents the chorus. The bridge takes it all down to a chunky high/bass synth duet with accenting strings before the chorus repeats up to the fade out of the song.
“DooWhatChaWannaDoo” is one of those songs that represents the sophistifunk sound at some of its very finest. The keyboards and horns both have an equally thick,gurgling throb about them. And it all manages to accent the very singable (and also elaborate melody) as well. Its a great example of starting off an album with one of its strongest songs that could draw in the listener to its melody and groove. Con Funk Shun ably blend a harder edged Dayton style hard funk vocal and rhythm attitude with the slickness of their West Coast funk contemporaries. And it makes this song a shining example of their funk.
Writing Anatomy of THE Groove this week has really bought to mind how crucial the mid 70’s were to the greatest musical triumphs of the funk era. It’s a key conversational point between myself and Henrique,who’s still informing and inspiring me from behind the scenes on this blog. Watching a video of Maurice White serenading the late Natalie Cole with the song “Can’t Hide Love” inspired me to tell you,the reader how I feel about this song. Have covered a lot of EWF here. But this 1975 number is special to myself and Henrique in the entire annals of recorded funk.
Just the historical back-round of this song seems theatrical. When EWF decided to do a live album due to heavy touring keeping them from recording a whole new album after That’s The Way Of The World,they released a compilation of live versions of their songs from this touring instead. It was paired with four new studio tracks. And the song being talked about today was the last of them. The album was appropriately entitled Gratitude. The most interesting thing about the song was that it wasn’t entirely written by Maurice or the other band members.
The song started life as a song written by Louisiana born composer Skip Scarborough in 1973. It was included on the debut album for the LA based Fifth Dimension spin off group Creative Source. It would seem that Maurice White and company felt a deep connection to the song. And since Skip was already working his songwriting magic with EWF , they all teamed up to re-arrange the song in a whole new way for the band- three years after the original first came out. The result was yet another case of a re-imagined remake taking a song to an entirely different level.
The Phenix Horns fanfare into the song-accompanied at every turning by the popping,jazzy bass of Verdine White. The gentle,high pitched rhythm guitars,electric piano,drums and strings all come in to play the central refrain of the song itself. Each coming into their own climaxes with Maurice White and Philip Bailey’s righteous vocal heights. On the finale of the song? The refrain transforms into one of the most eloquently composed vocal harmonies in music history-with Bailey vocalizing wordlessly first in his natural tenor,than in his better known falsetto.
When my father asked me at age 16 what my favorite EWF song was? I told him it was this one. And each time I hear it to this day? The sheer level of musicality in the song still raises the hairs on my back. Between the vocals,the bass of Verdine White,the rhythm guitar of Al McKay,the electric piano of Larry Dunn,the Phenix Horns and Charles Stepney’s string arrangements? It all dovetails with Scarborough’s reworked composition for a superb example of the sweetest funk can be. And on a non instrumental level,it goes even further.
Henrique and myself are in funky synergy about this song being one of the most harmonically advanced moments in contemporary music. Especially when it comes to the final vocal choruses of Phillip Bailey. Everything in this song is built on harmony. It deals with a man telling his lover not to deny the emotions they both have for each other. And doing so in a manner that’s both strong and empathetic. It perfectly reflects the song’s musical virtues. And if someone asked me to name a handful of songs representing the pinnacle of funk? This would be at the top of the list.
Filed under 1975, Al McKay, Charles Stepney, classic funk, drums, Earth Wind & Fire, electric piano, Funk, Funk Bass, funk guitar, Larry Dunn, Los Angeles, Maurice White, Natalie Cole, Phenix Horns, Philip Bailey, Skip Scarborough, Uncategorized, Verdine White