Category Archives: Sly Stone

Dystopian Dance Party presents Jheri Curl June: Jesse Johnson

jheri-johnson-1212x1200

Every year in the month of June, my blog Dystopian Dance Party throws a month-long celebration of the wet, silky ’80s R&B we like to call Jheri Curl Music: a kind of hazily-defined intersection of post-disco boogie, electro-funk, and the Minneapolis Sound that, like pornography, is unmistakable when you hear it. And for the past three years, we’ve commenced our Jheri Curl June festivities with profiles of major figures in the style, timed to line up with their birthdays in the beginning of June. In 2014, it was Prince (born June 7); in 2015, it was Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (the former born June 6); last year, it was L.A. Reid (June 7 again). But until now, we’ve never managed to make time for another architect whose birthday falls as close to the beginning of June as possible: June 1, 1960. I’m talking, of course, about Jesse Johnson.

Jesse, in our defense, hasn’t exactly been a stranger to Jheri Curl June. His “Be Your Man” was our second-ever JCJ post back in 2014, and we’ve also considered his work both as a member of the Time and as the producer of late-’80s Minneapolis funk-rockers dáKRASH. But we’ve never taken a deep dive into his music–and that’s a damn shame, because whatever Johnson might have lacked in the innovation of his former associates Prince, Jam, and Lewis, he more than made up for with some of the strongest pure Jheri Curl Music of the mid-to-late 1980s. In other words, there’s no better person with whom to launch our fourth annual celebration of all things wet and silky in ’80s R&B music. So let’s get to it!

The Time in 1981 (Jesse Johnson far right); photo stolen from Lansure’s Music Paraphernalia.

Jesse Johnson was born in Rock Island, Illinois and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, but he will forever be associated with Minneapolis: the city where he launched his career in 1981 as lead guitarist for Prince’s first and greatest “protégé group,” the Time. Much has been made of the Time as a kind of dummy act for their svengali‘s straight-up R&B material, but Johnson in particular played a greater role in the studio than has been acknowledged; recently, for example, he released his own early demo version of the group’s second-biggest single, “Jungle Love,” long widely assumed to have been written by Prince alone. Yet, like so many other musicians over whom Prince ruled with a lacy fist, Johnson’s independence chafed against his employer’s desire for control, and by the end of 1984 he and the rest of the Time had jumped ship.

© A&M Records

Like his fellow Time escapees, Jam and Lewis, Johnson started out as a songwriter and producer: a role he’d already inhabited while in the Prince camp, penning not only “Jungle Love” but also “Bite the Beat” for the Vanity 6 project. In fact, while Jimmy and Terry are the bigger names, Jesse actually beat them to the punch in one respect: contributing two songs to Janet Jackson’s 1984 sophomore album Dream Street, a year and a half before Jam and Lewis did Control. The first of these tracks, “Pretty Boy,” may not be “Nasty,” but it’s a nice, fizzy dose of New Wave-inflected jheri curl pop; and Johnson himself re-recorded the second track, “Fast Girls,” for a B-side in 1985 (his version is the one included here). After Janet, Jesse’s next major break came in the unlikely shape of the Breakfast Clubsoundtrack:  his “Heart Too Hot to Hold,” a duet with fellow A&M artist Stephanie Spruill, obviously fell short of Simple Minds’ epochal “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” in capturing the zeitgeist, but I can’t imagine he minds when those residuals come in.

© A&M Records

For all intents and purposes, however, Johnson’s debut as a solo artist came with the release of his 1985 album Jesse Johnson’s Revue. It was at this point when his characteristic take on the Minneapolis Sound, hinted at in his earlier production work, came into full bloom: surprisingly keyboard-driven for a guitarist, explicitly New Wave-influenced, and with plenty of the fiery guitar solos that had been his specialty in the Time. Songs like “Can You Help Me,” “Let’s Have Some Fun,” and the yearning ballad “I Want My Girl” established Johnson as a kind of middle ground between the Time’s good-time funk and the sexier, artier stylings of Prince.

© A&M Records

Indeed, it’s clear that in 1985 A&M was positioning Johnson as a potential competitor to W.B.’s Prince: it didn’t hurt, of course, that Jesse was a dead ringer for his former employer, with the mandatory mid-’80s thin moustache and even a trademark color, pink, to match Prince’s purple. Johnson was less comfortable with these comparisons, however; and his response, the B-side “Free World,” became one of his most enduring songs. Not only did it address the elephant in the room–“Nobody likes the way I hold my mic / They say it’s too much like my friend”–but it was also an influential work of electro-funk on its own merits: just try and listen to the Egyptian Lover’s “Freak-a-Holic” and tell me he didn’t have “Free World” on the brain.

© A&M Records

Jesse Johnson’s Revue wasn’t the runaway success it should have been, but A&M wasn’t ready to give up on turning Jesse into “their” Prince: he even got his own protégés, Ta Mara and the Seen, led by the crossover-friendly (read: white) singer Margie Cox, a.k.a. Ta Mara. Their “Everybody Dance” was as “Jesse Johnson” as Vanity 6 had been “Prince,” and has become as much a part of the Minneapolis Sound’s legacy. Johnson also made time for another Brat Pack soundtrack in early 1986, contributing the New Wave-y “Get to Know Ya” to Pretty in Pink.

© A&M Records

The followup to Jesse Johnson’s Revue, 1986’s Shockadelica, carried on the inevitable comparisons to Prince–though this time through no fault of Johnson’s own. The story goes that Prince, after hearing the name for Jesse’s new album, tried to convince him to write a title track–then, when Jesse declined, went ahead and wrote it himself, leaking it to Minneapolis radio so listeners would assume he’d come up with the title first.  It’s unfortunate, because Shockadelica shows a lot of musical growth for Johnson: plucking Sly Stone out of his self-imposed obscurity for the lead single “Crazay” and incorporating prominent freestyle influences on “Baby Let’s Kiss.” But on some level, at least, Johnson also got the last laugh: his “Do Yourself a Favor” nicks Prince’s unreleased arrangement of “If You See Me” by Minneapolis Sound godfather Pepé Willie, but credits Willie alone, ensuring he got all the royalties.

© A&M Records

Shockadelica was another modest, but not overwhelming success, and Johnson continued to produce for other artists, collaborating with Ta Mara on “I Need You” by Paula Abdul. His next album, 1988’s Every Shade of Love, fell short of the previous records’ sales, but it still had some gems in “Love Struck”–Johnson’s biggest hit since “Crazay”–and the mellow, soulful “I’m Just Wanting You.”

It’s convenient, for our purposes, that the first wave of Johnson’s solo career ended along with what we like to call the “jheri curl era”: after Every Shade, he still contributed to soundtracks and other artists’ projects, but wouldn’t reemerge with an album of his own until 1996’s rock-oriented Bare My Naked Soul. Today–after another, 14-year leave of absence–he’s arguably at his highest profile since the ’80s: performing with D’Angelo and (occasionally) the original lineup of the Time, most recently at the 2017 Grammy Awards. Earlier this year, he played to a packed house at the Minneapolis club Bunker’s to commemorate the one-year anniversary of his old sparring partner Prince’s death. Things, it seems, have come full circle; Johnson has both outlasted Prince and become more inseparable than ever with his legacy. And he’s built a hell of a legacy of his own: one we’re proud to celebrate this Jheri Curl June, and many more in the future.

For more Jheri Curl June, check out Dystopian Dance Party every weekday for the rest of this month; I’ll also be posting highlights for my remaining Saturday guest posts. See you again soon!

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Filed under Janet Jackson, Jesse Johnson, Jesse Johnson's Revue, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Pepe Willie, Prince, Sly Stone, The Time

Anatomy Of The Groove: “I Fresh” by The Brothers Johnson

The Brothers Johnson continued on valiantly following the end of the partnership between them and Quincy Jones on their first four albums. While their first self produced 1981 album  Winners picked right up where the brothers left off with Quincy,their next album in 1984’s  Out Of Control found them having lost quite a lot of their distinctive sound. Of course at the time,Louis Johnson had gone onto phenomenal success as a session player at the QWest label in particular-coming to particular fame with Michael Jackson as “Mr. Billie Jean” with his iconic bass line for that massive hit record for MJ.

It would be another five years after that before George and Lewis reunited for their seventh and final studio album Kickin‘. It was 1988 by then. And hard funk was making a huge comeback with songs like Cameo’s “Word Up”,Prince’s “Kiss”  and Earth Wind & Fire’s “System Of Survival” lighting both pop and R&B charts on fire in 1986/87. So this new Brothers Johnson album was heavily endowed with uptempo funk grooves. It wasn’t until my experience with ordering CD’s online did I manage to pick up this relatively rare album. And one standout song for me is the George Johnson sung “I Fresh”.

The song starts of with a heavy snare drum that only hits after every four light cymbal strokes throughout the entire song. Each beat is followed by a hand clap, a brittle synth bass pulse and a both the ethereal string synthesizer and George’s round wah wah guitar playing the same ultra bluesy melody. On the brief refrains,the key is taken up a bit higher and a higher pitched synthesizer comes in accenting the guitar. Towards the end of the song,the thickness of the bass and keyboard parts is bought more to the surface as the song finally fades out of itself.

Sly Stone arranged the horns for “Balls Of Fire” later in this album. But something tells me he was sitting in through this entire session. The main reason is this song,which sounds like an late 80’s instrumental update of the ultra stripped down, bluesy funk Sly was going for during his Fresh period in the early 70’s. The addition of digital keyboards, plus the fact George Johnson might’ve  played most of the instruments on this song ,also keep it in line with the naked funk Prince had pioneered with the Minneapolis sound. It was very distinctive latter day jam from the Brothers Johnson as a result.

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Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, blues funk, Brothers Johnson, drums, George Johnson, naked funk, Sly Stone, synthesizer, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Loose Booty” by Sly & Family Stone

Life seemed to be turning around for Sly during the mid 70’s. Though his albums with the Family Stone were continuing to be more or less solo albums featuring mainly Sly’s instrumental input, there were changes for him on many levels. Drugs had become a major factor in both his life and that of the other band members during the early 70’s. This led to the band being known for  continually missing gigs. And it also added to his isolation as an individual. While this had the effect of producing some very creative grooves this 60’s icon of peace,love and soul power was seemingly running out of steam when it came to reaching the people.

Sly himself attempted to turn this around by marrying actress/model Kathleen Silva. Their wedding took place as part of a big performance at Madison Square Garden in June of 1974. They had a child together named Sylvester Jr. A month later Sly released the album Small Talk. While it features the same idea of the band being overdubbed into his own instrumentation basically,the addition of strings on some tracks made for a somewhat slower and pop oriented album. Of course there was still a lot of funk to be heard here. One of these grooves that always stood out to me came in midway through the album,and is entitled “Loose Booty”.

The song starts right off with a stone cold fanfare of sustained horns,organ and drums over which Little Sister harmonize the title choruses. The following refrain strips down to the bass,organ and funk drumming-with Sly grunting out “Shadrach,Meshach,Abednego” as a rhythmic lyric. After a drum break featuring a high pitched female vocal call and response-concluding with a muted trumpet,the refrain returns with Sly trading off lyrics in classic Family Stone style with Rose,Little Sister and an unknown bass voice (perhaps Freddie Stone in a lower voice). The song repeats this  chorus/refrain/break patter twice before an extended refrain closes out the song right on the one.

In a lot of ways,this is some of the most instrumentally full funk Sly had done since the salad days of the Family Stone in the late 60’s. It still has the same hard funk flavor of Sly’s 70’s music. But with the dense mix of horns,drums,bass and organ it’s not at all as stripped down as anything on There’s A Riot Goin’ On or Fresh. Sly singing a rhythmic chorus just repeating the names of three pious Jewish kings forced to walk through fire in the bible for not bowing to the image of a king may say a lot more about how he felt he’d had to pay a price for his actions somehow-either personally or musically. In terms of sheer funkiness and the popularity of it’s breaks in samples,this is prime mid period Sly funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, backup singers, drums, Funk, horns, organ, Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego, slap bass, Sly & The Family Stone, Sly Stone, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “In Time” by Sly & The Family Stone (1973)

It would seem that 1973 bought a lot of changes into the Family Stone. Sly Stone had pretty much recorded There’s a Riot Going On by himself in a state of paranoid isolation. Band members were dubbed in as needed,with some such as Larry Graham and Greg Errico barely utilized-if even at all. This combined with Sly missing gigs during this era,to the point of it being blamed for starting a riot in Chicago in 1970 meant that some serious changes were needed within the band,if it was going to endure. In 1972 Larry Graham left the Family Stone to form Graham Centeral Station,with drummer Errico leaving during the same period.

During this time Sly himself began revamping the band. He bought in Rusty Allen to play bass during the time Graham was leaving and Andy Newmark as a drummer to succeed Errico. A vocal trio called Little Sister,including future Mrs. Leon Russel in Mary McCreary also came into the mix. Sly recorded with somewhat more involvement from the band for the album that would become 1973’s Fresh. Being a musical perfectionist, Sly insisting on remixing these songs even after the album came out. While this resulted in the original US CD release of it containing some of these alternate takes,the album began with a very defining groove for 70’s era Sly entitled “In Time”.

Sly begins the song with Newmark playing a very idiosyncratic march that intertwines with his own Maestro Rhythm King,an organ based drum machine,to play an Afro Latin percussive rhythm. Freddie plays a very probing melodic guitar with Sly’s organ providing a melodic pillow in the back round. Sly’s two note bass line seems to be present on this part. On the choruses,the drumming gets seriously on the one along with the horns and Allen’s more flamboyant bass parts. And the horns also play their usual call and response role on each rhythm. On the two instrumental refrains,Jerry Martini’s sax solos accompany Sly’s organ before the song closes on it’s own repeated choruses.

What this song does is serve the best possible purposes an opening tune can on an album. It sets the state for the sound for what is to come in that regard. Fresh is an album that blends a stripped down production with a slick sound and a full instrumental approach. And this song can best be described that way. The funk on this song,especially with it’s heavy rhythmic breaks and Sly’s drawling vocals,is more fully formed than it was on the previous album. The sound of the Maestro Rhythm King on early 70’s Sly records would also find it’s way onto Shuggie Otis’s work from the same period. So again,Sly was on the cutting edge of blending innovative instrumentation with strong rhythmic funkiness.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Andy Newmark, drum machine, drums, Freddie Stone, Funk, Funk Bass, guitar, horns, Jerry Martini, Maestro Rhythm King, Mary McCreary, organ, Rusty Allen, Sly & The Family Stone, Sly Stone, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) by Sly & The Family Stone (1969)

Sly & The Family Stone had a really big year in 1969. Their fourth album Stand! is now considered a landmark for the band. It was a full on effort featuring hugely popular hits such as “Everyday People”,”Sing A Simple Song” and the title song. Up until that time,funk was relatively new as a genre (had been a musicians term for decades beforehand),and was generally a singles medium. This new Sly album showcased funk as an album medium-with many hard grooving and melodic songs with equally popular potential. Being so important to funk as he is,it’s amazing I’ve personally never covered Sly on Andresmusictalk so far.

Sylvester Stewart was an artist whom I know about long before knowing his name,or the name of his band. It started at 11 years old when recording songs off the radio during a time of schoolwork induced insomnia. That was when I first heard “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”. At the time,I personally had no idea what I hearing was funk. And despite having heard a lot of it before had didn’t even know what funk was. The song itself was released in December 1969 as a double A side single to “Everybody Is A Star”. Sly Stone was getting ready to start work on what would become There’s A Riot Goin’ On at the time. So this gave him a placeholder to again change the face of funk during the wait.

On the intro,Greg Errico’s peddling hit hat drumming plays second to Larry Graham’s bass line,which accompanies Freddie Stones  James Brown like rhythm guitar throughout the song. Here he pulled the strings away from the fingerboard for a deep,round tone. This became known as slap bass. It’ more the rhythmic foundation for this song than Errico’s drums as it’s mixed up higher. As the collective vocals of the group come in to sing the refrains,Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini’s horn lines play call and response to Larry’s bass and the vocals. They do so on the refrain by wiggling in pitch,and on the choruses in full on fanfare. These horns swell to the thickness of the bass line as the song fades out.

Lyrically speaking,this song is somewhat more weary than is usually associated with Sly’s 60’s output. He references his past hits and some of the paranoia that comes with big time show business. The title even seems to imply a whole phase of the Family Stone’s creativity has come to an end. The melody also showcases funk’s blues base more than the gospel/pop melodies of the bands previous hits. It’s Larry’s slap bass that’s the star of the show here. While this technique had already been used in rockabilly,the level of rhythmic thumping on this song allowed for the instrumental vocabulary of funk to be forever altered. As such this wound up being Sly’s final funk innovation of the 1960’s.

 

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Filed under 1960's, Cynthia Robinson, Freddie Stone, Funk, Greg Errico, horns, Jerry Martini, Larry Graham, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Sly & The Family Stone, Sly Stone, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/9/2015: “Wait Here” by Al Green

Al Green’s music has been a very key reference point on two musical levels for me. One is in my conversations with Henrique. The other is as one of the finest examples of funky soul or “sweet funk”-coming out of producer Willie Mitchell’s Hi studios in Memphis during the 1970’s. Green’s couple of handful’s worth of excellent albums during that decade are a ripe grapevine of these types of grooves. As consistent as his sound was? It seemed like the right time to showcase just how diversely funky this man’s music actually was.

Because it’s well known that Al Green focused mainly on the religious side of his music after the late 70’s? Curiosity drew me to the final album of his classic run-1978’s  Truth N’ Time. That name alone said a lot about Green’s spiritual changes a the time. By this point? He was producing himself without the aid of Willie Mitchell-choosing instead to work with different associate producers. The result was music that often took different stylistic detours from his more personal stamp. “Wait Here”,from that aforementioned album,is just one such example.

The song begins with a heavy funky drummer with a powerful wah-wah guitar interacting with a low Clavinet playing the bass line. At the end of each chorus,there’s a musical break that features the chugging wah wah. On the bridge the guitar plays a countrified soul line with hot melodic horns that blast away throughout the remainder of the song-punctuating Green’s vocals as they go. On the final chorus of the song? Green himself plays a wailing and weeping guitar solo of  the main vocal line that he used for  rest of the song.

The musical genesis of this song is really compelling. It blends the basic melodic/rhythmic line from Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank For Falettinme Be Mice Elf” with the keyboard harmonies of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. Not only is Al Green blending two key elements of the early 70’s funk era during the disco era? But he adds his own spin to it. The melody,and in particular his closing guitar riff, dripping with the Southern fried 12 bar electric blues.  Though it’s probably a somewhat forgotten groove? It’s one of his most compelling.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Al Green, classic funk, clavinet, Funk, funk guitar, Memphis Soul, Sly Stone, Southern Soul, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/1/2015: “Questionnaire” by Chas Jankel

Chas Jankel is a very key figure in the development of the UK funk scene that thrived alongside new wave in the early 1980’s. Something of a child prodigy who began learning Spanish guitar and piano at the age of 7? Jankel joined up with Ian Dury in 1977. He was a part of their group together known as The Blockheads,who expertly integrated American funk and disco into their English pub rock framework. In particular on their heavily funkified 1979 double album Do It Yourself. In 1980, Jankel decided to leave the Blockheads in order to pursue a solo career. His self titled debut album,with it’s lead-off song “Ai No Corrida” even inspired a hit remake shortly after-courtesy of non other than Quincy Jones.

I personally first heard of the man through a book entitled Funk-The Essential Listening Companion. It mentioned Jankel with a thorough discography. But the fact that the book was highly critical of Chas’s creative choices was negated by the fact the entire book itself was very sloppily written and printed-full of typographical errors. So I sought out the man’s difficult to locate music on my own. Some years later? YouTube emerged as a huge help in this-with only his debut readily available on CD to this date. Deciding on which of his songs to discuss was like a chocoholic contemplating a Whitman’s Sampler from where I stood. Somehow? His 1981 song and accompanying music video “Questionnaire” came just a little ahead of the crowd in that regard!

The intro to this song builds up powerful musical drama by actually fading into the song in the same way most fade out. And it does so into a powerful swell of Afro-Brazilian percussion. Shortly the trumpets blare-accenting the jazzy salsa piano that changes melody in the primary chorus of the song. On the refrains,this is heavily accented by powerful bursts of Larry Graham-style slap bass-only appropriate as Sly & The Family Stone were apparently a major inspiration for Jankel getting into funk to start with The trumpets blare even louder on a chorus filled with a throbbing snare drum solo over the percussion before joining a full chorus of trumpets and organ solos. On the final instrumental refrain? A quieter and more plaintive trumpet solo leads out the song.

To my ears? This is one of the finest merging’s of Cuban jazz and poppy funk to come out of the early 80’s UK jazz/funk scene. The insertion of American funk elements such as thick slap bass goes right in perfectly with the unifying instrumental force joining Afro-Latin dance music and funk/soul together-thick and strong percussion accents. The lyrical content is simple enough. Just a single man daydreaming of a potential future lover in the form of a personal ad. Yet Jankel states it very eloquently-asking important questions of possible mates about people’s priorities in life rather than concerning himself totally with matters of economy . As the song implies? This is one musical journey that is indeed quite important!

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Latin jazz, bass guitar, Chas Jankel, Funk, Funk Bass, Ian Dury, Jazz-Funk, Larry Graham, lyrics, slap bass, Sly Stone, UK Funk

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 5/23/2015: ‘Winners (Expanded Edition) by The Brothers Johnson

Brothers Johnson Winners

Released in the immediate aftermath of the Johnson’s split with the Quincy Jones production team they had the excellent sense to take the same talented people they’d worked with over the years along with them. All the same this album proved an enormous dip in commercial success and,as far as I know this is the first CD reissue of this particular album. I had the vinyl for years and barely ever played it. In that format it always seemed a little lacking to me musically and it still is in some ways.

The main reason is that the one thing the Johnson’s couldn’t take with them from Jones was the years of arranging and production experience so when they produced and arranged this album themselves everything was given a similar flavor at times but overall it lacks the clever touches,especially certain electronic ones that Quincy often added to spice up his productions. Otherwise,in some ways it’s actually a pretty logical follow up to it’s predecessor even if it doesn’t break any new ground musically.

“The Real Thing” is basically the most obvious response to “Stomp”,lacking only that songs sense of rhythmic build-it comes out of nowhere and more or less stays there. “Dancin’ Free” and “Caught Up” are similarly grooving affairs whereas “Do It For Love” and “Teaser” easily emerge as the harder funk on the album-actually very stripped down production wise which is very appropriate for the times and the emergence of “naked funk”,although none of these songs are the least bit electronic as all the music on this album is extremely organic in nature.

The last half of the album is very unusual as it presents a series of songs with more rock oriented musical devices in keeping with the sound of the Toto members participating in this album. “Hot Mama” in fact is pretty straight out rock n roll with a bit of a funk edge. “I Want You”,”In The Way” and the closer “Daydreamer Dream” actually sound more like arena friendly early 80’s Toto style pop/rock track than anything by The Brothers Johnson. It was an interesting unexplored direction but might have taken people off guard as it did me.

Luckily this reissue solves another problem. Up until now The Brothers Johnson entire recorded output on CD has remained incomplete because all the four “new” cuts featured on their 1982 compilation Blast! were never released on a compilation together. This compilation straightens that out by adding all four of those cuts as bonuses,giving this some of the best bonus cuts I’ve heard on a CD since usually bonus tracks are single edits or alternate takes. Three of these cuts “Welcome To The Club”,the autobiographical “Funk It” and “The Great Awakening” are all a nasty,lightly electro style hardcore naked funk-the latter whose lyrics (as illustrated in the excellent liner notes) are George’s plea to his philandering brother Louis to stat true to certain important people in his life.

This ends with “Echoes Of An Era”,a full on hardcore early 80’s on the Sly Stone style funk groove with a tribute to funk itself. Big Break Records is currently THE BEST funk,soul and R&B reissue label currently around. Particularly in the way they present rare albums such as this with excellent sound,great liner notes with well written information and photos and bonus tracks the same way rock and jazz albums have been getting domestically. And this is an excellent reissue in a series of them that actually helped me reappraise music I’d previously had uncertain thoughts about.

Originally Posted On May 10th,2011

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Big Break Records, Brothers Johnson, electro funk, Funk, Funk Bass, George Johnson, Louis Johnson, Music Reviewing, Quincy Jones, reissues, Sly Stone

Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk: “Tis Your Kind Of Music” by Graham Central Station

Welcome to this first ever volume of Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk. This (so far) bimonthly segment is going to be devoted to classic songs in the jazz/funk/soul spectrum from the 60’s and 70’s. It was first conceived by friend and blogging partner Henrique Hopkins. It started to make sense,with this blog’s emphasis on newer grooves,to begin exploring their points of origin in a more in depth kind of way. Decided to take on this idea for now while I am flying solo with Andresmusictalk for a little while. In the spirit of my concept on writing about songs from the classic funk era that are lesser known? I’ll start the concept with one of my personal favorites.

Larry Graham was in a very interesting position during the first few years of his band Graham Central Station. Sly & The Family Stone were still operating and even having hits. So the two,with Larry being the connecting thread to both,were at this point very much in tandem. Larry’s own take music was on a very uptempo gospel oriented type of funk built around the interaction between keyboards and this iconic,thick slap bass playing. For the bands second release in 1974’s Release Yourself, the band forged ahead heavily into an instrumental direction that Sly actually began but which GCS were already about to take to the next level. And for me at least? The crowning achievement of this was in the song ‘Tis Your Kind Of Music”.

The song begins with a nasal burst of ARP synthesizer from Larry himself,which melds into pulsing bass tones playing the counter point to the main theme.All along with the pulsing burble of Patrice “Chocolate” Bank’s organ drum programming. After a bar of this,the synthesizer begins playing a staccato type of bluesy lead line-with a string synthesizer orchestration backing it up and the electric piano of Hershall “Happiness” Kennedy playing the different changes. Chocolate sings the first vocal verse of the song in her deep,thick churchy gospel wail-trading off with Larry’s deep bass voice on each refrain. Each of which is followed by a repeat of that second instrumental verse. The song closes out out with a band unison vocal of the songs title-sang as an exploratory chant.

On the very first time I heard this song? It’s instrumental boldness absolutely blew me away. Realized it would be a song I’d be learning from for years to come. And it has been for sure. Most importantly? It brings up a matter Henrique and I have recently been discussing about the pan ethnic forms of music. In fact,it’s very possible to have a situation on many songs with Afrocentric structure but European content. And vice versa. This is a song of a type that,very much in the original spirit of the Family Stone,blows that ethic right out of the box. It not only presents an almost totally electronic mix of still very new synthesizers and drum machines. But also does so with European classical orchestration,spiritual/gospel melodicism (especially on the vocal arrangements) and that heavy jazz oriented funk grind in terms of how the instruments themselves are played. In many ways? This song represents what the entire 70’s “united funk” age meant at it’s absolute,and most futurist pinnacle.

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Filed under 1974, ARP synthesier, classic funk, drum machines, Funk, Funk Bass, Gospel, Graham Central Station, Larry Graham, Sly Stone, synth funk

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 1/3/2014: “First You Gotta Shake The Gate” by Funkadelic

Funkadelic

Somehow it took my good and oft referenced friend,blogging partner Henrique to point out to me that the sheer bulk of this three CD set consisted of 33 songs to represent the 33 years that Funkadelic have released any music. Just about anything connected to George Clinton and P-Funk is extremely complex. And that’s in both musical and legal terms as well. Considering George Clinton put out his (to many) long awaited autobiography to coinside with this release? This comeback itself was complicated. First it was released digitally,and than in a CD package that seemed to put up in different record stores at different times-at least to my own personal observation anyway. Of course the major fact is a lot of P-Funk’s key instrumental players have passed since the last released Funkadelic album Electric Spanking of War Babies. Among them are Cordell “Boogie” Mosson,Garry Shider,Glen Goins,Tiki Fulwood,Phillipe Wynne,Jessica Cleaves and of course Mister Maggot Brain himself Eddie Hazel. But the question on my mind remained how would Clinton,Bootsy,Junie,P-Nut and the few remaining original members make any sense from all this chaos?

“Baby Like Fonkin’ It Up” begins this album with a groove that sounds a bit off musically-very lowly mixed instrumentation and upfront vocal choruses. “Get Low” and “Not Your Average Rapper basically deal with a modern hip-hop/pop type dance number with a lot of programmed drum machines and on the latter a slower,slogging live drum beat. “If I Didn’t Love You”,with it’s spare bass and light keyboard harmony based instrumentation as well as stretched out improvised numbers such as “F***** Up”,”In Da Kar” and “I Mo B Ydog Fo Eva” are all very hi hat spacey jazz fusion oriented pieces. “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kind Hard On You” and “Radio Friendly” bring back that most popularly known P-Funk sound of blipping melodic “video game” style synthesizers. “Creases” has the slower end of that sound only minus the synthesizers. The title song is a very tribal African dance percussion type number while “Rollar Rink”,”Nuclear Dog Part II”,”Old Fool”,”Pole Power”,”Boom Here We Go Again” “Zip It” and “Catchin’ Boogie Fever” all keep that classic P-Funk danceable synthesizer oriented sound going right along.

On the rockier end of the album “Jolene” has a bluesier groove about it along with the guitars while “Dirty Queen” basically melds together edgy speed metal with a grungy guitar flavor. “Talking To The Wall”,”Where Would I Go” and especially my favorite of this area “As In” are all wonderfully instrumentally layered slow jams. “Bernadette” takes the Holland/Dozier/Holland Motown classic and reworks it in a manner that goes with the slow crawling blues/gospel style of the earliest Funkadelic albums-reflecting the songs George Clinton composed while working for Motown-with the long instrumental jam to close out. “Meow Meow” is a sexually charged crawl focused on a reversed rhythm/drum track. “The Naz” features a very deep bass/guitar driven groove powered by Sly Stone revisiting his classic DJ shtick in his elderhood. “Yesterdejavu”,”The Wall”,”Snot N’ Booger” and “Dipety Dipety Doo Stop The Violence” are all elaborate cinematic psychedelic soul numbers-all with heavy bottoms b but yet a modern production twist as well.

It’s difficult for anyone with as long a history with listening to P-Funk such as myself to be at all subjective about new releases from them. So I’ll just elect to say what I feel. After all,that is also what George Clinton’s vision is all about. The pluses of this album IS that there is a lot of music. It allows old and new Funkadelic members to be able to explore a pretty broad range of ideas and for George himself to both come up with new material. The minuses go with the fact this album has some material that doesn’t quite coincide with how Funkadelic fit into the P-Funk cannon. And it doesn’t even matter that many of these songs feature Fred Wesley,when the original Funkadelic didn’t generally have horns. A good chunk of these songs feature modern style grooves that I’d think George Clinton would consider “placebo syndrome”-many of them shamelessly using auto tune. Sometimes however? There are indications this is a massive musical satire-using a modern musical quality to prove a point against it. Conceptually it is also quite a bit sadder than most other Funkadelic I’ve heard. George and company seem to be of the opinion that art has become so reduced down to committee thinking that any expression of quality will have to remain underground for a time. As contradictory and lyrically dour as this album can occasionally be? Have to say it’s all worth it just to have Funkadelic back with more quality funk and other grooving hybrids than not.

Originally Written on December 29th,2014

Link to original Amazon.com review here*

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Filed under 2014, Amazon.com, Bootsy Coolins, Funk, Funk Bass, Funkadelic, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Music Reviewing, P-Funk, Sly Stone