Few groups in the history of R&B have been as long-lived, or as chameleonic, as the Bar-Kays. The Memphis group got their start in the mid-’60s as a session band for Stax Records, with songs like 1967’s “Soul Finger” fitting squarely into the label’s signature sound. At the turn of the decade, like many other soul groups, they went psychedelic, backing Isaac Hayes on his epochal 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul, then recording their own Black Rock. In the ’70s, they were pure funk. So it should come as no surprise that the Bar-Kays were among the first groups of their vintage to recognize the wind change in the early 1980s and embrace the style we at Dystopian Dance Party like to call Jheri Curl Music.
Like last year’s Jheri Curl June alums Ebonee Webb–who shared with the Bar-Kays a manager and producer, Allen A. Jones–the main frame of reference was Prince, with whining Minneapolis-style keyboards taking the place of traditional Memphis-soul horns (and no, that horn section miming in the Soul Train video above isn’t fooling anyone). But there’s also more than a touch of Zapp in the band’s 1982 single “She Talks to Me with Her Body,” from the short snatches of talkbox to that “More Bounce to the Ounce” bass. In fact–and ironically–the only thing that wasn’t Jheri Curl about the Bar-Kays in 1982 was lead singer Larry Dodson’s hair, which appears to be the same heavily-processed dome he wore to Wattstax in 1973, looking a little worse for wear. C’mon man, get some activator at least!
Like I said last Saturday, I’ll be posting highlights from this year’s Jheri Curl June for the rest of the month. For more, check out Dystopian Dance Party every weekday!
Shalamar are the vocal group Soul Train created. And the more I get into their music,the more I realize its potency. The band were the youthful embodiment of the post disco/boogie sound of the late 70’s to mid 80’s. It was also the springboard for the solo careers of the rangy singer Howard Hewett and the ultra funkified Jody Watley. One of the key members in terms of their performance ethic was guitarist,songwriter and above all choreographer Jeffrey Daniels. He’d been a partner dancer with Watley on the Soul Train line during the shows salad mid 70’s era. By the early 80’s,he was an unsung icon.
The reason I view Daniels as an icon today is because he showed Michael Jackson the dance move that made MJ’s career. Originally referred to as the back step,it became more popularly known as the Moonwalk-originally the name for the dance done in a complete circle. Daniels eventually helped choreograph the music videos for “Beat It” and others. On his own,Daniels ended up living between Osaka Japan and Nigeria,the latter of which he’s a judge on the local Idol program. His biggest creative input for Shalamar was on their 1981 album Go For It. In particular its closing jam “Rocker”.
Crowd sounds regarding band producer Leon Sylvers begin the song,continuing throughout. First the stomping,percussive funky drum kicks in. Then the thick,chord heavy slap bass kicks in before an open wah wah guitar kicks into the similarly themed refrain during the drum break. That refrain adds multiple keyboard and synth brass into the same brew with Daniels’ leading backup vocals. Towards the end of the song,the synth brass takes a strong and sustained presence over the main groove and crowd sounds. The lead vocals return as the song fades out.
“Rocker” has a rather different flavor than most uptempo Shalamar jams. Most of them were more lead/harmony vocal based in terms of the groove. Everything on this number is built around percussive drum breaks and slap bass solos. It was composed and sung primarily by Daniels himself. With its stripped down rhythms and atmospherics,this is the perfect type of funk for popping,locking or just about any type of 70’s era funk dancing Daniels was continuing to innovate during the videocentric early 80’s. On a purely musical end,its also some of Shalamar’s heaviest straight up funk.
Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, dancing, drums, Howard Hewett, Jeffrey Daniels, Jody Watley, moonwalk, post disco, Shalamar, slap bass, Soul Train, synth brass, wah wah