Joe Tex’s name first came to my attention when I read a story about a pre Motown Michael Jackson cheekily eyeing under woman’s dresses while singing Tex’s “Skinny Legs And All” in some of the raunchier nightclubs Joe had his sons playing in during the late 60’s. It was within the last year actually that Henrique and I got to talking about Joe Tex more in depth. It was during this conversation that I was informed about Tex’s rivalry with James Brown. It apparently goes back to the earliest days of their career-complete with hiss song from Tex in response to one of JB’s called “You Keep Her” in 1960.
Joe Tex had a fascinating musical career of his own. Again like JB,he was a major soul singles act for the decade between 1955 and 1964. From then on to the end of the 60’s,Tex released a number of albums in the country soul vein-filled with his hard driving gospel style vocal cries and shouts. Throughout the 70’s,his music went into a funk direction that (yet again) was very similar to JB’s. He even ended the 70’s when a pair of funk based disco records before his death of a heart attack in 1982. The only song I’ve really heard from his funk period is considered a classic,and really stands out for me. Its called “I Gotcha”.
The song begins with Tex singing over a cymbal heavy drum intro in his gospel drenched soul wail. That’s when the main body of the song kicks in. This is a very thick instrumental mixture. A thick piano line more or less dominates,with a round bass line that exactly counters the melody. On each accent of the song,there’s a high pitched and very smooth rhythm guitar playing and horn blasts on the transitions between choruses. After each chorus,the song reduces back down to the drum and Joe Tex only approach that made up the intro of the song. Its all back to the instrumentally thick chorus as the song fades.
When I first heard this song,courtesy of Henrique, the James Brown influence hit me right over the head. This came mostly from Tex’s shouts and holler based vocal approach. When I actually listened to this song,it became apparent that the instrumentation and production are quite different. Joe Tex isn’t looking for his funk band to be a drum on this song. Each instrument plays its own role. The piano and bass dictate where the melody is going,while the drums serve as the beat for which Tex’s voice is the hard driving percussive element. That gives this 1971 funk classic its own spicy groove.
Filed under 1970's, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, James Brown, Joe Tex, piano, rhythm guitar, Southern Funk, Uncategorized
Even by the time I was seriously (and unfortunately) giving this CD the slip in the mid 90’s? There was that wondering what might’ve been if Gladys Knight & The Pips were given the full support and development within Motown. True they were around long before the label was. That being said?
They just bought so much uniqueness into the classic Detroit soul sound. As performers? They had the (then) forward thinking approach of having a woman as the lead singer with the male backup singers. Musically they presented the most important new flavors to the label’s sound. But that’s the main story behind this review anyway.
The title song,with it’s electric piano and the somewhat doo-wop version of “For Once In My Life” are both ballads built around the rhythm guitar. “It’s Gotta Be That Way” and “Can’t Give It Up No More” are more piano driven gospel soul slow jams. “This Child Needs A Father” is a spare,slow grooving Staples-styled Southern funk driven by wah wah along with the albums sumptuous,bluesy strings.
The grinding bluesy funk electric piano/rhythm guitar grind of Bill Withers’ “Who Is She (And What Is She To You),the another uptempo wah wah driven groove in “Daddy Could Swear,I Declare” and the Rhodes piano and percussion driven uptempo groove of “Don’t It Make You Feel Guilty” round out the album.
From where I sit? This is one of those albums where the vibe of every song just totally works on every level. The ballads have strong melodic,vocal and instrumental meat about them. And the uptempo numbers never,ever for a moment try to fake how funky they are. And it’s that Southern fried funkiness of Gladys & The Pips that truly brings this album to life.
The whole thing actually has much more of a Stax flavor than a Motown one to me actually. Even the way the orchestration is used. All of these songs tell stories and have messages straight to the listener-all focusing on romantic and family love. It’s warm,intimate and deeply rootsy funky soul that I very highly recommend.
Originally posted on May 27th,2015
LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!
Filed under 1970's, ballads, Funk, funky soul, Gladys Knight, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Motown, Motown Sound, Southern Funk, Southern Soul, strings, wah wah guitar
Milan Williams,having been gone for ten years now,seemed to have come into playing piano due to mild sibling worship because of his multi instrumentalist brother Earl. This Mississippi native met the other members of the Commodores while he was a freshman at Tuskegee Institute. In 1974 the band signed to Motown and released their debut album Machine Gun in July of that year. This particular album was one of a handful of albums in the mid/late 70’s that were 100% funk-featuring no slow ballads. Milan would go on to write or co-write many of the Commodores big uptempo numbers,including their best known funk number in “Brick House” four years after their debut.
During the 1980’s,founding members Lionel Richie and Thomas McClary left the Commodores to pursue solo careers. The main instrumentalists of the band stayed on and recorded with former Heatwave vocalist JD Nichols. Milan left the band in 1989. The reason for his departure was when the commercial decline of the Commodores in the late 80’s led them to accept an offer to tour in South Africa. While Milan considered the band members his musical brothers,he could not bring himself to financially feed into the racist Apartheid system of that country. As for his contributions to the band,few stand as tall on the funk level as the title song of their 1974 debut album itself.
Milan begins the song with a big scaling piano. Walter Orange’s drums along with his accompanying percussion accents open up the clave for Milan to expand on the rhythm. The main melody of the song is a very bluesy one played on Clavinet. Below that is a fast bumping synth bass line while a higher pitched synth bursts out from that…indeed in the manner rapid gun fire. The refrain adds a thick wah wah guitar to the Clavinet and synth bass line before returning to the chorus. The second time around on this theme,the higher lead synth is a bleeping pulse. This goes into a bridge that showcases the percussion and chugging rhythm guitar before fading out on it’s chorus.
This debut song from the Commodores really solidified the bands uptempo funk sounds. In terms of it’s fastness and the heavily rhythmic use of electric piano/synthesizers,this song echoes Billy Preston’s early/mid 70’s funk instrumentals in terms of predating the electro funk of the coming decade of the 1980’s. This is especially true with Milan,playing most of the instruments on this number,utilizing the round and bubbling synth bass as the bottom of the song,is one of the most technically expert examples of an earlier synth bass line. The musical attitude is also in the countrified Southern Funk sub-genre. So on an instrumental level,this song is one of the Commodores most powerful grooves.
Filed under 1970's, clave, clavinet, Commodores, drums, instrumental, Milan Williams, Motown, percussion, rhythm guitar, Southern Funk, synth bass, synthesizer, Tuskegee University, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar, Walter Orange