Nesbert “Stix” Hooper is the last surviving member of the band who originally called themselves The Jazz Crusaders. The Houston native spent most of his youth studying music even before any of this occurred. While enrolled at Texas Southern University, Hooper , he got a musical education that most would envy. Everyone from members of the Houston Symphony Orchestra to a number of local professional players. By the time of his peak with the Crusaders, Hooper’s musical excellent touched on everyone from The Rolling Stones,B.B. King and onto London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
What Hooper brought to his drum and percussion work was the in the pocket funk rhythm. And basically helped to shape the sound of what became the jazz-funk subgenre from the outset. As a Crusader,the man was and remains a musical icon. His solo career, consisting of two albums released in 1979 and 1982, didn’t seem to receive the recognition they deserved. Especially having heard them both. The first I got was the 1982 album called Touch The Feeling. My dad pointed it out in a discount vinyl crate to me some years ago. My own favorite cut on it is its final one called “Gimme Some Space”.
Todd Cochran’s huge synthesizer riser fades into the song before the intro comes in. Its a powerful one for sure-with Hooper’s drum hits announcing the horn charts coming at within 3-4 seconds of time between each other. That’s when the entire song kicks in. This consists of Hooper’s huge funky beat, Neil Stubenhaus’s thick slap bass and Larry Carlton wah wah toned bluesy guitar along with Cochran’s synth and the horn section. On the next part, the synths take on a distinctly spacey late 70’s P-Funk air. Everything comes together after that-from the calculated pauses and solos until it actually fades out.
“Gimme Some Space” is one of those funk jams that gives you exactly what the title implies. A good portion of the song relies on adding musical drama with long and calculated silences. That makes it very much in line with the James Brown/Clyde Stubblefield/Jabo Starks type of funk from the late 60’s. That being said, its basic instrumental character comes out of the late 70’s/early 80’s jazz/funk George Duke style take on the P-Funk sound. Its a powerful and strong blend of acoustic and electronic funk ideas that shows how powerful a musical figure Stix Hooper truly is.
Wilton Felder was lost to us earlier this year. And today is his first posthumous birthday. There’s a lot that I didn’t know about him for years. Aside from him being a founding member of the Crusaders,he also participated in songwriting and playing for artists ranging from Joan Baez to the Jackson 5. Thanks to an episode of the locally produced Bay Area TV show ‘Soul School’,hosted by my friend Calvin Lincoln and hosted by my friend Henrique Hopkins,I learned Wilton Felder played bass on the J5’s debut hit “I Want You Back”. This opened up a whole new understanding for me about the man.
Until talking to Calvin and Henrique,I had no idea that Felder was both a sax player and a bassist. And had two separate approaches to each instrument. Calvin,Henrique and myself have each had discussions with each other about how exhaustive it might be to figure out how many sessions the Crusaders played on. What I do know now is Felder also played bass on Marvin Gaye’s massive hit “Lets Get It On” in 1973. When looking for a song that exercised Felder’s duel instrumental talents,my favorite of the bunch was “Honky Tonk Struttin'” off their 1980 album Rhapsody In Blues.
Joe Sample and Stix Hooper get it all started with a grinding Clavinet and piano duet along with a percussion accented funky drum. This is the basic groove of the entire song-with melodic variations for the solos. The choral solo is a bluesy walkdown where Felder plays sax directly along with his own bass line. After that,he plays a full on improvised jazz sax solo on the first bridge. The second bridge features a honky tonk piano solo playing a similarly bluesy improvisation. Stix provides a little fanfare that takes the song right on home to the main chorus of Felder’s bass/sax duet as the song fades out.
This is one of those songs that really brings out The Crusaders most enduring and endearing musical quality. That is the ability to blend the sleek studio sheen (which defined their work from the mid 70’s onward )with their down home bluesy funk instrumental attitude. “Honky Tonk Struttin'”pulls all of this together with its sophistifunk groove and the bluesy instrumental walkdown soloing. It also emphasizes Wilton Felder strong with his two instrumental talents-the rhythmic bass and melodic sax in tandem. That makes it a true shining moment for The Crusaders.
Filed under 1980's, blues funk, clavinet, drums, Funk Bass, honky tonk piano, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Saxophone, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, Wilton Felder
The Crusaders are a huge part of the nervous system for the anatomy of the funk groove. Especially when it comes to it’s jazziest end. Now its 2016,I turn around and only one member of the original Crusaders lineup is still alive in Stix Hooper. Of course this year,there’s been so many other musicians (mostly those born in America’s “silent generation”) who’ve passed away. At the same time,its recently come to my attention that the Crusaders groove is truly immortal beyond its individual members. So in terms of profiling their songs,it seemed best to put the spotlight specifically on them.
Today,I’ll be showcasing Wayne Henderson. The Texas trombonist was a founding member of the group when the were called The Jazz Crusaders. This group were hard bop/soul jazz pioneers. And wrote some of that jazz tributary’s most defining numbers. By 1972,the band had dropped the adjective “jazz” from their name. And their concentration was squarely on the funk. In 1974 they signed to MCA. And brought in guitarist Larry Carlton as a member. One excellent example of this is the opening song off their 1974 album Southern Comfort entitled “Stomp And Buck Dance”.
This jam is one I’d describe as a superb example of unison soloing. Stix keeps the rhythm sturdy with a 6 beat funky beat accented with percussive cymbals. Wilton’s bass line and Larry’s growling guitar bursts are right there with that bottom. Joe Sample meanwhile provides ascending/descending chords with a processed Fender Rhodes piano. On the choral parts,Sample comes in with even more acoustic/electric piano parts as Wayne and Wilton come in with wonderfully harmonic sax/trumpet solos and accents. The song itself pares right down to its initial base before fading out.
Southern Comfort is a CD I picked up about twelve years ago at the now defunct Common Sense Pawn Shop. The moment my dad and I put this in the car CD player,we were both entranced in this songs thick world of funkiness. The idea of combining sharp solos with clean unison playing made “Stomp And Buck Dance” one of my very favorite Wayne Henderson compositions written for The Crusaders. All the members talents just shine like the sun on this song. And among the Crusaders many songs and albums,this one stands out as one of their finest overall funk jams.
Filed under 1974, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, piano, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, trombone, Wayne Henderson, Wilton Felder
With the passing of Joe Sample in 2014 and Wilton Felder just last year, I had a plan to pay tribute to The Crusaders here in a major way. In a similar manner to Earth Wind & Fire and James Brown, the music of the Crusaders were a key reference point for everything Henrique Hopkins and myself have done as bloggers. Now today is the birthday of Randy Crawford. Her own solo body of work contains some strong funk,soul and jazzy pop on it’s own. But it was through the Crusaders that I even discovered that she existed. To goes back to listening to that double Crusaders cassette at age 14 in the car stereo with my father. One of those albums was 1979’s Street Life. And it’s title song.
A brushing cymbal opens the song-joined shortly by a soulful sax solo from Wilton. After that the strings come into play as the main melodic theme that Randy is singing-along with Sample’s accents on the Dyno-My-Piano Fender Rhodes. After the strings fade out,the song pauses for two seconds before the scaling horn charts and drums introduce the main body of the song. This main body of the song features Stix Hooper’s disco friendly funky shuffle that swings along at a thick 112 beats per minute. EWF’s Roland Bautista is one of the guitarists providing a liquid rhythm guitar in fine rhythmic harmony with Wilton’s popping bass line.
At the conclusion of each refrain,the strings come back into play as the rhythm increases in strength. The percussion and the horn charts accessorize the melody even further on the chorus of the song. After these,a second whole refrain chimes in. Here the liquid guitar pulses along with the low swing of the cymbal based percussive groove behind it while the strings scale over and around it. The next part of the song features the main body featuring Wilton improvising the vocal chorus on sax. After Randy comes in for another vocal chorus,the second refrain concludes the album. The percussion evolves into a marching drum in this section as the song fades out.
Over twenty years of listening to this song has engendered a huge growth process for my musical ear. At the time I first heard it,I was listening to a lot of late 70’s and early 80’s Jacksons/Michael Jackson. And heard a lot of sonic similarities while listening to this song. Of course with the participation of percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,plus the Crusaders participation on many early 70’s Jackson 5 records that comes as no surprise now. Instrumentally,it’s nearly 12 minute length blends the jazz orchestration of people such as Gil Evans with the band disco era jazz/funk rhythms. The addition of additional session musicians into the brew further beefs up the core Crusaders sound as well.
Another friend of mine named Calvin Lincoln hosts a TV program called Soul School in Vallejo,California on Saturday evenings. One time he and Henrique did an episode together following Joe Sample’s passing discussing how many records different Crusaders played on throughout the 70’s as session musicians. That really bought out what a clean,well oiled sound this song had. As Henrique also once pointed out to me, this song has the aural vibe of a slick OG walking down an urban downtown sidewalk after dark. It’s one of the finest,most multi faceted examples of funky jazz/pop/soul and a defining moment for both the Crusaders and Randy Crawford.
Filed under 1970's, Calvin Lincoln, disco funk, drums, Dyno-My-Piano, Fender Rhodes, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Randy Crawford, Roland Bautista, Soul School TV, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, Uncategorized, Wilton Felder
B.B. King’s career arc was on the same timeline as the Jazz Crusaders basically-only coming from different trajectory’s. King was developing in within the electric blues tradition while Joe Sample,Wayne Henderson,Wilton Felder and Stix Hooper were developing a rather more potent hybrid. Yet both were heavily indebted musically to their strong Southern flavors. And with King’s 70’s era recording output being a bit uneven in some people’s eyes? It seemed more than a little serendipitous that the Crusaders,by the late 70’s a trio and King would eventually recorded together. Much as Sample had helped do with the Jackson 5 on their latter days at Motown? Well now he,Wilton and Stix would be helping out a musical icon. Somehow,everything just rolled right along. And here’s the result.
“When It All Comes Down” is an electric blues shuffle basically,of course with that Crusaders sense of precision rawness-full of electric piano and a locked down rhythm. The title track is one of my favorites on the album-totally in the late 70’s Crusaders style slow crawling,electric piano/sax oriented funk vein with Lucille moaning out BB’s classic blues. “I Just Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” is a fascinating number-a very high stepping country-funk type sound (as some might view it,anyway) that also has a swinging,jazz ragtime sort of arrangement about it. In a way that all may be full circle anyway,but its a strong and exciting number. “Hold On (I Feel Our Love Changing)” has some swirling electric piano/keyboard riffing about it that has a soulfully funky elegance about its medium tempo balladry.
“Never Make Your Move Too Soon”,which I’ve only heard by the Captain & Tennille is presented here as a high stepping,funky blues stomp while “A World Full Of Strangers” and the amazing closer “Let Me Make You Cry A Little Longer” deal with serious,down in the groove funk stomps-with Felder’s bass interactions really coming into play on the latter. Overall BB King and the Crusaders’ late 70’s jazz/funk sound go together like a hand and glove on this album. It almost sounds to me as if this was the way BB King should’ve more or less evolved musically from the very start of the 70’s. One could only imagine if BB had the Crusaders playing with him from their “Put It Where You Want It” days of the earlier 70’s. But taken as it was,this reinvented the framework for King’s already renowned vocal/guitar technique-which in and of itself,of course,needed absolutely no tweaking. In the end,this was the beginning of what turned into two highly successful albums for BB King and members of the Crusaders.
Originally Posted On September 17th,2014
Link to original review here*
Filed under 1970's, B.B. King, Blues, blues funk, Captain & Tennille, Crusaders, Funk, Jackson 5, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, Stix Hooper, Wilton Felder