Eddie Kendricks was the one member of the classic Temptations lineup who had a consistently successful solo career. He had many hits,many of them strutting uptempo numbers such as “Keep On Truckin'”,”Boogie Down” and “Girl You Need A Change Of Mind”. Many of these songs were produced by Leonard Caston Jr. After mixed results with two 1976 albums recorded with Norman Harris,Kendricks turned back to Caston to fully produce his final Motown solo album in 1977 entitled Slick. One song from the album actually found its way into my musical rotation very heavily this past year.
During this past summer of 2016,I actually took the time to do more bicycle riding. Unlike previous years,decided to take advantage of my phone’s MP3 player to listen to music while on these bike rides. Most of these songs were endowed with an appropriate sense of motion. And all of them were from within the soul/funk/jazz/Latin spectrum of music. During the course of the summer,I brought different songs in and out of this rotation in order to keep things fresh. And one of them was an Eddie Kendricks song that originally concluded his final Motown album. Its called “California Woman”.
A pulsing bass and drum pulse starts the song out-accompanied only by low rumble of strings. Shortly after,a loud vocal chorus scales up into Kendrick’s refrain. Here,the bass the and stomping shuffle of the drums are accompanied by lightly harmonic strings and horns-along with the vocal chorus serving the same function. On the chorus the horns and backup vocalists melodically descend with Kendricks. After a reprise of the intro on the bridge,the chorus of the song repeats for a couple more bars before the song abruptly ends on an outro of a very similar nature to its beginning.
In some ways,this song has some of the hallmarks of Leonard Caston Jr’s productions with Eddie Kendricks from before. The difference here is there isn’t as much focus on the bass/guitar interaction as there is the orchestration. Its basically just the kind of “sound with a good melody” as Kendricks himself preferred-with much care put into the production to make sure the groove was funky and the sweeteners on top had plenty of life to them. The lyrical tale of a “down home lady” becoming a movie star goes beautifully with the music’s strutting “OG” style of cinematic funky soul.
Filed under 1970's, backup singers, California, cinematic soul, drums, Eddie Kendricks, Funk Bass, funky soul, horns, Leonard Caston Jr., Motown, strings
Omar first came to my attention via the Lenny Henry starring “brit-com” entitled Chef, with its theme song “Serious Profession” performed entirely by Omar. During the early to mid aughts,exploring Omar’s then very hard to find import albums on CD was like hunting for buried treasure. Thanks to my online friend Jeremiah,a lot more exposure to Omar’s music came my way a decade ago. What I noticed about Omar’s music was that,very different from American neo soul very much based in live instrumental hip-hop beats,Omar’s variety of the music concentrated heavily on ornate arrangements.
Born Omar Lye-Fook in London in 1968,he grew up in Canterbury,Kent. He was classically trained trumpet,piano and percussion at two separate conservatories in London and Manchester. He worked as a computer programmer for Microsoft before pursuing music full time. His first single and album There’s Nothing Like This became his first chart hit. And established him as a founding father of neo soul. Over the years his sound swelled to incorporate elements of Brazilian jazz,dance hall reggae and cinematic funk. On the latter end,one of my favorite songs from him is 2000’s “To The Top” from his album Best By Far.
A swinging mix of hollow percussion and piano walk down introduce the song. This kicks off into a sea of strings and melodic flute harmonies before Omar himself begins duetting with his swelling backup vocals. This represents the chorus of the song,for all intents and purposes. The refrains of the song find Omar’s lead and backup vocals playing more call and response to a shuffling,funky snare drum and piano. There are two repeating chorus/refrain bars of this song. On the final chorus before the song fades,Omar’s lead and back-round vocals become the full focus of the song over the instrumentation.
Omar does something that really gets to me musically on “To The Top”. Most neo soul/proto neo soul male artists who hailed as “the next Marvin Gaye” in the beginning. And truth be told,Omar’s style of arrangement and love of backup vocals singing lead is straight out of the Gaye school of cinematic funky soul on this particular song. What Omar does is brings in the heavy funk. As with most neo soul,its lacking in any synthesized electronics. What it does have is less of a stripped down sound,and more emphasis on orchestral production. That makes Omar one of the funkiest neo soulers of his generation.
Filed under 2000, arrangement, backing vocals, cinematic funk, cinematic soul, drums, flute, funky soul, Neo Soul, Omar Lye-Fook, percussion, piano, strings, UK Funk
Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music were something that I only began to explore within the 2010’s. Henrique Hopkins and myself have discussed Bryan/Roxy a great deal. And these conversations have tended to emphasize their unique place on the rock scene. My personal feeling from all this talking and listening was that Roxy were British glam rock’s answer to Steely Dan. Their songs rhythmic and melodic structures were based more in contemporary soul and funk than allusions to amplified blues. And this was reflected in their visual attitude,which in the end comes down to Ferry.
There was somewhat of a choice to be made in terms of writing this article. Whether or not to overview a Roxy Music classic such as “Love Is The Drug”,or focus on Bryan Ferry’s solo career. Both Roxy and Ferry alone have their fair share of sleek grooves to choose from. Both from the 70’s and 80’s. In the end,seemed best to focus on Ferry as a solo artist. His initial solo career ran concurrent with Roxy Music’s first run. These albums consisted primarily of cover material. His first solo album of all original material In Your Mind contained a fantastic example of Ferry’s groove in “Tokyo Joe”.
A gong like cymbal opens up the song. The intro consists of a processed keyboard melody in close unison with plucked orchestral strings. All to the best of a swinging,hi hat heavy drum rhythm. After that the orchestra begin flat out playing the same melody-assisted by some rhythmic fuzz guitar. The rhythm then falls into a heavy 4/4 disco beat with the fuzz guitar,strings and several layers of keyboards (including what sounds like a Clavinet) playing deep inside the groove. On the choruses,the plucked strings of the intro return before the refrain closes out the song with the same gong like cymbal from the intro.
Its been awhile since I’ve really given this song a listen all the way through. But with the keyboards,drums and guitar delving so deeply into the groove,”Tokyo Joe” really showcases all the special qualities about the Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music sound. Ferry’s sleek,somewhat adenoidal vocal croon adds its distinctive character to this groove. Being from the final two Bryan Ferry solo albums of the 70’s,this song and others in a similar vein help write the musical map for what was to occur on Roxy Music’s three following comeback albums-from 1979’s Manifesto to 1982’s Avalon.
Heatwave might be my personal favorite of the classic Dayton,Ohio funk bands. Difficult to be too objective about that. Interesting thing is,they represented a cross continental group-many of whom derived from Europe. The band sadly had very little recording longevity and a whole lot of bad breaks. But the five albums they recorded from 1977 to 1982 were all such well produced,well played on and well written funk/disco delights. The groups central composer was Rod Temperton. But the heart and soul of the band rose and fell along with their late lead singer/composer Johnnie Wilder Jr.
Wilder showed a great respect for good musicianship,good grooves and good melodies. It would also seem he ran Heatwave in a very paternalistic manner too. Apparently even deciding that members couldn’t get married-due to possible interference in the bands dynamic. With all the great funky dance hits Heatwave had, a 1979 car crash left Wilder a paraplegic and unable for perform for some time. While he began recuperating,Wilder was succeeded by future Commodore JD Nichols on the bands 1980 album Candles. Wilder composed one of my favorite jams on the album entitled “Goin’ Crazy”.
Heatwave’s keyboardist Calvin Duke begins the song with multi layered lead and bass Clavinet riffs-playing in staccato to three note riffs from the Fender Rhodes piano. On the choruses the drums kick in-ably accented by the highly prolific session master Paulinho Da Costa. Derek Bramble’s bass pops hard alongside Ernest Berger’s steady 4/4 beat and Duke’s high synth melody. On each refrain,the focus returns to Duke’s Clavinet solos. On the bridge,that Clainvet powers everything from climactic strings to the stop/start horn and Rhodes breaks that eventually bring the groove to a cold start.
This jam has that rare mix of professional studio sleekness and raw instrumental power. Heatwave are a tight unit on this song-with Calvin Duke,Da Costa and Johnnie’s brother Keith holding down the vocal fort on the refrains with his percussive “let’s clap,let’s clap”. The two types of electric piano used here are left the most raw-with the piano like tones of the Clavinet and melodic Rhodes really giving the song much of it’s instrumental power. It’s finely composed arrangement and funky danceability make this a fine example of why Heatwave threw down some of the most amazing disco era funk.
Filed under 1980's, Calvin Duke, clavinet, Derek Bramble, disco funk, drums, Ernest Berger, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Heatwave, Johnnie Wilder Jr., Keith Wilder, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, post disco, Rod Temperton, strings, synthesizer
Eumir Deodato de Almeida, generally referred to as merely Deodato,is probably the finest jazz/funk keyboardists to emerge from the Brazilian scene in the 1970’s. This Rio native was a natural prodigy-almost mastering the piano,Accordion and even arrangement skills before he began recording bossa nova based albums starting at age 17. Far as I was concerned,Deodato was the producer who helped popularize Kool & The Gang’s 80’s funk sound on songs such as “Big Fun” and “Get Down On It”. As my own adolescence continued,it became more and more clear just how amazing Deodato was as his own artist.
There was a period about 12-15 years ago where it seemed like Deodato albums were turning up everywhere I went. And somehow I wound up buying them every time too. My first exposure to him came with my father playing me Deodato’s version of “Also Sparch Zarathustra”,the theme from one of my favorite sci fi films 2001: A Space Odyssey. It wasn’t long before I picked up an inexpensive copy of his 1972 album Deodato 2 from one of my mom’s co-workers at the time who also distributed CD’s to record stores-and was selling the leftovers at a discount price.
Deodato himself recorded on a number of different labels during the height of his career. This had a lot to do with the fact he often switched between his original style of bossa nova/Brazilian jazz onto jazz-funk approach that showcased his arrangement talents and electric piano playing. Between then and the late 80’s,Deodato moved from CTI,MCA and finally to Warner Brothers-where he remained up to 1989. His Warner Bros. debut was 1978’s Love Island. Picked up the now hard to find Wounded Bird CD up while traveling with my ex over a decade ago. It blew me away right off with it’s opener “Area Code 808”.
A very theatrical Moog bass sustain starts out the album before a growling,rocking rhythm guitar crunch comes in. Gradually a marching funky shuffle rhythm,cascading strings and Deodato’s bluesy Fender Rhodes solo comes in. On the opening chorus,Deodato duets with himself playing two synth horn lines-accenting one another very much like a trumpet and saxophone. Pops Popwell plays a counterpoint bass line,even a slap bass one accenting every horn-like chord of Deodato’s. Ray Gomez plays a blistering bluesy rock guitar solo in front of some ultra funky chicken scratch rhythm guitar on the second refrain.
The most amazing thing about this song is what happens during the second refrain,which sustains itself for the remainder of the song. The string play the melody that leads directly from Gomez’s guitar solo into Deodato accenting the two rhythm guitar licks and bass line with his Fender Rhodes piano. After this both the strings and woodwinds play a theme that leads back to Deodato playing a stomping riff on the acoustic piano. The arrangement then takes the rhythm guitar into playing another,more elaborate riff before the woodwinds and hi hats take over just as the song begins to fade.
Deodato has made some of the strongest jazz/funk of his era-not doubting that. There is just something about “Area Code 808” that strikes out from the Love Island album as being especially grooving. Harvey Mason delivering a drum part that’s in a similar family to James Brown’s “Funky President” helps out a lot. Deodato’s synth horn and Rhodes soloing really add something spicier to the live string and horn arrangements. In that way,it has a foot in the past,present and future for cinematic jazz funk of it’s day. The groove is ultra funkified. And a major musical triumph for Deodato.
Filed under 1970's, Brazilian Jazz, chicken scratch guitar, drums, Eumir Deodato, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Harvey Mason, horns, jazz funk, Moog bass, Pops Popwell, Ray Gomez, rhythm guitar, strings, synthesizers, Uncategorized
The Four Tops have always represented the ultimate human success of Motown. From before they signed with Berry Gordy’s now famous record label in the early days to the day lead singer Levi Stubbs passed on in 2008,the vocal quartet were an example of enduring together through the good and not so good times. Until each member died,the Four Tops never had a change in lineup. This might’ve lead to their longevity as hit makers too. With post Motown smashes such as “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)” and the Top 10 R&B smash hit in the Philly inspired uptempo number “Catfish” in 1976.
It was around 1995 or so that I began exploring Motown acts beyond their reputation as “hitsville”. One day during that summer I was visiting an antique store with my family. And they had a selection of used vinyl. Among them were two ABC lable era Four Tops album in 1976’s Catfish and it’s followup from the next year entitled The Show Must Go On. Both of these records were filled with singable and highly danceable songs. Played both to the degree that they’re both new fairly scratchy. The song that’s continued to endure so strongly for me is the title song from the 1977 album The Show Must Go On.
A dramatic,descending horn fanfare opens up the song-just before the accompanying strings and hard swinging 4/4 drum beats kick in to the tune of a jazzy three by three not bass line. On the refrain of the song,Stubb’s customarily powerful voice thunders in with a highly rhythmic piano,Clavinet and and pumping disco bass propel the groove forward. The intro appears as a buffer between each refrain-only with a vocal part. The bridge of the song strips down to the drums,slapping bass and Clavinet before slowly building the horns and strings back into the musical conversation before it fades away.
With group member Lawrence Payton helping out with the arranging on this song, it’s right up there with some of the finest Philly style funky disco records of the mid to late 1970’s. The strings,horns and other instrumental sweeteners have a strong power that draws the listener into the intensely powerful rhythm section. The rhythmic Clavinet on this song is a funkified beast all of it’s own-played so low and so heavily it almost sounds like genuine percussion. As time had marched on,my appreciation for this groove after learning so much about what goes into creating music has only increased!
Filed under 1970's, clavinet, disco funk, drums, Four Tops, horns, Lawrence Payton, Levi Stubbs, Philly Soul, piano, slap bass, strings
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
The Isley Brothers were best described by Rickey Vincent in his 1996 guidebook Funk: The Music,The People And The Rhythm Of The One as being the embodiment of funky manhood. Everything from their musical rodeo image to the intense power of their sound. Throughout the 70’s and into the 80’s,they were unique among funk bands as having come out of a R&B era vocal trio into the funk era. Their 3+3 era line up kept their hard driving,uptempo sound updated throughout their years together. And were capable of utilizing the new instrumental form to fashion sexy,thickly rhythmic ballads.
During the first year and a half of the 80’s,the Isley’s were actually very successful as album artists. The R&B community and record charts never stopped viewing them as straight up musical icons. In the pop world however even their hard rocking,often guitar shredding funk grooves were having trouble landing them any major singles. In 1981,this all changed because of an album that…I found a beat up$1.99 vinyl copy of in a record store about 20 years ago. It even got to be a Soul Train line dance song too. The name of this song and it’s accompanying album was “Inside You”.
The drums come at you with a pounding 4/4 beat from Everett Collins-surrounded by the percussion of the Isley’s , the conga drums of Kevin Jones and Marvin Isley’s thundering bass. All showcasing Ernie Isley strumming on liquid rhythm guitar. A string section dart into the mix with brittle precision similar to Chic. They sustain themselves behind Ron’s first and second vocal refrain-the latter of which takes the song into a melodic major chord. The bridge reduces the song to it’s string/ rhythm guitar/synth bass pulse before the Isley’s back up Ron’s leads with some powerful gospel harmonies to the fade out.
One of the understandings that came from this song for me is that it really added a new rhythmic element to the 3+3 Isley Brothers sound. During the late 70’s,the disco era found Afro-Latin percussion becoming more prominent in dance music such as that of Barry White and Michael Jackson songs such as “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. The Isley’s had primarily utilized basic rock and funk oriented back beats at that time. As the 80’s sound settled in,I find it interesting that the Isley Brothers began integrating that Afro-Latin rhythm so heavily into their steely funk/rock sound.
Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Chris Jasper, drums, Ernie Isley, Everett Collins, Funk, Isley Brothers, Kevin Jones, Marvin Isley, percussion, rhythm guitar, Ron Isley, strings, synth bass