Funkadelic not only represented P-Funk’s rockiest side. They also represented their link to the late 60’s psychedelic scene from which it all began for George Clinton and company. Beginning as the backing band for The Parliaments before they shortened their name,Clinton revived the Parliament name in 1974-pursuing a more horn funk style under that name. In a couple of short years,a P-Funk formula of sorts began to emerge as the musicians within it exercised their most distinctive instrumental traits-especially Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell. 1976 was the key year for all of this to happen.
Tales of Kidd Funkadelic turned 40 just under a month ago. For me,it represents that transition from Funkadelic representing psychedelia and (as some P-Funk admirers have stated) becoming “Parliament without the horns”. Personally,the summer of 1996 was a time when I was going to Borders Books & Music in Bangor,Maine to purchase the then 2-3 year old Funkadelic CD reissues. I remember picking this particular one up while spending a weekend with my grandparents. It was with a warning I’d in a music guide that Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic was the bands least conceptually unified record.
Today,its to my understanding that the album was made up of material recorded at the same time as Funkadelic’s Capital records debut Hardcore Jollies. But Clinton was contractually obligated to Westbound to deliver them one more album. So lyrically,the songs didn’t follow a concept. What the Westbound label did do was give each side of the original vinyl a certain sense of musical unity. On a personal level,its probably the Funkadelic album I’ve returned to more over the years. And perhaps its the way its assembled that draws me to it so much.
“Butt-to-Butt Resuscitation” and “Let’s Take It To The People” could both be described as heavy funk/rock hybrids. At the same time,the emphasis is still on the stronger rhythmic complexity Funkadelic were developing. “Undisco Kidd” stuck out instantly because,from the bass to the vocal rap,it drips of Bootsy’s musical personality. It actually reminds me of something from Parliament’s Mothership Connection-especially with Worrell’s orchestral synth. “Take Your Dead Ass Home” is a thick bass/guitar built number with a really humorous take on 3rd and 4th base making out.
The second half of the album is another matter entirely. “I’m Never Gonna Tell It” is a P-Funk style mid tempo soul ballad-later re-done by Phillipe Wynn after he joined P-Funk. The title song of the album is a 12+ magnum opus centered on Bernie Worrell’s classically inclined jazz/funk cinematically orchestrated melodies. “How Do Yeaw View You” is actually one of my favorite songs on this album. Its a very rhetorically reflective song that has a slight reggae funk overtone. That essentially rounds this part of the album as being its “slower side”.
From the first song to the eighth, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic stands to me as a model for funk albums released to fulfill a contract. Clinton offered Westbound songs that were not only solid and complete. But in my opinion,they were also funk jams that held together in terms of the sheer quality of song. If any of these songs had been singled out to lead off a fully conceptualized P-Funk album,they’d probably have all been amazing. As it is,its hard to hear that these songs are outtakes. So on its 40th anniversary,the most important thing to say about this album is that represented P-Funk’s major transition in the 70’s.
Filed under 1976, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, classic albums, classic funk, Funk Bass, funk rock, Funkadelic, George Clinton, P-Funk, synthesizers, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic
Larry Young is a jazz organist who I didn’t know anything about until meeting Henrique a decade ago. He introduced me to his 1975 album Fuel when discussing the many acoustic jazz artists doing different tributaries of funk. Young came to prominence during the early 1960’s. In terms of innovation,he did with the Hammond B-3 organ for modal jazz what Jimmy Smith did for the hard pop and soul jazz sub genres. He worked with many jazz greats from that era including Lou Donaldson,Elvin Jones and Hank Mobley. He also became one of the architects of fusion as a member of Tony William’s Lifetime.
In the final few years of his life,Larry Young formed his own fusion group called Fuel-titled after his 1975 album. These group leaned heavily towards the funky end of the genre. Because Young died mysteriously in 1978 at the age of 37,this project was sadly cut short with only two albums released. One of them was an album entitled Spaceball,released in 1976. I just learned about this album writing this. And wound up exploring many of its songs on YouTube. It was the opener of this album that made the strongest impact on me in terms of funkiness. Its entitled “Moonwalk”.
Jim Allington’s fast paced Brazilian drum swing opens the album. Shortly thereafter,Dave Eubanks three on four note bass line kicks in. This represents the entire rhythm body of the song. As for the melodies of the song,there are many provided from Larry Young himself. There’s a high and low pitched sustained organ roll playing call and response with itself. He also adds in some spacey electronic synthesizers almost as percussion accents-in particular towards the last minute or so of the song. On the bridge,Larry Coryell plays a rolling guitar solo before a final refrain closes the entire song out.
“Moonwalk” is a really amazing jam. Its basis is thoroughly Brazilian funk. On the other hand,the harmonic complication of the soloing is almost beyond belief. The female backup singings “doo doo wopp”-ing throughout the early parts of the song adds a certain verbal encouragement to the entire musical movement. With the sometimes atonal electronics, this has some of the spacey,ethereal free jazz elements of people such as Sun Ra’s Arkestra mixed into the otherwise funky grooves. It really shows just what an innovative jazz musician could do in terms of soloing with a strong funk rhythm accompanying them.
Filed under 1976, Brazilian Jazz, Dave Eubanks, drums, Funk Bass, Hammond B-3, Jazz, jazz funk, jazz guitar, Jim Allington, Larry Coryell, Larry Young, organ, synthesizers
Prince was an artist whose musical conceptualization helped me personally to view sexuality as an act of love,rather than as a profane taboo. Considering his classic soul music struggle between spiritual and carnal pleasures,that may be hard for some people to believe. But as far as that aspect of Prince’s talent,it really began to reach its peak in the mid/late 80’s. A period that I feel represents Prince’s creative peak as a musician. Prince was also on the cusp of becoming a 30 something during this period as well. This represented another stage in Prince’s emotional maturity.
Sign O The Times was the Prince album that illustrated this stage of his maturity most fully. Because of the time frame in which I heard it,the 1987 album reminds me of a long period during the 90’s that wasn’t paying attention to Prince’s new music. There is one memory from a rainy afternoon in 1994 when I was driving home with my parents from Strawberries Records. They had the radio on and this Prince song came on with a very deep and strange sound at the beginning. They shut it off before I knew what it was. When I finally heard Sign O The Times,I realized that song was “If I Was Your Girlfriend”.
That “strange sound” I mentioned begins the song over a three note LINN drum hit. Actually sounds like revving an amp’d up electric guitar at its very lowest notes. Then a thick slap bass pop breaks into the refrain of the song. Its a very slow beat accompanied by a trumpet like synth brass solo while foreboding layers of synth strings play along in the back round. On the refrains,Prince sings in a sped up falsetto along with mainly the drum and bass line of the song. Toward the end of the song,the bass line gets somewhat more intricate as Prince raps frantically with some operatic orchestration before the song stops.
Its taken me too long to realize that this is one of Prince true funk classics. The slap bass pretty much carries the entire song-one that TLC would also cover around the first time I first hear…well the intro anyway. Lyrically,this song finds Prince exploring a sexual double standard. His asking a lover if she’d undress in front of him if they were anything but lovers. Even saying by the end “we don’t have to make babies to make love/we don’t have to make love to have an orgasm”. Prince taking on romantic insecurity in this funky musical way was a major step in his evolution as a human being.
Filed under 'Sign 'O The Times', 1987, Funk, guitar, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, sexual revolution, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizers
Ronnie Laws is one of my favorite contemporary sax players of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Along with people such as David Sanborn,Laws’ sound bridged the gap between the bar walking sax style of the 60’s and the sleek smooth jazz sound that was to come. He’s someone who has a way of driving a melody into ones sub-conscience with the power and beauty of his tone. He was also a fantastic soul/funk vocalist. While he obviously can’t vocally accompany his sax the way George Benson can his guitar, his ability to switch off works the funky emotions in the studio.
Laws had worked primarily with EWF keyboardist Larry Dunn as his producer in the mid to late 70’s. The sound they forged together started with a hard bass/guitar centered jazz/funk sound. Later in the decade some of the most cutting edge,spacey electronics /synthesizer orchestrations became an integral aspect of Laws’ sound. . In the early 80’s, the pair continued to adapt their synthesizer based jazz/funk sound into a decade that would be defined by it. One of my favorite examples of this is the lead off track from Law’s 1983 album Mr.Nice Guy entitled “Can’t Save Tomorrow”.
Laws starts out the song sing to the accompanying bass plucks of multi instrumentalist Leon Johnson. Its Johnson who provides most of the instruments on this song. After this intro,Laws’ voice and the bass line dovetail into the main rhythm of the song. That is a fast,funky shuffle consisting of several metallic synthesizers and Roland Bautista’s guitar harmonizing with a jazzy melody to Johnson’s slap bass. On The choruses,Laws sings his lead vocals in falsetto. There are two bridges here. One a sax solo from Laws,the other one of Larry Dunn’s spacey synth interludes before the refrain fades the song out.
All summer long,I’ve had this song on my phone’s MP3 player while peddling my bicycle around town. Its the perfect song for such physical activity because the song is propelled by a lot of forward motion. The drums,the bass,the synths,the vocals and the sax are all extremely earnest here-almost like a musical manifestation of the heart Laws’ lyrics indicate is pounding with intense passion. On the other hand,the production and overall sound of the song remains just about as sweet as any kind of funky music can be. And that’s what makes it one of my favorite Ronnie Laws jams.
Filed under 1980's, drums, jazz funk, Larry Dunn, Leon Johnson, rhythm guitar, Roland Bautista, Ronnie Laws, Saxophone, slap bass, synth funk, synthesizers
Jean-Luc Ponty is an artist who probably most represents my adult focus on jazz fusion/funk. A virtuosic violinist from Avranches,France Ponty was born into a family of classically trained musicians. While graduating fairly young from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris with their highest honor,he began listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane while playing with one of the countries major symphony orchestra’s Concerts Lamoureux. Ponty became known by the end of the 60’s as being a premier example of “jazz fiddle”.
The jazz community at the time had similar doubts as to the violin’s viability in jazz as they had when Rufus Harley introduced bagpipe into the genre. But with his mixture of be-bop phrasings and European classical movements,Ponty became part of the link between jazz fusion and what would become the new age music genre. He released his first solo album at the age of 22 in 1964’s Jazz Long Playing. He played with key members of the modern jazz movement until Frank Zappa wrote songs for his 1969 album King Kong. He emigrated with his family to America when asked to join Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention.
Ponty participated in the first two Mahavishnu Orchestra albums in the early 70’s as well,before restarting his solo career in 1975. By the early 80’s,he’d toured the world and recorded more than a handful of premier jazz/rock fusion albums. In 1983 he released his 15th studio album Individual Choice. The title song was given one of the first jazz music videos. He also re-ignited his collaboration with the late George Duke. He and Duke recorded a collaborative album together in 1969. And he was the chief composer of my favorite song on Ponty’s 1983 release entitled “In Spiritual Love”.
The main body of this song entirely surrounds the rhythm. Its a funky R&B shuffle done up on a brittle drum machine-surrounded by multiple synthesizer parts. One is a jangling guitar like one,the other is a bluesy bass line while a low and high orchestral one accent both. The melody begins with Ponty plucking the main melody,than playing the last part out on his violin. The song also contains two separate instrumental solos. The first is a classic Minimoog solo from George Duke. The second one is is a full violin solo from Ponty before the song fades back out on its main theme.
Over the last decade or more,I’ve heard most of Jean-Luc Ponty’s 70’s and 80’s studio albums. And enjoyed them strongly based on their album oriented context and impeccable playing. Yet of all the individual songs he’s done,”In Spiritual Love” is one of a handful that stand out strong on its own. The solos are strongly based on Ponty and Duke’s keen understanding of harmonic virtuosity and an inviting sense of melody. But the rhythmic base of the entire song is,outside its electronic presentation,a very funky rhythm & blues shuffle. So this really puts Ponty’s entire musical focus into excellent perspective.
It was Henrique who brought to my attention today that Kashif Saleem,born Michael Jones in NYC,passed away this last Sunday. The causes is still unknown as of now,and not that important. What does matter is that while Kashif was well known as a producer for other artists,it all stemmed from lesser sung achievements of his own. He joined the disco funk band B.T Express as a teenager for their third album Energy To Burn in 1976. He began producing for Evelyn King on her 1981 hit “I’m In Love”-beginning a long tradition of him producing funky female talent in the early 80’s. His talent went even further than that.
Alongside Stevie Wonder,Kashif is known as a synthesizer pioneer in funk/soul. He extended on Wonder’s work by creating sounds that became known as the boogie funk sound. That is mixing live rhythm sections with electronic orchestrations and melodies. He was an orphan who managed to get up of a very abusive foster family. While in primary school,he focused strongly on music. Even learning woodwind instruments-pretty rare for even multi instrumentalists. His self titled solo debut came out in 1983. The song that epitomizes his artistry on it for me is an instrumental entitled “The Mood”.
A strong,space heavy Afro Latin snare/hi hat drum starts off the song. The remainder of the song consists primarily of Kashif’s vocals and many layers of synthesizers. There’s a fluttering synth string,a wispy higher tones one in the back round and a brittle bass one accompanying the multi tracked layers of Kashif’s almost operatic,jazzy vocalese. On the refrains of the song,the melody goes into a higher key and a high funky rhythm guitar assists the melody. On the final choruses of the song,Kashif sings vocalese through a Vocoder before the song fades out.
Kashif’s boogie funk production style is generally spare but glistening enough to appeal to 80’s soul singers. But the moment I heard this instrumental 12 years ago,it was entrancing what a sonic marvel this really is. Its basically an Afro Latin jazz/funk number produced in the more electronic boogie style-with some beautiful chordal modulations and…just a general magical quality to the synthesized sounds created. Kashif will be remembered for me as someone able to get the most warmth out of 80’s era synthesizers. And I am hoping that will continue to be his most enduring musical legacy.
Was (N0t Was) were a passion shared between my father and I during the late 90’s/early 2000’s. Detroit natives David Weiss and Don Ferguson (who changed their professional names to “Was”) were childhood friends from the suburbs. Due in part to Don’s impoverished life at the time,they duo came together to form Was (Not Was) in 1979. The pair composed the music and wrote the lyrics,while two vocalists in Sir Harry Bowens and “Sweet Pea” Atkinson rounded out the quartet. Was (Not Was) became one of the most important and unique musical collectives of the 80’s and early 90’s.
Don Was would become a well known producer for artists such as Bonnie Raitt,Stevie Nicks,Carly Simon,Ziggy Marley,Bob Dylan and Hootie & The Blowfish. His own band on the other hand specialized in a funky stew of music that often placed guest singers in unexpected musical settings. As for Sweet Pea Atkinson,he seems to be a bit of a mystery man. But its his birthday today. And vocally speaking,he’s one of my personal favorite aspects of Was (Not Was)’s sound. One of his highlights with the group came via their self titled 1981 album. It was entitled “Where Did You Your Heart Go?”.
Sweet Pea opens the song singing the lead chorus of the song as a swinging drum brush plays through in the back round along with Johnny Allen’s string arrangements and a counter melody by sax player David McMurray. The jazzy funk bass lines of Jervonny Collier kind of create the main body of the song from this point onward. All led into by McMurray’s sax and a slow crawling drum/percussion based groove. Between the refrain to chorus transitions,a high brittle melodic synthesizer and a string synth with more polyphony play a lead role. After another sax solo,the chorus brings the song to its end.
One thing my father and I both agreed on listening to this album was the strength of this song. Sweet Pea Atkinson’s strong,rangy and idiosyncratic vocal inflections are part of what carries it. Even more so,Don and David actually crafted this song specifically to his style-fashioning a sophistifunk number with the melodic modulations of an mid 20th century American pop standard. As Henrique Hopkins recently pointed out to me,Wham! covered the song in 1986. And hi Henrique’s case,that’s what he thought was the original version. Shows you how melodically strong funk/soul songwriting always finds its place.
Filed under 1980's, David McMurray, David Was, Don Was, drums, Funk Bass, Jervonny Callier, Johnny Allen, percussion, Saxophone, string synthesizer, Sweet Pea Atkinson, synthesizers, Was (Not Was)
Nile Rodgers remains one of my musical heroes to this very day. He’s survived the anti disco backlash his band Chic received,drug addiction and most recently a cancer scare. He’s also done so with gusto,a confident smile and strut,and plenty of new musical activity. Among them (so I hear) working with Janelle Monae on her upcoming album. His rhythm guitar style became one of the most identifiable and influential of the final quarter of the 20th century. That guitar style also shaped his second career as a producer for some of the 80’s biggest acts such as Duran Duran,Inxs and Madonna.
On another level,he actually had a third musical career. And its one that didn’t earn him quite the accolades that he had with Chic or as a producer. That was,irony aside,his own solo career. It all occurred when Chic petered out following their final album Believer. That same year Rodgers embarked on his solo career-presenting himself primarily as a multi instrumentalist/writer/producer/singer. This first solo album was a wonderfully conceptualized package called Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove. One song that stands out strongly for me is called “It’s All In Your Hands”.
A brittle yet rolling drum machine beat starts out the song unaccompanied-sounding very in keeping with early 80’s hip-hop spareness. After 10 seconds of this,a lead melodic synthesized piano comes in-along with a brittle synth bass line. Rodgers brings in a smooth,reverbed rhythm guitar repeating a rather jazzy melodic theme over this. This acts as the primary body of the entire song. The sexual surrender expressed in the lyrics also remain on the one throughout. The bridge of the song emphasizes Rodgers’ rhythm guitar riffing before that ongoing chorus fades out the song.
Listening to this song outside the context of the wonderfully grooving album its from,it becomes clear how many bridges this song actually crosses. It has the hard break beats and stripped down ethic of period hip-hop-along with the rhythmic instrumental exchanges of funk. Not to mention some of the smoother production values of new wave pop/rock of the mid 80’s. This song represented the transition between Chic’s funky,often jazzy type of disco to the rock friendly dance productions of Nile Rodgers career of the 80’s. And is a superb example of his solo sound.