Category Archives: Toots Theilmans

Look Out For #1@40-George & Louis Johnson Tell Us About The Funk That All Of Us Release

Somehow it never occurred to me that the Brothers Johnson’s debut album Look Out For#1 was celebrating its 40th anniversary. Sadly,it did so without the presence of the late great Louis Johnson-who passed away in the spring of 2015. One of the most important things to say about this album,released on new years day of 1976,is that it represents the very peak of #1 funk-a time when the music was at its strongest in terms of crossover. It was also Quincy Jones’ first major funk/soul production for another artist. Which in turn paved the way for Quincy’s success in that arena in the early 80’s.

George and Louis Johnson started playing professionally with Billy Preston as teenagers. As they approached adulthood,the guitar/bass duo backed up Quincy Jones on his 1975 album Mellow Madness. The setup was that the brothers wrote the songs,played the guitar and bass parts while George did the majority of the vocals with his high,percussive vocal stutter.  This was essentially the setup for Look Out For #1. Other prominent jazz/funk instrumentalists such as Dave Grusin,Ian Underwood,Lee Ritenour ,Billy Cobham,Toots Thielemans and Ernie Watts were among the musicians who played on the album as well.

One thing I’ve come to appreciate about this album is how it presents funk at its best recorded,produced and with its highest variety. “I’ll Be Good To You”,the primary single for the album,has a strong Sly & The Family Stone melodic singability. The instrumental “Tomorrow” has a similarly melodic vibe about it. Of course the song that gets the most harmonically advanced about that style is “Land Of Ladies”,the one song sung by Louis in his grunting,cooing vocal approach. Of course,after one goes from there Look Out For #1 is extremely dense with funk.

“Get The Funk Out Of My Face” is the most commercially successful example of this albums funkiness-with its fast tempo and processed wah wah effects. “Free And Single” and ‘Dancin’ And Prancin'”,with their heavy horn charts,take that same sound to the next logical step. A version of The Beatles “Come Together” and the closing “The Devil” are slow,gurgling deep funk that just grind the groove into the subconscious very deeply. The groove that pulls the sound of this entire album together in one song is titled for the brothers nicknames “Thunder Thumbs And Lightin’ Licks”.

There’s a deep point to this album that actually passed by even me,an avid funkateer,for sometime. A lot of times,even the most classic funk albums of this period mixed heavy funk in with jazz,rock or heavily arranged ballad material on an album. Even though this album has at least one slower ballad type number,the main priority of this album is on heavy uptempo funk. The immense talent of the Johnson brothers,as well as the instrumentalists playing with them,showcase how much the funk genre celebrates instrumental,melodic and rhythmic complication at its finest.

Conceptually,this album attracted me from the first time I saw the album cover on CD 20 years ago this year. It was a fish eye view from below,featuring the brothers playing their bass and guitar in front of a bright blue sky-both seemingly in the middle of singing. George is wearing a silver shirt and slacks with Louis has a silky,Indian looking shirt draped over him while in jeans. The whole image is that of just what they were-two super hip young brothers looking to play funky music for the people with enormous skill,style and flair. And that is what Look Out For#1 represents to me as it turns 40 years old.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1976, Billy Cobham, Brothers Johnson, classic albums, classic funk, Dave Grusin, Ernie Watts, Funk, funk albums, Funk Bass, funk guitar, George Johnson, Ian Underwood, instrumental, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Quincy Jones, Toots Theilmans

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 3/14/2015: ‘The Dude’ by Quincy Jones

The Dude

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who would look back on this album who’d feel something of a guilt complex for liking an album whose musical virtues lay so heavily in it’s production. Sad to say even….a member of my family who I won’t name out of respect didn’t find this album particularly to their liking for a long time. Perhaps one of the reasons why this album has such a different reputation is that it represents a somewhat different Quincy Jones than the one who recorded Sounds & Stuff Like That several years earlier. That was a recording that owed a great deal of it’s musical energy to funk and R&B.

This on the other hand showcased a lot more sleek urban contemporary pop considerations and in the end sounds perhaps like a slightly more commercial record that Quincy had done up to this point. This was released around the time of Mike’s Off the Wall,Johnson’s Light Up the Night and Patti Austin’s Every Home Should Have One. If your already fully familiar with those three albums, than it may not be too necessary for you to read this review since you already sort of know the sound of it. For those who aren’t,here’s what this is.
One of the singer/songwriter/instrumentalists who caught Quincy’s ear around this time was England’s Chas Jankel from Ian Dury’s Blockheads. His debut Chas Jankel contained a song called “Ai No Corrida” that is presented here and,while not as musically abstract it is more “Quincified” along with the lead vocals of Charles May who takes the very British vocal affectations of Chas away from this version. The title song is the most thoroughly funk oriented number here with a stomping beat,bassline and keyboard solo with Q himself rapping as “the dude” along with an artist Quincy was at the time just in the process of developing-James Ingram.

The multi talented singer/musician/songwriter is featured on the slower ballads here such as “Just Once” and “One Hundred Ways”,which without surprise became the biggest hits. But they’re actually far from the best songs. Those were sung by Patti Austin. “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me” and the compulsive “Razzamatazz” are both key uptempo songs here with a vibrant sophistifunk sound to them. “Somethin’ Special” is a similar but slower sort of song,maybe even a little more jazzy and another highlight with a rather adult romance audience in mind. “Velas” is a similarly themed instrumental featuring one of Q’s old hands Toots Theilmans on harmonica and whistling. There were stories I heard that the closing dance funk of “Turn On The Action” was originally intended for Michael Jackson. And honestly it does rather sound like him.

Believe it or not,a persons appreciation of this album will probably have to stem from whether they really take the urban contemporary jazz-sophistifunk sound of the early 80’s very seriously. Coming during the first years of the post disco era,where music of a certain rhythmic and racial signitures couldn’t be played on a lot of radio stations this along with similarly style albums during this time by people like Grover Washington Jr,Al Jarreau and Michael Franks also receive a similar treatment as being at best “a guilty pleasure” and as worst “a sell out”. Honestly I have absolutely no guilty feelings whatsoever in the level of enjoyment I have for this album.

If your a fan of edgy,angst ridden albums filled with a “keeping it real” attitude or something with a variant of hip-hop or neo soul rhythmic pattern to it…no I’d have to agree this album probably isn’t going to be your cup of tea. Whenever you have the level of production,musicianship and songwriting/vocal power you have with something like this it’s from a time and a place where the musical approach was very different. And above all being done by a whole other generation as well. No putting down anyone. But there’s just a different spirit behind this than much of…well even what Quincy himself is currently doing musically. And happily many people in the music world are still paying careful attention to works such as this.

Originally posted on November 6th,2011

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Brothers Johnson, Chas Jankel, James Ingram, Jazz-Funk, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, pop jazz, Quincy Jones, The Dude, Toots Theilmans