Shalamar are the vocal group Soul Train created. And the more I get into their music,the more I realize its potency. The band were the youthful embodiment of the post disco/boogie sound of the late 70’s to mid 80’s. It was also the springboard for the solo careers of the rangy singer Howard Hewett and the ultra funkified Jody Watley. One of the key members in terms of their performance ethic was guitarist,songwriter and above all choreographer Jeffrey Daniels. He’d been a partner dancer with Watley on the Soul Train line during the shows salad mid 70’s era. By the early 80’s,he was an unsung icon.
The reason I view Daniels as an icon today is because he showed Michael Jackson the dance move that made MJ’s career. Originally referred to as the back step,it became more popularly known as the Moonwalk-originally the name for the dance done in a complete circle. Daniels eventually helped choreograph the music videos for “Beat It” and others. On his own,Daniels ended up living between Osaka Japan and Nigeria,the latter of which he’s a judge on the local Idol program. His biggest creative input for Shalamar was on their 1981 album Go For It. In particular its closing jam “Rocker”.
Crowd sounds regarding band producer Leon Sylvers begin the song,continuing throughout. First the stomping,percussive funky drum kicks in. Then the thick,chord heavy slap bass kicks in before an open wah wah guitar kicks into the similarly themed refrain during the drum break. That refrain adds multiple keyboard and synth brass into the same brew with Daniels’ leading backup vocals. Towards the end of the song,the synth brass takes a strong and sustained presence over the main groove and crowd sounds. The lead vocals return as the song fades out.
“Rocker” has a rather different flavor than most uptempo Shalamar jams. Most of them were more lead/harmony vocal based in terms of the groove. Everything on this number is built around percussive drum breaks and slap bass solos. It was composed and sung primarily by Daniels himself. With its stripped down rhythms and atmospherics,this is the perfect type of funk for popping,locking or just about any type of 70’s era funk dancing Daniels was continuing to innovate during the videocentric early 80’s. On a purely musical end,its also some of Shalamar’s heaviest straight up funk.
Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, dancing, drums, Howard Hewett, Jeffrey Daniels, Jody Watley, moonwalk, post disco, Shalamar, slap bass, Soul Train, synth brass, wah wah
It was in Portland that I located this particular album. There was a compilation album by the Jimmy Castor Bunch that was heavily circulating around my area on CD at the time. Much as was the case of many of the “united funk” greats of the early/mid 70’s? Their music was set up more in the context of concept albums than the singles equation. One could take a song out of this and have it work as something of a novelty record. But the overall idea was broadened by the longer stretch of length. Already listened to this 1975 album twice-including tonight. And in the end it does wind up being one of those album one might just need a couple listens to.
“E-Man Boogie” starts out the album with an ecstatic starts out with a percussive funk/rocker while “Bertha Butt Boogie” is the story of the title character-set to a slow,loping groove with a country style instrumental reference that continues over onto the soulful ballad “One Precious Word” “Hallucinations” continues on with a rhythmic guitar heavy melodic funky soul jam that ends with a faux news report on multiple societal ills-culminating in what sounds like an A-Bomb detonating. “Potential” is a classic percussion/wah wah style Castor funk number playing on variations of the title with the band members.
“You Make Me Feel Brand New” featuring the sax playing the vocal and “Daniel” done up with the Caribbean element turned up a bit more are the two interpretations while “Let’s Party Now” concludes the album with a Philly-like dance stomp. By the time this album came out? The disco era was already in full swing. This was a band that had always specialized primarily in jazz oriented funk grooves. Ones filled with often eccentric instrumental and melodic turns. That element is not present on this album at all really. This is basically a flat out funk/soul/dance album that really establishes the bands signature sound and approach. It’s one of their finest straight up funk releases as a result and I highly recommend tracking it down.
Originally posted on June 22nd,2015
Cameo started off under the name of the New York City Players-changing their name when they signed Cassablanca’s generally funk based Chocolate City imprint. The reason for that is thought to be avoidance of a lawsuit by the Ohio Players. Either way,they evolved from Larry Blackmon’s first band East Coast. That group had included the late vocalist Gwen Guthrie. By the time of their 1977 debut album Cardiac Arrest,the now septet had spent nearly two years polishing their grooves based on everything from the dance floor friendly grooves of Brass Construction to the sounds of P-Funk.
With each successive Cameo album,the band developed a sound that grew more and more distinctive. Most interestingly how they kept the growling flavor of hard Southern funk while adapting to the stripped down instrumentation of 1980’s naked funk. There are far too many wonderful and influential Cameo songs to discuss here on Andresmusictalk. With “I Just Want To Be”,”Shake Your Paints” and “Flirt” being just a few of a couple dozen. For the sake of Larry Blackmon’s 60’s birthday,I’m going to cover a song from their debut that epitomized their overall musical focus called “Good Times”
Dancable,cymbal heavy drums and hand-clapping start out the song-accompanied by a round grooving Clavinet. That’s when the low rhythm guitar comes in-along with a gurgling synth bass and a jazzy electric bass line jam their way into the mix. On the refrains,smoothly melodic electric piano gooses all the other instrumentation right along. On the choruses that start the song and repeat throughout,the horn section play some sharp and intensely rhythmic charts. Towards the end of the song,the drum begins fan-faring around a squirrely space funk synth before closing out on the chorus.
Musically speaking,this song showcases the early Cameo sound extremely well. In terms of sound,it is built around the thick wah wah sounds that defined their first hit “Rigor Mortis” from the same album-while also maintaining it’s jazzy harmonics as well. It also has the faster tempo and loose jamming style that would show up on “It’s Serious” from their sophomore album We All Know Who We Are from later that same year. Upon first hearing Cameo with this fuller sound some years ago,it came as a bit of a shock. It all showcased the versatility of funk that is the Cameo sound.
Filed under 1970's, Cameo, clavinet, dance funk, drums, electric piano, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, Larry Blackmon, New York, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synthesizer, wah wah
LTD are yet another wonderful example of a funk band with true state to state ethic,in terms of it’s membership. They started in Greensboro,North Carolina in 1968. As they migrated to Harlem. It was in Providence,Rhode Island that Jefferey Osborne joined up as lead singer and drummer. Two years after being in NYC,the band went to LA and bought in Jeffrey’s brother Billy and in 1974 signed up to A&M Records. After two commercially unsuccessful albums,they shortened their name from Love,Togetherness & Devotion down to LTD. Their third album in 1976 Love To The World got them their first big hit in “Love Ballad”,redone as an uptempo song four years later by George Benson to similar success.
Today is Jeffrey Osborne is turning 68. During 1977,Osborne focused his musical energies on being the lead singer of LTD with his rich gospel/soul baritone. During this time, Osborne began to share drumming duties with Melvin Webb. This was especially important on the bands fourth album Something To Love. The band maintained their mixture of hard funk and richly arranged soul ballads across this album. To this day,I don’t actually have a copy of this album but have heard most of it’s cuts. The one song from it that made the most impact on my ear holes actually wound up being the bands’ most successful songs. It’s called “(Every Time I Turn Around) Right Back In Love Again”.
The groove starts right in with the basic groove that defines it. It’s a percussive rhythm with a bouncing drum swing. This is carried along by a chugging wah wah guitar-along with a rhythm guitar playing a JB’s/P-Funk style horn line. The actual horns themselves carry the main melody after a rhythmic break. And the horns themselves continually to play that melodic role throughout the song. On each turn,these horns are either accessorizing Osborne’s lead vocals,or the rhythm licks of the refrains themselves. At the end of each chorus,the backing vocals of Lorraine Johnson sings the title lyric. The instrumental refrain of the song grooves on until the song fades out.
Somehow I always felt this is one of LTD’s strongest funk number. Considering that a lot of people see this band as more ballad oriented,this song was an enormous success as a #1 R&B hit and reaching the pop top 5. My friend Henrique’s commentary on this song is the most meaningful to me personally. He illustrated a funk jam played on just about every turntable in the homes of the black community in it’s time. Most importantly,the song had been a huge dancefloor success with gay DJ’s at the Paradise Garage,a disco in lower Manhattan famous for popularizing early EDM. But it also featured many classic funk acts and songs. So all around this is a funky triumph for LTD and Jeffrey Osborne.
Filed under 1970's, DJ's, drums, Funk, horns, Jeffrey Osborne, LTD, New York, P-Funk, Paradise Garage, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized, wah wah
James Ambrose Johnson,better known as Rick James has very misunderstood legacy to a number of people. Due to the controversy surrounding his sexual and drug habits, his musical legacy has been somewhat buried in the public eye. He started out as a member of the group The Myna Birds featuring Neil Young. He signed to Motown successfully with his Stone City Band in the mid 70’s following only minor success on the A&M label. A year or so later,he helped champion the career of another fledgling Motowner known as Teena Marie on her first solo album. And by the time the 80’s rolled around,James’ was poised for a whole other level of super-stardom.
According to Rick’s autobiography Confessions Of A Super Freak he pointed out how,very much like Prince he was a multi instrumentalist capable of doing so in the recording studio. Still he felt that the interaction of a full band,with it’s different rhythm and horn sections,could provide a broader musical base for his songs. So in the very first year of the 1980’s decade,Rick recorded the first album on the Stone City Band alone called In ‘N’ Out. I found a vinyl copy of this while crate digging over a decade ago. It’s an excellent big band funk album overall. It was the next to the last song on it that really caught my attention. It’s called “F.I.M.A. (Funk In Mama Afrika)”.
A space funk synthesizer starts everything off with accenting,marching conga drums. A shrieking Brazilian style disco whistle inaugurates the main song. From there it’s a ferocious mix of phat percussion,bassy wah wah Clavinet and horns playing to the Afrocentric vocal chanting. On the second refrain,this chanting becomes a call and response between the choral and solo voices. The percussion is also turned up louder in the mix at this particular point. The disco whistle and a slithery,liquid synthesizer emerge as the accompanying rhythm to this as well. The song fades out as this point with no break of the orchestration of the following tune leading it out.
There are times when listening to vinyl that I’ll move the needle on the record to one particular song that excites me-over and over again. And this groove is near the top of that list. Must admit that at the time of first hearing this, I had somewhat typecasted Rick James’ “punk funk” sound into too strict of a box. Was not expecting to hear such a hardcore Afro-Brazilian funk jam from the same man about to unleash “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak” into the world. This song finds Rick playing a similar role to his band as Barry White did to Love Unlimited Orchestra-acting a an arranger and band leader (rather than singer) for a festive,funky and meaningful instrumental revelry.
Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afrocentrism, Brazil, clavinet, Disco, horns, Motown, percussion, Rick James, Stone City Band, synthesizer, Uncategorized, wah wah
One of the important things I’ve learned about Curtis Mayfield over the years is the extent of which his social consciousness evolved. This was also an important factor in America’s silent generation as a whole-extending across the nations color and economic lines. Starting out as mainly the composer/guitarist for The Impressions,Curtis soon became the bands lead singer as well. He became something of a windy city whiz kid-writing and producing for other acts as well. This not only changed the entire trajectory of his musical career. But re-focused the thematic priorities of himself,Sam Gooden and Fred Cash as well.
Throughout the 1960’s,this Chicago powerhouse vocal trio continually churned out songs such as “Keep On Pushing”,”Amen” and of course “People Get Ready”-all anthems of the civil rights movement and released between the march on Washington and the murder of Malcolm X. With later songs such as “We’re A Winner”? It was clear the confidence of the civil rights movement was evolving into the black power movement-for America and The Impressions. In 1969,following the murders of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy a year before? Donny Hathaway co-produced the bands 1969 album The Young Mod’s Forgotten Story,which included another powerful song in “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey)”.
First thing heard on this song is an enthusiastic,youthful applause before a thundering drum roll inaugurates the calling outcry of the Memphis soul style horn section that does a call and response dance with Curtis’s gurgling wah wah guitar. Throughout the main body of the song? The rolling beat is accented by a JB style mid pitched rhythm guitar. Before the horn sections emerge again,there’s a brief low blues guitar as well. On the chorus of the song,a sustained gospel style organ comes in to keep pushing the main melody of the song forward. Towards the end of the song,before the chorus closes out the song,the vocals of The Impressions completely recede while Curtis does a full Albert King style amplified blues solo.
In all honesty? Today is the first day that I’ve ever actually heard this song. Sometimes however? A first impression (pun more intended than I was hoping it to be) can say a thousand words. On two very important levels? This song speaks to two viewpoints of the cultural changes in race relations at that time. Musically the song is just about at the perfect intersection between the contemporary funk explosions of James Brown and the Chicago style urban blues that was coming out of the Chess label only a decade earlier. Lyrically it’s a similar situation. On one hand Curtis is very earnest in schooling the young that the power structure of America will be weakened as “we’re killing up our leaders” and “we all know it’s wrong”. By the end of the song he muses “if your cut you’re gonna bleed/might I get a little deeper/human life is from the semen seed”. This song musically and lyrically speaks so deeply into the primal nature of racial violence? It deserves to be understood in 2015 as much as in the late 60’s.
Filed under 1960's, black power, Blues, Bobby Kennedy, Chess Records, Chicago, civil rights, Curtis Mayfield, Fred Cash, Funk, funk guitar, horns, James Brown, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Sam Gooden, The Impressions, wah wah