Brian Auger has been, much like Americans Art Blakey and Norman Connors, a great assembler and cultivator of talent during the 60’s and 70’s in his native England. His first band was The Steampacket in 1965,which included a young and then unknown Rod Stewart. As a session musician and famed player of the Hammond B-3 organ, Auger worked with everyone from Tony Williams to Jimi Hendrix. Formed in 1970, his Oblivion Express represented when Auger became such a talent cultivator. In particular with members of what became the Average White Band.
For the first six years of the 70’s, Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express released on album every year. The last of this series of albums released prior to 1977 was the 1975 album Reinforcements. Seen it on vinyl once,never picked it up and have come to regret it. This album helped to cultivate the guitar/percussion/vocal talents of soon to be Santana band member Alex Ligertwood as well. Being a jazz-funk innovator, this would seem to be an album based upon online listening that delved very strongly into funkiness. And one of its finest examples is the opening song entitled “Brain Damage”.
Ligertwood’s rhythm guitar,and soon percussion provides the intro the song. Auger himself comes in on electric piano along with bassist Clive Chaman’s thundering,jazzy line. Dave Dowle’s drums come into the arrangement-along with the biting lead guitar of Jack Mills. The refrains A section is a thick funky grind with a heavy Moog synthesizer providing the melody,while the B section goes into a heavier electric piano part. As this pattern continues, the B sections often serve as forums for solos. First for Auger’s electric piano,than his organ and Mills’ guitar before fading out on the main melody.
“Brain Damage” is a hefty jazz funk jam of the finest sort-very solo based and full of instrumental excitement. Not to mention its confident strut. The A-section of the main melody has a bass/guitar/drum/percussion interaction that reminds me somewhat of mid/late 70’s P-Funk to some degree. At the same time, its the instrumental soloing (all of which is very clear and beautiful) that relates it to the jazz/funk fusion sound of that period so strongly. Brian Auger is someone I’ll personally have to be checking out more of in the future. Simply based on hearing music like this from him.
Armando Anthony Corea,known by his professional name of “Chick”, is a native of Chesterfield,Massachusetts. Son of a former Dixieland musician from Boston, Corea took up drums and notably piano on his own. A largely self taught player who seriously sought out musical learning on his own, he began playing gigs throughout high school. While attending both Columbia and Julliard university’s later, his be-bop style piano took on avant garde elements. After a pair of solo recordings,he began working with Miles Davis on his ground breaking 1969 fusion recording In The Silent Way.
Just about every musician who touched Miles creatively became an innovator in their own right. And Corea was no exception. He formed Return To Forever in 1970-originally including the Brazilian duo of Airto Moriera and Flora Purim. By 1973 though the band consisted of bassist Stanley Clarke,drummer Lenny White and the young guitarist Al Di Meola. RTF’s albums generally focused on the more progressive,pyrotechnical variation of jazz/rock fusion. It was on their 1975 album No Mystery that the fluidity of funk flowed into their sound. Especially on songs such as “Sofistifunk”.
Corea’s computerized synthesizer riff starts off the song-followed soon by White’s nimble stop/start jazzy funk drumming. Di Meola’s guitar squawks and Corea’s extra melodic synth come into play-as well as Clarke’s very supporting bass line keeping a very funky groove. That could amount to the chorus of the song. On the refrains,the drum is fuller with more fills. And Di Meola takes on some rocking solos with Corea’s synth acting as straight up melodic support. The song has a long conclusion of the chorus before the synths and guitar fall apart into near incoherence as the songs crescendo.
“Sofistifunk”,or rather a variation of that phrase based upon this song,is actually an adjective I used to describe certain types of what’s referred to as post disco or boogie funk that’s live instrumental and well produced. This song however is nothing like that. It is melodically and harmonically complex jazz-funk-full of intense rhythmic turns and soloing that Return To Forever did so well. Still it lives up to its title by melding the intensity of all the players into a fluid musical flow. That’s not too easy to accomplish. And Chick Corea with Return To Forever really made it work very well in this case.
The Spinners were a Detroit band who at one point were actually co credited with the name of their home city-the Detroit Spinners. Also as the Motown Spinners at times because original members Billy Henderson, Henry Fambrough, the late Bobby Smith and Pervis Jackson recorded a number of singles for the famous Detroit label. Their biggest hit on the label was of course “Its A Shame”,sung by GC Cameron. Cameron was succeeded by the late Phillipe Wynn. Wynn was part of a three lead singer lineup of the band at Atlantic Records-for a series of albums produced by Philly maestro Thom Bell.
That period of the Spinner’s recording from 1973-1976 was their most commercially successful. While they’d go on to make some superb records after that,its that early/mid 70’s period that defines them in the public consciousness. Pervis Jackson was one of the three lead singers of the band. Though he passed away from cancer in 2008, his bass vocals were a key part of their five part vocal harmonies. There was one time where his vocals became more the star of the show. And that was on another huge smash hit for them from their 1975 Pick Of The Litter album called “Games People Play”.
A spacious drum thump starts out the song. A high pitched rhythm guitar,filtered piano and close knit bass line provide the basic melody along with accompanying horn lines. A string riser segues into that intro extended out into the refrain of the song. A second statement of the song extends out into a different chord-focusing on the horns and strings playing along with the lead vocals,which include female guest singer Evette L.Benton. The chorus of the song finds the groups vocal harmonies singing the the melodic string and horn orchestration. Its on this chorus that the song fades out.
“Games People Play” is one of my very favorite Spinners song. Its some of the finest produced mid tempo cinematic soul of the mid 70’s Especially the vocal exchanges. For Pervis Jackson’s part,his moment on this song occurs during the beginning of the third refrain where his bass voice sings “12:45”. As I understand it, that lyrical phrase became his nickname for a time. The end result is one of the best vocally oriented musical studio soul sounds of its era. Thom Bell was a master of highly musical vocal productions. And this is one of many fine examples of this from the Spinners during the 70’s.
Edgar Winter is one of those artists whose musical arc I had extremely wrong most of my life. Knowing him only for the songs “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein” (which both come from the same album by the way),had him pegged as a progressive minded Southern rocker. Upon purchasing his debut album Entrance a decade ago,it introduced me to one of the most talented and musically distinctive artists this side of Prince,Todd Rundgren,Brian Wilson and even Miles Davis. His mixture of European classical,jazz,soul and blues instrumentation and harmonies made it quite a listening experience.
With The Edgar Winter Group he,Dan Hartman and Rick Derringer did indeed tend to explore their rockier side. He also had a band called White Trash who,on two occasions dealt with Winter’s gospel/funk/soul/blues side more. Much as with The Rolling Stones, Winter felt a deep affinity with black American music. And like the Stones,his music also evolved along with black American music in the 70’s. His next “solo” album was 1975’s Jasmine Nightdreams. This album was more a mixture of styles. And one song in particular that leaped out at me is entitled “All Out”
A drum roll quickly gives way to a slow shuffling swing. Winter than solos on the ARP synthesizer on a jazzy horn like melody before going into a solo on the ARP doing the refrain that improvises heavy on the 12 bar blues primarily. On both occasions,its backed up by a phat Moog bass playing an upfront descending line similar to what the upright bass would normally play. Winter takes off improvising the melody on sax before doing the same with his flamboyant,rangy scat singing. The choral theme repeats for a bar before the piano/synth arpeggio that segues into the next song.
Hearing this all out bop jazz number reminds me somewhat of how people like Thelonious Monk might’ve updated their distinctive style in the 70’s-with electronic instruments playing the roles the bass and organ normally would’ve. With a sound that suggests Winter likely played most of the instruments on this song himself,his improvisation of melody and spirited instrumental/vocal performance really showcase what a strong musician/composer Edgar Winter actually is. And having the understanding to have players in his circle who could help him flesh out his musical ideas even more so.
The Bee Gee’s had run their intricately constructed baroque ballad formula to the point of exhaustion by the mid 70’s. After a string of albums with only a moderately performed commercial performance Barry,Maurice and Robin Gibb regrouped with their producer at the time Arif Mardin to record an album in the style of the American R&B artists Mardin was producing,and that they were listening to at the time. The result was their 1975 album Main Course. The album succeeded not only in totally reviving them commercially, but reinventing them as contemporary artists with a different musical approach.
On a personal level,I grew up taking the Bee Gee’s mid/late 70’s heyday very much for granted. Not only were many of these songs played often. But the post disco push back didn’t exactly endear their music from the period to a lot of people around me. During the 90’s and 2000’s however,the Bee Gee’s of this period began to get re-evaluation. And their songs from 1975-1979 are generally regarded as classics today. Main Course is one of my favorite albums of theirs from this period. Its pretty diverse,but filled with soulful and funky songs too. And it begins with a particular favorite of mine called “Jive Talkin'”.
A shuffling chicken scratch guitar opens the song. First,the snare drum builds into the groove,then the round Moog bass underneath-followed by a higher pitched rhythm guitar with more sustain to it. After this,the swinging 4/4 beat comes into the song-accented by a galloping snare on the second beat. This is what accompanies the vocals on both the chorus and refrains-the latter of which singles out the Moog bass more to accent the melody. Between each verse,a higher pitched synthesizer plays a melodic horn line. The intro repeats at a choral bridge before the main chorus fades out the song.
One thing that songs such as “Jive Talkin” indicated was how much the Gibb brothers understood their funk and soul source material of the time. Their already complex songwriting style expanded outward here. Bee Gee’s songs had generally been built upon folk and Northern soul approaches in the beginning. On here,they began building on rhythm based melodies that bounced,sang and had plenty of contemporary touches (such as the synthesized bass) that made it clear that understood exactly what Stevie Wonder and Billy Preston had been musically innovating at this point in time.
Minnie Riperton is one of my favorite female vocalists of the 1970’s. It went far beyond her 5 octave vocal range. The choices of musical setting she and her collaborating husband Richard Randolph made for this voice always operated on different ends of the soul/funk idiom. That meant the songs were not going to be simplistic. Nor could they merely rely on Riperton’s voice as the sole draw for the songs. Especially as that ethic of showcasing a strong singer with less then stellar music is almost a given today,this really spoke to the level of musical artistry that went into Riperton’s work.
In 1975,Riperton’s label Epic were interesting in a follow up to the massive success of the Perfect Angel and its single “Loving You” after its run was over. Since Stevie Wonder,who’d helmed that album,was busy producing his own Songs In The Key of Life at the time,Stewart Levine ended up helping out with the production on the 1975 album Adventures In Paradise. Working with musicians such as Crusaders’ Joe Sample and Larry Carlton,this albums jazz funk flavor was epitomized extremely well by the Sample co-penned title song that opened its flip side on the original vinyl.
Dean Parks’ deep 10 note rhythm guitar riff opens the song along with Jim Gordon’s funky drum and Sample’s bluesy Fender Rhodes piano licks. Along with Sample’s thick roadhouse style acoustic piano chords on the vocal refrains,this is the main body of the song. Ascending yet subtle strings show up on the chorus,where Riperton soars into her trademarked high F-sustaining across several chords. This refrain/chorus refrain sequence is repeated for one more round. Riperton improvises a bit on the high F aspect of the song as the song fades out on its main instrumental refrain.
“Adventures in Paradise” is a terrific example of Minnie Riperton really riding a strong jazz/funk groove for all that it could offer her. Even though not strictly so,this song has a heavy Crusaders vibe about it. Found over the years that whenever Joe Sample is in a leadership position instrumentally and compositionally,the other musicians involved tend to feel right at home instantly. And that happened with the rhythmically thick and melodically strong nature of this song. Minnie Riperton recorded some amazing music in the funk genre. But for me personally,this would probably top that list.
Billy Preston was,in a similar manner to Stevie Wonder,an artist who used analog synthesizers,organs and pianos to create totally new sounds during the early/mid 1970’s. Wonder often utilized jazz oriented chord progressions-often emphasizing European classical arrangements as well. The sounds that Preston created were all based in hardcore soul,R&B and what had already occurred thus far with the innovation of funk. What both of them emphasized was a strong love of instrumental layering and love of leading their whole show by soloing on the Clavinet.
By 1975,the connection with Stevie Wonder’s music by Billy Preston became extremely evident. The album he recorded that year,It’s My Pleasure,was recorded at the TONTO synthesizer complex-the same facility used by Wonder,The Isley Brothers and Gil Scott Heron & Brian Jackson during this era. One of this albums hits actually featured a vocal duet with ex wife and frequent creative collaborator of Wonder’s in Syreeta Wright. She would eventually go on to do a duet album with Preston in the early 80’s. The name of this song was called “Fancy Lady”
Preston starts off the song with a descending Moog bass before the drum kicks in. This is a thick snare/cymbal kick surrounded by a bluesy sea of synth layers. This continues on the chorus-with the Moog bass and Clavinet weaving through it all like needle and thread. The refrains that Syreet sang on repeats the intro of the song instrumentally. Their are two instrumental bridges. One features polyphonic synths playing a call and response horn chart while the second is a percussive,unaccompanied drum break. Preston plays a full on synthesizer solo for the last minute and a half or so of the song before it fades out.
From the first time I heard it over 12 years ago,this song always stood out to me. Always had a special affinity for the early synth/proto electro funk that emerged out of the mid 70’s. Especially in such cases like this,it again brought the bluesy soul musical past into the electrified/digitized future. As synthesizers expanded in complexity,electro based music began to rely more on the sound than the musical base. And this is a good example of music that didn’t. Its funky because the synths are fat,play bass,guitar and horn lines and always maintain a heavy,chunky instrumental flavor.
Filed under 1975, Billy Preston, blues funk, clavinet, drums, Moog bass, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers, Syreeta Wright, TONTO