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
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
Mothers and fathers are indirectly responsible for the first musical rhythms we experience as human beings. It’s the heartbeat of the child itself. Prince illustrated this in the mid 90’s on his jam “Sex In The Summer”. In terms of literal music,my mother’s own musical interests seem connected to her being a former modern abstract dancer/choreographer. I’d describe her musical tastes as being eclectic-perhaps even overreaching at times. But fundamentally,it’s still a good groove that inspires her. And as much as my father has been the main musical guiding light in my family? My mother has made her mark too.
Ramsey Lewis is an artist whom I discovered through my family about 20 years ago. It was during the time where I was really getting interested in funk. And asking my dad to pull funky music out of his vinyl collection whenever he could. Most of this came out of his jazz collection. However,there was one album that he and my mom purchased together when they were first married. The album was by Ramsey Lewis. And it was 1975’s Don’t It Feel Good. While the funk percolated across it with “Spider-Man” and “Fish Bite”,it was the opening title song that always caught my mothers ear. And later mine.
A deep,chunky rhythm guitar begins the song playing a deep in the pocket bluesy riff. Right into the middle of this pocket,a round and pulsing Moog bass settles right in. The drum keeps up the entire song with a slow,pulsing swing with plenty of rhythmic breaks. This is orchestrated by an ARP string ensemble. Ramsey’s Fender Rhodes solo improvises on the blusiness of the guitar. That same guitar buffets the refrain and chorus. Each chorus has a different vocal chorus. One has a Latin-jazz style vocalese. The other,which fades out the song,is based on the bluesy melody and states “don’t it feel good RAMSEY!”.
This is one of those funk jams that understands two of the most important things about the classic funk era. The deep in the pocket groove keeps the bluesy slowness in the rhythm and melody. Also the vocals really bring that element of jazz Miles Davis always championed,based on his mothers advice,for musicians to always play “something you could hum”. Added to all this,the song really knows how to stay on the one. The refrain/choral sequence is all based in advancing the melodic and rhythmic drama of this groove. And that makes it among Ramsey Lewis’s finest funk of the 70’s.
Filed under 1975, Afro-Latin jazz, ARP string ensemble, backup singers, blues funk, drums, Fender Rhodes, funk guitar, jazz funk, Moog, Mothers Day, synth bass, Uncategorized
Harvey Mason’s drum sound is one of the key elements in mid 70’s jazz-funk. Next to the Crusaders’ Stix Hooper,it was Harvey’s approach that really calcified the rhythm beat of that particular musical hybrid. Pretty much any band doing live instrumental based jazz-funk of the past decade and a half-including Lettuce,Greyboy and Snarky Puppy are all rhythmically built around what Harvey did on drums. Even for me, it’s very likely that Harvey Mason was the very first drummer I ever heard. With Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” being a very early musical memory. He is also important for another reason outside of those things.
Also similar to Stix Hooper, Harvey was a powerful session drummer too. Especially when it came to jazz and pop artists in the 70’s looking to make their sounds funkier. I’ve tended to notice when a musician does a great deal of session playing,they accumulate a good deal of musical allies. Many of Harvey’s were iconic soloists/session players in their own right such as Lee Ritenour,Ernie Watts,Chuck Rainey,Dave Grusin and Randy Crawford. All of these artists played a huge part on Harvey’s 1975 solo debut album Marching In The Street. And it was an album that really started right off with a bang with it’s monster title song.
Harvey starts out the song playing a steady,unaccompanied march which gradually adds funkier snare accents before Rainey’s bass chimes in along with Grusin’s electric piano. Ernie Watts,George Bohannon,Bobby Bryant and Oscar Brashear provide the accenting horn charts. By this point,Harvey’s playing both a double time drum solo-one very funky and a straight march along with a whistle. Watts adds a melodic Piccolo flute while the collective lead vocals (including Crawford) sing the repeated choruses and chants and along a round,muted trumpet solo. As the song progresses,the marching rhythm becomes more prominent before the song fades out with it being unaccompanied again.
Since Harvey Mason’s debut is so thick with heavy funk numbers, it was a bit of a challenge selecting just one. The reason the title song of the album stands out for me is how strongly linked it is with jazz history. From the days of Buddy Bolden’s “gutbucket” music of late 19th century New Orleans,the musical term funk was born at the core of the big four jazz rhythm. These earliest jazz bands were formed in many ways based on dis-guarded horns and drums left over from the Civil War,as well as local marching bands. So the idea of Mason returning this rhythmic concept to his 70’s sounds was sounding the call for the new revolutionary march of funk.
Filed under 1975, bass guitar, Dave Grusin, drums, Ernie Watts, Harvey Mason, horns, Jazz-Funk, Lee Ritenour, Randy Crawford, Uncategorized
From his early years performing Anthony Newley style show tunes about laughing gnomes up through his persona as Ziggy Stardust? David Jones (better known by his stage name of Bowie) celebrated an embrace of musical and thematic eclecticism. Rock played a big part in it. But he also drew a good dose of inspiration from the rhythmic timing of funk and soul. After his most iconic years as the glam rock icon of Ziggy and the related character Aladdin Sane? Bowie began sporting white soul boy suits,slicked back hair and focusing on that soulful end of his sound.
It got going for Bowie in 1974 when his Diamond Dogs album came out-it’s Isaac Hayes inspired song”1984″ drawing him to a new group of session musicians and singers than the Spiders From Mars. In addition to the presence of David Sanborn and Luther Vandross,t he main drive behind this change was Puerto Rican guitarist Carlos Alomar. As a composer and arranger? He really understood how to rock up the funk. This led to the final number on Bowie’s soul oriented Young Americans album of 1975 ending with a collaboration with John Lennon entitled “Fame”.
An ascending backwards guitar opens the song into a more reverbed one. A brushing drum roll and acoustic guitar introduces the the slow grooving funky drummer that’s accompanied by three different guitar riffs-each playing off the one another. One is a low liquid one providing the bass line, the other is a more popping one of the same tone while each instrumental refrain is accented by a ringing high rhythm guitar. Bowie and Lennon’s vocals,both in their lower and high ranges,duet in near incoherence until descending into a chant of the song title at the end.
Together,Bowie and Alomar’s sound on this song heavily channels James Brown’s variety of funk. Everything about this song, itself built around layers of bass toned and higher pitched guitar, is entire built on Brown’s understanding of all the instrumentation being “on the one” with rhythm. Melody,harmony and all. The interesting this is? Brown himself was in turn inspired to work his own song “Hot (I Need To Be Love)” directly out of this groove the following year. So along with being a huge hit for Bowie, it’s an example of the cross pollination of funk in it’s prime.
Filed under 1975, Carlos Alomar, David Bowie, Funk, funk guitar, funk/rock, glam rock, James Brown, John Lennon, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, Uncategorized