Tag Archives: Bay Area

Sparkling In The Sand: A Tribute To The Late Rick Stevens

TOP album cover with Rick

Rick Stevens the man in the center of this album cover. Why he wasn’t seen on the cover has to do with the fact he’d left the band before Tower Of Power’s eponymously titled third album of 1973 came out. Warner Bros released 1,000 copies of this album with the wrong cover by mistake before withdrawing it. Steven’s was a lead singer for the band from 1969 up to 73. Sadly he passed away on September 5th at age 77 of cancer. Thought about doing one of the songs Stevens sang lead on in Tower Of Power. But his own story, first discovered by me in Wax Poetic magazine, is a far grander one to tell.

Stevens was born in Port Arthur,Texas. But grew up in Reno, Nevada where he began singing in church during childhood. His maternal uncle was the iconic R&B/soul singer Ivory Joe Hunter, for whom young Stevens held much admiration for and who came to visit him between touring. Stevens moved to the Bay Area in 1966. And recorded with a number of bands and, after an aborted time with one such band in Seattle, he moved back to San Francisco and joined Tower Of Power in 1969. He was a strong vocal presence on their first two albums,especially in terms of ballads.

Songs such as “Your Still A Young Man” remained Stevens signature songs throughout his time with the band. After leaving the TOP, he became part of another local horn oriented band in the Bay called Brass Horizon in 1975. Sadly a year later, he was arrested for his involvement in a failed and fatal drug deal. He spent over 30 years in prison, where he converted to Christianity and swore off drugs. He spent his touring Northern California with his new band Love Power. He released a CD with them entitled Rick Stevens Back On The Streets Again Vol. 1 in 2014.

The news of Stevens death came to me through by a writer and Facebook friend A. Scott Galloway. He’d found out about the singers passing via fellow TOP member Lenny Williams online post,after Williams had received the call from Stevens son. Later in the day after finding this out, my friend Henrique and I got to talking about how he framed some TOP album covers on his wall- in tribute to his local Oakland funk heroes. Though Stevens presence in TOP was comparatively brief, his story ended up being an abbreviated career that did end in a redemptive journey of sorts. RIP Rick Stevens!

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Anatomy Of The Groove: “Jeopardy” by Greg Kihn Band

Greg Kihn,a Baltimore native same as funk icon Rick James,followed his early musical dreams to San Francisco. While still in high school, his mom helped him by submitting a demo to a local radio station while he played coffee houses locally . He moved to the bay area officially by 1972-painting houses,busking and working at a record store in the city of Berkeley. He eventually became part of Beserkley Records label as one of the first acts signed to it-along with other future rock icons such as Johnathan Richman of the Modern Lovers.

By 1976 he had his own group called The Greg Kihn Band. There biggest hit to date was the power pop classic “The Breakup Song” in 1981. During the early 80’s post disco era, the American popular music pendulum tended to swing towards guitar based rock songs. Still as with the decade before it, funk and soul could be found in any section of the record store. Often cleverly disguised by presentation as something else. New wave/synth pop of the era was a mainstay for this. But mainstream rock got a taste of this with the biggest hit Greg Kihn’s Band ever had with 1983’s ‘Jeopardy”.

Gary Phillips’ Clavinet riffing is heard with (as far as I know) Kihn’s own reverbed guitar chords providing a texturing accent to that and Larry Lynch’s steady drum beat and Steve Wright’s slinky, often elaborate bass line pattern . This pattern continues on throughout both the refrain and chorus of the song-with the chord changes reflected the changes in Kihn’s raspy vocal leads. On the bridge, Lynch’s drum plays a three note hit every other beat to the call and response Clavinet and guitar. Kihn’s bluesy guitar riff plays off the pounding drum for a more rockier pattern as the song fades out.

“Jepordy” is now seen as an 80’s rock classic-due mainly to its conceptually interesting MTV video and a hilarious parody by Weird Al Yankovic. But even I sometimes feel like the only one who might listen to this outside its accepted context and hear it as a driving funk/rock jam with a catchy song attached to it. The Clavinet grooves hard on this song,the drum maintains its driving post disco vibe. And the guitar plays something of an accessorizing role-atypical of much mainstream rock. That makes this both a potentially misunderstood and still beloved 80’s pop classic.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Joy & Pain” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly

Maze are one of the early 70’s Bay Area groups whose sound has really taken different directions as I grew. At first,Maze were presented as a late 70’s band (brought into the music industry at the encouragement of Marvin Gaye) who somehow represent the epitome of anti disco soul music. For the most part,I discovered quite a lot of their music was very bare bones mid tempo and slow jams. And as Henrique Hopkins pointed out,not really related to the musical vitality so important to funk music.  As with the very bluesy and folksy Bill Withers before them,Maze come off now as predecessors to neo soul.

What the craggy (and very distinctive) voiced Frankie Beverley and Maze do have is a strong sense of song craft and thoughtful lyrics. Its not a particularly youthful sound though. Its what a lot of people now call “grown folks music”.  Rickey Vincent aptly referred to them as a “soul band”. Maze’s lyrical content is generally philosophizing in the manner of an adult whose kind of “seen it all” as they say. Sometimes the mood is joyous. Sometimes somber. And always reflective. A good example of their music that actually got a significant groove going to it was the title song to their 1980 album entitled  Joy And Pain.

A Brazilian tingled drum with electronic hand claps start off the song. For the next 1 minute and 50 seconds Fender Rhodes,a ten note bass line,Beverly’s rhythm guitar and harmonic layers of melodic and string synthesizer build slowly into the arrangement before Beverly’s vocals. This represents the main body of the song-save for a bridge where the string synthesizer leads a jazzier melodic movement. On the choruses,backup vocals assist Beverley. All the while with a group of chirping,bird like synthesizers tweeting in and out of the mix. This chorus extends to fade out the song.

As with most uptempo Maze songs,the production is bare bones. What gets me about this song is the electronic touches that serve to give the song some musical life to it. The melody has a lot of jazzy harmonies to it. And the fairly unadorned instrumentation helps accent its vocal/lyrical showcase. Lyrically,this song does impress me personally. Its basically Beverly musing on different variations of the chorus that says “joy and pain are like sunshine and rain”. In the end its not at all cynical because,as it points out,things we love give us so much pain is due to a matter of two sides of the same coin.

 

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Filed under "Sexual Healing", 1980's, Frankie Beverly, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Neo Soul, soul band

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Butter” by Richard Dimples Fields

Richard Fields,who apparently got the nickname Dimples by a female admirer who noted his ever-present smile,started his career as the owner of the Cold Duck Lounge in San Francisco. He released a couple of albums locally in 1975 and 1977. In 1981 he signed with Neil Bogart’s Boardwalk Records. His best known song was a remake of a song from his debut album called “If It Ain’t One Thing,It’s Another”, a message song of sorts that he was encouraged to re-do by an old high school friend he ran into at a used car lot. He had a good handful of hits in the 80’s that slowed over the years until he finally passed away in 2000 in the Bay Area city of Oakland.

During my childhood,a 45 of his hit “If It Ain’t One Thing It’s Another” was in rotation in the family home. It was the B-side to this entitled “Mr.Look So Good”,an uptempo disco/funk number that was the title song to his 1982 album,which got my attention most. Something about his soulfullness and conversational lyric style was always appealing. One day I came across another one of his albums while crate digging entitled Give Everybody Some!,also released in 1982. It’s the only full album by him I presently own. And it has a lot of excellent songs on it. The song that always stands out in my mind however is entitled “Butter”.

A pounding,deep bass Clavinet opens the song along with an uptempo,percussion laden drum beat. Two grooving rhythm guitar’s accompany this-one of which plays a more liquid line while horn fanfares call out on each break. A phat slap bass line brings in the main body of the song. It’s a very bluesy melody on the refrain and chorus. And once the intro is over,a brittle bass and higher pitched melodic synthesizer provide the man rhythmic hump whereas the horns and upfront bass carry the melody Dimple’s is singing more. Just before the song fades out,the synthesizers take a back seat to the drum,guitar and horn line that opened up the song on the intro.

This song is a touch post disco/boogie classic that actually focuses on a lot of harder 70’s funk elements,such as horns and a thick slap bass. But the synthesizers and sleek beat are still very much present. Especially on the JB’s style rhythm guitar and stripped down dynamics,this also brings out an early 80’s Minneapolis Sound flavor about it as well. Fields’ vocal style is very interesting one to me. It has the idiosyncratic nasal drawl of Michael Jackson,but also the quiet groan of Ray Parker Jr. There is surely a distinctive vibe to this funk. And a lot of that has to do with how strongly it straddles two generations of the music: the one of the present and that of the immediate past.

 

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Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Bay Area, Boardwalk Records, Boogie Funk, clavinet, disco funk, drums, horns, Neil Bogart, Oakland California, percussion, post disco, rhythm guitar, Richard Dimples Fields, San Francisco, slap bass, synthesizers, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/6/15 Rique’s Pick : “We Know We Got to Live Together” by Eugene Blacknell

Today’s Anatomy of THE Groove is special because I’m introducing a new to our blog that expands the definition of “New Funk.” The interest generated in Funk music by Hip Hop artists and movie directors and producers such as Quentin Tarantino and The Hughes Brothers also helped generate a wave of Funk re issues as well as wide releases for songs that were obscure even in the 1970s and ’80s. I guess it was natural that after the main hits of the big bands had been somewhat exhausted, the desire to hear classic era funk from lesser known artists would become greater and greater. In the case of today’s 1973 rediscovered Funk stomper, “We Know We Got to Live Together” by Eugene Blacknell and his band The New Bohemians, what we’re dealing with is a single that was released and played regionally but didn’t see widespread release until the ’00s. The region Eugene Blackwell came from and made his music in was my region, The East Bay Area of Northern California. Blacknell had a reputation as an ace guitar player who led bands from his teens on, making a handsome living playing in bars and clubs before the introduction of the Disc Jockey into the club scene. “We Know We Got To Live Together” is an anthemic, super funky, swaggering cut that fits right in with the very best of mid 70s funk. The song is so anthemic in quality that now, films have begun to use it as fresh music that has the classic funk sound, but by virtue of it’s obscurity, still fires the imagination as new music.

The song begins with a guitar riff from Blacknell, super funky, with bass notes leading up to a funky chord pattern. The guitar part is played through a wah wah of course, and the rhythmic feel is funky and laid back. Funky drum fills come in next and the sound is big and phat. The rest of the band kicks in and they strike up a stone cold groove, bass super funky in both note and feel, with the organ chiming in. The groove that Blacknell and his band gets is one that is so funky it could almost serve as a representative of mid ’70s laid back funk! The vocals come in and they’re super direct and down home soulful. The lyrical story laments several problems of the time and comes to a point where they say, “we’ve got to realise/its not the way/we want it to be.” After this the song goes to the vocal refrain of “We’ve Got to Live Together”, and under this vocal the band strikes up another super funky groove. When the lyric returns, Blacknell lays out the bleak mid ’70s scenario, taxes are going up and jobs are scarce. In this environment, the musician takes up the task of telling the people’s story “Help this population/understand this situation.”

The song next features a funky break, with the wah wah and the keyboard playing a call and response, with the wah wah letting a chord linger out and the organ answering with a tumbling piano riff and the vocals saying simply “Stay Together.” Blackwell then says, “Keep peace with me/I’ll keep peace with you/let me live and love my own way.” The song then goes to my favorite part, a heavy stomping tom tom drum lead part with Blacknell’s wah wah chiming on, that leads to the refrain “I’m so glad/Trouble don’t last always/no it don’t!” When I first got this CD back around 2007, that refrain, sung in Blacknell’s down home soulful style was my rallyinig cry, and it never failed to lift my spirits with its soulfully earnest optimism (and realism).

Eugene Blacknell and his various bands recorded many excellent sides in the 1970s and early ’80s, as well as performed and brought the funk to many audiences. It’s an amazing testament to the power and durability of the recorded mediums that their music has been rediscovered and accepted as part of the fabric of it’s time, regardless of it’s reception in that time. It also very useful for me as a Bay Area native to imagine what exactly the Bay Area sounded like in 1973. The message of “We Know We Got to Live Together” of course, is the right one, and its stated here in a very soulful and sensible way. We as people should be well aware of the alternative. But the groove Blacknell and co strike up is one that is highly distinct, funk that is laid back yet aggressive, a strong reputation of the hand clapping, whistle blowing, foot stomping mid ’70s. And I’m so glad it didn’t stay there, but that we now have it to enjoy for our times.

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Filed under 1970's, Blogging, crate digging

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/10/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Pop Virgil” by Stanley Clarke

It’s been over 40 years since Return To Forever member Stanley Clarke began his solo career. One of the major gifts he gave to the world of the then still developing jazz fusion genre was how he showcased two separate styles of playing-on electric and upright bass respectively. As an electric bassist? This was a man who’d come up listening to bass player icons such as Motown’s James Jamerson and the Bay Area’s Larry Graham. So he had both a gift for melody and for the then still developing slap bass style from later in the 60’s. This quality also musically endeared him to his frequent musical partner-the late George Duke.

One thing Stanley has continually worked on throughout his career is the challenge of composition. He started out relatively weak in that area. Yet it wasn’t too long before he was competent enough to become an in demand scorer of Hollywood films. Today he is something of an honored elder who doesn’t exactly need to make music for any career reasons. But he still has so much music left in him,he keeps doing it and reaching for new ideas. With the release of the James Brown biopic ‘Get On Up’,this has been (as my blogging partner Rique might put it) The Year of JB. Even I’ve been hearing his direct influence everywhere. And it would seem Stanley Clarke is no exception.

Driven by a back-round of hand claps,the song begins with Stanley playing what a horn fanfare soon kicks into gear:essentially a very straight re-rendering of James Brown’s classic hit “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”. Stanley of course is playing James’ vocal line on the slap bass,which is very appropriate. With the outro to the second refrain,you’ve got a wailing and funky saxophone solo blasting to life. On the bridge however,an isolated and very spirited drum solo kicks into life. After this Stanley plays a deep,even more drum-like  than usual rolling electric slap bass line after which the entire band lock right into superb funky unison with Stanley.

Not only is this an amazing re-visitation of James Brown funk from Stanley Clarke,but also succeeds strongly by virtue of his band on this song. They are members of the famous Quincy Jones Westlake Studio. Guitarist Paul Jackson,keyboardist Greg Phillinganes,drummer John Robinson and horns arranged by Jerry Hey. These are the same people who spun musical gold not only for icons such as Michael Jackson,Phil Collins,Michael McDonald and Patti Austin but also for many pop/soul studio sessions during the mid/late 80’s.

These are people known for their polished studio sheen-something the eternally road bound James Brown didn’t always have the advantage to have on his original studio classics. They deliver some polish hear,but they also maintain James’ instrumental plain spoken manner while still maintaining there renowned studio professionalism. Makes one wonder what those original records with the JB’s band would’ve sounded like in such a studio setting. Also,it shows how many different venues of sound that James Brown’s sound can operate under even today. So it’s worthwhile to thank Stanley Clarke on many levels for taking James Brown’s innovations as a musical launching pad for funk futurism.

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Filed under Funk, Funk Bass, Jackie Lomax, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Michael Jackson, Motown, Quincy Jones, Stanley Clarke

The Anatomy of THE Groove 7/4/14 Rique’s Pick : “Hey Boy” by Goapele”

 

Boogie Funk has proven to be a very viable sub genre in the past few years for female R&B artists in particular as a sound that is highly musical, vital, nostalgic and yet current at the same time. An example of this would be a song such as Jennifer Hudson’s “Can’t Deny”, which updated Evelyn Champagne King’s classic “I’m In Love.” Today’s artist, Oakland, California’s own Goapele, caught my attention with her first hit, “Closer.” That songs slow, pounding beat, with it’s mesmerizing melody and dreamy Fender Rhodes tones, became one of a select group of songs that I heard coming out of young mens car speakers right alongside hip hop tunes. This is a fairly hallowed group of songs, that goes all the way back to classics such as “More Bounce to the Ounce”, and En Vogue’s “Hold On”. Goapele’s new single, “Hey Boy”, is a gaurunteed summer party starter, the type of song that can take you all the way from cleaning up on Saturday morning to getting ready for the club on Saturday night.

The song begins with a modern, “chopped and screwed” style effect, a male voice slowed down into basso profundo by electronic effects. The male voice is saying “You’s a bad girl” as Goapele sings the title of the song “Hey Boy.”  After the short intro,  the effervescant groove kicks in. It features an uplifting bassline that drives the song, backed by a muted guitar part playing the same part,  with rhodes chords in the background. Relatively quickly into the song, 8 bars in, the song changes section, going to a new groove and changing chords as well,adding in bright synthesizer pads which leads up to the chrous, where “Hey Boy” is repeated. The chorus section has another groove, featuring slap bass, more active guitar strumming, and bright synthesizer pads. The chorus section is reminiscent of Quincy Jones QWEST era productions. The chorus section, being the part of the song where the bass player slaps and pops, is interesting for going for a funkier, more unleashed feel. The song also has a breakdown around 2:40 or so which highlights the bass even more, immediately followed by a “Chpped and screwed” sction. Goapele and the band vamp out until the song concludes.

Goapele sings the song in a high, light, cheerful voice, with a rather rapid lyrical delivery, very rhythmic in her pronounciations. The song is most definitely about the better parts of a relationship, and a genuine connection, because as she says, “we don’t need to read between the lines/baby I can feel whats on your mind.”  Goapele here delivers a clear message of love and affection. The groove is hot, just like the summer it’s designed for. “Hey Boy” is unique for providing an authentic, band based early ’80s funk experience, with the modern hip hop “Chopped and Screwed” texture providing some nice contrast, and taking us between 2014 and the early ’80s. Now let the jeeps bump it!

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Filed under 1980's, Blogging, Disco, Funk, Funk Bass, Late 70's Funk, Michael Jackson, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul

Taking It To The Streets : The New Funk Generation brings the Funk to the Streets of San Francisco- By Riquespeaks

Public Enemy’s 2007 album release, “How do you sell soul to a soulless people who sold their soul”, bore a mouthful of a title that provided some insight on what many in the music loving community have felt in recent years. The facts are, artists in the various facets of soul music have a much lower profile in the music industry. Soul legends are trotted out and acclaimed for what they did in the golden era from time to time, but other than that, music seems to continously march towards pop uniformity. Do not for one instant think this means there is no soul and funk music being produced. There are independent labels all over the country, such as Stones Throw Records, that use the power of the internet and the avaliability of musical production equipment and promotional tools, to make whatever kind of music they want.  The live show and touring business is also thriving, as fans realize in this age of studio magic and the perfection it provides, the live show more than ever seperates the men from the boys and the girls from the grown women. I’ve noticed that no matter what one feels about funk, funk never has a problem coming across live. Funk is a music with an extremely low name recognition and a limited perception in the minds of many music fans. Many people understand “funky” as an adjective, but are not too familiar with Funk as a noun, that describes specific groups and a specific set of musical particulars. But all that is irrelevant when the rhythm of the one gets fired up and the bass and drums force one’s booty to do its duty. If you’re lucky, your city has funky bands big and small that hit up the clubs and medium sized music halls of your area. If you’re really lucky, you have funk bands that perform on the street, like the Bay Area’s New Funk Generation.

San Francisco has a long tradition of street performers. The legendary mime, and influence on American  funk style dance, Robert Shields, once performed on Union Square in the early ’70s. My first personal experience with a street performer, came through a jazz saxophonist who played at Pier 39 named Laurie Watkins. “Mr. Watkins”, as I remember him from phone calls to our home, had a thriving business performing jazz tunes at the Pier, that won him fans from all over the world. People would come to San Francisco years after they first came and be delighted to find Mr. Watkins still there blowing the tenor saxophone with much soul, backed up by pre recorded drum tracks. I came to know him through my father, because Watkins did so well with his music playing in the city, he was able to invest in a gold finding expedition to Liberia that my dad put together. I still remember going to see him and the Duke Ellington like introduction he’d do, “Hello ladies and gentlemen, I’m Mr. Watkins. The space directly in front of me is the floor…feel free to dance and do what you like as I play some tunes for you!”

So when I first encountered the New Funk Generation in my High School years, I knew how to respond to music being played on the streets. It was in Berkeley that I first ran into the New Funk Generation. The drummer, Larry, was playing drums on buckets, and the bass player Brian had an acoustic bass plugged into a Bootsy Collins style bass filter. They played Bootsy’s Rubber Band’s “Hollywood Squares” that day, and it was a landmark for me because I’d never heard that type of funk played live before that, especially from the vantage point of standing where I could feel the wind of the speaker. Young cats from Oakland would stop by for a minute and dance and rap over it, because “Hollywood Squares” was well known, both in its original form, and through it’s usage by legendary bay area rapper Too $hort. But New Funk Generation moved everybody, from the young cats who happened to be walking by on a school ditch from Berkeley High or Oakland Tech, to their real audience, the UC Berkeley college kids. That was my first experience with hearing funk live, right there on the street on University. Larry and Brian played with true proffessionalism, with clothes on that were raggedy/eccentric. The clothes fit the vibe, because for one, they were playing for donations, and then again, it really made them look like members of Parliament Funkadelic, who were known for wearing anything on stage.

Fast forward a few years, I ‘ve graduated from High School and started avoiding Berkeley like the plague. I’m rolling through SF now, with my keyboard playing buddy Dameion. Me and Dame would be driving through the city, dealing with snooty yuppies, talking to snooty yuppie chicks and ghetto girls, buying records, playing music off cassette tapes, laptops and samples, and humming musical ideas. One day, we heard somebody playing some serious funk, I think it might have been “Mr. Wiggles” by Parliament. And lo and behold, it was Larry and Brian, the “New Funk Generation.” It quickly became a ritual to find their band and enjoy their music. I had finally bought my first bass and was procrastinating my way through learning it, but Brian always inspired me. They played songs I’d never heard lived or always hoped I would, like “Soft and Wet”, “Sir Nose D’Void of Funk”, “Slide”, “Glide”, and other funk chestnuts. What amazed and impressed me, as I’m sure it did other observers, was the accuracy of their playing and the tightness of their groove. They played with the precision of the James Brown band, but not on an elevated platform, right there on the street, with people dropping money into the jar.

Seeing and hearing this kind of funk on the streets sparked all types of reactions in me. Sometimes folks walked by and looked personally offended that the guys were doing their thing. The police stopped it a couple of times. But still, for the most part, Bay Area people being the party people they are, folks would walk by and really have a ball, most people would stop and listen for a few minutes, dance, and contribute, and the guys also kept a sizeable audience glued to their set for however long they played. They’d actually play long sets with intermissions and structure. Young dudes would want to rap, people would want to show off their dance moves, and the spirit of funk would be strong on any corner they plugged up on.

It never ceased to amaze me, how middle aged white dudes would come up to the band and request rare funk classics. It also shocked me when saggy pants sporting, hip hop heads would let themselves go and dance in the street to the band. Dame and myself would talk about whether we had the courage to go out there and jam like the guys, on the street, the courage to make our own gig. We never made it out there like them. But we did become very friendly with the guys and we always talked to them after the show, something few people did. The band usually had people there passing the can, collecting money, and they even featured other artists from time to time. I distinctly recall them bringing back a female rapper from Japan and putting her in the act, as well as a little four year old kid who did the James Brown in zoot suits.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen the New Funk Generation perform in San Francisco. Maybe I’ll go look for them one weekend. Larry, the drummer, actually had a brief cameo in a montage scene in Will Smith’s “The Pursuit of Happyness.” I hear some rumblings about the city trying to crack down on their performances. If that’s true, it’s another horrible case of Bay Area gentrification running rampant. With the Google buses, high rents, and all of the other things going on in San Francisco, they shouldnt get rid of the ability of people to take their talents to the streets and get money. If they do, they’ll be diminishing their status as a world class city, because world class cities all over the world have places for people to display their talents and make money off them, as well as to sell and trade on the street. But when I go the city, I still see performers of various stripes, including a young African American lady at the BART station playing the cello! So here’s to the New Funk Generation and their brand of street funk, a treasure of the Bay Area that needs to be on tourist brochures next to the Golden Gate bridge, bread bowls and Cable Cars

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Filed under Music, Rhythm, Soul