Tag Archives: Billy Preston

Anatomy of THE Groove: “From Us To You” by Stairsteps

The Five Stairsteps were the prototype family soul group-predating the Jackson 5 and The Sylvers by several years. They were made up of five out of the six children of Betty and Clarence Burke,a detective for the CPD. They were Alohe Jean, James, Clarence Jr., Dennis and Kenneth-known as Keni. For a brief time, the late Cubie Burke (the youngest brother” was part of the outfit.  The became known as Chicago’s “first family of soul”. Their second album Our Family Portrait  yeilded the hit “Something’s Missing’. But their best known song was 1970’s “O-o-h Child”.

By that time, the group were known as The Stairsteps. Alohe left the group in 1972. This was just before the group were brought to The Beatles attention by Billy Preston. After a five year hiatus, Preston and Robert Margouleff all came together to produce a comeback along with The Stairsteps-in their new configuration as a quartet. This 1976 album was entitled 2nd Resurrection. I’ve never heard the entire album. But what I’ve heard about it is that, it had a more synthesizer oriented sound. One song I did hear from it was the Keni Burke composition “From Us To You”.

Alvin Taylor’s drums come right in along with Preston’s wailing synthesizer. It keeps a steady, occasionally marching rhythm throughout.  The main melody is first played by the harmonizing of Preston’s synth and Dennis Burke’s guitar for a massive melodic sound. This also represents the chorus of the song. Between each chorus, Preston harmonizes with himself on his honky tonk piano, bluesy polyphonic synth riffing and sustained organ. For much of the rest of the song, the Stairsteps vocal harmonies and adlibs sing right along with Preston until the organ fades out on the main melody.

“From Us To You” doesn’t sound to me like anything I’d ever think The Five Stairsteps (by any other name) would do. The drawling chorus, style of singalong melody and the thick groove of the music is far closer in flavor to the Brothers Johnson’s “I’ll Be Good To You” or a Graham Central Station number. Of course, Billy Preston’s instrumentation probably has a lot to do with its heavy funkiness. Interestingly enough, the Preston connection got the band signed to George Harrison’s Dark Horse label to make this album as well. And it certainly started with a strongly funkified new direction for them.

 

 

 

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Filed under Keni Burke, The Five Stairsteps

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Fancy Lady” by Billy Preston

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.

 

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Filed under 1975, Billy Preston, blues funk, clavinet, drums, Moog bass, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers, Syreeta Wright, TONTO

Grooves On Wax: Summer Madness ’16

Ray Charles

Ray Charle’s early 50’s sides,recorded before his Atlantic years, were reissued by the Coronet label in 1963. They find the future Genius Of Soul finding his own voice through his earlier influences. These song sound a lot closer to Charles Brown and earlier jump blues/R&B songs than the gospel and country influenced soul sound Ray would become an icon with. It’s still wonderful to hear a very youthful Ray croon some blues here though.

Key Jam: “Misery In My Heart”

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My father gave me his vinyl copies of several of his mid 60’s Rolling Stones albums. This one is a classic album of spicy,bluesy rock ‘n’ soul that showcased the Stones really reaching their commercial and creative peak. Mick Jagger’s vocal personality,Keith Richard’s down ‘n dirty guitar and Charlie Watts’ righteous rhythm make the punchy sound of the original Mono mix of this 1965 album something not to be missed out on!

Key Jams: “Mercy Mercy”,“Hitch Hike” and “Satisfaction”

Love Child

Berry Gordy himself was part of a writing team he called The Clan,who came up with much of this matter following the iconic Holland/Dozier/Holland team left Motown. The title song of this album felt very different for the Supremes alone-it had a grittier cinematic funky/soul flavor. Even if most of the album,especially the second side followed the groups iconic Motown girl group sound,this 1968 release sure began with a bang.

Key Jams: “Love Child” and “Keep An Eye”

Spiral Starecase

Always enjoyed the horn heavy,soulful shuffle for the title song of this 1968 album whenever it came on oldies radio. I eventually found their full length debut album. With the reliance on interpretations, they do sound very much like an R&B/soul cover band from the time period. One thing they do with them,especially when the source material was a ballad,is add their uptempo horn based approach to it. That makes this a very satisfying listen overall.

Key Jams: “More Today Than Yesterday”,“Our Day Will Come” and “No One For Me To Turn To”

Come Back Charleston Blue

Donny Hathaway and Quincy Jones coming together to record a film score/soundtrack was a masterstroke for its time. It was musician Nigel Hall who recommended this albumf or me to seek out over a decade ago. It definitely has Quincy exploring his long of jazz history-from dixieland through modal on the scoring elements. Hathaway on the other hand delivers some of his most expansive funky soul on this album as well.

Key Jam: “Little Ghetto Boy”

Nuff Said

This 1971 album found Ike & Tina Turner in their prime period of creativity. Ike Turner had an approach similar to James Brown where earlier songs spun off into new ones-with at least one of these songs baring a strong resemblance to the then recent hit “Proud Mary”. Even though they duo were seeming to tire a bit creatively at this point,they could still rock up some heavy funky soul with their guitar and vocal might.

Key Jams: “What You Don’t See (Is Better Yet) and “Moving Into Hip Style-A Trip Child”

I Wrote A Simple Song

Billy Preston really came into his own on this 1971 debut album for A&M. It brought out the versitility across soul,blues,rock and hard funk that this organ virtuoso and vocalist brought to his music. Especially when adding the guitar like effects of the Clavinet electric piano to his renowned organ work as he did here-not to mention his abilities to deliver message music that could really stick. Billy Preston albums used to be pretty easy to come by in used vinyl crates in my late teens/early 20’s. Saw this over and over before finally picking it up. And wondered why I didn’t sooner.

Key Jams: “The Bus” and “Outta Space”

Nightbirds

In 1974,the song “Lady Marmalade” from this record really helped to bring the talents of Patti LaBelle and future new wave funk/Talking Head member Nona Hendryx firmly into the public eye. Producer/musician/songwriter Allen Toussaint really helped bring the high stepping and stomping New Orleans funky soul sound and gospel soul drenched ballads to this revived Philly trio on this album.

Key Jams: “Lady Marmalade” and “Don’t Bring Me Down”

Horizon_(Carpenters_Album)

Perhaps it was due to personal problems that made this Carpenters album from 1975 so depressing in parts. Richard and Karen Carpenter both came out of a jazz back-round. So on this album of finely crafted balladry as they did best,there’s a reality based soulfulness that would begin to influence their more complex later work together. Even though this has it’s flaws,notably in the cover material,at least one of it’s two uptempo numbers has it’s moments. Again as it points to it’s Brazilian flavored jazz orientation of some of their later 70’s faster songs.

Key Jam: “Happy”

T-Connection-On-Fire-524801

T-Connection reveal themselves to be a highly underrated band. This 1978 found the groups stylistic versatility keeping up the soul and funk through journey’s into disco,West Coast pop,some scorching rockers and even a couple country inflected numbers.

Key Jams: “Lady Of The Night”,“Groove To Get Down” and “Playing Games”

I Love My Music

Even in 1979 when this album came out,this Pittsburgh band were known for their 1976 hit “Play That Funky Music,White Boy”. And during the height of the disco era,the bands focus was still on hefty funk grooves and harmony driven soul ballads. So this album was more than a pleasant surprise for me.

Key Jams: “Lana” and “If You Want My Love”

Off The Wall

Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones’ work on this 1979 masterpiece resulted in so many strong musical performance,listening to this vinyl passed down to me from my parents turned me onto the instrumentalists here. People such as Greg Phillinganes,Jerry Hey,Louis Johnson and Paulinho Da Costa. Which…in turn led me to starting this blog really. Bringing out this old vinyl to check out was mainly based on nostalgia. But also brought out that with songs such as “Rock With You” and “Get On The Floor”,very different mixed were used on the mid 90’s CD reissue I have. So it was fascinating to hear those differences come alive again through vinyl on this iconic album classic from the late MJ.

Key Jams: ALL of the first side. Plus “I Can’t Help It” on the flip side.

Sweat Band

Bootsy Collins came out of the lawsuit that barred him from using the Rubber Band name on George Clinton’s Uncle Jam label with this 1980 album of 100% P-Funk power! Having some of the bands finest players such as Mike Hampton,Garry Shider and Maceo Parker aboard allowed Bootsy’s iconic funksmanship to shine through in a way that…well actually impacted heavier on me by the second listen.

Key Jams: “Body Shop” and “Hyper Space”

Hiroshima Odori

Hiroshima are among the most fascinating jazz fusion groups to emerge from the late 70’s. This sophomore album of theirs from 1980 showcases their Sansei Japanese founder/woodwind player Dan Kuramoto,along with his Koto virtuoso wife June,creating a pan ethnic jazz/rock sound that blended many Japanese instrumental approaches into that fusion framework. And while their 1979 was extremely strong,this second album made an even bigger musical statement.

Key Jams: “Crusin J-Town” and “Echoes”

Pieces Of A Dream

Pieces Of A Dream’s early albums extend very well on the late 70’s/early 80’s proto smooth jazz and latter day jazz/funk scene of Philadelphia. Grover Washington Jr. did a lot of work with this trio on this 1983 album. It even adds in a hip-hop styled turntable scratching synth effect on one of it’s songs as well.

Key Jams: “For The Fun Of It”,“It’s Getting Hot In Here” and “Fo Fi Fo”

1-style-cameo-album

Cameo didn’t have just one transitional album-they had a whole transitional period. This underrated 1983 album is a major part of it. As the mid 80’s came in,Cameo’s lineup seemed to get smaller and smaller. On this album,it was a stripped down quartet. But through the many scratches on my vinyl copy,it was clear that Cameo knew how to hit the groove loud and hard during their stripped down,early 80’s new wave funk period

Key Jams: “This Life Is Not For Me” and “Cameo’s Dance”

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Billy Preston, Bootsy Collins, Cameo, Dan Kuramoto, Donny Hathaway, Funk, Fusion, Hiroshima, Ike & Tina Turner, Labelle, Michael Jackson, Pieces Of A Dream, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, record collecting, rock 'n' roll, Rolling Stones, Soul, Spiral Starcase, Sweat Band, T-Connection, The Carpenters, The Supremes, Vinyl, Wild Cherry

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Wide Stride” by Billy Preston

Billy Preston has been gone for a decade now. Much to my surprise,it turns out none of his songs have been covered here on Andresmusictalk. This was child organ prodigy to gained fame by playing with Ray Charles and eventually for The Beatles. Miles Davis even named a song after the keyboard maestro on his 1974 album Get Up With It. Billy Preston is a very important musician due to his renowned session work. He also created a musical vocabulary of his own as a solo artist. Also this being both Black American Music Month and LGBT Pride Month,Preston was both of those things as a human being.

Preston actually had two solo careers. In his mid teens to early 20’s,he recorded a series of organ based instrumental soul albums for three different labels. During the late 60’s and early 70’s,he recorded two acclaimed solo albums for the Beatles Apple label. That led to him being signed to A&M in 1971 and beginning to hit his stride as a solo hit maker. While he did a lot of singing on these later solo albums,each one still contained at least on instrumental. His final A&M album from 1977 was called  A Whole New Thing. It contained an instrumental Henrique Hopkins and I have often discussed called “Wide Stride”

A dense polyphonic synthesizer and a rhythmically accompanying synth bass begin the song over bell like percussion. A round whine of a keyboard brings the drum into the mix. This represents the refrain of the song. On the chorus,the polyphonic synth provides a rhythmic pulse while the main line is Preston’s trademark high pinched synth whir-playing the melody in more of a major key. As the groove goes on, the different synth lines begin to swell into a multi layered swell of bluesy funk-with Preston bringing in a highly digitized sounding synth pulse just as the song begins to fade out.

In many ways,this song is my favorite Billy Preston instrumental. And he’s had many wonderful ones. It gets right into the blues oriented funk groove. But the deep thing about it is that it came out a year before Prince’s debut album For You dropped. In his chunky 60’s style soul/funk/jazz/blues framework,Preston does here what Prince start a movement from-using layers of synthesizers to simulate heavy horn and string orchestrations. In that sense,this song is like one generation of funk instrumentation giving way to the next. And came at exactly the right time.

 

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Filed under 1970's, A&M Records, Billy Preston, blues funk, drums, instrumental, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Hot Stuff” by The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones have often been called the greatest rock ‘n roll band ever. That level of hype might seem typical. Still what makes them such a great band is that they understand the importance of evolution in the black American music they love. This took Mick,Keith,Bill and Charlie on a journey from the blues all the way to trip hop. Always in between was a lot of soul and plenty of funk. It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I began exploring their music outside the context of the hits played on oldies radios. And  it was that sense of evolution with their creative influences is what came through most during this more in depth exploration of their musicality.

One album that had me the most curious out of all their work was the 1976 release of Black And Blue. The band had already toured along with Stevie Wonder four years earlier. And likely from that recognized that the direct,three minute soul style of the mid 60’s was transitioning into longer,more percussion driven jamming that people like Mick Jagger saw in James Brown as well when they both performed on the Tami Show over a decade earlier. With the replacement of guitarist Mick Taylor with Ron Wood for this album, an internal change within the band fully cemented their next musical transition. And the new album literally started out with some “Hot Stuff”.

Keith Richards starts off with a relatively high up on the neck lead guitar solo with a brittle Crescent City groove, before Charlie Watts kicks in with a potent 4/4 beat. Billy Preston’s stomping,bassy piano chimes in with the percussion of Ollie Brown and Ian Stewart coming in as a strong rhythmic element. Meanwhile Bill Wyman keeps up a high pitched mid 70’s P-Funk style bass line throughout the musical affair. With the chorus of the song preceding the the more atonal refrains, the bridge of the song features Keith playing a more rocking blues guitar solo in his classic style. On the final chorus, Mick Jagger basically raps in a reverbed Lee Perry reggae style until the song comes to a cold stop.

While many rockers in the mid to late 70’s  made some incredibly funky music, this song stands out as a straight up funk groove in the context of a band. Since these players have just as firm an understanding of the blues as an Eric Clapton and John Mayall, they came to also understand what they both did. That by adding cleanly production and playing would evolve the music strongly. In the Stones case? They evolved into the funk sound. And everyone in the band and the accompanying session musicians understand why each riff,each solo worked so well within the song. And that’s what makes “Hot Stuff” likely the most fully formed funk the Rolling Stones ever threw down.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Billy Preston, Funk, James Brown, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, P-Funk, percussion, reggae, rock 'n' roll, Rolling Stones, Tami Show, Uncategorized

The Brothers Johnson-Stomping Thunder & Lightning

Brothers Johnson Artwork

Michael Jackson was likely the first artist who ever focused my attention on instrumentalists. While admiring the vocal,songwriting and performance ability of the Jackson brothers in general? My attention would focus on the liner notes of their albums. This came after watching The Jackson’s-An American Dream mini series on TV. And my parents loaning me their Michael Jackson/Jackson related albums. I personally wanted to know more about the musicians whose sound made the rhythms snap,crackle and pop with funkiness and soul the way they did. It has gone on to be a tremendous learning experience for me.

Two of these musicians that I noticed on the liner notes to Mike’s iconic Off The Wall album,from my mom and dad’s original vinyl copy,were guitarist George Johnson and his bassist brother Louis. Considering my interest in bass players even then? It was amazing to learn just what a bass icon Louis Johnson in particular was. Not to mention his enormous debt to the 1980’s by his iconic electric bass line on Mike’s “Billie Jean”. While I knew who Quincy Jones was of course? I had no idea of the breadth and scope of his musical outreach until learning more about the Brothers Johnson.

A few years later during mid adolescence? I was browsing the CD racks at the now defunct Borders Books & Music. I noticed a collection of four newly arrived releases by…The Brothers Johnson. The earliest one, 1976 album called  Look Out For #1 showed a photographically powerful image,take from below,of two super hip looking young musicians playing bass and guitar and singing with enormously enthusiastic expressions and stances. All of these album covers projected intensity. Album art is just art of course. But the best part was,as I veered toward adulthood, was discovering that these albums were musically just as energetically funkified as their cover art implied.

During my early 20’s? Something began to become uppermost in my understanding of the Johnson brothers musicality. Free jazz/bluesgrass/rock guitarist and writer for Allmusic.com Eugene Chadbourne perhaps worded it best about the revelation I had-when Mister Chadborne described the Johnson’s as coming from a period where musicians in the jazz/funk/soul genre were judged by the dues they paid in professional situations. As opposed to being judged by a romantic notion of street credibility. Since that latter notion totally defined the local understanding of musical appreciation around me at that time? This led me to more research,both through physical literature and my earliest experiences online, about the Johnson’s and other funk era instrumentalists.

By the time 2004 rolled around? And I was connecting with a group of local musicians/DJ’s as something of a local funk bands volunteer videographer? It was the story arc of how musicians such as George and Louis Johnson became musical icons that was fascinating me most. The brothers started playing with the Billy Preston band while still in high school. Quincy Jones then became taken with the duos talents. And he bought them in to record with his mid 70’s band on his 1975 release Mellow Madness-much of which qualifies as the earliest introduction of the Johnson’s duel playing and vocal harmonies. And the rest was history. In addition to success as a duo with their own albums? They would go from blistering session work with Herbie Hancock and George Duke to 80’s era work with Leon Sylvers and Slave’s Steve Arrington.

Looking back on it all now? The Brothers Johnson are the main reason why I have continued to focus so heavily on the instrumentalists relationship in the creation of the funk,soul and jazz music that has become such a source of creative and emotional inspiration for me. Getting back to the Michael Jackson angle? Now that the man sadly isn’t with us anymore? Whenever I hear his first two Quincy Jones produced solo records? It’s a lot more easy to tune into how Mike’s vocal hiccups take their turns popping right along with George and Louis’s instrumental licks on songs such as “Get On The Floor”,”Burn This Disco Out”,”Baby Be Mine” or the aforementioned “Billie Jean”. So among all the wonderful funky soul the Johnson’s have made? What I’d personally thank them for is helping increase my level of understanding of why playing in the groove works in music.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Allmusic.com, Billie Jean, Billy Preston, Borders Books & Music, Brothers Johnson, Eugene Chadbourne, Funk, Funk Bass, George Duke, George Johnson, guitar, Herbie Hancock, Leon Sylers, Look Out For #1, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Off The Wall, Quincy Jones, Steve Arringon, The Jacksons, Thriller

Anatomy of THE Groove 6/20/14: Andre’s Pick-“Leviticus: Faggot” by Me’Shell Ndegeocello

Personally I can truly relate to Harvey Fierstein’s remark about having to have to a literal translation of heterosexual romance to apply to who I was as a homosexual man. Right in the middle of when I was getting deeply into funk and soul? I’d often find myself asking “why are these love themed songs about the opposite sex only?”. Many years later,I would learn of the homosexuality of the late Wayne Cooper (from Cameo) and Billy Preston. Also,and somewhat unfortunately of the homophobic content of Gil Scott Heron’s ‘The Subject Was Faggots” and,far less overtly Graham Central Stations otherwise extremely funky song “Mirror”. But during much of the 1990’s? Any reference to homosexuality in funk/soul music was truly a dark theater. As was often the case with me growing up,my father introduced me to the song that really changed this factor in my adolescent life. And before he was (at least admittedly) are that I was gay no less. Not only that but it was the revelation of a new artist-during that personally disturbing summer of 1996. The artist was Me’SHell Ndegeocello,the CD was Peace Beyond Passion and the song was called “Leviticus: Faggot”.

The song begins with a high hat drum kick that increases in volume until Me’Shell’s sturdy,popping and ascending bass line kicks in-very prominently so as well. Surrounded by layers of wah-wah guitar and even a cinematic string section? The music is as straight up mid 70’s “united funk”,as writer Ricky Vincent refers to it,as one could possibly get. Me’Shell half sings/rhythmically speaks in her slippery baritone as she tells the tale of a young gay black man-as she describes a situation where “daddy’s sweet little boy’s just a little too sweet”. As she illustrates his desire for love “from strong hands” and “wanting the love of a man”. The chorus immediately turns into a full on hallelujah gospel chorus of “his mother would pray” before returning to the full on funk approach as Me’Shell states the actual prayer of “save him from this life”. The story continues on as the mans father tries to find him that woman “fine and beautiful” to give him more acceptability among the family’s social circle. After finally throwing his gay son out of the house,the music suddenly turns to an uncertain electric piano based jazz-funk sound as the song closes-with Me’Shell’s harmonizing vocalese leading out.

One thing that I never told my family,or anyone else for that matter until now, is that this song was the beginning of a six-seven year thought process that culminated in me coming out of the closet. I knew my family would never conceive of reacting as the father in this songs lyrics did. But in the end,Me’Shell provided a means by which funk was not only changing my perceptions of music. But funk was also now instrumental in helping me to come to terms with the truth of my own sexual orientation. The thing that really moves me about “Leviticus: Faggot”,it’s title of course referring to the often opportunistically quoted-out-of-context biblical verse,is that it came out long before any massive LGBT oriented activism was in the media. Very few homosexual male celebrities,especially in the black community,were truthfully discussing their sexuality. And even Ellen DeGeneres was still in the closet at this time. KD Lang not withstanding. Though I was aware that Boy George was bold enough in his soulful and funky new wave era music to sing to and about male characters in his songs? The fact that Me’Shell Ndegeocello,herself a relatively new up and coming artist,was making “people music” funk in a Nina Simone style about the then still uncomfortable subject matter of homophobia at this particular time? It showed me how much bravery and fearlessness she has. And that any person who are who they are should really have in terms of speaking,singing and playing the truth about themselves.

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Funk, Funk Bass, Homosexuality, LGBT rights, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Poetry