Tag Archives: blues funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love Is All Around” by Eric Burdon & War

Eric Burdon’s best known for being the lead singer for The Animals,part of the bluesiest end of the 60’s British Invasion along with the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. Of course The Animals are best known for their version of “House Of The Rising Sun”. After that band split up in 1969, Burdon and producer Jerry Goldstein formed the band War out of a group of black LA musicians such as Lonnie Jordan, Thomas “Papa Dee” Allen,Harold Brown and Danish born harmonica player Lee Oskar. And they were a commercial and musical success right of the box.

The debut album of this outfit was 1970’s Eric Burdon Declares War. Its blend of Latin rock and soul was an important part of the funk process. Recording only two albums while together, Burdon left the band to their own devices after collapsing onstage of an asthma attack during one of their performances. The band officially reunited for a live performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 2008. Via YouTube listening,one of my favorite songs by the Eric Burdon led edition of War is the title song to their 1976 archival release-which was entitled Love Is All Around.

With a hi hat tapping away at the beginning,the low growling bluesy guitar that defines Burdon’s vocal melody start out the song. Its one that has a very basic groove throughout it. It consists of that same guitar riff from the intro,the hi hat and lightly shuffling funky drum. Each bar is accentuated by a grooving organ riff. After several bars of this, a pitch bent horn section plays the refrains with the organ. On the bridge,the drums rock out a bit more-with the organ and horns in a more sustained. The basic groove of the song repeats itself with call and response vocal choruses until the song fades out.

When I first heard the way this song was put together,it instantly reminded me of the sound that Sly & The Family Stone had on their first three albums. Those pitched up and down horns,the rhythmic organ andthe instrumental trade offs. Most of this very late 60’s style groove (both musically and lyrically) is actually very instrumentally condensed -consisting mostly of an evolving refrain. The bridge more or less serves as an in a break in sound to the choral vocals that end the album. Even though it was released later,its a vital example of War and Eric Burdon’s contribution to the funk process.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” by Captain & Tennille

Captain & Tennille were a pop act that defined the late 70’s. They mixed singable,radio friendly melodies with a keyboard based sound. Daryl Dragaon was a former LA surf musician and keyboardist for the Beach Boys in their early 70’s. Toni Tennille-native of Montgomery Alabama,she attended Auburn University there and studied classical piano. After her family moved to California,Tennille was commissioned to write music for a rock musical called Mother Earth. It was on tour with this production in San Francisco that she met her future husband/musical partner Daryl Dragon.

Their first and most iconic song was the Neil Sedaka penned “Love Will Keep Us Together” in 1976. One thing I’ve realized over the years is how much talent Tennille possesses as a composer and vocalist-with her elaborate melodies and soulful belt of a voice.  By the end of the 70’s,the Captain & Tennille arrived at Casablanca records-to pursue a more soulful,funky sound.  One of the songs from their 1979 album Make Your Move reflected this. It was their version of the song Crusader Stix Hooper penned for B.B King called “Never Make A Move Too Soon”.

The sounds of a small nightclub audience opens up the album just before Ralph Humphrey’s five not,percussive drum kickoff chimes in. That along with Abraham Laboriel’s thick,spacious five note slap bass riff. Dragon’s organ like keyboards accent this before the first bars of the song begins. It starts out with a stripped out funky dance drum stomp with the bass hitting the end of every bar. It builds into a bigger mix with a consistent slap bass line,organ and horns. These horns accompany Dragon’s synthesizer solo on the bridge before a repeated refrain closes out the song with huge horn fanfare.

‘Never Make Your Move Too Soon” is a superb example of a sleek blues/funk stomp in the late 70’s. And from a group associated with big pop smash hits such as the ballad “Do It To Me One More Time”,featured on this same album as well. Tennille delivers this sassy tale of a gold digging male lover with the entire female equivalent of the thick vocal growl that B.B. King had brought to the original recording. The fact that this and its 1980 followup Keeping Our Love Warm was a full on contemporary soul/funk album made one wonder where this duo might’ve gone in continuing in this new musical direction.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “My Dream” by Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry’s passing a couple of days came as something of a surprise to me. Not the passing of the 90 year old man. But just the idea that his name was suddenly back in the news. Berry was a legacy artist before I was born. And retired from recording just a year before. Basically,the man can be regarded as the three crowned royal triad of rock n’ roll along with Ike Turner and Little Richard. As a matter of fact,Chuck Berry took from the Chess blues sound,from which he derived, to mix in the country influence and essentially innovate some of the basic and classic rock guitar riffs for the entire genre.

Berry faded from grace over the years,due perhaps in part to thick and fast changes in rock ‘n roll during the late 60’s. That and a couple of personal scandals he had to deal with. While he was recording an album before he died that had yet to be released when he passed on,he recorded a series of albums on Chess in the early 70’s that showcased him broadening out different ends of his personality. One of them was a 1971 release entitled San Francisco Dues. Its gained enough popularity to get a recent CD reissue. And one telling song on the album is entitled “My Dream”.

Berry played a high pitched guitar riff at the beginning of the song,before the main groove kicks in. The song has a slow,grinding beat from Bill Metros. The big,round bass line of Jack Groendal bounces ably along. Chuck follows the rhythm of the song with his rolling,bluesy piano-which increases in intensity as the song progresses. Of course,the music of song is basically a template for Berry to softly “rap” a poem that describes his ideal home,ideal female companion,literary choices and the music that he’d want to play there. All before the song comes to a flat close.

“My Dream” musically has a grinding New Orleans bluesy funk vibe about it. The fact that Berry primarily concentrates on his piano rather than better known guitar playing makes it tonally very interesting. The tale he tells has the feeling of a man contentedly prepared to settle down and enter into a comfortable semi retirement. That would not happen for another 7-8 years after this song came out of course. But he’d continue to perform his classics for years after this. Of course,soulful moments like this should not be forgotten among Chuck Berry’s classic 50’s and 60’s rock ‘n roll bible of hits all the same.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me” by George Harrison

George Harrison would’ve been 74 this Saturday. Remember very well the day he passed away because it was the delivery man for my parent’s new bed who told them he’d just heard the news. This was also around the time I was heavily exploring the music of “the quiet Beatle”. Harrison is said to have gone to Memphis on one of the Beatles trips to America and picked up some Booker T & The MG’s records. He loved playing the blues too. Later on,he developed a close musical relationship with Billy Preston. In addition to being one of the funkiest players around,Preston was also essentially a fifth Beatle during 1969.

Harrison’s first non experimental solo album All Things Must Pass was a huge success for him  in 1970. His following albums didn’t fare so well. His mid 70’s album Dark Horse and Extra Texture began adding soul and jazz/rock elements into his sound. But a horse singing voice with Harrison at the time was part of what hindered their success. He had a huge comeback in 1976 with the debut release on his custom label Dark Horuse Thirty-Three & 1/3. The song that opened the album was originally a 12 bar electric blues piece he wrote while touring with Eric Clapton in 1969. It was called “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me”.

Alvin Tayler’s drums kick into his shuffling,funky shuffle. Willie Weeks chunky slap bass and Richard Tee’s organ provide the intro before Harrison’s slide guitar provides the main melody. David Foster himself counters with some serious Billy Preston style funky Clavinet. On the refrain,the drum and Clavinet go into a heavy break beat before Harrison’s guitar segues into the next chorus. That bluesy slide guitar plays the chorus as an instrumental on the bridge-before the musical combination used in the intro goes into the final choruses of the song before it finally fades out.

The first time I heard this song,turned out my father I both heard the song as something quite different. I heard it as a thick mid 70’s funk jam. He heard it as a total 12 bar blues. Actually, both of us were right. Funk is,as most 20th century American popular musical forms are,a blues based one. And this song does a superb job at bridging the musical generation gap. Harrison’ countrified blues slide guitar with the electrified “united funk” arrangement of the song showcases how important the form of it actually is to the instrumentation. Surely,this is one of George Harrison’s finest moments of the mid 70’s.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Family” by Nina Simone

Nina Simone’s personal biography is a long and complicated one. She was for sure one of the most complex female personalities of black American music in the mid to late 20th century. She was also one of the major innovators of what I refer to as “people music”-utilizing the jazz,blues,soul and funk spectrum of music to speak directly to the ideas of civil rights and black power. A journey from “Mississippi Goddamn” to a move to Liberia (the African nation founded by former American slaves) in a decades time showcases the complex arc of life had by North Carolina native Eunice Kathleen Waymon.

After the mid 70’s,Simone took a hiatus from recording. Though she continued performing,the quality of her shows continued to be extremely erratic. A lot of this could be attributed to the mental illness she learned of in the late 80’s-along with family/marriage discord. During a particularly rough spot in her life living in Brussels,she recorded the album Baltimore on Creed Taylor’s CTI label. She bemoaned having little creative input in the project-such as writing and arrangement. Yet it did produced one of her strongest grooves in a song entitled “The Family”.

Jim Madison’s four beat drum hit,Gary King’s scaling up bass line and the crying guitar of Eric Gale open up the song with the CTI string section for a heavy bluesy vibe. Nina accompanies her vocal lead with a like minded piano as the refrain builds back into itself. The horns,strings,guitar and Nina’s piano all provide alternating call and response bars of melody to each other-including the backup vocals on the choruses that bring in a more funky,danceable rhythm. After Gale takes an extended guitar solo on the bridge,that call and response refrain/chorus extends itself for the remainder of the song until it fades.

Written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins ,”The Family” actually reminds me of exactly the type of song that suited Nina Simone in the late 70’s environment. It possessed the down home bluesy jazz/funk sound of the Crusaders with the orchestral elements that CTI brought in. The gospel vibe of the lyrics,plus Simone’s curtly soulful delivery of them,add to the tale of poverty and the conditions it can bring upon human beings can negatively impact on family relations. It was a fine example of Nina Simone in a studio setting during a time that may not have been personally good for her. But still creatively potent.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Go Up Moses” by Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack,a North Carolina native,had a somewhat complex beginning in music. A classically trained academic who represented the epitome of the college educated black mentality of civil rights era. Musically,she began as a student teacher and then a music teacher. It was jazz/funk innovator Les McCann who first discovered Flack performing in a  Washington DC nightclub. The result of their meeting was her debut album First Take in 1969. She covered McCann’s song “Compared To What” on it. The album later on provided her with her first standard in “The First Time Ever I Saw His Face”.

Today she is best known for two things. One being her iconic collaborations with the late Donny Hathaway that produced songs like “Where Is The Love” and “The Closer I Get To You”. Her sound is noted for its vocal and instrumental nuance. As well as its strong and complex songwriting. It also tended towards the slow and most adult contemporary end of balladry as well. Therefore,uptempo soul/jazz/funk has seldom been a huge priority for her. Yet when she comes through with funkiness,its often some of the strongest music the genre ever produced. A great example is her 1971 song “Go Up Moses”.

Drummer Bernard Purdie,plus percussionists Ralph McDonald and Grady Tate hold down the chugging Afro Brazilian beat. And session bass maestro Chuck Rainy provides an in your face rhythmic bass line to the musical affair. That describes the basis of the entire song-with Hugh McCracken providing bluesy rhythm guitar accents after each bar or two. Flack sings the refrains herself,and is accompanied by a bass singing choir on the choruses. She also provides a spoken recitation over them on the bridge. Richard Tee’s gospel drenched organ brings the song back home as it fades away.

This song lyrically and musically an extension of the centuries old spiritual “Go Down Moses”,with Flack collaborating with jazz flutist John Dorn for the musical aspects and the Reverend Jesse Jackson for some of the lyrical content. Its definitely in the vein of the more spiritual end of the “people music” message songs that were beginning to emerge very strong during the later period of the funk process in 1969-71. It was also the opening song to her third album Quiet Fire. Flack’s earlier albums generally opened with a bluesy funk uptempo number. And this is one of the finest of the bunch.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Through It All There’s You” by Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer was a consistently important figure in terms of continuing the appreciation of the full flower of American soul/funk by white artists/groups. The Rolling Stones got this going by progressing from urban blues covers of “Not Fade Away” to Al Green send ups like “Beast Of Burden” in the late 70’s.  Palmer,a Yorkshire native and 70’s Nassau Bahamas resident,also understood the strong progression black American soul/funk/R&B had by its very nature. So he evolved from New Orleans grooves with The Meters during the mid 70’s to electronic dance/rock/electro hybrids in his 80’s commercial peak.

Discovering Palmer’s mid/late 70’s music was a major treat for me in my mid 20’s. His first four albums from 1974 through 1978 were all primarily funk/soul based-adding Caribbean,reggae,blues and jazz influences along the way. His funk/blues/jazz hybrid sound is most evident on his first solo album Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley. It exercised his talents as an interpretive singer and a songwriter as well-splitting the album between two sets of musicians. Included among them were members of the band Stuff like Richard Tee and Cornell Dupree. Especially on the closing 12+ “Through It All There’s You”.

The majority of the song is based on a tripped down grooving vamp. This consists of a call and response funk bass and guitar line-with a heavily reverbed gospel blues organ playing all the changes to the pulse from kicking bass drum hits. This represents the first several bars of the song before the main,slow funky drum comes in. At about 5 and 8 minutes in,the bass drum and organ becomes higher in the mix for a an excited,joyful sound. Then the grooves slows down into a funky swing as the original vamp of the song slowly deconstructs itself for its own outro.

As one of Palmer’s own compositions on this album,”Through It All There’s You” represents the epitome of what he had to offer as an out and out funkateer. The groove is stripped down and instrumentally every bit as dripping with sexual energy as the lyrics. It starts with a heated buildup. And gets to the point of an orgasmic revelry at two points on the bridges of the songs. All before cooling back down at the end of the song. Palmer’s understanding of how to match lyric,vocal and instrumental mood in a song really shows itself strongly on this jam-honestly among my favorites of his from that 70’s period.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Am I Black Enough For You” by Billy Paul

Billy Paul is another of far,far too many music icons of the 20th century who passed away during 2016. The Philly native grew up listening to jazz based singers such as Nina Simone,Carmen McCrae and Billie Holiday. After a stint in the army,where he was was stationed in post WWII Germany in the late 50’s along with Elvis Presley. Using this as an opportunity to further his love of music,he launched a jazz trio while in Germany. After getting out of the army,he became part of the burgeoning Philadelphia International Records,eventually releasing his debut album in 1970.

As with most people in America,my primary knowledge of this artist was via the ballad “Me & Mrs. Jones”. My father purchased a compilation of Billy Paul’s music. And after that,it became clear that this man did some amazingly cinematic uptempo tunes. Many of them with a very strong pro black sociopolitical bent lyrically. It was about a year ago when watching a documentary about Oakland’s Black Panthers that I heard a very funkified song with a very familiar voice. Turns out that voice belonged to the late Billy Paul. And the song (from 1972) was called “Am I Black Enough For You”.

A bluesy Clavinet riff dovetails into the percussive accented funky march of the drums. That Clavinet maintains itself throughout the song. At first,this is assisted by a bluesy rhythm guitar. The song has a rather elaborate,jazzy bass line holding the rhythm section together. The horns are both melodic and climactic-scaling upward on each of the songs choruses. Towards the end of the song,a fuzzed out guitar plays an eerie sustain in the back round as the percussion and a bluesy organ and guitar take over on the bridge. Then the songs main chorus takes over until it all fades out

“Am I Black Enough For You” is a psychedelic,bluesy funk number musically. One featuring a dense,thick instrumental sound. The melody is very overtly blues based too. Lyrically,the song speaks as much to the present day as it did for 1972. In both cases,an unpopular and widely disliked politician had become president. And anti black attitudes were a causal factor in both cases. This song lyrically suggests that strength in numbers will help black Americans to have power and dignity of person. And with Billy Paul no longer with us,that’s as fine a musical concept for him to heave us with as any.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Billy Paul, blues funk, civil rights, clavinet, drums, Funk Bass, fuzz guitar, horns, message songs, organ, percussion, Philadelphia, Philadelphia International Records, Philly Soul, pro black, psychedelic soul, rhythm guitar

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

The Crusaders Remembered: “Honky Tonk Struttin” (1980)

Wilton Felder was lost to us earlier this year. And today is his first posthumous birthday. There’s a lot that I didn’t know about him for years. Aside from him being a founding member of the Crusaders,he also participated in songwriting and playing for artists ranging from Joan Baez to the Jackson 5. Thanks to an episode of the locally produced Bay Area TV show ‘Soul School’,hosted by my friend Calvin Lincoln and hosted by my friend Henrique Hopkins,I learned Wilton Felder played bass on the J5’s debut hit “I Want You Back”. This opened up a whole new understanding for me about the man.

Until talking to Calvin and Henrique,I had no idea that Felder was both a sax player and a bassist. And had two separate approaches to each instrument. Calvin,Henrique and myself have each had discussions with each other about how exhaustive it might be to figure out how many sessions the Crusaders played on. What I do know now is Felder also played bass on Marvin Gaye’s massive hit “Lets Get It On” in 1973. When looking for a song that exercised Felder’s duel instrumental talents,my favorite of the bunch was “Honky Tonk Struttin'” off their 1980 album Rhapsody In Blues.

Joe Sample and Stix Hooper get it all started with a grinding Clavinet and piano duet along with a percussion accented funky drum. This is the basic groove of the entire song-with melodic variations for the solos. The choral solo is a bluesy walkdown where Felder plays sax directly along with his own bass line. After that,he plays a full on improvised jazz sax solo on the first bridge. The second bridge features a honky tonk piano solo playing a similarly bluesy improvisation. Stix provides a little fanfare that takes the song right on home to the main chorus of Felder’s bass/sax duet as the song fades out.

This is one of those songs that really brings out The Crusaders most enduring and endearing musical quality. That is the ability to blend the sleek studio sheen (which defined their work from the mid 70’s onward )with their down home bluesy funk instrumental attitude. “Honky Tonk Struttin'”pulls all of this together with its sophistifunk groove and the bluesy instrumental walkdown soloing. It also emphasizes Wilton Felder strong with his two instrumental talents-the rhythmic bass and melodic sax in tandem. That makes it a true shining moment for The Crusaders.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, blues funk, clavinet, drums, Funk Bass, honky tonk piano, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Saxophone, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, Wilton Felder