Tag Archives: Bootsy Collins

All The Woo In The World: Bernie Worrell’s Solo Debut Coming To 40 Years In P!!!

All The Woo In The World is an album I have an interesting personal history with. It first came to my attention as a budget priced import CD my father (regretfully) gave the slip to in the late 1990’s.  I finally got a hold of a reissue for Black Friday’s Record Store Day of 2017-one with translucent orange vinyl. Bernie Worrell was the living embodiment of how his European classical training at Julliard didn’t solely represent the most advanced American musical forms. My main inner question was what would Worrell’s  1978 debut album bring to the P-Funk musical cannon as it reached its peak?

“Woo Together” has a heavy cinematic soul intro-full of layered wah wah guitar and melodic string arrangements from Dave Van De Pitte-with members of Parlet and Brides Of Funkenstein singing harmony with Worrell throughout the rest of the mid 70’s Parliament era groove.  “I’ll Be With You” showcases a melodic harmony based number-with a lot of processed instrumentation and jazzy chord changes based around that classic P-Funk acoustic and electric piano walk down. The acoustic piano solo on the last part has some similarities to Ramsey Lewis’s style of playing in this same era.

“Hold On” is a rhythmically theatrical, almost marching kind of Philly soul ballad kind of song. Its a showcase for both Fred Wesley’s trombone and Worrell’s “8 bit video game” style of high pitched synthesizer melodies. “Must Thrust” starts out a conversation with a Sir Nose sounding voice as well as Bootsy’s. And then launches right into a stomping blues/rocker with a stinging guitar solo along with Worrell’s piano and synth- with a number of vocal ad libs from both Bootsy and Worrell in the back round of the song. The harmony vocals, as on much classic P Funk, tends to take the lead end.

“Happy To Have (Happiness On Our Side)” has a compelling reggae shuffle/cinematic funk hybrid. Rodney Skeet Curtis, from what I can gather, comes in with a very jazzy bass to compliment Billy Bass Nelson’s rhythmic slapping. “Insurance Man For The Funk” brings in vocal assistance from Dr. Funkenstein himself. And its a classic late 70’s mid tempo P-Funk number in every possible respect-with its horn charts and and doo wop inspired vocal harmonies. With Worrell’s “video game” synth duetting with Maceo Parker’s sax. A reprise of “Must Thrust” concludes the album.

All The Woo In The World is representative to me of P-Funk at a logistical crossroads. George Clinton and company were trying to maintain a growing musical colony of different bands-all the while starting to focus on solo acts as well. So the album seemed to span the two end of P-Funk in 1978.  Bernie Worrell’s musical focus here is also a lot more jazzy and orchestrated. Its only when George Clinton enters the picture that it sounds rather like mid/late 70’s horn driven Parliament style P-Funk. Which was often the sound Clinton preferred for presenting his spin off acts with at that time.

Worrell also presented himself with a cracking, often high pitched voice that resembled Sly Stone across much of this album. So it offered a unique lead vocal flavor in much the same way Gary Mudbone Cooper and Walter Junie Morrison were. In the end, my own view of All The Woo In The World combines two different views I’ve already heard about it. Bernie Worrell gave much of the music a unique and colorful instrumental flavor.. At the same time, it wasn’t all that it could have been either. Still All The Woo In The World  remains a distinctive album in the pantheon of late 70’s P-Funk side projects.

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Bootsy? Player Of The Year At Just Over 40 Years Old!

Bootsy Collins’ career as a band leader started around 1971 when he and his brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins put together The House Guests in Cincinnati. And after five years of being folded into George Clinton’s P-Funk collective of Funkalelic and Parliament. In 1976, Bootsy merged some of those former House Guests with other members of P-Funk to form The Rubber Band. From the very beginning, the venture revolved around Bootsy and his stage persona. So he and the Rubber Band’s cartoon like concept attracted a younger audience into enjoying P-Funk.

By1978 , the P-Funk juggernaut was at it’s prime. It had spin off acts flying all over the place. And has a loyal fan base keeping a vested interest. On this album we start out with Bootsy declaring “what’s the name of your town?” on..”Bootsy’s What’s The Name Of This Town”, a frantically quick tempo’d stew of bass/drum rhythm with call and response vocal exchanges. It’s flat out hyper-energized funk. “May The Force Be With You” is a great example of ballad paced funk-with Bootsy’s thick bass pops and the choral vocals illustrating a sexually charged Star Wars metaphor.

The trill falsetto voiced Gary Mudbone Cooper (in contrast with the quirky sighs of Robert “P-Nut” Johnson) takes the lead on the the rather soul/reggae oriented love song of “Very Yes”-cooing in a comically alluring yet sensuous manner. This all continues with “Bootzilla” which, along with “Roto-Rooter” both meld rhythmically exciting,full band funk-thick with orchestral synthesizers and a Bootsy’s explosive instrumental presence. “Hollywood Squares” is a slower crawling, foot stomping  P-Funk number.  These songs embrace that classic P-Funk embrace of satirizing American advertising slogans.

This form of satire comes right from the black DJ tradition. And late 70’s P-Funk expanded on them to promote their own musical concept. “I Love You” features P-Nut and Mudbone again on a more fluid,very jazzy oriented slow groove ballad with strong psychedelic undertones. This album represents Bootsy’s Rubber Band right in it’s musical prime. The energy level,even on the slower songs,is just infectious. And considering P-Funk’s relatively nil commercial reception in the long term scope of things? One doesn’t require the charts for success because as Bootsy might say? The proof is in the footing.

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Funkentelechy Vs. Four Decades: P-Funk Set On Mood Control, Even For Those Who Can’t Afford Free Speech

How many times have I heard how important the Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome album was? And how many times have I walked passed this album? Even to the point of buying the CD and (at first) returning it because I felt the sound quality was bad? Funkentelechy has the distinction of being both a transitional P-Funk album-as well as a transitional for Parliament on its own. Before this album, Parliament was largely built around it’s horn/rhythm section rather then layers of keyboard/guitar solos. That element is a key part of this album as well with of course “Bop Gun” and the title song.

From there, things get even more interesting very fast. “Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk” not only serves to introduce an important P-Funk character conception to the scene but also the kind of tune that builds from the ground up into a Clinton style variation of “Three Blind Mice”. Thematically this album is a lot different than Mothership Connection. Whereas that albums concept was fairly implicit the band apparently had decided at this juncture that few were getting the point so the Sir Nose character and the story they built around him said it all.

Sir Nose’s story was that the sense of funk in music was being replaced by the “placebo syndrome”. And that it was spilling into areas outside music too. Unusually enough, there are two songs here that seem to have to do with P-Funk’s new music. While conceptually “Wizard Of Finance” and “Placebo Syndrome” are right in tune with the album, and are full of Clinton’s renowned wit, they connect more musically with his past-with their shuffling doo-wop sound. As with everything else on this album it’s Bootsy who carries this album along with the vocal harmonies and horns as usual.

Of course, the album ends with both eyes on the future with one of the bands best known numbers “Flashlight”. Thanks largely to the late Bernie Worrell’s layers of bass synthesizer, the song showcases the sound most people will tend to think of in terms of P-Funk;rhythmically dense,relatively mid tempo and very electronic. It’s the P-Funk sound that would define Parliament to the end. While Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome may not be quite as defining musically as some other Parliament albums due to its  transitional nature, it does its job on that end in terms of conceptual realization.

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A Blow For Me,A Happy 40 Years For You: The Album Where Fred, Maceo And P-Funk Officially Met At Their Crossroads

The clean transition from James Brown to George Clinton’s P-Funk all comes down to Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker. These were two totally different approaches to funk. JB laid down the groundwork. P-Funk, while more psychedelic in the beginning, took over where Sly Stone left off by the mid 70’s in terms of embellishing JB’s basic structure for the music. It was the horns that really did a lot of this of course. And George Clinton knew that. And in 1977 he gave that end of P-Funk its own identity with A Blow For Me,A Toot For You. Here’s my Amazon.com review that goes further into what it was musically.


As probably the most significant horn section in all of funk? The band that Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley led had a lot of different names. They were the JB’s,they were All The King’s Men,they were The Macks and eventually a part of the funky heartbeat in the nervous system of George Clinton’s P-Funk during the mid 70’s. After working as part of Bootsy’s Rubber Band,George decided that the already iconic Maceo and Fred needed a P-Funk era album of their own. And in 1977 they got their chance.

“Up From The Downstroke” is presented here as an extended stripped down variation of Parliament’s original where the collective horn charts interact call and response style to the horn solos. The title song slows the tempo right into the groove with the horns responding directly to Bernie Worrell’s orchestral synthesizer. “When In Doubt,Vamp” finds the horns all playing rhythmically in classic James Brown style.

“Between The Sheets” finds the horns intertwined into a thick mixture of reverbed, liquefied bounding bass and rhythm guitar/keyboard interaction while “Four Play” begins with a singled out funky drum before going into a jazzy rhythm guitar led jam. “Peace Fugue” ends the album with the electric piano tinged ballad that closes it all out with a more melodic style of trumpet solo.

During the time I first listened to this on vinyl? Something about the album lacked some of the rhythmic sauciness and vigor that I was used to hearing out of P-Funk at that particular time. Listening to the vinyl again over a decade later? I realize just how important this album had been in showcasing how musically clean,spit and polished the P-Funk sound actually was during the peak of it’s powers.

Maceo and Fred’s expert horn solos and interactions are explored in ultra sleek productions where time was taken in the studio rather than the often hit and run recording sessions James Brown had often done. This became a model for some of the later studio works of these musicians after they departed from P-Funk. And is a superb example of George Clinton and Bootsy Collins’ prowess as studio producers.


Back when I was first getting into P-Funk,it was during a crate digging experience that I located this album on vinyl In all honesty, it is not as powerfully innovative as Mothership Connection or Ahh The Name Is Bootsy Baby. In a way, that was kind of the point. P-Funk began as a somewhat instrumentally undisciplined psychedelic rock and soul outfit. And the discipline that JB alumni such as Fred,Maceo and Bootsy (mainstays of the Horny Horns) brought their blend of controlled chaos to make sense of P-Funk’s intent. On that level, this album is a crucial stepping stone for P-Funk’s late 70’s peak.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Disco Lady” by Johnnie Taylor

Johnnie Taylor has been a consistent conversation point between Henrique Hopkins and myself. And it was always in reference to him being a 60′ era soul singer who recorded and did consistently well with audiences up through the mid 90’s.  The West Memphis, Arkansas native got his start as Sam Cooke’s replacement in the gospel group The Soul Stirrers. In 1965, Taylor signed to Stax records. He became one of the labels major stars,leading to his nickname as “The Philosopher Of Soul”. After Stax folded in the mid 70’s,Taylor signed with Columbia-where he remained for nearly a decade after that.

Johnnie Taylor is also one of those artists who I knew about long before even knowing his name. That was from dancing around as a pre-teen to his major pop Top 10 crossover funky soul hit “Who’s Makin’ Love” from 1970-hearing it on oldies radio all the time.  In fact,that was a song I almost reviewed today. But there’s another song of his that came out half a decade later of his. One that Nelson George described the success of so wonderfully in his book The Death Of Rhythm & Blues. And musically,it has a surprising twist for me that I’ll get into after describing it. The name of this song was “Disco Lady”.

The drums kick right off into a slightly delayed 4/4 dance beat,accented by shaking bells. A high pitched melody on electric piano opens up the melody,which is accentuated by an equally melodic eight note bass line and a pulsing wah wah guitar. On each part of Taylor’s chorus,the horns accent his vocals in different ways. Sometimes with hard pulses,other times with a building sustain. On the bridge,the rhythm becomes a bouncing march before it melodically builds back into itself-complete with fanfaring horn charts and rubbery keyboards. The refrain repeats itself consistently until the song fades out.

“Disco Lady” is actually one of those fairly stripped down disco era funk songs where the instrumentation and the vocals are both designed for a slinky,sneaky attitude as opposed to a raucous one. As for that surprising twist I mentioned,it became known to me years ago that Taylor was backed up by P-Funk musicians on this song. Bassist Bootsy Collins, the late guitarist Glenn Goins and keyboard maestro Bernie Worrell and drummer Jerome Brailey play on the song. Along with backup vocals by Dawn’s (as in Tony Orlando) Telma Hopkins singing the backup vocals singing the chorus.

This song doesn’t exactly have the sound I would ever associate with P-Funk. And certainly not Tony Orlando & Dawn. But its songs such as this that have the power to help people understand how musicians function. If someone reads the liner notes to albums and look for names online,they’ll often find out that the best musicians in the funk,soul and jazz world especially have an expert sense of musical diversity. They know how to give a song what it needs-whether its based more on singers or instruments. And at least to me,that ethic is one of the major contributions of “Disco Lady”.

 

 

 

 

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Herbie Hancock & The Rockit Band: The Bill Laswell Years (1983-1988)

Herbie Hancock's Rockit Band Albums

Herbie Hancock, whose turning 77 today, is a musician who has consistently celebrated diversity in his sound. And most importantly, he did so without ever diminishing any sense of ethnic identification. That was particularly significant in his embrace of African percussion styles on his early 70’s Mwandishi trilogy. After his electronic jazz/funk triumphs with the Headhunters and a series of solo albums after,the music tide around Hancock had turned again. Hip-Hop’s emphasis on minimalist beats,turntables and sequencers swam in with that tide by the early 80’s.

After working with Rod Temperton in 1982, Hancock began an affiliation with bass player/producer Bill Laswell. Along with his group Material, Laswell was formulating a musical concept which he referred to as “collision music”. That meant taking unlikely but complimentary musicians, from different genres, and seeing where the sounds would land. Laswell was also a strong jazz funk musician himself-with an avant garde twist. This collision music concept dovetailed beautifully with Hancock’s vision. And the two recorded a trio of albums released in 1983,84 and 88.

Each of these albums showcase the Rockit Band,who also released a concert film with Herbie on VHS tape during this period. These albums were not only the first to bring the jazz/funk sound of the 70’s into the electro/hip-hop age. But they also did so by eventually incorporating elements of different world musics into the mix as well. I’ve done Amazon.com reviews on a couple of these albums. But am going to add some of my own commentary here for this overview of one of Herbie Hancock’s most commercially and creatively vital periods in his long and amazing career.


Future Shock/1983

Between 1980 and 1982,Herbie Hancock found himself in an important transitional phase musically. In 1981 he released the album  Magic Windows,a hardcore contemporary funk album whose final number-the instrumental “The Twilight” clone began the journey to what would inevitably occur on this album. Of course between that was an interesting musical side bar in  Lite Me Up,a pop-funk album very much in the vein of a Qwest type release and featuring such Quincy Jones luminaries as Rod Temperton and the Brother’s Johnson along with vocalist Gavin Christopher.

This made perfect sense with Herbie’s involvement with that group of musicians even earlier on. Few but Herbie could’ve guessed what his next musical move would be. During the earlier part of the decade,a new music was already beginning to emerge from the also gestating hip-hop genre. It was called scratch-very much an improvisational art that utilized turntables in a percussive manner. So Herbie rounded on the high diversified bassist Bill Laswell,leader of the avant garde funk band Material as well as Grandmixer DST on turntable for a shift in musical priorities that would be extremely relevatory. Not only for Herbie but for the music of the 80’s in general.

“Rockit” is of course a scratch icon song of it’s day-the song that altered Herbie Hancock’s entire musical priorities while at the same time maintaining a bluesy jazz melody amid all the vocoder,synthesizers,drum machines and turntabling from DST. “Future Shock”,an elongated version of the Curtis Mayfield 1973 message song from his Back to the World album is the exact opposite of how this album starts and continues-its a pretty clean percussion/Clavinet based funk groove,featuring a Mayfield like falsetto from the very capable vocalist Bernard Fowler,that is something of a contemporary redressing of the sound of the Headhunters.

“TFS” is one of my favorites here-a strong electro funk jam that still mixes in a clavinet and a powerfully melodic acoustic piano solo from Herbie towards the songs end. “Earth Beat” is very much in tune with Laswell’s Asian oriented musical approach-utilizing a lot of samplers and found sounds in rhythmic patterns. “Autodrive” again gets back into the more funky electro groove of the title song,again with a cleaner rhythm while “Rough” builds a heavy drum machine pattern with a very Arabic rhythmic/melodic pattern before going into a megamix bonus track of “Rockit” that includes not only songs from this particular album but also the synthesizer break from Herbie’s 1973 funk breakthrough “Chameleon” from his iconic album [[ASIN:B000002AGP Head Hunters]].

One factor of this album that even I often thought about was the fact that Bill Laswell is a producer/musician often known for an intense musical smothering effect. In short,anything he touches musically becomes almost totally his. That is part of his art though-even though he sometimes gets a bit lost in his musical journey by being a little too eclectic. But one thing that you can say about Herbie Hancock is that he is an artist with a very focused vision.

Whether through the musical filter of DST’s turntabling or Laswell’s playing and production,the album possess funk’s key quality that is even shown in how one tends to dance to it-a quality of controlled looseness. Though some of the pan-international rhythms and melodicism plays into this music,the focus is very much on the groove and the always high quality of Herbie’s own composing ability and musicianship. Of course this album did for him commercially,with “Rockit” especially what Head Hunters had done for him a decade before.

It established Herbie as a fully contemporary artist and even got him some video airplay (even on MTV) with his clever music video for the single. Herbie had made at least one album every year during the 80’s before this came out,most not his best known works and few actually still in print. Yet this stands as his 80’s breakthrough and,although it was by no means a comeback,much of its commercial success might be owed to the fact it somehow  appeared to be.

Sound-System/1984

With the success of Future Shock and its big hit “Rockit”,Herbie had made one significant musical contribution to the 80’s decade: he managed to put an instrumental dance record onto the pop charts and even the music video world. And opened up the door for other musicians such as contemporaries of his such as Jan Hammer to do the same. The following year Herbie was back in the studio with Bill Laswell to record the follow up to that album.

As he was in the early 70’s,Herbie was continually fascinated by how to combine the modern electronic/hip-hop sample/scratch oriented effects that interested him with the heavily Afrocentric variety of funk. Again on the heels of another possible cultural innovation,Herbie bought in the Gambian musician Foday Musa Suso,who played an electrified African string instrument called the Kora,which produced a reverb laden Harp-like effect. This would have the effect of extending even further on the musical revelations he’d made on his previous album.

“Hard Rock”,”Metal Beat” and the closing title track are all very much in line with the approach of “Rockit”,but the instrumental sound is very different. The rhythmic patterns,keyboard parts and the addition of the Kora on the title song especially infuse these songs with an enormous Afro-Latin quality about them-which draws out the expansiveness of the groove and manage to make the electronics of it seem totally non-rigid.

“Karabali” has almost no relation to these songs at all-its an almost totally African,almost Cameroonian Makossa beat type number built heavily around Suso’s Kora. “Junku” perfectly blends the tight and danceable electro-funk sound of Herbie’s with the same Kora sound. Bernard Fowler returns for another vocal number in the bluesy funk of “People Are Changing”,very much a generational cautionary take where Herbie delights on both synthesizer and acoustic piano alternately. The bonus track is an extended version of “Metal Beat”,which draws out the African percussion element even more.

Something tells me this album didn’t resonate with the public the same as its predecessor had. And it isn’t because the album is too repetitious of it. It actually isn’t at all. But the basis for all of the songs on this album are African oriented drum patters and different rhythmic ideas-with anything American blues based rarely being showcased. While this album is chocked full of massively grooving break dance friendly electro funk,the basis for it isn’t particularly American it all.

It takes the heavy Afro-Latin influence of the previous album to a whole other level in fact. In many ways,that makes this one of Herbie’s best albums of the 80’s as the music is extremely close to his heart in the sense of being technically futurist yet rhythmically grounded in the tradition of the Earth itself. Manu DiBango himself could extend on the sound from his album in particular on his own release from the following year Electric Africa. As for this,Herbie may very well have sparked the public’s interest in Africa and African musical rhythms during the mid 1980’s. So again Herbie himself gained some success for himself while being a trailblazer.

Perfect Machine/1988

By the time this final album from the Rockit band was released, Herbie Hancock had already recorded a live album with Foday Musa Suso entitled Village Life,which was released in 1985. He’d also contributed to the Dexter Gordon staring film ‘Round Midnight a year or so after this. Along for the ride with Laswell and the Rockit Band were Ohio Players lead singer/guitarist Leroy Sugerfoot Bonner and P-Funk innovator Bootsy Collins with his space base. Both funk veterans were than making comebacks. And Hancock really helped them along on this album too.

The open title track and the closing “Chemical Residue” adds a pronounced Asian pentatonic scale type melody and sound (often used by “neo geo” dance music icon Ryuichi Sakamoto) mixed in with the electro/hip-hop rhythms. “Obsession”,”Beat Wise” and the highly successful “Vibe Alive” all feature Bootsy and Sugarfoot’s well oiled funkiness into Herbie and Laswell’s grooves with near perfection. A remake of “Maiden Voyage” with the new composition “P.Bop” puts the original melody into that digitized grooves. And really bring out the melody and rhythm together in one vital place.

Perfect Machine may actually be the most funk and soul based of the three Bill Laswell albums. The Asian twist to some of the melodies continues the tradition of the 1980’s proving Duke Ellington’s musical theory very correct: that American culture overall was taking on more and more Asian style overtones to it. Each of the Rockit Band era Herbie Hancock albums explored the electro/hip-hop style of jazz-funk with an abundance of musical ideas. And this album represents a fine closer to this particular period of Hancock’s artistry.


One of the interesting things about the Rockit Band period of Herbie Hancock’s career is that, although it took place during my childhood in the 80’s, it was dancing around the living room with my father to Hancock’s 1973 funk remake of “Watermelon Man” that represented my first exposure to his music. Perhaps its an odd jumping in point. But upon hearing tunes such as “Rockit” and “Hard Rock” in the mid 80’s,it made clear how much breadth Hancock’s music had. Always wondered what came between 1973 and 1983 with his music. And was very happy to discover it over a decade later.

The Herbie Hancock/Bill Laswell collaboration actually marked the first time where Hancock was actually hitting on an innovative approach before his mentor Miles Davis did. By no means to imply any competitiveness between the two. But its interesting to wonder if Hancock’s earlier in the game hip-hop/jazz innovations didn’t inspire Miles with his posthumous Doo Bop album in 1993. At any rate,what Hancock,Laswell and the Rockit Band did on these albums did open the door for later jazz-funk hybrids. And represent how the younger generations of today generally remember Herbie Hancock.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “What About It?” by Eddie Hazel

Eddie Hazel was a true pioneer of funk guitar. His approach is so pervasive since his death in 1992,his artistry and essence have never exactly passed away with him. Born in Plainsfield New Jersey, Hazel was part of the original backing group for The Parliaments in the late 60’s. When the group became Funkadelic in 1970,Hazel was part of the first tier lineup including Tiki Fullwood,Tawl Ross,Bernie Worrell,Billy Bass Nelson and George Clinton. Hazel’s most iconic guitar solo for Funkadelic is on the title song to their 1971 album Maggot Brian.

Even though he contributed to Funkadlic’s music occasionally during the rest of the 70’s, Hazel and Billy Bass quite the group following Maggot Brain. Hazel ended up having far more of a hand in putting together the revitalized Parliament on their 1974 reboot album Up For The Downstroke. After an 11 month arrest due to a drug charge and an incident with a flight attendant, Hazel embarked on a solo career. This resulted in the 1977 Clinton produced album Games,Dames & Guitar Thangs. The song on it that gets my own attention most is an instrumental called “What About It?”.

Bootsy Collins and Jerome Brailey’s drums start with a pounding bass drum attack with what sounds like Mike Hampton (credited as guitarist on the song) playing a grooving,ascending line. The snares kick in with Hampton’s playing countered by Hazel’s higher on the neck,psychedelic washes of sound. The bass sounds of Bootsy,Billy Bass and Cordell Mosson keep up the rhythm right along with the drums. After these refrains, the opening bass drum funk march continues with a wah wah solo from Hazel. And he does an ascending,psychedelic rock solo on the final refrain before the song fades.

“What About It?” is a song I heard sometime before I heard Hazel’s entire album via a sampler of my fathers. It has stood out for me because it really showcases (as a joint Hazel/Clinton composition) Hazel’s post Hendrix psychedelic funk guitar style working within the framework of the far more polished later 70’s P-Funk sound. Hazel is soloing on a song out of the P-Funk of “Flash Light”,”Aquaboogie”,”One Nation Under A Groove” and “Knee Deep”. The blend of the different musicians doing unexpected things make this not only a great comeback for Hazel. But for him as part of P-Funk’s peak years.

 

 

 

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Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy,Baby…40 Years Old: Revisiting a P-Funk Classic

Image result for ah the name is bootsy

When P-Funk first began to enter my life 22-24 years ago,Bootsy Collins was the first part of the outfit that really got my attention as an individual musician. As most of you reading this blog for some time know,have always been a big admirer of the bass and bass players. Which is awkward because as long as I can remember,hearing bass lines in songs isn’t always easy for me. True,most music listeners may be trained not to hear it. But still to this day,have trouble personally hearing the instrument in a busy instrumental mix. Bootsy has been refreshing for me in his pioneering of  a “bass in your face” style.

His 1977 album Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy,Baby! is a superb example of this. It was recorded with his Rubber Band,his own personal adjunct of the P-Funk musical army. In addition to P-Funk mainstays such as Bernie Worrell,his brother Catfish,Mike Hampton,Glenn Goins and Jerome Brailey,it also featured drummer Frankie “Cash” Waddy and vocalists Gary Cooper and Robert Johnson. The album itself is divided into separately themed halves. The first is uptempo and funk based,while the second is ballad oriented. On vinyl,those themes were divided in a “two sides of Bootsy” approach as it were.

The title song that begins the first side is the first Rubber Band song I ever heard,though originally as the first song on the Bootsy compilation CD Back In The Day. For the most part,the most prominent element is the deep,pounding Moog bass accentuated by  Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker’s horns. The song itself is a musically fictive meet and greet between Bootsy with his younger fan base known as “geepies” asking him questions about his general sense of funkiness. As jazz critic Gary Giddins said of Louis Armstrong,only the great musicians get their own theme song. And this one is certainly that for Bootsy.

“The Pinocchio Theory”,powered by a heavy wah-wah/horn interaction and “Rubber Duckie” are both two more superb examples of Bootsy’s funk style. Both are rhythmically and melodically flamboyant at the same time. All with a joyous sound played to draw people to the funk,and never to play over their heads. The invocation of preteen based pop culture elements,used similarly to George Clinton’s social satire,is well catered to Bootsy’s somewhat younger target audience. “The Pinocchio Theory” is also the origin point of one of P-Funk’s most famous quotes: “don’t fake the funk or your nose’ll grow”.

Interestingly enough,at my first time hearing this,it was still at a time when I skipped over ballads on funk albums generally. So am only hearing these as perhaps the most musically important aspect of this album. With funk,suppose one expects the rhythm to be strong and upfront. Much as with Larry Graham’s ballad approach,slow soul ballads such as “What’s A Telephone Bill?” and the more mid tempo shuffle of “Can’t Stay Away” are turned into funk ballads because of Bootsy’s hefty,quaking “duck face bass” (as I call it) that punctuates every melodic line of both songs.

The album is book ended in the middle and end by interludes such as “Preview Side Too” and a reprise of the title song. The later revisits the part of that song where Bootsy and Catfish play a Jimi Hendrix style revisit of the melody for “Auld Lang Syne “-seeming to express the album coming out early in the year-as well as a new generation of funk getting started. The former as well as “Munchies For Your Love” express far sleeker variation of Funkadelic’s earlier psychedelic rock ventures-only in a slower and more minor chorded jazzy sort of instrumental framework.

This represents one of a serious of albums where,on every song,some element of the bass instrumental sound is upfront and personal on every song.  Before funk emerged as a genre,bass players were not taken very seriously in any popular genre of music. Because it brought rhythm upfront,bassists became vital in funk from the get go. Through his time with James Brown onto George Clinton,Bootsy emerged as funk’s leading bass superstar in the late 70’s. And as this album has turned 40 a week ago now,the idea of the “bass hero” might be Bootsy’s most enduring legacies this album in particular has left on music.

 

 

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Bootsy At 65: The Funky Bassology Of William Collins

William “Bootsy” Collins represents the key aspect of funk for me. He was the first “bass hero” as it were. As part of the funk process,Larry Graham developed the vocabulary for it all to happen. And it was Bootsy who became in P-Funk what most lead guitarists do in rock bands. His bass was huge and flamboyant. And he made his “space bass” sound and image the start of the show with his Rubber Band,on his own and later with different session work. Of course,the story of how the Cincinnati native found fame through membership in the JB’s is well known. His beginnings with P-Funk are another matter.

Before Bootsy became a major player in the P-Funk arena,Funkadelic were more or less a groove acid rock jam band. And they had a slow,instrumentally raggedy approach. Especially in terms of rhythm. That gave them their uniqueness in the early 70’s. Bootsy arrived for their 1972 album America Eats Its Young. And he brought with his his profound sense of rhythm,and love of the singable melody. His personality shortly became as vital to P-Funk as George Clinton’s. In that way,he was able to change the face of P-Funk in the way he wasn’t as able to do in the strictly structured James Brown camp.

In all honesty,I haven’t yet heard everything that Bootsy has been instrumentally involved in. Especially in the 90’s,a number of musical projects in the Bill Laswell camp were  utilizing Bootsy’s talents to provide the driving groove element to them. Today,I’d like to present to you some of the Bootsy solo/Bootsy related session work that I’m personally aware of. And that are personal favorites of mine. I am excluding his contributions to Parliament and Funkadelic,since that’s an article in and of itself. So here is Andresmusictalk’s rundown of personal Bootsy favorites.


‘Ahh,The Name Is Bootsy,Baby” (1977)

The groove on this song is both super clear and super punishing in terms of the funk. The deep,descending synth bass line alone makes the song. Not to even mention the horns and call/response vocals. Pretty much Bootsy’s defining song while leading the Rubber Band.

“Very Yes” (1978)

This punchy 1978 funk ballad was one I thought was sung by a very whispery female singer at first. Turns out this slow thump’s lead vocals were the work of Robert “P-Nut” Johnson. Just the combination of funkiness and quirkiness make this a very defining Bootsy number for me.

“She Jam” (Almost Bootsy Show)” (1979)

One of the reasons I enjoy this so much is that its a thick,throbbing Bootsy funk groove,as well as being an intricately written pop song. The combination of heavy funk instrumentation and melodic songwriting really make songs like this stand out.

“Its A Musical” (1980)

Bootsy utilizing his trademarked flamboyant,revved up bass style as the basic for every other instrumental and melodic idea of a song came to fruition on songs such as this “Its A Musical” did for Bootsy at the start of the 1980’s what “Bootzilla” and “Roto Rooter” had done a few years before.

“Hyper Space” by Sweat Band (1980)

This particular song by the Bootsy spin off Sweat Band is an instrumental that showcases P-Funk at its most melodically strong. The groove is an intense mix of synth bass,Clavinet and piano. The synthesizer plays a strongly modulating,jazzy theme as the main melodic theme,one the Clavinet also repeats. Some of P-Funk’s strongest music period.

“Shine-O-Mite (Rag Poping’)” (1982)

The bass/guitar interaction and sizzling synth interludes that define this groove make this what is,to me,some of the most slept on P-Funk of the early 80’s.

“Party On Plastic” (1988)

Took Bootsy awhile to make a comeback. But he came back in 1988 with a roar on his What’s Bootsy Doin’ album,a hard hitting electro funk set that is really defined by the sound of this song,its opener. It combines electronic drums,percussion and huge slap bass.

“Love Song” (1988)

Bootsy always had a way with writing funky love songs. On this,he did so in a pounding,ultra melodic Cameo-like funk manner. Always one of my favorite Bootsy numbers.

“Groove Is In The Heart” by Deee Lite (1990)

This funky house jam by the DJ collective Deee-Lite showcases not only Bootsy’s playing and influence. But is also loaded with his attitude and presence. In particular when he comes in saying “ASK YOUR MAMA!”.


So there you have it,my rundown on personal favorite Bootsy jams. There were others that were more defining and influential to other musicians,of course. Still,one of the most important aspects of Bootsy’s talents was being able to make hard funk somehow singable and accessible to people who were not heavily instrumentally inclined. That’s a combination that takes a lot of understanding. And generally a positive attitude. And those are two of the qualities that keep Bootsy’s music moving straight ahead onto where his funk will take him on its next journey.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Bootsy's Rubber Band, Deee-Lite, elecro funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, P-Funk, Sweat Band, synth bass

Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic@40: P-Funk Taking It To The People

tales-of-kidd-funkadelic

Funkadelic not only represented P-Funk’s rockiest side. They also represented their link to the late 60’s psychedelic scene from which it all began for George Clinton and company. Beginning as the backing band for The Parliaments before they shortened their name,Clinton revived the Parliament name in 1974-pursuing a more horn funk style under that name. In a couple of short years,a P-Funk formula of sorts began to emerge as the musicians within it exercised their most distinctive instrumental traits-especially Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell. 1976 was the key year for all of this to happen.

Tales of Kidd Funkadelic turned 40 just under a month ago. For me,it represents that transition from Funkadelic representing psychedelia and (as some P-Funk admirers have stated) becoming “Parliament without the horns”. Personally,the summer of 1996 was a time when I was going to Borders Books & Music in Bangor,Maine to purchase the then 2-3 year old Funkadelic CD reissues. I remember picking this particular one up while spending a weekend with my grandparents. It was with a warning I’d in a music guide that Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic was the bands least conceptually unified record.

Today,its to my understanding that the album was made up of material recorded at the same time as Funkadelic’s Capital records debut Hardcore Jollies. But Clinton was contractually obligated to Westbound to deliver them one more album. So lyrically,the songs didn’t follow a concept. What the Westbound label did do was give each side of the original vinyl a certain sense of musical unity. On a personal level,its probably the Funkadelic album I’ve returned to more over the years. And perhaps its the way its assembled that draws me to it so much.

“Butt-to-Butt Resuscitation” and “Let’s Take It To The People” could both be described as heavy funk/rock hybrids. At the same time,the emphasis is still on the stronger rhythmic complexity Funkadelic were developing. “Undisco Kidd” stuck out instantly because,from the bass to the vocal rap,it drips of Bootsy’s musical personality. It actually reminds me of something from Parliament’s Mothership Connection-especially with Worrell’s orchestral synth. “Take Your Dead Ass Home” is a thick bass/guitar built number with a really humorous take on 3rd and 4th base making out.

The second half of the album is another matter entirely. “I’m Never Gonna Tell It” is a P-Funk style mid tempo soul ballad-later re-done by Phillipe Wynn after he joined P-Funk. The title song of the album is a 12+ magnum opus centered on Bernie Worrell’s classically inclined jazz/funk cinematically orchestrated melodies. “How Do Yeaw View You” is actually one of my favorite songs on this album. Its a very rhetorically reflective song that has a slight reggae funk overtone. That essentially rounds this part of the album as being its “slower side”.

From the first song to the eighth, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic stands to me as a model for funk albums released to fulfill a contract. Clinton offered Westbound songs that were not only solid and complete. But in my opinion,they were also funk jams that held together in terms of the sheer quality of song. If any of these songs had been singled out to lead off a fully conceptualized P-Funk album,they’d probably have all been amazing. As it is,its hard to hear that these songs are outtakes. So on its 40th anniversary,the most important thing to say about this album is that represented P-Funk’s major transition in the 70’s.

 

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Filed under 1976, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, classic albums, classic funk, Funk Bass, funk rock, Funkadelic, George Clinton, P-Funk, synthesizers, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic