Earth Wind & Fire generally didn’t depend too much on outside songwriters and producers-unless of course their names were Skip Scarborough or Charles Stepney. They were more musical insiders who assisted the band just out from under foot. By the time of 1979’s I Am, Maurice White was producing most of album with David Foster. With the following years Faces, they were out to make a double album set of all new studio material. So outside songwriters on this album included Brenda Russell and Valerie Carter.
Carter passed away at the age of 64 yesterday,having apparently spent some years struggling with drug addiction. A prominent songwriter/backup singer who recorded a handful of solo albums in the 70’s,she worked primarily with other singer/songwriters. In particular James Taylor. She also made two major contributions to the funk/soul genre. She composed a now rare B-side for the Brothers Johnson in 1984 called “Deceiver”. Five years earlier,her contribution to the songwriting for EWF on their Faces album came in its second track entitled “Turn It Into Something Good”.
A medium tempo,conga clav laden Carbbean funk drum line lays the foundation for the rhythm of the entire song. Right from the start. In full interplay within this mix are the brittle,melodic guitar of Al McKay with Verdine White’s exploratory,rhythmic jazzy bass line. Playing call and response to this are Larry Dunn on the Rhodes piano and the Phenix Horns. This represents the intro,refrain and outro of the song. On the chorus of song,the chord goes up and so does the pitch of the Rhodes as Maurice and Phillip trade off their vocals in fine style. A bass/guitar/Kalimba rhythm segues out of this song onto the next.
As the late Maurice White was quoted as saying a decade ago now,he feels the Faces album was one where EWF were really in tune with their sound. His brother Verdine called it the type of album they really wanted to cut. Valerie Carter,Maurice White and James Howard Newton all came together to create one of the greatest triad’s of songs on an EWF album-with this one sandwiched between the heavy funkiness of the opener “Let Me Talk” and “Pride”. This song mixes the Caribbean/Calypso flavor with a poppy funkiness that goes with one of EWF’s classic empowering message songs for a decade of many challenges.
August Darnell got my attention instantly when I first heard Dr. Buzzard & The Original Savannah Band’s “I’ll Play The Fool For You” in the late 1990’s on CD compilation Pure Disco. The first thought I had was that it reminded me of what Duke Ellington’s orchestra would’ve sound like had Duke been alive for the disco era. The song had a heavy swing in with the dance beat to it. And it had that street level mix of wit and elegance so common in the swing era. It instantly got me seeking anything related to Dr. Buzzard or Darnell’s followup ground Kid Creole & The Coconuts.
Darnell himself is something of a man of mystery. He’s a native New Yorker all the way. The Bronx native even went as far as developing the fictitious back round of his Kid Creole character during the 70’s and 80’s,as he become more involved with different musical and theater related projects. Conceptualizing himself as a Caribbean Cab Calloway,his music had the funky eclecticism and conceptually obscurity of both Prince and P-Funk. Only with more if an island twist. One song on the groups 1985 album In Praise Of Older Women And Other Crimes really encompassed this beautifully. It was called “Endicott”.
A round percussion line kicks the song off. The groove itself is pretty much defined by a straight vamp throughout most of it. Its all the funky sweeteners that make it so exciting. The vamp itself is built on a stomping drum,a melodic vibraphone,chicken scratch rhythm guitar and a thick jazzy slap bass line playing very close to that guitar. These are accnted by Darnell’s soulful screams. Darnell’s lead vocals are accented by big band horn charts throughout the song. On brief bridges throughout the song,the female “coconuts” sing lead over the percussive drums. The original vamp of the song then fades it out.
Instrumentally speaking,this song has a Caribbean big band Prince vibe about it all the way. Especially on the rhythm guitar parts. Though the bass line is far thicker than most of Prince’s. Lyrically,this song is so hilarious to me. Endicott is a conceptual character Darnell sings about the whole song. He is willingly self sacrificing to his wife,and is considered an upstanding man. The Coconuts ask Darnell “why can’t you be like Endicott?” to which he sings “because I’m free,free of any made to order liabilities”. Its a wonderfully funky romp through the world of male/female domestic schisms.
Filed under 1985, August Darnell, big band swing, Caribbean Funk, drums, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, New York, rhythm guitar, vibraphone
Eddy Grant first came to my attention in the same manner as he did most people around the world. And that was through his massively successful 1982 new wave funk/rock hit “Electric Avenue”. Actually that’s an excellent introduction to this artist. Fact is,Eddy Grant is a pretty amazing artist. This Afro-Briton multi instrumentalist was born British Guiana. He recorded his first album on his own Ice House label. And that label has since developed the largest catalog of Caribbean music in the world.. In addition to providing a wonderful business model for black DIY artists,Grant was also someone who absorbed a great deal from the 70’s funk/soul groove aestetic.
Grant’s musical grounding is so strong that he actually invented a specific genre himself called ringbang. It functions as a combination of different Caribbean musical styles. Grant himself describes this genre in very Afrocentric terms-that is as a music that’s totally oriented around using rhythm to communicate messages between those listening. As his music progressed,it took on a great deal of sociopolitical messages within the lyrics. Specifically focused on ending Apartheid in South Africa. At the end of the 70’s as the disco era was coming to a close,Grant spun his own take on futurist dance music with his 1979 hit song entitled “Waling On Sunshine”.
An uptempo percussive beat begins the song right off and keeps itself going throughout the song. A bassy Clavinet plays a purely rhythmic role throughout the song right along with the main percussive fueling the groove. On each chorus and refrain,the Afro Beat/reggae styled horns pulse and play away. When the song reaches a bridge,there’s a round wah wah guitar playing an extremely funky riff that keeps on going through some sweaty vocal call and responses. On the next instrumental section,a popping early drum machine pulses up and down before the horns come back into play for some heavy charts. The song fades out with Grant harmonizing with himself on some jazzy falsetto vocals.
Having listened to this song several times all the way through online over the past couple of years,something important about it really occurred to me tonight. This song might very well come as close as the planet Earth can come to perfecting late 70’s pan African funk. Even though it would be well over a decade before Grant would coin his ringbang genre, songs such as this made it clear that funk played a huge part in it. The combination of African style horn charts and percussion with electric piano would resonate onto other Afro Funk classics in the coming years such as Rim & Kasa’s “Love Me For Real” four years later. And this song is a prime example of Eddy Grant at his most fully funky.
Filed under 1970's, Afro Funk, Afrocentrism, Caribbean Funk, clavinet, drum machine, Eddy Grant, horns, Ice House Records, percussion, ringbang music, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar
Carl Anderson came from the world of Broadway into the soul/funk scene,in a manner similar to Stephanie Mills. The key difference is the level of success. The only reason I even knew about Anderson’s music was through a YouTube search. In the mid 70’s,the Jackson 5 had done some recording of songs composed by Stevie Wonder. The one song from these sessions that have publicly surfaced was the song “Buttercup”. Turns out Carl Anderson had done a version in the mid 80’s as well. Never heard of the man before. But was very impressed with what I heard. Turns out this was not the first time that Anderson had recorded this song.
In 1982 Anderson signed up with Epic Records. There he recorded his debut album entitled Absence Without Love. The title song of this album was a strong boogie funk number featuring a vocal duet with Teena Marie,who like Anderson has since passed away. Richard Rudolph,having produced Lady T a couple of years earlier,was also behind the recording console for Carl Anderson’s debut. He was now singing in an environment with session aces such as Smokey Robinson’s keyboardist Sonny Burke,Nathan East,Omar Hakim,Jerry Hey and Lee Ritenour backing him up. It was here that Anderson first introduced his version of the previously unreleased Stevie Wonder song “Buttercup”.
The drum starts out playing a sauntering Caribbean rhythm with a round,electrified bump on each accent. The main bass line accompanies this-scaling up and down right up with the groove. Suddenly the main melody comes in. This features fan faring horn charts,a high pitched rhythm guitar and an equally higher toned electric piano playing around the chords. On the refrains,the horns take a back seat to Anderson’s vocals. On the choruses,the horns and vocals take on a totally harmonious role. This happens on a bridge where Anderson is doing some percussive scat singing before going onto his vocalizing of the refrain. This pattern repeats a few times before the song fades out.
This song,especially in it’s original 1982 version is one of the finest example of an unheard Steve Wonder composition being done in a way that’s special and distinctive. On both the vocal and instrumental level,this song has so many elements of the popular Afrocentric musical spectrum within it. It has the Caribbean style rhythm and horns,the slowness of tempo and slap bass lines of hard funk along with the harmonic and vocal qualities of jazz. The deep,gospel drenched pipes of Carl Anderson expresses a fullness of range and dramatic presentation that adds even more musical excitement. As far as I’m concerned,this is one of the finest musical moments for Carl Anderson.
Filed under 1980's, Caribbean Funk, Carl Anderson, drums, Epic Records, funky soul, horns, Jerry Hey, Lee Ritenour, Nathan East, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Sonny Burke, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized