Blood, Sweat & Tears were the first major jazz-rock group to hit the scene. This NYC group was formed in 1967 by Al Kooper. The main members included Mothers Of Invention album Jim Fielder along with Steve Katz and Bobby Colomby. It was also the first self contained rock group to have an integrated horn section. The group would record through the 70’s-losing and gaining new personnel as they went along. Including their original lead singer Al Kooper. Their most famous lead singer is David Clayton- Thomas. He joined the band for their sophomore album in 1968.
Thomas’s raspy,soulful vocals and songwriting immediately hit pay dirt for the band with the hit song “Spinning Wheel”. He continued writing for the band until pursuing a solo career after the 1971 album Blood, Sweat & Tears 4. He returned to the band just under five years later. They continued to record studio albums, with the ever changing lineup, until their final album to date came out in 1980’s Nuclear Blues. This was their first and only album on the MCA/LAX record label. One of the highlights I’ve heard so far is the David Clayton-Thomas penned title song of the album.
A rumbling, blasting bass synth tone with a cinematic wind like sound from behind it provides the intro to the song. The horn charts blast in along with the rhythm guitar, popping bass and an equally popping keyboard part in the back round. The B-section of the main theme has the Clavinet takes over behind Thomas’s vocal. On the bridge, this same B-section is played up as an instrumental part. First with an organ solo, than a sax solo playing behind an eerily bouncing, heavily reverbed bass line. During the extended chorus fading out the song, Thomas breaks into a mini rap over that same bass line.
“Nuclear Blues” finds Blood, Sweat & Tears, by this time on their 11th studio album, having marinated on from their elaborate jazz/rock arrangements into a well oiled jazz funk ensemble. Especially with the then newest members such as the bass/guitar duo David and Robert Piltch. Along with keyboardist Richard Martinez and the slow, in the pocket drumming of Bobby Economou. David Clayton-Thomas wrote a straight up 12 bar blues for this musical backing-one with a timely lyric dealing with the tail end of the cold war. This makes “Nuclear Blues” a perhaps unsung swansong of Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Redbone came to my attention through my friend Ben Minnotte over at YouTube’s ‘Oddity Archive’. The context was regarding backwards masking of songs. Ben described them as a Native American rock band. That got me seeking out their albums on vinyl. Especially, as with so many, I knew them mainly for their 1973 hit “Come And Get Your Love”. The band was started by the brothers Patrick and Candido Vasquez, known by Pat and Lolly Vegas, in Coalinga, California. The group actually came together from mere cents in their pockets after Pat won the first ever Coca Cola singing context.
The name Redbone apparently derives from a Cajun term of people of a mixed race heritage. Pat and Lolly, both of Native and Mexican descent, went from playing surf music in the mid 60’s (which resulted in their name change at the suggestion of their label) and session playing for people such as Tina Turner,Elvis Presley and James Brown. The brothers were inspired by the part Cherokee heritage of Jimi Hendrix to form Redbone to began with. And it was in the late 60’s that the members of the band began to come together to shape their sound.
The original lineup of the band aside from Pat and Lolly were drummer Peter DePoe and rhythm guitarist Robert Anthony Avilla-known as Tony Bellamy. Bellamy passed away in 2009-a year before Lolly Vegas passed. Bellamy’s birthday would’ve been today. And it reminded me of listening to Redbone’s albums and finding that amazing musical mix of rock,Cajun (with frequent lyrical references to New Orleans),jazz and funk. Definitely out of the diverse 60’s era pop music landscape, I wanted to focus on one of their songs today. The one chosen was this 1974 Redbone tune entitled “Physical Attraction”.
Butch Rilera’s drum roll starts off the groove with a bang-before the horn charts start playing a strong melody with Lolly Vegas’s trademarked Leslie rotating speaker effected guitar (sounding something like an electric sitar). This represents the instrumental element of the chorus. The refrain consists of a fast paced Clavinet groove with accents from Bellamy’s ringing rhythm guitar. The songs concludes on what what starts out as an extended chorus. Then it all goes into a sustained horn crescendo that serves to fade out the song.
“Physical Attraction” has a sound that reminds me something of what would happen if Sly & The Family Stone collaborated with the Edgar Winter group. The rhythmic precision and horn fueled melodies of funk is combined with the heavy drumming of horn rock. By the early/mid 70’s, it would seem that Redbone were embracing the heavier soul/funk aspect of their sound. Which was evident from the outset anyway. This particular song has the vibe of an unsung hit if I ever heard one. And a great testament to this first Native American rock band.
Steely Dan disbanded after the release of their 1980 album Gaucho. Walter Becker retired with his family to Maui. Donald Fagen released a very successful solo album in 1982 called The Nightfly, basically semi-autobiographic nostalgia that served as a musical followup to Gaucho to a degree. Becker did occasional production work,in particular with the British group China Crisis in 1985. After some aborted sessions after working together with singer/model Rosie Vela in the late 80’s, the pair came together with Becker producing Fagen’s sophomore solo album Kamikiriad in 1993.
With that album being a positive experience, the two launched on their first live tour in roughly 20 years in 1995- for both Becker’s solo album 11 Tracks Of Wack and a box set containing remasters of all their studio albums Citizen Steely Dan. This prompted their first live album Alive In America. A couple of years later, Becker and Fagen were recording Steely Dan’s official follow up to Gaucho. In 2000, the album came out as Two Against Nature. Much to my surprise, it won album of the year at the 2001 Grammy awards. The opening song that got my instant attention is called “Gaslighting Abbie”.
Ricky Lawson’s hi hat heavy drums start off the groove with Fagen’s Fender Rhodes/ Clavinet and Becker’s high rhythm guitar playing a brittle call and response. Lawson’s drumming gets into that slow,funky beat-with Becker and Fagen’s Rhodes/rhythm guitar continuing for the refrains of the song. The B section and choruses takes the song across several chord progressions. On the second refrains, the horn charts quietly enter the mix. On the bridge, Dave Tofani plays an electrified sax solo before Becker takes a guitar solo. An extended refrain plays out with a sustain horn chart fading out the song.
“Gaslighting Abbie” basically picks up where the musical approach of Gaucho left off. Rhythmically its structured as a strongly funk based composition. In terms of the notes,chords,harmonies and instrumentation however, the vibe of the song is highly jazzy. It establishes Steely Dan as perhaps being their own particular sub-genre of music as opposed to a group embracing many genres. Becker, Fagen the the players they work with fully understand the composition their dealing with here. And it made it a fresh and very familiar start to the first album of their early aughts comeback.
Vernon Burch is a musical figure who is relatively obscure to me. Born in Washington DC, Burch is a guitarist whom its hard to find a great deal of personal information about. What could be found out about him was that he played with The Bar Kays during the time they recorded their Do You See What I See? album in 1972. He embarked on hissolo career starting in 1975-at first at United Artists and Columbia. He finally signed to Casablanca subsidiary Chocolate City in 1978,best known at the time as the label for funk stalwarts Cameo.
This was the disco era. And Burch’s place in music history was cemented in funk. In 1979,he released his second album for the label entitled Get Up. On the album he had arrangement help from Tom Tom 84 and funk icon Fred Wesley of the JB’s and P-Funk. Wesley arranged the horns on three of the songs on this disco funk album. While pursuing some of its songs on YouTube,one of these Fred Wesley arranged tunes leaped right out at me-for a number of different reasons both musical and otherwise. The name of the song is “Sammy-Joanne (One Half Woman,One Half Man)”.
A hard hitting disco beat from non other than James Gadson starts the song-along with a ticking keyboard from Michael Thompson. Burch’s rumbling,rocking guitar provides a string orchestra like effect as the intro slides into the main song-along with David N. Shields slap bass. As a descending synth and descending horns enter into it, the drum/ rhythm guitar/Clavinet/slap bass interaction all lock in for the refrain of the song. The stripped down bass/drum/synth sound of the intro provides the chorus. A bluesy guitar solo from Burch on the bridge extends into an extended,fading refrain.
“Sammy-Joanne” is a hard driving stomper- a perfect example of a funk song functioning as disco. What surprised me in the song is how it focused on a healthier and perhaps less hedonistic aspect of the disco era. The Sammy-Joanne character in the song is a hermaphrodite who finds acceptance and love as an implied transgender’ disco dancer. The character is celebrated,not made fun of and hated. And with gender related matters being a strangely controversial matter in 2017, this 1979 song celebrates sexual difference with some of the most funkified disco-dance music possible.
Phoebe Snow is a native New Yorker who went from an artistic family who raised her in Teaneck, New Jersey to her college years of gigging from one Greenwich Village nightclub to another. She released her self titled debut album in 1974-having her biggest hit with “Poetry Man”. Her sound was somewhat unique-a mix of folk,rock,funk,soul and blues that suited her distinctive,bluesy growl that could also spread across several octaves. Her decision to give up music to care for her child born with severe brain damage halted her career after the early 80’s. But she never totally disappeared.
Her selfless parenting didn’t stop Snow (born Phoebe Taub) from performing the theme song for the first season of the sitcom A Different World. And released a few more studio albums before her death of a cerebral hemorrhage in 2011. Her third album It Looks Like Snow was her second for Columbia Records. On it she interpreted a song that was one of the last major Temptations hits before leaving Motown. It was co-written by P-Funk’s Eddie Hazel along with Jeffrey Bowen. Its an amazing groove for sure. But in 1976 for her third album, Phoebe Snow offered us her own take on “Shakey Ground”.
The hard groove wah wah guitar riff and metronomic drum count in begin the song as on the original. Yet the straight up,acoustically textured blues guitar riffing before the main groove starts adds a totally different flavor to it all. After all of this, there is the layers of guitar: rhythm and wah wah along with an accenting Clavinet. And of course the horns playing the changes. On the instrumental bridge, the bluesy guitar from the intro (likely played by Snow herself) takes a full on solo. That’s before Snow’s vocals take the chorus on an extended musical journey before it fades out.
There’s not much point in me comparing Phoebe Snow and The Tempt’s versions of “Shakey Ground”. Each are hard funk monster jams in their own right. Its the little things that really make the difference on Snow’s. Her super bluesy guitar riffs and solos give it a slightly more old timey flavor. And her jazzy,growling and sometimes unpredictable vocals give the song an emotional vibe on par with the strongest end of the mid 70’s female perspective. When thinking of what would’ve been Snow’s 67th birthday, this song somehow seemed exactly the right one to overview from a funk/soul perspective.
Airto Guimorvan Moreira almost seemed to have had a nearly innate sense of creativity. Raised in several different parts of Brazil by a family of folk healers, he was a professional musician by the time he just entered his early adolescence. After playing with Hermeto Pascal as a percussionist in the mid to late 60’s, he followed his wife (the vocalist Flora Purim) to the US. While there, his percussion sound became one of the building blocks of jazz rock fusion. In particular it most Latin end. His recordings with Miles Davis,Joe Zawinul,George Duke and Cannonball Adderley are now iconic.
Airto began his career as a band leader in the year 1970. And was fortunate enough to have released a brand new studio album every year until 1979. That and in between his many collaborations-including those with wife Flora Purim. That final album of the 1970’s was entitled Touching You,Touching Me. It wasn’t the most common album to find until the Wounded Bird label reissued it on CD several years ago. As with all the Airto albums I’ve heard, the album has a very high respect for musical quality. One song I truly love on it is a remake of Azymuth’s “Toque De Cuica”.
Airto’s percussion and Pete Bunetta’s drums start out the Brazilian disco funk rhythm the begins the song-with George Duke’s Clavinet, Marcos Valle’s Fender Rhodes, Bayete’s rhythmic piano and Alphonso Johnson’s bass all playing call and response with both the melody and rhythm. That rhythm changes to an elaborate series of funk patterns for the chorus and its B section-with Airto scatting fast and then slow-bringing in former Rufus member Al Ciner on guitar. After a couple of bridges echoing the intro, the first section of the chorus plays between percussive breaks until the song comes to an end.
Airto’s version of this song is an extremely complex one rhythmically. Took the time to listen to Azymuth’s original 1977 version entitled “Tamborim Cuíca Ganza Berimbau” and their version has more of a bossa fusion atmosphere. Its a good song for sure from both. Airto brings another whole energy to the song. And its generally the passion of the excellent players who joined him for it on this album. Its one of a handful of songs on the Touching You, Touching Me album that leaped right out in terms of rhythm and melody. And is one of many dozens of superb examples of Airto’s amazing artistry.
Greg Kihn,a Baltimore native same as funk icon Rick James,followed his early musical dreams to San Francisco. While still in high school, his mom helped him by submitting a demo to a local radio station while he played coffee houses locally . He moved to the bay area officially by 1972-painting houses,busking and working at a record store in the city of Berkeley. He eventually became part of Beserkley Records label as one of the first acts signed to it-along with other future rock icons such as Johnathan Richman of the Modern Lovers.
By 1976 he had his own group called The Greg Kihn Band. There biggest hit to date was the power pop classic “The Breakup Song” in 1981. During the early 80’s post disco era, the American popular music pendulum tended to swing towards guitar based rock songs. Still as with the decade before it, funk and soul could be found in any section of the record store. Often cleverly disguised by presentation as something else. New wave/synth pop of the era was a mainstay for this. But mainstream rock got a taste of this with the biggest hit Greg Kihn’s Band ever had with 1983’s ‘Jeopardy”.
Gary Phillips’ Clavinet riffing is heard with (as far as I know) Kihn’s own reverbed guitar chords providing a texturing accent to that and Larry Lynch’s steady drum beat and Steve Wright’s slinky, often elaborate bass line pattern . This pattern continues on throughout both the refrain and chorus of the song-with the chord changes reflected the changes in Kihn’s raspy vocal leads. On the bridge, Lynch’s drum plays a three note hit every other beat to the call and response Clavinet and guitar. Kihn’s bluesy guitar riff plays off the pounding drum for a more rockier pattern as the song fades out.
“Jepordy” is now seen as an 80’s rock classic-due mainly to its conceptually interesting MTV video and a hilarious parody by Weird Al Yankovic. But even I sometimes feel like the only one who might listen to this outside its accepted context and hear it as a driving funk/rock jam with a catchy song attached to it. The Clavinet grooves hard on this song,the drum maintains its driving post disco vibe. And the guitar plays something of an accessorizing role-atypical of much mainstream rock. That makes this both a potentially misunderstood and still beloved 80’s pop classic.
Gregg Allman was of course married to Cher from 1975 to 1978. The union of course produced their only child,Elijah Blue. But just learned shortly after Allman’s passing that it produced a duo album for the couple in 1977. Credited as Allman And Woman,the album was entitled “Two The Hard Way”. They also went on a mini tour to support the album-also titled after the name of the album. The album was not a commercial success. And was even called “worthless” by one critic. Allman was part of the rock music scene. And Cher more general pop. This may have led to some of the album’s poor reception.
For her part,Cher could basically do whatever type of material she desired due to her long back round in pop and 60’s era musical sensibilities. Allman was a Southern rock innovator-always expected to be daring,rebellious and somehow “authentic”. Still with classic pop/rock songwriters such as Jimmy Webb and the versatile classic funky soul session bass player Willie Weeks on board,the album actually has its share of powerful musical moments. Among them was the first single (and the first song on the album) that was entitled “Move On”.
Steve Beckmeier’s ringing,higher pitched guitar grooving opens the song before Bill Stewart’s drum and Bobbye Hall’s conga fanfare leads right into the basic horn fanfare of the intro. The chorus is a steady dance rhythm accompanied by a heavy mix of flangered electric piano and Clavinet riffing playing close to Week’s bass line. The horn charts basically serve to glue the songs extended choruses together. The intro basically repeats itself for the bridge-with a brief electric piano solo before hand illustrated by the horns building into the mix. The final chorus of the song shows up to fade out the song.
“Move Me” is a wonderful song. What’s interesting about is that Cher, now a renowned diva, sings either call and response or in total unison with Allman throughout the entirety of this song. The production has a very uptown, Philly soul inspired groove to it. Filled with horns,punchy keyboards and high stepping rhythms. Allman’s gruff vocal delivery compliments Cher’s husky,tremolo laden approach extremely well on this song. Its basically a Philly style dance/soul groove out of the disco era though. Its not a pop /rock styled record at all. That’s important to consider with this musical pairing too.
Chairman Of The Board are a true example of just how deeply seeded the Motor City soul sound of Motown became by the end of the 60’s. The late “General” Norman Johnson was the groups lead singer. He had started out in a group called The Showman. And when Motown’s classic songwriting trio Holland/Dozier/Holland left Motown to form their own label Invictus (also home to George Clinton’s Parliaments at the time), Johnson was paired with Eddie Curtis,Danny Young and the Canadian native Harrison Kennedy to form Chairman Of The Board.
The band had their debut hit in 1970 with “Give Me Just A Little More Time”. Musically it was squarely within the classic Motown style soul sound. What made it so unique was Johnson’s hiccuping,idiosyncratic lead vocals and very strong songwriting. By the mid 70’s, most of the members of the group were on the way to solo recording. The groups place in funk history was confirmed by their final album in 1974 entitled Skin I’m In. It was produced by another Motown alumni in Jeffrey Bowen. And one of its key numbers was its title song.
A swirling,bluesy rhythm guitar and bass bursts open the song. That guitar gradually mutates into a fuzz tone. And as the slow,funky drum slogs its way in,that rhythm guitar is accompanied by a fuzz toned one. As the song progresses,Johnson’s rangy vocals build up the song musically with Clavinet riffs and horns that build in intensity during the choral sequences. After a thunder like burst of sound, an instrumental bridge consisting of bell like synths and piano scaling returns the songs to its horn/Clavinet/bass and guitar oriented chorus until the song fades itself out.
“Skin I’m In” is the very funkiest song I’ve ever heard from Chairman Of The Board. Of course, was somewhat prepped for it by my literary funk research during the late 90’s and early aughts. Musically its a supreme example of slower rhythms making a song funkier-and full of a psychedelic soul blusiness in the instrumentation and melody. Johnson’s lyrics about black Americans consistently being kept from progressing in America is “united funk” at its finest too-with him exclaiming on the choruses “Its so HARD to live in the skin I’m in!”. So this is prime mid 70’s funk with a message!