Tag Archives: Dayton Ohio

Too Hot To Handle: Heatwave’s Debut Album’s 40th Anniversary In the US

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Heatwave had been a huge international disco era funk mainstay from the get-go. When the late Johnny Wilder Jr began assembling the band while in West Germany-following discharge for the US Army in 1975. In 1976, the band released their debut album Too Hot To Handle in the UK. The original album cover art was a painting of a sun’s horizon over the sea courtesy of Norman Moore. The album was released on May 30th of the following year in the US. It was given a new cover. This one a comic book design of a vinyl album melting on a sidewalk-this time done by Robert Grossman.

This albums 40th anniversary has already passed. Oddly enough, it was one of the last Heatwave albums I actually investigated. Due to a broken CD player, my first copy of it succumbed to laser rot. A couple of listens to this album gave me to realize that its one of those albums that deserves a full form review of its contents. All the songs on it were written by the late,great Rod Temperton. And most of them showcased Johnnie Wilder’s dynamic, rangy vocal interpretations. So here,song by song is my own overview of the album. Not song by song exactly. But taking each of them as part of a wonderful whole.

The album starts off with a three prong uptempo punch. First is the title song-which uses call and response horn lines and slinky synthesizers playing similar melodic riffs-right along with the vocal trades of the Wilder brothers Johnnie and Keith. “Boogie Nights” starts off with a swinging,guitar based be bop type intro before heading into a driving Moog bass driven groove-one with funk functioning as top end disco. “Ain’t No Half Steppin'” is heavy bass/rhythm guitar oriented funk that’s directly descended from James Brown. Especially with its condensed, funky drum/percussion based bridge.

The album showcases a diverse range of songs from there out. The vocally epic,Philly style “Always And Forever” is a wedding dance classic now. It was recorded by Johnnie vocally as if he was performing live-ad libs and all. “All You Do Is Dial” has a gentle jazzy pop flavor while “Sho ‘Nuff Must Be Luv” has a cinematic Chi Town soul ballad approach. Those are the main ballads of the album. There’s also “Super Soul Sister”-a guitar and Clavinet fueled funk number that starts into a jazzy swing similar to “Boogie Nights” on the bridge.

“Lay It On Me” has a smooth funk vibe with a driving bass Clavinet,muted trumpet, strings and again Johnnie Wilder’s voice leading the way. The album ends with a nostalgic look back at old school child discipline on the (again) James Brown style funk of “Beat Your Booty”-this time with an open,round synth bass wash goosing the lead and harmony vocals along. Overall Heatwave got off to a powerful start with this album. Their basic sound was still built around the songs being played live. Still,their reputations as masters of the disco era funk/soul sound in the studio shines strongly too.

This band that was a little Dayton,a little continental Europe really showcased themselves as extremely funk oriented here. Not long after this, members of this group Rod Temperton and Johnnie Wilder Jr would become linked in different ways to the launching of a record breaking superstar in Michael Jackson. But with the massive hit success of “Boogie Nights” and “Always And Forever”, Heatwave came right out of the box as a funk band who could play serious grooves,right serious songs and sing serious melodies.  And for that, I have no doubt their legacy will live on.

 

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Walter “Junie” Morrison 1954-2017: We May Just Have You Covered More Then Bread Alone

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Walter “Junie” Morrison,who passed away yesterday at the age of 62,is a reminder to me of something me and friend Henrique Hopkins often discuss. With American pop’s music nonstop focus on vocalists,the musicians who helped create sounds we love to dance, listen and sing to often get neglected. Sometimes forgotten. I personally feel Junie is one of those people. One of the great Dayton Ohio funk innovators,Junie twice made his mark on the funk genre. First as a member of the Westbound era Ohio Players,with his Funky Worm” being their major breakthrough. And of course as a member of P-Funk.

Junie’s work with P-Funk on their late 70’s albums and jams,especially Funkadelic’s 1979 magnum opuses “One Nation Under A Groove” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep”,showcased him as an instrumental innovator yet to be. Whenever one of us here’s a flamboyant, melodic synthesizer riff from 80’s electro new wave to present day dubstep,they are in fact hearing a sound that Junie Morrison helped to created. Junie also maintained a successful solo career from the early 70’s to mid 80’s. My review of the Funkytowngroove’s reissue of a two CD set of a couple of a those solo records say a lot about what the man did for music.


Walter Junie Morrison is one of those three career punches in the R&B world. He started out in the Ohio Players during their Westbound years,started a solo career mid decade and of course became a starring member/contributer to P-Funk before relaunching his solo career in the early 1980’s. As one of the prime innovators of the “video game” style of melodic,high pitched funk synthesizer,a sound that’s come to transcend decades and fashion Junie already had something good to go with anyway.

Of course he’s also a very unique artist anyway. He really loves to be eclectic musically. And he also enjoys blending genres in ways that are very different and sometimes may even sound incompatible. That probably has a lot to do with why George Clinton bought him into his fold to begin with. Sometimes though artists such as this seem to say more as part of a whole than as their own people. Lucky for us that was definitely not the case for Junie here.

This set presents Junie’s 1980 recording ‘Bread Alone’ and 1981 realese ‘5’. Both of them showcase his interest in heavy songcraft,closer to the Ohio Players or Slave in that regard as opposed to P-Funk’s more abstract sound. Still that influence cannot help but show up. “Love Has Taken Me Over (Be My Baby)” for sure has a Parliament aspect to production. But songs such as “Why” and especially “Seaman’s First Class (Jock Rock)” have a much sleeker jazz-funk take with very strong sophistifunk overtones.

As a mutli instrumentalist “everything man” his bass,keyboard and drum lines all pop and thunder right with the demands of the melody and arrangement. “Funk Parts” is a very straight synth funk groove,heavy on the video game synthesizer. The title track,on the other hand is a very sentimental,romantic number mixing,interestingly enough country western and reggae. “Apple Song” showcases his unique take on arena rock with a very humanitarian/spiritual message over the seemingly simple melody.

‘5’ is another matter. Now this is pretty much stomping boogie funk all the way,starting with the mildly jazzy/pop styled “Rappin About Rappin” that has a very P-Funk inspired hook with the piano chords and female choruses-talking about “rapping about the games people play”. “I Love You Madly” and the hyper melodic “Last One To Know”, “Jarr To The Ground” and “Taste Of Love” follow in the same league-heavily crafted sophistifunk. On “Victim Of Love” Junie is rocking out on heavy cars belting out vocally JB style about a frustrating,forbidden love afair.

The ballad “Cry Me A River” again brings in that country pop flavor while the title track (there is one) sounds like it might be one of those implicit sexual messages that have gotten somewhat lost from music with time. Overall on both these albums Junie offers up a wide yet connected range of musical stylings into a music that is definitely eccentric and definitely his own. Actually on a similar path to Prince in a way,only with a much more obvious sense of wit and humor. Junie Morrison is probably one of the more unheralded all around talents in funk,soul and R&B. And for those in doubt these albums,especially taken together will go far in even changing the minds of any doubters.


Because Junie Morrison was a musical figure who deserves major celebration for his contributions to music (both sung and unsung),wanted to personally thank my Facebook friend Anthony Michael Calvert for being largely responsible for reissuing some of Junie’s solo albums on CD. He is the founder/joint owner of Funkytowngrooves,who issued this set as part of their Hidden Treasures series. So whether your a fan of P-Funk,the Ohio Players or just love that particular synthesizer approach Junie brought to the table,Mister Morrison’s musical life is one that deserves a strong degree of celebration.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Skin Tight” by Ohio Players

Ohio Players emerged in the early 70’s as the first wave of Dayton funk bands-which would later go on to include Sun,Heatwave,Slave and Zapp among others. Clarence Satchell,Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks and bassist Marshall Jones were originally members of the Ohio Untouchables. They started out as a backing group for The Falcons-whose members included Wilson Pickett,Eddie Floyd and the Untouchables original lead singer/guitarist Robert Ward.  The apparently unreliable Ward was replaced by Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner . The band changed their to name to the Ohio Players by 1965.

The band signed to Westbound in 1970. There they added musicians such as Walter Junie Morrison. He provided their first major hit in the humorous funk groove of “Funky Worm” a couple of years later. In 1974,the band left Westbound and signed to Mercury while Junie stayed behind for a solo career and eventually joining George Clinton’s P-Funk-with George being an admirer of Ohio Players. Right out of the box on Mercury they had a hit which I discovered over 20 years ago in my parents 45 collection. But the album version is another entity altogether. It’s the title song to their Mercury debut Skin Tight.

Marshall Jones gets the party started with one of the most iconic bass lines in 70’s funk-with it’s bluesy base. Wah wah guitar joins in shortly before conga drums lead into the main song. It starts with ascending and descending horn charts. The drum plays a fast tempo that hits heavy on the snare on every other beat. The wah wah and percussion zero right in on the rhythm while the electric piano provides melodic accompaniment. Throughout the song,ascending horns define the chorus while descending horns define the choruses. After an electric piano solo on the bridge,the chorus fades out the song.

The first time I heard this song,it didn’t really occur to me that this was hearing funk 101 as it were. In terms of the mid/late 70’s sound of the genre,this song had it locked down. The call and response lead/falsetto vocals and horns,and the chorus staying right on the one for nearly eight minutes on the album version. Of course,Jones’ bass line became (as my friend Henrique pointed out) the signature riff on songs such as The Commodores “Brick House” a several years later. Ohio Players always gave up the funk after this. But “Skin Tight” is the song that truly got the party going for them on Mercury!

 

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Filed under 1974, Clarence Satchell, Dayton Ohio, drums, electric piano, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Leroy Sugarfoot Bonner, Marshall Jones, Ohio Players, percussion, Ralph "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/18/2015: “It’s Got To Be Love” by Lakeside

Out of the same melting pot of funk from which Slave and Heatwave emerged? Dayton,Ohio band Lakeside were the premier large funk band on Dick Griffey’s Solar label from 1978 up through 1984. One key element of this band that’s come up in the conversations I’ve had with Henrique is how committed Lakeside were to being a funk band. Truthfully, I didn’t fully understand everything in that particular discussion . Still there’s no doubt that Lakeside were vital in funk’s transition between the disco era funk and the post disco/boogie sound to follow.

The one thing I always loved about Lakeside was how their album jackets (in a similar manner to the Ohio Players) helped visually conceptualize their funk. Each one featured the band members acting out a particular event related to their album titles. Their 1981 release Keep On Moving Straight Ahead is a superb example as it features Lakeside as jockey’s-at the Kentucky Derby perhaps. And that one is riding a Zebra and being chased by a black bird showcases strong Afrocentricity. What actually caught my attention most was the last song on side A of the vinyl copy I had called “It’s Got To be Love”.

It’s a groove that starts moving with a powerfully percussive rhythm,with a sunny melody played within it by a round and high pitched synthesizer. Then a heavy acoustic piano chimes in as a bass line while a playfully liquid rhythm guitar plays the changes. On the refrains of the song? The bright synth that opens the song returns as an orchestral element. The soulful growl of lead singer/composer Mark Adam Wood Jr. is accompanied by the beautiful multi part harmonies of the bands other vocalists. After returning briefly to the stripped down percussion that opens it? The melody scales up in pitch before the song itself fades out.

This is a very strong representative of the type of funk I tend to be drawn most to. And again? Have noticed how much of it derives from either Ohio or California. It’s both a very singable,hooky song and a strong groove all at the same time. It mixes the churchy vocals,harmonies and melodies of the Philly sound with the bright,optimistic late 70’s/early 80’s boogie approach. Yet the live instrumental end is much more prominent here. So in the end? It’s the post disco era’s equivalent of the funky soul sound. One that was actually used often,and seldom discussed.At the end,it’s one of Lakeside’s finest and more unsung jams.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Afrocentrism, albums, Boogie Funk, dance funk, Dayton Ohio, Dick Griffey, Funk, funk guitar, funky soul, Lakeside, Philly Soul, post disco, Solar Records