Tag Archives: Detroit

‘Raydio’: Ray Parker Jr’s Debut As A Band Leader

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Ray Parker Jr. was no stranger to music when this 1978 debut dropped. All those years that the Detroit native provided guitar accompaniment to Rufus, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock made clear this multi instrumentalist had an individual enough sound (and personal identity) to survive as an entity on his own. As a matter of fact, aside from actually being in the position of employing a several session musics of his own such as Wah Wah Watson and Sylvester Rivers on piano plus a trumpet and sax player Ray Parker played, wrote,produced and engineered most the music on this album.

Jerry Knight was the only member of Raydio to accompany Parker instrumentally-as the bassist. Knight also brought his vocal ability along with Vincent Bonham and most notably Arnell Carmichael to create the  vocal quartet of Raydio. Although showcasing by and large Ray’s distinctive layered mini-moog based sound hard funk jams such as “Is This A Love Thing”, “You Need This (To Satisfy That) and “Me” are all far more incredibly hard edged than the sort of of sophistifunk Ray/Raydio would become known for-with the horn and rhythmic voices having a more prominent live band flavor.

Adding some Smokey Robinson-like wordplay into the mix “Honey I’m Rich” is a more of Ray’s pop/funk sound. The breakout hit “Jack & Jill”, with its layers of mini Moog (both bass and otherwise) reverbed into some incredible melodic exchanges. It’s basically Ray’s signature musical sound and shows up again on excellent mid tempo funk grooves such as “Betcha Can’t Love Me Just Once” and “Let’s Go All The Way”. Much as Kashif and  Prince would innovate later, Ray was using synthesizers in place of horn parts here. It anticipated the future but also created a musical present for him as well.

The album concludes with “Get Down”,a chunky bass/guitar oriented melodic funk instrumental and one of the best in it’s kind from Ray. In just about every imaginable way a musically impressive and significant set of sophistifunk classics this album provides the missing links between the era of Stevie Wonder and Prince. A link wherein the concept of the sexual revolution (lyrically) and the orchestral use of electronics (musically) would be explored to their fullest in terms of the funk genre. And honestly I am not sure if Ray Parker gets a lot of the credit he deserves for doing that.

 

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Bobby Taylor 1934-2017: An Understanding Of A Major Motown Jelly Maker

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Bobby Taylor epitomizes what a phrase Henrique Hopkins told me several years ago. That in terms of making a difference in life, there are tree shakers and there are jelly makers. To extend the metaphor, DC native Bobby Taylor didn’t shake many trees save for the hit “Does Your Mama Know About Me”. And I myself only found out about him as a teenage watching a VHS copy of  the 1988 Showtime documentary called Michael Jackson: The Legend Continues. It was MJ’s brother Marlon who mentioned Bobby Taylor’s place in his history as the man who brought the Jackson 5 to Motown.

Taylor began his singing career in NYC-with a doo-wop group whose other members later joined the Teenagers and the Imperials. It was journey from groups in Ohio,San Francisco that led to him migrating to Canada and forming a multi racial band called the Calgary Shades. During this time, he had been in a band with a man who’d later become the drummer for Three Dog Night.  As for the Calgary Shades? The name came from the multi racial nature of their members. One of them was a young Tommy Chong, who would of course later go onto a career in comedy with Cheech Marin.

It was Supreme’s Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard who alerted Berry Gordy to the newly rechristened Bobby Taylor & The Vancouver’s after seeing them live. They had a live repertoire of mostly Motown covers. Gordy signed them to the self named imprint of Motown.  The Vancouver’s eventually broke apart due to a disagreement with Johnny Bristol and their headliner Chris Clark, who fired a couple members of the bands for missing a big whilst trying to obtain green cards. But they did record one self titled album on Gordy before this occurred.

Taylor’s history with the Jackson 5 is another story. In 1968, the Jackson brothers opened for the Vancouver’s at Chicago’s Regal Theater. Taylor was so impressed, he brought them to Detroit to audition for Suzanne De Passe and in turn Berry Gordy. The band were signed to Motown in a years time. Taylor was their first producer. He was involved in producing tracks for their debut album. Including an 11 year old Michael’s show stopping version of “Who’s Lovin’ You”. His emphasis was on classic soul cover songs-from within and without Motown.

What happened was that the J5’s debut was called Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5. She was even credited as discovering them by Ed Sullivan on their first appearance on his iconic variety show. As Motown began moving its operations to the West Coast, Gordy didn’t give any credit to Taylor’s earlier work with the Jackson’s. While he did work with them a bit in LA on their second album ABC, Gordy along with Fonce Mizell and the late Deke Richards took on writing and producing for them. Taylor’s solo career on the labels VIP imprint went nowhere. He was dropped from the label and faded into obscurity.

Despite being something of the poster man for Motown’s lack of support for its behind the scenes people during its move from Detroit to LA, Bobby Taylor’s place in the labels late 60’s history remains carved in stone. He died of cancer on July 22nd of this year in Hong Kong. But bringing in what became the last of Motown’s classic groups in the Jackson 5 was no small feat. He even made some of the most insightful commentary on MJ on the documentary Michael Jackson: The Life Of An Icon.  So while belatedly so, wanted to remember Bobby Taylor for the great work he did in Motown’s peak.

 

 

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‘What’s Going On’ at 45: The Time Marvin Gaye Reminded Us That Only Love Could Conquer Hate

Marvin Gaye (1971) - What's Going On (Deluxe Edition 2001) (A)

Marvin Gaye had to fight Berry Gordy at Motown to get this album made and released. The label was transitioning from Detroit to Los Angeles at the time. Vietnam kept raging on,President Nixon was blowing a dog whistle to bring down the sociopolitcal revolts of the 60’s and Marvin was depressed. He decided to write an album from the point of view of his brother Frankie-coming back into an unwelcoming America from Vietnam. With the help of the Four Tops’ Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Motown’s bass maestro James Jamerson, Marvin came up with a musical masterpiece whose appeal is still evolving.

What’s Going On has a basic groove-a cinematic soul jazz sort of sound on just about every song. Marvin scats and improvises many of the vocal adlibs himself. The title song begins the album on a happier note-hoping that people will come to deal with the racial,political and ecological concerns Marvin is so troubled by. By the time of the instrumentally brilliant,percussive Latin soul stomp of “Inner City Blues”,Marvin has given up. He sings “make me wanna holler/throw up both my hands”. To this day,it’s really up to the given listener whether they feel Marvin’s mixed emotions here are cathartic or enervating.

Berry Gordy turned out to be very wrong that this album had no potential. Not only was it a huge commercial success for Marvin Gaye,but he could hardly go one concert after this without inserting the title song of this album into his set. That goes to show how sometimes,the artist making the music really has more of a finger on the pulse of the people than those peddling their raw creative material. In 2001,the album was expanded into a 2 CD deluxe edition. Upon hearing it,I went to Amazon.com and reviewed this new presentation of this 1971 classic on thoroughly musical terms:

How do you make a overly reissued album classic better? Well actually this one DOES-I love all the songs on ‘What’s Going On’-it’s a great album but I always felt that it was highly overproduced.This one starts with the original followed by a different variation on the same album called ‘the original Detroit Mix’-THIS version is far more understated in the finest Donny Hathaway tradition and truly brings out the richness of Marvin’s voice and the depth of his vision-the sparer arrangement actually better expresses the music’s message of urban and environmental blight.There’s still orchestration but it isn’t mixed so high.

It’s also forcing one to acknowledge how great a pianist Gaye is.And that’s why I highly recommend that those who purchased previous issues of this CD should go out and pick this set up-that along with a bonus disk of live material and outtakes make this the definitive version of this album-to such an extent myself bought this and gave my original CD issue of this album (in this case the tepid ripoff of 1994’s so called ‘deluxe edition’) to my dad,a fellow music lover who I felt would benefit from having the album in his collection alongside his other classics like The Beatles White Album,Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Superfly’ and John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ where it belongs!For those who want to replace an old copy of this CD with a better one LOOK NO FURTHER!For those you for whatever reason haven’t been initiated-well,what more can I say-there is no better place to come!

Marvin was seeking with this album,to quote George Clinton about funk in general,not to tell people what to think but that they CAN think. It begins with a black man who’d made good in the world. And him looking through the eyes of a loved one who wasn’t so lucky in that regard. He starts out with a degree of optimism. By the end of the album,one realizes how much of a thoroughly human figure Marvin Gaye was. By the time it ends, he has almost lost  hope. Especially with Jamerson’s bass lines,the instrumentation is what tends to carry the positivity through when even Marvin can’t anymore.

This is the type of album inspired a lot of artists to make what I refer to as “people music”-a type of message music that takes the ethnocentric melodies and rhythms of the artists back-round to express important ideas. Unintentionally, this album became the “people music” for Generation X . This is an intelligent and aware generation of Americans who often lacked focus and interest. And with the election of Gen Xer Barack Obama for two presidential terms in America, this album seemingly succeeded in getting a generation who didn’t want to get involved to find that way to bring  loving here today.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “When You’re In Need Of Love” by Raydio

Ray Parker Jr.’s career in his native Detroit began while playing with Hamilton Bohannon’s band at the city’s iconic nightspot 20 Grand. This got the teen’s guitar wiz the attention of the Motown crew-for whom he began playing and writing in earnest for the likes of Marvin Gaye and even outside the label for Honey Cone’s hit “Want Ads”. This led to the man become a mid 70’s session ace for everyone from Stevie Wonder,Aretha Franklin,Rufus and Herbie Hancock-playing and writing songs for each one of them. Not to even mention being a sideman in Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra.

In 1977,Parker had amassed more than enough experience as a session player/composer to become a bandleader. This lead to him forming Raydio. It was himself playing many of the instruments alongside vocalists Arnell Carmichael,Jerry Knight and Vincent Bonham. After their self titled debut and hit “Jack And Jill” the next year,Raydio was Parker ,Carmichael and an array of additional session players such as Ollie Brown and former Motown Funk Brother Jack Ashford. This led to the release of their second album in 1979’s  Rock On, with one of my favorite tracks on it being “When You’re In Need Of Love”.

The song begins with a heavy thump on the bass ans snare drum-punctuated by Parker’s phat synth bass. This brings in  a thick,quaking Bootsy Collins’ style “duck face bass” that is present the entire song. After several verses of this,percussive hand claps enter into the mix that eventually brings in some brittle,higher pitched synth brass charts from Parker. As the chorus starts in,Parker brings in two lead guitar lines. One is a dramatic,low thunder and the other is a more bluesy down scale. After two rounds of the refrain and chorus,the intro that opened the song basically repeats to the songs fade out.

Raydio’s second album is very heavy on funk. Originally picked it up on vinyl only on the basis that I knew the name of the band and Ray Parker Jr. The name Raydio actually came from a written documentary I had on a good point of reference for Parker’s musical approach: Prince. Ray Parker Jr. was right there in the late 70’s with the Purple One really helping to innovate with the idea of synthesizer’s playing traditional horn charts. As with most of Raydio’s funk,this groove stays on the one with the rhythmic influence of the Isley Brothers and P-Funk’s heavy still and electronics running on full throttle!

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove 03/27/15 Rique’s Pick : “Out Come the Freaks” by Was (Not Was)

It’s been fairly well documented how the Kingdoms of Funk and Disco splintered off into many different factions around 1980 or so. In truth, there were always several different approaches to both genre’s, mainly tied to region. One of the great ironies of the early ’80s era is that even after the terms “Disco” and to a lesser but signifigant degree, “Funk”, fell out of favor in the marketing and description of music, the Funk itself survived in many different guises. Early ’80s genre’s such as Post Punk, Dance Punk, New Wave, Electro, Boogie and Post Disco all kept people on the dance floors as well as the sound systems rocking. One of the primary influence’s it seemed, for anybody touching Funk in the early ’80s, was the sleek, sophisticated funky sound introduced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic. “Out Come the Freaks” by the Detroit band Was (Not Was), is a excellent stomping example of this early ’80s Funk groove. Was (Not Was) led by Motor city friends Dave and Don Was, was a very diverse ’80s group that always included the funk very prominently in it’s mix. “Out Come the Freaks” is a tight, slick funky song with a dance floor seducing beat and much more lyrical depth than most songs of it’s era.

The song begins with accapella choral vocals repeating the songs hook and chorus, “Woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks.” After several repetitions of the title, a synthesizer makes a deep resonant tone that revs up the groove. The groove that’s introduced is uptempo and dancefloor based in the tradition of Chic, with a tight bass groove that was the first thing that caught my attention. The song also features funky rhythm guitars scratching in the back in fine Chic style. The combination of solid up front bass and rhythm guitar gives the song it’s sophistifunkated Chic feeling. When the groove kicks in a prototypical early ’80s rap does as well. The rap features a smooth conversational voice with a nice rhythmic syncopation, that could almost be jazz poetry like Oscar Brown Jr, but is a little bit more rhytmically aggressive. The rap carries the idea of the song, starting off in a manner that would influence Whodini’s classic, ‘The Freaks Come Out at Night”, “When the sun comes down/they hit the streets/in the bars/the try to meet/some other stranger/to ease the pain/of living alone/till it drives them insane.” They go on to paint cautionary tales of singles playing the dating game, again highlighting the underlying danger that accompanies the night life. They paint an early ’80s landscape that features young men suffering from Vietnam War PTSD and women out chasing rich men “even if they have no hair (don’t worry she’ll get him a toupe). This slice of life lyrical imagery and lyricism is paired to very funky, well produced, clean music, with nice touches like a saxophone riffing during the dance breaks.

“Out Come the Freaks” became a recurring motif Was (Not Was) would use to illuminate the absurdity of people in their life times, with the group recording three versions spanning 1981 to 1988. Every time they do it they add new lyrics and new sad yet realistic characters around the idea of “woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks.” Don Was, the bass player and co founder of the group, has moved on to being a seminally important producer, producing quality albums and songs for many artists who generally carry that high honor of being considered “legends” in the music industry. But 1981’s “Out Come the Freaks” shows that even by the early ’80s, the Funky beat was still considered a conduit for both moving people physically and describing the times in which we live in. And the image of “The Freak”, popular in disco and funk, from social dances to songs like Chic’s “Le Freak” and Funkadelic’s “Freak of the Week”, would go on to become one of the defining subject matters of ’80s urban music, from “I Need a Freak”, to Whodini’s aforementioned “The Freaks Come out at Night.” In the hands of Was (Not Was) “The Freak” was not just a supreme lover, but also, a representative of our troubled times.

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Anatomy of THE Groove 11/7/14 Rique’s Pick : “All Your Goodies Are Gone” by Dennis Coffey featuring Mayer Hawthorne

My pick for today’s Friday funk song, Dennis Coffey’s 2011 rendition of the P-Funk classic “All Your Goodies Are Gone” is unique for several reasons. For one, Dennis Coffey is one of the great undersung artists of soul and particularly funk music, recording an out and out funk classic, “Scorpio” back in the ’70s. “Scorpio” earned him the distinction of being the first white artist to appear on Soul Train, and was a foundational record for both the Breakdancing and Locking dance styles. “All Your Goodies” has the distinction of being the second single George Clinton’s Parliaments released, follwing the major succes of “Testify.” It’s a part of the George Clinton songbook, and Dennis Coffey is a very interesting musician to reanimate it at this time because he, along with other members of the Motown “Funk Brothers” house band, performed on the original! Coffey actually used two P-Funk songs he played guitars for on his 2011 self titled release, this, and “I Bet You.” And he made a great choice of vocalist to voice it on this rendition, Detroit soulster Mayer Hawthorne, a young artist who’s career is based on updating vintage vibe.

“All Your Goodies Are Gone” is an early song from the P-Funk songbook that has been returned to by the band from time to time, including most famously on 1974’s “Up for the Down Stroke.” It’s a powerful, dark minor key soul song about a man with a flighty, unfaithful woman, who defiantly gets up and walks away rather than be one man in her crowd. Coffey’s rendition begins with his guitar having a conversation with the organ and voices, playing a phrase that gets answered while the drum pounds on all fours. The song breaks from that to a mean vintage late ’60s Motown groove, the darker kind that The Temptations (influenced by Sly Stone and Funkadelic) worked to such success. The key is minor and sinister sounding.

Hawthorne goes on to ably and soulfully sing George Clinton’s lyrics telling his flighty lover “Let Hurt put you in the losers seat”, a lyric that Clinton appropriated from a Hertz Car Rental Commercial. “Goodies” comes off as the dark twin or dark side of The Parliaments first hit, ‘Testify”, particularly when Hawthorne sings “Shame on me/for thinking that I could/possibly be/the exclusive one/of your choice/in this world infested with boys.” This vocal decleration is backed by the powerful rising riff for which “All Your Goodies” is known, which was focused on and brought out more in Parliament’s 1974 version. Hawthorne goes on to ably and soulfully sing a song of male hurt and damaged ego, which is one of Dr. Funkensteins great themes as a song writer. By the end of the song, the narrator has found the strength to cut his relationship off, unlike Bill Whithers character in “Use Me” who was so pleased by the sensuality of the situation he chose to put up with abuse, and also unlike Ronald Isley’s narrator of “Its Your Thing” who was unconcerned with what his friend with benefits did as long as he got his. The song vamps out with Coffeys guitar engaged in a call and response with the organ and the dark riff playing on and on and on.

“All Your Goodies” is a great example of George Clintons viewpoint as a song writer, Mayer Hawthornes skill as a vocalist, and Dennis Coffeys unsung band leading abilities. The song’s story plays out like a love letter with the protagonist discovering his lady was unfaithful, talking himself through a sad situation, and in the end finding the strength and self love to move on. All throughout, it displays the great rationality I learned from George Clinton. I always remember an interview where Clinton said he never took anything personally that people did to him because he always figured it was more about them than it was about him. The narrator of this song realizes he couldn’t keep his woman from straying in a “world infested with boys.” But even though he accepts the choice she made, he also makes a choice not to stay with her and take the punnishment and anguish. Dennis Coffey revisits a song he helped make in conjunction with the original Funk Brothers and makes it roar with authentic late ’60s funky soul vibe. As with all funky comebacks, Dennis Coffey’s should be supported to the fullest, and I hope he is appreciated even more now than he was back in his heyday!

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