Tag Archives: Eddie “Bongo” Brown

‘Blam!!’: Ride-O-Rocket With The Brothers Johnson!

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Louis and George Johnson were pretty deeply involved with the LA session scene when they released their third duo outing in 1978. Its actually a superb example how even larger groups from that era were often augmented by sometimes over a dozen other session players. On the Blam!! album it was some fine, funky company in that regard. With the likes of Larry Carlton, Steve Khan, Richard Tee, Jerry Hey, Eddie “Bongo” Brown, Michael Brecker and David Foster (among others) as the musicians featured on this albums eight tracks.

Blam!! itself is musically one of the finest albums the Johnson’s made with Quincy Jones. And certainly among the most thoroughly funky. “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now” has that infectious hook-with Louis Johnson’s slap bass right up in your face. Not to even mention the call and response lead vocals that define both the chorus and refrains of it. The liquid instrumentation of the title song and on “Mista Cool” are tailor made for more hard and heavy funk-especially the delicious is the intro to the latter tune, where the keyboard fades in and out of the left and right channels of the speaker as the chords change.

“Ride O Rocket” puts Ashford & Simpson’s songwriting/production stamp on the bands sound. So its a funky uptempo soul tune where the refrain has that disco friendly piano walk down that Nick & Val always achieved so well in their 70’s heyday .As for the closing instrumental “Streetwave”? Well its  probably the finest instrumental these guys had done. It builds to a fevered intensity and works superbly as jazz, funk, R&B and even pop. With the bass and Rhodes providing a wonderfully cinematic intro.  Along with Jones’ big band style, muted horn fueled refrains.

The only element on this album that really contrasts with it’s harder edged core are the inclusion of two ballads. “It’s You Girl” is another instrumentally liquid number-with some beautiful processed guitar and Rhodes-along with Alex Weir singing lead and with an uptempo chorus. is a nice enough quiet storm kind of song but,sometimes a change of pace isn’t necessary if the rest of the music smokes.”So Won’t You Stay” is a more traditional slow jam-with George Johnson doing a pretty sweet vocal lead. Again it has a somewhat faster chorus-though a bit smoother in this particular case.

Blam!represents The Brothers Johnson’s final album released of the 70’s. Coming into recording on their on mid decade, Louis Johnson would soon get the gig of the lifetime. That was, of course playing on the first two Quincy Jones produced Michael Jackson albums, both of which became the biggest selling recordings of all time. The album also showcases the most sonically even blend of hard funk and sleek pop jazz in the late 70’s. And in all fairness, if I was asked to recommend one stand alone Brothers Johnson album that brought in all of their musical flavors in one place, Blam!! would likely it.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mr. D.J. Don’t Stop The Music” by Bobby Womack (1979)

One of the things that made Bobby Womack have such musical longevity is the fact that he was such a renowned songwriter playing even outside his own field. This was particularly true for the jazz world. George Benson’s iconic instrumental hit “Breezin” was of course composted by Womack. He also worked with Crusader’s sax/bassist Wilton Felder on the 1980 album Inherit The Wind.  This album became a smash in London,and was likely part of the still gestating UK acid jazz scene. The man still continued to maintain his solo career-making a new album every year throughout the 7o’s. The decade ended in a very unexpected way for him however.

After dealing with a cocaine habit during his time recording with Sly Stone on his There’s A Riot Goin’ On,Womack lost his four month old son Truth in 1978. This apparently turned the habit into a serious addiction over the next decade. Still the man was on a musical roll. In 1979 he released his final album of the 70’s on Arista Records entitled Roads Of Life. I first encountered the CD during the late 90’s at Borders Books & Music. And only recently picked it up as part of a classic album vinyl reproduction box set of Womack’s Arista period. The album is seriously funky overall. The song that said it all for me was called “Mr. D.J. Don’t Stop The Music”.

After a screaming call to “come on with the music!”,the percussion accented drum beat rolls on with a wah wah pedal fueled Clavinet rings in the song. As the percussion increases,Womack and the band vocally contribute to the songs party atmosphere while a round,pulsing synthesizer and a funky harpsichord really pump up the choruses of the song. After the third chorus of the song, Womack plays one of his amp’d up blues/rock guitar solos. This goes into a piano solo fueled by climactic strings-bleeding into a wailing sax and back into a more rhythmic piano call and response. The strings segue out of this into the repeated chorus that continues on into the songs fade out.

Recorded at Muscle Shoals studios with former Motown Funk Brothers Jack Ashford and Eddie Bongo Brown (on drums and percussion),this song is another superb example of the type of orchestrated,danceable funk that could function very easily under the mirrored ball of the disco floor.  The party sound vibe that always worked so well for the stomping disco/funk sound really brings out the groove as well. Womack’s ability to play and write funky music had really come into it’s own by the end of the 1970’s. And it really shows how much clout he held among the big funk/soul/jazz session players at the time that he could get together with them to jam out strong grooves like this one so regularly.

 

 

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