James Mtume almost seemed to be born into the royal family of funk. Everything seemed to come into place for it. He was born in Philly as the son of jazz sax icon Jimmy Heath. He went on to play with Miles Davis during the last few years before Miles’ late 70’s retirement period. That combination of being a Philadelphia native and having a strong back round is usually the key ingredients in a recipe for a funk icon. At first,Mtume had his mind on athletics. He achieved the title of the first black Middle Atlantic AAU champion in the backstroke, and in 1966 he entered Pasadena City College on a swimming scholarship.
After learning about music somewhat through the jazz musicians coming in and out of his adopted father,local Philly jazz pianist James “Hen Gates” Foreman,he had the abilities as a musician to begin his career as a session player on the West Coast by the early 70’s. He recorded a couple of albums as a leader.. These were both in a more free jazz style. In 1978 he’d teamed up with percussionist/arranger/producer Reggie Lucus and formed the funk outfit Mtume. They would hit pay dirt with 1983’s sexy “Juicy Fruit”. Yet one of their most telling grooves is the title song of their 1978 debut album Kiss The World Goodbye.
The drum kicks off the slow,percussive crawl of the rhythm for starts. A grinding guitar plays a funky blues riff that swiftly dovetails into another guitar line-this one a amp’d up rock one. This is assisted by some incredibly phat popping bass playing a lower version of the first guitar riff. This is the main body of the song-one that relies heavily on the one. As the song progresses,these main rhythmic elements are accented by both horn charts and synthesizer squiggles on every other chord or so. And this is how the groove goes on until it all fades out.
Taken as itself,this song is not only a great way for Mtume to debut as a band concept. But it is also so far removed from the electro/boogie sound they’d be known for 6-7 years later that is really showcases their musical arc. Mtume actually had four year gap from 1980 to 1983 where they didn’t record anything. But on this 1978 song,their focus was not only based more in the funk/rock aesthetics of Funkadelic,Ohio Players and Slave but the arrangement on this is especially thick. The instrumentation is so closely mixed,this song is among the most musically dense hard funk of the late 70’s.
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.
Mick Jagger had been a longtime loyalist to the Rolling Stones from the early 60’s all the way up through the early 80’s. In 1983, the iconic rock ‘n roll band signed to CBS Records. One clause in this deal was the opportunity for all of its members to pursue solo projects without the band. Jagger was the first one to seize this opportunity during 1984. Keith Richards erupted in anger at Jagger during this time,publically accusing him of breaking allegiance to the Stones in a feud that took the rest of the decade to resolve. But Jagger’s solo career continued onward. As did his presence in the Rolling Stones.
She’s The Boss, Jagger’s first solo album,had a very different focus from what The Rolling Stones had done before. Whereas their albums featured the core band,production and a guest singer or musician here or there, this solo recording featured 32 musicians across its nine cuts. That’s somewhat more in keeping with the way the soul and funk albums were recorded at the time rather than rock. And in keeping with Jagger’s musical vision. That approach to the recording also spilled over into the sound of the music. And an excellent example of this is the title song.
A drum machine fanfare and deep digitized voice transition directly into Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare’s stuttering,tight bass and snare heavy drum interaction. Jeff Beck provides a rocking rhythm guitar over this-playing a higher chorded version of Shakespeare’s bass line directly over it. Jagger raps/talk sings the lyrics in his classic bluesy style during the refrains and choruses of the songs,featuring a heavier guitar sustain. Jeff Beck takes some harder rocking solos during the coarse of the song as well before the basic refrain fades it all out.
“She’s The Boss” is a very busy song,both in terms of style and instrumentation. Wally Badarou and Guy Fletcher’s synths,along with the percussion of Anton Fier and Aiyb Dieng’s talking drum provide extra textural and rhythmic bedding for this song. Stylistically, its a song that that blends a funk/reggae/rock mixture of approaches-all put together via producer Bill Laswell. Lyrically, it extends on “Emotional Rescue” by the Stones. Musically, that fact its a fuller affair stays in keeping with Jagger and the Stones keeping up with the progressions of black American music they had genuine love for.
Pete Townshend is best known as the lead guitarist of The Who-one of the most long lived 60’s rock bands next to The Rolling Stones. Townshend is often regarded for his onstage theatrics. He is also a talented multi instrumentalist. And an early proponent of synthesizers in early 70’s rock. The best example of this is the bands 1971 hit “Baba O’Reiley”,which was built around a European classic style melody played on the ARP 2600 synthesizer. After a very successful 60’s and 70’s, Townshend and the bands lead singer Roger Daltrey began to pursue solo careers at the start of the 1980’s.
Still The Who weren’t over quite yet. This came to my knowledge with a question I never got answered until learning about it online a few years back. From the mid 90’s onward,I’d often hear this song with an intro that had a terrific groove to it. Sounded like a prog/fusion style song,but it was during an era when classic rock radio didn’t often announce the names of artists for those not in the know. It wasn’t until hearing the song in a TV commercial that I was able to research it online through that stated what the song was. It was a song from The Who’s 1982 album Its Hard entitled “Eminence Front”.
A percussive drum box opens the song as a solo sound. The main groove of the song gradually builds in during the into. First it brings in a highly digitized,arpeggiated synthesizer. This is followed by a lower synth riff, as well as a jazzy Fender Rhodes solo floating over the higher notes. The main groove of the song adds a slow crawling drum groove,Townshend’s bluesy guitar. The chorus of the song brings John Entwistle’s thumping,fuzz toned bass in-along with a guitar build up on the outro of it. The Rhodes drives everything in the groove until the song finally fades itself out.
“Eminence Front”,written and sung by Townshend, deals lyrically deals with how the drug end of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle holds back creativity. And I can respect that alternate side of the coin. What really gets me is everything from the instrumentation to the vocal choruses of this song have a special musical interconnection. The song has the theatrical melodies of progressive rock opera (which The Who helped pioneer),but also a thick groove and harmony vocals of hardcore funk. It brings to mind the way the Stones embraced funk in their rock music: based on funk and soul’s current incarnations.
Prince’s infamous vault of unreleased music-spanning almost 38 years now,has been something that has been thought of has having the floodgates released on following his passing last year. That tons of Prince music no one’s ever heard will be pouring out to the public from now on. It was announced earlier this year that new Prince material would be seeing the light of day soon. It came in the form Deliverance-a six song EP that was set to be released on the first anniversary of his passing. It was even available on Amazon Prime. Than…its release was abruptly pulled. From everywhere.
It would seem that Prince’s longtime recording engineer George Ian Boxill planned on releasing these half a dozen songs (recorded between 2006 and 2008) independently. But he was hit with a cease and desist by the Prince estate. They claimed he never received any proper authorization to release this music. If this reminds anyone of the sort of vexatious litigation Prince practiced in life, they wouldn’t likely be far off. As for me,I managed to snag it as a download before it was pulled and listened to it. So what exactly is Deliverance in musical terms?
The title track of the album is a combination of Southern gospel soul and blues rock-full of organ,piano,choir singers and Prince’s falsetto. “I Am” is a bluesy rock with Prince speeding up his voice and delivering some heavy power chords. “Touch Me”,clocking in at under 2 minutes,is a pop ballad with European classical guitar and string overtones. “Sunrise,Sunset” is more of the same-only with a somewhat more soul inflected chorus. The closer “No One Else” is basically classic stripped down,live band funk/rock from Prince-coupled with some strong synth and horn orchestrations.
Deliverance conceptually comes across as something of a gospel album. As was typical of the Prince material of the early/mid 2000’s heavily built around his Jehovah’s Witness faith. There’s a lot to enjoy here…if your a big fan of Prince as a rocker that is. Only one song-the closer “No One Else” offers up anything right in the groove. While the material does showcase Prince as the amazing guitar player that he was, it also brings out a quality that I’ve only noticed more looking back at Prince’s music from the 90’s and beyond.
A YouTuber calling himself Morrisman,notable for being so critical of Prince as to declare him not to be a musical genius at all,did make one point on Prince’s music that could have strong objective merit. While I do not agree with him that an artist first album is always their best, he did say that some artists who get heavily revered by a devoted fan base can start taking their own music for granted. And sometimes even resort to releasing less than stellar music based on name recognition. This is a huge factor in the rock world. And yes,it did occasionally seem to happen to Prince.
After listening to all six songs (including an extended mix of “I Am”) on Deliverance? I’d have to say that aside from Prince’s unique performance style shinning out,more than half the songs on this album just don’t stand out as having anything particularly special about them. They sound like possible filler tracks Prince would’ve put on albums such as Planet Earth and Lotusflow3r. So aside from a strong book ended start and finish, Deliverance certainly doesn’t sound like a prime example of what Prince had in his vault. Nasty as this may sound, its fairly by the numbers music by Prince’s creative standards.
Raul Midon represents that strong Afro-Latin cultural and musical intersection for the mid to late 2000’s. Born in New Mexico,he and his brother Marco (currently a NASA scientist) were both blinded after birth due to an incubator malfunction. He went on to attend the University Of Miami,which he sought out for its strong jazz curriculum. He migrated to NYC after that,playing guitar for different Latin artists such as the then newcomer Shakira. While he started his solo career at the end of the 90’s,his big break came in 2005’s State Of Mind album,produced by the late great Arif Mardin.
Midon’s music was consistently a must buy,every album artist for me during the mid to late 2000’s. Being of Afro-Latin descent myself,the mans mixture of acoustic Latin jazz,soul and funk really spoke to a than strongly developing musical heart. During the 2010’s,I began neglecting following up on Midon’s career for no positive reason. And that includes his current album Bad Ass And Blind. But the other night,I decided to explore the albums songs on YouTube,where Midon had personally posted some of the albums songs. It was the title song that instantly stood out for me.
After a count off to four in Spanish,the song kicks right into gear. Its the main theme that extends musically throughout much of the song. The funky shuffling drums are accompanied by Midon’s equally bouncing acoustic rhythm guitar-along with a bubbling bass line right along for the ride. Only on one brief refrain does this rhythmic pattern change-quickly changing in rhythm to a hand clapped powered English folk/rock type melody. During the bridge of the song,Midon adds in a rap he wrote and performed before concluding the song with a rocking electric guitar solo.
“Bad Ass And Blind” has a vibe to it that reminds me somewhat of the vibe that Prince brought to his music. It has that sense of fusing a funky rhythm with acoustic folk/rock,hip-hop and rock instrumental elements. All while keeping the groove hot and alive. Midon also uses this to lyrically point out his musical uniqueness in this day and age. He discusses the modern means people use now to hear music and see videos. He also comments Stevie Wonder style on the unique musical visions his blindness engenders for him. So its an excellent example of hybridized funk grooves for 2017.
Inxs were an Australian band formed by Andrew,Jon and Tim Farriss at the end of the 70’s. The band also included bass player Gary Beers and the late (and charismatic) lead singer Michael Hutchence. From their debut album in 1980 onward.the bands sound grew from post punk/ska/guitar based new wave into a stripped down,dancefloor friendly funk rock sound. This began to happen in a big way with their 1984 album The Swing and its Nile Rodgers produced hit “Original Sin”. This continued onward with their horn fueled smash “What You Need” from the follow up album Listen Like Thieves.
The first time I ever heard Inxs was during 1987-1988. This was that period where energetic and cutting edge funk was not only getting back on the radio,but also making its influence felt again on the rock scene. This was often captured in the VHS collections of music videos from MTV my father would bring home for me to watch. A couple were Inxs videos of hits coming from their latest album at the time Kick. One of them was a song that has stuck with me so much,it remains among my favorite songs of them-especially from the funkier side of their musical personality. Its called “Need You Tonight”.
A heavy bass/snare drum kick starts off the song before Hutchence whispers “come over here”. That’s when the first rhythm guitar kicks in. This plays three quick chords,then a descending vamp. After that the pumping bass groove and lower,post disco/boogie rhythm guitar kicks on. These two compliment each other with a burst of reverbed keyboard as an accent. As Hutchence and the Farriss’s trade off call and response lead and backup vocals on the choruses,two rocky guitar chords. This represents the refrain/chorus pattern of the song. There is only strategic break of complete silence before entering into the last chorus of the song before it ends up Hutchence,without backup sings “your one of my kind”.
“Need You Tonight” is a song that I’ll always admire. Having learned so much about music,yet also knowing so little,still have my doubts as to whether people would consider this song to have any particular connection to disco/funk whatsoever. That being said, it does seem to be the basis of this song. From the multiple rhythm guitars playing call and response with Hutchence’s sexually charged vocals,it has the vibe of how a late 80’s pop /rock equivalent to the Rolling Stone’s might deal with contemporary black music of their time. That makes it a great personal standout of that ever important 1987 year for funk.
Shuggie Otis represents what I refer to as a “new old artist” who defined my musical interests just after the turn of the millennium. His only knowledge to me before that was a passing reference as the composer (and original recorder of) the Brothers Johnson hit “Strawberry Letter#23”. It was through a Luaka Pop label reissue of his under sung 1974 album Inspiration Information that got my attention,through my father of course. My first thoughts hearing it was “this was a Prince/Stevie Wonder type musician who never was”.
Otis’s father Johnny was a very famous musical impresario,known in the lingo of his day as the “white negro” singer/musician/arranger/talent scout/DJ out of the Bay Area of California. Shuggie began playing with his dad in the end of the 60’s. But his own career never truly took off. In fact,he spent over 33 years tinkering with his follow up to Inspiration Information. The album was finally released in 2013 and was entitled Wings Of Love. Recorded over several decades,the first full song on the album (recorded around 1980) really caught my own ear. It was called “Special”.
A wooshing sound drives in the fuzz/ringing rhythm guitar combo of the intro as Otis responds to his own echoplex vocally. Than the main rhythm of the song kicks in-driving both the refrain and chorus whose changes are carried largely by Otis’s vocal changes. The drums have a heavy Brazilian march approach. The bass line loops around several guitar parts. One a phat wah wah,the other a light chicken scratch and another playing a quavering,high pitched ringing melody. On the refrain parts,Otis singing’s in a higher and calmer voice. And on the refrains,with a heavier shout along with the ringing guitar part.
Again,this was a song that seemed to be recorded in the early 80’s. Yet its origins seems to come out of the psychedelic/cinematic funk sound of the late 60’s/early 70’s. The production is very trippy-full of echo and fuzz filter on nearly every sound. Yet the groove is strong and funky all the way. In the intro especially,it reminds me a bit of Curtis Mayfield’s “(If There’s A Hell Below) We’re All Gonna Go”. Needless to say,this is generally punchier and more stripped down than that song was. Still,its one of the finest grooves I’ve heard Shuggie Otis throw down since the mid 70’s.
Filed under 2013, chicken scratch guitar, cinematic funk, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, fuzz guitar, guitar, lead guitar, psychedelic soul, rhythm guitar, Shuggie Otis, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar
Prince’s history in terms of his unreleased vault material,shrouded in mystery as it is,does have a vital history all its own for the artist. He recorded during most of his free time. And loads of songs for each album project. One period that myself and many admirer’s of Prince’s music love to dip into is his huge 1986 production. In the early 80’s,Prince was seeking to make a name for himself as a new wave/synth pop artist with heavy rock overtones. And his funkiness would be a side dish. By 1985,Prince added The Family’s sax player Eric Leeds into the Revolution. And funk would no longer be a side dish for him.
There were two Prince projects that came and went in 1986. There was a Revolution album Dream Factory, a three album set called Crystal Ball (not to be confused with the self released 1998 outtake collection) and an album credited to the name Camille. This would feature Prince singing in a chipmunk-link voice he slowed down,then sped up. Many tracks from this album found their way onto albums and as B-sides. One,”If I Was Your Girlfriend” became a major hit later. One very exciting song I’ve heard from this album that hasn’t been widely distributed is “Rebirth Of The Flesh”.
An ultra sound like synth pulse starts out the song. And remains the primary percussive element throughout the song. Within a minutes time,Prince adds a brittle fuzzed out guitar and big,funky drums with tons of space in it as part of the mix. As the song progresses,with Prince’s vocals having a rangy and tonally complex conversation with itself,the horns of Eric Leeds and Matt Bliston accentuate the melody JB’s style. On the refrains,the deep fuzzy guitar and Leeds’ sax merge into a heavy sounding sustained melody. At the end of the song a goulish,thundering sound brings it to a halt.
“Rebirth Of The Flesh” was one of those songs that brought every element of Prince’s musical artistry together. Its got a hard driving funky rhythm-with some of the most intense horn lines Leeds and Bliston ever provided. It also has a very industrial rock tone-with some Hendrix like bluesy guitar licks. Its also got some of the melodic and rhythmic dissonances of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington. It lends much credence to George Clinton’s comment that Prince would be “one of the baddest out there if he released some of what he had in the can”. So here we have Prince’s funk at its hardest and most daring.
Filed under 1986, Atlanta Bliss, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, funk rock, horns, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, rock guitar, Saxophone, synthesizer, unreleased