Tag Archives: Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Red Top” by Steve Miller

Steve Miller, a Milwaukee native, had very strong connections to jazz growing up. His mother Bertha sang in a very jazz oriented manner. And his father George, called Sonny, did some record engineering in his spare time off his job as a pathologist. While attending the University Of Madison, Miller and his longtime friend Boz Scaggs formed The Ardells-eventually joined by keyboard player Ben Sidran. This began the circle of musicians who’d eventually become The Steve Miller Band. Their psychedelic blues sound evolved into a more pop friendly sound during the early 70’s.

By the early 70’s, The Steve Miller Band had a series of eclectic hits from the rock of “The Joker” to the synth pop/new wave of “Abracadabra”. After the band took a hiatus in the mid 80’s, Miller began recorded a series of blues and jazz oriented solo albums. One of them was 1988’s Born 2 Be Blue. It reunited him with Ben Sidran, who acted as a producer and keyboard player on the album. My father had the cassette of the album in the late 80’s. And there was one Lionel Hampton song Miller recorded at the end of the album that became an ear worm for both of us at the time. It was called “Red Top”.

Gordy Knudtson’s drum kickoff starts off the song-with the late sax great Phil Woods blowing away the melody before a break for Miller vocally introducing the chorus. Knudtson’s drum takes on a more New Orleans type flavor. Sidran’s synthesized organ plays a strong foundational role in this as well-along with Miller’s bluesy guitar riffs accenting it all. Billy Peterson’s bass line bounces right along with the drums. On the bridge, the rhythm all swings for Woods to take a full sax solo. After this the song has an extended chorus before coming to a stop on a reprise of the intro.

“Red Top” has been recorded by a lot of people since Hampton composed the song. There’s something about Steve Miller’s version that really brings it to a new generation. The song of course as a straight up 12 bar blues structure. But between Ben Sidran’s keys and Gordy Knudtson drumming, there’s a strong Crescent city jazz/funk flavor to this song that takes the actual melodic structure of it to another level. Miller himself seems right at home in this particular musical setting. And its actually among my personal favorite things I’ve heard Steve Miller record.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “From Us To You” by Stairsteps

The Five Stairsteps were the prototype family soul group-predating the Jackson 5 and The Sylvers by several years. They were made up of five out of the six children of Betty and Clarence Burke,a detective for the CPD. They were Alohe Jean, James, Clarence Jr., Dennis and Kenneth-known as Keni. For a brief time, the late Cubie Burke (the youngest brother” was part of the outfit.  The became known as Chicago’s “first family of soul”. Their second album Our Family Portrait  yeilded the hit “Something’s Missing’. But their best known song was 1970’s “O-o-h Child”.

By that time, the group were known as The Stairsteps. Alohe left the group in 1972. This was just before the group were brought to The Beatles attention by Billy Preston. After a five year hiatus, Preston and Robert Margouleff all came together to produce a comeback along with The Stairsteps-in their new configuration as a quartet. This 1976 album was entitled 2nd Resurrection. I’ve never heard the entire album. But what I’ve heard about it is that, it had a more synthesizer oriented sound. One song I did hear from it was the Keni Burke composition “From Us To You”.

Alvin Taylor’s drums come right in along with Preston’s wailing synthesizer. It keeps a steady, occasionally marching rhythm throughout.  The main melody is first played by the harmonizing of Preston’s synth and Dennis Burke’s guitar for a massive melodic sound. This also represents the chorus of the song. Between each chorus, Preston harmonizes with himself on his honky tonk piano, bluesy polyphonic synth riffing and sustained organ. For much of the rest of the song, the Stairsteps vocal harmonies and adlibs sing right along with Preston until the organ fades out on the main melody.

“From Us To You” doesn’t sound to me like anything I’d ever think The Five Stairsteps (by any other name) would do. The drawling chorus, style of singalong melody and the thick groove of the music is far closer in flavor to the Brothers Johnson’s “I’ll Be Good To You” or a Graham Central Station number. Of course, Billy Preston’s instrumentation probably has a lot to do with its heavy funkiness. Interestingly enough, the Preston connection got the band signed to George Harrison’s Dark Horse label to make this album as well. And it certainly started with a strongly funkified new direction for them.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love You Like A Woman” by Koko Taylor

Cora Anne Walton, best known as Koko Taylor, came from being the daughter of a sharecropper in Tennessee to become one of the many singers on the early 50’s Chicago blues scene. First arriving with her truck driving husband in 1952, she was discovered by Chess Records talent scout/songwriter/session player extraordinaire Willie Dixon. She made her first singles during the 60’s. Including her first version of Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle”. While she got her first recording contract later in the decade from Alligator Records, Taylor’s best known musical outlet was through her live performances.

My parents both saw Koko Taylor perform twice in the early 1990’s. It was at the Hauck Auditorium at the University of Maine. My mother, normally not a concert fan, described Taylor as one of the most powerful stage presences she’d ever experienced. Through a blog dealing with the printed word, the sensations of the live concert experience isn’t always possible to convey with great accuracy. So it seemed appropriate to focus on one of her studio recordings that came close to capturing Taylor’s presence. One of them is the opening track of her 1969 debut album entitled “Love You Like A Woman”.

The songs groove consists of a heavy funky drum at the heart of the music. The rhythm guitar plays some chunky lines surrounded every little break in the rhythm. The bass plays an elaborate set of runs and walk downs whenever the rhythm needs it. Throughout most of the song, the horn section plays the roll of accentuating Taylor’s vocal leads. On the chorus of the song, the horns play a more sustained and melodic role in the song. The drums and a chicken scratch style of guitar makes up the a B section to that chorus. Several chorus/refrain sequences are played out before the song fades out.

“Love You Like A Woman” is a late 60’s song that encompasses that era in black American music very thoroughly. The song surely has soul-with its right on time message of a lady having to rule the roost in a household. Its also played with the utmost amount of funk-instrumentally influenced by the approach of James Brown and Stax. Structurally however, the song is all the way 12 bar electric blues. Much as with her contemporary Etta James, Koko Taylor was (especially with the help of Willie Dixon) able to show the versatility of the blues form in the era when soul and funk music was ascendant.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Kiss The World Goodbye” by Mtume

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.

 

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Can You Feel It” by The Jacksons

The Jackson’s were already prepping for their second album self written and produced in June of 1979-just when the finishing touches to Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album were being completed. It made sense then that musicians such as Michael Boddicker, Jerry Hey and Paulinho Da Costa played strong instrumental roles between both albums. The Jackson’s Triumph  album turned out to be no mere extension of MJ’s swiftly developing solo music. It was one of the most truly collaborative albums they made together. With Michael, Randy and Jackie Jackson being its creative triad.

Each member of the family played a different part. Michael and Jackie contributed much in the way of songwriting. While Randy did the same with more instrumental touches as well. The brothers fully flowered independence earned them their most successful album in nearly a decade-both in terms of critical acclaim and commercial status. I’ve had a decades long relationship with Triumph now. And had actually grown up on a truly epic video to very musically like song that turned out to be the opening track of the album. The name of this song, of course, was “Can You Feel It”.

An enormous adult choir sings the songs chorus acapella for the intro. This is arranged masterfully by the talented vocalist/vocal coach Stephanie Spruill . The horns kick into the disco march that makes up for the refrain of the song. And also its central rhythm as well. Ollie Brown holds down the 4/4 beat to perfection. Nathan Watts and Ronnie Foster play a conjoined, clomping bass line. The string and horn melodies go right into Randy’s vocal intro. On the chorus, another drum is added for funkier sound. Along with David Williams chunky, reverbed guitar while Michael sang lead. With flourishes of synths and a choral bridge, the orchestration fades the song out.

Musically “Can You Feel It” starts Triumph off in a manner that would follow it through the entire album. That is showcasing disco’s roots in the cinematic soul/funk of the early 70’s. All wrapped up with a more electronic boogie/post disco twist. As for the songs Utopian message? Its tempting to view its plea that “we’re all the same/ the blood inside of me is inside of you” as being Michael and Randy being a bit removed from earlier civil rights struggles generationally. Yet the general message of seeing racial difference as positive is at its core. And its all pushed forward by a dynamic musical offering.

 

 

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Get It Together@44: The Jackson 5 Get A Brand New Thing

The Jackson 5 arrived at an important crossroads in 1973. Their recording career at Motown began with a string of four record breaking #1 pop and R&B hits for this literal band of brothers during 1969-1970. And the success continued fairly well over the next couple of years-with songs such as “Never Can Say Goodbye”,”Sugar Daddy” and “Little Bitty Pretty One”. By 1973, the youth appeal of the Jackson’s faded fast. These were now teenagers and young adults-with Tito Jackson already married and Jermaine engaged to be so. Was there a way for the Jackson’s to maintain their career in another way?

The mid 70’s arrived with changes to the music scene as well. The 2-3 minute,melodic and uptempo soul singles Motown had helped pioneer were giving way to a new sound. A cinematic,orchestrated sound with harder, funkier rhythms. The incoming funk era was based more on instrumentation than vocal groups singing refrain/chorus based songs. The Temptations had already taken this into account in the late 70’s-changing the base of their music to a more abstract “psychedelic soul” sound with the help of producer Norman Whitfield. Now it was time for the Jackson 5 to come of age.

The first Jackson 5 album of 1973 was Skywriter, a more musically diverse album that tried to offer more to the changing voice of 14 year old Michael Jackson. But the idea of a teenager singing so seriously about seduction on a cover of the Supremes song “Touch” went against the Jackson’s wholesome,youthful appeal. And (to me) wonderful songs such as the bluesy “The Boogie Man” and the more progressive funk/soul of the title song didn’t allow the album much success. It wouldn’t be until September 21st of that year that a change began to happen. Here’s what I wrote four years ago about it.


1973 was spelling out to be the year that would sink the Jackson 5’s thus far unbeatable luster at Motown. Skywriter and Michael’s solo album Music & Me had both been creative triumphs but huge creative failures. The brothers would all come to blame this on the fact that Motown was not welcoming their own input as songwriters and producers. In short,the Jackson’s were faltering because the realities of a music industry where artists were treated as commodities to be bought and sold had taken part of their innocence away.

Yet as the year progressed,Motown was suddenly no longer the mainstay of the pop/R&B scene anymore. The success from the O’Jays and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes had made Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records the main focus on that level all of a sudden. And this began to fascinate the Jackson’s and their creative team to an enormous degree.

Inspired by this,the Jackson’s elected to musically refocus some so it seems. And one day in the summer of 1995,I managed to find someone to locate the then extremely hard to find 80’s era cassette tape of this album-not having a clue what to expect. Now that its thankfully available on CD? I can at last illustrate to others lovers of funk,soul,R&B and Motown the many wonders that this album has to offer.

The title song opens up the album. Its filled with the string orchestrations of the Philly sound. But the primary rhythmic nature of are these powerful layers of wah wah guitar,bass lines and an almost reggae style bass/guitar bridge. Michael’s nearly matured singing is heard with all it’s James Brown styled cries and accents-his iconic future already firmly in place. “Don’t Say Goodbye Again” is another Philly type midtempo groove-with a rather more resigned and adult take on romantic loss.

“Reflections” is the only interpretation that is actually relatively close to the original song. The 8+ “Hum Along And Dance” bares hardly any resemblance to the Temptations/Norman Whitfield original. Breaking out with organ,rock guitars,intense percussion,an almost Police Siren type synthesizer line, the song is a psychedelic funk/soul/dance behemoth-closing with a rather Spiritual/gospel West Indian drum style and choral vocal harmonies-with a mild Native American influence as well.

“Mama I Got A Brand New Thing” is another elongated number punctuated by a strumming acoustic style guitar and zig zagging and melodic synthesizer lines. “It’s Too Late To Change The Time” is right on time with Leon Ware acknowledging the rise of the reggae genre musically with the melodic,harpsichord led hook of a classic Jackson 5 number.

The lyrics have a reflective observation of the world at that time as well. “You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You)” is a bassy, hand jive led funk number with a driving bass and harmonies that segues into the original full version of “Dancing Machine”-which led the way towards what would soon become the disco era of course.

Not too long after this album was released,the title song became a decent sized hit-though not to the level I feel it deserved. That being said? The albums last song “Dancing Machine” is the song that,when released as a single edit the following year ended up completely changing the Jackson 5’s commercial fortunes and bringing them their first top of the charts single since their 3 hit punch in 1970,really. In a way,this would become the last album of the Jackson 5 as part of the Motown family.

The two albums released in the two years following this album were released during a period of legal battles as they sought to split themselves from Motown for the purpose to gaining the creative control they felt they required for their music to succeed and grow further. This albums elements of funk,orchestrated soul and different world music/psychedelic instrumental turns led to this not only being something of a fully unified album statement for the Jackson’s.

But also heavily reflective of the transition from the funk era (in which this album was released during) and the disco era which would come later in the decade,and in which the by then creatively liberated Jackson’s would be a huge part of. But the road to that album starts right here-probably the Jackson brothers first fully formed and mature creative musical statement.


Get It Together was, and continues to be, possibly my very favorite full length album by the Jackson 5. I emphasize albums because of a conversation with my father when I first purchased this album. He wondered why I was at all interested in a full Jackson 5 album that wasn’t a greatest hits set. When I asked him why, he described the band as inconsistent. I didn’t know what the term meant then. But now, it does bring up an important point about how the Jackson 5 were perceived then. This was a carefully crafted cycle-with all songs flowing into the other for a strong album funk sound.

In terms of the Jackson’s music for Motown, Get It Together might’ve been the beginning of the end in terms of the bands love affair with what the label could offer them. Still, this was truly their coming of age album. Mike’s vocal hiccups, a trademark of his blockbuster solo career, first showed up on this album. Norman Whitfield helped put the album together-utilizing future Commodores arranger/producer James Anthony Carmichael in the process. Members of Motown’s LA session musicians-among them Crusaders such as Joe Sample and Wilton Felder, played on the album as well.

What I personally remember most about Get It Together the intersection between myself and the Jackson’s at the time of first hearing it. I was about the same age at the time as Michael Jackson had been during the time he and his brothers recorded this album. And as with Mike, my own creative outlook (especially with music) was growing independent from that of my family and social acquaintances. That experience with Get It Together taught me that sense of creative independence is key to growing up. And I have the impression this album has impacted many others in similar ways.

 

 

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Nuclear Blues” by Blood, Sweat & Tears

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.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Staying Power” by Queen

Queen have proven to be among the most enduring of the mid to late 70’s rock bands. Their densely layered rock opera based style came into its fullest flower on “Bohemian Rhapsody” from 1975’s A Night At The Opera. Known for their blend of musical professionalism and theatrical stage shows, it was the bands lead singer/songwriter Freddie Mercury who helped to conceptualize Queen’s musical adventure. And it took them through many different musical forms-from opera,rockabilly,hard rock and disco, to maintain their sense of drama. Even after Mercury’s early passing from AIDS in 1991.

In 1980/81, Queen had a huge dance hit with the heavily Chic inspired Another One Bites The Dust. During the early 80’s, Michael Jackson was a close friend of the bands. This likely spurred Mercury onto the possibility of Queen re-fashioning their music into a funkier dance/rock based form. This led to the 1982 release of the album Hot Space. Its regarded by many hardcore rock writers and fans as their worst album. Especially coming right in the middle off the anti disco radio freeze out. For me however, the albums first track instantly got my attention. Its appropriately called “Staying Power”.

A percussive drum machine, Roger Taylor’s live drums and a round, fat sounding synth bass and John Deacon’s rhythm guitar begin the song with Mercury’s grunts and vocal ad libs. On the second part of the intro, horn charts arranged by Arif Mardin play call and response to Mercury’s vocals, Brian May’s guitar and the synth bass. This also represents the B section to the chorus, where Mercury’s sings along with Deacon’s guitar and a whooshing synth riser. After an extended big band horn chart on the bridge,an extended chorus continues until Mercury ends the final horn fanfare with a whispered “gotcha”.

“Staying Power” is a great defining way to begin an 80’s Queen album. Its heavy duty post disco funk-full of big brassy horn charts. Both vocally and musically, its also pretty much Freddie Mercury’s show. He plays many of the instruments on this song-from the drum machine,synth bass to the big windy synth wash.  So the rhythmic and melodic base of the song is his creation. Even if many in Queen’s classic rock style dislike them doing horn based electro funk without any lead guitars, Queen and Mercury’s musical power comes through both instrumentally and melodically on this hefty funk number.

 

 

 

 

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Chicago III: Singing A Mean Tune On The Lowdown

Chicago were coming into a very interesting place in American culture in 1971. They had released two successful double albums-the latter actually being so much so that it bolstered up for the success of the debut. Yet it was an uncomfortable time for America itself. The Vietnam conflict raged on. And the youth culture of the 60’s were growing into adults right between the shootings at Kent State and the Watergate scandal. For their part, Chicago were themselves weary of a 1970 spent of near non stop touring. This resulted in an album of a different kind that I wrote an Amazon.com review for in 2009.


Three years into their stellar career after the huge success of their first two albums Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago II  Chicago apparently decided that they didn’t want to be too commercial.So they decided after having three smash hit singles already they wanted to cut something they wanted to.Pretty typical story from the early 70’s right? Well maybe but there is always twists.In this case Chicago already had a commercial sound to begin with so,if an arty album is what there was going for there would still be memorable aspects.

Basically this is an album divided into suits:there are 3 of them where all the songs run together.At the same time,for the purpose of CD presentation they are separated out into 23 separate cuts. All of these song,regardless of how they are presented with a very “live in the studio” flavor;it’s almost as if Chicago just all got behind the microphone and played,with little extra stuff added. That being so it says a lot for this band’s talents because this is some of the most vital, energetic and creative music Chicago created during…well a period of heavy creativity for them.

Fact is only the first four songs stand alone. “Sing A Mean Tune Kid” has a perfect Sly Stone riff and is one of Chicago’s funkiest jams;it runs on awhile and ends up in a Terry Kath solo but it’s great regardless.The “suite” that Terry does on the album is one of the best here-he called it “An Hour In The Shower”.Terry was always represented the gruffer voiced, rockier aspect of Chicago’s sound and the five tunes he presents,in very ragged glory are consistent and hang very well together. Robert Lamm’s “travel suite” is more musically erratic but includes some excellent tunes.

There’s the jazzy funk jam “Free” is short but the closest thing this album had to a hit.”Mother” is another nice R&B rocker with some rich sonic power while the folksy charm of “Flight 602” and the light pop balladry of “Happy ‘Cause I’m Going Home” are also okay but not fantastic.The final suite,called “elegy” is the most impressive;the album cover features the familiar Chicago logo sewn into a very faded and weather damaged American flag. And the spoken word poem “When All The Laughter Dies In Sorry”,as morbid as it is make it clear the early 70’s was filled with seemingly un-resolvable issues.

One tune that makes the same point even more clearly is “Progress?”,an instrumental starting with gentle horns which get “progressively” louder and more chaotic,to the point of playing along with the inner city sound of drills and car horns:it takes a very impressionistic and implicit “united funk” era message song flavor. On “The Approaching Storm” and “Man Vs Man:The End” we’re treated to two very intense horn based jams that are equally chaotic.

Upon a brief inspection this album follows the same basic conceptual formula as the first two Chicago recordings but at the same time the rough n’ funky sound of the production as well as the virtual lack of singles potential make this a definite AOR delight.The bands flutist Walter Parazaider said of in the liner notes to this album that Chicago never made “cookie cutter” music.Lucky for them Chicago were able to reach out to their audience with their journey of musical creativity rather then alienate them with a lot of self indulgent tricks.

That’s why it’s important to acknowledge the presence of funk in their music;funk,and jazz by degrees are music’s that are able to be ambitious AND reach out and touch the human heart and pulse in different ways. The fact that Chicago were able to integrate both genre’s so successfully into their sound is a testament to how they truly understood what they were doing.


Seeing that post 60’s America begin to unfold before Chicago, both in their travels and through audience observation perhaps, is a key element to understanding what Chicago III is as an album. Even as a writer, have to acknowledge that I didn’t understand how Chicago’s sound was changing so organically. This particular album was not Chicago’s most popular one. And its somber thematic content might’ve contributed to that situation. It still showcased a band, straight out of the 60’s musical ethic of expanding public musical taste-shaping songs that set out to get people thinking about their world.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Funky National Anthem: Message 2 America” by Sheila E.

 

Sheila Escovedo was written about very well last summer by my former blogging partner Zach Hoskins. She came up in Oakland,California. And of a Creole,black and Mexican heritage. Not to even mention a childhood taking place during the summer of love in Frisco. And the ascendance of the Black Panther Party in her own hometown. She was only 19 when she made her musical debut as percussionist on jazz-funk bassist Alphonso Johnson’s sophomore LP Yesterday’s Dreams. It was a dry run from there to her work with the George Duke man,her time as a session ace and her hit making time with Prince.

On the first of September, Sheila is releasing a new album entitled Iconic Message 4 America. This album appears similar in concept to the Isley Brothers and Santana collaborative album Power Of Peace. Mainly in that it consists of covers of progressive message songs of the late 1960’s. Sheila however is collaborating with artists such from as Ringo Starr,George Clinton and Sly’s brother Freddy-just to name a few. A few days ago, Sheila uploaded a video she did of one for one of the new songs on the album to YouTube. Upon seeing it, the musical and visual concept was mind blowing. The song is called”Funky National Anthem: Message 2 America”.

The song starts out with a straight ahead version of the Star Spangled Banner. After this, the music suddenly goes into a re-recorded version of The JB’s “Doin It To Death”. It starts out maintaining the shuffling boogie and rhythm guitar of the song. And on the choruses, a heavy gospel organ comes in-all to Sheila and a number of other singers singing the Star Spangled Banner in its original tune. The next part of the song features a version of Maceo Parker’s sax solo,the organ plus samples of speeches from Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama.

Sheila’s musical concept for this song is personally exciting. It takes America’s national anthem, ironically composed by staunch slavery advocate Francis Scott Key, and mixes it with the famous JB’s funk anthem from 1973. Both songs maintain their melody-with the JB’s soloing kept intact. Visually, the concept is a woman being interrogated seemingly for just having hope in a better future. The samples from MLK, FDR and Obama speeches feature multi racial American children lip syncing to their inspiring words. In an era when American must again confront hardcore racism, this song is right on time.

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