Terry Callier is a lesser known figure among the Chicago music scene of the 1960’s. He was a childhood friend of some of the city’s future musical starts out of Record Row-in particular Impressions’ Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield. Callier eventually took after Mayfield as a guitar player and signed to Cadet at the end of the 60’s. Difference is Callier was as more of a folk storyteller. During that time,he began to take on a jazz influence to his pieces inspired by John Coltrane’s music. He recorded several acclaimed albums in the early 70’s and toured in support of Gil Scott-Heron and George Benson.
It was again my father who introduced me to Terry Callier about 12 years ago. It was through a reissue of a 1977 album called Fire On Ice,which was his debut on the Elektra label and was then getting a reissue on CD. It was also made clear about the gentle jazz/folk hybrid sound Callier was better known for. And that this 1977 album was not indicative of his usual sound. Sounded like something that was waiting to be heard based on that description. Of course there are still many folksy ballads on this album,the song that really stood out as being somewhat unique for Callier here was called “Street Fever”.
Michael Boddicker starts out playing a revving,unaccompanied guitar synthesizer-featuring a break with a thick popping sound before an up-scaling space funk synthesizer brings the cymbal heavy drum part in. On the refrain,the snare drums come in playing a slicker beat with the synthesizers playing multiple stacked melodies behind it. On the second chorus,the horns begin playing in close unison to the synthesizers. There is a screaming rock guitar solo on the final refrains-with eventually breaks off into the space funk synthesizer from earlier before the song comes to a quick halt.
This is a flat out amazing song in the sense it anticipates the brittle,new wave inflected sound of new wave and naked funk by several years. And that of course was the same thing the Isley Brothers were doing at the same time with tunes like “Livin’ In The Life”. Callier adds some tough 12 bar blues choruses to the affair-along with some percussive vocal grunts and shouts. At the same time,there is a strong production slickness to it. Since like the rest of it’s accompanying album it was recorded in Chicago,it showcased that the windy city was still rife with innovative funk/rock/soul sounds at the end of the 1970’s.
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!
Filed under 1970's, Arnell Carmichael, Detroit, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Ollie Brown, Ray Parker Jr., Raydio, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, session musicians, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Uncategorized
From his early years performing Anthony Newley style show tunes about laughing gnomes up through his persona as Ziggy Stardust? David Jones (better known by his stage name of Bowie) celebrated an embrace of musical and thematic eclecticism. Rock played a big part in it. But he also drew a good dose of inspiration from the rhythmic timing of funk and soul. After his most iconic years as the glam rock icon of Ziggy and the related character Aladdin Sane? Bowie began sporting white soul boy suits,slicked back hair and focusing on that soulful end of his sound.
It got going for Bowie in 1974 when his Diamond Dogs album came out-it’s Isaac Hayes inspired song”1984″ drawing him to a new group of session musicians and singers than the Spiders From Mars. In addition to the presence of David Sanborn and Luther Vandross,t he main drive behind this change was Puerto Rican guitarist Carlos Alomar. As a composer and arranger? He really understood how to rock up the funk. This led to the final number on Bowie’s soul oriented Young Americans album of 1975 ending with a collaboration with John Lennon entitled “Fame”.
An ascending backwards guitar opens the song into a more reverbed one. A brushing drum roll and acoustic guitar introduces the the slow grooving funky drummer that’s accompanied by three different guitar riffs-each playing off the one another. One is a low liquid one providing the bass line, the other is a more popping one of the same tone while each instrumental refrain is accented by a ringing high rhythm guitar. Bowie and Lennon’s vocals,both in their lower and high ranges,duet in near incoherence until descending into a chant of the song title at the end.
Together,Bowie and Alomar’s sound on this song heavily channels James Brown’s variety of funk. Everything about this song, itself built around layers of bass toned and higher pitched guitar, is entire built on Brown’s understanding of all the instrumentation being “on the one” with rhythm. Melody,harmony and all. The interesting this is? Brown himself was in turn inspired to work his own song “Hot (I Need To Be Love)” directly out of this groove the following year. So along with being a huge hit for Bowie, it’s an example of the cross pollination of funk in it’s prime.
Filed under 1975, Carlos Alomar, David Bowie, Funk, funk guitar, funk/rock, glam rock, James Brown, John Lennon, rock 'n' roll, rock guitar, Uncategorized
The genesis of this post began with my father. Thirteen years ago,he excitedly had me listen to a various artists compilation entitled Cinemaphonic 2: Soul Punch. It consisted of fourteen short funk/soul instrumentals created for British library albums. These were used as incidental music for different television shows and motion pictures. Later on my friend Henry Cooper,himself a musician got me listening to more UK library music through the KPM series. Interestingly enough? One caught my ears through a different source.
One day while surfing YouTube? I came across this old Sesame Street sketch called “Walk”. The backup music thrilled me so much? I looked in the comment section for more on it. Turns out it composed and performed on such a library disc by a session pianist named Alan Hawkshaw-who had backed up acts ranging from the UK rock instrumental group The Shadows in 1969 to playing on Donna Summer’s album Once Upon A Time eight years later. It’s probably the shortest song I’ve done at only 44 seconds. And it’s entitled “U.S.A. Groove”.
It all kicks into with a chunky,bassy rhythm guitar playing the hard rocking basic groove of the song. It’s first accompanied by a short burst of conga’s and than a dramatic organ burst before the drums kick off into the body of the song itself. That body maintains it’s opening guitar riff,only as an element of a broader groove. That groove’s whole consists of a soulful organ solo from Hawkshaw-along with phat percussion pushing everything along. The song ends with a very dramatic crescendo wherein the drum and organ dramatically come to a halt.
After hearing this? It doesn’t come to any surprise to me that Hawkshaw’s music has been widely sampled by hip-hoppers. But only one particular number of his entitled “The Champ” has. Because this particular jam is short and so easily loopable? It’s just the sort of tune for such purposes. It’s also an example of how in the hands of an adept and diversified instrumentalist? As much funk can be packed into a groove under a minute as one would find in a four minute song. It’s actually one of my very favorite funk instrumentals-partly for that very reason.
From the moment it showed up in the record racks of Borders Books & Music 20 years ago or so? This self titled 1975 album by Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan leaped out at me. From the cover featuring the sweaty cartoon lips to the showing Khan,covered in a feathered leather outfit, sprawled out in a lip shaped easy chair? The imagery evoked an instantly funky and playful sexuality. Ended up picking up the album (along with it’s two predecessors) through the BMG Music Club. It ended up on near constant rotation during the summer of 1997.
Lately the talks between myself and Henrique has been focusing a great deal on the classic 70’s funk bands who had very few members,yet had very phat grooves and general sounds. And invariably Rufus would up being mentioned constantly in these conversations. While browsing through what I’ve written hear? It’s come to my attention that no song by Rufus has ever gotten a proper overview on this blog. Could not think of a better song to remedy that with than another conversation piece between myself and Henrique: the 1975 jam “Have A Good Time”.
It gets moving right out of the box with a chunky,bluesy bass/guitar interaction between Tony Maiden and Bobby Watson. The sustained organ solo of Kevin Murphy chimes in along with Chaka and the backup singers creating a wail of vocalese. The music breaks in and out between the opening bass/guitar exchanges,the stop/start drumming of Andre Fischer and the fanfares of the Tower Of Power horn section. The bridge features a spirited sax solo before another refrain-the song fading out with the band singing “everybody have a good time” in harmony to a rocked up,bassy guitar solo.
One of the things this song brings out is that even during the original funk era? Most have become rather fixated on the successful hit singles. And not concentrated on the albums as a whole the way they might for jazz and rock. In fact? Funk represents uptempo soul’s most album oriented sub genre. And to me? This is one song that proves it. Again,the instrumental sound is based primarily on four instruments-with horns added for good measure. And it’s a groove of a kind that can smoke both in the studio and onstage. The power of the song and it’s positive thinking message of “who said this party’s over?” makes it a less than sung “united funk” era classic.
Filed under 1970's, Andre Fischer, bass guitar, Bobby Waton, Chaka Khan, Claire Fischer, classic funk, Funk, Funk Bass, funk guitar, funk/rock, Kevin Murphy, organ, Rufus, Tony Maiden, Tower Of Power
Sentimental as this may seem the recent passing (as of this review) of Marvin Isley set me to bring out this CD that I bought twelve years ago and have listened to maybe twice since that time. Having been used to the some of the Isley’s 70’s music and having not heard their transitional material up to this point,this albums sound was a little shocking at the time. And it was actually something of a new sound for them. Any of those familiar with their often forgotten previous album The Real Deal had actually dabbled in some new production elements while staying true to their 70’s 3+3 sound the same as their first few 80’s recordings had. Chris Jasper had a very strong play in this album in general and the result,being a keyboardist all too familiar with the world of electronics he basically just bumps that element in the music a great deal. In fact if it weren’t for the strong presence of Ernie Isley’s guitar solos this album would’ve actually sound mostly like the work of a multi-instrumentalist even though it wasn’t. Overall this album has a pretty contemporary flavor for it’s era but there are some elements and even distinct songs that still maintain their distinctive 3+3 sound.
Basically Chris Jasper and the two elder Isley’s Kelly and Rudy weren’t exactly getting along as it seemed their presence in the recording process was somewhat relegated to back round vocals as Ron took the main leads. Well this album didn’t change that but all the same the vocal back rounds are important to this album,as is the fact Chris Jasper and Ron share a good number of the leads as well. The album starts out with two ballads in “Choosy Lover” and “Touch Me”. Not bad slow jams but the REAL meat comes with the title track,”I Need Your Body” and “Let’s Make Love Tonight”,three seductive electronic soul/funk in the vein of Sexual Healing with the mild Calypso flavored rhythm of the song as well. Even still Jasper’s distinct touch on synthesizer on these tunes,which kind of flow together like a mini funk suite make them very distinctly Isley Brothers. After that the album,on what would’ve been Side B on the original vinyl or cassette tape really takes on a more diverse tone. “Ballad For The Fallen Solider” is one of the most powerful tunes on the album,a well produced rock n soul tune that tells the tale of a man recounting how his father went missing in action whilst fighting in Vietnam and even calling his congressman gets him nowhere.
“Slow Down Children” is the one tune on this album with a decidedly Isley 70’s flavor,with that big bubbly synthesizer of Jasper,the slow crawling funk rhythm and the Isley’s throaty harmonies dominating the production. The last three cuts in contrast are the most modern. “Way Out Love” and the near instrumental,Vocoder heavy “Rock You Good” both strongly showcase the early hip-hop/electro funk sound and although I am not sure I’d bet along with the title track these songs are probably very heavily sampled by hip-hop/scratch/electronic samplers. If they aren’t they probably should be because their sound was influential on much of that. “Gettin Over” is more of a new wave styled electro/dance tune which showcases the Isley’s moving forward into the 80’s with rock and not just R&B because,considering their place in the music’s history they just saw how rock,R&B,soul,blues,funk and hip-hop all kind of bled together after a point. Even if this album marked the end of the Isley’s acclaimed 3+3 lineup this found them on something of a commercial upswing. Not only that but they did so by continuing their long tradition of adapting their own sound to the new musical generation without losing their identity.
Originally posted on June 7th,2010
Link to original review here*
Sometimes the synergy of two instrumentalists/composers can create exceptionally powerful music in much the same way as a big band. Having both played with Stevie Wonder together as part of Wonderlove during the artists salad days? Keyboardist Greg Phillinganes and guitarist Michael Sembello both took a similar directions as session people by both playing for The Jacksons/Michael Jackson one after the other. And both making solo debuts in the early 1980’s.
Greg Phillinganes was the first to make his solo debut with the Significant Gains album for Richard Perry’s Planet label in 1981. The album featured Greg working with a number of crackerjack musicians such as Paulinho Da Costa,Paul Jackson,fellow Stevie Wonder alum Ronnie Foster,Herbie Hancock and indeed Michael Sembello as well. His main collaboration with Sembello from this debut was a song called “Big Man”,which makes it’s own sort of musical statement altogether.
Opening with a bluesy scaling clavinet,Greg’s keyboard is soon joined by a closely unison guitar solo from Sembello before the songs main chorus comes in. This chorus is instrumentally built around layers of bass clavinet and electric guitar soloing accented by higher pitched melodic synth bass. On the vocal bridge,the very processed vocal of Phillinganes is accented by his own higher pitched harmonies before he vocally growls his way into a flamboyant guitar like synthesizer solo before returning to three repeated choruses of the refrain before Phillinganes declares “I won’t go back on my word at all!”
Musically and lyrically? This song bridges the time gap between Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”-both a decade apart and both by artists with whom Phillinganes had worked with. The combination of Phillinganes clavinets and Sembello’s guitars and strong bluesy composition makes this a wonderful black American take on the mechanized new wave dance/rock style of the early 1980’s. Lyrically obscure as it seems to be? The song seems to be warning the black community about despotic hucksters seeking to violently take advantaged of oppressed and misrepresented people. It’s probably the best (and likely most hidden) politically charged funk/rock fusion of the early 80’s and brings the powerful 60’s activist spirit into the new decade
Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, clavinet, Funk, Funk Bass, Greg Phillinganes, Michael Jackson, Michael Sembello, New Wave, rock guitar, Stevie Wonder
Apparently there had been many people since the beginning of Jesse Johnson’s career who had wanted the former Time guitarist to make a more thoroughly guitar oriented album. A musician is not necessarily creatively bound to the demands of their admirers. After all if someone really admires someones art,why would they want them to change it? As with Prince Jesse was instrumental (pun more than intended) in bringing the sound of the rock guitar into the Minneapolis funk context. And he especially bought it to the Time’s 1990 release Pandemonium with the song “Chili Sauce” as well. Than a couple years after that the punk revival known as grunge broke out. Suddenly every rock music lover began demanding only like minded music be released and heard. The alternative era had begun-with the unspoken credibility war soon to follow. Jesse hadn’t had the easiest time either. The Time dissolved again-forcing Jesse to have to do a lot of anonymous soundtrack session playing,some of which never got released. He signed with the indie label Dinasaur Entertainment in the mid 90’s and for the first time in years eschewed the multi instrumentalist format. Teaming up with drummer Brian Edwards,back round singer Kim Cage and on one occasion former Band Of Gypsies/Hendrix alum Billy Cox on bass,Jesse put out this album in 1996 to at last fully explore his talents as a guitarist.
The title song,”My Life”,”Let Me In”,”Walk Like Me Talk”,”Shock To The System”,”Brand New Day” and “War Babies” all represent the hardest rocking songs on this album. Jesse’s ability as a guitarist is impressive as he goes from playing the amplified blues crunches to the technicolor psychedelic reverbed harmonies and melodies at a moments notice. “I Miss”,featuring Billy Cox and “Cry Like The Skies” both strong echo Jimi Hendrix’s fluttering ballad style a great deal-with cleaner,high pitched riffs and heavy reverb again. Only this time on the vocals as opposed to the instrumentation. “You Don’t Love Me The Same” is an out and out twangy modern country/western number with just a little touch of a blues attitude about it. “Mr. Heartache” is a pointed folk-rock ballad that,as with most of the lyrics here,focus in on a need for positive minded change and resolution to cynicism. “Bella Bella” is a similarly pretty folk minded affair-this time apparently a tribute to his then newborn daughter. “Bring Your Love Down Hard On Me” is straight up 12-bar blues-finding Jesse working out at his Muddy Waters-ish best. “Mokika” is a folky rhythm & blues shuffle that reminds me a bit of what KT Tunstall has done in recent years while “Nevermind Saturn Sunrise” closes the album with a psychedelic instrumental reverb guitar explosion.
Considering how ubiquitous guitar oriented music was becoming during this era? This album is expertly played with a number of instrumentally vital ideas and musical directions. The only question I have is why did Jesse Johnson even need to do this? While it has a lot of strong material,everyone already know what a great guitarist Jesse was. There really isn’t anything on this album that Lenny Kravitz hadn’t already dealt with a few years earlier. The fact Jesse’s hopeful and optimistic lyrical tone on this album stands so much in contrast to the attitude of this era speaks volumes. I feel Jesse himself was in the process of coming out of a dry spell when this album came out,so he just gave rock guitar admirers what they wanted from him while countering that impulse with his words. The pompous liner notes written by Steven Ivory also emphasize the most repulsive aspect of the “credibility wars” for me. He rails on about a “twilight zone of commercial pop/R&B”-where as he puts it,scientists in white coasts “dutifully create depressing amounts of Moog powered mutant soul that has about as much passion as a Happy Meal”. He even goes on to say “funk IS rock ‘n roll”-that “the groove” is simply rocks funky derivative. And how Jesse instinctively knows this. From this its too easy to have the impression Jesse made this album simply to survive in the restrictive musical climate of the mid 90’s. Basically if one admires the full spectrum of Jesse Johnson’s instrumental talents? This is worth picking up if you can find it for under $10.00. If your an admirer of Jesse’s work as a funk dynamo in the 80’s? This is definitely not going to be the album for you.
*Original Amazon.com review here