Tag Archives: funky soul

‘Here, My Dear’ At 40-Marvin Gaye’s Funky Space Reincarnation Of Romantic Endings & Beginnings

Marvin Gaye’s back story for his fifteenth studio album is well known by this point. Gaye’s wife Anna Gordy sued him for divorce following as he was pursuing a relationship with teenage Janice Hunter. And it was agreed that half the proceeds from his next album to go to Gordy as part of the divorce settlement. At first considering making a lukewarm album out of spite, Marvin decided to weave the reality about the end of  his marriage into one of his musically cinematic narratives- with a conceptually abstract twist. That was the nucleus of the album that became Here, My Dear.

The wah wah heavy title track starts out the album. As writer David Ritz pointed out, Marvin’s vocal harmony based style is rooted in doo wop. And the 70’s funky soft soul of this number, in the 6/8th country/soul shuffle tempo. “I Met A Little Girl” has a similar style- only a bit gentler reflecting both early 60’s Motown balladry and its narrative about the 12 years of his marriage to Anna. “Everybody Needs Love” is a moment where the basic groove of the opening title song extends into a full blown self examination of Gaye’s view on love in general.

“When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You” is also reprised as an instrumental. But its a whole other beast musically- a powerful, percussion laced groove filled with the kind of jazzy chords and melodic exchanges this album celebrates. Now for songs that get heavily into the jazz styled vibe? “Sparrow” alternates from blues to Afro Latin percussion-including a bop styled sax solo from Ernie Fields. “Is That Enough” goes for a cinematic approach that showcases not only heavily arranged orchestration, but a section of the song where the musicians jam away without lead vocals from Gaye.

“Anna’s Song” returns to the medium tempo R&B shuffling of “Trouble Man” from seven years earlier. “Time To Get It Together” gets deep into the thumping,percussion laced funk groove-filled with Marvin’s melodically soulful yet futuristic synthesizer playing. “Anger” and “A Funky Space Reincarnation” are both musically based on the same type of sophistifunk Rhodes/wah wah/percussion based funk crawl. Each conceptually contrasts the other. On the former, Gaye is reconciling his scattered emotions. On the latter, he in on a sci fi odyssey with Anna-attempt to seduce her in with “Venusian smoke”.

“You Can Leave, But It’s Going To Cost You”  is another funk number-this time with a more bluesy style of bass/guitar interaction as Gaye illustrates with journalistic clarity his final attempt to reconcile with his estranged wife. The almost Barry White like cinematic funky soul of “Falling In Love Again” goes into his assumed future with Janice. Over the years, my friend Henrique and I have discussed this perhaps more than any other Marvin Gaye album. It was actually first brought to my knowledge through my father purchasing the 8 Track during the 1990’s.

Having heard it with this depth of musical knowledge today? Here, My Dear emerges as probably the most funky breakup album to have been released. While it plays out like the kinds of cinematic soul album opera’s that Gaye had been doing with Leon Ware? A good cross section of the music gets as deep into a contemporary late 70’s sophisticated funk groove with a number of variations in flow and style. From deep in the pocket to jazzier and free flowing. And that goes directly with the “moods of Marvin Gaye” during the time this was recorded too.

With musicians such as guitarists Gordon Banks and Wali Ali interacting with  bassist Frank Blair? Not to mention the drum/percussion flow of drummer Bunny Wilcox with percussionists  Gary Jones and Elmira Collins? The added sweeteners of horn players Nolan Smith’s trump and tenor sax players Charlie Owens and Fernando Hawkins all play their roles in providing what amounts to the soundtrack for the divorce of Marvin Gaye. This is even played out in the Monopoly game of “judgement” on the albums back cover.

Here, My Dear didn’t endear itself to Anna Gordy at first. As David Ritz explained in his Gaye biography Divided Soul, Marvin invited Anna to a private listening of the album. Its conceptual voyeurism had her contemplating a suit for invasion of privacy.  That didn’t seem to have occurred. As my friend Henrique also pointed out, the modern cinematic video approach of a Kanye West might’ve helped visualize Marvin Gaye’s narrative on this album. Gaye did however help innovate the confessional funk approach with soul, class and imagination. Resulting in another album that continues to age like fine wine.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sweet Freedom” by Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald emerged out of his native Ferguson, Missouri (and his first band Blue) to become one of the most important building blocks of the west coast pop/soul/funk sound out of LA-during the late 70’s and early 80’s. His first gig was in singing backup on Steely Dan’s 1975 Katy Lied. And he brought his distinctively jazzy soul way with the Rhodes piano to The Doobie Brothers when he joined them shortly thereafter. In doing so, he totally reshaped their southern rock sound into west coast funky soul such as “Takin’ It To The Street”, “It Keeps You Runnin'” and of course “What A Fool Believes”.

Turning 66 years old today, McDonald has had an equally varied solo career. Especially with his soulfully, distinctively slurred vocal delivery and raspy falsetto. He even made a more  popular comeback in the early aughts with two separate CD’s of classic Motown covers. Both with and without the Doobie’s, McDonald’s career has many exciting moments that got my attention. Especially 1982’s G funk building block “I Keep Forgettin'”. The song that I’m talking about today was from the 1986 movie Running Scared. And its the late Rod Temperton written “Sweet Freedom”.

A snare/tom based drum kicks into a percussion based intro with two corresponding synths-one playing a marimba like sound and the other introducing the main melody with McDonald’s refrain. Other layers of synth, including a brittle bass line come in as the drums fatten up. On the choruses, the rhythm guitar of (likely) Paul Jackson and the horn arrangements of Larry Williams beef up the arrangement. After a re-harmonized bridge ending with a pitch bent synth solo, an extended version of the chorus closes out the song.

“Sweet Freedom” is one of those songs I’ve personally enjoyed, sung and danced around to since childhood. And it makes sense now that its another Rod Temperton composition. It really brings to life that danceable, Caribbean inspired funky soul injected into the mid 80’s American pop landscape. It all had just the right mix of melodic sweetness and rhythm heft to make it work very well. And in terms of keyboards and vocals, this is some of McDonald’s finest work-with Temperton making the most of the artists jazzy twists as well. A wonderful meeting of two soulful icons in a very enjoyable setting.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Little Things” by India.Arie

India Arie Simpson was born in Denver, Colorado to a family not only drenched in music. But with a history at Motown as well. Her mother Joyce was a singer who toured with Stevie Wonder-as well as Al Green. After her parents divorced and she moved to Georgia, India’s musical interests (always encouraged by her family) became even more pronounced-as she actively began to learn both guitar and composition. This occurred while attending the Savannah School Of Art & Design. She also learned of her strong African roots via DNA testing-including that of the Kru people of the nation of Liberia.

India. Arie made her debut on Motown in 2001 with her Acoustic Soul. That literally described the first song I heard from her entitled “Video”, where she talked of her she desired music and humanity, for herself and others, not to be seen as a product. This resulted in India becoming a major face of the coalescing neo soul movement of the time. Her second album Voyage To India came out the next year. Its main single didn’t perform commercially the way “Video” did. But it was a huge step ahead in terms of instrumentation and songwriting. It was called “Little Things”.

The sound of the gong starts of the intro of vocal harmonies from India.Arie that begins the song-with a bell like electric piano echo in the back round. The drum, at first stop and start comes into the mix with a strong accent of heavy percussion and a heavy, ascending bass line. As the vocal/lyrical flavor of the song changes, so does the feeling of the music. Sometimes its mostly rhythm and bass. Other times rhythm guitar and electric piano flourishes are stronger-along with what sounds like a baby crying. The song comes to an abrupt end after a long vocal run on the extended chorus.

“Little Things” is an interesting song. Musically speaking, its a somewhat more stripped down variant of the jazzy chords of Stevie Wonder compositions and a soul/funk rhythm-similar to Mary J Blige’s “All That I Can Say”. In terms of  its actual structure, its more of a folk type song. A lot of lyrical verses after another rather than a refrain/chorus/bridge setup. It has a heavier studiocentric approach than much of her debut album. To me, “Little Things” is an example of India. Arie using her amazing abilities as a composer for a beautifully flowing, neo soul friendly funky soul number.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “I’ll Be The One” by Boz Scaggs

William Royce Scaggs,nicknamed “Boz” (short for Bosley by a childhood pal) came out of his birthplace of Canton,Ohio to meet his original mentor Steve Miller-who went to college in Madison Wisconsin with Scaggs as well. After a failed stint on the London scene and a little known solo album released in Sweden in 1965, Scaggs returned to the US and became a key member of the Steve Miller Band for two albums of theirs during 1968. In 1969 he teamed up with the Muscle Shoals studio grew (in particular Duane Allman) to record his self titled major label debut album.

Scaggs always had the ability to surprise people with his music. He himself said he was interested in soul,R&B and funk. But what was contemporary in that music at the given time. The the result of his forward thinking musicianship were iconic songs such as “Lowdown”,”Jojo” and “Miss Sun”. In 1987,he retired from music to concentrate on his San Francisco nightclub Slims. After touring with a super group called the New York Rock & Soul Revue,he made his official comeback with the 1994 album Some Change. The song on it that got to me most was called “I’ll Be The One”.

A slow,swinging funky drum machine opens up the song with a light wah wah rhythm guitar. As well as brief accents from the vibraphone playing chordally off the bass and guitar parts. On the chorus,as the chords of the song change town,Scaggs’ voice is accompanied by a sustained organ like keyboard sound. On the secondary part of the chorus,the song changes chords again as a chorus of Vocorderized backup singers keep with these changes of melody. On the final few verses of the song,all of its instrumental elements come together with Scaggs’ vocal improvisation.

“I’ll Be The One” is one of those songs where,during a period when a good deal of soul music lacked instrumental vitality,that actually got exactly the right kind of vibe for the smooth jazz era. The production is slow,the groove a spare jazzy,funky soul. But the production is both sleek and punchy enough to stick out with its relaxed flavor. It also has a similar vibe to what would work for the Chicago stepping dances that originated in the 70’s. Don’t think its one of his best known songs,since the Some Change album produced no hit singles. At the same time,this is a very soulful non hit kind of hit.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “100 Days,100 Nights” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones hasn’t been with us for just under 7 months now. But the presence of her and the Dap Kings/Daptone Records scene of the  2000’s in general reminds me of the retro soul/funk movement of that time. It didn’t have neo soul’s obsession with all natural instrumentation or direct linkage to hip-hop. It emphasized a full band sound with horns and a hard touring ethic. Not to mention the powerful soul wail of singers such as Jones herself. Somehow I feel it even touched on Mark Ronson too when he co produced Amy Winehouse’s similarly themed album Back To Black in 2006.

Daptone Records itself is just an amazing phenomenon in itself. Its an independent funk/soul label that thrived in the immediate post 9/11 world. Its roster emphasized instrumental bands such as the Latin flavored Budos Band and Antibales,as well as other soul singers who’d had difficulty making it such as Charles Bradley.  It was Henrique Hopkins who really gave me the knowledge of Sharon & The Dap Kings music just under a decade ago now. And I remember the song that he used to introduced me to their sound. It was called “100 Days,100 Nights”.

A minor chorded big band style horn chart opens the song before the percussion accented drum rhythm kicks into gear. This deals with a tightly locked bass/guitar lick-accented just after the more brittle horn charts which represent the refrain of the song. A Hammond organ also purrs along in the back round-often slipping out of the arrangement with a soulful wait-especially after the drum break that separate each refrain/choral pattern. On the bridge,the song slows down at Sharon’s request to a 6/8 beat. After a couple bars of this,another horn chart closes out the song as it fades.

“100 Days,100 Nights” is one of those songs that has it all. It has a powerful uptempo groove,heavy horns, rhythmic bass guitar and even a ballad part to it. And everything rooted in Sharon Jones gospel shouting and a melody deep in the center of the blues musical form. The Dap Kings showcase their amazing unity and instrumental vitality on this song. They know exactly how to be musically flamboyant and play for a powerful singer as well. That makes this song perhaps the definitive statement for Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings for their consistently strong career.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Something Lovely” by The Main Ingredient-A Tribute To Cuba Gooding Sr. (1944-2017)

Cuba Gooding Sr is probably famous for to two things. One would be as the lead singer for the Harlem vocal trio The Main Ingredient after their original lead singer/songwriter Don McPherson died. The other would be a the father of actor Cuba Gooding Jr of Jerry McGuire fame.  Under McPherson,The Main Ingredient mixed romantic and black power themed funky soul. During Gooding’s era,the political elements became less pronounced. And the group began doing more cinematic soul numbers arranged by Bert DeCoteaux. At the same time, The Main Ingredient never fully lost their funk.

Cuba Sr’s history is every bit as political. His name derived from his father Dudley marrying a woman when he fled to Cuba. After being murdered due to her support of Pan Africanist leader Marcus Garvey,he vowed on her death bead that his first child would be named Cuba. Gooding was in the process of working on  documentary about his family tree before he was found dead in his car on April 20th,2017. Though best known for their 1972 hit “Everybody Plays The Fool”, one Main Ingredient song that always stands out to me in a similar vein is the following years “Something Lovely”.

A drum kick off breaks into the instrumental intro of the chorus. This is lead by a descending string and muted trumpet arrangement. When Cuba and the rest of the trio come in with their three part harmonies,the arrangement pairs down to a wah wah guitar/bass/drum/electric piano based sound. That goes for the arrangements too-accented occasionally by a several not long horn chart before the next chorus. After one refrain where the horn arrangements play the vocal lines, the trio finish the song out with an extended reprise of the chorus.

“Something Lovely”,written by Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright, is a masterpiece of funky soul arrangement as far as I’m concerned. The harmonies that Cuba,Luther Simmons and Tony Silvester come up with on this song are a superb example of funky soul as sweet as it can be. Its from their 1973 album Afrodesiac, which I purchased at the recommendation of an employee at one of my favorite record haunts Dr. Records when I was trying to exchange a defective CD of Parliament’s Funkentelechy Vs The Placebo Syndrome. 

I fell in love with the Afrodesiac album after getting it. Especially in the interpretive material it embraced. Stevie Wonder offered some of his own material and wrote two songs for this project itself. I also discovered one of my favorite Isley Brother’s songs “Work To Do” through The Main Ingredient doing it on this record. The very unexpected passing of Cuba Gooding Sr not only reminded me of that youthful musical discovery. But also of Gooding’s strong musicality and respect for quality. He will be missed by many and I wish his surviving family all the best at this difficult time.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “So Good” by The J.Geils Band

With the passing of J. Geils several days ago at the age of 71, have been thinking a lot about the J. Geils Band. Most of my life,they came across as New England’s answer to the Rolling Stones. They played a party hardy mix of soul,rhythm & blues and rock as a heavy touring group for most of the early to mid 70’s. Between native New Yorker John “J.Geils” Warren’s versatile guitar style along with Peter Wolf’s stage theatrics and powerful voice, the band expressed a strong sense of a rock band who knew how to stay in the groove rather than simply making songs that had grooves.

As with many 80’s children,I primarily know them for their hits “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame”-incidentally both on the same album from 1983. And those were actually two of their best songs,even aside from being big hits. Years later,I started to hear about a 1977 album they made that didn’t do too well commercially called Monkey Island. About a year ago,found a vinyl copy of it and upon the first listen,it became more than clear that this was one of the most soulful boogie rock bands at that point. One song that really stands out from the album for me is entitled “So Good”.

Stephen Bladd’s tambourine accented,clapping drums and Seth Justman’s piano provide the intro to the song. The Brecker brothers Michael and Randy soon join in as part of the horn section that plays the melodic changes throughout the song. On the refrains, J. Geils lays a funky high pitched rhythm guitar along with Danny Klein’s bopping bass line. On the choruses,the horns play a huge part in the melody. After J.Geil’s guitar is heavily flanger pedaled for the bridge,the bands harmonica player takes a spirited solo before a reprise of the chorus fades out the song.

“So Good” really hit me hard with its upbeat,bouncing funky soul flavor. Between the harmonica solo and Wolf’s slightly raggedy lead vocals,there was something about it that reminded me of what the band War were doing in the mid 70’s.  At the same time,it had a more conventionally poppy focus with its accessible melody. The bands R&B attitude also gives this song a strong bite as well. There’s certainly a lot more J.Geils for me to explore in the future. All the same,this has to be the funkiest thing that I’ve heard from them up to this point.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Believe In Humanity” by Carole King

Carole King is not only a key innovator (along with the late Laura Nyro) in the American female singer/songwriter movement. But her entire career mark puts her into the position of being an honorary queen of ivory soul. She began as a songwriter in NYC’s famous Brill Building-working with her than husband Gerry Goffin in writing such hits for black girl groups such as The Shirelles “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”. King’s “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” also became famous by Aretha Franklin in 1967. After moving to Laurel canyon following her divorce,she became part of a new trio called The City.

This band introduced her to longtime guitarist Danny Kortchmar. After her solo debut Writer made little impact on the public,her sophomore set Tapestry not only broke her commercially,but became the blueprint for the female singer/writer of the early 70’s. It did so by employing heavy gospel/soul elements in uptempo songs like “I Feel The Earth Move” and the ballad “It’s Too Late”. Two albums later,she dived headlong into the soul/funk territory with her 1973 album Fantasy. One of its moderate hits was a song I am going to discuss today entitled “Believe In Humanity”.

King’s ultra bluesy piano stomp begins the song,along with a stomping bass line before the call and response drums of the refrain come in. These are somewhat reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” in approach. Before the similarly themed chorus,there’s a B-section with the horn section scaling up into that chorus. Kortchmar provides a high up on the neck guitar pluck on each piano/horn accent. The bridge takes takes the chords down a notch with King providing a jazzy piano lick before an extended instrumental chorus takes the song out on one elongated piano chord.

“Believe In Humanity” sets the stage for the socially conscious funky soul song cycle that is the Fantasy album. Its heavy,stomping horn funk all the way. With plenty of  bluesiness and jazziness-right down to Harvey Mason’s mean slogging drumming. Lyrically the music carries it well-especially with the first line of “if you read the papers you may see history in the making”. It urges people to “listen to the case” as James Brown put it-instead seeking to gain actual human experience with stories through the media that might carry personal bias. That makes it superb message oriented “people music” funk.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Rejoice” by The Emotions

Sisters Wanda,Pamela,Jeanette and Sheila Hutchinson (whose celebrating her birthday today) made up the Chicago vocal group The Emotions. Beginning their recording career on Stax records in the early 70’s,most notably their appearance in the 1972 concert film Wattstax. The group added youngest sister Pamela when they signed to Columbia in 1976. Their debut album Sunflower was produced by Earth Wind & Fire founder Maurice White. And as well the rest of their albums for the next few years,most of the EWF crew were among the many session musician greats who played on the album.

A week or two ago,I purchased a used vinyl copy of The Emotions second Columbia album Rejoice. Its one that I turned down 20 years ago on CD,and came to regret it. What it happy news is that the album is consistently strong from start to finish. Everything from musicianship,arrangement and general creativity is at a premium. Maurice White even said a decade ago that it was his personal favorite production outside EWF. Its best known song is the iconic uptempo hit “Best Of My Love”. And for good reason. That’s the first song on the record. Its final song,the title cut,is perhaps even stronger for another reason.

Paulinho Da Costa’s percussion and James Gadson’s drums start out the groove with a bouncing Afro Brazilian thump-complete with hand-claps. On the third and fourth bar,this is augmented by melodic accenting slap bass,guitar and flute. A thick wah wah guitar,string and horn arrangement come in before the first refrain. The chorus has the same basic instrumental set up only in a more conventional funky disco beat. That Afro Brazilian intro represents both the setup to and the choruses themselves. And that chorus extends itself up to the songs fade  out.

The entire vibe of “Rejoice” seems to come from the same spirit as EWF’s All ‘N All of the same vintage did. Maurice White says he got the “Brazilian bug” musically when travelling to the country with his wife at that time. And this songs mix of positive thinking lyrics and the pure gospel joy of the Hutchinson sisters really reflect some of the strongest mixtures of Brazilian rhythms and American funky soul of the late 1970’s. Its also the perfect bookend to an album that begins and ends with its strongest cuts. With much strength in between. Musically,it caps off one of The Emotions’ finest recorded moments.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “California Woman” by Eddie Kendricks

Eddie Kendricks was the one member of the classic Temptations lineup who had a consistently successful solo career. He had many hits,many of them strutting uptempo numbers such as “Keep On Truckin'”,”Boogie Down” and “Girl You Need A Change Of Mind”. Many of these songs were produced by Leonard Caston Jr.  After mixed results with two 1976 albums recorded with Norman Harris,Kendricks turned back to Caston to fully produce his final Motown solo album in 1977 entitled  Slick. One song from the album actually found its way into my musical rotation very heavily this past year.

During this past summer of 2016,I actually took the time to do more bicycle riding. Unlike previous years,decided to take advantage of my phone’s MP3 player to listen to music while on these bike rides. Most of these songs were endowed with an appropriate sense of motion. And all of them were from within the soul/funk/jazz/Latin spectrum of music. During the course of the summer,I brought different songs in and out of this rotation in order to keep things fresh. And one of them was an Eddie Kendricks song that originally concluded his final Motown album. Its called “California Woman”.

A pulsing bass and drum pulse starts the song out-accompanied only by low rumble of strings. Shortly after,a loud vocal chorus scales up into Kendrick’s refrain. Here,the bass the and stomping shuffle of the drums are accompanied by lightly harmonic strings and horns-along with the vocal chorus serving the same function. On the chorus the horns and backup vocalists melodically descend with Kendricks. After a reprise of the intro on the bridge,the chorus of the song repeats for a couple more bars before the song abruptly ends on an outro of a very similar nature to its beginning.

In some ways,this song has some of the hallmarks of Leonard Caston Jr’s productions with Eddie Kendricks from before. The difference here is there isn’t as much focus on the bass/guitar interaction as there is the orchestration. Its basically just the kind of “sound with a good melody” as Kendricks himself preferred-with much care put into the production to make sure the groove was funky and the sweeteners on top had plenty of life to them. The lyrical tale of a “down home lady” becoming a movie star goes beautifully with the music’s strutting “OG” style of cinematic funky soul.

 

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