Tag Archives: guitar

Jesse Johnson’s ‘Every Shade Of Love’ Turns 30: Jesse’s Third Solo Album & The Changing Face Of Funk In The 80’s

Image result for jesse johnson every shade of love

Jesse Johnson really stood out among the musicians who came in and out of Prince’s purple circle during the early/mid 1980’s. As a matter of fact, he was the only musician on the Minneapolis scene who could be a full on rival to to Prince’s talent. Both were writers, singers,producers and multi instrumentalist performers of their own material. And both were amazing guitar players as well. Feeling quite subordinated in the Time,as if Prince were somehow hogging all the glory he left in 1984 to put together the Jesse Johnson Revue.

His debut album under that name the following year was very much patterned after Prince’s own sound. However his followup in 1986 Shockadelica showcased a harder, more consistently funk oriented sound with horns and a guest appearance from Sly Stone. Again a couple years later,Johnson continued to develop his strong musical talent on this his third solo release. “Love Struck,”So Misunderstood”-with its JB like “good god” chants”,”I’m The One”-the only song featuring another musician in keyboardist Jeff Lorber and “Color Shock” represents half an album of non stop funk of the highest order.

The grooves are thick and strong,the rhythms kick right along and the guitar playing, which commands the listener to be moving to these songs with their romantically desirous yet thought provoking lyrics. The title song is a percussive new jack/hip-hop jam that again deals with interracial romance, which The Time had already covered on their Ice Cream Castles. “I’m Just Wanting You” is a dynamic ballad that otherwise has a more urban contemporary twist- while “Stop-Look-Listen” has new wave era variation of the gospel/funk sound of Graham Central Station with some clever lyrical wordplay.

Ever since I first heard about this album, it was often touted as one of Jesse Johnson’s best albums. And I cannot disagree with that viewpoint. However it was always presented to me as a hard rock album. So of course it was a bit surprising to hear that this album is probably the hardest full on funk release he ever made during the 80’s. The rock element I hear is primarily in some of the Hendrix like,amplified blues guitar solos on some of these songs-a technique Jesse shares with Prince. Difference is Jesse is perfectly willing at all times to cite his guitar influences.

And you can hear them loud and clear on these songs. Overall this is one of the finest examples of strong and live oriented funk being produced during the late 80’s. There is more of a live drum and bass/guitar interaction here. And the synthesizers play more of a harmonic than a leading role instrumentally. That’s pretty amazing for a multi instrumentalist in this era. Though they were sometimes at odds, Jesse and Prince were often following different paths on the same basic road. Every Shade Of Love is a powerful  80’s funk album from an artist who contributed a lot to the grooves of that era.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Jesse Johnson

Reggie Lucas (1953-2018): A Musical Life

Reggie-Lucas

Reggie Lucas is one of those names who appears on the credits of many albums. In all my years of crate digging, I’d grab just about any album which credited him. Didn’t matter if it was on guitar, as a producer or not. Lucas’s lineage was strong as iron. Born in Queens, the man got his start playing within the Philly soul community as a session musician with MFSB and as a live musician with Billy Paul. In 1972, he began his professional association with Miles Davis, where he met percussionist James Mtume. Together they put together a new band named after James’ taken surname.

Mtume started out as an avant garde jazz outfit with electric elements, very much inspired by Miles’ loose grooves of his mid 70’s period. The band added singer Tawatha Agee in 1978 and released Kiss The World Goodbye. This version of Mtume was a full funk/soul elements. Lucas also began production work during the late 70’s. He began and association with both Phyllis Hyman and Stephanie Mills that would last several years and albums. He also produced jazz sax player Gary Bartz during his own transition to a funkier sound.

Lucas’s biggest success as a member of Mtume was with their 1983 hit “Juicy Fruit”, a sexually spicy electro funk jam that inspired an equally famous hip-hop reboot called “Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G, who also sampled the original hit in his song. During that same year, Lucas provided production on the then little known singer/dancer Madonna Ciccone on her debut album. His LINN drum and guitar work, including Lucas’s own composition “Borderline”, would find him part of the musical team that launched one of the 20th centuries major dance music superstars.

Looking back on his accomplishments today? Reggie Lucas served a similar function on guitar as Marcus Miller did as a bassist. He came to fame as a musician working with Miles Davis. And went onto become a session player for a number of soul and pop artists-many of whom themselves became iconic. Lucas may have passed away on my 38th birthday. But in the end, Lucas was another major seed that Miles planted into the tapestry of black American music during the electric jazz and funk/soul/disco era’s.  To me, this will be what I’ll always think about when contemplating Lucas’s creative arc.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reggie Lucas

‘Showdown’ At 40: The Isley’s 3+3 Era Band Taking It To The Next Phase!

Showdown was recorded in 1978 as the follow up to the Isley’s Go for Your Guns, which followed through with the fast paced funk style of the three previous 3+3 era Isley Brothers’ releases. On the Showdown album, everything had begun to change for this family band . In focusing more on slowing the funk down to this smoldering hot crawl of a groove,even the uptempo stuff  has a sleeker (and less brittle) approach in their instrumentation. This resulted in a certain lushness that mildly  hinted at the disco/dance sound in some of its rhythmic pattern.

The title track is about as great an example of this sound as one could ask. And the Isley’s of course work the groove straight into the subconscious, whilst talking full advantage of the slower tempo.  In the end, that makes the bass/guitar interaction all the funkier. “Groove With You” is another case where the Isley’s do their best type of bedroom groove,setting up the most romantic imagery and of course the music just melts like caramel. “Ain’t Givin’ Up No Love” is type of funk jam that’s like a fist slamming down slow and hard onto a table and leaving an enormous crack.

The simple fact that Chris Jasper seriously throws down with his bass synth on this one right along with Marvin’s bass guitar just throws out all kinds of extra punches. “Rockin’ With Fire” and “Love Fever” are all two part Ernie Isley funk/rockers that all showcase his guitar work and the power of this rhythm section. All are taken at the faster pace of this album. “Take Me To The Next Phase” is just about the most glorious funk jam the Isley’s ever did. In the funk tradition of James Brown,  “Next Phase” is a studio recording overdubbed with applause and band banter to sound like a live stadium performance.

“Take Me To The Next Phase” ends up capturing the flavor of both their own sound along with a bit of Stevie Wonder style funk chords (not surprising since they both utilized the electronic sounds of TONTO at the time) and despite it’s lengths leaves you hoping for more. ‘Coolin’ Me Out” is a more pop crafted variation of the same sound and still turns out to be an incredible jam-probably one of the most unsung on this album. “Fun And Games” harnesses a bit of a West Coast jazz-pop influence in the melody along with the peppy groove.

Showdown is an album that I felt for years was a bit of a letdown compared to its predecessors. In terms of funk, what has been revealed over many listening’s is that its actually an album with one great, iconic song (“Take Me To The Next Phase”) and seven other good to very good songs with…good to very good grooves. That is somewhat what happened upon listening to Funkadelic’s final two 70’s releases with me as well. At four decades old now, this album remains as another potent reminder of how unique the 3+3 era Isley Brother’s were with their take on the funk/rock hybrid.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Isley Brothers

Billy Cobham’s ‘Spectrum’: A Drummer At 74, A Debut Album Nearing 45

Spectrum was an album that I had to grow into. And that growth occurred through a specific kind of context as well. Knowing full well that the album was Billy Cobham’s debut as a leader following his departure from the Mahavishnu Orchestra? I was very psyched up to hear this album upon first learning about it a decade or so ago. At the time? My views on progressive instrumentation was caught between the influence of my own likes and the happiness of others. The precision style of what I call “speed fusion” put me off to some degree at the time because of that ambiguity.

It was growth from both within and without myself that led to appreciating Spectrum  more. “Quadrant 4” is basically a blues based combination of the jazz fusion synthesizer playing of Jan Hammer with Cobham and Tommy Bolin giving the song a shuffling hard rock theatrics about the general atmosphere of the song. “Searching For The Right Door” begins as a grandly percussive drum solo before going into a more funk oriented stomp for the title song. “Anxiety” similarly goes into the uptempo,rhythm guitar based uptempo funk/fusion of “Taurian Matador”.

“Stratus” is a tremendous near 10 minute number that takes the progressive drum solo into a rhythm guitar/electric piano led funk storm- before returning to a full band version of that huge intro sound yet again. “Le Sis” has another mellow electric piano based jazz/funk groove about it with a strong melody and slippery synth solo. “Red Baron” is still my favorite number here-with it’s slow stomping groove keeping itself funky in the James Brown tradition. This concludes the blend of jazz rock soloing and jazz funk grooves that pepper themselves across the album.

One of the things that I’ll bet that suits me more listening to this album today? It’s very much created with musicians in mind. Melody and song structure takes an almost total aside for instrumental ability. As well as extremely complex changes in rhythm. As casual listening? It might not work as well. It is an album you have to invest in,study it a bit. Each song encompasses so many contrasting themes? It’s not even something you can dance to. Yet if your in just the right mood? This is seriously addictive,not to mention extremely well played on,jazz/funk/fusion at it’s finest.

Leave a comment

Filed under Billy Cobham

‘Raydio’: Ray Parker Jr’s Debut As A Band Leader

Image result for Raydio 1978

Ray Parker Jr. was no stranger to music when this 1978 debut dropped. All those years that the Detroit native provided guitar accompaniment to Rufus, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock made clear this multi instrumentalist had an individual enough sound (and personal identity) to survive as an entity on his own. As a matter of fact, aside from actually being in the position of employing a several session musics of his own such as Wah Wah Watson and Sylvester Rivers on piano plus a trumpet and sax player Ray Parker played, wrote,produced and engineered most the music on this album.

Jerry Knight was the only member of Raydio to accompany Parker instrumentally-as the bassist. Knight also brought his vocal ability along with Vincent Bonham and most notably Arnell Carmichael to create the  vocal quartet of Raydio. Although showcasing by and large Ray’s distinctive layered mini-moog based sound hard funk jams such as “Is This A Love Thing”, “You Need This (To Satisfy That) and “Me” are all far more incredibly hard edged than the sort of of sophistifunk Ray/Raydio would become known for-with the horn and rhythmic voices having a more prominent live band flavor.

Adding some Smokey Robinson-like wordplay into the mix “Honey I’m Rich” is a more of Ray’s pop/funk sound. The breakout hit “Jack & Jill”, with its layers of mini Moog (both bass and otherwise) reverbed into some incredible melodic exchanges. It’s basically Ray’s signature musical sound and shows up again on excellent mid tempo funk grooves such as “Betcha Can’t Love Me Just Once” and “Let’s Go All The Way”. Much as Kashif and  Prince would innovate later, Ray was using synthesizers in place of horn parts here. It anticipated the future but also created a musical present for him as well.

The album concludes with “Get Down”,a chunky bass/guitar oriented melodic funk instrumental and one of the best in it’s kind from Ray. In just about every imaginable way a musically impressive and significant set of sophistifunk classics this album provides the missing links between the era of Stevie Wonder and Prince. A link wherein the concept of the sexual revolution (lyrically) and the orchestral use of electronics (musically) would be explored to their fullest in terms of the funk genre. And honestly I am not sure if Ray Parker gets a lot of the credit he deserves for doing that.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Ray Parker Jr., Raydio

Warmer Communications At 40: AWB First And Under-Explored Comeback Album

Warmer Communications...And More

Average White Band began work on their sixth studio album during 1977. According to the liner notes for AWB’s 2014 box set All Of The Pieces, the band were creatively exhausted after their first four studio albums-in particular the hugely successful later three of them. Hamish Stuart, Alan Gorie, Roger Ball, Steve Ferrone and company first recorded a duet album with Ben E. King. Seeing that collaboration could rejuvinate their sound, the band brought in guitarist Cornell Dupree (from Stuff) with a number of NYC session musicians for their 1978 release Warmer Communications.

“Your Love Is A Miracle” is a straight up wah wah guitar powered number-with the in the pocket Family Stone inspired horn charts, “duck face” bass popping, Steve Ferrone’s stop/start funky drum and (vocally) low leads and falsetto harmonies. “Same Feeling, Different Song” has the classic AWB horn style based off the JB’s. The rhythm, tempo and lead guitar comes out of the same vibe. But the liquid rhythm guitar of the refrains come out of the later 70’s sound more. “Daddy’s Come Home” benefits from Dupree’s crying bluesy guitar tone and the organ based country/rock style balladry of the song itself.

“Big City Lights” takes a straight up bass/guitar oriented uptempo funk number-focusing heavy on the horn charts that are often combined with a round synth bass tone for an even bigger sound. “She’s A Dream” is a jazzy melange of bass, guitar with melodic and creamy horn charts playing a medium tempo ballad. The title track lays down a groove that combines the grooves of funk with the repetitive chugging of reggae. “The Price Of A Dream” is a melodically strong sophistifunk styled number-again based heavily in the vocal harmonies.

“Sweet & Sour” is sleek yet heavy horn funk instrumental before the album ends with “One Look Over My Shoulder”. This is the song I remember most off this album for some reason. It has one of the most singable, hit oriented choruses. But the percussive mid tempo groove allows the horns to hit in all the right places. And make both the instrumental and vocal focuses of the song stand out equally. Musically speaking,  Warmer Communications covers pretty familiar territory for AWB. And session players like the Brecker Brothers did make for strong writing and musicality as intended.

Where Warmer Communications  might’ve been somewhat problematic had to do with changes in music among funk bands during the late 70’s. Between 1977 and 1979, the larger horn funk bands such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower Of Power, Kool & The Gang and the JB’s were beginning to update to the more high tech production style of the disco era. AWB’s  production approach didn’t change in the late 70’s, even as their writing and playing remained strong. They’d rectify this (with controversial results) in the early 80’s. Still, Warmer Communications remains one of the bands strongest late 70’s albums.

Leave a comment

Filed under Average White Band

‘Street Player’ At 40: Rufus & Chaka Khan At The Crossroads Of Funk

Street Player followed the Ask Rufus album in 1978 with Chaka and the band finding themselves facing new territory. Drummer Andre’ Fischer had departed due to a falling out with Chaka involving her alcoholic and micromanaging husband Richard. Chaka was also moving towards the solo career that seemed inevitable after three of the original band members left in 1974. Not only that, but the band were now without a drummer. While they searched for a more permanent replacement, the band bought in former Leon Russell session drummer Richard “Moon Calhoun for this particular session.

As keyboard player Nate Morgan departed during that same time, David “Hawk” Wolinski, who had co-written the previous albums “Hollywood”, joined Rufus as a regular member. His playing, writing and even singing projected a stronger physical personality into Rufus that no one had possessed since Tony Maiden joined the band in 1974. Since the more reflective (and occasionally slower tempos) of the previous album didn’t always meet with the greatest of enthusiasm, the band decided to take a more contemporary production of their more classic uptempo funk sound.

The title song of this album was written with Hawk and Chicago’s Danny Serephine, and that bands version was included on their 1979 album Chicago 13-an album musically similar to Rufus in many ways. Chaka herself composed “Stay”, a more mellowed out bass/guitar type groove somewhat similar to what was on the previous album yet strong enough to endure as one of her classic songs. “Turn” is a unique hard funk song. Very bluesy in orientation and full of powerful horn, bass/guitar and organ interaction. Moon Calhoun also maintains the classic stop/start rhythmic complexity here.

“Best Of Your Heart” is a melodic, jazzy mid tempo ballad that swings right into the fast paced,percussive Brazilian jazz instrumental “Finale”,featuring a tremendous synthesizer solo from Hawk. “Blue Love” is one of my favorite songs here-starting off with a melodic synth line,it goes from somber break up ballad into an uptempo jazzy funk jam as the confidence level in Chaka’s lyrics rise as the song concludes with understanding “you never know love until somebody leaves you”.”Stranger To Love” is a powerfully orchestrated ballad-built upon its strings and flanger filtered drums.

“Take Time” is one of my favorite Rufus instrumentals-a very bass oriented in the pocket kind of groove with a very strong synthesizer counter melody with Tony Maiden rocking out pretty Hendrix style on lead guitar solo. “Destiny” is a wonderfully melodic bossa/jazz-pop type number that Chaka gives one of her all time stand out vocal performances. As far as I’m concerned? Its one of her classic songs. “Change Yours Ways” ends the album in a very jazzy funk mode-again with somewhat drastic shifts in tempo. This gives Street Player a truly unique quality about it rhythmically.

Each song tends to be like a pocket jazz/funk/soul symphony-often with two unique parts fusing into a single song. And considering what Rufus were experiencing at this time, its only fitting that the lyrical focus of this album zeroed right in on themes of change and growth.  That leaves Street Player as basically the culmination of Rufus’s classic sound. It still has the unique instrumental trademark of mid 70’s Rufus, but a lot of the lushness of the latter 70’s era. In many ways? Its one of Rufus’s most creative, strong and enduring musical works. Especially with its focus on uptempo songs of different musical colors.

Leave a comment

Filed under Rufus

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

Image result for brothers johnson blam

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Brothers Johnson

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Weekend In L.A.” by George Benson

George Benson could likely call the 1970’s the salad days of his musical career. He began the decade with an instrumental interpretation of the entire Beatles album Abbey Road. And ended it with a double that included a hit version of L.T.D’s “Love Ballad”-redone as an uptempo song. Benson’s musical virtuosity and style of scat singing in accompaniment to his playing made him a contemporary jazz guitar icon of the decade. Especially combined with his strong, soulful singing voice. Still there is one particular George Benson album from this period I’ve had yet to explore all the way through.

Benson’s second live album Weekend In L.A. was recovered over three days in autumn of 1977 at the West Hollywood Roxy Theater. And released in 1978. Its probably his most famous and popular live album too. Its been a fixture in my family’s record collection since I’ve been alive. But still know it primarily for songs such as “On Broadway” and “The Greatest Love Of All”. Decided that, in lieu of having not yet explored the album as its about to turn 40, decided that it would make some sense to take an in depth look at the albums instrumental title song.

Benson’s introductory solo begins the song-with Harvey Mason and Ralph McDonald’s drum/percussion rhythm laying the groundwork for the Nick DeCaro’s string synthesizer providing some beautiful harmony.  Stanley Banks’ round, popping bass line joins in on the sunny, major key chorus of the song. The first solo comes from the electric piano of Jorge Dalto-with the harmonic counterpoint coming from Stevie Wonder’s keyboardist Ronnie Foster on synthesizer. Benson takes an extended refrain/choral solo during the center of the song-with everything in the song being built around it until the very end.

“Weekend In L.A.” is, as a song, representative of George Benson’s Breezin’  era late 70’s  commercial and instrumental peak.This album showcases his guitar talents. In its 7+ minutes, it gives Benson every opportunity to explore his melodically singable guitar solos. Musicians like Mason, McDonald and Foster understand as Benson how to keep the song jazzy, soulful, funky and poppy all at once. Benson even takes a moment to quote Gershwin’s standard “I’ve Got Rhythm” on guitar near the end of the song. Making it one of his strongest live musical moments.

Leave a comment

Filed under George Benson

Anatomy of THE Groove: “White Boys And Heroes” by Gary Numan

Gary Anthony James Webb was born into a working class family in the Hammersmith area of West London. Interestingly enough, his bus driver father brought him his first guitar. And after playing in a number of bands, he became the lead singer/ songwriter/ producer of the pioneering British new wave band Tubeway Army. His biggest success with them was the #1 hit “Are Friends Electric” in 1979. Later that year, his solo career kicked off to a major start with his internationally successful song “Cars”-from his debut solo album Pleasure Principle. These songs both helped kick off the synth pop genre.

Numan’s music began to take on a more orchestral based sound as the 80’s drew in. Albums such as 1981’s Dance even took on elements of jazz into the musical mix. With bands such as Level 42, Duran Duran and Heaven 17 deriving their sound from American funk and disco, Numan looked to the driving rhythm and expert playing of the funk genre as part of his 1982 album I, Assassin. Numan himself felt this change was important for his music-as he saw many synth pop artists at the time being stuck in a rut. And this 1982 album got right off with the funk on the song “White Boys And Heroes”.

A brittle drum machine and a dark, prickly synth bass tone build up into the refrain. This consists of Chris Slade and John Webb’s heavy Afro Cuban drum/percussion interaction. Pino Palladino’s thick, grooving fretless slap bass completes that part of the song. On the chorus, Numan takes off on a chorus with his swelling synth/guitar orchestral parts. With Pallidino’s bass taking off on runs more. After an couple choral/refrain rounds, the bass led refrain of the song becomes an instrumental bridge for the song. And it all ends on an extended chorus featuring “Mike” on sax as the song fades out.

“White Boys And Heroes” explores one of early 80’s new wave/synth pop’s most interesting elements. Part of it was the turn to funkiness-its combinations of brittle beats and synth washes with The Who’s Pino Palladino’s fretless slap bass and percussive groove made it very complimentary to what Talking Heads and Prince were doing at the time. The songs theme-seeming to parody the jingoistic, white male macho image also works with the mechanized rock end of new wave with the Afrocentric funk groove. So Gary Numan hit on a compelling musical and thematic mixture on this song.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gary Numan