Eric Burdon’s best known for being the lead singer for The Animals,part of the bluesiest end of the 60’s British Invasion along with the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. Of course The Animals are best known for their version of “House Of The Rising Sun”. After that band split up in 1969, Burdon and producer Jerry Goldstein formed the band War out of a group of black LA musicians such as Lonnie Jordan, Thomas “Papa Dee” Allen,Harold Brown and Danish born harmonica player Lee Oskar. And they were a commercial and musical success right of the box.
The debut album of this outfit was 1970’s Eric Burdon Declares War. Its blend of Latin rock and soul was an important part of the funk process. Recording only two albums while together, Burdon left the band to their own devices after collapsing onstage of an asthma attack during one of their performances. The band officially reunited for a live performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 2008. Via YouTube listening,one of my favorite songs by the Eric Burdon led edition of War is the title song to their 1976 archival release-which was entitled Love Is All Around.
With a hi hat tapping away at the beginning,the low growling bluesy guitar that defines Burdon’s vocal melody start out the song. Its one that has a very basic groove throughout it. It consists of that same guitar riff from the intro,the hi hat and lightly shuffling funky drum. Each bar is accentuated by a grooving organ riff. After several bars of this, a pitch bent horn section plays the refrains with the organ. On the bridge,the drums rock out a bit more-with the organ and horns in a more sustained. The basic groove of the song repeats itself with call and response vocal choruses until the song fades out.
When I first heard the way this song was put together,it instantly reminded me of the sound that Sly & The Family Stone had on their first three albums. Those pitched up and down horns,the rhythmic organ andthe instrumental trade offs. Most of this very late 60’s style groove (both musically and lyrically) is actually very instrumentally condensed -consisting mostly of an evolving refrain. The bridge more or less serves as an in a break in sound to the choral vocals that end the album. Even though it was released later,its a vital example of War and Eric Burdon’s contribution to the funk process.
Filed under Eric Burdon, War
Prince’s infamous vault of unreleased music-spanning almost 38 years now,has been something that has been thought of has having the floodgates released on following his passing last year. That tons of Prince music no one’s ever heard will be pouring out to the public from now on. It was announced earlier this year that new Prince material would be seeing the light of day soon. It came in the form Deliverance-a six song EP that was set to be released on the first anniversary of his passing. It was even available on Amazon Prime. Than…its release was abruptly pulled. From everywhere.
It would seem that Prince’s longtime recording engineer George Ian Boxill planned on releasing these half a dozen songs (recorded between 2006 and 2008) independently. But he was hit with a cease and desist by the Prince estate. They claimed he never received any proper authorization to release this music. If this reminds anyone of the sort of vexatious litigation Prince practiced in life, they wouldn’t likely be far off. As for me,I managed to snag it as a download before it was pulled and listened to it. So what exactly is Deliverance in musical terms?
The title track of the album is a combination of Southern gospel soul and blues rock-full of organ,piano,choir singers and Prince’s falsetto. “I Am” is a bluesy rock with Prince speeding up his voice and delivering some heavy power chords. “Touch Me”,clocking in at under 2 minutes,is a pop ballad with European classical guitar and string overtones. “Sunrise,Sunset” is more of the same-only with a somewhat more soul inflected chorus. The closer “No One Else” is basically classic stripped down,live band funk/rock from Prince-coupled with some strong synth and horn orchestrations.
Deliverance conceptually comes across as something of a gospel album. As was typical of the Prince material of the early/mid 2000’s heavily built around his Jehovah’s Witness faith. There’s a lot to enjoy here…if your a big fan of Prince as a rocker that is. Only one song-the closer “No One Else” offers up anything right in the groove. While the material does showcase Prince as the amazing guitar player that he was, it also brings out a quality that I’ve only noticed more looking back at Prince’s music from the 90’s and beyond.
A YouTuber calling himself Morrisman,notable for being so critical of Prince as to declare him not to be a musical genius at all,did make one point on Prince’s music that could have strong objective merit. While I do not agree with him that an artist first album is always their best, he did say that some artists who get heavily revered by a devoted fan base can start taking their own music for granted. And sometimes even resort to releasing less than stellar music based on name recognition. This is a huge factor in the rock world. And yes,it did occasionally seem to happen to Prince.
After listening to all six songs (including an extended mix of “I Am”) on Deliverance? I’d have to say that aside from Prince’s unique performance style shinning out,more than half the songs on this album just don’t stand out as having anything particularly special about them. They sound like possible filler tracks Prince would’ve put on albums such as Planet Earth and Lotusflow3r. So aside from a strong book ended start and finish, Deliverance certainly doesn’t sound like a prime example of what Prince had in his vault. Nasty as this may sound, its fairly by the numbers music by Prince’s creative standards.
Chuck Berry’s passing a couple of days came as something of a surprise to me. Not the passing of the 90 year old man. But just the idea that his name was suddenly back in the news. Berry was a legacy artist before I was born. And retired from recording just a year before. Basically,the man can be regarded as the three crowned royal triad of rock n’ roll along with Ike Turner and Little Richard. As a matter of fact,Chuck Berry took from the Chess blues sound,from which he derived, to mix in the country influence and essentially innovate some of the basic and classic rock guitar riffs for the entire genre.
Berry faded from grace over the years,due perhaps in part to thick and fast changes in rock ‘n roll during the late 60’s. That and a couple of personal scandals he had to deal with. While he was recording an album before he died that had yet to be released when he passed on,he recorded a series of albums on Chess in the early 70’s that showcased him broadening out different ends of his personality. One of them was a 1971 release entitled San Francisco Dues. Its gained enough popularity to get a recent CD reissue. And one telling song on the album is entitled “My Dream”.
Berry played a high pitched guitar riff at the beginning of the song,before the main groove kicks in. The song has a slow,grinding beat from Bill Metros. The big,round bass line of Jack Groendal bounces ably along. Chuck follows the rhythm of the song with his rolling,bluesy piano-which increases in intensity as the song progresses. Of course,the music of song is basically a template for Berry to softly “rap” a poem that describes his ideal home,ideal female companion,literary choices and the music that he’d want to play there. All before the song comes to a flat close.
“My Dream” musically has a grinding New Orleans bluesy funk vibe about it. The fact that Berry primarily concentrates on his piano rather than better known guitar playing makes it tonally very interesting. The tale he tells has the feeling of a man contentedly prepared to settle down and enter into a comfortable semi retirement. That would not happen for another 7-8 years after this song came out of course. But he’d continue to perform his classics for years after this. Of course,soulful moments like this should not be forgotten among Chuck Berry’s classic 50’s and 60’s rock ‘n roll bible of hits all the same.
Larry Coryell is a somewhat unique musician for me to discuss. My friend Henrique informed me of the guitarists passing this past Sunday-at the age of 73. Generally speaking when doing a tribute to a fallen musician,I come at it from the point of view of strong knowledge about their music and often their back round. In the case of Mister Coryell,the exact opposite is true. Haven’t actually had much experience (if any) with his music at all. Still,an outsiders perspective might be an interesting place to come at him from. So I’ll start out discussing my only experience with him.
Again,this is a family musical story about me and my father. He was my first inspiration in terms of music and knowledge of it. This story started out with one of our many musical discussions when I was in my late teens. The subject was Miles Davis and his innovation of jazz fusion. And my father mentioned Larry Coryell as an artist who also innovated fusion. The only album he had by Coryell at that time was a cassette of a 1970 album called Spaces. With John McLaughlin,Miroslav Vitous,Chick Corea and Billy Cobham aboard, the album is apparently considered a ground zero for fusion along with Miles’s Bitches Brew.
Perhaps from listening to so much music,particularly electric jazz in all its forms,the memories I have of the Spaces album have also faded somewhat with time. Do remember that it was the first jazz records I heard that was heavily based in acoustic guitar. In the ensuing years,I began to listen to other acoustic jazz guitar maestros such as Earl Klugh. The only other time within the next two decades that I heard Coryell’s playing again was when I reviewed the Larry Young song “Moonwalker” on this blog,which featured Coryell’s playing on it.
In a case similar to the also recently departed David Axelrod, my musical case with Larry Coryell represents something that I’ve often disliked being done by other people. And that is embracing an artists music only after they pass away-the cult of the dead being a motivating factor in appreciating a musician. All that being said,if any of you out there haven’t checked out musical innovators who are still living,it would be a great idea to do so. There’s something so creatively rewarding about embracing art while the artist themselves are still with us. Even if their music will never simply die with them.
Walter Becker is one of those players whose proven himself the ultimate “comeback kid” as it were. The Queens native met Donald Fagan while the two attended Bard College. And of course they would soon be the core of Steely Dan. While the songwriting of Steely Dan was a collaborative effort between the two,Becker’s instrumental influence generally came through his guitar solos. They grew from a virtuosic blues rock style in the early 70’s to an intricate,crisp jazz tone later on. A serious of exhausting events led Becker to leave Steely Dan following their Gaucho album-remaining musically inactive for a decade.’
In 1993,Steely Dan reformed and began touring. Becker released his solo debut album 11 Tracks Of Whack a year later. With a somewhat more stripped down musical approach and vocal style closer to that of Eric Clapton,his albums were as critically successful as Fagans. But didn’t have quite the same commercial appeal. It would be another 15 years later that his sophomore album Circus Money. This was an independently released project from 2008 that featured the same superb studio players Becker had worked with in the past. It also started out with just the right groove on the song “Door Number Two”.
A bass and light snare based beat,crystalized sounding piano and bluesy rhythm guitar provide the intro-along with a moody electric piano solo. The basic rhythm of the chorus than comes in. This is a bossa with a clean guitar burst playing a single chord on every other bar or so-with the piano,keyboard and slippery bass line playing along with the female backup singers vocalizing the choral lyric. The refrain finds Becker singing a bluesy line with more piano improvisations behind him. Chris Potter provides a great bop sax solo on the bridge and extends it into the chorus that fades out the song.
Years of being a record producer and even a one time member of the sophisti pop group China Crisis really helped to enhance Walter Becker’s musical flavors as a solo artist. It wasn’t until revisiting “Door Number Two” for this overview did I realize that it has the vibe of a lower key “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”. The bossa Latin/boogaloo funk is there in the rhythm. Still Becker’s love of jazz comes through all the way-with musicians Keith Carlock,Jon Herington,Jim Beard and Ted Baker all solo right in the pocket of this groove. And it all makes for a great example of jazz with a raw rhythm attitude.
Loose Ends were formed in 1980 as a trio consisting of vocalist/guitarist Carl McIntosh, songwriter and keyboardist Steve Nichol and lead singer Jane Eugene. They started out as Loose End,recording a pair of singles in 1982 produced by the Emoo brothers from the UK soul group The Real Thing,who themselves had been successful in the 70’s. Their first three singles “In The Sky”,”We’ve Arrived” and “Don’t Hold Back Your Love” were all excellent live instrumental oriented boogie funk. But it wasn’t until their debut album in 1984 did their sound fully coming together and they became successful.
The debut album in question is entitled A Little Spice. This album had a stripped down electro element to it,along with the trio’s jazzy songwriting that made their sound so distinctive. It was something I found preowned at my local record store Bullmoose for literally a few bucks. Remembering having some vague knowledge about the band. But the CD cover had me interested enough to pick it up. From the first moment I heard it,wanted to here more by the group. And later sought out other albums by them. The song that motivated me most from that debut was “Hanging On A String (Contemplating)”.
A drum machine kick into an electronic Afro-Latin percussive drum machine kicks in. McIntosh provides an echoed rhythm guitar swell,along with higher alarm like tone while Nichol provides a round synth bass for fattened support at the bottom. By the time the refrain and Eugene’s vocals emerge,McIntosh’s six not guitar line and Nichol’s synthesized melody take over. On the chorus,electronic orchestration join up with McIntosh and Eugene’s vocal harmonies. On the last bars of the song,a Clavinet like keyboard along with a spiraling guitar solo take over as the song fades out.
“Hanging On A String (Contemplating)” is one of the most rhythmically and harmonically complex songs and grooves to come out of the electro/boogie funk era. McIntosh and Nichol truly deliver on a mix of highly Afrocentric drum machines and synth bass,along with very jazzy guitar and orchestral keyboards. Jane Eugene’s vocals have a strong jazzy ranginess and an extremely soulful,passionate delivery that matches the music to a tee. Loose Ends are known for few other key songs. Yet this song is likely the one they’ll always be best remember for. And for very good reason too.
Lee Ritenour is an excellent example of a musician who functioned equally as strong as both a session player and as a soloist. The LA guitar maestro began his session career in in 1968 playing on a Mama’s & The Papa’s section at age 16. His dexterous,often fluttering sound earned him the name Captain Fingers by the early 70’s. He continued to do session work for artists such as George Duke before launching his solo career in 1976. For the next four or five years, he continued with his session work (most popularly for Pink Floyd for their album The Wall) and releasing solo records in the Brazilian flavored jazz-funk vein.
In 1981 Ritenour released his album Rit,which added a strong pop focus and vocals than even before. The song “Is It You?”,with singer Eric Tagg,was actually part of the first rotation of music videos to be aired on the then very new MTV. Of course with other session greats who enjoyed popular acclaim such as Greg Phillinganes,Jeff Porcoro and the late Louis Johnson the album represented a turning point in the turning point from jazz-funk into what would become known as smooth jazz. One of its most defining and distinctive songs to me on the album is “Countdown (Captain Fingers)”.
A round synth riser opens the song. This segues directly into the songs intro-which also acts as its bridge. This finds Ritenour playing a bassy chugging rhythm guitar with flourishes of a higher pitched melodic line along with think slap bass lines. Combined with percussive drumming it has a strong Brazilian flavor. On the choruses,the synths play an ascending melody with a Vocorder-ized vocal chorus as the bassy chugging continues. After a few bars of this chorus/refrain exchange,the album outro’s on a melodically virtuosic duet between Ritenour’s guitar sustains and the synthesizers before it fades out.
Each time I hear “Countdown (Captain Fingers)”,it becomes apparent what an ingenious song this actually is. Its Afro Brazilian rhythmic and melodic flavor is seamlessly connected to the West Coast sophistfunk/jazz-pop vibe of the songs main melodic theme. Especially fitting is the outro where the music’s general volume lowers and the wooden percussion clavs become the main rhythm element of the song. In terms of almost flawlessly blending Brazilian fusion,jazz funk and West Coast pop elements this jam almost epitomizes the general American musical atmosphere of the early 80’s.
Shuggie Otis represents what I refer to as a “new old artist” who defined my musical interests just after the turn of the millennium. His only knowledge to me before that was a passing reference as the composer (and original recorder of) the Brothers Johnson hit “Strawberry Letter#23”. It was through a Luaka Pop label reissue of his under sung 1974 album Inspiration Information that got my attention,through my father of course. My first thoughts hearing it was “this was a Prince/Stevie Wonder type musician who never was”.
Otis’s father Johnny was a very famous musical impresario,known in the lingo of his day as the “white negro” singer/musician/arranger/talent scout/DJ out of the Bay Area of California. Shuggie began playing with his dad in the end of the 60’s. But his own career never truly took off. In fact,he spent over 33 years tinkering with his follow up to Inspiration Information. The album was finally released in 2013 and was entitled Wings Of Love. Recorded over several decades,the first full song on the album (recorded around 1980) really caught my own ear. It was called “Special”.
A wooshing sound drives in the fuzz/ringing rhythm guitar combo of the intro as Otis responds to his own echoplex vocally. Than the main rhythm of the song kicks in-driving both the refrain and chorus whose changes are carried largely by Otis’s vocal changes. The drums have a heavy Brazilian march approach. The bass line loops around several guitar parts. One a phat wah wah,the other a light chicken scratch and another playing a quavering,high pitched ringing melody. On the refrain parts,Otis singing’s in a higher and calmer voice. And on the refrains,with a heavier shout along with the ringing guitar part.
Again,this was a song that seemed to be recorded in the early 80’s. Yet its origins seems to come out of the psychedelic/cinematic funk sound of the late 60’s/early 70’s. The production is very trippy-full of echo and fuzz filter on nearly every sound. Yet the groove is strong and funky all the way. In the intro especially,it reminds me a bit of Curtis Mayfield’s “(If There’s A Hell Below) We’re All Gonna Go”. Needless to say,this is generally punchier and more stripped down than that song was. Still,its one of the finest grooves I’ve heard Shuggie Otis throw down since the mid 70’s.
Filed under 2013, chicken scratch guitar, cinematic funk, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, fuzz guitar, guitar, lead guitar, psychedelic soul, rhythm guitar, Shuggie Otis, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar
Prince was an artist whose musical conceptualization helped me personally to view sexuality as an act of love,rather than as a profane taboo. Considering his classic soul music struggle between spiritual and carnal pleasures,that may be hard for some people to believe. But as far as that aspect of Prince’s talent,it really began to reach its peak in the mid/late 80’s. A period that I feel represents Prince’s creative peak as a musician. Prince was also on the cusp of becoming a 30 something during this period as well. This represented another stage in Prince’s emotional maturity.
Sign O The Times was the Prince album that illustrated this stage of his maturity most fully. Because of the time frame in which I heard it,the 1987 album reminds me of a long period during the 90’s that wasn’t paying attention to Prince’s new music. There is one memory from a rainy afternoon in 1994 when I was driving home with my parents from Strawberries Records. They had the radio on and this Prince song came on with a very deep and strange sound at the beginning. They shut it off before I knew what it was. When I finally heard Sign O The Times,I realized that song was “If I Was Your Girlfriend”.
That “strange sound” I mentioned begins the song over a three note LINN drum hit. Actually sounds like revving an amp’d up electric guitar at its very lowest notes. Then a thick slap bass pop breaks into the refrain of the song. Its a very slow beat accompanied by a trumpet like synth brass solo while foreboding layers of synth strings play along in the back round. On the refrains,Prince sings in a sped up falsetto along with mainly the drum and bass line of the song. Toward the end of the song,the bass line gets somewhat more intricate as Prince raps frantically with some operatic orchestration before the song stops.
Its taken me too long to realize that this is one of Prince true funk classics. The slap bass pretty much carries the entire song-one that TLC would also cover around the first time I first hear…well the intro anyway. Lyrically,this song finds Prince exploring a sexual double standard. His asking a lover if she’d undress in front of him if they were anything but lovers. Even saying by the end “we don’t have to make babies to make love/we don’t have to make love to have an orgasm”. Prince taking on romantic insecurity in this funky musical way was a major step in his evolution as a human being.
Filed under 'Sign 'O The Times', 1987, Funk, guitar, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, sexual revolution, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizers