Tag Archives: James Brown

Charles Bradley-1948 to 2017: Losing A 21st Century Soul Man

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Charles Bradley’s cancer was made aware to me by my friend Henrique Hopkins about a year ago. That was a time I now refer to with weariness as the “funkpocalypse”. So many classic musical icons, both in and out of the soul/funk spectrum, were passing away faster than many could count it seemed. Again as Henrique pointed out recently, that was an unprecedented event. Bradley’s passing today reflects how the foreknowledge of his passing has provided the necessary time to reflect on where he fit into the contemporary soul/funk/R&B world.

Six years ago, a documentary film on the man was released entitled Charles Bradley:  Soul Of America. Its one I haven’t seen. But there was a lot I already knew about him. He was raised by his grandmother in Gainesville, Florida. His mother had abandoned him as an infant. But by age eight, she took him back to live with her in Brooklyn, New York. Witnessing a James Brown show with his sister at the Apollo in 1962, Bradley became fascinated with perfecting JB’s vocal style and image at home. At 14, he ran away from home to escape the poverty of his life. For a time, he was essentially homeless.

After enlisting in the Job Corps, he ended up in Bar Harbor, Maine. He trained to be a chef there. He worked in that position for ten years. During this time, he overcame his stage fright. Mainly at the encouragement of co workers. He performed nights with a local band-who eventually got drafted into Vietnam. He then left Maine to travel out west. Eventually living in different areas of country. And performing small shows between odd jobs until 1996. At that time, he began working as a James Brown impersonator under the name of Black Velvet

This all occurred amidst trying to re-connect with his mother, almost dying after an allergic reaction to penicillin. Plus dealing with the murder of his brother. Finally in 2011, he became part of the Daptone label’s revival of late 60’s style soul & funk. And this is where my own saga with Bradley begins. I remember purchasing his first album No Time For Dreaming  at Borders Books & Music-right as they were liquidating. I purchased his third album Changes during the time of finding out about his cancer diagnosis. In musical terms. I somehow still associate Charles Bradley with new beginnings.

Having been a predominantly Latino/African American man growing up in 80’s and 90’s Maine, its very compelling to me to think of a man who looked and sang so much like funk innovator James Brown being a chef in Bar Harbor. Although a port city in Maine with a good level of diversity, I am today very aware of the states less then 1% African American population. To think of a man like Charles Bradley first realizing his calling in Maine during the 1960’s is simply amazes me. Through all the man went through, he not only survived but thrived. And emerged as an artist fully funkified. He WILL be missed.

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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James Brown’s ‘Get On The Good Foot’-An Extended Album Overview For The Godfather’s 84th Anniversary

James Brown was one of few artist who,upon first hearing the box set Star Time,made a thoroughly positive musical impression on me. Only one song didn’t then nor fully does now make a huge impact on me. And of all songs it was “Get On The Good Foot”. Its one of many 70’s funk classics of course. Just when set up with so many of his classic extended funk pieces such as “There It Is”,”Hot Pants”,”Soul Power”,”The Payback” and “Funky Drummer”? Something about the groove didn’t have the same vitality to me somehow. And that opinion seems strange to any friend or family member I tell it to.

This song is also the title song of James Brown’s second 1972 album. Its one which I saw for years on CD. Mostly at the old Borders Books & Music. Yet my lack of interested in the title song had me avoiding it. That continued onto the period when I began exploring original JB albums-always favoring The Payback or any of the Apollo live albums over Get On The Good Foot. It became somewhat rare on CD and vinyl in my area during this time. When I started to here more about what the rest of the album had on it,was luckily able to snag an inexpensive used CD of it and take the whole thing in.

James Brown seems to have presented even his studio records in much the same manner he did his life shows. You would have re-workings of classics from his catalog. And he’d take the grooves and songs he was currently working-and put them into that mix. That had the effect of making JB’s studio offerings in his salad days rather more intimate affairs than most. I personally was first exposed to the title song of this album plus “I Got A Bag Of My Own” via JB’s box set ‘Star Time’. After taking many years to track this,Brown’s first double studio album,down on CD, it became clear just how important this enormous musical statement was to The Godfather at the height of his funky innovations.

The title track of this album is one of his known classics. For unknown reasons,this particular groove is the only JB funk jam that never totally moved me. Surprising considering how bass/guitar/horn driven it is. On “The Whole World Needs Liberation” a Latin soul jazz styled groove-filled with percussion,electric piano,heavy bass and strings illustrates a vocal call for freedom. “Your Love Was Good For Me” is a beautifully orchestrated Chicago type sweet soul number. “Cold Sweat is done up as a faster,slightly more modern take six years after the original. There’s also a recitation over a cinematic soul backdrop from Hank Ballard about JB’s musical cultural importance.

“I’ve Got A Bag Of My Own” is one of JB’s most fiery funk jams-with its percussion rhythm and deep bass/guitar chord. The almost rocking intensity of “Funky Side Of Town” keeps a similar groove percolating along with “My Part/Make It Funky”. “Nothing Beats a Try But A Fail” is a 6/8 time bluesy soul ballad of determination whereas the album ends on a similar note with “I Know Its True”. “Please Please”,a retake of JB’s first hit from 1956 is a 12+ minutes musical treatise on everything from brotherly love to his bands origins in the American South. There’s also a retake of the earlier R&B shuffle of “Ain’t That A Groove”,there’s the slow jazzy blues instrumental horn shuffle of “Dirty Harri”.

Since I first began listening to James Brown intensively just over two decades ago,have been gradually exploring his original albums. Especially the ones from the early/mid 70’s. It would seem from listen to this album that 1972 was an extremely strong year along for him musically. With the classic JB lineup in full affect here,this album is assembled as something of an in studio concert. With no breaks between the songs. Some songs are cinematic soul in par with the early 70’s blackspoitation era,some are tone ballads and others are just seriously funky. Its got all sides of classic James Brown of the early 70’s-perfectly capable as keeping it just as live in the studio as he would on stage.

Its kind of a funny afterthought that my friend Henrique and I both grew up during a time when James Brown’s 70’s studio albums were all back in print on CD along with his numerous compilations. As for my case,ended up passing them by for purely monetary reasons. Even though many of them were out of print by the time I could’ve afforded them,have always endeavored to hunt them down. And each time I do,there’s something to learn about the way James Brown presented his recorded music. In every way what the Star Time box set did for me when I first heard it.

Get On The Good Foot actually has the total opposite effect for me that the song first had. And even has me appreciating more hearing it in its native context. This is an album that actually pushes the JB funk sound-based on repeating phrases “on the one” and lushly orchestrated mid tempo/ballad melodies into an album length concept. And in doing so, Get On The Good Foot was a dry run for JB’s next double album opus in late 1973’s The Payback. In the end, this is an album that might’ve been the one that really put it all together for James Brown in terms of the best way to present his studio albums.

*Here’s a link to the Amazon.com review I did of this album that this article is based on. Please click on the review and click the yes or no button there if it helped you or if you liked it. You’ll be glad that you did. And it might even be good to you!

 

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Star Time At 26: Celebrating James Brown And The Grandest Record Of His Funky Legacy

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Star Time will have been around for 26 years this coming Sunday. And tomorrow would’ve been The Godfathers 84th birthday. The interesting thing about my history with JB is that for a couple of years in the 80’s,I thought that “Unity” and “Living In America’ were his very first songs. There was a huge disconnect between my youth in Maine and the musical arc of JB that still continues to run deep within the African American community. Of course by the end of the 80’s, it was important to my family that JB be appreciated beyond having been arrested for domestic abuse.

That 1988 arrest barely phased me because at the same time, I heard “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” on oldies radio for the first time. So knew this was an artist with serious history. Then almost a decade later,my father played “Cold Sweat” for me. And suddenly the music of James Brown became a necessity rather than a footnote in adolescent musical appreciation. Was deeply exploring funk music than. And JB was the one innovated that genre. Different music books I was reading then stated the definitive way to get into JB’s music was a 4 CD box set entitled Star Time.

Star Time is now a huge key notation between myself and friends online,such as Henrique Hopkins. In fact,it was part of many musical topics that helped he and I develop our friendship earlier on. Far as I’m concerned, its also one of the best multi disc compilation any artist has put together. I actually first discovered JB songs that are among my favorites such as “Think”,”Let Yourself Go”,”Funky President” and “Get Up Offa That Thing” on Star Time. And that is huge encouragement to dig deeper into the vast musical world of James Brown.

During this period, Star Time was a volume far outside the price range my  17 year old self. Luckily I was a member of the old BMG music club. And they had this particular box set on sale for half price. When I ordered it,my father wanted to borrow it disc by disc of course. It made sense. About 90% of JB’s recorded music was unknown to both of us. Of course that’s because James Brown is likely the most prolific black American recording artists in terms of released material. Even Star Time could only scratch the surface. What the box set does do is showcase exactly why James Brown was a major musical icon.

Star Time is a box set that covers JB’s music from 1956 through 1984. It starts out with he and his Famous Flames rhythmically unique take on doo-wop on “Please Please Please” and ends with the first part of his duet with Zulu Nation founder/hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa on “Unity Part 1”. What’s between that is a musical journey that you do not even need to read the wonderful essays included (by writers such as Nelson George) to comprehend. Its just 5 hours of music that showcases the many key points on the musical road of James Brown.

One of the most vital thing about Star Time is how it emphasizes how James Brown’s career wasn’t like a freight train run with a bunch of different stops. It was actually a fluid continuum. James Brown’s nickname “the hardest working man in show business” often referred directly to the almost super human level of touring/live shows he did for much of his life. During these shows,he didn’t merely present his present music of the time. All the periods of his musical progression were covered-adding newer songs as they applied to JB’s performance flow.

Although this is a box set of studio singles presented in chronological order, Star Time still presents that JB continuum in the same way his live shows tended to. Hence it also presents JB as an early precursor to the remix artist too. Original early 60’s versions of “I Got You” and “Its A Man’s World” are presented in the same setting as their better known hit versions as a result. This box sets nearly 30 years worth music music showcases JB going from doo-bop/R&B ballads into his funk innovation-with disco and hip-hop entering the mix later on. Not to even mention hitting on his instrumental music as well.

Even though this album was part of the huge 1990’s CD box set boom,there are few of these box sets that project the musical breadth of the given artist quite the way Star Time does. Given all that, this set doesn’t only entertain. It teaches while your dancing (and even singing) along to the music. Again that’s right in the key of what JB brought to funk: the idea that life was a soulful dance. And that everyone was living to the rhythm whether they realized it or not. So Star Time wasn’t only a musical lesson for myself and others. It can often be a live lesson at the same time.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Unity,Part 1” by Afrika Bambaataa and James Brown

Afrika Bambaataa,born Kevin Donovan in the Bronx to black activist Barbados immigrants,was at one point a lieutenant in the NYC borough’s most powerful gang-known as the Black Spades. Interestingly enough,he often used the idea of unity and brotherhood to promote recruitment into the gang. It was also a gang known for clearing the streets of drug dealers and assisting in community health care projects. When he won an essay contest and a trip to Africa,his life changed around. He left the Black Spades behind. And began to promote pro black unity through music.

That music was the burgeoning hip-hop scene of the mid/late 70’s. By 1982,he and the Soul Sonic Force,inspired by Bambaataa’s love of Kraftwerk,released their iconic song “Planet Rock”-a reworking of Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” and “Trans Europe Express” credited as the beginning of the electro funk sound. In 1984,Bambaataa helped revive the recording career of funk innovator and hip-hop icon James Brown. That 12″ inch single Unity  has been a mainstay in my family’s vinyl collection since it first came out. And its first part alone is a wonderful cornerstone of funk onto early recorded hip-hop.

JB and Bambaataa begin the tune with a similar call and response acapella exchange as JB did on “Get Up,Get Into It And Get Involved” 13 years earlier. Keith LeBlanc comes in with the funky drum-with Doug Wimbish and Skip McDonald providing some classic spiraling bass/chicken scratch guitar interaction play along with some round synth bass washes. On the refrain of the song,that same bass and guitar do their business with the horn section known as Chops. After several exchanges between the chorus and refrain,the song outro’s to the next segment of the suite with the same drum rhythm.

“Unity Part 1” is a straight up JB style funk jam. Using then contemporary musicians, everyone involved really gets the flavor of what the classic JB’s lineup achieved as they built the genre of funk from the ground up. With Bambaatta acting as something of a new Bobby Byrd for JB on this record,the lyrics of the groove state that the solution to the self hate and violence within the black community during the 1980’s would be “peace,unity,love and having fun”. Its an amazingly funky collaboration between funk and hip-hop’s earliest icons. And musically bridges two generations of funk.

 

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Clyde Stubblefield,Thank You For Laying The Foundation

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Clyde Stubblefield,born in Chattanooga Tennessee in  1943,became interested in music based on his interest in the rhythms of the factories and trains around him. This is a fitting legacy for a man who,in 1967,would be asked along with fellow JB drummer John “Jabo” Starks to “make the entire band sound like a drum”. Everything from the shuffling rhythms of hip-hop and new jack swing,along with the stripped down rhythms of modern electronica,come directly from Mister Stubblefield.  Sadly,one of the most sampled drummers in music history passed of kidney failure on February 18th,2017.

I first learned the name of Stubblefield from a wonderful documentary on sampling entitled Copyright Criminals. Stubblefield was a participant-playing and discussing his famous drum break from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”. The man said he wasn’t particularly concerned with money in regard to sampling his drum break. But just credit for it. Even Rolling Stone magazine,who often snub the influence of funk/soul musicians,named Stubblefield their drummer of the year in 1990. This began a series of accolades to a musician who I’m about to discuss the reason why he’s so revered.

Stubblefield’s approach to drumming,from “Cold Sweat” through “Funky Drummer” is based on playing a series of unusual syncopation’s with a light touch on his drums. This technique has been referred to as playing “ghost notes”. Its something a lot easier to hear and dance to than it is to explain with the written word. Speaking personally,it was a sound that myself (and I’m sure many others) knew extremely well before we even heard of Clyde Stubblefield. Even though he and James Brown are not with us anymore,their approach to music can never be extinguished from existence.

The saddest thing about Stubblefield is that his latter day health problems had him falling victim to the syndrome of a lot of elder musicians. Without record company residuals or health insurance for support,his medical bills ended up coming from other musical benefactors. Prince (who passed away last year) was a major one. Considering Stubblefield his idol as a drummer,he donated $80,000 to help pay his medical bills. So in terms of both his music and healthcare,Clyde Stubblefield’s legacy seemed to bring out the best in other musicians in terms of preserving his creative legacy.

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Music 4 the Nxt 1, Andresmusictalk III: “March of the Panther” by Mongo Santamaria

 

Mongo Santamaria is the one of the best artists to talk about during Black History Month because the cultural forces behind his music cover such a large part of the African diaspora. A native of pre Revolutionary Cuba, he learned music in his community based on rhythms that had come directly from Africa. It was said one of his grandfathers had in fact been a Yoruba priest. His composition, “Afro Blue”, was considered to be the first jazz standard based on an African “3 over 2” rhythm, and was popularized by John Coltrane. In the ’60s he moved from a straight Afro Latin jazz to a Boogaloo based melange of Afro Latin rhythms interlaid with the popular sounds of Soul and Funk. One album I grew up with during that period was an album he did called “Soul Bag”, that featured an incredible version of “Cold Sweat.” Today’s Black History Month special is a song from his 1970 LP, “Mongo 70”, entitled “March of the Panther.” This song was composed by guitarist Sonny Henry, who was the composer of Carlos Santana’s breakthrough hit, “Evil Ways”, which he originally recorded with Willie Bobo. “March of the Panther” is a funky, strident, striving number with the electric energy of the Black Panther Party in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

The song begins with an old school military march theme, featuring snare drum, tuba, flutes and horns playing in a style straight out of the Revolutionary War period. The allusion is very clear as the song transitions from music for that old school revolutionary army to a groove for the new school revolutionary army, The Black Panther Party, as the drummer plays a snare fill that leads to the groove. Bass Player John Hart plays a funky two note baseline supported by two pickup notes in the classic late ’60s, early ’70s style. There is a call and response relationship between the bass line and the electric piano, as the piano plays a syncopated rhythm chord figure after the bass plays its eighth notes. The drums play two strong kick drum notes in harmony with the bass but besides the cracking snare drum hits the drums are partially obscured by Mongo’s powerful African percussive figures, which are both pattern setting but also communicate in an improvisational way. These provide the setting for the rousing horn fanfare, which is a national anthem type melody that plays long, sustained notes, in the style of marching/military music, but also reminiscent of horn sections in African and Afro Latin bands, playing horn lines in unison. The bass and horn melody goes between two chords, as the bass line walks down to second chord sequence and the horns follow. After playing through that sequence the arrangement goes to a change part where the whole arrangement seems to come together in unity for the chorus, which is then followed by another vamp/statement of the main melody, with more attention paid to the trumpets, followed by another chorus that is again, heavier on the top end of the horns. After that a tenor sax solo is introduced, under which the bass player is given more freedom to improvise funky lines that support the solo. After the solo ends, Mongo’s conga playing becomes more pronounced, as he varies his rhythm and begins to take more of a leadership role, introducing the sections of the song with his drum flurries. The song grooves on and fades out, shifting back to a straight military march at the end.

“March of the Panther” took up the call that was made during the 1960s for new forms of Black art that would be the new symbols of the New Black Nation. In this case, it envisions itself as the theme for The Black Panther Party as the military arm of that nation. Mongo always foregrounded African/Black identity in his music, naming songs after Yoruba Gods and Black figures such as Malcom X. It was amazing for me to discover this funky song that took the idea of a military march and remade it for the age of The Panthers. The song itself is a good example of uptempo, super rhythmic, boogaloo inspired early 70s funk, in fact it would work very well over a montage movie scene about The Panthers or activists set in that time period. It was said that Herbie Hancock played his classic “Watermelon Man” for Mongo after Mongo had said he couldn’t see the connection between Afro Cuban and Afro American music. Upon hearing the funky tune, Mongo immediately got excited and began playing along with it. Of course, in Mongo’s hands, “Watermelon Man” went on to become one of the biggest hits in jazz history. It was this ability to connect the African roots, modern Afro Cuban music, jazz, and the then current funk and soul vibes that gave Mongo the unique place in Black music history and Black culture that he occupies. And that is one reason, along with his excellent musicianship, that a figure like Mongo deserves more consideration when contemplating the bonds of Africans in the Americas. And “March of the Panther” stands tall as an anthem for the Party that is no longer that brings together the energy of the whole African diaspora for the long waged fight for total prosperity and liberation!

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James Brown: The Man’s Christmas Legacy & A Decade Without Him

James Brown will have been gone from the world a decade this coming Sunday. JB’s song “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” was part of a special Christmas themed cassette tape that my father and I recorded for his mom and dad in the early 1990’s. Usually during the holiday season,I have zero guilt about enjoying softer Christmas music. In particular jazzy music. Maine winters can be very icy,bitterly cold and generally somewhat harsh to the senses.  Hearing at least that one song from JB at the holidays goes right along with the season too. Especially for providing vitality in the cold weather.

Zach Hoskins just wrote an article on his blog about James Brown’s Christmas albums. This was an excellent chronological analysis of them. Wanted to do my own article as well. For reference,I went right to Henrique Hopkins. At least every other conversation we have references James Brown in one way or another. Either we are discussing what we already know,or I’m being taught something new. And while JB seemed to disappear off the map some from my viewpoint during his final decade,his presence was apparently being felt in ways I didn’t even now. One example came shortly before his passing.

During the first few weeks of December 2006,James Brown was ill with pneumonia. Finally it came time for one of his annual James Brown Toy Giveaway’s for children,which was to take place at the Imperial Theater in Augusta,Georgia that year. Brown made his final public appearance there and handed out some toys. One associate named Don Rhodes noticed how frail JB seemed to be,and many things he was letting other people do. Even though Brown would be gone shortly thereafter,the idea of this toy giveaway being his last public appearance showcased the sorts of things that were truly important for JB.

As a young man,JB had been dismissed from school for shabby cloths. His adolescence showcased him as something of a black Robin Hood: stealing clothes for himself and to help other kids. Considering the fact he’d funneled so much of the millions of dollars he earned during his 50 years as the “hardest working man in show business” into pro black businesses and charitable events,the spirit of giving at Christmas continued to bring out the best in Brown-giving back to the underprivileged in the black community after having done so well for himself. Its a story of Christmastime giving many should learn from.

*To learn more (and contribute to) the James Brown Family Foundation,perhaps to participate in future toy giveaways,click on the link below!

The James Brown Foundation Official Website

 

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Prince 1958-2016: “Musicology” (2004)

Prince came into the new millennium with a revived sense of energy. One thing Henrique and I have been discussing recently is how much one can become frustrated chasing Prince’s career motivations. And I’ve recently found myself dealing with that. One thing that’s for sure is that Prince 90’s era output found him courting the present rather than making the future of music. With his 2001 release The Rainbow Children,the middle aged artist had re-emerged with the name that made him famous. And more so his musical trajectory had come back into better focus. Especially in terms of finding the funk.

The Rainbow Children didn’t come across strongly with the mass audience of its time. But four years (and two online only album releases) came his second album of the 21st century. It was titled Musicology. Interestingly enough,financial realities kept me from exploring the album when it was fresh on the record store racks. I would up picking it up two years later along with 3121 when that album was new. There is one common feeling I have about the album from when I saw a music video from it in 2004 to hearing it on the album. And its that the albums successes was likely carried heavily by the opening title song.

Prince’s yelp starts the song into a Clyde Stubblefield style funky drum starts out the song with Prince playing a deep strutting rhythm guitar. This is soon accompanied by one of Prince’s trademark middle to high on the neck chicken scratch guitar lines-along with an organ like sustained synth line. This is primarily the main body of the song. The solo drum bridge has Prince famously shouting ” don’t you TOUCH my stereo! these is MY records!” On the last few bars of the song,Minneapolis synth brass accompanies the song as it fades out on a radio dial switching between several of Prince’s 80’s hits.

In a similar manner to 1987’s “Housequake”,this song would’ve served well as a James Brown comeback for the early aughts. On the other hand,this song is much more purely a retro JB style rhythm section based funk stomp. But in its stripped down nature,it funks super hard. And Prince substitutes the live JB horns with his own MPLS style synth brass. Lyrically Prince is extremely nostalgic about funk on this song-alluding to Earth Wind & Fire,Sly Stone and of course James Brown. That along with its semi autobiographical seeming music video give it the feel of Prince looking to the past for his future.

 

 

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Prince Summer: “Housequake” (1987)

Sometimes,there are songs discussed on this Anatomy of THE Groove feature that have a little extra excitement in terms of me writing about them. Many of these are songs often discussed between myself and blog co-founder Henrique Hopkins on Facebook. So many of his ideas come across in them. Today is such an occasion. Its taken a long time for me to actually locate this particular content. As with any song from Prince,it has its share of rich history all on its own. And as usual before getting into my rundown of the song,wanted to share some of that history with you.

Following the release of his second motion picture Under The Cherry Moon,Prince embarked on a year long recording session throughout 1986 and early 1987. These songs were originally intended for three separate album projects. Seems Warner Bros weren’t keen on Prince’s prolific nature forcing his albums to actually compete with each other on the charts. One of these projects was to be released under a pseudonym known as Camille-sung in a sped up voice.. It was a very funky album,a handful of whose tracks appeared on 1987’s Sign O The Times. The one I’m talking about today is called “Housequake”.

A loud,halting screech beings the song. Then the drum intro kicks in-a nine beat drum machine rhythm with the four notes after the third in a faster cluster. A live drum and a breezy synth horns come in over the call and response vocals. Then the refrain takes over for most of the rest of the song. Its the basic live drum beat with a mid range rhythm guitar playing the changes. There is also an electric and synth bass both playing the same six note line. The horns of Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss come in to accent on the second part. Eric solos on the bridge before playing a jazzy unison with Bliss on the jam’s outro.

The key point that Henrique and I discussed so much is that if James Brown had continued innovating his 70’s era funk sound with 1980’s instrumental innovations,it would likely have sounded somewhat like “Housequake”. The horns are there,and the opening drum break was even used to open a song by Stevie Wonder in a concert during the same era. Still the production style still has Prince’s touches of instrumental subtlety. So even though the instrumentation and lyrical references to “green eggs and ham” are totally JB derived, Prince still managed to maintain his own touches on this driving funk groove.

 

 

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