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.
Wilton Felder was far more to me than a founding member of the Crusaders. And even that was an great accomplishment. He set the precedence along with David Sanborn for the top session sax king of the late 60’s and early 70’s. He was pretty much Joni Mitchell’s go to guy for sax during her mid/late 70’s jazz explorations. He even told the Virginian Pilot in 2006 that her music was just fun to play for him. Of course his session work also extended to electric bass. An ongoing project that myself, Henrique Hopkins and Calvin Lincoln have been on is to figure out just how many sessions Wilton played on.
Today, wanted to talk a little about Felder’s solo career. It started out with the soundtrack to the 1969 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt. Since my father described the album as one which turned him away from Felder’s solo albums, I didn’t actively pursue it. But he did record a number of solo albums in the late 70’s to the late 80’s. These were done concurrently with Crusaders releases and under their production moniker. I have three of them on vinyl. One of them is a 1983 LP entitled Gentle Fire. It contains one song I’ll be talking to about today entitled “Summer Nights In Rio”.
The Afro Latin drums and percussion starts off the songs-courtesy of drummer Rayford Griffin and one of Rio’s finest in Paulinho Da Costa on percussion. A liquid guitar and thumping bass solo accompany it. Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements come into the mix at that point. These horns play over an extended, chordally complex melodic movement with fellow Crusader Joe Sample providing the Fender Rhodes. Felder’s solos, ranging from higher pitched to deeper tones, occupy most of the songs middle before an extended chorus fades it out.
“Summer Nights In Rio” represents the very best aspects of Brazilian jazz/funk fusion. Felder,Da Costa, Joe Sample and (with six musicians between both instruments) the bass and guitarist on this song are all seemingly experiencing a great deal of joy in playing it. Its strongly based in Felder’s sax solos. At the same time, everyone playing with him are focusing on beautiful melodic and rhythmic dynamics. It showcased how that well oiled Crusaders sound of the late 70’s and early 80’s remained a major aspect of Felder’s solo albums as well.
Michael Jackson began the sessions for Off The Wall, his first solo album produced by Quincy Jones, with the idea that he wanted to separate his adult solo career from what he’d been doing with his brothers. This was a concept he’d already pursued on their previous album Destiny from one year earlier. Talking with my friend Henrique, the then current sound of Barry White interested MJ in 1979-his album The Man and its emphasis on live horns and strings. That is the direction he pursued on the finished album. Early on in the sessions however, the music MJ and Quincy were making was slightly different.
Of course, instrumentally the same West Lake studio crew that worked on this album also played on the Brothers Johnson’s Light Up The Night. That album was recorded during the same time as Off The Wall, but was released in 1980. So musicians such as Greg Phillinganes, Paulinho Da Costa, Jerry Hey, Rod Temperton and Toto’s Jeff Porcoro likely switched off from one album session to another. Since Light Up The Night has a more electronic flavor to its grooves, it doesn’t surprise me too much that an early song from the Off The Wall sessions has a similar flavor. And it was called “Sunset Driver”.
The intro features what sound like higher pitched synth horns followed along closely by the drum-beat by beat. The drums then settle into a straight up disco friendly dance beat pounding away. The melody is led by a thick polyphonic synthesizer, with a pumping synth bass underneath it. Chucking right along with it is a scratching wah wah guitar. On the refrains of the songs, the string arrangements ascend and descend with MJ’s vocals. On the choruses, the strings sustain along with the lead synth. On the bridge, the lead synth goes into a more descending pattern before an extended chorus fades out the song.
Upon hearing it shortly following MJ’s passing eight summers ago, “Sunset Driver” emerged as an unreleased song I had trouble placing into MJ’s vast recorded catalog. Its a lot closer to the post disco/boogie funk of a Brothers Johnson song such as “This Had To Be”. Especially with the synthesizer being a far more significant element than it had been on the final cut of Off The Wall. Still with MJ’s dialog near the end of the song saying “that’s it Jerry,that’s nice”, its clear now that this shows MJ in a different and cutting edge electronic dance/funk flavor at the beginning of his adult solo career.
Al Jarreau’s artistry as a world class vocalist/singer has seldom been disputed. Though there was a time when it was said that,after the mid 70’s,Jarreau abandoned jazz for pop crossover. Its an age old argument. And honestly,it usually derives from ignorance. In Jarreau’s case,his musical and vocal approach always remained squarely rooted in jazz. From the vocalese/scat and tremolo effects of his musical heroes Jon Hendricks and Johnny Mathis to the arrangements of the music itself,Jarreau was one of a handful of jazz vocalists who could bring improvisation to a wider audience with a pop/funk musical twist.
Jarreau’s best known album was 1981’s Breakin Away. It was a Jay Graydon production. Graydon,like Rod Temperton,was a figure who really knows how to deliver soulful and funky music that has a strong jazz flavor to it. This style was extremely well suited for Jarreau’s jazz approach,since it was still required to make the whole thing work. And it was a massive (and in my opinion deserved) crossover triumph. And it spawned his best known hit with the mid tempo ballad “We’re In This Love Together”. While spawning two more big hits,a favorite of mine and many fans of Jarreau on this album is “Roof Garden”.
Its the trio of Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements,Steve Gadd’s impeccable funky shuffle and George Duke’s strutting Fender Rhodes that starts off this song with Jarreau’s spoken word/scat intro. Of course Abraham Laboriel’s stomping bass line is right along for the right. On the choruses,Jarreau is singing like a chocked,muted trumpet alongside Graydon’s liquid guitar. On the refrains,the horns and drums lock themselves into a dramatic big band swing style melodic arrangement. The bridge finds Jarreau scatting with Duke’s Rhodes until the big horn,choral and lead vocal part the fades out the song.
“Roof Garden” is one of my personal favorite Al Jarreau numbers. Its got so much high stepping,high strutting jazz/funk personality. Everything from the bass/guitar interaction to the horns is locked right into place. Jarreau was alternately comical and sassy on this song vocally. Especially singing lines at the beginning like “hang on,what ‘cha mama gonna say if she found you in a spot like this”. Jarreau delivered on every strength he had: improvising complex scales,scatting and vocalese of many sorts. While its still hard to believe he’s no longer with us,jazz funk like this will assure his sound will endure.
Jeffrey Osborne-a Providence,Rhode Island native was came from significant musical lineage. His father Clarence “Legs” Osborne,who played trumpet for the likes of Duke Ellington,Lionel Hampton and Count Basie. Osborne formed up with the group that would become LTD in 1970. By 1976,the band was off to a run of successful funk/soul ballad based albums in the late 70’s and early 80’s that included major successes such as the funk of “Back In Love Again” and “Holding On” as well as slow jams such as “Love Ballad” and “Shine”. Osborne’s robust,gospel drenched baritone voice was a major highlight too.
Osborne left LTD in 1980 to begin a solo career. His self titled solo debut came out on his bands label A&M in 1982. It was produced by the late jazz/funk luminary George Duke. It was through Duke that I first took interest in this first solo album when I discovered it on CD about 12 years or so ago. Because of where LTD’s music had seemed to be going in the early 80’s,had the impression this would be a Lionel Richie like album that strong emphasized ballads. And Osborne’s solo career seemed to have been marketed that way. Yet he also came through with songs like “Who You Talkin’ To” as well.
Jerry’s Hey’s horn arrangements begin the affair-with the refrain consisting of Terry Smith’s drumming,Paulinho Da Costa’s always spicy percussion,a high chunky rhythm guitar part and a hard slap bass line from Larry Graham himself. George Duke provides the sung song title through his Vocorder along with Osborne’s straight lead. The horns punctuate every bar of the song. They also play a low thundering chart on the lead up to the choruses. The bridge finds the drums,percussion,horns and Vocorder playing for a rocking guitar solo before another series of choruses closes out the song.
The early 80’s did seem to find a lot of baby boom age and/or aged black American recording artists emphasizing heavily arranged ballads. That seemed to be the emphasis of vocal based artists of that day. Jeffrey Osborne was always diverse in projecting epic soul ballads and hardcore funk. And his solo debut changed nothing. I cannot think of a black male American vocal album of its time with such a hardcore funk piece as “Who You Talkin’ To?” on it. And including slap bass innovator Larry Graham no less. So for the funk lover,this might be the highlight of Jeffrey Osborne’s solo debut.
Donna Summer was an artist who could’ve suffered the worst face of the post disco demolition radio freeze out. Under the guidance of Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, Summer was responsible for developing different sub genres of disco. She also helped to conceptualize disco culture with a series of themed albums that established disco as an album based medium. At the end of the 70’s,she began to slowly change her style by singing in her amazing gospel belt of a lower voice. And releasing music with a more rock oriented flavor on 1979’s Bad Girls and even more so on the following years The Wanderer.
After one final (and sadly then unreleased album) in 1981 with Moroder and Bellotte called I Am A Rainbow,the owner of her new label David Geffen hooked her up with Quincy Jones for what turned out to be her self titled 1982 album. Her working relationship with Quincy was apparently difficult,as she didn’t feel she had as much creative input with him. At the same time,it produced some of her strongest music-accompanied by Quincy’s iconic early 80’s musicians. Among them was the hit single that opened up the album that was entitled “Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger)”.
Paulinho Da Costa’s fast past percussion and Michael Sembello’s rhythm guitar open the song on the intro,just before Summer’s voice chimes in. Greg Phillinganes’ bass synth and Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements open into the main chorus of the song-playing call and response with Summer’s falsetto. On the refrains,Summer’s lower voice takes hold with the music emphasizing Phillinganes Clavinet like synth. After a couple more chorus and refrain exchanges,the bridge revisits the intro-adding in a disco whistle to accent the rhythm. After this the chorus repeats to the fade of the song.
Some may not necessarily agree but for me personally,”Love Is In Control” is one of the finest examples of the Quincy Jones/Westlake studio crew collaboration this side of Thriller. Being its another song penned by the late and great Rod Temperton,the song just kicks with energy and funk with its excited horns,percussion and synth bass lines. It has a pronounced Brazilian pop/funk flavor overall. And Summer absolutely aces it vocally with vocal backup of Howard Hewett along with James and Philip Ingram. And it rightfully got her the Top 10 chart hit the strong post disco funk groove deserved.
Jeff Lorber has remained one of the major jazz/funk keyboard players whose continued through the smooth jazz era by remaining consistently funky. Music will always change. And artists will have to change with it. Lorber has realized that as long as he keeps the rhythms tough and strong,and his solos jazzy and hummable,that the jazz/funk/fusion sound he’s now a veteran of,he can modernize his sound but keep its basic flavors intact. This is something he’s shown with his recent comebacks. On the other hand,his grooves hit a fevered pitch in the early 1980’s.
About 12 years ago when discovering Jeff Lorber’s albums from approximately 1980 to 1986, it came to me how much he was able to do with in the time period when analog based synthesizers were transitioning to digital ones. This also arrived at the same time that the Jeff Lorber Fusion were beginning to focus on heavy rhythm along with improvised instrumental soloing. That played a big part in their final album together for almost 30 years entitled Galaxian. The opening track of this album is one of the best examples of this that I can think of. It was called “Monster Man”.
The thick drums and slap bass start out the song before a fruity voice does a short rap at the beginning-while the bass burbles with an accenting rhythm guitar beneath him. After this,Donnie Gerrard’s vocals come in. And each of his vocals lines is accented by the horn charts from Jerry Hey. This represents the chorus of the song. On the refrains,Lorber’s keyboards lead a group lead the harmony vocals. On the bridge of the song,the drums take on a Brazilian flavor as the slap bass gets a duetting solo from non other than Stanley Clarke himself before the song fades out on the main theme.
‘Monster Man” is indeed a heavy funk monster. The bass leads the way from beginning to end. And the entire song never takes its eyes off the groove. I dare say it is the most thoroughly funky song Jeff Lorber made in the 1980’s. I’m not entirely sure if Stanley Clarke plays all the bass lines here,or is accompanying bassist Danny Wilson (who plays on the rest of the album) on this song. Either way,its still one of those “bass in your face” songs where the funk is very accessible to identify. Since Lorber is celebrating his birthday today,this is just the song I’d personally chose to represent his groove.
Filed under 1980's, Donnie Gerrard, drums, horns, jazz funk, Jeff Lorber, Jeff Lorber Fusion, Jerry Hey, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Stanley Clarke, synthesizer
Harlem born Patti Austin actually had a couple unique musical careers before her 70’s and 80’s breakthroughs. She was singing at the Apollo by age 4,and had a recording contract with RCA a year later. After her career as a child star,she became a teen queen of the commercial jingles during the mid to late 60’s. During the 70’s she began her career as a backup singer for Franki Valli and The Four Seasons as well as Japanese fusion artist Yutaka’s debut album in 1978. By then,she’d already recorded two solo albums of her own in End Of The Rainbow and Havana Candy.
First time I ever heard of her was through her work with Quincy Jones in the late 70’s and early 8o’s. Big examples would be songs like “Its The Falling Love” and “Baby,Come To Me” from 1979 and 81-duetting with Michael Jackson and James Ingram respectfully. Austin has a plaintive tone and elastic vocal range. This alternating voice makes her adept in jazz,funk and pop. One of the few versatile singers with a truly distinctive style to her that I know of. One of her shinning moments was on Quincy Jones 1981 album The Dude in 1981,where she sang frequently throughout. The name of the song is “Razzamatazz”.
Greg Phillinganes,Steve Lukather and Herbie Hancock start off the song with some viruosic electric piano/guitar interaction before Jerry Hey’s horn blasts get the song going. The refrain consists of Hancock’s electric piano,Lukather’s rhythm guitar and the drum/Moog bass of Rufus’s John Robinson and David Hawk Wolinski. On the choruses,Phillinganes adds his own melodic synthesizer touch. There are three different bridges here. One showcases the horns and Paulinho Da Costa’s percussion,the other reduces down to Phillinganes synth solo,and another is Lukather soloing over the refrain.
The song itself actually fades out on its second refrain. Patti Austin really gives her all on this song. This Rod Temperton composition is a very busy number,with a thick sophistifunk groove encompassing a number of powerful musical ideas. Especially its brittle,boogie funk juxtaposition of live horn arrangements,percussion and synth bass. On the second chorus,there’s an entire symphony of multi tracked Patti Austin’s singing the line “make it better with a little bit of razzamatazz”. Its a very melodic jazz/funk/post disco number whose energy level truly lives up to the exciting sound of its title.
Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, David Hawk Wolinski, electric piano, Greg Phillinganes, Herbie Hancock, horns, jazz funk, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, post disco, Quincy Jones, rhythm guitar, Rod Temperton, Steve Luckather, synth bass
Rufus are extremely important to how funk music has translated into more recent years. As Questlove pointed out so well in his book Mo Meta Blues while breaking down the 1977 album Ask Rufus, the bands fairly stripped down rhythm section based sound was a stylistic precursor to the neo soul sound of the early/late aughts. When guitarist Tony Maiden joined Rufus in 1974,he came a key focus of the band-often duetting with his voice and guitar with the bands iconic lead vocalist Chaka Khan. When Chaka left the band in the late 70’s to pursue a solo career,Rufus started recording albums without her.
The second of these post-Chaka Khan Rufus albums was 1981’s Party ‘Til You’re Broke. On this album the main instrumental,songwriting and vocal focuses shifted directly to Tony and the bands late 70’s keyboardist David “Hawk” Wolinksi. It was yet another album that music literature of my adolescence instructed readers to avoid. Ended up finding a vinyl copy at a small record shop in NYC while visiting my aunt. More recently I picked up a Japanese import CD of it. Still it really stopped me in my tracks to throw this vinyl on my aunt’s old turntable and be blown away RIGHT away with “Tonight We Love”.
John Robinson kicks right on the snare heavy funk drums. Hawk accents every other beat with his deep descending Moog bass. That synth bass worms it’s way trombone style into the main song. This consists of that squiggling synth bass accompanied by a higher pitched synth melody,Tony Maiden’s brittle drum-like chicken scratch guitar and the thick slap bass of Louis Johnson. Johnson’s bass and Tony’s rock guitar throw down hold down the refrains-while an easy going rhythm guitar holds down the fort along with more synth accents from Hawk and Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements.
On the choruses of the song,the main melodic statement turns to beginning theme of the song afer the main synth bass/drum intro-with Hey’s horn charts playing direct call and response to the vocal hook. There’s a second refrain after the second play of the chorus-this one in a more major key and featuring Hey’s woodwinds for the melodic statement. After a huge horn fanfare and drum roll,the song strips down to the drums again with Louis Johnson throwing down an ultra funky slap bass solo. After this-the song essentially reboots itself for another round of refrains/choruses before the groove fades out.
“Tonight We Love” is simply an amazing song. I’d personally put it up there as the finest funk Rufus made after Chaka Khan went solo. The late Louis Johnson almost acts as an official member of Rufus hear-his slap bass as much the star of the show as Tony’s many different guitar licks and Hawk’s many keyboard parts. This is a very Westlake studio oriented boogie/post disco type production-very well played on and produced. All the same,the funk kicks extremely hard in that classic “rufusized” sort of way. With the driving synths,guitar,drums and bass this is some serious early 80’s hard funk.
Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, chicken scratch guitar, David Hawk Wolinski, drums, Funk, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Louis Johnson, Moog bass, post disco, rock guitar, Rufus, slap bass, synthesizers, Tony Maiden
Janet Jackson is turning 50 today. It’s amazing to think her music career is 34 years old now. She was groomed by her family to be an actress-doing Mae West impressions on the Jackson 5’s Las Vegas shows in the mid 70’s and staring on Norman Lear’s Good Times as Penny,an abused child adopted the Evans’ next door neighbor Willona Woods on the show. Just before Mothers Day this year,Janet announced she was 2 weeks pregnant with her first child by her husband of five years Wissam Al Mana. Would like to wish these expectant parents all the happiness in the world for this happy event.
Growing up Janet was actually interested in becoming a horse racing jockey or an entertainment lawyer- supporting herself through acting. By her early teens,she’d become committed to being an entertainer. With the help of her father Joe,she got a contract with A&M Records in 1982. The album had an incredible array of session musicians,songwriters and producers working with an appropriate sound for Janet’s still developing vocals. The album itself did chart in the R&B Top 10. But somehow never produced any hit singles. One big potential one was the opener “Say You Do”.
Starting out with a hard hitting 5 beat pattern on the snare drum,a thunder like sound allows a thumping bass line and a cosmic space funk synthesizer to ascend in sound and pitch into the refrain. After this,a liquid rhythm guitar protects the groove with several accenting keyboard patterns. One is a horn type Clavinet accent,the other is an orchestral Fender Rhodes-themselves accompanied by aggressive Chic-like bursts of disco era strings along with Jerry Hey’s horn arrangements. These work tightly in concert with those Chic style strings arranged by Benjamin Wright.
After several choruses and refrains of Janet’s vocals-featuring the singer accompanying herself with several layers of lead and back-round choruses,there’s a thick and funky drum/Clavinet/synth bass funky bridge before a symphonic chorus of Janet’s vocals comes in. Janet’s voice is elaborately echoed in a rather psychedelic manner-again accompanying herself with her lower and higher range over the 5 beat drumming.After this, that drum breaks off into the thunder sound that started the song concluding it-with the synthesizer that fades up into the intro fading out in the exact opposite manner.
When I first heard this album 20 years ago,it came as a total surprise that so much elaborate musicality would go into an unproven teenager singer-even if she did carry the famous Jackson name. For awhile now,almost no thought goes into the majority of teen singer/boy band/girl group style musical productions. With the entire focus being on the singer’s vocal persona and the songs hook. This Rene & Angela composition that starts out Janet’s debut album takes a totally different approach-much like an early 80’s update of the sound Norman Whitfield got for The Temptation on songs like “Masterpiece”.
The incredible instrumentalists on this song might have a lot to do with this sound. Rufus’s rhythm section Bobby Watson,Tony Maiden,John Robinson AND Andre Fischer are all over this groove. Not to mention James Jamerson Jr. coming in on bass too along jazz oriented keyboardists/synthesizer players Jeff Lorber and Frank Zappa’s Ian Underwood. Janet’s teenage voice is very impressive on this song. Her maturing vocals not only scale from a low tenor to her high mezzo soprano by turns-along with the multi tracked and echo-plexed symphony of her voice added to the mix too.
Of course there’s also the influence of her brother Michael here too. Michael Jackson was one of the biggest personalities in the music world in 1982,and only about to get bigger on that level. Janet does her own versions of his vocal hiccups and range on this song for sure. But the idea of combining a tight rhythm section of strong session instrumentalists with the horn arrangements of Jerry Hey,also working with Quincy Jones and MJ at the time,showcased her influence from her brother was as much musical as it was from the performance standpoint of her presentation.
Musically this song also bridges two generations of funk as well. It has the elaborate arrangements of the cinematic soul sound of Isaac Hayes and Barry White that inaugurated the disco era. But the clipped,stripped down presentation of the rhythm section and spare bursts of strings and horns also fall in line with the new wave influenced Minneapolis sound of Prince. Which was one Janet would embrace more fully in the next several years. This sort of instrumental thoughtfulness and funkiness stands for me as a superb model for teen singers. And stands as a highly unsung debut song from Miss Janet!
Filed under 1980's, Andre Fischer, Angela Wimbush, Benjamin Wright, Bobby Waton, Boogie Funk, cinematic soul, clavinet, dance funk, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Ian Underwood, James Jamerson Jr, Janet Jackson, Jeff Lorber, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Joseph Jackson, Michael Jackson, naked funk, Rene & Angela, Rene Moore, rhythm guitar, strings, synth bass, synthesizer, teen pop, Tony Maiden, Uncategorized