Tag Archives: Late 70’s Funk

Prince Summer: “We Can Work It Out” (1977)

Prince Rogers Nelson was no stranger to recording by the time he’d signed with Warner Bros. in 1977. He was barely 19 at the time. And had already had some experience in recording with Pepe Willie’s 94 East along with his own demos from 1976. Around the time he got signed by Warner’s in 1977,he,Owen Husney and Chris Moon were putting together Prince’s official press kit  (a rather unconventional one with photos and an accompanying haiku on each one) and his first proper studio recordings at Minneapolis’s Studio 80. These songs passed into legend during the years before internet.

With the advent of online music and YouTube,these unreleased songs that have been circulating for years have come to light in a whole other way.  One of these songs just leaped out at me when I first heard it. As I’ve made clear many times,I have a special affinity for early Prince. Especially as it set the stage for his greatest musical moments yet to come. The interesting thing is,it would prove quite significant in years to come,even if it was never officially released. But I’ll talk about the song first,and tell you the rest of the story later. And the name of this song is “We Can Work It Out”.

Bobby Z’s drums kick off with a chime,and maintains a percussive funkified back beat throughout. On  the chorus and refrain of the song,Prince’s processed bass/guitar/Clavinet interaction plays in an upbeat,melodic fashion as he sings both the lead lines and the breakdowns in his most ethereal falsetto. On the bridge,that same bass/guitar/keyboard interaction starts playing in a more bluesy funk style-playing in that loose jamming instrumental style typical of Prince’s songs from this era. At the end of the song,this musical into the sound of a thunder storm before fading out.

Musically this song is structurally very in keeping with the sound of his debut For You-the key difference being that his Minneapolis Sound synth brass style wasn’t present yet. It’s brightly melodic,disco era pop/funk sound has a very sunny atmosphere. Lyrically speaking,the song is almost an audio press kit as it’s essentially a love letter to Warner Brothers. Especially singing lines such as “Music for the young and old, music bound to be gold” showcasing his hopes as well as his self confidence. Still the album ends with another lyric that would tell another story.

Prince’s last line is spoken in his best DJ style voice saying “Makin’ music naturally,me and WB”. While it’s apparent Prince was excited about being signed to a major record label,the line also signifies some of the matters that would one day set Prince at odds with the company.  Throughout the song,Prince is telling the label “hope we work it out” over and over. The fact that he adds the line “Put your trust in me, I’ll never let you down/ cause  I know I can count on you to help me make it”. By ending the song with the sound of a storm,its clear even early on Prince knew his future musical road would be complex.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bobby Z, clavinet, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Late 70's Funk, Minneapolis, multi instrumentalists, Prince, rhythm guitar, Warner Bros.

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “It’s About The Dollar Bill” by Johnny Guitar Watson

Johnny Guitar Watson was one of those artists whose back catalog is very like a very funky box of chocolates for me. If one enjoys chocolate,it’s very difficult to say you just enjoy one. Consequently it took a little time to determine which of the mans songs to chose to discuss on this blog. Watson was almost as enormous figure in the development of funk as James Brown in one important sense. He helped take the 12 bar blues soloing approach and applied it to a soulful rhythmic attitude from the 1950’s onward. His style of aggressively playing guitar without a plectrum was part of what made him one of R&B’s most theatrical performers in the day as a result.

The question of which song of Watson’s to talk abut today came from a talk with my dad about a memory. Almost two decades ago now, my maternal aunt used to visit my family once or twice a year. Since my father always had music going,a compilation of Johnny Guitar Watson was playing on one such visit. One song in particular got my aunts attention. It was called “It’s About The Dollar Bill”. On it’s own,the song came from Watson’s 1977 album entitled Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty. There are reason’s both musical and thematic for choosing this particular song today. So to get things started,best place to start is to get right into the center of the groove’s musicality itself.

A little light guitar ring introduces the opening and descending horn chart-with Watson chanting right along the chord changes in bassy vocalese. The song has a slow,shuffling swing of a rhythm with a bouncy Clavinet on the choruses. Horns continue to play the chords throughout both the refrains and all of the remaining choruses of the song. On the second refrain,Watson’s vocals are replaced by one of his trademark 12 bar blues guitar solos. The shuffling chorus/refrain pattern continues until the song reaches a conclusion of fanfaring horns,percussion and Watson’s multi tracked vocal harmonies-with all of their grunts,coos and groans to the songs’ fade out.

The more I listen to Johnny Guitar Watson’s music,what strikes me is how much jazzy his arrangements were during his 70’s funk period. Many of his rhythms,including this one have as prominent a swinging shuffling from big band and jump blues as they will have the classic funk breaks and rests. The horns follow the same pattern as well. Lyrically the song is very important to today’s bloated American economy based on consumerism. And coming from the idea of a black musician being in a good position to talk about capital due to having ancestrally been capital during slavery. So this funk’s advice to not let ones eyes be bigger than their pockets has the power to change up many a groove in life.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Blues, clavinet, drums, Funk, guitar, horns, Jazz-Funk, Johnny Guitar Watson, Late 70's Funk, message songs, rhythm & blues, Uncategorized