Bobby Taylor epitomizes what a phrase Henrique Hopkins told me several years ago. That in terms of making a difference in life, there are tree shakers and there are jelly makers. To extend the metaphor, DC native Bobby Taylor didn’t shake many trees save for the hit “Does Your Mama Know About Me”. And I myself only found out about him as a teenage watching a VHS copy of the 1988 Showtime documentary called Michael Jackson: The Legend Continues. It was MJ’s brother Marlon who mentioned Bobby Taylor’s place in his history as the man who brought the Jackson 5 to Motown.
Taylor began his singing career in NYC-with a doo-wop group whose other members later joined the Teenagers and the Imperials. It was journey from groups in Ohio,San Francisco that led to him migrating to Canada and forming a multi racial band called the Calgary Shades. During this time, he had been in a band with a man who’d later become the drummer for Three Dog Night. As for the Calgary Shades? The name came from the multi racial nature of their members. One of them was a young Tommy Chong, who would of course later go onto a career in comedy with Cheech Marin.
It was Supreme’s Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard who alerted Berry Gordy to the newly rechristened Bobby Taylor & The Vancouver’s after seeing them live. They had a live repertoire of mostly Motown covers. Gordy signed them to the self named imprint of Motown. The Vancouver’s eventually broke apart due to a disagreement with Johnny Bristol and their headliner Chris Clark, who fired a couple members of the bands for missing a big whilst trying to obtain green cards. But they did record one self titled album on Gordy before this occurred.
Taylor’s history with the Jackson 5 is another story. In 1968, the Jackson brothers opened for the Vancouver’s at Chicago’s Regal Theater. Taylor was so impressed, he brought them to Detroit to audition for Suzanne De Passe and in turn Berry Gordy. The band were signed to Motown in a years time. Taylor was their first producer. He was involved in producing tracks for their debut album. Including an 11 year old Michael’s show stopping version of “Who’s Lovin’ You”. His emphasis was on classic soul cover songs-from within and without Motown.
What happened was that the J5’s debut was called Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5. She was even credited as discovering them by Ed Sullivan on their first appearance on his iconic variety show. As Motown began moving its operations to the West Coast, Gordy didn’t give any credit to Taylor’s earlier work with the Jackson’s. While he did work with them a bit in LA on their second album ABC, Gordy along with Fonce Mizell and the late Deke Richards took on writing and producing for them. Taylor’s solo career on the labels VIP imprint went nowhere. He was dropped from the label and faded into obscurity.
Despite being something of the poster man for Motown’s lack of support for its behind the scenes people during its move from Detroit to LA, Bobby Taylor’s place in the labels late 60’s history remains carved in stone. He died of cancer on July 22nd of this year in Hong Kong. But bringing in what became the last of Motown’s classic groups in the Jackson 5 was no small feat. He even made some of the most insightful commentary on MJ on the documentary Michael Jackson: The Life Of An Icon. So while belatedly so, wanted to remember Bobby Taylor for the great work he did in Motown’s peak.
Chuckii Booker is one of those artists whose intricate history is equal to the seeming few who have a strong knowledge of him. He was perhaps better known as the musical director,producer and opening act for Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation tour at only 23-24 years old. His talents as multi talented singer/songwriter/producer/multi instrumentalist got him signed as a solo artist to Atlantic in 1988. Not because of his original talents as primarily a bass player. But because execs accidentally listened to the other side of the demo tape that featured his vocals.
If funk/soul music had followed a totally straight line in the late 80’s/early 90’s,Chuckii Booker would likely have been the intermediary step between Prince and D’Angelo. After a couple Top 10 R&B smashes,Booker became regarded as a producer. In that respect touching on the work of artists ranging from Vanessa Williams,his godfather Barry White and EWF alumni Phillip Bailey. It took me a couple decades to go out and pick up Booker’s two solo CD’s. One of them (and his final one to date) was 1992’s Niice ‘N Wiild. One of the songs that’s really gotten my attention off of it is called “I Git Around”.
After a brief moment of party dialog,the main groove of the song sets in. This is a pounding drum machine that hits a very strong,electrified snare drum sound on the second beat. Along with that are two bass lines. One is a pulsing synth bass,the other is “possibly” a live one playing a “duck face” funky wiggle. Booker brings explosive synth strings,horn lines providing a strong “video game” sound along with the bluesy accents of the chorus. Not to mention a chromatic piano walk down playing in and out throughout the song. Just before the song fades,Booker brings in a tough chicken scratch guitar.
The new jack swing style could (and often was) made extremely generic by many in its commercial heyday. Yet Chuckii Booker used this song (along with many of his others) to point out the sub genres roots in 80’s funk. And even with the mildly new jack friendly rhythm,the instrumental toughness and electronic flamboyance is straight up P-Funk. Everything from the instrumentation to the lyric is pretty much a direct extension of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” from a decade before it. Makes one wonder how different 90’s uptempo music might’ve been had it followed this ultra funky model.
Filed under 1990s, chicken scratch guitar, chromatic walkdown, Chuckii Booker, drum machine, drums, Funk Bass, New Jack Swing, P-Funk, piano, synth bass, synth brass
I’m unofficially the ’80s funk guy here at Andresmusictalk, but occasionally I also like to post about new music that’s in my wheelhouse. And for almost the last decade, one of the more reliable purveyors of contemporary ’80s-style funk (i.e., a big ol’ part of my wheelhouse) has been the Los Angeles-based keyboardist, vocalist, and producer known as DāM-FunK. His latest project, Nite-Funk, is a collaboration with another retro-minded independent artist from L.A., Nite Jewel; and I think it’s safe to say that, if you’re a fan of either artist or their shared pool of musical influences–Prince, SOLAR Records, and the recently-departed Kashif, to name a few–it’s well worth a listen.
Nite-Funk’s self-titled EP has actually been streaming since early July, but the record really got my attention when I heard about the limited vinyl release that’s scheduled to come out later this month. I mean, look at this thing: it’s gorgeous, with some clever visual references to Prince’s debut album For You, from the font on the cover to the peach-on-black design motif to the fact that Side 2 is called “the Other Side.” It isn’t often that I can be persuaded to drop $18 on a record (an EP, no less!) that I can already listen to for free; Nite-Funk, however, pushes my physical-medium-fetishist buttons in just the right way. I’ve already preordered a copy.
Of course, even the nicest artwork can’t make a record worth buying if the music isn’t up to snuff, but Nite-Funk excels on that level, too. DāM-FunK’s synths are as sonically lush as ever, sounding for all the world like they’re being piped in direct from 1983; and Nite Jewel’s vocals and keyboards both add a layer of icy cool to tracks like “Don’t Play Games” and “U Can Make Me.” The best thing about both of these artists is that, while their aesthetic sensibilities (DāM’s in particular) are definably “retro,” they’re also timeless. Nite-Funk doesn’t play “’80s music” so much as they play contemporary music on ’80s-vintage equipment; and I don’t think you’d have to be at a “retro night” to pack the dancefloor with a song as hot as “Let Me Be Me.”
Nite-Funk releases in physical form on October 25; the pressing is limited to 500 copies, but at least as of this writing, there are still some available. If you like what you heard above, think about preordering a copy of your own. Music this good deserves to be on your turntable and on your smartphone.
Prince’s debut For You is one of my favorite albums by him. This viewpoint continues to evolve with time. What probably impressed me most is that its probably the most instrumentally full and orchestral example of Prince’s Minneapolis Sound-which of course replaced horns with polyphonic synthesizers. Mixing an ethereal style of instrumentation with heavy soul and funk flavors is no easy task. And personally,this debut album really pulled it off better than many give it credit for. It also represented Prince’s own coming of age from teenager into an adult.
He recorded his first demos for this debut in 1976 with local producer Chris Moon. He then bought the demo tape to a local business man Owen Hussney. He and Prince moved out to LA were the 17 year old signed with Warner Bros. Prince stayed at Hussney’s house-working tirelessly on his debut at the Record Plant,and developing an affinity for Hussney’s scrambled eggs so its been said. On April 7th,1978 For You finally came out. The first single released,and consequently Prince’s first hit song,was written and played by Prince with only Moon writing the lyrics. This song was “Soft And Wet”.
Prince panting starts out the song as…almost a vocal kind of hi hat cymbal. Prince plays very break heavy Afro Latin type drum solo. The main melody consists of three keyboard solos. One is a high polyphonic synth solo,the other a lower one and a synth bass line giving it the funky phat. In between these lines,there are interludes of space funk synth effects. On the vocal parts,the mix reduces to mainly the bassier lines. There are two choruses-one of which is actually an instrumental bridge. On the first chorus,Prince is playing a highly rhythmic synth bass to his own vocal.
When it comes to the song’s second chorus,he’s playing a hard bop jazz style chordal walk-down synth solo improvisation of his original vocal line. On the last few verses of the song,Prince is singing the song title to the high pitched synth brass and calculated drum breaks-all before his falsetto vocal up-scaling bring the song to a dead stop. Each time I listen to this song,it emerges just how much it showcases Prince’s funk at some of it’s instrumentally dense. His layering of the Oberheim 4 and 8 voice polyphonic synths with the drum breaks alone make this a major funk breakthrough for him.
First time I heard this song on Prince’s first compilation The Hits/The B-Sides, it clued me in that it’s accompanying album For You was just the funk I might’ve been looking for at that time. That proved very good thinking. “Soft And Wet”‘s majestically funky sonic layering of synths,falsetto vocals,jazzy breaks and solos showcase that Prince was not only basing his music in heavy funk. But also that his funk was going to be presented uniquely-quite different than most of the brass based bands of the day. In the end,this song provided a strong window into how Prince would instrumentally approach his funk.
Filed under 1970's, Chris Moon, drums, funk music, jazz funk, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Owen Hussney, Prince, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizers, Uncategorized, Warner Bros.
Tom Scott and the band T-Connection are two artists whom I’ve never discussed. Scott himself is turning 68 today-another musician who shares a birthday with yours truly. Both of us have played alto sax. Difference is Scott made a very successful career out of it,and I did the same with photography and music blogging. He was most famous as the funkiest side of the 70’s TV theme song genre such as Starskey & Hutch and The Streets Of San Francisco. Not to mention he and his band LA Express backing artists such as Joni Mitchell as they transitioned to a more jazz and soul oriented sound.
T-Connection meanwhile were a disco era funk band hailing out of Nassau,Bahamas. They truly lived up to the phrase “funky Nassau” in terms of bringing a thick,phat funk bottom to uptempo music during the height of the four on the floor beat era. The first such song I ever heard by them was titled after them and truly embodied that spirit. Just a couple hours ago, I was at the local record store Bull Moose and saw a pre-owned vinyl copy of their 1983 album The Game Of Life. It turns out Tom Scott participated in one groove from the album called “I’ve Got Good News For You”.
The song starts out with a bluesy processed Fender Rhodes before the cymbal heavy,fast drum shuffle kicks in. This is accompanied by a liquid boogie funk rhythm guitar and jazzy funk bass line. This encompasses the choruses of the songs. On the refrains,the melody and the stop/start drums enter deep into the Afro-Latin rhythmic clave-in a manner similar to the Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground”. Interludes between the two sections of the song showcases some brittle synth brass. Whereas the Rhodes and Tom Scott (on alto sax) improvise on the chorus as the song closes out.
One thing I’ll say for Tom Scott is that,when he wasn’t recording as a bandleader or solo performer,he had his high session credentials. And even though a good chunk of his solo material is funky as you wanna be,he was such a key part of the LA musician scene that it seemed appropriate to celebrate him blowing some funky sax with another group known for their funky music. Session playing allowed musicians to explore different sides of their creative personality. And Tom Scott had a long history of bringing his grooves into the many different tributaries of funk music.
Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, clave, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Los Angeles, Nassau, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, session musicians, synth brass, T-Connection, Uncategorized
Jerry Knight is a name I’ve been hearing about for quite sometime. There seems to have been a number of funk/soul musicians who had one or two major songs. But didn’t have a long term career as solo artists. That appears to have been what happened to Knight. Online research on this artist was really sketchy. According to two separate sources he was born today in either 1952 or 1955. And according to another he died 19 years ago. What is known about the man is that he was born in LA. And was a founding member of Raydio with Ray Parker Jr. Most of the information on this man came courtesy of Allmusic.com columnist and personal Facebook friend Ron Wynn. So wanted to thank him indirectly.
One thing that is known about Knight is that as a bass player/singer/songwriter/producer he worked with many artists in the soul/funk spectrum during the early 80’s-many of whom were once members of major 70’s funk acts now seeking solo careers. Among them were Phillip Bailey and Howard Hewett. Upon leaving radio after their first album, Knight decided to pursue a solo career. He eventually landed on A&M Records where he recorded three solo albums between 1980 and 1982. The first of these was a self titled effort that featured some co-writing contributions from Raydio’s Arnell Carmichael. The biggest song on this album was a groove called “Overnight Sensation”.
Guitarist Skip Adams begins the song playing a very Larry Carlton styled jazz-fusion type riff along with Knights thumping,round bass and rhythm Fender Rhodes on the intro. All the while Quintin Dennard keeps the beat steady on drums. The Rhodes takes the main solo until Adam’s rocking guitar takes over for the rest of the song. On the choruses, Knight sings lead with his backup vocalists. On the refrain’s,Dennard’s drums have a more skipping rhythm while the Rhodes scales up in pitch. This chorus/refrain pattern repeats itself for most of the song-with a bridge where the P-Funk like backup singers take the lead vocal again. This pattern continues on the chorus that closes out the song.
Instrumentally this is a pretty bold song. The funk percolates pretty heavy,and a lot of the notes used have a distinctly jazz fusion styled flavor about it. Knight’s bubbling bass soloing throughout the song allows for Adam’s guitar solo to flourish. By taking a hard,steely funk rhythm and throwing down a hard rocking guitar solo this song takes the funk/rock hybrid the Isley Brothers had been pursuing around this time and adds those heavier fusion notations. That gives it a sense of transcending the sound of one decade’s groove onto another. Whole Jerry Knight may not have a massively available personal biography,his funk certainly spoke for itself.
Filed under 1980's, A&M Records, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, funk rock, jazz funk, Jerry Knight, Los Angeles, Quintin Dennard, rock guitar, Ron Wynn, Skip Adams, Uncategorized
Writing Anatomy of THE Groove this week has really bought to mind how crucial the mid 70’s were to the greatest musical triumphs of the funk era. It’s a key conversational point between myself and Henrique,who’s still informing and inspiring me from behind the scenes on this blog. Watching a video of Maurice White serenading the late Natalie Cole with the song “Can’t Hide Love” inspired me to tell you,the reader how I feel about this song. Have covered a lot of EWF here. But this 1975 number is special to myself and Henrique in the entire annals of recorded funk.
Just the historical back-round of this song seems theatrical. When EWF decided to do a live album due to heavy touring keeping them from recording a whole new album after That’s The Way Of The World,they released a compilation of live versions of their songs from this touring instead. It was paired with four new studio tracks. And the song being talked about today was the last of them. The album was appropriately entitled Gratitude. The most interesting thing about the song was that it wasn’t entirely written by Maurice or the other band members.
The song started life as a song written by Louisiana born composer Skip Scarborough in 1973. It was included on the debut album for the LA based Fifth Dimension spin off group Creative Source. It would seem that Maurice White and company felt a deep connection to the song. And since Skip was already working his songwriting magic with EWF , they all teamed up to re-arrange the song in a whole new way for the band- three years after the original first came out. The result was yet another case of a re-imagined remake taking a song to an entirely different level.
The Phenix Horns fanfare into the song-accompanied at every turning by the popping,jazzy bass of Verdine White. The gentle,high pitched rhythm guitars,electric piano,drums and strings all come in to play the central refrain of the song itself. Each coming into their own climaxes with Maurice White and Philip Bailey’s righteous vocal heights. On the finale of the song? The refrain transforms into one of the most eloquently composed vocal harmonies in music history-with Bailey vocalizing wordlessly first in his natural tenor,than in his better known falsetto.
When my father asked me at age 16 what my favorite EWF song was? I told him it was this one. And each time I hear it to this day? The sheer level of musicality in the song still raises the hairs on my back. Between the vocals,the bass of Verdine White,the rhythm guitar of Al McKay,the electric piano of Larry Dunn,the Phenix Horns and Charles Stepney’s string arrangements? It all dovetails with Scarborough’s reworked composition for a superb example of the sweetest funk can be. And on a non instrumental level,it goes even further.
Henrique and myself are in funky synergy about this song being one of the most harmonically advanced moments in contemporary music. Especially when it comes to the final vocal choruses of Phillip Bailey. Everything in this song is built on harmony. It deals with a man telling his lover not to deny the emotions they both have for each other. And doing so in a manner that’s both strong and empathetic. It perfectly reflects the song’s musical virtues. And if someone asked me to name a handful of songs representing the pinnacle of funk? This would be at the top of the list.
Filed under 1975, Al McKay, Charles Stepney, classic funk, drums, Earth Wind & Fire, electric piano, Funk, Funk Bass, funk guitar, Larry Dunn, Los Angeles, Maurice White, Natalie Cole, Phenix Horns, Philip Bailey, Skip Scarborough, Uncategorized, Verdine White
For this weeks posting,I wanted to play a little jazz for everyone. Considering this blog was started with the intention of projecting modern songs in the entire jazz,soul,funk,R&B,blues and pop spectrum? I’ve neglected going too deep into jazz because the critical medium of that musical genre has a tendency to take itself much more seriously than perhaps other levels of critical assessment. Yet there was something about this artist and this song that was right up my alley in terms of actually writing about it.
Lorraine Feather,herself the daughter of famous NYC jazz critic Leonard Feather. Her mother Jane was a big band singer in the trio Full Swing. After studying musical theater acting in LA,Lorraine returned to New York to pursue that career. Eventually landing nigh club gigs between numerous waitress jobs. After a successful career doing songs for films by Disney among others? She began her recording career in the year 2000. And nine years later released her sixth solo album Language,which includes the song that’s the subject of today’s post in “We Appreciate Your Patience”.
Instrumentally the song is is a very stripped down mid-tempo bluesy number. That with drummer Gregg Field and percussion Michael Shapiro actually providing a slow,loping and rhythmically well accented hip-hop/jazz swinging shuffle to the music itself. This is accompanied by the melodic participating of pianist/co-writer Shelly Berg,bassist Michael Valerio with Spanish tinged acoustic guitar from Grant Geissman. On the bridge Field’s dreamy brushing is accompanied by Berg scaling back and forth similarly on piano-taking a solo before returning to the main theme that the song fades out on.
The best thing thing about this song for me is how it updates the traditions of vocal jazz. It takes on the dragging shuffle of the hip-hop beat for sure. But also focuses on Feathers embracing of the witty cultural references in vocal jazz lyricism. The concept of dealing with calling customer service lines over the phone is a thoroughly modern frustration. Feather illustrates this with her own singular wit and mildly dry,yet harmless sarcasm about being put on hold while listening to “some music from the 80s”,as well as being directed to said company’s website as the preferred means of contact. In the end,it appears she develops a crush on one particular rep. Both musically and lyrically? This is one contemporary acoustic vocal jazz number that is right on time.
Filed under 2008, Blues, customer service, Grant Geissman, Greg Field, hip-hop/jazz, humor, Jazz, Leonard Feather, Lorraine Feather, Los Angeles, lyrics, Michael Shapiro, Michael Valerio, New York, Shelly Berg, vocal jazz