Wilson Pickett is yet another artist whose music was extremely familiar to me before even knowing his name. “Wicked Mr. Pickett” started out in a gospel group during called The Violinaires in the mid 50’s. This led him to fame with the soul group The Falcons,who helped popularize gospel music to a broader audience. Pickett eventually got signed to Atlantic Records in New York where he recorded sides such as “If I Need You”,a ballad that the labels’ Jerry Wexler ended up giving to Solomon Burke. Burke himself liked Pickett’s version,but he had a huge hit with the song. So a dejected Pickett decided to focus less on soul ballads and more on uptempo numbers once officially signed to Atlantic.
Pickett’s mid/late 60’s recordings at the Stax in Memphis and Fame.in Muscle Shoals have become iconic songs. Especially in terms of marking soul music’s evolution from gospel based balladry into uptempo funk. Songs such as “In The Midnight Hour”,”Mustang Sally” and “Land Of 1000 Dances” came out of this era. One thing however that stands out to me is when an artist making funk music shows a lot of positive pride in declaring themselves to be funky. One such song from Pickett came courtesy of a band known as Dyke & The Blazers,written by it’s leader Arlester Christian in 1967. And the name of this song was”Funky Broadway”.
The bluesy guitar riff of Chip Moman opens the song. The rhythmic body of the entire is based on a thick,cymbal heavy beat from drummer Roger Hawkins,a rhythmic organ from Spooner Oldham and the crunchy bass of Tommy Cogbill. On the second chorus of the song, the horn section comes in playing call and response to Pickett’s vocals. They raise up in intensity as Pickett’s vocals grow even more powerful. There’s a bridge where Hawkins’ funky drumming is singled out with the bass/guitar interaction-with Pickett grunting along rhythmically. The horns are huge,thick and heavy on the final choruses of the song before it fades out.
This song fits pretty neatly into the vein of Wilson Pickett’s other mid/late 60’s uptempo numbers. They were all starting to move heavily toward funk. This song came out in 1967. It was the same year Aretha dropped “Respect”,and James Brown bought uncut funk to the masses with “Cold Sweat”. So Pickett and Chip Moman’s band were really bringing the gritty,countrified,slower tempo Southern soul dance thump into the funk process as it was actually happening. Again it cannot be stated enough how important having the word “funky” in the title of this huge hit song was to funk as a genre,rather than a mere musical term. So here Wilson Pickett officially earned his place in funk history.
Filed under 1960's, bass guitar, Chip Moman, drums, Funk, horns, Muscle Shoals, organ, rhythm guitar, Southern Soul, Stax, Uncategorized, Wilson Pickett
One of the things that made Bobby Womack have such musical longevity is the fact that he was such a renowned songwriter playing even outside his own field. This was particularly true for the jazz world. George Benson’s iconic instrumental hit “Breezin” was of course composted by Womack. He also worked with Crusader’s sax/bassist Wilton Felder on the 1980 album Inherit The Wind. This album became a smash in London,and was likely part of the still gestating UK acid jazz scene. The man still continued to maintain his solo career-making a new album every year throughout the 7o’s. The decade ended in a very unexpected way for him however.
After dealing with a cocaine habit during his time recording with Sly Stone on his There’s A Riot Goin’ On,Womack lost his four month old son Truth in 1978. This apparently turned the habit into a serious addiction over the next decade. Still the man was on a musical roll. In 1979 he released his final album of the 70’s on Arista Records entitled Roads Of Life. I first encountered the CD during the late 90’s at Borders Books & Music. And only recently picked it up as part of a classic album vinyl reproduction box set of Womack’s Arista period. The album is seriously funky overall. The song that said it all for me was called “Mr. D.J. Don’t Stop The Music”.
After a screaming call to “come on with the music!”,the percussion accented drum beat rolls on with a wah wah pedal fueled Clavinet rings in the song. As the percussion increases,Womack and the band vocally contribute to the songs party atmosphere while a round,pulsing synthesizer and a funky harpsichord really pump up the choruses of the song. After the third chorus of the song, Womack plays one of his amp’d up blues/rock guitar solos. This goes into a piano solo fueled by climactic strings-bleeding into a wailing sax and back into a more rhythmic piano call and response. The strings segue out of this into the repeated chorus that continues on into the songs fade out.
Recorded at Muscle Shoals studios with former Motown Funk Brothers Jack Ashford and Eddie Bongo Brown (on drums and percussion),this song is another superb example of the type of orchestrated,danceable funk that could function very easily under the mirrored ball of the disco floor. The party sound vibe that always worked so well for the stomping disco/funk sound really brings out the groove as well. Womack’s ability to play and write funky music had really come into it’s own by the end of the 1970’s. And it really shows how much clout he held among the big funk/soul/jazz session players at the time that he could get together with them to jam out strong grooves like this one so regularly.
Filed under 1970's, Bobby Womack, clavinet, disco funk, drums, Eddie "Bongo" Brown, guitar, Jack Ashford, Muscle Shoals, piano, Saxophone, strings, The Funk Brothers, Uncategorized
It would seem that during 2013,with his involvement in the major hit records of Justin Timberlake,Daft Punk and Robin Thicke,that Pharrell Williams was suddenly everywhere. He is by no means an unknown to the world. Much as with Quincy Jones before him,Pharrell represents a strong symbol of the music producer-as-artist-someone who both maintains a musical stamp all his own yet is able to adapt his sound,along with that of his partnership team The Neptunes to suit the musical flavors everyone from Brittney Spears to Nelly. Earlier this year Pharrell released a single from his then forthcoming album GIRL entitled “Happy”. At first it didn’t have much success. Finally it began to take off in Europe when a music video was released and then its appearance in the Pixar film Despicable Me 2. Instead of our usual duel song format,Henrique and myself have decided to do a two part special presentation this week. That is due to the suddenly evident importance of this song.
Musically the song kicks into gear with a count down of sorts,using a repeating electric piano chord five times before the a sturdy rock ‘n soul style drum comes in,accompanied by a bluesy electric piano and Pharrell’s smoothly soulful voice declaring “It might seem crazy what I’m about to say”-dipping in and out of his sleek falsetto into his high tenor with great ease. Throughout the song Pharrell describes the emotion of happiness not as a theoretical concept,but as a living entity that has a physical nature he describes as “sunshine,she’s here”-the sun often being a revered symbol for a regal type of joy. On the chorus of asking “clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth”,clapping does ensue before a second verse-fading out with the same clapping refrain that began this song to start with.
Instrumentally this song has much of the melodically upbeat and sophisticated atmosphere of 60’s Motown while the stripped down and bluesy funk style of instrumentation also calls to mind both the Muscle Shoals sound of that era as well as the jazz-funk of early 70’s Crusaders. What is most impressive is the nature of this songs massive cultural impact. While trendy songs and dances have always come and gone in the past,even ones that had a message to them,its been a very long time since a song that represented funk and soul’s musically meaningful and sophisticated nature has been such a positive source of inspiration in the post internet world community. This week even Pharrell himself has said to have been moved to tears by seeing many people creating videos of their own to his song-in particular a video created by those of the Muslim faith.
Having lived through almost half of the life cycle of Generation X,Pharell himself has seen many people (in particular in the black community) lose hope and fall into a never never land of hopelessness,despair,cynicism and lack of interest in getting involved. Having seen Pharell interviewed several times myself recently? He is a musically and sociologically grounded man who understands exactly what he is doing. Part of that sight is of a world where a black man in particular seems to have to be edgy and angry to make any sort of difference. Knowing from second hand experience with producing other artists that those conditions tend to feed back on themselves with time? Pharrell declares in this song that he is assuming a quality of happiness-that despite such negative conditions slowly improving around him that he can harness that inner assumption of joy within him to instill those feelings in others. After all,what is more satisfying than feeling genuinely hopeful and optimistic? That’s part of what people need to make conditions in the world better. And Pharell’s song “Happy” appears to be effecting that kind of change in many different people-including myself and my family. I thank Pharrell for his message of goodwill to music lovers everywhere,and hope people continue to heed and take creative inspiration from his vision!