Tag Archives: Oakland

Sparkling In The Sand: A Tribute To The Late Rick Stevens

TOP album cover with Rick

Rick Stevens the man in the center of this album cover. Why he wasn’t seen on the cover has to do with the fact he’d left the band before Tower Of Power’s eponymously titled third album of 1973 came out. Warner Bros released 1,000 copies of this album with the wrong cover by mistake before withdrawing it. Steven’s was a lead singer for the band from 1969 up to 73. Sadly he passed away on September 5th at age 77 of cancer. Thought about doing one of the songs Stevens sang lead on in Tower Of Power. But his own story, first discovered by me in Wax Poetic magazine, is a far grander one to tell.

Stevens was born in Port Arthur,Texas. But grew up in Reno, Nevada where he began singing in church during childhood. His maternal uncle was the iconic R&B/soul singer Ivory Joe Hunter, for whom young Stevens held much admiration for and who came to visit him between touring. Stevens moved to the Bay Area in 1966. And recorded with a number of bands and, after an aborted time with one such band in Seattle, he moved back to San Francisco and joined Tower Of Power in 1969. He was a strong vocal presence on their first two albums,especially in terms of ballads.

Songs such as “Your Still A Young Man” remained Stevens signature songs throughout his time with the band. After leaving the TOP, he became part of another local horn oriented band in the Bay called Brass Horizon in 1975. Sadly a year later, he was arrested for his involvement in a failed and fatal drug deal. He spent over 30 years in prison, where he converted to Christianity and swore off drugs. He spent his touring Northern California with his new band Love Power. He released a CD with them entitled Rick Stevens Back On The Streets Again Vol. 1 in 2014.

The news of Stevens death came to me through by a writer and Facebook friend A. Scott Galloway. He’d found out about the singers passing via fellow TOP member Lenny Williams online post,after Williams had received the call from Stevens son. Later in the day after finding this out, my friend Henrique and I got to talking about how he framed some TOP album covers on his wall- in tribute to his local Oakland funk heroes. Though Stevens presence in TOP was comparatively brief, his story ended up being an abbreviated career that did end in a redemptive journey of sorts. RIP Rick Stevens!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Rick Stevens, Tower Of Power

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sheila E.

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Butter” by Richard Dimples Fields

Richard Fields,who apparently got the nickname Dimples by a female admirer who noted his ever-present smile,started his career as the owner of the Cold Duck Lounge in San Francisco. He released a couple of albums locally in 1975 and 1977. In 1981 he signed with Neil Bogart’s Boardwalk Records. His best known song was a remake of a song from his debut album called “If It Ain’t One Thing,It’s Another”, a message song of sorts that he was encouraged to re-do by an old high school friend he ran into at a used car lot. He had a good handful of hits in the 80’s that slowed over the years until he finally passed away in 2000 in the Bay Area city of Oakland.

During my childhood,a 45 of his hit “If It Ain’t One Thing It’s Another” was in rotation in the family home. It was the B-side to this entitled “Mr.Look So Good”,an uptempo disco/funk number that was the title song to his 1982 album,which got my attention most. Something about his soulfullness and conversational lyric style was always appealing. One day I came across another one of his albums while crate digging entitled Give Everybody Some!,also released in 1982. It’s the only full album by him I presently own. And it has a lot of excellent songs on it. The song that always stands out in my mind however is entitled “Butter”.

A pounding,deep bass Clavinet opens the song along with an uptempo,percussion laden drum beat. Two grooving rhythm guitar’s accompany this-one of which plays a more liquid line while horn fanfares call out on each break. A phat slap bass line brings in the main body of the song. It’s a very bluesy melody on the refrain and chorus. And once the intro is over,a brittle bass and higher pitched melodic synthesizer provide the man rhythmic hump whereas the horns and upfront bass carry the melody Dimple’s is singing more. Just before the song fades out,the synthesizers take a back seat to the drum,guitar and horn line that opened up the song on the intro.

This song is a touch post disco/boogie classic that actually focuses on a lot of harder 70’s funk elements,such as horns and a thick slap bass. But the synthesizers and sleek beat are still very much present. Especially on the JB’s style rhythm guitar and stripped down dynamics,this also brings out an early 80’s Minneapolis Sound flavor about it as well. Fields’ vocal style is very interesting one to me. It has the idiosyncratic nasal drawl of Michael Jackson,but also the quiet groan of Ray Parker Jr. There is surely a distinctive vibe to this funk. And a lot of that has to do with how strongly it straddles two generations of the music: the one of the present and that of the immediate past.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Bay Area, Boardwalk Records, Boogie Funk, clavinet, disco funk, drums, horns, Neil Bogart, Oakland California, percussion, post disco, rhythm guitar, Richard Dimples Fields, San Francisco, slap bass, synthesizers, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/10/2015: “Crush It” by Parliament

Yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of the final (so far) album release from Parliament. It’s an album that had my curiosity from the get go. Ended up purchasing it right after trying in vain to skate to some late 90’s uptempo country music at the local roller rink which, ironically, would’ve been an ideal place to give up some funk. Even though I already knew that even some P-Funk admirers held this album in low regard?  There was one major source of comfort for me that I learned regarding this album later on.

Although I still feel funk needs to remain it’s own reward? The Oakland,California hip-hop duo Digital Underground elected to sample primarily from this album and it’s predecessor on their own debut album a decade after this was released. Since that duo share a home city with my friend Henrique? This album has wound up being a conversational reference when we’re discussing P-Funk. The first song on the album instantly leaped out  from my CD play at home, and set the tone for what was to come. It had a very earnest title too: “Crush It”.

A two beat call leads off with a wiggly bass synth that keeps up throughout the main rhythm- percussion accented dance beat with a bouncing stride style piano. This is soon joined by Bootsy Collins’ “duck face bass” as I call it,with the main melody courtesy of Fred Wesley and his Horny Horns. On the refrains? The Brides Of Funkenstein  provide some jazzy vocalese. The main vocals of the song are spoken word exchanges between Bootsy and George Clinton himself as Sir Nose. There’s a separate and harmonically complicated vocal refrain from The Brides as the song fades out.

Musically speaking? This song showcases just about every quality that made P-Funk what it is. Interestingly enough? The boogie funk sound of using synthesizers as bass and guitar sounds with live instrumentation was in full swing during this time. While P-Funk pioneered that “video game sound” in the late 70’s? It had by this point jelled into somewhat of an instrumental signature for them by 1980. Especially when it came to relative newcomer in keyboardist David Spradley,who’d come into P-Funk on Parliament’s previous album.

George Clinton’s use of conceptual metaphor was on full swing during the course of this song. While P-Funk itself was coming apart due primarily from music industry fear over it’s ambitions as a potential “new Motown” (as George put it in his recent biography)? The concept of musical blandness/fake funk personified by Sir Nose showcases that character itself flying apart. In this song? Sir Nose Jr pledges to give up the funk in opposition to his grooveless father. So in the end? This probably showcases P-Funk defiantly sticking with their funk. Even as the genre is coming under fire during the post disco radio freeze out of the time.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Bootsy Collins, David Spradley, Fred Wesley, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, humor, Oakland California, P-Funk, Parliament, synth bass, synthesizers

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/6/15 Rique’s Pick : “We Know We Got to Live Together” by Eugene Blacknell

Today’s Anatomy of THE Groove is special because I’m introducing a new to our blog that expands the definition of “New Funk.” The interest generated in Funk music by Hip Hop artists and movie directors and producers such as Quentin Tarantino and The Hughes Brothers also helped generate a wave of Funk re issues as well as wide releases for songs that were obscure even in the 1970s and ’80s. I guess it was natural that after the main hits of the big bands had been somewhat exhausted, the desire to hear classic era funk from lesser known artists would become greater and greater. In the case of today’s 1973 rediscovered Funk stomper, “We Know We Got to Live Together” by Eugene Blacknell and his band The New Bohemians, what we’re dealing with is a single that was released and played regionally but didn’t see widespread release until the ’00s. The region Eugene Blackwell came from and made his music in was my region, The East Bay Area of Northern California. Blacknell had a reputation as an ace guitar player who led bands from his teens on, making a handsome living playing in bars and clubs before the introduction of the Disc Jockey into the club scene. “We Know We Got To Live Together” is an anthemic, super funky, swaggering cut that fits right in with the very best of mid 70s funk. The song is so anthemic in quality that now, films have begun to use it as fresh music that has the classic funk sound, but by virtue of it’s obscurity, still fires the imagination as new music.

The song begins with a guitar riff from Blacknell, super funky, with bass notes leading up to a funky chord pattern. The guitar part is played through a wah wah of course, and the rhythmic feel is funky and laid back. Funky drum fills come in next and the sound is big and phat. The rest of the band kicks in and they strike up a stone cold groove, bass super funky in both note and feel, with the organ chiming in. The groove that Blacknell and his band gets is one that is so funky it could almost serve as a representative of mid ’70s laid back funk! The vocals come in and they’re super direct and down home soulful. The lyrical story laments several problems of the time and comes to a point where they say, “we’ve got to realise/its not the way/we want it to be.” After this the song goes to the vocal refrain of “We’ve Got to Live Together”, and under this vocal the band strikes up another super funky groove. When the lyric returns, Blacknell lays out the bleak mid ’70s scenario, taxes are going up and jobs are scarce. In this environment, the musician takes up the task of telling the people’s story “Help this population/understand this situation.”

The song next features a funky break, with the wah wah and the keyboard playing a call and response, with the wah wah letting a chord linger out and the organ answering with a tumbling piano riff and the vocals saying simply “Stay Together.” Blackwell then says, “Keep peace with me/I’ll keep peace with you/let me live and love my own way.” The song then goes to my favorite part, a heavy stomping tom tom drum lead part with Blacknell’s wah wah chiming on, that leads to the refrain “I’m so glad/Trouble don’t last always/no it don’t!” When I first got this CD back around 2007, that refrain, sung in Blacknell’s down home soulful style was my rallyinig cry, and it never failed to lift my spirits with its soulfully earnest optimism (and realism).

Eugene Blacknell and his various bands recorded many excellent sides in the 1970s and early ’80s, as well as performed and brought the funk to many audiences. It’s an amazing testament to the power and durability of the recorded mediums that their music has been rediscovered and accepted as part of the fabric of it’s time, regardless of it’s reception in that time. It also very useful for me as a Bay Area native to imagine what exactly the Bay Area sounded like in 1973. The message of “We Know We Got to Live Together” of course, is the right one, and its stated here in a very soulful and sensible way. We as people should be well aware of the alternative. But the groove Blacknell and co strike up is one that is highly distinct, funk that is laid back yet aggressive, a strong reputation of the hand clapping, whistle blowing, foot stomping mid ’70s. And I’m so glad it didn’t stay there, but that we now have it to enjoy for our times.

1 Comment

Filed under 1970's, Blogging, crate digging

Taking It To The Streets : The New Funk Generation brings the Funk to the Streets of San Francisco- By Riquespeaks

Public Enemy’s 2007 album release, “How do you sell soul to a soulless people who sold their soul”, bore a mouthful of a title that provided some insight on what many in the music loving community have felt in recent years. The facts are, artists in the various facets of soul music have a much lower profile in the music industry. Soul legends are trotted out and acclaimed for what they did in the golden era from time to time, but other than that, music seems to continously march towards pop uniformity. Do not for one instant think this means there is no soul and funk music being produced. There are independent labels all over the country, such as Stones Throw Records, that use the power of the internet and the avaliability of musical production equipment and promotional tools, to make whatever kind of music they want.  The live show and touring business is also thriving, as fans realize in this age of studio magic and the perfection it provides, the live show more than ever seperates the men from the boys and the girls from the grown women. I’ve noticed that no matter what one feels about funk, funk never has a problem coming across live. Funk is a music with an extremely low name recognition and a limited perception in the minds of many music fans. Many people understand “funky” as an adjective, but are not too familiar with Funk as a noun, that describes specific groups and a specific set of musical particulars. But all that is irrelevant when the rhythm of the one gets fired up and the bass and drums force one’s booty to do its duty. If you’re lucky, your city has funky bands big and small that hit up the clubs and medium sized music halls of your area. If you’re really lucky, you have funk bands that perform on the street, like the Bay Area’s New Funk Generation.

San Francisco has a long tradition of street performers. The legendary mime, and influence on American  funk style dance, Robert Shields, once performed on Union Square in the early ’70s. My first personal experience with a street performer, came through a jazz saxophonist who played at Pier 39 named Laurie Watkins. “Mr. Watkins”, as I remember him from phone calls to our home, had a thriving business performing jazz tunes at the Pier, that won him fans from all over the world. People would come to San Francisco years after they first came and be delighted to find Mr. Watkins still there blowing the tenor saxophone with much soul, backed up by pre recorded drum tracks. I came to know him through my father, because Watkins did so well with his music playing in the city, he was able to invest in a gold finding expedition to Liberia that my dad put together. I still remember going to see him and the Duke Ellington like introduction he’d do, “Hello ladies and gentlemen, I’m Mr. Watkins. The space directly in front of me is the floor…feel free to dance and do what you like as I play some tunes for you!”

So when I first encountered the New Funk Generation in my High School years, I knew how to respond to music being played on the streets. It was in Berkeley that I first ran into the New Funk Generation. The drummer, Larry, was playing drums on buckets, and the bass player Brian had an acoustic bass plugged into a Bootsy Collins style bass filter. They played Bootsy’s Rubber Band’s “Hollywood Squares” that day, and it was a landmark for me because I’d never heard that type of funk played live before that, especially from the vantage point of standing where I could feel the wind of the speaker. Young cats from Oakland would stop by for a minute and dance and rap over it, because “Hollywood Squares” was well known, both in its original form, and through it’s usage by legendary bay area rapper Too $hort. But New Funk Generation moved everybody, from the young cats who happened to be walking by on a school ditch from Berkeley High or Oakland Tech, to their real audience, the UC Berkeley college kids. That was my first experience with hearing funk live, right there on the street on University. Larry and Brian played with true proffessionalism, with clothes on that were raggedy/eccentric. The clothes fit the vibe, because for one, they were playing for donations, and then again, it really made them look like members of Parliament Funkadelic, who were known for wearing anything on stage.

Fast forward a few years, I ‘ve graduated from High School and started avoiding Berkeley like the plague. I’m rolling through SF now, with my keyboard playing buddy Dameion. Me and Dame would be driving through the city, dealing with snooty yuppies, talking to snooty yuppie chicks and ghetto girls, buying records, playing music off cassette tapes, laptops and samples, and humming musical ideas. One day, we heard somebody playing some serious funk, I think it might have been “Mr. Wiggles” by Parliament. And lo and behold, it was Larry and Brian, the “New Funk Generation.” It quickly became a ritual to find their band and enjoy their music. I had finally bought my first bass and was procrastinating my way through learning it, but Brian always inspired me. They played songs I’d never heard lived or always hoped I would, like “Soft and Wet”, “Sir Nose D’Void of Funk”, “Slide”, “Glide”, and other funk chestnuts. What amazed and impressed me, as I’m sure it did other observers, was the accuracy of their playing and the tightness of their groove. They played with the precision of the James Brown band, but not on an elevated platform, right there on the street, with people dropping money into the jar.

Seeing and hearing this kind of funk on the streets sparked all types of reactions in me. Sometimes folks walked by and looked personally offended that the guys were doing their thing. The police stopped it a couple of times. But still, for the most part, Bay Area people being the party people they are, folks would walk by and really have a ball, most people would stop and listen for a few minutes, dance, and contribute, and the guys also kept a sizeable audience glued to their set for however long they played. They’d actually play long sets with intermissions and structure. Young dudes would want to rap, people would want to show off their dance moves, and the spirit of funk would be strong on any corner they plugged up on.

It never ceased to amaze me, how middle aged white dudes would come up to the band and request rare funk classics. It also shocked me when saggy pants sporting, hip hop heads would let themselves go and dance in the street to the band. Dame and myself would talk about whether we had the courage to go out there and jam like the guys, on the street, the courage to make our own gig. We never made it out there like them. But we did become very friendly with the guys and we always talked to them after the show, something few people did. The band usually had people there passing the can, collecting money, and they even featured other artists from time to time. I distinctly recall them bringing back a female rapper from Japan and putting her in the act, as well as a little four year old kid who did the James Brown in zoot suits.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen the New Funk Generation perform in San Francisco. Maybe I’ll go look for them one weekend. Larry, the drummer, actually had a brief cameo in a montage scene in Will Smith’s “The Pursuit of Happyness.” I hear some rumblings about the city trying to crack down on their performances. If that’s true, it’s another horrible case of Bay Area gentrification running rampant. With the Google buses, high rents, and all of the other things going on in San Francisco, they shouldnt get rid of the ability of people to take their talents to the streets and get money. If they do, they’ll be diminishing their status as a world class city, because world class cities all over the world have places for people to display their talents and make money off them, as well as to sell and trade on the street. But when I go the city, I still see performers of various stripes, including a young African American lady at the BART station playing the cello! So here’s to the New Funk Generation and their brand of street funk, a treasure of the Bay Area that needs to be on tourist brochures next to the Golden Gate bridge, bread bowls and Cable Cars

2 Comments

Filed under Music, Rhythm, Soul