Tag Archives: P-Funk

All The Woo In The World: Bernie Worrell’s Solo Debut Coming To 40 Years In P!!!

All The Woo In The World is an album I have an interesting personal history with. It first came to my attention as a budget priced import CD my father (regretfully) gave the slip to in the late 1990’s.  I finally got a hold of a reissue for Black Friday’s Record Store Day of 2017-one with translucent orange vinyl. Bernie Worrell was the living embodiment of how his European classical training at Julliard didn’t solely represent the most advanced American musical forms. My main inner question was what would Worrell’s  1978 debut album bring to the P-Funk musical cannon as it reached its peak?

“Woo Together” has a heavy cinematic soul intro-full of layered wah wah guitar and melodic string arrangements from Dave Van De Pitte-with members of Parlet and Brides Of Funkenstein singing harmony with Worrell throughout the rest of the mid 70’s Parliament era groove.  “I’ll Be With You” showcases a melodic harmony based number-with a lot of processed instrumentation and jazzy chord changes based around that classic P-Funk acoustic and electric piano walk down. The acoustic piano solo on the last part has some similarities to Ramsey Lewis’s style of playing in this same era.

“Hold On” is a rhythmically theatrical, almost marching kind of Philly soul ballad kind of song. Its a showcase for both Fred Wesley’s trombone and Worrell’s “8 bit video game” style of high pitched synthesizer melodies. “Must Thrust” starts out a conversation with a Sir Nose sounding voice as well as Bootsy’s. And then launches right into a stomping blues/rocker with a stinging guitar solo along with Worrell’s piano and synth- with a number of vocal ad libs from both Bootsy and Worrell in the back round of the song. The harmony vocals, as on much classic P Funk, tends to take the lead end.

“Happy To Have (Happiness On Our Side)” has a compelling reggae shuffle/cinematic funk hybrid. Rodney Skeet Curtis, from what I can gather, comes in with a very jazzy bass to compliment Billy Bass Nelson’s rhythmic slapping. “Insurance Man For The Funk” brings in vocal assistance from Dr. Funkenstein himself. And its a classic late 70’s mid tempo P-Funk number in every possible respect-with its horn charts and and doo wop inspired vocal harmonies. With Worrell’s “video game” synth duetting with Maceo Parker’s sax. A reprise of “Must Thrust” concludes the album.

All The Woo In The World is representative to me of P-Funk at a logistical crossroads. George Clinton and company were trying to maintain a growing musical colony of different bands-all the while starting to focus on solo acts as well. So the album seemed to span the two end of P-Funk in 1978.  Bernie Worrell’s musical focus here is also a lot more jazzy and orchestrated. Its only when George Clinton enters the picture that it sounds rather like mid/late 70’s horn driven Parliament style P-Funk. Which was often the sound Clinton preferred for presenting his spin off acts with at that time.

Worrell also presented himself with a cracking, often high pitched voice that resembled Sly Stone across much of this album. So it offered a unique lead vocal flavor in much the same way Gary Mudbone Cooper and Walter Junie Morrison were. In the end, my own view of All The Woo In The World combines two different views I’ve already heard about it. Bernie Worrell gave much of the music a unique and colorful instrumental flavor.. At the same time, it wasn’t all that it could have been either. Still All The Woo In The World  remains a distinctive album in the pantheon of late 70’s P-Funk side projects.

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Bootsy? Player Of The Year At Just Over 40 Years Old!

Bootsy Collins’ career as a band leader started around 1971 when he and his brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins put together The House Guests in Cincinnati. And after five years of being folded into George Clinton’s P-Funk collective of Funkalelic and Parliament. In 1976, Bootsy merged some of those former House Guests with other members of P-Funk to form The Rubber Band. From the very beginning, the venture revolved around Bootsy and his stage persona. So he and the Rubber Band’s cartoon like concept attracted a younger audience into enjoying P-Funk.

By1978 , the P-Funk juggernaut was at it’s prime. It had spin off acts flying all over the place. And has a loyal fan base keeping a vested interest. On this album we start out with Bootsy declaring “what’s the name of your town?” on..”Bootsy’s What’s The Name Of This Town”, a frantically quick tempo’d stew of bass/drum rhythm with call and response vocal exchanges. It’s flat out hyper-energized funk. “May The Force Be With You” is a great example of ballad paced funk-with Bootsy’s thick bass pops and the choral vocals illustrating a sexually charged Star Wars metaphor.

The trill falsetto voiced Gary Mudbone Cooper (in contrast with the quirky sighs of Robert “P-Nut” Johnson) takes the lead on the the rather soul/reggae oriented love song of “Very Yes”-cooing in a comically alluring yet sensuous manner. This all continues with “Bootzilla” which, along with “Roto-Rooter” both meld rhythmically exciting,full band funk-thick with orchestral synthesizers and a Bootsy’s explosive instrumental presence. “Hollywood Squares” is a slower crawling, foot stomping  P-Funk number.  These songs embrace that classic P-Funk embrace of satirizing American advertising slogans.

This form of satire comes right from the black DJ tradition. And late 70’s P-Funk expanded on them to promote their own musical concept. “I Love You” features P-Nut and Mudbone again on a more fluid,very jazzy oriented slow groove ballad with strong psychedelic undertones. This album represents Bootsy’s Rubber Band right in it’s musical prime. The energy level,even on the slower songs,is just infectious. And considering P-Funk’s relatively nil commercial reception in the long term scope of things? One doesn’t require the charts for success because as Bootsy might say? The proof is in the footing.

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78 On The Longplay: ‘Pleasure Principle’ by Parlet

Image result for Parlet Pleasure Principle

In historical terms, the clear witticism strung into P-Funk’s lyrical ethos contrasted greatly with the complex and often difficult realities of how the entire George Clinton universe functioned in its heyday. Always dreaming of creating a mini musical collective along the lines of his former employers at Motown, there were two factors that came until play-depending on who you believe. Either George’s grandiose gestures were no substitute for sound management. Or that he simply fell into the music business cliches that he continually rallied against.

One excellent example of this problem was Parlet. Originally conceived of as a somewhat poppier P-Funk girl group called The Parlettes, George trolled Casablanca yet again by offering them “a funky P-Funk girl group called Parlet”. Considering the collective nature of P-Funk’s live shows, this provided some excellent creative possibilities for Clinton’s expansive visions. Five different former P-Funk backup singers made up the group in their three year lifetime. Since the idea of who left Parlet at one time was so complicated, this album offers a more coherent a purely musical perspective.

The title song starts off the album with a classy bass driven, high stepping danceable funk piece that has a swing era jazz feeling about it-from the horn voicing’s to the “la la,la de da de,da da” harmonies of the trio themselves. “Love Amnesia” gets started with this powerful,popping bass/Clavinet line before going into what amounts to a very basic Parliament style jam- with a funky take on the psychic numbing of romance. “Cookie Jar” is one of the more unique P-Funk songs to me as it seems to be based around an acoustic blues guitar line-espousing the idea of a lady being in the position to play the field.

“Misunderstanding” is a complicated, jazz inflected ballad whereas “Are You Dreaming?” is one of the few songs that that put a P-Funk instrumental flavor to a disco friendly Philly soul sound. “Mr.Melody Man” has more of what they often call a “disco ballad” flavor- all more or less dealing with the different stages of romantic regret. Considering this is an album presenting so many musical ideas as yet fairly unique to P-Funk,the entire Parlet venture was a messy and chaotic one right from the start.

The trio consisting of Jeanette Washington, Debbie Wright and Marlia Franklin didn’t have much (if any) experience at front lining. And even less as a collective group. The resulting maelstrom of conflicts with Clinton and an his apparent under promotion of them resulted in both Franklin and Wright leaving Parlet at different times following this album’s release. Musically however it was very innovative to P-Funk’s future.

It showcased George and company’s embrace of disco-dance rhythms into their music before Parliament’s records themselves began to embrace them a year later. So it did seem,with disco being regarded as a very feminized phenomenon,that Parlet were essentially being used by Clinton as a platform to integrate this ethic into their sound. Since,of course the disco elements of this music was used ironically to decry the music’s presumed social attitudes,it’s a wonderfully strong and grooving album-right in key with P-funk’s vision of music culture.

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Funkentelechy Vs. Four Decades: P-Funk Set On Mood Control, Even For Those Who Can’t Afford Free Speech

How many times have I heard how important the Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome album was? And how many times have I walked passed this album? Even to the point of buying the CD and (at first) returning it because I felt the sound quality was bad? Funkentelechy has the distinction of being both a transitional P-Funk album-as well as a transitional for Parliament on its own. Before this album, Parliament was largely built around it’s horn/rhythm section rather then layers of keyboard/guitar solos. That element is a key part of this album as well with of course “Bop Gun” and the title song.

From there, things get even more interesting very fast. “Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk” not only serves to introduce an important P-Funk character conception to the scene but also the kind of tune that builds from the ground up into a Clinton style variation of “Three Blind Mice”. Thematically this album is a lot different than Mothership Connection. Whereas that albums concept was fairly implicit the band apparently had decided at this juncture that few were getting the point so the Sir Nose character and the story they built around him said it all.

Sir Nose’s story was that the sense of funk in music was being replaced by the “placebo syndrome”. And that it was spilling into areas outside music too. Unusually enough, there are two songs here that seem to have to do with P-Funk’s new music. While conceptually “Wizard Of Finance” and “Placebo Syndrome” are right in tune with the album, and are full of Clinton’s renowned wit, they connect more musically with his past-with their shuffling doo-wop sound. As with everything else on this album it’s Bootsy who carries this album along with the vocal harmonies and horns as usual.

Of course, the album ends with both eyes on the future with one of the bands best known numbers “Flashlight”. Thanks largely to the late Bernie Worrell’s layers of bass synthesizer, the song showcases the sound most people will tend to think of in terms of P-Funk;rhythmically dense,relatively mid tempo and very electronic. It’s the P-Funk sound that would define Parliament to the end. While Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome may not be quite as defining musically as some other Parliament albums due to its  transitional nature, it does its job on that end in terms of conceptual realization.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “One-Eyed Jack” by Gary Bartz

Gary Bartz is a Baltimore native. He was a Julliard graduate who played with musicians like McCoy Tyner and Miles Davis. He formed the Ntu group as a leader-combining a number of different afrocentric forms of music that complemented each other. My friend Henrique had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Bartz one time. He discussed with me Bartz place as a “post Coltrane soprano sax player”-someone who was able to cut through the music of the electric jazz era with his sound. He now teaches at the Oberlin Conservatory Of Music in Ohio, when he’s not on the road.

Bartz generally toured with his own group. But he also seemed to have loved playing with funk musicians too. That came into play during the mid 70’s-when that particular groove became a bigger part of his sound. By his 1980 album Bartz, he was prettying much acting as an adjunct of the band Mtume. With James Mtume and Reggie Lucas writing, producing and using their band as Bartz’ backup musicians. Since its the only Gary Bartz album I presently have, it was easy to discover one particular song from this collaboration that stuck out for me. Its called “One-Eyed Jack”.

A passionate “OOOOOOH!!!” and a five beat drum intro gets the song right into gear. From there on its a slow, dragging drum beat. The bass is slapping hard on the one. A rhythm guitar, one with a wah wah sound and an acoustic piano are all speaking in similar musical phrases with the horns bouncing right along with them-led by Bartz’s sax. Mtume’s Tawatha sings the vocal hook throughout the majority of the song-accentuated by additional space funk synths. There are two refrains-which have the rhythm guitar/bass playing a smoother and more melodic jazz/funk phrase.

Even before the extended chorus fades out this song, “One-Eyed Jack” will likely call to mind mid 70’s P-Funk. In the spirit of Mothership Connection and “Undisco Kidd”. Bartz taking part in another band rather than totally leading it also showcases his versatility here. Henrique also mentioned Bartz’s favorite TV show was the documentary series  Unsung. His only hope for it was that it would showcase more unsung jazz musicians than merely soul,funk and hip-hop ones. Considering these kids of jazz soloist and funk band crossovers? Bartz’s comment is more than apropos in this case.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “For The Funk Of It” by Andre L. Parker

Andre L. Paker embodies the spirit of the lesser nationally known funk/soul/R&B based artists. Though not even apparently a major name in his native Danbury, Connecticut, Parker has performed with numerous bands and recorded 75 albums. These have run the gamut from R&B,jazz to heavy metal. Six years ago, one of Parker’s compositions entitled “Wo Wo Wo” was even played during the overnight forecasts on The Weather Channel. What makes Parker and his music so unique on Andresmusictalk is that he is a musician who actually contacted me.

He sent me a great deal of information on himself. About how he became a multi instrumentalist from the time his mother got him his first guitar at the age of 10. About his influences ranging from jazz drummer Max Roach to funk icon Sly Stone. Reading further into what he sent, he’s been online since about 2009 with a computer given to him a friend. And is very interested in me writing about his music. After looking through YouTube over the tracks from his upcoming triple set Bring Back The Funk, the song that most stood out to me as a funkateer was one entitled “For The Funk Of It”.

A thick one/two beat drum thump provides the basis for the song. Along with the pulsing synth bass and wah-wah guitar, this comes together to form the rhythmic basis for the song. Two extra rhythm guitar lines meet that rhythm during the next part of the song. One is a higher pitched strum and the other a more sustained acoustic line. Between each part, audience applause sounds provide a bridge. A whistling,almost G-Funk style synth melody comes into play on the last several bars of the song. And a combination of the applause and an electric guitar riff brings the song to a close.

What “For The Funk Of It” delivers to my personal ear hole is a musical concept of what I’d call a “one man jam”. That is a multi instrumentalist playing a consistent,melodic funk vamp that stays on the one. And doesn’t follow a strict pop song structure. And from hearing his other songs, Parker knows his way around pop structure. His approach to this is somewhere between P-Funk and Prince-with the multiple guitar parts and synth bass pump. Yet the vamp of the song has a hip-hop G Funk flavor to its rhythmic pattern. Excellent channeling from Andre L Parker of one generation of funk to another.

*To purchase music from Andre L. Parker,visit this page: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/andrelparker5 

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The Crusaders Remembered: “Gimme Some Space” by Stix Hooper

Nesbert “Stix” Hooper is the last surviving member of the band who originally called themselves The Jazz Crusaders. The Houston native spent most of his youth studying music even before any of this occurred. While enrolled at Texas Southern University, Hooper , he got a musical education that most would envy. Everyone from members of the Houston Symphony Orchestra to a number of local professional players. By the time of his peak with the Crusaders, Hooper’s musical excellent touched on everyone from The Rolling Stones,B.B. King and onto London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

What Hooper brought to his drum and percussion work was the in the pocket funk rhythm. And basically helped to shape the sound of what became the jazz-funk subgenre from the outset. As a Crusader,the man was and remains a musical icon. His solo career, consisting of two albums released in 1979 and 1982, didn’t seem to receive the recognition they deserved. Especially having heard them both. The first I got was the 1982 album called Touch The Feeling. My dad pointed it out in a discount vinyl crate to me some years ago. My own favorite cut on it is its final one called “Gimme Some Space”.

Todd Cochran’s huge synthesizer riser fades into the song before the intro comes in. Its a powerful one for sure-with Hooper’s drum hits announcing the horn charts coming at within 3-4 seconds of time between each other. That’s when the entire song kicks in. This consists of Hooper’s huge funky beat, Neil Stubenhaus’s thick slap bass and Larry Carlton wah wah toned bluesy guitar along with Cochran’s synth and the horn section. On the next part, the synths take on a distinctly spacey late 70’s P-Funk air. Everything comes together after that-from the calculated pauses and solos until it actually fades out.

“Gimme Some Space” is one of those funk jams that gives you exactly what the title implies. A good portion of the song relies on adding musical drama with long and calculated silences. That makes it very much in line with the James Brown/Clyde Stubblefield/Jabo Starks type of funk from the late 60’s. That being said, its basic instrumental character comes out of the late 70’s/early 80’s jazz/funk George Duke style take on the P-Funk sound. Its a powerful and strong blend of acoustic and electronic funk ideas that shows how powerful a musical figure Stix Hooper truly is.

 

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A Blow For Me,A Happy 40 Years For You: The Album Where Fred, Maceo And P-Funk Officially Met At Their Crossroads

The clean transition from James Brown to George Clinton’s P-Funk all comes down to Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker. These were two totally different approaches to funk. JB laid down the groundwork. P-Funk, while more psychedelic in the beginning, took over where Sly Stone left off by the mid 70’s in terms of embellishing JB’s basic structure for the music. It was the horns that really did a lot of this of course. And George Clinton knew that. And in 1977 he gave that end of P-Funk its own identity with A Blow For Me,A Toot For You. Here’s my Amazon.com review that goes further into what it was musically.


As probably the most significant horn section in all of funk? The band that Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley led had a lot of different names. They were the JB’s,they were All The King’s Men,they were The Macks and eventually a part of the funky heartbeat in the nervous system of George Clinton’s P-Funk during the mid 70’s. After working as part of Bootsy’s Rubber Band,George decided that the already iconic Maceo and Fred needed a P-Funk era album of their own. And in 1977 they got their chance.

“Up From The Downstroke” is presented here as an extended stripped down variation of Parliament’s original where the collective horn charts interact call and response style to the horn solos. The title song slows the tempo right into the groove with the horns responding directly to Bernie Worrell’s orchestral synthesizer. “When In Doubt,Vamp” finds the horns all playing rhythmically in classic James Brown style.

“Between The Sheets” finds the horns intertwined into a thick mixture of reverbed, liquefied bounding bass and rhythm guitar/keyboard interaction while “Four Play” begins with a singled out funky drum before going into a jazzy rhythm guitar led jam. “Peace Fugue” ends the album with the electric piano tinged ballad that closes it all out with a more melodic style of trumpet solo.

During the time I first listened to this on vinyl? Something about the album lacked some of the rhythmic sauciness and vigor that I was used to hearing out of P-Funk at that particular time. Listening to the vinyl again over a decade later? I realize just how important this album had been in showcasing how musically clean,spit and polished the P-Funk sound actually was during the peak of it’s powers.

Maceo and Fred’s expert horn solos and interactions are explored in ultra sleek productions where time was taken in the studio rather than the often hit and run recording sessions James Brown had often done. This became a model for some of the later studio works of these musicians after they departed from P-Funk. And is a superb example of George Clinton and Bootsy Collins’ prowess as studio producers.


Back when I was first getting into P-Funk,it was during a crate digging experience that I located this album on vinyl In all honesty, it is not as powerfully innovative as Mothership Connection or Ahh The Name Is Bootsy Baby. In a way, that was kind of the point. P-Funk began as a somewhat instrumentally undisciplined psychedelic rock and soul outfit. And the discipline that JB alumni such as Fred,Maceo and Bootsy (mainstays of the Horny Horns) brought their blend of controlled chaos to make sense of P-Funk’s intent. On that level, this album is a crucial stepping stone for P-Funk’s late 70’s peak.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Bop Gun (One Nation) by Ice Cube & George Clinton

O’Shea Jackson Sr, better known as Ice Cube, had hip-hop on his mind ever since he was a teenager growing up in South Central LA. After seeing the movie Straight Outta Compton,got to wonder if the man was inspired by listening to piles of 70’s funk,soul and jazz records. After being involved in many rap battles,he soon took some demos to the late Eazy E at age 16. And the rest was history. Cube went from being involved with gangsta rap icons NWA in the late 80’s to a vital solo career by the end of the decade. The first of which is now also iconic album entitled Amerikka’s Most Wanted from 1989.

He began an acting career parallel to his solo career in 1991 with a part in the now iconic Boyz N The Hood. Five years later,he co-starred in the comedy Friday. In 1992 he married Kimberly Woodruff and eventually became a father of four. His eldest son O’Shea Jr portrayed his father in NWA’s aforementioned biopic. In between these events,Cube released his fourth album Lethal Injection. In included a duet with George Clinton,produced by Quincy Jones III called “Bop Gun (One Nation)”.

This song is basically Funkadelic’s 1978 hit “One Nation Under A Groove” slowed down to approximately 100 bpm in tempo,and then reconfigured musically. In this case, the songs percussive laced drum track introduces it. Bernie Worrell’s synthesizer squiggles are slowed down and used as random accents. The main body of much of the song is still based around the rhythm guitars and synth bass of the original’s refrain.Clinton and Cube duet primarily on the choruses,which are left somewhat similar to the original in melodic content.

“Bop Gun (One Nation)” was something I heard on a mix tape in the late 90’s made for me by a friend of my dads who learned I loved P-Funk. Hadn’t yet heard the original yet. Listening to it now, its an example of early 90’s gangsta rap turning from James Brown to P-Funk as an inspiration for sampling and general attitude. Cube is basically pointing out that he’d rather drop real guns that kill and take up a metaphoric “bop gun” that gets people to dance and live in this song. And using 90’s West Coast hip-hop’s coarser language inspired by Clinton,this is a superb example of P-Funk hip-hop in the end.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Disco Lady” by Johnnie Taylor

Johnnie Taylor has been a consistent conversation point between Henrique Hopkins and myself. And it was always in reference to him being a 60′ era soul singer who recorded and did consistently well with audiences up through the mid 90’s.  The West Memphis, Arkansas native got his start as Sam Cooke’s replacement in the gospel group The Soul Stirrers. In 1965, Taylor signed to Stax records. He became one of the labels major stars,leading to his nickname as “The Philosopher Of Soul”. After Stax folded in the mid 70’s,Taylor signed with Columbia-where he remained for nearly a decade after that.

Johnnie Taylor is also one of those artists who I knew about long before even knowing his name. That was from dancing around as a pre-teen to his major pop Top 10 crossover funky soul hit “Who’s Makin’ Love” from 1970-hearing it on oldies radio all the time.  In fact,that was a song I almost reviewed today. But there’s another song of his that came out half a decade later of his. One that Nelson George described the success of so wonderfully in his book The Death Of Rhythm & Blues. And musically,it has a surprising twist for me that I’ll get into after describing it. The name of this song was “Disco Lady”.

The drums kick right off into a slightly delayed 4/4 dance beat,accented by shaking bells. A high pitched melody on electric piano opens up the melody,which is accentuated by an equally melodic eight note bass line and a pulsing wah wah guitar. On each part of Taylor’s chorus,the horns accent his vocals in different ways. Sometimes with hard pulses,other times with a building sustain. On the bridge,the rhythm becomes a bouncing march before it melodically builds back into itself-complete with fanfaring horn charts and rubbery keyboards. The refrain repeats itself consistently until the song fades out.

“Disco Lady” is actually one of those fairly stripped down disco era funk songs where the instrumentation and the vocals are both designed for a slinky,sneaky attitude as opposed to a raucous one. As for that surprising twist I mentioned,it became known to me years ago that Taylor was backed up by P-Funk musicians on this song. Bassist Bootsy Collins, the late guitarist Glenn Goins and keyboard maestro Bernie Worrell and drummer Jerome Brailey play on the song. Along with backup vocals by Dawn’s (as in Tony Orlando) Telma Hopkins singing the backup vocals singing the chorus.

This song doesn’t exactly have the sound I would ever associate with P-Funk. And certainly not Tony Orlando & Dawn. But its songs such as this that have the power to help people understand how musicians function. If someone reads the liner notes to albums and look for names online,they’ll often find out that the best musicians in the funk,soul and jazz world especially have an expert sense of musical diversity. They know how to give a song what it needs-whether its based more on singers or instruments. And at least to me,that ethic is one of the major contributions of “Disco Lady”.

 

 

 

 

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