Tag Archives: Reggie Lucas

Reggie Lucas (1953-2018): A Musical Life

Reggie-Lucas

Reggie Lucas is one of those names who appears on the credits of many albums. In all my years of crate digging, I’d grab just about any album which credited him. Didn’t matter if it was on guitar, as a producer or not. Lucas’s lineage was strong as iron. Born in Queens, the man got his start playing within the Philly soul community as a session musician with MFSB and as a live musician with Billy Paul. In 1972, he began his professional association with Miles Davis, where he met percussionist James Mtume. Together they put together a new band named after James’ taken surname.

Mtume started out as an avant garde jazz outfit with electric elements, very much inspired by Miles’ loose grooves of his mid 70’s period. The band added singer Tawatha Agee in 1978 and released Kiss The World Goodbye. This version of Mtume was a full funk/soul elements. Lucas also began production work during the late 70’s. He began and association with both Phyllis Hyman and Stephanie Mills that would last several years and albums. He also produced jazz sax player Gary Bartz during his own transition to a funkier sound.

Lucas’s biggest success as a member of Mtume was with their 1983 hit “Juicy Fruit”, a sexually spicy electro funk jam that inspired an equally famous hip-hop reboot called “Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G, who also sampled the original hit in his song. During that same year, Lucas provided production on the then little known singer/dancer Madonna Ciccone on her debut album. His LINN drum and guitar work, including Lucas’s own composition “Borderline”, would find him part of the musical team that launched one of the 20th centuries major dance music superstars.

Looking back on his accomplishments today? Reggie Lucas served a similar function on guitar as Marcus Miller did as a bassist. He came to fame as a musician working with Miles Davis. And went onto become a session player for a number of soul and pop artists-many of whom themselves became iconic. Lucas may have passed away on my 38th birthday. But in the end, Lucas was another major seed that Miles planted into the tapestry of black American music during the electric jazz and funk/soul/disco era’s.  To me, this will be what I’ll always think about when contemplating Lucas’s creative arc.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Kiss The World Goodbye” by Mtume

James Mtume almost seemed to be born into the royal family of funk. Everything seemed to come into place for it. He was born in Philly as the son of jazz sax icon Jimmy Heath. He went on to play with Miles Davis  during the last few years before Miles’ late 70’s retirement period. That combination of being a Philadelphia native and having a strong back round is usually the key ingredients in a recipe for a funk icon. At first,Mtume had his mind on athletics. He achieved the title of the first black Middle Atlantic AAU champion in the backstroke, and in 1966 he entered Pasadena City College on a swimming scholarship.

After learning about music somewhat through the jazz musicians coming in and out of his adopted father,local Philly jazz pianist James “Hen Gates” Foreman,he had the abilities as a musician to begin his career as a session player on the West Coast by the early 70’s. He recorded a couple of albums as a leader.. These were both in a more free jazz style. In 1978 he’d teamed up with percussionist/arranger/producer Reggie Lucus and formed the funk outfit Mtume. They would hit pay dirt with 1983’s sexy “Juicy Fruit”. Yet one of their most telling grooves is the title song of their 1978 debut album Kiss The World Goodbye.

The drum kicks off the slow,percussive crawl of the rhythm for starts. A grinding guitar plays a funky blues riff that swiftly dovetails into another guitar line-this one a amp’d up rock one. This is assisted by some incredibly phat popping bass playing a lower version of the first guitar riff. This is the main body of the song-one that relies heavily on the one. As the song progresses,these main rhythmic elements are accented by both horn charts and synthesizer squiggles on every other chord or so. And this is how the groove goes on until it all fades out.

Taken as itself,this song is not only a great way for Mtume to debut as a band concept. But it is also so far removed from the electro/boogie sound they’d be known for 6-7 years later that is really showcases their musical arc. Mtume actually had four year gap from 1980 to 1983 where they didn’t record anything. But on this 1978 song,their focus was not only based more in the funk/rock aesthetics of Funkadelic,Ohio Players and Slave but the arrangement on this is especially thick. The instrumentation is so closely mixed,this song is among the most musically dense hard funk of the late 70’s.

 

 

 

 

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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: “Lucky Star” by Madonna

Madonna Louise Ciccone and her place as an American cultural phenomenon requires no clarification. From the early 80’s onward, she has been both a fashionista and a trend setter at the same time. What always interested me about her early days as a hungry and ambitious dreamer from Rochester Hills,Michigan is that she climbed up the musical ladder based (among other things) on the music of the black and Latin club scenes of post disco NYC. That has enabled her to not merely follow but often anticipate changes in danceable pop music throughout the decades.

Seymour Stein, co founder of Madonna’s label Sire Records, once spoke of Madonna’s first single (which was a 1982 song called “Everybody”) as not having her picture on the sleeve. He said the reasoning for that was that he felt she sounded like a black post disco artist. And had the opposite approach to what Motown did for Teena Marie in trying to make believe Madonna was black. Valid as a story or not, Madonna’s association with Mtume’s Reggie Lucus on her self titled debut album does make clear her musical connections. That also goes for one of the albums breakout singles “Lucky Star”.

A twinkling, high pitched synth riser begins the song. Then Reggie Lucus’s LINN drum dance beat comes in along with Paul Pesco’s melodic,chunky rhythm guitar. The brittle synth bass pops on every beat or two and is high up in the mix. Light synth horn accents are the order at first. Than by the refrain and chorus, there’s more sustain to the synths. There’s also an iconic be section-with has a thick grooving guitar from Pesco that’s punctuated by pitch pent synth stabs. After a couple such sections, the song settles into an extended chorus until it all fades out.

“Lucky Star” appears a relatively simple song at first. The melody is focused on Madonna’s voice and singability in general. What the production and electronic instrumental touches of Reggie Lucas brought to the song is a mixture of the brittle rhythms of post disco boogie funk, the solid beat of disco and the synthesized approach of new wave. In essence, it allowed Madonna to popularize and to a degree innovate the genre known as dance pop. Madonna herself once said all the negativity regarding her lack of talent helped her to do even better. And this song really set her notoriety alight.

 

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Phyllis Hyman Double Feature

Phyllis Hyman

Phyllis Hyman comes across as someone with a strong creative ethic. She was a strong soul/gospel/jazz vocal powerhouse,not to mention an attractive,stylish 6′ tall physical presence. The arc of her life somewhat resembled Whitney Houston’s however,aside from the fact Hyman lack Houston’s family musical pedigree. Hyman’s adult life was marred by romantic woes,mental illness and addiction problems. This led to Hyman’s tragic suicide in 1995 before she ever saw her 50th birthday.  Still her music still connects with soul/funk music lovers with its spectrum of joy and pain.

After watching some of TV One’s series Unsung‘s episode about Hyman,it fairly quickly became apparent that throughout her recording career,record producers and songwriters simply didn’t know how to handle her voice. This tends to be a reoccurring theme with vocalists who are not in complete creative control of their songwriting and production. Her time in the late 70’s and early 80’s at Arista Records didn’t seem to be her happiest,as she and label head Clive Davis often clashed. Yet the two CD’s I have by her are her most commercially successful for the label. So I am going to overview them here today.

You Know How To Love Me/1979

Of course cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard Phyllis Hyman’s name dropped. And of course how little I’d actually heard of her. Well I blame myself. No good reason. I had this idea in my head she was primarily a balladeer. And there seemed to be a dime a dozen of those out there. Kind of the old idea about uptempo tunes dating fasted and slower ones being more timeless.

Well either way I must say that after hearing this album,I must say Phyllis was possessed of a vocal instrument defined by both great confidence and vulnerability. Now tonally? She’s a soul belter out of the blues/gospel school of singing. And her voice has a nice raspy huskiness to it that is actually quite appealing. Produced by James Mtume and Reggie Lucas I’d actually highly recommend this album as a possible first Phyllis Hyman album. There are reasons.

Two of those reasons right off the bat are the title song and “You’re The One”,both seriously intense gospel fueled Philly type danceable soul perfect for the disco floor and will have you singing to yourself with the same firey and intelligent tone as Phyllis herself. Of course there are two slower grooves here that blow me away too “Some May” and “Give A Little More” both find Hyman’s experienced voice working it’s way through some choppy sophistifunk type grooves.

On “Complete Me” it turns to this flat out epic type gospel/soul ballad type thing,the sort of sound I suppose I always associated with Phyllis. “But I Love You” has this tense and rather fanfare based disco-dance sound while the only song really bound by the era might be “Heavenly”. However nothing to worry about for the discophobes because even for them Phyllis gives it her all as she does throughout.

In the end the impression I get from Phyllis Hyman here is that she seems to function best as an album artist. Her vocal style has a need to stretch itself throughout the spectrum of soul musics sub-genres. And it’s a much wider spectrum than people think. Even within each off shoot of the music. There’s music here that has the ability the impact on fans of Philly soul,disco dancing and even foot stomping funk fans.

True it’s as bubbly and sophisticated a production as good champagne is to the taste. On the other hand every sound here serves to emphasize the talent whose getting the most credit. The participation of the Mtume band didn’t do any harm either. This was a recording oriented around a group of people with unique and special talent. And in this case,they got something extremely special out of Phyllis Hyman. So even if she’s not with us anymore,there’ll always be records like this.

Can’t We Fall In Love Again/1981

Admittedly I’m a bit late entering into the musical world of the late Phyllis Hyman. At this point? I actually only have two of her albums. She was one of those vocalists who moved between the worlds of jazz and funky soul. And always having an extremely talented bevy of instrumentalists at her disposal courtesy of her producer and original musical paramour Norman Connors.

Her entire creative approach matches up to the very qualities that have continually created some of the most dynamic and stunning music in the funk/soul/jazz/R&B spectrum. This 1981 album was her first of that particular decade. And upon locating it on CD? Picked it up without hesitation. Absolutely no regrets.

“You Sure Look Good To Me” is an extremely melodic horn and upbeat synthesizer based pop/boogie funk/post disco number-like a harder edged variation of the sound Richard Perry was then getting with the Pointer Sisters. The title song is a dynamic,Thom Bell like electric sitar led mid tempo love song duet between Hyman and the rich voiced baritone singer/bass player Michael Henderson.

“Don’t Tell Me,Tell Her” is a high stepping horn and slap bass Brazilian funk jam while “I Ain’t Asking” is an assertively romantic number from Ashford & Simpson-with their classic piano heavy and melodic early 80’s gospel/soul/funk style.

“The Love Too Good To Last” and “The Sunshine In My Life” are polished up,medium tempo pop/soul ballads while “Tonight You And Me” as a mixture of that Afro-Latin style drum and bass keyboard chorus of The Jackson’s “Shake Your Body” with a powerful post disco/funk/soul refrain. “Just Another Face In The Crowd” is a melodically epic slow pop ballad to conclude the album.

Well this is one of those albums where all eight songs are uniformly excellent,superbly produced and played on. Hyman herself provides the gospel/soul vocal phrasings of a jazzier and ballsier Dionne Warwick. At least to me anyway,and with an incredibly slippery and husky range as well. For lovers of early 80’s funk/soul music that’s powerfully performed and filled with a jazzy flavor? This might just be an album for you!


Phyllis Hyman offered us some fantastic soulful music. She also lived with bipolar disorder. And this possibly motivated her to end her life prematurely. For more information on bipolar disorder,or feel you may have it yourself,please go to the website below. Life is worth living!

National Alliance on Mental Illness’s Page On Bipolar Disorder

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Andre’s Amazon Archive for 4/18/2015: ‘No Parking On The Dancefloor’ by Midnight Star

No Parking On The Dancefloor

Midnight Star are very significant to the the funk scene because,creatively they represent a transition. Not only were they one of the very last large funk bands to form,but their first full length album The Beginning came out in 1980. So with no output during the 1970’s, Midnight Star were the first of the big funk bands to evolve solely during the 1980’s decade. While that album was complete live band horn funk primarily,their next two albums straddled two worlds-that of their live instrumental beginnings and the burgeoning electronic/synthesizer based world of what was then called electro funk and is now called boogie. 1983 was a huge year for soul/funk artists because the genre was back in business,and the post disco freeze out thawing as MJ’s Thriller was pretty much ruling the music world and bringing spirited funk based dance music into the public eye. Because the producer/writer/vocal/instrumental team of siblings Reggie and Vincent Calloway were as much strong melodicists as instrumental futurist,they now stood in the position to deliver the album that would solidify their sound for the rest of the decade.

“Electricity” begins the album with a hard funk grooves entirely based in the synthesizer as all of the instrumental elements. And of course “Freak-A-Zoid” picks right up on the same impulse-using a combination of vocorder and Belinda Lipscomb’s strong,Patti LaBelle-like vocals. Both musically and lyrically capture the spirit of the computer game/video arcade based pop culture of that time as a metaphor for the last days of the sexual revolution. Its on the other songs here that the album truly takes flight really. “Night Rider” takes a drum and bass/guitar sound from “Billie Jean” and applies it to a much more synthesizer oriented and electronic landscape. “Feels So Good” is a grooving “smooth groove” somewhat reminiscent of a jazzier pop take on “Sexual Healing” with Lipscomb’s strong vocals at center stage. “Wet My Whistle” has a melodic and percussive pop/funk sound very much out of the Reggie Lucus/Mtume/Madonna sound of that time and is one of my personal favorite songs here. The title song,copped later by The Bar Kays for “Freakshow On The Dancefloor” is similar to the opener-even including a vocoderized allusion to James Brown’s “I Got The Feeling” on the last verse. “Slow Jam” is a radio friendly contemporary pop/funk…well the title says it all. And it deals with a romantic dance at that. “Playmates” ends the album on a more melodic new wave friendly note.

I discovered this album in 1999 as part of a group of CD’s from a record store that had apparently gone out of business,and were on clearance at a local resale shop brand new for $1 a piece. It basically defined my headphone experiences for the rest of that year and even into the new millennium. Listening to it now,one of the things that’s so striking about this album is how strong the material is. The instrumentation,vocals and songwriting are all first rate,bright and have a party atmosphere that also has a strong elegance reflecting the more streamlined urban contemporary funk attitude of the early/mid 1980’s. Midnight Star created their first full on electro boogie funk album with this release,whilst still maintaining a nine member funk band lineup at the time. At the same time,they didn’t have the same sort of narcissistically cynical sexual world view as Prince and many of his protege’s did during that time. While they always had time for a little sexual fun on this album, everything was still stated with the 70’s era method of implicit lyricism. This is probably one of the strongest of the futurist minded electronic/synthesizer/boogie oriented funk albums of the early 1980’s. And showcases how much of the 70’s funk band attitude was still present in the more contemporary sounds of that era.

Originally posted on April 18th,2014

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Belinda Lipscomb, Boogie Funk, electro funk, Freak-A-Zoid, Freakshow On The Dancfloor, Michael Jackson, Midnight Star, Music Reviewing, Prince, Reggie Calloway, Reggie Lucas, Thriller, Vincent Calloway, vocoder