The Spinners were a Detroit band who at one point were actually co credited with the name of their home city-the Detroit Spinners. Also as the Motown Spinners at times because original members Billy Henderson, Henry Fambrough, the late Bobby Smith and Pervis Jackson recorded a number of singles for the famous Detroit label. Their biggest hit on the label was of course “Its A Shame”,sung by GC Cameron. Cameron was succeeded by the late Phillipe Wynn. Wynn was part of a three lead singer lineup of the band at Atlantic Records-for a series of albums produced by Philly maestro Thom Bell.
That period of the Spinner’s recording from 1973-1976 was their most commercially successful. While they’d go on to make some superb records after that,its that early/mid 70’s period that defines them in the public consciousness. Pervis Jackson was one of the three lead singers of the band. Though he passed away from cancer in 2008, his bass vocals were a key part of their five part vocal harmonies. There was one time where his vocals became more the star of the show. And that was on another huge smash hit for them from their 1975 Pick Of The Litter album called “Games People Play”.
A spacious drum thump starts out the song. A high pitched rhythm guitar,filtered piano and close knit bass line provide the basic melody along with accompanying horn lines. A string riser segues into that intro extended out into the refrain of the song. A second statement of the song extends out into a different chord-focusing on the horns and strings playing along with the lead vocals,which include female guest singer Evette L.Benton. The chorus of the song finds the groups vocal harmonies singing the the melodic string and horn orchestration. Its on this chorus that the song fades out.
“Games People Play” is one of my very favorite Spinners song. Its some of the finest produced mid tempo cinematic soul of the mid 70’s Especially the vocal exchanges. For Pervis Jackson’s part,his moment on this song occurs during the beginning of the third refrain where his bass voice sings “12:45”. As I understand it, that lyrical phrase became his nickname for a time. The end result is one of the best vocally oriented musical studio soul sounds of its era. Thom Bell was a master of highly musical vocal productions. And this is one of many fine examples of this from the Spinners during the 70’s.
Sharon Jones hasn’t been with us for just under 7 months now. But the presence of her and the Dap Kings/Daptone Records scene of the 2000’s in general reminds me of the retro soul/funk movement of that time. It didn’t have neo soul’s obsession with all natural instrumentation or direct linkage to hip-hop. It emphasized a full band sound with horns and a hard touring ethic. Not to mention the powerful soul wail of singers such as Jones herself. Somehow I feel it even touched on Mark Ronson too when he co produced Amy Winehouse’s similarly themed album Back To Black in 2006.
Daptone Records itself is just an amazing phenomenon in itself. Its an independent funk/soul label that thrived in the immediate post 9/11 world. Its roster emphasized instrumental bands such as the Latin flavored Budos Band and Antibales,as well as other soul singers who’d had difficulty making it such as Charles Bradley. It was Henrique Hopkins who really gave me the knowledge of Sharon & The Dap Kings music just under a decade ago now. And I remember the song that he used to introduced me to their sound. It was called “100 Days,100 Nights”.
A minor chorded big band style horn chart opens the song before the percussion accented drum rhythm kicks into gear. This deals with a tightly locked bass/guitar lick-accented just after the more brittle horn charts which represent the refrain of the song. A Hammond organ also purrs along in the back round-often slipping out of the arrangement with a soulful wait-especially after the drum break that separate each refrain/choral pattern. On the bridge,the song slows down at Sharon’s request to a 6/8 beat. After a couple bars of this,another horn chart closes out the song as it fades.
“100 Days,100 Nights” is one of those songs that has it all. It has a powerful uptempo groove,heavy horns, rhythmic bass guitar and even a ballad part to it. And everything rooted in Sharon Jones gospel shouting and a melody deep in the center of the blues musical form. The Dap Kings showcase their amazing unity and instrumental vitality on this song. They know exactly how to be musically flamboyant and play for a powerful singer as well. That makes this song perhaps the definitive statement for Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings for their consistently strong career.
Prince surprised a lot of people after a five year absence by releasing two albums on the same day: September 30th,2014 to be exact. It was an event that was just in time to be covered by this particular blog as well. Out of the two, Art Official Age seems to be the album that got the best response. During this time,Prince was expanding the NPG off into an all female side project called 3rdEyeGirl. The husband of one of its members Hannah Ford,Joshua Welton marked the first time Prince worked closely with an outside producer. Presumably to give his sound a more youth friendly sound for the 2010’s.
Welton’s contributions to Art Official Age were not as prominent as they’d be on the rather more modern teen EDM styled Hitnrun Phase 1 a year later. Prince was still ever deeply in control of the writing,instrumentation and yes-production on the former album. Still,its likely Welton’s presence reminded Prince of what made his music so appealing when he was at his most vital creative peak in the 1980’s. So with that Prince decided to reinvigorate his classic funk sound and came up with a song for the Art Official Age album entitled “The Gold Standard”.
A one note Linn drum kick starts of the song before a descending synth brass riser punctuates his slowed down rhythmically spoken vocal. The high on the neck rhythm guitar,slightly digitized live bass line and the accenting charts of the NPG Hornz. On the first bars, Prince is singing mainly with the drums and bass alone. Then the horn sections JB’s like charts take higher priority in the mix. The synth brass finally joins in with the live horns After a hand clap powered rendering of the chorus,a P–Funk synth bass initiates as bass/guitar/horn based cadence that fades out the song.
“The Gold Standard” brings together two different sides of Prince’s 80’s funk approach. His classic Minneapolis sound is represented by the brittle synth brass and stripped down arrangement. His rhythm guitar sound at its ever peak performance here as well. Aside from some modern production touches,particularly on the bass line,this also brings out his horn fueled mid/late 80’s period from songs such as “Girls & Boys” and “Housequake”. What it all does so well is showcase how much of an innovation for its time Prince’s condensation of funk was for the genres future-especially in the 2010’s.
With the passing of J. Geils several days ago at the age of 71, have been thinking a lot about the J. Geils Band. Most of my life,they came across as New England’s answer to the Rolling Stones. They played a party hardy mix of soul,rhythm & blues and rock as a heavy touring group for most of the early to mid 70’s. Between native New Yorker John “J.Geils” Warren’s versatile guitar style along with Peter Wolf’s stage theatrics and powerful voice, the band expressed a strong sense of a rock band who knew how to stay in the groove rather than simply making songs that had grooves.
As with many 80’s children,I primarily know them for their hits “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame”-incidentally both on the same album from 1983. And those were actually two of their best songs,even aside from being big hits. Years later,I started to hear about a 1977 album they made that didn’t do too well commercially called Monkey Island. About a year ago,found a vinyl copy of it and upon the first listen,it became more than clear that this was one of the most soulful boogie rock bands at that point. One song that really stands out from the album for me is entitled “So Good”.
Stephen Bladd’s tambourine accented,clapping drums and Seth Justman’s piano provide the intro to the song. The Brecker brothers Michael and Randy soon join in as part of the horn section that plays the melodic changes throughout the song. On the refrains, J. Geils lays a funky high pitched rhythm guitar along with Danny Klein’s bopping bass line. On the choruses,the horns play a huge part in the melody. After J.Geil’s guitar is heavily flanger pedaled for the bridge,the bands harmonica player takes a spirited solo before a reprise of the chorus fades out the song.
“So Good” really hit me hard with its upbeat,bouncing funky soul flavor. Between the harmonica solo and Wolf’s slightly raggedy lead vocals,there was something about it that reminded me of what the band War were doing in the mid 70’s. At the same time,it had a more conventionally poppy focus with its accessible melody. The bands R&B attitude also gives this song a strong bite as well. There’s certainly a lot more J.Geils for me to explore in the future. All the same,this has to be the funkiest thing that I’ve heard from them up to this point.
Peabo Bryson isn’t an artist associated with funk at all. The South Carolina native made a name for himself as a quiet storm ballad vocalist-most notably with female singers such as Roberta Flack. He also became known a “Disney singer” as I call it-in particular the themes to the movies Aladdin and Beauty And The Beast. A consistent concert goer on the chitlin circuit as a teen,Bryson began singing and writing for local bands shortly thereafter. His 1976 debut album did well in his particular area. But it was when he signed with Capitol records a year later that his career really took off.
I actually came to that first Capitol album entitled Reaching For The Sky via that free vinyl radio station giveaway. There were a series of funk and disco songs on the album that forever changed my perception of Bryson. With his rich,expressive soul baritone he has an amazing way with thick uptempo songs on the same level as he does interpreting ballads. When I got on YouTube,I began exploring this side of his artistry further. A wonderful example of Bryson’s uptempo majesty came via the title song of his 1982 album entitled Don’t Play With Fire.
The album opens with a big three not synthesizer and drum based fanfare. Bryson himself than provides the percussion and electric piano as a bed for Ron Dover’s powerful tenor sax solo. This musical progression represents each chorus of the song as well. The refrain showcases the same rhythm with a jazzy,liquid rhythm guitar and a popping bass line that slaps down heavy every few bars. On the segments between each part of the song,the melody changes to have a more Latin flavor in the rhythm before the song fades out on the chorus.
“Don’t Play With Fire” is an excellent example of Peabo Bryson producing strong “sophistifunk”. Between its reality check based lyrics and Bryson’s literally fiery vocals,this jazz/funk based groove moves between slinky,seductive and theatrical between different sections of the song. Its a quality that was prominent in the uptempo songs on Peabo Bryson’s uptempo material during the late 70’s and early 80’s. From what I see on YouTube, it is considered one of his strongest general songs. And just in terms of the level of fine wine jazzy funk,it surely is to my ears.
Jimmy McGriff was a major soul jazz era pioneer of the Hammond B-3 organ. The Pennsylvania native studied a number of instruments growing up-taking up a day job as a cop in Philly for a short time. He later attended Julliard-also studying privately with the major Hammond organist (and childhood friend) before him Jimmy Smith-among others. He led a series of jazz combos during the 60’s,some of which included later jazz organ icon (then sax player) Charles Earland before he began moving into a funk direction during the late 60’s and early 70’s.
By the early 70’s,McGriff would’ve been apparently content to have began a semi retirement on his Connecticut horse farm. Due the rapid rate of issues his new record label were doing for his music,he began recording and touring again mid decade. One of his records during this period was 1976’s Red Beans. Only reason I know about the album and McGriff at all would be DJ/musician Nigel Hall. He played a number of tracks from his vinyl copy of the album on his radio show in the early/mid 2000’s. One of them was the albums opening title song.
A fast paced,almost Clyde Stubblefield like drum joins in with this flamboyant bass/rhythm guitar interaction before McGriff comes in-riffing right in rhythm on Clavinet. After that,the horn section comes in and alternate with McGriff in playing the rhythmic changes of the groove. On the choruses of the song,there’s a rocking fuzz guitar that takes over with the horns. On a couple of the refrains,Michael Brecker (I believe) takes a spirited sax solo that extends over a number of bars. This instrumental back and forth alternates until the song concludes.
“Red Beans” is one of the more instrumentally energetic,perhaps even punishing jazz/funk jams of the mid 80’s. It adds a strong improvisational flair to a groove that,with its fast tempo and spirited melodies, has a similar musical vibe to something Larry Graham & Graham Central Station might’ve done during this period. The bright,high recording quality of the song also adds to its strength. It also showcases McGriff finding an instrumental place for himself in funk with him playing Clavinet as opposed to organ. And in essence it signaled the beginning of a musical rebirth for him at that time.
Toto had a major part to play in the most significant music of the 80’s. In a soul/funk context,key band members in guitarist Steve Lukather and drummer Jeff Porcoro played major roles on Michael Jackson’s blockbuster album Thriller. Earlier that same year,Toto release their fourth album-itself given only a roman numeral title. The band consisted of top LA session players who had already become famous for backing up artists such as Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs. Even though their debut was successful with it’s combination of West Coast pop/soul and radio friendly rock,their next two albums didn’t do quite so well.
Their lead singer Bobby Kimball was the last to be brought into the group. His rangy voice,which could move its middle range to a quavering falsetto croon, went right with the bands musically eclectic range-from playing simple arena friendly rock riffs to more complex soul,funk and jazzy styles. Kimball was also apparently known as something of an inside cook for the band-especially when it came to sandwiches. That 1982 album IV was the final album Kimball a full participant in. And although its actually an album track,one of my favorite moments of his on it is a tune called “Waiting For Your Love”.
Jeff Porcoro holds down the rhythm with a percussion heavy,percussive beat. Brother Steve Porcoro provides a very jazzy three note melody-followed with the bubbly flamboyance of David Hungate’s phat bass line while Steve Lukather of course assists with an appropriately bouncy,liquid funk rhythm guitar.That represents the refrain and main choruses of the song-only done in different keys. There’s a transitional melodic change between those parts which features a scaling up keyboard part-than a synth brass flourish. Porcoro does an excellent improvised synth solo on the bridge before the choral/refrain part fades out the song.
Toto just happened to debut during a period when rock writers began to dismiss studio based groups made up of strong session musicians as “unauthentic”. Ironically,that may be way Toto’s music has withstood the test of time so well. “Waiting For Your Love” is a superb West Coast jazz/funk/pop number that’s right in the pocket of the groove. And this was coming from people who,together as a band or as session players,were one of the last rock era bands who could play all kinds of music as if it was their sole genre. Toto were both an arena rock and a West Coast jazz funk band all at once. And this song really epitomized that spirit.
Terence Trent D’Arby is yet another example of a vital funk/soul revival occurring 30 years ago,in 1987. This ambitious NYC multi instrumentalist came from a multi racial and very confusing back round-with bigamy and a lot of moving around involved. After a failed career attempt as a boxer and going AWOL from the US Army after collage,D’Arby formed the band The Touch while in Germany in 1984. After their debut album,the ambitious D’Arby decided to forge ahead with a solo career. His first and generally best known release being 1987’s Introducing The Hardline-produced out of London.
The first time I heard of D’Arby was with his hit song “Sign Your Name”,a jazzy Brazilian number that I thought was Stevie Wonder at the age of 8. It was decades until I purchased his entire debut album. Many of its other successful songs I’d missed out on originally. Knowing only of another D’Arby song called “Delicate” recorded for his third album Symphony Or Damn from 1991. At that time,one song leaped right out for me and my mom. Especially in terms of its groove. So much so that we actually planned on doing a conceptual music video for the song. Its called “Dance Little Sister”
A high hat heavy funky drum groove begins the song-with D’Arby improvising a a humorous vocal ad lib. After this,the lead synthesizer plays a high pitched,ten note riff over two bars before the instrumentation of the refrain comes in. This is a chunky rhythm guitar and ascending bass line playing call and response to accompanying horn charts. On the choruses of the songs,the harmonic phrases of the melody becomes more sustained to follow D’Arby’s gospel soul shouting. Saxophonist Mel Collins plays a solo over the rhythm section during the bridge before the chorus repeats until the song fades out.
Listening to it all these decades since it first came out, “Dance Little Sister” sounds like something of a middle ground between Prince’s Minneapolis live band funk sound and the approach of neo soul to come within the next decade. It definitely maintains the mid/late 80’s approach of condensing a funk groove. On the other hand,its one of the hardest live band funk jams of the late 80’s to be sure. Not only are horns used on it,but the synthesizer is used in the 70’s approach of having it be part of a full band sound rather than a dominating factor in the groove. Another international funk breakthrough of 1987.