George Harrison would’ve been 74 this Saturday. Remember very well the day he passed away because it was the delivery man for my parent’s new bed who told them he’d just heard the news. This was also around the time I was heavily exploring the music of “the quiet Beatle”. Harrison is said to have gone to Memphis on one of the Beatles trips to America and picked up some Booker T & The MG’s records. He loved playing the blues too. Later on,he developed a close musical relationship with Billy Preston. In addition to being one of the funkiest players around,Preston was also essentially a fifth Beatle during 1969.
Harrison’s first non experimental solo album All Things Must Pass was a huge success for him in 1970. His following albums didn’t fare so well. His mid 70’s album Dark Horse and Extra Texture began adding soul and jazz/rock elements into his sound. But a horse singing voice with Harrison at the time was part of what hindered their success. He had a huge comeback in 1976 with the debut release on his custom label Dark Horuse Thirty-Three & 1/3. The song that opened the album was originally a 12 bar electric blues piece he wrote while touring with Eric Clapton in 1969. It was called “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me”.
Alvin Tayler’s drums kick into his shuffling,funky shuffle. Willie Weeks chunky slap bass and Richard Tee’s organ provide the intro before Harrison’s slide guitar provides the main melody. David Foster himself counters with some serious Billy Preston style funky Clavinet. On the refrain,the drum and Clavinet go into a heavy break beat before Harrison’s guitar segues into the next chorus. That bluesy slide guitar plays the chorus as an instrumental on the bridge-before the musical combination used in the intro goes into the final choruses of the song before it finally fades out.
The first time I heard this song,turned out my father I both heard the song as something quite different. I heard it as a thick mid 70’s funk jam. He heard it as a total 12 bar blues. Actually, both of us were right. Funk is,as most 20th century American popular musical forms are,a blues based one. And this song does a superb job at bridging the musical generation gap. Harrison’ countrified blues slide guitar with the electrified “united funk” arrangement of the song showcases how important the form of it actually is to the instrumentation. Surely,this is one of George Harrison’s finest moments of the mid 70’s.
Robert Palmer was a consistently important figure in terms of continuing the appreciation of the full flower of American soul/funk by white artists/groups. The Rolling Stones got this going by progressing from urban blues covers of “Not Fade Away” to Al Green send ups like “Beast Of Burden” in the late 70’s. Palmer,a Yorkshire native and 70’s Nassau Bahamas resident,also understood the strong progression black American soul/funk/R&B had by its very nature. So he evolved from New Orleans grooves with The Meters during the mid 70’s to electronic dance/rock/electro hybrids in his 80’s commercial peak.
Discovering Palmer’s mid/late 70’s music was a major treat for me in my mid 20’s. His first four albums from 1974 through 1978 were all primarily funk/soul based-adding Caribbean,reggae,blues and jazz influences along the way. His funk/blues/jazz hybrid sound is most evident on his first solo album Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley. It exercised his talents as an interpretive singer and a songwriter as well-splitting the album between two sets of musicians. Included among them were members of the band Stuff like Richard Tee and Cornell Dupree. Especially on the closing 12+ “Through It All There’s You”.
The majority of the song is based on a tripped down grooving vamp. This consists of a call and response funk bass and guitar line-with a heavily reverbed gospel blues organ playing all the changes to the pulse from kicking bass drum hits. This represents the first several bars of the song before the main,slow funky drum comes in. At about 5 and 8 minutes in,the bass drum and organ becomes higher in the mix for a an excited,joyful sound. Then the grooves slows down into a funky swing as the original vamp of the song slowly deconstructs itself for its own outro.
As one of Palmer’s own compositions on this album,”Through It All There’s You” represents the epitome of what he had to offer as an out and out funkateer. The groove is stripped down and instrumentally every bit as dripping with sexual energy as the lyrics. It starts with a heated buildup. And gets to the point of an orgasmic revelry at two points on the bridges of the songs. All before cooling back down at the end of the song. Palmer’s understanding of how to match lyric,vocal and instrumental mood in a song really shows itself strongly on this jam-honestly among my favorites of his from that 70’s period.
One of the key musical inspirations that led to the creation of my music blogs was the discovery of The Sylvers. For a teenager seeking to bring the world of Star Trek and other thoughtful science fiction into reality,the fascination with the cosmic funk of Earth Wind & Fire and P-Funk held a special meaning. An often referenced story of my musical back round is that 1994 vinyl giveaway at the University of Maine. It’s where I discovered a very beat up copy of The Sylvers 1977 New Horizons album. Never heard anything about this group before,save for that they seemed to resemble the Jacksons. Only with the women in the family on board. And the album contained the extra goodie of a fan club order sheet.
The cover art showing the seven member group dancing on a spaceship shaped like their own logo was designed by Japanese illustrator Shusei Nagaoka. He had a strong back round in funk album jacket design with his work for Earth Wind & Fire, Rose Royce, Sun and George Clinton. This was a very special album for the band. It was for them what Destiny would be for the Jacksons’ a year later. All of the band members got a chance to write and produce. And Leon Sylvers III really showed his growth in this regard. The bands adult oriented funk,soul and disco oriented sound culminated for me at the end of the album with a song entitled “Star Fire”.
A peddling cymbal/hi hat solo accompanied by a high spacey synthesizer opens the song. Then the rhythm guitar kicks,along with Leon’s crunching bass and the ascending strings. The main body of the groove consists of all of these elements,plus many more. A percussive main beat keeps the rhythm hot during the refrains of the song,as the strings play melodic call and response with the bass/guitar interaction. On the choruses the horns lead into the Sylvers harmony vocals. There are two separate bridges. One continues the call and response between the strings,bass and guitar. The other features the spacey synth. This last one closes out the song with a bluesy muted trumpet solo.
Listening to this song in the context of what else I’ve heard of the Sylvers music,this is very likely the strongest jazz-funk tune they ever made. And very likely the only one. It has the harmonic feeling of swing and hard bop with the rhythmic crunch of heavy late 70’s dance funk. The presence of jazz-funk session players such as Richard Tee,Steve Gadd and Tom Scott on this song really adds instrumental might to the Sylvers’ growing abilities as composers,producers and musicians. Each time I hear this,it really brings out just how musically strong this musical family became under such strong instrumental tutelage-both during and before the time this particular song came out.
Filed under 1970's, drums, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, Leon Sylvers III, rhythm guitar, Richard Tee, Shusei Nagaoka, space funk, Steve Gadd, strings, synthesizer, The Sylvers, Tom Scott, trumpet, Uncategorized
Quincy Jones was not only a busy man during the late 70’s and early 80’s but was also something of a musical Rumpelstiltskin-almost mysteriously able to spin straw into gold,only doing so with music. And I’m not talking about in the commercial sense either. With all the ingredients present,from engineering master Bruce Swedien to of course equally masterful composer Rod Temperton-not to mention the mega session approach Q was so famous for by bringing in Herbie Hancock,Louis Johnson,Richard Tee,Greg Phillinganes,Lee Ritenour (yes it’s even better than it sounds) this album was already set for greatness. Not to mention the star of the show George Benson. Already at the top of his game before this making excellent albums in varied styles from White Rabbit all the way up to Breezin,this album by it’s nature,pairing George and Quincy Jones came off looking like a musical miracle just waiting to happen. Interesting part is,as good as that sounds already it actually gets BETTER than even that!
I look at this album the way I once heard EWF’s music is described. On this album George plays funk sweet as funk can be. Not the sugary or saccharine type of sweet. But the sweetness of clean,bluesy jazz playing and some of the most inventive jazz-funk compositions imaginable. “Love x Love” is a perfect example-sleek and crispy at the same time with a groove that’s spare but glossy all at once. Of course many of us know the title song,of course right there in the same wonderful place. Than again,so it’s “What’s On Your Mind”,the instrumental “Dinorah Dinorah” and “Midnight Love Affair”. These bring to mind something of a cross between MJ’s Off the Wall meeting up with the a Crusaders albums such as Street Life-definitely high strutting uptown urban sophistifunk of the highest quality. And we’re not done yet! “Off Broadway” is deeper,heavier funk with this defining bass moog-one of the best productions jobs I’ve ever heard and my personal favorite number on this album (actually up there with the title song). And of course he’s at his same slinky best on slower numbers such as his famed jazzy take on “Moody’s Mood” and the extremely sensual “Love Dance” and “Turn Out The Lamplight”. Not to mention the level he takes Heatwave’s “Star Of A Story”. These are cosmically arranged pieces with decidedly adult takes on romance. And it all makes up for one killer album!
As great as this album is creatively,the amazing thing about it is that it hit as much commercial paydirt as anything Michael Jackson or any of the other Qwest releases of this era did. It’s the middle of that Quincy Jones 1979-1981 sandwich that starts with Off the Wall and ends roughly with Patti Austin’s Every Home Should Have One. And the most wonderful thing about it all is that this is one of the more thoroughly musical of the three albums-the other two of which concentrate heavily on songcraft and vocal performance. This one does just the same way. But the focus is very much on George’s playing and singing. And those are two talents he always had to his advantage. There’s aren’t many artists in any genre who can play an instrument and sing quite with the amazing quality as George Benson does. He’s definitely one of those “everything” men who can do them both and both very well. And even though the coming decade would be filled with some equally huge musical highs and lows due in part to the enormous success this album earned him,he’d be able to learn a lot from albums such as this later and realize the creative ingredients that…well really make the best music commercially as well.
Originally Posted On October 9th,2011
Link to original review here*
Filed under 1980's, Bruce Swedien, Crusaders, George Benson, Give Me The Night, Greg Philinganes, Herbie Hancock, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, Quincy Jones, Richard Tee, Rod Temperton