Louis and George Johnson were pretty deeply involved with the LA session scene when they released their third duo outing in 1978. Its actually a superb example how even larger groups from that era were often augmented by sometimes over a dozen other session players. On the Blam!! album it was some fine, funky company in that regard. With the likes of Larry Carlton, Steve Khan, Richard Tee, Jerry Hey, Eddie “Bongo” Brown, Michael Brecker and David Foster (among others) as the musicians featured on this albums eight tracks.
Blam!! itself is musically one of the finest albums the Johnson’s made with Quincy Jones. And certainly among the most thoroughly funky. “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now” has that infectious hook-with Louis Johnson’s slap bass right up in your face. Not to even mention the call and response lead vocals that define both the chorus and refrains of it. The liquid instrumentation of the title song and on “Mista Cool” are tailor made for more hard and heavy funk-especially the delicious is the intro to the latter tune, where the keyboard fades in and out of the left and right channels of the speaker as the chords change.
“Ride O Rocket” puts Ashford & Simpson’s songwriting/production stamp on the bands sound. So its a funky uptempo soul tune where the refrain has that disco friendly piano walk down that Nick & Val always achieved so well in their 70’s heyday .As for the closing instrumental “Streetwave”? Well its probably the finest instrumental these guys had done. It builds to a fevered intensity and works superbly as jazz, funk, R&B and even pop. With the bass and Rhodes providing a wonderfully cinematic intro. Along with Jones’ big band style, muted horn fueled refrains.
The only element on this album that really contrasts with it’s harder edged core are the inclusion of two ballads. “It’s You Girl” is another instrumentally liquid number-with some beautiful processed guitar and Rhodes-along with Alex Weir singing lead and with an uptempo chorus. is a nice enough quiet storm kind of song but,sometimes a change of pace isn’t necessary if the rest of the music smokes.”So Won’t You Stay” is a more traditional slow jam-with George Johnson doing a pretty sweet vocal lead. Again it has a somewhat faster chorus-though a bit smoother in this particular case.
Blam!! represents The Brothers Johnson’s final album released of the 70’s. Coming into recording on their on mid decade, Louis Johnson would soon get the gig of the lifetime. That was, of course playing on the first two Quincy Jones produced Michael Jackson albums, both of which became the biggest selling recordings of all time. The album also showcases the most sonically even blend of hard funk and sleek pop jazz in the late 70’s. And in all fairness, if I was asked to recommend one stand alone Brothers Johnson album that brought in all of their musical flavors in one place, Blam!! would likely it.
Chaka Khan made a detour from Rufus in 1978 (just before they recorded their Street Player album with her) to record her solo debut album. This came at a time when her massively successful period as the lead singer of that band was beginning to become less personally fulfilling. With a more than enviable group of musicians at her disposal who all spanned the jazz, R&B and soul spectrum, the potent musical environment she was in an excellent position to create her persona outside of Rufus. It was her presence that helped bring out the individual sound of that band.
The question was still probably at this point about whether it was Rufus who were making Chaka the success she’d become. Or was it the other way around? This album actually revealed that it was a potent combination of both. “I’m Every Woman” of course starts things out,Chaka’s solo anthem and every bit a late 70’s Ashford & Simpson, piano laden disco-soul number if there ever was one. “Love Has Fallen On Me” is musically ideal for Chaka as the Charles Stepney composition has these heavy gospel/soul-jazz type chords and this intense change in arrangement.
“Roll Me Through The Rushes” actually extends the gospel flavor on what starts out as a very slow, electric piano heavy ballad than goes into some heavy funk at the end. “Sleep On It” and “We Got The Love”,with George Benson are both superbly grooving jazz-funk numbers filled with Richard Tee’s beautiful processed Fender Rhodes piano playing . “Life Is A Dance”, “Some Love”- with its chunky slap bass/wah wah guitar interaction, and “Message In The Middle Of The Bottom” get down to business with some gloriously produced funk that represent the most grooving songs here.
This album also features the more jazz-funk side of disco soul here on “A Woman In A Man’s World”,the more somber flip side to “I’m Every Woman” lyrically and closes with a potent,musically modernized update of “I Was Made To Love Him”,originally by Stevie Wonder and sung from a woman’s point of view. As a matter of fact, it’s the woman’s point of view that defines this album. Chaka presents herself here,from the cover art to the lyrics,as someone with a great deal of sex appeal but someone you could have an extremely deep conversation with as well.
Chaka’s creative approach is always very honest. In terms of her singing, this album is both instrumentally and vocally one of the more ambitious of her solo albums. This was helped all the more by the masterful production of the late, great Arif Mardin. The range of tempo and instrumentation in the material is diverse, not always 100% commercial and she even does herself one better than her customary singing her own back up vocals-all by multi tracking them with some fuzzed out echo here for a symphony of Chaka’s. And for a wonderful a, promising debut that gets better with each listening.
Eric Gale started to teach himself guitar in his native Brooklyn at the age of 12. He played on the R&B circuit with acts such as King Curtis, Maxine Brown and Little Anthony & The Imperials. This laid the ground work for his future as a session great. While at Niagra University, he studied chemistry. The music bug never left Gale however. His major claim to fame was as a session ace during the 60’s and 70’s. As a member of the instrumental jazz funk outfit Stuff, Gale played with Paul Simon in 1980 for his One Trick Pony soundtrack. He was also part of Aretha Franklin’s stage band for a time.
He began a concurrent career as a leader with 1973’s Forecast, on the Kudu label. He recorded the bulk of his late 70’s albums on Columbia however. His first two albums on the label were Ginseng Woman in 1977 and Multiplication the following year. Both albums have been combined together at least twice during the CD era. And were recommended to me by my dad while crate digging. Revisiting some of the songs via YouTube, the song that really stood out uppermost in my head with the title song to the Multiplication album.
Andrew Smith’s jazzy march on drums starts out the groove-with Gale’s ringing guitar improvising along with Bob James’ synths and Alphonso Johnson’s exploratory bass line-starting the groove in a dreamy fashion. Then the horns kick into the groove with Gale playing an ever evolving, down home blues type solo while Richard Tee’s piano and organ join the rhythm section in holding up a soulful groove. All with the horns accenting the changes in key on virtually every chorus and refrain. Its on the closing extended chorus that Gale scales down on his guitar solo as the song itself fades out.
“Multiplication” is an excellent example of ace jazz/funk/rock/fusion session musicians bring a wonderful feeling to their grooves. Sometimes, albums made by session players are thought to be too technical and less human. Gale, Johnson, Jackson, James and Tee’s years of experience playing together really give this groove a great late 70’s jazz/funk version of the uptown, bluesy/soul nightclub musical ethic. And its Gale’s fluid playing style and rich, ballsy tone that lead the way with grooves of this particular type. Basically a theme he’d always variate on as a band leader.
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