Tag Archives: Ronnie Laws

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Can’t Save Tomorrow” by Ronnie Laws

Ronnie Laws is one of my favorite contemporary sax players of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Along with people such as David Sanborn,Laws’ sound bridged the gap between the bar walking sax style of the 60’s and the sleek smooth jazz sound that was to come. He’s someone who has a way of driving a melody into ones sub-conscience  with the power and beauty of his tone. He was also a fantastic soul/funk vocalist. While he obviously can’t vocally accompany his sax the way George Benson can his guitar, his ability to switch off works the funky emotions in the studio.

Laws had worked primarily with EWF keyboardist Larry Dunn as his producer in the mid to late 70’s. The sound they forged together started with a hard bass/guitar centered jazz/funk sound. Later in the decade some of the most cutting edge,spacey electronics /synthesizer orchestrations became an integral aspect of Laws’ sound. . In the early 80’s, the pair continued to adapt their synthesizer based jazz/funk sound into a decade that would be defined by it. One of my favorite examples of this is the lead off track from Law’s 1983 album Mr.Nice Guy entitled “Can’t Save Tomorrow”.

Laws starts out the song sing to the accompanying bass plucks of multi instrumentalist Leon Johnson. Its Johnson who provides most of the instruments on this song. After this intro,Laws’ voice and the bass line dovetail into the main rhythm of the song. That is a fast,funky shuffle consisting of several metallic synthesizers and Roland Bautista’s guitar harmonizing with a jazzy melody to Johnson’s slap bass. On The choruses,Laws sings his lead vocals in falsetto. There are two bridges here. One a sax solo from Laws,the other one of Larry Dunn’s spacey synth interludes before the refrain fades the song out.

All summer long,I’ve had this song on my phone’s MP3 player while peddling my bicycle around town. Its the perfect song for such physical activity because the song is propelled by a lot of forward motion. The drums,the bass,the synths,the vocals and the sax are all extremely earnest here-almost like a musical manifestation of the heart Laws’ lyrics indicate is pounding with intense passion. On the other hand,the production and overall sound of the song remains just about as sweet as any kind of funky music can be. And that’s what makes it one of my favorite Ronnie Laws jams.

 

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Filed under 1980's, drums, jazz funk, Larry Dunn, Leon Johnson, rhythm guitar, Roland Bautista, Ronnie Laws, Saxophone, slap bass, synth funk, synthesizers

Grooves On Wax: Summer Day Funk Spinning Under The Needle

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Quincy Jones has always had a way of gearing people up for new directions in black American music . My friend Henrique and I were talking while I had this vinyl going about how much Q’s take on the title track,originally from the Broadway musical Hair got on the same head trip electric jazz flavor that Miles Davis was on with albums like Bitches Brew. Again as Henrique pointed out,this was more tightly arranged. And at home on an album with a swinging soul jazz vibe about it all.

Key Jams: “Walking In Space” and “Killer Joe”

Al Wilson

Al Wilson’s 1969 debut album was recommended to me by Don Menninghaus,owner and proprietor of the local record haunt in the Bangor,Maine area Dr. Records. This Mississippi native had a unique blend of jazzy vocalizing and Southern style gospel/soul. The song that Mr. Menninghaus bought out on this album was “The Snake”,an uptempo version of a cautionary romantic number I originally heard sung in an episode of the TV show Northern Exposure. Al’s version here is of course from a whole other place.

Key Jams: “The Snake” and “Brother Where Are You”

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It was the soul food depicted on the cover of this album that got my attention most actually. Of course this is the Main Ingredient,a Harlem trio who always had the ability to bring out the heavy groove in with their lush three part “cool group” harmonies.  They took ballads into the stratosphere that way. But when the tempo went up,so it went to the next level on albums such as 1970’s Tasteful Soul here.

Key Jams: “Need Her Love (Mr Bugler)” and “Magic Shoes”

Deodato Airto in concert

Eumir Deodato and Airto Moreira’s 1973 concert album from their show at Madison Square Garden is one of the most exciting live albums I’ve ever heard. Especially when it comes to the second half-dominated by Airto’s percussively powerful Afro-Brazilian jazz funk jams on the second half of the record. Deodato gets seriously funky on this album as well.

Key Jams: “Tropea” and “Parana” 

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George Benson’s 1975 soundtrack to the film Good King Bad was the final album that Benson recorded for the CTI label. The outer sleeve of my vinyl version is in such poor shape,someone patched it up with Scotch tape. The condition of the actual vinyl however is good enough for the powerful sonics of album to shine through. James Brown’s keyboardist David Matthews arranged this album to be one of the best recorded examples of cinematic jazz/funk of the mid 70’s

Key Jams: “Em” and “Theme From Good King Bad”

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Now that I’ve explored Barry White more in a musical context than his typical thematic one,its more clear that some of his melodic string arrangements of the 1970’s could get a bit samey with time. And this 1975 Love Unlimited Orchestra album is no exception. Yet when the funky groove burns underneath his sometimes stock type orchestrations,the cinematic jams really burst out at you.

Key Jams: “I Wanna Stay” and “Midnight Groove”

 

Deniece Williams Songbird

Deniece Williams’ first two albums on Columbia were as strong an adjunct to Maurice White and Earth Wind & Fire. ‘Niecy’s 1977 sophomore album here features most of the EWF crew in both the production area-thinking more of playing behind a vocalist as opposed to be instrumentalists with vocalists. They really help her increase her range too-from harder funk to reggae and more elaborate jazzy arrangements.

Key Jams: “Time”,“Be Good To Me” and “The Paper”

Sylvester Sell My Soul

Sylvester’s powerful vocals were musically molded by the same man who gave Marvin Gaye his start-Mister Harvey Fuqua. This was his first album of the 1980’s. It deals with a transition from the gospel drenched Hi NRG disco sound Sylvester specialized in during the late 70’s and towards a far funkier post disco sound. This especially comes to mind when he was acting as an interpreter as well.

Key Jams: “Change Up” and “Fever”

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Change really had me going with their post disco sound of the early 80’s upon first hearing their 1980 debut album The Glow of Love. This 1982 album featured this group being produced in a very different direction-one that emphasized a harder boogie funk sound. Not to mention a more stable and distinctive group lineup as well.

Key Jams :“Hard Times (It’s Gonna Be Alright)” and “Take You To Heaven”

Ronnie Laws Mr Nice Guy

Ronnie Laws is basically the sax version of George Benson in terms of his ability to play and sing. While he obviously isn’t quite as distinctive (or virtuosic) on either level as Benson,his instrumental and vocal style have that amiable big brother type attitude that translates well across each album. On this set,he began to add more synth horns and new wave style instrumentation into his general mix. But his love of classic R&B shuffles and funky grooves remained fully intact.

Key Jam: “Can’t Save Tomorrow” 

Phyllis Hyman Living All Alone

Phyllis Hyman seems to have had a quality similar to Anita Baker and Chaka Khan. No matter what era she recorded in,if the song was a slow ballad for fast funk or disco, Hyman’s music never ceased to endow full albums with anything less than first rate musical content. This 1986 album is a latter day Gamble & Huff production-a classy mixture of jazzy urban contemporary soul with some serious funk in their for good measure.

Key Jams: “If You Want Me” and “Screamin’ At The Moon”

Morris_Daydreaming

Morris Day’s second solo album from 1988 features a somewhat more pop oriented type of dance funk than his old group The Time had. Again though,the man has a knack with both uptempo tunes and ballads-especially featuring the piano work of Herb Alpert alumni Salvatore Macaluso on side 1’st closing torch ballad “A Mans Pride”.

Key Jam: “Fishnet”

 

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Filed under 1980's, Airto Moreira, Al Wilson, Barry White, Change, cinematic soul, Deniece Williams, disco funk, elecro funk, Eumir Deodato, Funk, George Benson, jazz funk, Morris Day, Phyllis Hyman, Quincy Jones, Ronnie Laws, Sylvester, The Main Ingredient, Vinyl

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/11/14: Andre’s Pick-Ronnie Laws “Live Your Life Away”

The entire purpose of this column began as a means by which to showcase the presence of funk,in its many forms,within music released just before or after the new millennium. In the case of today’s song,I am making a huge exception. The reason for this is to make a point about the message behind funk music itself and how it effects people in society. The message in the music is a very liberating one. So often one hears songs such as Earth Wind & Fire’s “Singasong”,Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” or Kool & The Gang’s “Love And Understanding”  and has a romantic vision in their minds of the 1970’s as being a thoroughly incredible time frame. I include myself in having has such visions.

Historically however,the 70’s decade had many similarities to today. The Watergate scandal created mass cynicism about political change for the better among a generation,an fuel shortage made transportation and even the pressing of vinyl albums themselves a difficult matter and poverty continued to broaden across America. That presumed “incredible time” comes from the fact that the popular culture,the funk era in particular,responded generally with hope for the future and encouragement for the present after the more paranoid outlook of The O’Jays “Backstabbers” or Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes”. And I cannot think of a song that encompasses this ethic much better than Ronnie Laws’s “Live Your Life Away”.

Musically the song,produced by EWF’s Larry Dunn and featured on the end of Laws’ 1978 album Flame,the song is instrumentally an very encompassing mixture of the sleekly produced band sound that one would hear from an EWF recording. On the other hand the instrumentation is based around a glistening,high pitched and chiming synthesizer solo with a strong and slinky bass synth set both beneath and all around it. So in terms of the playing style in general, the approach is a lot closer to that of Stevie Wonder-all coming together for that synergy that create an instrumental stamp unique for Ronnie Laws’ music. On the other hand on the chorus,the chords of the songs change to a basic blues hook-matched by the smooth 12-bar blues guitar riff courtesy of EWF supplicant,the late Roland Bautista. This perfect matches the duel nature in the mood of this song.

And this songs duel lyrical nature comes from the lyrics. On the rather melodically bright vocal refrains,the message is one that is sorely needed from popular music in today’s workaminute world-basically to “push ahead but don’t move too fast” and that people can spend too much energy and time “pursuing pleasures that really never pay”. The songs message is not only uplifting but extremely practical as it encourages balance over struggle,genuine relief of stress over denial. At the same time the chorus warns that this is so important to do because “you can live your life away”-instrumentally accompanied by the classic blues riff. And though this song represented something of a “so long” to the original funk era? It is the idea instrumental and lyrically conceptual funk direction for modern musicians to take in a society where the extremes of apathy and frustration and strong allegiances to social/political parties offered up as a confusing mixed message. As George Clinton said, funk not only moves but can remove. And today this type of groove would be just what the doctor ordered.

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Filed under 1970's, Disco, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Jazz, Late 70's Funk, Ronnie Laws, Stevie Wonder