Tag Archives: San Francisco

Anatomy Of The Groove: “Jeopardy” by Greg Kihn Band

Greg Kihn,a Baltimore native same as funk icon Rick James,followed his early musical dreams to San Francisco. While still in high school, his mom helped him by submitting a demo to a local radio station while he played coffee houses locally . He moved to the bay area officially by 1972-painting houses,busking and working at a record store in the city of Berkeley. He eventually became part of Beserkley Records label as one of the first acts signed to it-along with other future rock icons such as Johnathan Richman of the Modern Lovers.

By 1976 he had his own group called The Greg Kihn Band. There biggest hit to date was the power pop classic “The Breakup Song” in 1981. During the early 80’s post disco era, the American popular music pendulum tended to swing towards guitar based rock songs. Still as with the decade before it, funk and soul could be found in any section of the record store. Often cleverly disguised by presentation as something else. New wave/synth pop of the era was a mainstay for this. But mainstream rock got a taste of this with the biggest hit Greg Kihn’s Band ever had with 1983’s ‘Jeopardy”.

Gary Phillips’ Clavinet riffing is heard with (as far as I know) Kihn’s own reverbed guitar chords providing a texturing accent to that and Larry Lynch’s steady drum beat and Steve Wright’s slinky, often elaborate bass line pattern . This pattern continues on throughout both the refrain and chorus of the song-with the chord changes reflected the changes in Kihn’s raspy vocal leads. On the bridge, Lynch’s drum plays a three note hit every other beat to the call and response Clavinet and guitar. Kihn’s bluesy guitar riff plays off the pounding drum for a more rockier pattern as the song fades out.

“Jepordy” is now seen as an 80’s rock classic-due mainly to its conceptually interesting MTV video and a hilarious parody by Weird Al Yankovic. But even I sometimes feel like the only one who might listen to this outside its accepted context and hear it as a driving funk/rock jam with a catchy song attached to it. The Clavinet grooves hard on this song,the drum maintains its driving post disco vibe. And the guitar plays something of an accessorizing role-atypical of much mainstream rock. That makes this both a potentially misunderstood and still beloved 80’s pop classic.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “I’ll Be The One” by Boz Scaggs

William Royce Scaggs,nicknamed “Boz” (short for Bosley by a childhood pal) came out of his birthplace of Canton,Ohio to meet his original mentor Steve Miller-who went to college in Madison Wisconsin with Scaggs as well. After a failed stint on the London scene and a little known solo album released in Sweden in 1965, Scaggs returned to the US and became a key member of the Steve Miller Band for two albums of theirs during 1968. In 1969 he teamed up with the Muscle Shoals studio grew (in particular Duane Allman) to record his self titled major label debut album.

Scaggs always had the ability to surprise people with his music. He himself said he was interested in soul,R&B and funk. But what was contemporary in that music at the given time. The the result of his forward thinking musicianship were iconic songs such as “Lowdown”,”Jojo” and “Miss Sun”. In 1987,he retired from music to concentrate on his San Francisco nightclub Slims. After touring with a super group called the New York Rock & Soul Revue,he made his official comeback with the 1994 album Some Change. The song on it that got to me most was called “I’ll Be The One”.

A slow,swinging funky drum machine opens up the song with a light wah wah rhythm guitar. As well as brief accents from the vibraphone playing chordally off the bass and guitar parts. On the chorus,as the chords of the song change town,Scaggs’ voice is accompanied by a sustained organ like keyboard sound. On the secondary part of the chorus,the song changes chords again as a chorus of Vocorderized backup singers keep with these changes of melody. On the final few verses of the song,all of its instrumental elements come together with Scaggs’ vocal improvisation.

“I’ll Be The One” is one of those songs where,during a period when a good deal of soul music lacked instrumental vitality,that actually got exactly the right kind of vibe for the smooth jazz era. The production is slow,the groove a spare jazzy,funky soul. But the production is both sleek and punchy enough to stick out with its relaxed flavor. It also has a similar vibe to what would work for the Chicago stepping dances that originated in the 70’s. Don’t think its one of his best known songs,since the Some Change album produced no hit singles. At the same time,this is a very soulful non hit kind of hit.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Tell Me Are You Tired” by Santana

Carlos Santana’s recording career has now spanned 46 years. From his upbringing in Mexico to being the band leader of Santana,his 69th birthday today is an excellent to point out one of the qualities that likely led to his longevity as a musician. One that’s not related to him having one of the most distinctive guitar tones of the last four decades. Like many jazz musicians,Santana’s music has evolved across a number of distinct periods. His percussion heavy Latin sound has remained intact for all of them. Yet the framework’s that sound settles into are always expanding with new developments in recorded music.

During the transition from the early to mid 1970’s,the Santana band itself was was going through one such transition. Starting out as major players on the Bay Area psychedelic rock scene in San Francisco,Carlos was doing more playing with musicians such as John McLaughlin and Alice Coltrane. His interest in jazz extended into funk,always an aspect of Santana’s sound too. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the bands album Amigos, which emphasized their new jazz funk sound most prominently. One such song of this style that keeps growing on me all the time is called “Tell me Are You Tired”.

A processed Fender Rhodes two note scale,separated by a cymbal crash,begin the song. David Brown’s bass then leads the congas and percussion along with the same two note Rhodes solo through the remainder of the refrain. The upcoming chorus has two parts. One contains a massively funky drum with an equally funky Clavinet solo. The second part is built around a lively Afro Brazilian rhythm and female choir vocals. After a second refrain and chorus,an increasingly intense improvisational Rhodes solo takes over the song even as the female choir vocal end of the refrain fades out the song.

Written by the songs drummer and Leon Ndugu Chancler and it’s keyboardist Tom Coster,this song really showcases Carlos Santana’s presence as a bandleader and inspiration more than a soloing instrumentalist.  Coster really takes off on this song-both on Fender Rhodes and Clavinet electric pianos accompanying Greg Walker’s lead vocals. Santana’s funkiness seems to come from him always favoring a highly collective style of instrumental band style. And the funk genre made that ethic it’s strongest emphasis. And this unsung album cut is a shining light for Santana’s funkier grooves.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Carlos Santana, clavinet, David Brown, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Greg Walker, jazz funk, Leon Ndugu Chancler, percussion, San Francisco, Santana, Tom Coster

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Twilight Clone” by Herbie Hancock (1981)

Herbie Hancock’s four pre Future Shock albums in the early 80’s albums have always been very special to me personally. They may not have been massively successful commercially, but were some of his most potent jazz/funk masterpieces of his electric period. One of my favorite albums of this period was his third released from the 1981’s entitled Magic Windows. The album was by and large a heavy funk set including heavy participation from Ray Parker Jr.,who’d been working with Hancock for six years and for whom  Hancock composed the song “Tonight’s The Night” for his Raydio project a year before-during which Hancock released two albums of his own in Monster and Mr.Hands.

This album was recorded at David Rubinson’s Automat studio’s in San Francisco,a studio known for it’s early embrace of automatic mixing technology as well as some of the biggest producers and musicians who recorded there. Perhaps realizing how his using synthesizers to play horn charts was influences the oncoming 80’s boogie/electro funk sound,Hancock touted this album as having no strings,brass or other orchestral elements on this album outside his electronics. Having been inspired by Talking Head’s electronic Afro-Funk explosions on their Remain In Light album,Hancock bought in Adrian Belew from their band for the his new albums finale entitled “The Twilight Clone”.

The song builds from the funky shuffle of Hancock’s drums and Paulinho da Costa’s percussion (along with a host of others) accents. Louis Johnson chimes in with one of his thickest slap bass lines before Hancock comes back in with a brittle LinnDrum beat and  bubbling,mechanical and percussive synths. George Johnson joins in for chugging rhythm guitar,and all of this is accented by Hancock’s own synth bass line. Belew’s trademark “zoo guitar” sound plays the lead line with a very Arabic style melody. Shortly after the song goes up in pitch melodically,the bridge showcases a guitar/percussive breakdown between Da Costa, Johnson and Belew before fading out on it’s own main chorus.

On many levels,this is my favorite Herbie Hancock song of the 1980’s. It’s a perfect example of the electro funk process functioning strongly on the rhythm of the one. Hancock sets the pass as the drummer on this song,as well as providing his synthesizers as a percussive element in much the same way as he had on “Nobu” eight years earlier. He brings in the Arabic melodic tones of Adrian Belew’s horn-like guitar into the Afrocentric percussion Paulinho Da Costa brings to it. Of course the heavy funk element is locked down tight by the Brothers Johnson. So this song essentially acts as the total nucleus of what Hancock’s mid/late 80’s sound would be on a technological and structural level.

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Filed under 1980's, Adrian Belew, Boogie Funk, Brothers Johnson, David Rubinson, drums, elecro funk, George Johnson, guitar, Herbie Hancock, Linn Drum, Louis Johnson, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, rhythm guitar, San Francisco, synth bass, synth brass, Synth Pop, synthesizer, The Automat, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Butter” by Richard Dimples Fields

Richard Fields,who apparently got the nickname Dimples by a female admirer who noted his ever-present smile,started his career as the owner of the Cold Duck Lounge in San Francisco. He released a couple of albums locally in 1975 and 1977. In 1981 he signed with Neil Bogart’s Boardwalk Records. His best known song was a remake of a song from his debut album called “If It Ain’t One Thing,It’s Another”, a message song of sorts that he was encouraged to re-do by an old high school friend he ran into at a used car lot. He had a good handful of hits in the 80’s that slowed over the years until he finally passed away in 2000 in the Bay Area city of Oakland.

During my childhood,a 45 of his hit “If It Ain’t One Thing It’s Another” was in rotation in the family home. It was the B-side to this entitled “Mr.Look So Good”,an uptempo disco/funk number that was the title song to his 1982 album,which got my attention most. Something about his soulfullness and conversational lyric style was always appealing. One day I came across another one of his albums while crate digging entitled Give Everybody Some!,also released in 1982. It’s the only full album by him I presently own. And it has a lot of excellent songs on it. The song that always stands out in my mind however is entitled “Butter”.

A pounding,deep bass Clavinet opens the song along with an uptempo,percussion laden drum beat. Two grooving rhythm guitar’s accompany this-one of which plays a more liquid line while horn fanfares call out on each break. A phat slap bass line brings in the main body of the song. It’s a very bluesy melody on the refrain and chorus. And once the intro is over,a brittle bass and higher pitched melodic synthesizer provide the man rhythmic hump whereas the horns and upfront bass carry the melody Dimple’s is singing more. Just before the song fades out,the synthesizers take a back seat to the drum,guitar and horn line that opened up the song on the intro.

This song is a touch post disco/boogie classic that actually focuses on a lot of harder 70’s funk elements,such as horns and a thick slap bass. But the synthesizers and sleek beat are still very much present. Especially on the JB’s style rhythm guitar and stripped down dynamics,this also brings out an early 80’s Minneapolis Sound flavor about it as well. Fields’ vocal style is very interesting one to me. It has the idiosyncratic nasal drawl of Michael Jackson,but also the quiet groan of Ray Parker Jr. There is surely a distinctive vibe to this funk. And a lot of that has to do with how strongly it straddles two generations of the music: the one of the present and that of the immediate past.

 

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Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Bay Area, Boardwalk Records, Boogie Funk, clavinet, disco funk, drums, horns, Neil Bogart, Oakland California, percussion, post disco, rhythm guitar, Richard Dimples Fields, San Francisco, slap bass, synthesizers, Uncategorized

Taking It To The Streets : The New Funk Generation brings the Funk to the Streets of San Francisco- By Riquespeaks

Public Enemy’s 2007 album release, “How do you sell soul to a soulless people who sold their soul”, bore a mouthful of a title that provided some insight on what many in the music loving community have felt in recent years. The facts are, artists in the various facets of soul music have a much lower profile in the music industry. Soul legends are trotted out and acclaimed for what they did in the golden era from time to time, but other than that, music seems to continously march towards pop uniformity. Do not for one instant think this means there is no soul and funk music being produced. There are independent labels all over the country, such as Stones Throw Records, that use the power of the internet and the avaliability of musical production equipment and promotional tools, to make whatever kind of music they want.  The live show and touring business is also thriving, as fans realize in this age of studio magic and the perfection it provides, the live show more than ever seperates the men from the boys and the girls from the grown women. I’ve noticed that no matter what one feels about funk, funk never has a problem coming across live. Funk is a music with an extremely low name recognition and a limited perception in the minds of many music fans. Many people understand “funky” as an adjective, but are not too familiar with Funk as a noun, that describes specific groups and a specific set of musical particulars. But all that is irrelevant when the rhythm of the one gets fired up and the bass and drums force one’s booty to do its duty. If you’re lucky, your city has funky bands big and small that hit up the clubs and medium sized music halls of your area. If you’re really lucky, you have funk bands that perform on the street, like the Bay Area’s New Funk Generation.

San Francisco has a long tradition of street performers. The legendary mime, and influence on American  funk style dance, Robert Shields, once performed on Union Square in the early ’70s. My first personal experience with a street performer, came through a jazz saxophonist who played at Pier 39 named Laurie Watkins. “Mr. Watkins”, as I remember him from phone calls to our home, had a thriving business performing jazz tunes at the Pier, that won him fans from all over the world. People would come to San Francisco years after they first came and be delighted to find Mr. Watkins still there blowing the tenor saxophone with much soul, backed up by pre recorded drum tracks. I came to know him through my father, because Watkins did so well with his music playing in the city, he was able to invest in a gold finding expedition to Liberia that my dad put together. I still remember going to see him and the Duke Ellington like introduction he’d do, “Hello ladies and gentlemen, I’m Mr. Watkins. The space directly in front of me is the floor…feel free to dance and do what you like as I play some tunes for you!”

So when I first encountered the New Funk Generation in my High School years, I knew how to respond to music being played on the streets. It was in Berkeley that I first ran into the New Funk Generation. The drummer, Larry, was playing drums on buckets, and the bass player Brian had an acoustic bass plugged into a Bootsy Collins style bass filter. They played Bootsy’s Rubber Band’s “Hollywood Squares” that day, and it was a landmark for me because I’d never heard that type of funk played live before that, especially from the vantage point of standing where I could feel the wind of the speaker. Young cats from Oakland would stop by for a minute and dance and rap over it, because “Hollywood Squares” was well known, both in its original form, and through it’s usage by legendary bay area rapper Too $hort. But New Funk Generation moved everybody, from the young cats who happened to be walking by on a school ditch from Berkeley High or Oakland Tech, to their real audience, the UC Berkeley college kids. That was my first experience with hearing funk live, right there on the street on University. Larry and Brian played with true proffessionalism, with clothes on that were raggedy/eccentric. The clothes fit the vibe, because for one, they were playing for donations, and then again, it really made them look like members of Parliament Funkadelic, who were known for wearing anything on stage.

Fast forward a few years, I ‘ve graduated from High School and started avoiding Berkeley like the plague. I’m rolling through SF now, with my keyboard playing buddy Dameion. Me and Dame would be driving through the city, dealing with snooty yuppies, talking to snooty yuppie chicks and ghetto girls, buying records, playing music off cassette tapes, laptops and samples, and humming musical ideas. One day, we heard somebody playing some serious funk, I think it might have been “Mr. Wiggles” by Parliament. And lo and behold, it was Larry and Brian, the “New Funk Generation.” It quickly became a ritual to find their band and enjoy their music. I had finally bought my first bass and was procrastinating my way through learning it, but Brian always inspired me. They played songs I’d never heard lived or always hoped I would, like “Soft and Wet”, “Sir Nose D’Void of Funk”, “Slide”, “Glide”, and other funk chestnuts. What amazed and impressed me, as I’m sure it did other observers, was the accuracy of their playing and the tightness of their groove. They played with the precision of the James Brown band, but not on an elevated platform, right there on the street, with people dropping money into the jar.

Seeing and hearing this kind of funk on the streets sparked all types of reactions in me. Sometimes folks walked by and looked personally offended that the guys were doing their thing. The police stopped it a couple of times. But still, for the most part, Bay Area people being the party people they are, folks would walk by and really have a ball, most people would stop and listen for a few minutes, dance, and contribute, and the guys also kept a sizeable audience glued to their set for however long they played. They’d actually play long sets with intermissions and structure. Young dudes would want to rap, people would want to show off their dance moves, and the spirit of funk would be strong on any corner they plugged up on.

It never ceased to amaze me, how middle aged white dudes would come up to the band and request rare funk classics. It also shocked me when saggy pants sporting, hip hop heads would let themselves go and dance in the street to the band. Dame and myself would talk about whether we had the courage to go out there and jam like the guys, on the street, the courage to make our own gig. We never made it out there like them. But we did become very friendly with the guys and we always talked to them after the show, something few people did. The band usually had people there passing the can, collecting money, and they even featured other artists from time to time. I distinctly recall them bringing back a female rapper from Japan and putting her in the act, as well as a little four year old kid who did the James Brown in zoot suits.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen the New Funk Generation perform in San Francisco. Maybe I’ll go look for them one weekend. Larry, the drummer, actually had a brief cameo in a montage scene in Will Smith’s “The Pursuit of Happyness.” I hear some rumblings about the city trying to crack down on their performances. If that’s true, it’s another horrible case of Bay Area gentrification running rampant. With the Google buses, high rents, and all of the other things going on in San Francisco, they shouldnt get rid of the ability of people to take their talents to the streets and get money. If they do, they’ll be diminishing their status as a world class city, because world class cities all over the world have places for people to display their talents and make money off them, as well as to sell and trade on the street. But when I go the city, I still see performers of various stripes, including a young African American lady at the BART station playing the cello! So here’s to the New Funk Generation and their brand of street funk, a treasure of the Bay Area that needs to be on tourist brochures next to the Golden Gate bridge, bread bowls and Cable Cars

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