Tag Archives: session musicians

Reggie Lucas (1953-2018): A Musical Life

Reggie-Lucas

Reggie Lucas is one of those names who appears on the credits of many albums. In all my years of crate digging, I’d grab just about any album which credited him. Didn’t matter if it was on guitar, as a producer or not. Lucas’s lineage was strong as iron. Born in Queens, the man got his start playing within the Philly soul community as a session musician with MFSB and as a live musician with Billy Paul. In 1972, he began his professional association with Miles Davis, where he met percussionist James Mtume. Together they put together a new band named after James’ taken surname.

Mtume started out as an avant garde jazz outfit with electric elements, very much inspired by Miles’ loose grooves of his mid 70’s period. The band added singer Tawatha Agee in 1978 and released Kiss The World Goodbye. This version of Mtume was a full funk/soul elements. Lucas also began production work during the late 70’s. He began and association with both Phyllis Hyman and Stephanie Mills that would last several years and albums. He also produced jazz sax player Gary Bartz during his own transition to a funkier sound.

Lucas’s biggest success as a member of Mtume was with their 1983 hit “Juicy Fruit”, a sexually spicy electro funk jam that inspired an equally famous hip-hop reboot called “Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G, who also sampled the original hit in his song. During that same year, Lucas provided production on the then little known singer/dancer Madonna Ciccone on her debut album. His LINN drum and guitar work, including Lucas’s own composition “Borderline”, would find him part of the musical team that launched one of the 20th centuries major dance music superstars.

Looking back on his accomplishments today? Reggie Lucas served a similar function on guitar as Marcus Miller did as a bassist. He came to fame as a musician working with Miles Davis. And went onto become a session player for a number of soul and pop artists-many of whom themselves became iconic. Lucas may have passed away on my 38th birthday. But in the end, Lucas was another major seed that Miles planted into the tapestry of black American music during the electric jazz and funk/soul/disco era’s.  To me, this will be what I’ll always think about when contemplating Lucas’s creative arc.

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‘Raydio’: Ray Parker Jr’s Debut As A Band Leader

Image result for Raydio 1978

Ray Parker Jr. was no stranger to music when this 1978 debut dropped. All those years that the Detroit native provided guitar accompaniment to Rufus, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock made clear this multi instrumentalist had an individual enough sound (and personal identity) to survive as an entity on his own. As a matter of fact, aside from actually being in the position of employing a several session musics of his own such as Wah Wah Watson and Sylvester Rivers on piano plus a trumpet and sax player Ray Parker played, wrote,produced and engineered most the music on this album.

Jerry Knight was the only member of Raydio to accompany Parker instrumentally-as the bassist. Knight also brought his vocal ability along with Vincent Bonham and most notably Arnell Carmichael to create the  vocal quartet of Raydio. Although showcasing by and large Ray’s distinctive layered mini-moog based sound hard funk jams such as “Is This A Love Thing”, “You Need This (To Satisfy That) and “Me” are all far more incredibly hard edged than the sort of of sophistifunk Ray/Raydio would become known for-with the horn and rhythmic voices having a more prominent live band flavor.

Adding some Smokey Robinson-like wordplay into the mix “Honey I’m Rich” is a more of Ray’s pop/funk sound. The breakout hit “Jack & Jill”, with its layers of mini Moog (both bass and otherwise) reverbed into some incredible melodic exchanges. It’s basically Ray’s signature musical sound and shows up again on excellent mid tempo funk grooves such as “Betcha Can’t Love Me Just Once” and “Let’s Go All The Way”. Much as Kashif and  Prince would innovate later, Ray was using synthesizers in place of horn parts here. It anticipated the future but also created a musical present for him as well.

The album concludes with “Get Down”,a chunky bass/guitar oriented melodic funk instrumental and one of the best in it’s kind from Ray. In just about every imaginable way a musically impressive and significant set of sophistifunk classics this album provides the missing links between the era of Stevie Wonder and Prince. A link wherein the concept of the sexual revolution (lyrically) and the orchestral use of electronics (musically) would be explored to their fullest in terms of the funk genre. And honestly I am not sure if Ray Parker gets a lot of the credit he deserves for doing that.

 

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Anatomy of Two Late Funkateers: “Money’s Hard To Get” by The Temptations

Dennis Edwards, lead singer of the Temptations from 1968-1976 and again from 1980 to 1987 and Leon Ndugu Chancler, best known as the drummer on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”,  both passed away within two days of each other this week. The former at age 74, the later at 65. The interesting part of it was Ndugu passed away on what would’ve been Edwards’ 75th birthday-on February 3rd, 2018. Edwards was a singer, Chancler was a jazz session drummer. And it was still surprising to me the breadth of commonalities these two late musical figures have in common.

Dennis and Ndugu both hailed from the South. Edwards from Alabama, Chancler from Louisiana. They both left the South- Edwards for Detroit and Chancler for California. Both men studied their craft at universities in their adopted home towns.  Their career paths differed-as Ndugu became a session player for artists ranging from George Benson to Kenny Rogers. And he was even George Duke’s main drummer for a decade or so. Edward’s became the lead singer of The Tempts during their psychedelic soul period. And the two finally crossed paths on the 1982 song “Money’s Hard To Get”.

Kerry Ashby’s synth bass provides the intro to a song-played in close unison to Stevie Wonder’s bassist Nathan Watts. Ndugu’s powerful drums then come in playing right in the the pocket. Along with Melvin “Wah Wah Watson” Ragin’s nimble rhythm guitar, that also comprises the refrains of the song. The chorus features Benjamin F. Wright Jr’s ultra funky horn arrangements-whereas those two sides of the songs are linked by a unison vocal passage with Ashby’s synth bass playing a more clomping style. After a bridge featuring a synth solo with the horns, an extended chorus fades out the song.

“Money’s Hard To Get” finds both Dennis Edwards and Ndugu Chancler at some of their very finest. Edward’s second tenure with The Tempts as at its peak vocal powers here-in a reunion with the seven then surviving members. His voice follows the emotional attitude of the song too-itself a classic soul tale of “love or money” somewhat in the vain of The Isley’s “Work To Do”.  Chancler’s drummer, along the the horns, rhythm guitar and electric/synth bass fusion make this a terrific example of early 80’s post disco/boogie melding the live sounds of the 70’s with the electronic/new wave ones of the 80’s.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Multiplication” by Eric Gale

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.

 

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Jon And Sally Tiven: Dynamic Writing/Producing Team find Unexpected Success-An Article By Ron Wynn

 *Sally and Jon Tiven with blues icon Buddy Guy (Photo Used Courtesy Of Jon Tiven)
Dynamic writing/producing team find unexpected success
By Ron Wynn
The writing/production/instrumental duo (as well as husband and wife) team of Jon and Sally Tiven have worked with many legends of soul, blues, R&B, rock and pop over the years. Since 2002, they’ve also been an integral part of the Music City community. Now they’ve recently enjoyed a new breakthrough: success on the dance charts.
Jon Tiven acknowledged that it’s been quite a surprise to see how well the single “Glittering Gutter,” off the LP “The Soul Tapes” by English vocalist Billie Ray Martin, has done. It entered the Billboard Dance/Club Charts at #44 and last week reached number eight. The song has also been issued as an eight-remix single, with differing versions reworked by some of dance music’s biggest production wizards like Mooli, Offer Nissim, Tweaka Turner and Dave Aude.
Here are Tiven’s views on the single’s success and several other topics we covered last week in an extensive interview.
How different was it working on this project as opposed to some of the other things that you’ve done?
 
“Billie and I met in the mid-90s after her smash “Your Loving Arms” made her a known quantity and she came to the U.S.A to meet people who could help her make a Soul record. She, Sally and I wrote several songs which she recorded on her album “18 Carat Garbage” (the title track and “Captain Drag” were songs we wrote with her), and that album was cut in Memphis with the Hi Rhythm guys and Ann Peebles and Carla Thomas guesting.”
 
“We became friends and wrote some more, and she approached me about a new project. We wrote and recorded a record in New York with my band, which at that time was Sally, myself, and our favorite NY drummer Simon Kirke (Free, Bad Company).
 
This was originally intended as a collaboration between Billie Ray and myself where I would completely share billing, and so I took liberties with my guitar playing that I wouldn’t have necessarily done had I strictly been the producer. I figured “if it’s my name on the marquee, I get to go wild, freak out, and play what’s deep within me” and so I did. All the tracks were cut for this in 2000, and when it was complete I thought it was not only one of the best things I’d ever done, but had great commercial potential, as they say. But Billie was not convinced that all of her vocals were of a quality that she’d be proud of in fifteen years, so the record sat and was never fully mixed, never mind shopped to labels. A year or so ago I got a call from Billie telling me that she’d listened to the record again after so many years and loved it and wanted to finish her vocals, so I sent her the tapes and voila! Success!”
 
The fact that this sat for 15 years—I had completely written off it ever being released—-and now it’s gotten to #8 on the dance/club charts (Billboard) and is currently #12 on Music Week’s charts in the U.K.—-I just feel like my artistic license has been renewed and approved.”
Hearing all the different remixes were you surprised by any of the approaches and were any of them radically different from how you originally envisioned the project?
“I was completely stunned by all of the mixes……they basically took the skin off the bones and built entirely new people on the remaining skeletons. It showed me great possibilities of how far you could go and still keep the song. I like my chord progressions the way they are, but it’s nice to know that with a little tweaking you can go off on a completely different tangent and still keep the integrity of the song.”
You’ve worked with many legendary names in soul, R&B, rock and pop. What person or persons have proven the most enjoyable and memorable among those you’ve worked with?
“Making records with my dear friends—-Wilson Pickett, B.B. King, Frank Black, Bobby Womack, P.F. Sloan, Don Covay, Steve Cropper, Little Milton, Ellis Hooks, Steve Kalinich, Syl Johnson, Sir Mack Rice—-that’s the kind of experience you want to keep with you forever. These were/are not just business relationships, these were/are buddies of mine who I speak to or spoke with regularly about all kinds of things. I’ve made some records with people who testing the boundaries of our friendship during the making of the record as well with Alex Chilton and Don Nix, and those experiences are memorable in another way. I’ve been so fortunate to have had my musical career intersect with so many one-of-a-kind talents any one of which would be enough to make me feel grateful, let me list a few: Chrissie Hynde, Paul Rodgers , Tom Verlaine, Ron Wood, Arthur Alexander, Felix Cavaliere, Graham Parker, Chris Spedding, Dan Penn, and Betty LaVette.”
 
Having been a Nashvillian for several years now, what are some things you’ve discovered about living and working here that you wouldn’t have thought were the case until you came?
“The wonderfully open music scene that some folks have showed me. Particularly jazz cats. Thank you Nashville .”
What projects have you done that turned out better than anticipated and some that didn’t do as well as you thought they might>?
Better—-well, this Billie Ray Martin really turned around completely, after having given up……..the most surprising thing to me is that several of my early productions (Alex Chilton, Prix, Van Duren) from the mid to late 70s are now being revered as Powerpop Classics when at the time I never got paid, didn’t see a whole lot of positive reviews, and so I consider those my “pancake” records.”
“You know, when you make pancakes you throw away the first batch so the 2nd batch tastes good. Now I’m getting wonderful reviews and even a check or two, it’s quite a mindbending experience. I hope I don’t have to wait 40 years for people to appreciate the work I’m doing now.”

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Love Enter” by Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson is right up alongside Larry Graham in terms of cracker jack bass player/composers with his baritone singing voices. As a Detroit native,he was most influenced by  Motown Funk Brother (and bass guitar icon) James Jamerson. Jamerson played a lot of jazzy riffs-especially backing up Stevie Wonder. So it made sense that Henderson,a pioneer fusion jazz bassist,would bring his own bass complexity to Wonder’s music in the late 60’s/early 70’s along with session work for Marvin Gaye,Aretha Franklin, The Dramatics and Dr. By then,Henderson was moving further into his jazz chops.

Henderson transitioned from a soul session player into a jazz one during the early/mid 70’s. Working with drummer/talent scout Norman Connors and jazz pioneer Miles Davis found Henderson helping both artists transition into a soul and funk based approach-especially with  Miles’ On The Corner in 1972 and Connors You Are Starship in 1976. That same year Henderson inked a solo deal with Buddah records. His solo debut Solid is a masterpiece of his multiple talent-with its strongly funky title song. For me,another song that pulls together Henderson’s talents on the album is “Let Love Enter”.

Muruga Booker’s conga drum roll and percussion introduces the the song. It features the acoustic piano,Henderson’s bass and the ongoing percussion playing a funky variation of the Brazilian samba rhythm. The melody of it all,as illustrated by Henderson’s scaling voice and lyricism,is based in Brazilian jazz with it’s major and minor chord changes. A straight up percussion part bridges the similarly themed refrain and choruses together. On the bridge,trumpeter Marcus Belgrave delivers a succinct accompanying horn solo as Henderson’s backup singers improvise the melody with him to the songs fade out.

This  song reveals itself as having taken a lot of influence from both Norman Connors and Miles Davis. Most of the playing has Miles and Norman’s  light musical touch. It also  celebrates that Brazilian flavor that Stevie Wonder often had. What bridges these influences is that jazzy funk/soul attitude. It has a strong,melodic groove to it, and its not a simple song either. The chord progressions can be sung and hummed. Yet they offer a lot of challenge for musicians and vocalists who wish to do so. As such,its something of a defining musical moment for Michael Henderson from the beginning of his solo years.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Brazilian Jazz, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Marcus Belgrave, Michael Henderson, Miles Davis, Muruga Booker, Norman Connors, percussion, piano, samba funk, session musicians, Stevie Wonder, trumpet, vocal jazz

Anatomy of THE Groove: “I’ve Got News For You” by T-Connection feat/Tom Scott

Tom Scott and the band T-Connection are two artists whom I’ve never discussed. Scott himself is turning 68 today-another musician who shares a birthday with yours truly. Both of us have played alto sax. Difference is Scott made a very successful career out of it,and I did the same with photography and music blogging. He was most famous as the funkiest side of the 70’s TV theme song genre such as Starskey & Hutch and The Streets Of San Francisco. Not to mention he and his band LA Express backing artists such as Joni Mitchell as they transitioned to a more jazz and soul oriented sound.

T-Connection meanwhile were a disco era funk band hailing out of Nassau,Bahamas. They truly lived up to the phrase “funky Nassau” in terms of bringing a thick,phat funk bottom to uptempo music during the height of the four on the floor beat era. The first such song I ever heard by them was titled after them and truly embodied that spirit. Just a couple hours ago, I was at the local record store Bull Moose and saw a pre-owned vinyl copy of their 1983 album The Game Of Life.  It turns out Tom Scott participated in one groove from the album called “I’ve Got Good News For You”.

The song starts out with a bluesy processed Fender Rhodes before the cymbal heavy,fast drum shuffle kicks in. This is accompanied by a liquid boogie funk rhythm guitar and jazzy funk bass line. This encompasses the choruses of the songs. On the refrains,the melody and the stop/start drums enter deep into the Afro-Latin rhythmic clave-in a manner similar to the Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground”. Interludes between the two sections of the song showcases some brittle synth brass. Whereas the Rhodes and Tom Scott (on alto sax) improvise on the chorus as the song closes out.

One thing I’ll say for Tom Scott is that,when he wasn’t recording as a bandleader or solo performer,he had his high session credentials. And even though a good chunk of his solo material is funky as you wanna be,he was such a key part of the LA musician scene that it seemed appropriate to celebrate him blowing some funky sax with another group known for their funky music. Session playing allowed musicians to explore different sides of their creative personality. And Tom Scott had a long history of bringing his grooves into the many different tributaries of funk music.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, clave, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Los Angeles, Nassau, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, session musicians, synth brass, T-Connection, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Me In Your Life” by Ronnie Foster

Ronnie Foster was one of Buffalo,New York’s prime funkateers next to the far more famous Rick James. The primary reason for this was likely because Foster was a session keyboardist who recorded solo albums rather than a headliner. That meant a lot though because the man played on some of the finest sessions of the mid 70’s to early 80’s by Roberta Flack,The Jacksons,Flora Purim and Earl Klugh. He was particularly involved musically with George Benson-playing and composing for his blockbuster mid/late 70’s releases.

What first got me into Ronnie Foster was a funk based blog some years ago that linked the man with Stevie Wonder. Foster was one of an enormous cast of players who participated on Wonder’s magnum opus Songs In The Key Of Life. That led me to his two late 70’s Columbia albums entitled Love Satellite  (1978) and the following years Delight. Wonder played drums on one song for each album. On Love Satellite, he did so on the instrumental”Happy Song”. On the follow  up Delight,Wonder did the drumming on a vocal tune this time. And the name of that song was “Let Me In Your Life”.

Foster starts the song with an elegant,jazzy melodic phrase played on polyphonic synthesizer-with his acoustic piano tickling the chord changes. After two phrases of this,Wonder’s drums come dancing with their funky swing. On the refrains,the piano and synthesizer are joined by a rhythmic Clavinet and bouncy Moog bass.  On the chorus,the melody descends into a minor key gospel key as a synth string ensemble accents the vocal. The bridge of the song features Foster playing a rhythmic electronic organ type solo over a popping disco bass line before the song closes out with the repeating chorus.

Ronnie Foster and Stevie Wonder were born in the same year,one day apart. Today Foster turns 66. This number showcases how much of Wonder’s compositional influence Foster had absorbed while working with him. Playing every instrument on this song,with backing vocals from people such as George Benson himself,Stevie’s musical sound is omnipresent. It’s in the layers of rhythmic keyboards. Not to even mention those Duke Ellington/George Gershwin style chord/melodic exchanges Wonder used. It really showcased what a strong and thoroughly musical influence Stevie Wonder could have on another instrumentalist.

 

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Filed under 1970's, clavinet, drums, jazz funk, Moog bass, piano, Ronnie Foster, session musicians, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “When You’re In Need Of Love” by Raydio

Ray Parker Jr.’s career in his native Detroit began while playing with Hamilton Bohannon’s band at the city’s iconic nightspot 20 Grand. This got the teen’s guitar wiz the attention of the Motown crew-for whom he began playing and writing in earnest for the likes of Marvin Gaye and even outside the label for Honey Cone’s hit “Want Ads”. This led to the man become a mid 70’s session ace for everyone from Stevie Wonder,Aretha Franklin,Rufus and Herbie Hancock-playing and writing songs for each one of them. Not to even mention being a sideman in Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra.

In 1977,Parker had amassed more than enough experience as a session player/composer to become a bandleader. This lead to him forming Raydio. It was himself playing many of the instruments alongside vocalists Arnell Carmichael,Jerry Knight and Vincent Bonham. After their self titled debut and hit “Jack And Jill” the next year,Raydio was Parker ,Carmichael and an array of additional session players such as Ollie Brown and former Motown Funk Brother Jack Ashford. This led to the release of their second album in 1979’s  Rock On, with one of my favorite tracks on it being “When You’re In Need Of Love”.

The song begins with a heavy thump on the bass ans snare drum-punctuated by Parker’s phat synth bass. This brings in  a thick,quaking Bootsy Collins’ style “duck face bass” that is present the entire song. After several verses of this,percussive hand claps enter into the mix that eventually brings in some brittle,higher pitched synth brass charts from Parker. As the chorus starts in,Parker brings in two lead guitar lines. One is a dramatic,low thunder and the other is a more bluesy down scale. After two rounds of the refrain and chorus,the intro that opened the song basically repeats to the songs fade out.

Raydio’s second album is very heavy on funk. Originally picked it up on vinyl only on the basis that I knew the name of the band and Ray Parker Jr. The name Raydio actually came from a written documentary I had on a good point of reference for Parker’s musical approach: Prince. Ray Parker Jr. was right there in the late 70’s with the Purple One really helping to innovate with the idea of synthesizer’s playing traditional horn charts. As with most of Raydio’s funk,this groove stays on the one with the rhythmic influence of the Isley Brothers and P-Funk’s heavy still and electronics running on full throttle!

 

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Filed under 1970's, Arnell Carmichael, Detroit, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Ollie Brown, Ray Parker Jr., Raydio, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, session musicians, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Uncategorized