Tag Archives: Steve Arrington

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Watching You” by Slave

Slave are a band that I’ve desired to talk about for some time now. They were among one of the great late 70’s/early 80’s Dayton Ohio bands along with Heatwave and Zapp. What made them unique in their time however is that they were likely the first Generation X funk band-all of its members still in high school when they formed in 1976. Their first album the following year got them an instant smash funk hit with the song “Slide”,now a mainstay of what many funkateers refer to as “Dayton funk” subgenre. By their 1979 album Just A Touch Of Love,singer/songwriter/drummer Steve Arrington joined the band.

Arrington was only a member of Slave for four years,before leaving to form a successful solo career of his own starting in 1983. But in the early 80’s,Arrington’s unique (and occasionally idiosyncratic) vocal approach allowed Slave to become one of the bands to lay the building blocks for what is now known as the post disco/boogie funk sound. Their first album of the 1980’s (and second album to feature Arrington) was called Stone Jam. Its one of the few Slave albums to remain consistently in print over the years. One of its most well known (and successful) jams is called “Watching You”

Arrington throws the strong dance beat along with Mark Hicks high,clean guitar tone that revs up into the main chorus of the song. This features Ray Turner’s high pitched synthesizer melody and and the late Mark “Mr. Mark” Adams delivers a great walking,slapping bass line holding the whole thing together. The falsetto choral vocals transition to Arrington’s narrative vocals on the refrains. The bridge of the song has Arrington’s drums showcasing M. Mark’s powerful bass line as a solo-with Turner’s synths on the accents. A new chorus with both vocal parts continues until the song fades.

My friend Henrique and I often have a lighthearted dialog about a “super hip young brother in the early 80’s” driving around in a sporty little car trying to impress the ladies around him. “Watching You” brings up this image strongly. Its got the thick,bass/guitar oriented groove that was Slave’s stock and trade. That combined with its playful lyrics of young black people giving each other the admiring,romantic eye made the song and the Stone Jam album Slave’s biggest commercial success since the bands debut four years earlier. And this helps to define “Watching You” a post disco funk masterpiece.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Dayton Ohio, Slave

The Brothers Johnson-Stomping Thunder & Lightning

Brothers Johnson Artwork

Michael Jackson was likely the first artist who ever focused my attention on instrumentalists. While admiring the vocal,songwriting and performance ability of the Jackson brothers in general? My attention would focus on the liner notes of their albums. This came after watching The Jackson’s-An American Dream mini series on TV. And my parents loaning me their Michael Jackson/Jackson related albums. I personally wanted to know more about the musicians whose sound made the rhythms snap,crackle and pop with funkiness and soul the way they did. It has gone on to be a tremendous learning experience for me.

Two of these musicians that I noticed on the liner notes to Mike’s iconic Off The Wall album,from my mom and dad’s original vinyl copy,were guitarist George Johnson and his bassist brother Louis. Considering my interest in bass players even then? It was amazing to learn just what a bass icon Louis Johnson in particular was. Not to mention his enormous debt to the 1980’s by his iconic electric bass line on Mike’s “Billie Jean”. While I knew who Quincy Jones was of course? I had no idea of the breadth and scope of his musical outreach until learning more about the Brothers Johnson.

A few years later during mid adolescence? I was browsing the CD racks at the now defunct Borders Books & Music. I noticed a collection of four newly arrived releases by…The Brothers Johnson. The earliest one, 1976 album called  Look Out For #1 showed a photographically powerful image,take from below,of two super hip looking young musicians playing bass and guitar and singing with enormously enthusiastic expressions and stances. All of these album covers projected intensity. Album art is just art of course. But the best part was,as I veered toward adulthood, was discovering that these albums were musically just as energetically funkified as their cover art implied.

During my early 20’s? Something began to become uppermost in my understanding of the Johnson brothers musicality. Free jazz/bluesgrass/rock guitarist and writer for Allmusic.com Eugene Chadbourne perhaps worded it best about the revelation I had-when Mister Chadborne described the Johnson’s as coming from a period where musicians in the jazz/funk/soul genre were judged by the dues they paid in professional situations. As opposed to being judged by a romantic notion of street credibility. Since that latter notion totally defined the local understanding of musical appreciation around me at that time? This led me to more research,both through physical literature and my earliest experiences online, about the Johnson’s and other funk era instrumentalists.

By the time 2004 rolled around? And I was connecting with a group of local musicians/DJ’s as something of a local funk bands volunteer videographer? It was the story arc of how musicians such as George and Louis Johnson became musical icons that was fascinating me most. The brothers started playing with the Billy Preston band while still in high school. Quincy Jones then became taken with the duos talents. And he bought them in to record with his mid 70’s band on his 1975 release Mellow Madness-much of which qualifies as the earliest introduction of the Johnson’s duel playing and vocal harmonies. And the rest was history. In addition to success as a duo with their own albums? They would go from blistering session work with Herbie Hancock and George Duke to 80’s era work with Leon Sylvers and Slave’s Steve Arrington.

Looking back on it all now? The Brothers Johnson are the main reason why I have continued to focus so heavily on the instrumentalists relationship in the creation of the funk,soul and jazz music that has become such a source of creative and emotional inspiration for me. Getting back to the Michael Jackson angle? Now that the man sadly isn’t with us anymore? Whenever I hear his first two Quincy Jones produced solo records? It’s a lot more easy to tune into how Mike’s vocal hiccups take their turns popping right along with George and Louis’s instrumental licks on songs such as “Get On The Floor”,”Burn This Disco Out”,”Baby Be Mine” or the aforementioned “Billie Jean”. So among all the wonderful funky soul the Johnson’s have made? What I’d personally thank them for is helping increase my level of understanding of why playing in the groove works in music.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Allmusic.com, Billie Jean, Billy Preston, Borders Books & Music, Brothers Johnson, Eugene Chadbourne, Funk, Funk Bass, George Duke, George Johnson, guitar, Herbie Hancock, Leon Sylers, Look Out For #1, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Off The Wall, Quincy Jones, Steve Arringon, The Jacksons, Thriller

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/11/14 Rique’s Pick: “Magnificent” by Steve Arrington & Dam-Funk

 

Steve Arrington and Slave, are one of the more underappreciated pure funk groups from a pop standpoint. However, in Urban communities, for a certain late Baby Boomer and early Gen X funk audience, they’re right up there at the top with Prince, Rick James, Cameo, and others who were hot in the late ’70s and ’80s. Lead vocalist Steve Arrington originally joined the group as a drummer, but his unique nasally, well enunciated vocals were discovered during the recording of Slave’s 1979 disco-funk classic, “Just a Touch of Love.” Arrington went on to make several important records himself, including “Weak at the Knees” and “Dancing in the Key of Life.” Arrington is a first rate drummer, of a heavy jazz fusion bent, and his vocals are very unique, influencing such later day artists as Keith Sweat. Arrington is also a pastor and imparts a positive, upbeat spiritual message to everything he does, encouraging and uplifting people.

Dam Funk of Stones Throw Records, the master of a genre he’s innovating called “modern funk”, did an album this past year with Arrington.  The album is a triumph of fat bottomed, big beat, West Coast funk, with Arringtons nasally, silky, langourous vocals motivating, serenading, and persuading. Dam Funk’s funk is clearly a West Coast vibe, and extension of the G Funk of Dr. Dre, DJ Pooh, Battlecat, Above the Law, E-40 and Too $hort, all West Coast Hip Hop artists who used instrumental funk to back up their raps, based on the late ’70s synthesizer “video game sound” of P-Funk, the music of Roger and Zapp, and several other artists who’s sound made up a transitional early ’80s funk sound called “Boogie”, a bridge between the disco-funk of the late ’70s and the electro-funk and freestyle of the mid to late ’80s.

“Magnificent” is a dreamy, heavenly ode to a special lady from Steve Arrington and Dam-Funk’s album, “Higher.” The track begins with a big, solid drum beat, reminiscent of a fat boogie beat like One Way’s classic, “Cutie Pie.” The hi hats play what I call a ‘Time Bomb’ pattern, tight, ticking 8ths, like the O’Jays intro to “Give the People What the Want”, minus the washed out reverb. Over the phat drumbeat, Dam-Funk layers his trademark synth pads, a bright, beautiful sound of discovery and new dawns. Dam Funk uses this pad sound to play the chord progression for the song, but it’s very dreamy and functions as sound as well as music. The connection is also there to the modern “chill” movement. It’s a sound very reminiscent of the Los Angeles life and sunshine.  The song also features the hallmark of the West Coast sound, fat analog bass. The groove is one that is great for getting going in the early morning or cruising around town with the top down.

Steve Arrington uses his plain, direct, well spoken lyrical style, articulated in his classy, well pronounced, crooning vocal manner. It’s a song of praise that is old school in it’s approach, how many R&B artists praise women these days? But it also has that modern edge Arrington has always had, “You know you treat your homie like a King/You know I treat my shorty like a queen”, “you’ve got that way/with so much swag/what can I say.” It works instead of falling flat because Arrington is a cool uncle, compared to other funk stars who’ve passed on to being father, even grand father figures. Arrington even delivers a spoken interlude toward the end where he rips off synonymous superlatives for “magnificent”, like “indefatigueable.” Most def a lesson in many ways.

Arrington and Dam Funk are doing a great thing here. The song is laid back Cali vibe , as is most of the album, and I was hoping for a little more of the dry, driving funk Arrington delivered on songs such as “Weak at the Knees.” But stylistic parsing of hairs aside, the pair deliver the goods in a positive, funky, chill way. Their album should be in the possession of anybody who needs good, positive kicking it music!

2 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Funk, Late 70's Funk, Music, Music Reviewing