Tag Archives: Stevie Wonder

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

Michael Jackson-The First Solo Career

Photo of JACKSON FIVE and Michael JACKSON

Michael Jackson shared one major thing in common with fellow Motowner Stevie Wonder: both of them had two distinct solo careers. Stevie’s was as a child prodigy musician who mostly played harmonica and bongos. And only singing a little bit. Of course his breakthrough was still on the Motown label. But on independent, fully adult terms. Michael had his first career in his early/mid teens on Motown as well. He differs from Stevie mainly in that his adult solo breakthrough came through the guidance of Quincy Jones and his crew of musicians. And it happened on the Epic label rather than Motown.

Michael’s solo career on Motown was linked very closely to the Jackson 5ive’s. His brothers often continued to sing backup for him during this time. And he continued to work with the writers and producers who made up The Corporation-the creative team who helped to create the Jacksons’ sound while they were on Motown. In addition to providing the teenage Michael with fresh new material,they also developed his strong vocal ability into that of an interpretive singer-even as his voice began to change. And it’s that first solo career (from 1972 to 1975) that I want to represent Michael Jackson with today.


“I Wanna Be Where You Are”/1972

This is probably my personal favorite of Michael’s solo hits from before his voice really changed. The rhythm guitar/harpsichord heavy uptempo funkiness has a strong J5 flavor still. But Leon Ware and T-Boy Ross’s songwriting has a lot of those jazzy chord changes,from major to minor,that Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson were using at the time. Michael handles the melodic complexity of the song with seeming ease and emotional power.

“Ain’t No Sunshine”/1972

With it’s fuzzed out guitar and slow shuffling beat,this Bill Withers cover comes instrumentally right out of the early P-Funk albums from Funkadelic in 1970-71. But it’s raw blusiness is slickened up far more than anything George Clinton was doing at this time. Always loved Michael’s spoken intro where he says “you ever want something that you know you shouldn’t have? The more you know shouldn’t have it,the more you want it”.

“People Make The World Go ‘Round”/1972

One thing that really makes this song stand out as an interpretation is how much different it is from the Stylistics original. Thom Bell’s slow tempo is raised up a notch,and the music is a more less orchestrated. Not only that but the lyrics are simplified,to the point of being totally altered,to make more sense that a 14 year old is singing it. It was a moment when someone else’s song was tailored more to Michael’s maturity level-rather than the more experienced and adult sociopolitical elan of the original.

“Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day”/1972

This Stevie Wonder interpretation is amazing. It sounds based more on the faster,more clavinet driven live versions Stevie performed in the late 60’s than the studio original. Also Michael begins utilizing more of the vocal hiccups and ad libs from his Epic era solo career here. What shocked me is to hear the chorus at the very beginning sung in Michael’s fully changed adult voice,but the rest in his higher childhood one. Almost as if vocal parts were recorded at totally different times.

“All The Things You Are”/1973

Michael Jackson became fascinated with the Philly soul sound of Gamble & Huff during his mid teens. And this interpretation of the Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern showtune really showcases the orchestral proto disco funkiness spirit of the city of brotherly love. Michael utilizes his changing voice beautifully here-singing the more dramatic parts in his childhood voice and the more nuanced ones in his mature voice.

“Euphoria”/1973

Leon Ware provided this jazzy,cinematic mid tempo Clavinet/string orchestration based funky soul to Michael Jackson at a time when he was right on the cusp of finding his identity as a solo performer for Motown. He’s spelling the words out of the song title in the manner a parent might  do for a child. Yet the choruses make it clear Michael is really beginning to understand the meaning of the word euphoria.

“We’re Almost There”/1975

Michael’s voice had fully matured by the time his final Motown album Forever,Michael dropped in early 1975. This amazingly cinematic groove from Brian and Eddie Holland-with it’s funky wah wah and high stepping Afro Brazilian dance rhythm really allowed Michael’s voice to soar to the romantically hopeful revelry of the lyrics.

“Dapper Dan”/1975

This album track from the Forever,Michael is the one song from that album that you won’t find on any of the many Motown era solo Michael Jackson best of compilations out there. But it is by far the funkiest song on the album. Written primarily by Hal Davis,it channels the sort of New Orleans stomp that an Allen Toussaint might cook up for Dr.John at that time. And showcases Michael getting down hard with some super heavy funk.


Michael Jackson has been dead for seven years as if this writing. I was motivated to explore this side of Michael’s artistry because it showcased his personal interests guiding those people still guiding Michael. And his first four solo albums recorded on Motown helped prepare him to develop his focus in terms of the kinds of writers,producers and musicians he’d work with as a grown adult. His second solo career is well illustrated in the Guinness Book Of World Records. But his solo trajectory really took off while still on Motown.

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Filed under 1970's, cinematic funk, Funk, Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Motown, Motown Sound, Philly Soul, Stevie Wonder, The Corporation

Paul McCartney: The Cute Beatle With A Bag Of Many Grooves

Paul McCartney

People have had discussions about who their favorite Beatle was. Each had their own distinct creative personality that made them work so well together. Yet if someone asked me which former Beatle appealed to me most musically,it would be Paul McCartney. As a composer/singer/multi instrumentalist,Sir Paul is possessed of the same multi faceted creativity of people such as Todd Rundgren and the late Prince Rogers Nelson-worthy of their mutual Gemini stars. He has his own distinctive approach to melody and groove-extending across hard rockers,easy going pop ballads as well as his most soulful side.

That soulful side of McCartney is what I’d like to talk about today. One of the key factors of him in general is how well he understands the importance of groups to his music. Between The Beatles and his second band Wings, McCartney always realized what other musicians from John Lennon to Denny Laine could offer him instrumentally than if  he just played everything. Between arranging horns and working with musicians such as fellow bassist Stanley Clarke,Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart, here are some of my favorite of the soulful,funkier songs from Paul McCartney.


“She’s My Baby”/1976

On the album Wings At The Speed Of Sound,the members of Wings all contributed their songs to the mix. This had mixed results,but one of my favorite contributions from McCartney himself was the stripped down melodic funk of “She’s My Baby”. Especially with it’s somewhat jazzy Fender Rhodes electric piano solos.

“Arrow Through Me”/1979

This dramatic blend of reggae rhythms and West Coast style jazz/funk was the song that caught my attention most. From the reverbed snare drum traps to the processed electric piano,it’s no wonder that this imaginative and melodic groove became the basis for Erykah Badu’s “Gone Baby Don’t Be Long” over three decades later.

“Coming Up”/1980

McCartney played everything again on this song,while channeling his inner James Brown. In this case,turning his one man band (including his chicken scratch guitar) into a drum. Not to mention having one of the snappiest melodies of McCartney’s career to boot.

“Secret Friend”/1980

This is another very early 80’s song from McCartney’s second proper solo album that truly blew my mind. It’s a technological carnival of Brazilian percussion,funky bass/guitar interactions and a very psychedelic East Indian type melody. And keeps it all going for well over ten minutes as well.

“What’s That Your Doing”/1982

Instrumentally speaking,this thickly bassy and percussive hard funk jam seems to be more the work McCartney’s duet partner on this song Stevie Wonder. But it leaves plenty of room for McCartney’s bass and guitar abstractions. Especially when the chorus of his Beatles classic “She Loves You” appears on the extended outro. My absolute favorite song from the McCartney/Wonder collaboration.

“Dress Me Up As A Robber”/1982

A superbly composed piece of Brazilian jazz/funk from Paul on his 1982 album Tug Of War. The rhythm guitar and synth bass are some of the hottest McCartney had done up to this point. Especially on the breakdown on the bridge of the song that reminds me Gap Band songs from that same period.

“Hey Hey”/1983

Stanley Clarke’s early 80’s collaboration with Paul McCartney continues on this expansively melodic jazz fusion instrumental from McCartney’s underrated 1983 album Pipes Of Peace. It starts out as a kinetic Afro-rocker almost,then mellows into a jazzy reverb laden keyboard and bass driven bridge. One of my favorite instrumentals from McCartney.

“Tug Of Peace”/1983

McCartney pulls out a full blown electro Afro funk percussion extravaganza on this song. Structurally,it’s a lyrical reboot of the title ballad of his previous album “Tug Of War”. But the feeling is much more revved up rhythmically-almost as if to say that peace is a source of joy while war slows you down. And this is all aside from McCartney delivering one of the finest bass like low rhythmic guitars of his career.


Discussing the music of Paul McCartney in a soul,funk and even jazz context might seem atypical. But it really isn’t when one considers the way in which musicians intermingle. In Liverpool,most of McCartney’s musical acquaintances were playing the same type of music basically. He the man traveled the world and gained more experience,the newer musicians he became associated with continued to expand his stylistic and rhythmic repertoire beyond even where the Beatles had take their music. And it’s his creative flexibility that is the core of the man whose turning 74 today.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, bass guitar, chicken scratch guitar, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, funk rock, jazz funk, Paul McCartney, pop rock, rhythm guitar, Stanley Clarke, Stevie Wonder, Wings

Anataomy of THE Groove: “I Wanna Talk To You” by Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder’s musical artistry is completely effected by the 60’s social explosions. These changes in American society defined the baby boomer generation,of which Wonder was a member of. The 70’s emerged finding the civil rights and black power movements influencing that entire 60’s era counterculture. One issue,bought up again by Prince three decades later,was the idea of recording contracts as a form of artistic slavery. Wonder’s music had grown behind what Motown expected him to create. And just prior to his 21st birthday,Wonder decided to do as Curtis Mayfield had done and take control of his music.

This April 12th was the 45th anniversary of Stevie Wonder’s album  Where I’m Coming From. This album represented a time when Wonder insisted his contract to Motown be voided until they worked out a deal that gave him full creative autonomy. The album featured a sound that represented the funk process,and Wonder’s use of it to advance his own musical independence. The themes of the songs dealt with anti war ideas ,drug abuse, racism and his new marriage to Syreeta Wright,who collaborated with him on the album. Today,one song on this album rings through my head very loudly: “I Wanna Talk To You”.

Wonder starts out the song with a down and dirty 12 bar blues piano solo straight out of the Ray Charles school of soul. He responds to this vocally on his refrain-just him and the piano. Than Stevie imitating an older voice comes in for the chorus,solo at first. During the rest of the chorus,layers of fuzzed out Clavinet and huge,percussive soul/jazz style drums come into play. After a few rounds of this literal refrain/choral conversation the music comes to an instrumental bridge. This extends into an elongated chorus of these reverbed,heavy groove keyboards until the song breaks apart lyrically and fades out.

Musically, Stevie Wonder is speaking the same musical language here as Sly & The Family Stone were with their Stand album from a couple years earlier. It brings in the raw R&B attitude out of the 50’s blues clubs and juke joints into the slick,churchy use of reverb and instrumental filters. This is what the funk process was all about. And by having fully realized the strong instrumental influence of the Ray Charles comparison that made his childhood career,Wonder was able to bring the then recent musical past into a new and evolving future. And right around the time Marvin Gaye put out What’s Going On at that.

On the lyrical end, I was inspired to write about this song was by seeing a meme that showed members of Black Lives Matter and saying “the most racist people are the ones crying ‘racist’ all the time’. This meme was posted to the Facebook timeline of a friend of mine whose not only gay,but works in a mental health facility. It got me to thinking that perhaps,racism is indeed a form of mental illness. It encourages irrational,murderous behavior. For years “I Wanna Talk To You” was presented in literature as being a song about the generation gap. In a way it is. But it actually goes far deep than that in content.

As it stands,the reason this occurrence inspired me to think of this songs lyrics is how Wonder plays it out. It’s essentially a one man show-style musical theater production,if one were based in straight up post WW2 black American attitude and funkiness. Wonder plays himself singing about the frustration of being black in America. He also plays the voice of an old Southern (most likely white) bigot who insists “my world can be true if you do what I tell you to”. At the end,it all breaks down when they character calls out “ah Stevie boy” and Wonder responds with “hey I don’t need you for nothin'”.

Stevie Wonder throws down an amazing ethic on this song. What amazes me is that Where I’m Coming From is the only one of his adult albums not domestically in print on physical media. In terms of this song in particular,it finds Wonder coming into rising adulthood at the dawn of the post civil rights era in America. Between the black American revolutionary music of funk and the message of organizations like the black panthers, Wonder completely realizes the connections between the two factors. And he plays out American’s racist default setting beautifully on this song with maximum soul and funkativity.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Black Lives Matter, blues funk, clavinet, drums, funk process, message songs, Motown, piano, racism, reverb, Stevie Wonder

STEVIEWONDERLAND!: Celebrating An Icon In Three Decades-“Sensuous Whisper” by Stevie Wonder (1996)

Stevie Wonder seemed to have suffered a little writers blocks following his (subjectively) wonderful 1987 album Characters. Aside from performing the soundtrack to the Spike Lee Joint Jungle Fever in 1991,it seemed as if Wonder would continue his infrequency of releases in the 90’s as he had in the 80’s. When President Jerry John Rawlings invited Wonder to spend his weeks in the African nation of Ghana,Wonder wrote 40 new songs. He also stated the artist formerly know as Prince “helped him to see music again” in the liner notes to the 1995 album that came out of Wonder’s African visit: Conversation Peace.

Personally I have a vivid memory of hearing a new reggae styled song by Stevie Wonder called “Take The Time Out” used during the 1994 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to encouraging people to give food to the needy. It was a comforting reminder of Wonder’s ever present humanitarianism.And his new album finally came out in January of the following year. Took me a year or so to really give it a good listen. And a decade or so more to begin singling out my personal favorites songs from the last Stevie Wonder album of the 20th century. One of the strongest for me is a song called “Sensuous Whisper”.

Wonder gets the song rolling with a hi hat heavy drum swing and a shuffling bass with an Arabic type tone. Then he kicks into a funky chromatic walkdown on piano. This consists of the basic body of the song. Stephanie Andrew’s sexually charged grunts provide a vital percussive element as the sax of Branford Marsalis and trumpet of Terrence Blanchard provide unison horn breaks on the vocal changes. Wonder swings and scats the lyrics on the refrain,while Anita Baker sings the song title chorus as the back-round with Wonder’s call and response vocal lead.

The bridge of the song features Wonder singing a harmonically complex set of notes that I personally couldn’t begin to describe-scaling up and down between each phrase. He backs himself up with the same instrumentation as the rest of the song that,along with the horn charts,improvise strongly on the chordal changes he’s making throughout. After this,the song returns to the drum/bass intro before seguing back into the chorus of the song. This chorus repeats itself over and over again-with Wonder scatting the vocals more and more until the song itself just comes to an abrupt stop.

Stevie Wonder was always someone my family and I recognized as having a strong jazz influence-from his 1963 instrumental debut album to his 1991 song “Make Sure Your Sure”. This song not only found him collaborating up front with jazzy players and jazz derived singers,but also embracing the funkified jazz/hip-hop hybrid that the Native Tongues groups like Tribe Called Quest and even Miles Davis himself had started to embrace. So Wonder was not only heavily embracing jazz here,but showcasing it’s possibilities for the newer hip-hop informed style of funky soul.

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Filed under 'Conversation Peace', 1990s, Anita Baker, bass guitar, Branford Marsalis, chromatic walkdown, drums, funky soul, hip-hop jazz, horns, piano, Saxophone, soul jazz, Stephanie Andrews, Stevie Wonder, synth bass, Terrence Blanchard, trumpet

STEVIEWONDERLAND!: Celebrating An Icon In Three Decades-“Never In Your Sun” by Stevie Wonder (1985)

Stevie Wonder has an interesting quality in his reactions to personal relationships that’s personally relatable. While generally viewing his lack of physical sight as a gift,this view gets complicated when he is i emotional turmoil. When his first and only marriage to Syreeta Wright broke up in the early 70’s, Wonder put out two albums dealing in part with his breakup-Music Of My Mind and Talking Book. On these records,Wonder’s heartbreak seemed linked to his own vulnerability-even removing his trademark shades on the second of those albums to showcase he was blind. And at the time,even a bit in the dark.

While not blind,I too live with a very different type of disability that makes my life quite different than many around me. And when personal relationships in my life become troubled,there’s a personal tendency to feel very…disabled. Now not knowing Stevie Wonder personally,some of this is only speculation based on his lyrics and my own romantic experiences. Still when Wonder sang “things you cherish most in your life can be taken if they’re left neglected” on 1972’s “Looking For Another Pure Love”? It resonated on a number of different personal levels along with jazzy soundscape of the music.

By the time the 1980’s came along,Stevie Wonder was facing vulnerability of a different kind. Ever the musical perfectionist,Wonder found the boogie/synth funk of musicians such as Kashif and Prince were picking up where he’d left off in terms of the instrumental sounds he’d created with electronics. So rather than being a pioneer,he found himself somewhat running with the pack at the time. These factors might’ve been part of why he held onto releasing his second album of the 80’s In Square Circle for half a decade. One song from it expressed vulnerability in a very soulful way. It was called “Never In Your Sun”.

Wonder starts out the the song playing a heavily spaced two beat drum pattern-spiced with heavy Brazilian style percussion. After that,a fairly low lead synthesizer comes in playing a gentle major key melody-backed up by a deep synth bass thundering in the back-round. The takes the key of the song a bit higher-with a hollow,low horn like synth line. That sound resonates through the second refrain-where Wonder takes one of his renowned harmonica solos. After another vocal refrain,the chorus returns for a few more rounds-raising in key yet again before the song fades out.

Instrumentally,this song finds Wonder exploring his harmonically rich,jazzy style of music and songwriting in a new way. Perhaps in keeping with the innovations of the Minneapolis sound,Wonder strips the song down to a drum/percussive track and layers of synthesizers playing lead,horn and string type parts. Lyrically it’s quite a lonely song in a way-about a woman whose the opposite of a fair weather friend in comforting Wonder only in the harder times. Musically it’s assured naked funky soul for the mid 80’s. In lyrical terms,the questions it poses seem more significant than the answers.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1985, Boogie Funk, disability, drums, electro funk, harmonica, Minneapolis Sound, Motown, naked funk, percussion, relationships, Stevie Wonder, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizer

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

Stevie Wonder’s ‘Up-Tight’ album turns 50!

Uptight

Stevie Wonder’s 1966 album Up-Tight is likely the most important album in his entire career. After a few years of releasing albums of standards,beach party pop and soul jazz with the moniker “little” attached to his name,the Motown record label wanted to drop Wonder from their roster. A lot of this had to do with his voice changing during puberty. Songwriter Sylvia Moy,also the label’s first female songwriter,saw 15 year old Wonder as being on the cusp of breaking through into someone musically enormous. So she got Berry Gordy to agree to keep Wonder on Motown if she could write a new hit for him.

One of the most important thing about Stevie Wonder in the mid 1960’s was bought up during a conservation between myself and friend Henrique Hopkins. And that is that unlike some child prodigies whose careers flow forward with age. Wonder had two separate careers. First was that of Little Stevie Wonder,a high voiced teen singer and harmonica virtuoso. Then came Stevie Wonder,a talented composer/musical/vocalist who was on the way to becoming a major musical icon of his generation. So on the album Up-Tight,Stevie Wonder was reborn as a maturing artist on the way to adulthood.

Sylvia of course came up with the classic Motown soul stomp of “Uptight (Everything Is Alright)”. Of course “Nothing’s Too Good For My Baby” and “Ain’t That Asking For Trouble” both tell the story of that song,both musically and lyrically,ongoing. For the most part however this album finds Stevie forging ahead. My favorite here is actually “Love A Go Go” which,in Motown recycling song style,takes the opening horn charts of “Dancing In The Streets” and applies them to a breezy,catchy pop/soul number showcasing Stevie singing in his breathy falsetto we rarely hear from him.

“Blowing In The Wind” has this musicality similar to “A Place In The Sun” putting Bob Dylan’s rhetorical protest anthem into a rhythm & blues vocal and instrumental context. “Hold Me”,”I Want My Baby Back” and the poignant “With A Child’s Heart” are smooth,creamy numbers again anticipating his funky soul sound of his 70’s breakthrough by half a decade. “Teach Me Tonight” and the stomping “Music Talk” are hard edged,funky soul-the latter being one of Stevie’s strongest uptempo numbers of the 60’s. Only “Contract On Love”,recorded before Stevie’s voice had changed, represents the “Little Stevie Wonder” sound at all on this album.

One thing that really shines about this album was Stevie Wonder being presented once and for all as an uptempo based artist. His dance songs not only had an energetic stomp somewhat different than other Motown hits of the mid 60’s. But his thematic persona was starting to developing as well. On the title song,he speaks of being “a poor mans son”. And by covering Bob Dylan protest folk standards,it’s becoming clear that Wonder is already deeply connected to the social conscientiousness  that defined many of his generation. It not only reinvigorated his career,but started a new movement at Motown.

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Filed under 1960's, Berry Gordy, child stars, classic albums, message songs, Motown, Motown Sound, soul pop, Stevie Wonder, Sylvia Moy, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Dude” by Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones has been on my mind a lot lately when thinking about music. Last week in fact,my friend Henrique pointed out something he read on the back of a vinyl album about how important Quincy was to the jazz world in general. And this was at the height of his career no less. From being mentored by Clark Terry in the 1940’s up to helping shape up and coming hip-hoppers 60 years later,the evolutionary nature of Quincy’s career had me wondering how to present his music here today. The question was would it be good to express that musical arc by overviewing several songs from several decades,or focus on one song that might tell it’s own kind of story about Quincy Jones.

Last year at this time,I posted up an older review I had done for the 1981 Quincy Jones release of The Dude. Albums released under his own name always had a specific flavor to them. For example,his early albums showcased him largely as an instrumental band leader. His releases since the 70’s have generally been showcases not only for his evolving production approach,but also with the different musicians and vocalists he was involved with or mentoring at the given time. In the case of this early 80’s album,the spotlight was on James Ingram and Patti Austin. And the title track of the album said so much about where the classic Quincy Jones sound was going to be at that time.

A pulsing,nasal synthesizer starts off the song before the drums and horns kick in. This is accompanied by opening backup that includes Syreeta Wright and Michael Jackson among a massive chorus. The horns lead into a stripped down percussion break  that’s accented by a slow crawling drum beat-over which a bluesy Fender Rhodes plays the lead keyboard line accented by Louis Johnson’s slap bass lines. The refrains start off with Austin and Ingram trading off vocals along. with Michael Boddicker’s Vocoder. Quincy himself provides a rap as the title character on several choruses after which the horns the male backup singers provide an accompanying chorus.

On the third of these choruses, the backup chorus led along by Austin sings a swinging variation of the chorus. Steve Luckather comes in to play a wah wah pedal heavy guitar line that mimics the low volume,bluesy solo on the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that comes out of Stevie Wonder on the bridge,which basically repeats the melodic theme of the refrain. After this the fanfarring horns that generally introduce Quincy raps instead segues into Austin’s swinging vocal choruses. There’s a repeat of the refrain after this. And the song fades out on a repeat of the chorus. Only on this one,Ingram accentuates the lyrics vocally before the song comes to an end.

Getting back to Quincy’s varied musical career,there are many qualities in this song that sum up everything he had done in his then nearly four decades of creative activity. The classic Westlake studio crew including drummer John Robinson,percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,trumpeter/arranger Jerry Hey and of course Louis Johnson play on this number. On the surface,this song written with Patti Austin and Rod Temperton has that sleek west coast production matched with the deep funk groove Quincy had been perfecting over much of the 1970’s. On that level,it’s alternately stripped down and boisterous depending on the mood the song is trying to project at a given time.

On the broader level,this song totally epitomizes the musical evolution of Quincy thus far. The accessory vocal harmonies on the chorus reflect the big band swing era as do the horns. And Stevie Wonder’s synth solo additionally brings the flavor of the blusiness that came from jazz to rock ‘n roll and onto funk and soul as well. The character of “The Dude”,represented as a stone sculpture on the cover and later to become Quincy’d mascot for his media production company,is basically an elder statesmen whose philosophy could be summed up by him stating “don’t put your moth around a check that your body can’t cash”. In this instance for me,this is Quincy’s most defining song overall up to this point.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, big band swing, blues funk, Fender Rhodes, horns, James Ingram, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Quincy Jones, QWest, rap, Rod Temperton, slap bass, Steve Luckather, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder, wah wah guitar, West Coast

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Buttercup” by Carl Anderson

Carl Anderson came from the world of Broadway into the soul/funk scene,in a manner similar to Stephanie Mills. The key difference is the level of success. The only reason I even knew about Anderson’s music was through a YouTube search. In the mid 70’s,the Jackson 5 had done some recording of songs composed by Stevie Wonder. The one song from these sessions that have publicly surfaced was the song “Buttercup”. Turns out Carl Anderson had done a version in the mid 80’s as well. Never heard of the man before. But was very impressed with what I heard. Turns out this was not the first time that Anderson had recorded this song.

In 1982 Anderson signed up with Epic Records. There he recorded his debut album entitled Absence Without Love. The title song of this album was a strong boogie funk number featuring a vocal duet with Teena Marie,who like Anderson has since passed away. Richard Rudolph,having produced Lady T a couple of years earlier,was also behind the recording console for Carl Anderson’s debut. He was now singing in an environment with session aces such as Smokey Robinson’s keyboardist Sonny Burke,Nathan East,Omar Hakim,Jerry Hey and Lee Ritenour backing him up. It was here that Anderson first introduced his version of the previously unreleased Stevie Wonder song “Buttercup”.

The drum starts out playing a sauntering Caribbean rhythm with a round,electrified bump on each accent. The main bass line accompanies this-scaling up and down right up with the groove. Suddenly the main melody comes in. This features fan faring horn charts,a high pitched rhythm guitar and an equally higher toned electric piano playing around the chords. On the refrains,the horns take a back seat to Anderson’s vocals. On the choruses,the horns and vocals take on a totally harmonious role. This happens on a bridge where Anderson is doing some percussive scat singing before going onto his vocalizing of the refrain. This pattern repeats a few times before the song fades out.

This song,especially in it’s original 1982 version is one of the finest example of an unheard Steve Wonder composition being done in a way that’s special and distinctive. On both the vocal and instrumental level,this song has so many elements of the popular Afrocentric musical spectrum within it. It has the Caribbean style rhythm and horns,the slowness of tempo and slap bass lines of hard funk along with the harmonic and vocal qualities of jazz. The deep,gospel drenched pipes of Carl Anderson expresses a fullness of range and dramatic presentation that adds even more musical excitement. As far as I’m concerned,this is one of the finest musical moments for Carl Anderson.

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Filed under 1980's, Caribbean Funk, Carl Anderson, drums, Epic Records, funky soul, horns, Jerry Hey, Lee Ritenour, Nathan East, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Sonny Burke, Stevie Wonder, Uncategorized