Tag Archives: Stix Hooper

The Crusaders Remembered: “Gimme Some Space” by Stix Hooper

Nesbert “Stix” Hooper is the last surviving member of the band who originally called themselves The Jazz Crusaders. The Houston native spent most of his youth studying music even before any of this occurred. While enrolled at Texas Southern University, Hooper , he got a musical education that most would envy. Everyone from members of the Houston Symphony Orchestra to a number of local professional players. By the time of his peak with the Crusaders, Hooper’s musical excellent touched on everyone from The Rolling Stones,B.B. King and onto London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

What Hooper brought to his drum and percussion work was the in the pocket funk rhythm. And basically helped to shape the sound of what became the jazz-funk subgenre from the outset. As a Crusader,the man was and remains a musical icon. His solo career, consisting of two albums released in 1979 and 1982, didn’t seem to receive the recognition they deserved. Especially having heard them both. The first I got was the 1982 album called Touch The Feeling. My dad pointed it out in a discount vinyl crate to me some years ago. My own favorite cut on it is its final one called “Gimme Some Space”.

Todd Cochran’s huge synthesizer riser fades into the song before the intro comes in. Its a powerful one for sure-with Hooper’s drum hits announcing the horn charts coming at within 3-4 seconds of time between each other. That’s when the entire song kicks in. This consists of Hooper’s huge funky beat, Neil Stubenhaus’s thick slap bass and Larry Carlton wah wah toned bluesy guitar along with Cochran’s synth and the horn section. On the next part, the synths take on a distinctly spacey late 70’s P-Funk air. Everything comes together after that-from the calculated pauses and solos until it actually fades out.

“Gimme Some Space” is one of those funk jams that gives you exactly what the title implies. A good portion of the song relies on adding musical drama with long and calculated silences. That makes it very much in line with the James Brown/Clyde Stubblefield/Jabo Starks type of funk from the late 60’s. That being said, its basic instrumental character comes out of the late 70’s/early 80’s jazz/funk George Duke style take on the P-Funk sound. Its a powerful and strong blend of acoustic and electronic funk ideas that shows how powerful a musical figure Stix Hooper truly is.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” by Captain & Tennille

Captain & Tennille were a pop act that defined the late 70’s. They mixed singable,radio friendly melodies with a keyboard based sound. Daryl Dragaon was a former LA surf musician and keyboardist for the Beach Boys in their early 70’s. Toni Tennille-native of Montgomery Alabama,she attended Auburn University there and studied classical piano. After her family moved to California,Tennille was commissioned to write music for a rock musical called Mother Earth. It was on tour with this production in San Francisco that she met her future husband/musical partner Daryl Dragon.

Their first and most iconic song was the Neil Sedaka penned “Love Will Keep Us Together” in 1976. One thing I’ve realized over the years is how much talent Tennille possesses as a composer and vocalist-with her elaborate melodies and soulful belt of a voice.  By the end of the 70’s,the Captain & Tennille arrived at Casablanca records-to pursue a more soulful,funky sound.  One of the songs from their 1979 album Make Your Move reflected this. It was their version of the song Crusader Stix Hooper penned for B.B King called “Never Make A Move Too Soon”.

The sounds of a small nightclub audience opens up the album just before Ralph Humphrey’s five not,percussive drum kickoff chimes in. That along with Abraham Laboriel’s thick,spacious five note slap bass riff. Dragon’s organ like keyboards accent this before the first bars of the song begins. It starts out with a stripped out funky dance drum stomp with the bass hitting the end of every bar. It builds into a bigger mix with a consistent slap bass line,organ and horns. These horns accompany Dragon’s synthesizer solo on the bridge before a repeated refrain closes out the song with huge horn fanfare.

‘Never Make Your Move Too Soon” is a superb example of a sleek blues/funk stomp in the late 70’s. And from a group associated with big pop smash hits such as the ballad “Do It To Me One More Time”,featured on this same album as well. Tennille delivers this sassy tale of a gold digging male lover with the entire female equivalent of the thick vocal growl that B.B. King had brought to the original recording. The fact that this and its 1980 followup Keeping Our Love Warm was a full on contemporary soul/funk album made one wonder where this duo might’ve gone in continuing in this new musical direction.

 

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‘Free As The Wind’ At 40: Joe,Wilton,Stix And Larry Feeling The Funky,Funky Love

Free As The Wind, released at some point in early 1977, is one particular album by The Crusaders that is kind of special to me. Over the years,its come to my understanding how important jazz-funk was to the funk genre as a whole. Most classic “united funk” derived from a strong jazz influence anyway. In terms of a sax and bass/guitar oriented variety of jazzy funk,mid to late 70’s Crusaders were simply hard to beat. Especially the way Joe Sample colored them with his piano and Fender Rhodes based compositions. And Free As The Wind exemplifies this so much.

Its an album that’s been part of my whole life from very early on. From it being part of the vinyl library at WLBZ TV where my father worked (along with other fusion records used as back round music in promos in the early 80’s) to seeing it in every used record store I visited as a teenager. Its been a huge key point in Henrique and my discussions on The Crusaders. Especially when he purchased a Crusaders wind chime of ebay which was used to promote Free As The Wind. Here’s an Amazon.com review I did 12 years ago about my initial enthusiasm upon first picking it up on CD.


The Crusaders are a band you just can’t go wrong with during this era and this album is no different.The funky beat just doesn’t give out on this record until just about the end.The jazzy ‘It Happens Everyday” is a gentler showcase for Joe Sample’s piano and it is the smoothest thing you’ll hear on this album.’Free As The Wind’ is dominated by the hefty jazz funk that these guys do so well-for a genre not noted for great collective musicianship (by some CRITICS anyway) The Crusaders always have that under wraps.

But spaces for solo’s such as on the speedy “Sweet ‘N Sour” gives Larry Carlton a chance to shine and solo while the highly memorable “Night Crawler” gives Wilton Felder the same chance.”Feel It” is my favorite on the record-like everything here it grooves and grooves HARD but it has an unusually hard funkiness that I appreciate.The title cut is the most arranged tune here but still-nothing to scoff at.

Even by the most obviously hard core of snobbish jazz critics and journalists,most of whom are quick to condemn jazz musicians for making funky music give ‘Free As Wind’ a five star review,same as most of The Crusaders catalog.That may be because,as stated earlier The Crusaders were one of a unique group of jazz-funk artists (aside from The Blackbyrds perhaps) who kept a sense of collective soul-jazz improvisation and superb musical chemistry while also playing highly electric funk.And no critic I have heard of could possibly scoff at that and these guy’s memorable compositions!I can’t,can you?


When writing this review,it seemed important to challenge the perception of the jazz funk/fusion genre as being based totally on selling records. Free As The Wind is very important to jazz funk because not only does it it keep the Crusader’s brilliance at soloing intact. EWF alumni Roland Bautista even guested on two of the albums most particularly powerful tunes in “Feel It” and “River Rat”.  In terms of its string arrangements, Joe Sample did a superb job of supplementing the grooves songs melodically by giving the songs exactly what they need for string and horn orchestration.

But it also showcases some of the most consistently strong grooves they ever put onto an album. And it is very much an album experience-without any dull moments that would take away from the strong melodies and grooves of Joe Sample,Wilton Felder and Stix Hooper. Many individual songs stand out too-such as Larry Carlton’s amazing “Night Crawler”. That song was so strong that Carlton elected to record his own version of it for his self titled solo album released the following year. At the end of the day, Free As The Wind really helped to give late 70’s jazz funk one of its strongest voices.

 

 

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The Crusaders Remembered: “Honky Tonk Struttin” (1980)

Wilton Felder was lost to us earlier this year. And today is his first posthumous birthday. There’s a lot that I didn’t know about him for years. Aside from him being a founding member of the Crusaders,he also participated in songwriting and playing for artists ranging from Joan Baez to the Jackson 5. Thanks to an episode of the locally produced Bay Area TV show ‘Soul School’,hosted by my friend Calvin Lincoln and hosted by my friend Henrique Hopkins,I learned Wilton Felder played bass on the J5’s debut hit “I Want You Back”. This opened up a whole new understanding for me about the man.

Until talking to Calvin and Henrique,I had no idea that Felder was both a sax player and a bassist. And had two separate approaches to each instrument. Calvin,Henrique and myself have each had discussions with each other about how exhaustive it might be to figure out how many sessions the Crusaders played on. What I do know now is Felder also played bass on Marvin Gaye’s massive hit “Lets Get It On” in 1973. When looking for a song that exercised Felder’s duel instrumental talents,my favorite of the bunch was “Honky Tonk Struttin'” off their 1980 album Rhapsody In Blues.

Joe Sample and Stix Hooper get it all started with a grinding Clavinet and piano duet along with a percussion accented funky drum. This is the basic groove of the entire song-with melodic variations for the solos. The choral solo is a bluesy walkdown where Felder plays sax directly along with his own bass line. After that,he plays a full on improvised jazz sax solo on the first bridge. The second bridge features a honky tonk piano solo playing a similarly bluesy improvisation. Stix provides a little fanfare that takes the song right on home to the main chorus of Felder’s bass/sax duet as the song fades out.

This is one of those songs that really brings out The Crusaders most enduring and endearing musical quality. That is the ability to blend the sleek studio sheen (which defined their work from the mid 70’s onward )with their down home bluesy funk instrumental attitude. “Honky Tonk Struttin'”pulls all of this together with its sophistifunk groove and the bluesy instrumental walkdown soloing. It also emphasizes Wilton Felder strong with his two instrumental talents-the rhythmic bass and melodic sax in tandem. That makes it a true shining moment for The Crusaders.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, blues funk, clavinet, drums, Funk Bass, honky tonk piano, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Saxophone, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, Wilton Felder

The Crusaders Remembered: “Stomp And Buck Dance (1974)

The Crusaders are a huge part of the nervous system for the anatomy of the funk groove. Especially when it comes to it’s jazziest end. Now its 2016,I turn around and only one member of the original Crusaders lineup is still alive in Stix Hooper. Of course this year,there’s been so many other musicians (mostly those born in America’s “silent generation”) who’ve passed away. At the same time,its recently come to my attention that the Crusaders groove is truly immortal beyond its individual members. So in terms of profiling their songs,it seemed best to put the spotlight specifically on them.

Today,I’ll be showcasing Wayne Henderson. The Texas trombonist was a founding member of the group when the were called The Jazz Crusaders. This group were hard bop/soul jazz pioneers. And wrote some of that jazz tributary’s most defining numbers. By 1972,the band had dropped the adjective “jazz” from their name. And their concentration was squarely on the funk. In 1974 they signed to MCA. And brought in guitarist Larry Carlton as a member. One excellent example of this is the opening song off their 1974 album Southern Comfort entitled “Stomp And Buck Dance”.

This jam is one I’d describe as a superb example of unison soloing. Stix keeps the rhythm sturdy with a 6 beat funky beat accented with percussive cymbals. Wilton’s bass line and Larry’s growling guitar bursts are right there with that bottom. Joe Sample meanwhile provides ascending/descending chords with a processed Fender Rhodes piano. On the choral parts,Sample comes in with even more acoustic/electric piano parts as Wayne and Wilton come in with wonderfully harmonic sax/trumpet solos and accents. The song itself pares right down to its initial base before fading out.

Southern Comfort is a CD I picked up about twelve years ago at the now defunct Common Sense Pawn Shop. The moment my dad and I put this in the car CD player,we were both entranced in this songs thick world of funkiness. The idea of combining sharp solos with clean unison playing made “Stomp And Buck Dance” one of my very favorite Wayne Henderson compositions written for The Crusaders. All the members talents just shine like the sun on this song. And among the Crusaders many songs and albums,this one stands out as one of their finest overall funk jams.

 

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Filed under 1974, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, piano, rhythm guitar, Saxophone, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, trombone, Wayne Henderson, Wilton Felder

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Street Life” by The Crusaders Featuring Randy Crawford

With the passing of Joe Sample in 2014 and Wilton Felder just last year, I had a plan to pay tribute to The Crusaders here in a major way. In a similar manner to Earth Wind & Fire and James Brown, the music of the Crusaders were a key reference point for everything Henrique Hopkins and myself have done as bloggers. Now today is the birthday of Randy Crawford. Her own solo body of work contains some strong funk,soul and jazzy pop on it’s own. But it was through the Crusaders that I even discovered that she existed. To goes back to listening to that double Crusaders cassette at age 14 in the car stereo with my father. One of those albums was 1979’s Street Life. And it’s title song.

A brushing cymbal opens the song-joined shortly by a soulful sax solo from Wilton. After that the strings come into play as the main melodic theme that Randy is singing-along with Sample’s accents on the Dyno-My-Piano Fender Rhodes. After the strings fade out,the song pauses for two seconds before the scaling horn charts and drums introduce the main body of the song. This main body of the song features Stix Hooper’s disco friendly funky shuffle that swings along at a thick 112 beats per minute. EWF’s Roland Bautista is one of the guitarists providing a liquid rhythm guitar in fine rhythmic harmony with Wilton’s popping bass line.

At the conclusion of each refrain,the strings come back into play as the rhythm increases in strength. The percussion and the horn charts accessorize the melody even further on the chorus of the song. After these,a second whole refrain chimes in. Here the liquid guitar pulses along with the low swing of the cymbal based percussive groove behind it while the strings scale over and around it. The next part of the song features the main body featuring Wilton improvising the vocal chorus on sax. After Randy comes in for another vocal chorus,the second refrain concludes the album. The percussion evolves into a marching drum in this section as the song fades out.

Over twenty years of listening to this song has engendered a huge growth process for my musical ear. At the time I first heard it,I was listening to a lot of late 70’s and early 80’s Jacksons/Michael Jackson. And heard a lot of sonic similarities while listening to this song. Of course with the participation of percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,plus the Crusaders participation on many early 70’s Jackson 5 records that comes as no surprise now. Instrumentally,it’s nearly 12 minute length blends the jazz orchestration of people such as Gil Evans with the band disco era jazz/funk rhythms. The addition of additional session musicians into the brew further beefs up the core Crusaders sound as well.

Another friend of mine named Calvin Lincoln hosts a TV program called Soul School in Vallejo,California on Saturday evenings. One time he and Henrique did an episode together following Joe Sample’s passing discussing how many records different Crusaders played on throughout the 70’s as session musicians. That really bought out what a clean,well oiled sound this song had. As Henrique also once pointed out to me, this song has the aural vibe of a slick OG walking down an urban downtown sidewalk after dark. It’s one of the finest,most multi faceted examples of funky jazz/pop/soul and a defining moment for both the Crusaders and Randy Crawford.

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Filed under 1970's, Calvin Lincoln, disco funk, drums, Dyno-My-Piano, Fender Rhodes, jazz funk, Joe Sample, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Randy Crawford, Roland Bautista, Soul School TV, Stix Hooper, The Crusaders, Uncategorized, Wilton Felder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 5/9/2015: ‘Midnight Believer’ by B.B. King

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B.B. King’s career arc was on the same timeline as the Jazz Crusaders basically-only coming from different trajectory’s. King was developing in within the electric blues tradition while Joe Sample,Wayne Henderson,Wilton Felder and Stix Hooper were developing a rather more potent hybrid. Yet both were heavily indebted musically to their strong Southern flavors. And with King’s 70’s era recording output being a bit uneven in some people’s eyes? It seemed more than a little serendipitous that the Crusaders,by the late 70’s a trio and King would eventually recorded together. Much as Sample had helped do with the Jackson 5 on their latter days at Motown? Well now he,Wilton and Stix would be helping out a musical icon. Somehow,everything just rolled right along. And here’s the result.

“When It All Comes Down” is an electric blues shuffle basically,of course with that Crusaders sense of precision rawness-full of electric piano and a locked down rhythm. The title track is one of my favorites on the album-totally in the late 70’s Crusaders style slow crawling,electric piano/sax oriented funk vein with Lucille moaning out BB’s classic blues. “I Just Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” is a fascinating number-a very high stepping country-funk type sound (as some might view it,anyway) that also has a swinging,jazz ragtime sort of arrangement about it. In a way that all may be full circle anyway,but its a strong and exciting number. “Hold On (I Feel Our Love Changing)” has some swirling electric piano/keyboard riffing about it that has a soulfully funky elegance about its medium tempo balladry.

“Never Make Your Move Too Soon”,which I’ve only heard by the Captain & Tennille is presented here as a high stepping,funky blues stomp while “A World Full Of Strangers” and the amazing closer “Let Me Make You Cry A Little Longer” deal with serious,down in the groove funk stomps-with Felder’s bass interactions really coming into play on the latter. Overall BB King and the Crusaders’ late 70’s jazz/funk sound go together like a hand and glove on this album. It almost sounds to me as if this was the way BB King should’ve more or less evolved musically from the very start of the 70’s. One could only imagine if BB had the Crusaders playing with him from their “Put It Where You Want It” days of the earlier 70’s. But taken as it was,this reinvented the framework for King’s already renowned vocal/guitar technique-which in and of itself,of course,needed absolutely no tweaking. In the end,this was the beginning of what turned into two highly successful albums for BB King and members of the Crusaders.

Originally Posted On September 17th,2014

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1970's, B.B. King, Blues, blues funk, Captain & Tennille, Crusaders, Funk, Jackson 5, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, Stix Hooper, Wilton Felder

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/24/14 Rique’s Pick : “Rural Renewal” by The Crusaders ft Eric Clapton

The Crusaders 2003 album “Rural Renewal” on the legendary jazz record label Verve, marked a reunion of three of the four major principals of the mighty groups original lineup, drummer “Stix” Hooper, Tenor Saxophonist and bassist Wilton Felder, and the recently deceased great pianist and composer, Joe Sample. The only memeber who did not join them was trombonist Wayne Henderson, who passed in early 2014. Henderson would again join the group around 2010 for concert appearances. The Crusaders, just as they’d done in years past with great musicians such as Leon “Ndugu” Chancelor, Larry Carlton, “Pops” Popwell, Barry Finnerty, Randy Crawford, Paulino DaCosta and many other excellent players, buttressed the core lineup with great musicians. Freddy Washington, the bass player who co wrote Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots” participated on bass, the great Ray Parker Jr took over the standard guitar chair, and Steve Baxter came in on trombone, allowing the group to recapture its original sound of tenor sax and trombone playing in unison. Stewart Levine, the producer for the groups ’70s run is the producer here as well. Two songs on the album also feature the guitar talents of Eric Clapton, one called “Creepin”, and today’s Friday Funk song which ushers in the period of Scorpio, called “Rural Renewal.”

The song begins with the eerie tones of Joe Sample’s Wurlitzer electric piano. Sample is one of the pianists most identified with the Fender Rhodes electric piano, but he has been known to use the bite that the Wurlitzer provides as well. The Wurlitzer is well known for its eerie tone as demonstrated on classics such as Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Here, Sample plays a strong bass note along with a melody and chords in his right hand. Sample’s piano intro is backed up soley by “Stix” Hooper’s drums, and he plays his trademark jazz/latin meets funk and disco pulse, with a syncopated kick drum, cross sticks on the snares, and his dancing, straight but somehow swinging hi hats. After they go through the intro a couple of times the whole band kicks in with the type of hard, stomping Bayou/southewestren funk groove they rode to success and acclaim.

The guitars, bass, and electric keyboards all play off the same swamp groove, creating a sense of propulsion. This full band sound is almost like a tease though, after they go through it once around, the composition returns to the eeriness of Sample and Hooper playing together. The next time the full groove comes back, Eric Clapton is added, playing his fills and soloing over the groove. In a real humurous jazz quotation, Sample plays a riff almost like Claptons most famous, “Layla”. The “Layla” style riff, which comes from the blues anyway, sets up the intro of the horn line of Felder on sax and Baxter on ‘bone, which I love because it rekindles the sound of Felder and Henderson. The band grooves with Clapton and the horns playing around each other.

After that the song reaches its chorus section, with the horns playing a part that is built off the main groove as well, although with more space in it. The chorus section might be the most stomp down Crusaders sounding section of the whole, very “Crusaders” sounding piece. After that chorus the arrangement goes right back to Sample’s tumbleweeds and candlelight electric piano groove.

Clapton plays a very tasty and stinging blues solo on acoustic guitar, even incorporating some of the hard double stops of Johnny “Guitar” Watson. After another electric piano breakdown, Sample comes in with a very funky solo on acoustic piano, going back to that barrellhouse sound he got on Crusaders songs such as “Greasy Spoon” from “Southern Comfort.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Crusaders song without a solo from Wilton Felder. Mr. Felder plays some of his trademark phrases, which combine both a funky rhythmic sense, very peppy and energizing, along with his great patented tone. The song coasts out on an extended groove section in which Clapton gets space to cut up a little bit more.

“Rural Renewal” represented a rebirth of The Crusaders. While they still did not put out an album a year as in their ’70s heyday, it did lead the way to future concert appearances featuring various members of the original band, in concert with Ray Parker Jr and Freddy Washington. The title of the song and the spooky country funk vibe reminds me of the many older people I knew from the Bay Area who retired back down south in the 1990s through the ’00s. Of course in the ’60s, “Urban Renewal” was the phrase used to describe one anti poverty program after another. By the ’00s things had changed, with older black people in particular seeing a return south as a way to get more for their dollar and also to enjoy another standard of life. Joe Sample himself was an example of this, relocating down to Texas in his last decade, going back home. This song, the reunion of Hooper, Sample and Felder with their producer Levine, and even the presence of an excellent guest guitarist like Eric CLapton represent the Crusaders figuratively and literally going, as Wilton Felder once wrote, “Way Back Home.” From the funk on this song and album? They demonstrate that it is possible to go back home every once in a while.

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Filed under 1970's, Afro-Latin jazz, Crusaders, Funk, Funk Bass, Generations, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Joe Sample, Late 70's Funk