Tag Archives: synth bass

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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Hugh Masekela 1939-2018: “Don’t Go Lose It, Baby” (1984)

Hugh Masekela’s passing, occurring after suffering for a time with prostate cancer, reminded me of what an vital musical figure Masekela was to Apartheid era South Africa. Because of the racist political environment afflicting America at the moment, it felt appropriate to talk about Masekela’s musical life shortly after it all came to an end for him. He was born in Kwa-Guqa Township, the son of a health inspector and a social worker. He began playing piano as a child, but switched to the trumpet having been inspired by seeing the America film The Young Man With The Horn.

Masekela’s life was always politically enshrined. His first trumpet was given to him by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston-anti-apartheid chaplain at the St. Peter’s Secondary School. From his time in Johannesburg’s “native” Municipal Brass Band  through his time with Alfred Herbert’s African Jazz Revue in 1956, Masekela’s music became reflected of the inhumanity (and resulting struggles) of black South African’s under the racist system of Apartheid. He and his future wife Miriam Mekeba also toured the UK together as part of South Africa’s first blockbuster theatrical success King Kong.

By the 60’s he was recording and touring as a leader-with he and Mekeba even giving sanctuary to now radically anti apartheid exchange students. And of course having a major crossover hit instrumental with “Grazing In The Grass” on the international stage in 1968. As a flugelhornist and cornetist, his African jazz sound evolved along with the funk and disco eras to come. Reconnecting with many South African musicians in the early to mid 80’s, one song he recorded in 1984 was called “Don’t Go Lose It, Baby”. It was re recorded later. But for this occasion, I wanted to take about its original version.

Bongani Nxele’s in the pocket drums are assisted by what was likely Masekela playing the majority of the other instruments. The core if it consists of fast paced percussion and laser like synth bass stabs-all before a higher pitched synth pad takes over. Then Banjo Mosele’s rhythm guitar adds rhythmic heft. On the chorus, a quartet of female backup singers accompany Masekela’s horn. On the bridge, that horn solo takes on an echoing psychedelic affect-with a proto house music piano. Starting out the songs fading chorus, Masekela himself provides a rap before the backup singers reprise that chorus.

What brings this mix of the original “Don’t Go Lose It, Baby” to life for me is what it meant for the African musical spectrum during the mid 80’s. In its original form, this is a song that represents an Afrocentric variation on the synth pop/new wave variety of dance/funk that was already permeating the clubs of London (which Masekela had already dealt with in the 60’s) as well as the US. Masekela’s jazzy touches and nod to hip-hop with his activist style rapping of ” you’re a winner when you beat the game” give “Don’t Go Lose It, Baby” a strong musical and political relevance from its time.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Save Your Love (For #1)” by Rene & Angela

Angela Winbush has had an astounding musical journey. Its started in churches in her native St. Louis.  After a time singing to finance architectural studies, she began studying  with gospel legend Richard Smallwood. It was from there to stints with Mtume and Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove. That proved a training ground for Winbush’s talents at songwriting/composition-as well as producing and arranging. She teamed up with fellow singer/producer Rene Moore, the brother of Rufus’s bassist Bobby Watson. The duo recorded four albums together between 1980 and 1985 before perusing solo careers.

Before the (eventually) legal recriminations that broke the duo up, Rene and Angela also embarked on a career of writing/producing for other female talent. Namely the first four songs on Janet Jackson’s self titled debut album in 1982. The duo’s final album, 1985’s  Street Called Desire is their post popular. And features contributions from Quincy Jones alumni in producer Bruce Swedien and Paulinho Da Costa. As well as Jeff Lorber and the majority of Rufus. The albums opening song is one of my favorites on the album. Its entitled “Save Your Love (For #1)”.

An industrial sounding orchestral synth riser opens up the song-just before its basic groove kicks into heavy gear. That groove is based around a brittle 808 drum machine-with ringing cowbell effects. Not to mention guest star Kurtis Blow rapping the chorus. Along with a 3 note synth bass line and pulsing, razor like synthesizer. This makes up most of both the refrains and choruses of the song-with Winbush and Moore’s vocal exchanges making up for most of the melody.  On that chorus,  Da Costa’s percussion and some gigantic swelling synths take over before the song fades out on an extended chorus.

“Save Your Love (For #1)” is naked funk of the most transitional kind. Its sound anticipates the stripped down, beat based sound of second generation recorded hip-hop. While in terms of the rhythm, it maintains a heavy freestyle funk ethic that’s tonally sharp and cutting. Of the two voices, Winbush delivers the husky soul vocals. While Moore comes at it from the higher pitched, romantic croon. On the musical, vocal and conceptual level, “Save Your Love (For #1)” brings together different approaches to soul and funk that make its very approach fairly unique and special.

 

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Funk & Disco Pops Of 1977: ‘Bridges’ by Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson

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Gil Scott-Heron released this album at a very key time for his particular creative bent. This came out during the beginning of the disco era and for many, outside the influence of the Philly sound, there just didn’t seem to be too much room for complex sociological dialog in the music. There were songs with MESSAGES, yes. But in terms of the deep poetic insights you’d find from someone such as Gil Scott? It all seemed to be getting away from us at a time when it was needed most.

Heron was intensely aware of these changes in music. And had every intention of maintaining his vision and style. Even in the face of so many uncertain changes in the music industry. This album was recorded using TONTO, the massive synthesizer complex that had worked miracles for Stevie Wonder and the Isley Brothers during their early/mid 70’s height. Even at this point,  it was all too easy for this huge instrumental complex to create a sound that was both very much in the now and futuristic.

And musically, Bridges is indeed futuristic sounding funk for the people . Aside from Brian Jackson’s multi instrumental talents, the Fender Rhodes as well as the sound of the massive TONTO weaves it’s electronic, bubbling chords and bass lines into the musical tapestry to create unique sounds. Just as much as what Stevie and the Isley’s had done with the same instrument. The mood it sets goes right along with the emotional accompaniment of Gil Scott’s vocal style. The bass oriented sounds in the production is pushed up front. And the improvised jazz-funk element gets the same effect.

Song wise the album ranges from uptempo, positive spirited melodic funk such as “Hello Sunday! Hello Road”, the amazing “Racetrack In France” and “Under The Hammer” to slower and richly varied in texture and melody type tunes such as “Vildgolia (Deaf,Dumb & Blind,”We Almost Lost Detroit” and “Delta Man”. The range of subject matter of these songs (as usual with Gil Scott) is densely layered-ranging from enlightening muses both the concept of prejudice itself to the escape from it. Along with the usual historical contexts.

Songs such as the acapella “Tuskegee #626” tackle a well known historical atrocity (in this case the Tuskegee Experiments) but does so with a very bright and almost sunny melody. This showcases Heron’s understand of the very sharp contrasts in the lifestyles of not only the African American culture. But how it also extends those contrasts into other aspects of life for Americans of other nationalities. This welcoming, humanistic album would be followed the more darkly reflective Secrets- also using TONTO for that as well.

Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson had certainly proved their meddle in terms of how they were able to continue adapting their art their own way during an era. An era when artists were losing more and more control of what they did. And when you listen to this, and realize the influence it’s had on so much musical poetry and the hip-hop world today, (and Gil Scott is for all intents and purposes a hip-hop artist anyway) than you know your in for something very special and meaningful.

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Funky Revelations Of 1987: ‘Touch The World’ by Earth Wind & Fire

Earth Wind & Fire had slowly declined in commercial success during the early 80’s. But even then? They still had enough momentum from their still recent classic run of the late 70’s to sustain them creatively and with the public. Still, the pressures of losing members due to creative differences, plus the effects of the post disco freeze out, was beginning to take it’s tole on a band who’d always been able to adapt to musical changes at every point.

In 1987 the bands core Maurice and Verdine White, Phillip Bailey, Ralph Johnson and Andrew Woolfolk were convinced by Columbia to reunite. They added guitarists Sheldon Reynolds, fresh from The Commodores and Dick Smith along with drummer Sonny Avery and a brand new horn section called the Earth Wind & Fire horns. The result is probably the first major comeback album experienced in my personal memory.

“System Of Survival” begins the album with with a very fast paced horn packed call and response type modern dance/funk jam dealing with the disintegrating effects of Reagan era trickle down economics. “Evil Roy” is an even harder edged,somewhat slower tempo’d groove with a strong bass/guitar interaction illustrating the slice of life tale of a drug pusher.

“Thinking Of You” is a kalimba-led melodic pop-jazzy jam with some creamy vocal exchanges from Maurice and Phillip.”You And I”,”Every Now And Then” and “Here Today And Gone Tomorrow” are all mid-tempo,melodic funk ballads that function as an update of the Charles Stepney era EWF school of balladry. “New Horizons” references samples of songs like “Shinning Star”,”That’s The Way Of The World”,”Reasons”,Serpentine Fire” and “Magnetic” before going into a fast paced,digitized synthesizer jazz-fusion led by an Andrew Woolfolk sax solo.

“Money Tight” is a stomping,electrified hard funk number dealing with the matter of unemployment. The title song is a shuffling mid tempo gospel number-featuring White,Bailey and Reynolds vocally illustrating how individual people’s lives of turmoil effect others. “Victim Of The Modern Heart” has a powerfully jazzy melodic exchange and another show stopping vocal from Bailey.

This album is one of those that I had the privilege to experience the moment it came out. It was an enormous family event when the cassette tape was bought into the this. “System Of Survival” and “Evil Roy” were showing up on the FM dial on car rides around the town while my father gave me the chance to tune into the music videos to these songs via Friday Night Videos. It was a proud experience for me, a young man growing up in semi rural Northeast Maine in the mid/late 1980’s, to hear music that not only had a strong social consciousness but offered hope for a better future.

It’s proud to know that this album might’ve been a successful entry point to EWF for people of the late Gen X age group living in areas that may not have had access to see them in a concert setting,and where funky music wasn’t as emphasized in the culture. Overall,a very successful entry for EWF into being able to fully integrate electronics into what amounts to a total revisit to their classic sound and musical spirit.

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Funkentelechy Vs. Four Decades: P-Funk Set On Mood Control, Even For Those Who Can’t Afford Free Speech

How many times have I heard how important the Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome album was? And how many times have I walked passed this album? Even to the point of buying the CD and (at first) returning it because I felt the sound quality was bad? Funkentelechy has the distinction of being both a transitional P-Funk album-as well as a transitional for Parliament on its own. Before this album, Parliament was largely built around it’s horn/rhythm section rather then layers of keyboard/guitar solos. That element is a key part of this album as well with of course “Bop Gun” and the title song.

From there, things get even more interesting very fast. “Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk” not only serves to introduce an important P-Funk character conception to the scene but also the kind of tune that builds from the ground up into a Clinton style variation of “Three Blind Mice”. Thematically this album is a lot different than Mothership Connection. Whereas that albums concept was fairly implicit the band apparently had decided at this juncture that few were getting the point so the Sir Nose character and the story they built around him said it all.

Sir Nose’s story was that the sense of funk in music was being replaced by the “placebo syndrome”. And that it was spilling into areas outside music too. Unusually enough, there are two songs here that seem to have to do with P-Funk’s new music. While conceptually “Wizard Of Finance” and “Placebo Syndrome” are right in tune with the album, and are full of Clinton’s renowned wit, they connect more musically with his past-with their shuffling doo-wop sound. As with everything else on this album it’s Bootsy who carries this album along with the vocal harmonies and horns as usual.

Of course, the album ends with both eyes on the future with one of the bands best known numbers “Flashlight”. Thanks largely to the late Bernie Worrell’s layers of bass synthesizer, the song showcases the sound most people will tend to think of in terms of P-Funk;rhythmically dense,relatively mid tempo and very electronic. It’s the P-Funk sound that would define Parliament to the end. While Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome may not be quite as defining musically as some other Parliament albums due to its  transitional nature, it does its job on that end in terms of conceptual realization.

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Funky Reflections On 1987: ‘The Right Night And Barry White’

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Personally I don’t think it’s possible to count how many times I’ve seen this CD on the racks of the local record store and never been moved by or aware enough of it to pay any mind. One key issue that had me re-thinking this oversight was a blog written by my oft quoted friend Henrique about an excellent song from this album. It again provided a strong reminder just how much funky music charted high both on radio and with the public during 1987. So it all gave me to understand that this was an album that I DEFINITELY wanted to check out. After doing so? It also shows just how much I missed out on not looking into this from the outset.

“Good Dancin’ Music” and “Sho You Right”,the song the directed me back to this album are both hard hitting,bass synth driven electro funk extravaganza’s with some of the most intricate uses of instrumental harmony I’ve ever heard. “As Time Goes By” is transformed from it’s original ballad style to percussive cinematic funky soul number with a sauntering Caribbean vibe. “For Your Love (I’ll Do Anything)” is a slow crawling,slap bass driven groove while songs such as “There’s A Place Where Love Never Ends”,”Love In Your Eyes”,”I’m Ready For Love”,”Share”,”Who’s The Fool” and the nostalgic title song all fall into his classic ballad style.

This album did an amazing job of showcasing how the more electronic instrumentation of the time was still perfectly able to support the man’s arrangements-especially as well integrated it all was. The music ideas and classic romantic monologues are all used to full affect on here as well. During the years I was growing up? Even if they were coming out fairly close together? Each and every new Barry White album was treated as a major comeback-almost as if he’d somehow disappeared off the map between those releases. In any case? This is one of those albums that I truly wished had been a part of my musical life a lot longer than it has been.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mick’s Company” by The Style Council

Michael “Mick” Talbot could be described as the man who, even prior to James Taylor, pioneered the revival of Hammond organ based soul/funk on the British musical scene. In the late 70’s, Talbot played in a trio of mod revivalist bands. The best known of them in the end would be Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Mick of course found his voice with Paul Weller as The Style Council. They embraced an often jazz laced blend of contemporary funk,soul and dance music’s. All inspired by Weller and Talbot’s mutual goal to musically shatter the myths and culture of the rock music world.

The band released their debut EP in 1983 in several countries except for the UK,                interestingly enough. The following year they released their be bop and hip-hop laced full length debut Cafe Bleu. On both these releases, a precedence was set for including Talbot composed Hammond organ based instrumentals into different sections of the albums. One of my favorites was originally featured as the B-side to the 1984 single version of the song “My Ever Changing Moods”. The name of this particular instrumental had a cute wordplay about it: “Mick’s Company”.

Talbot starts off the song playing an ultra funky riff-doubling up what sounds like a Clavinet setting on a DX-7 synthesizer-all before Hammond organ swirl breaks into the drum roll right into the song. The main theme is this Clavinet effect played with a round synth bass pumping heavy behind it. And Talbot’s bluesy organ playing a counter solo to the introductory synth riff. There are two B sections of the songs where it changes chords. And the organ solo becomes more elaborate. Talbot improvises more and more on the organ as the song processes towards its fade out.

“Mick’s Company”, perhaps the most of Mick Talbot’s organ based instrumentals with the Style Council, really epitomize a somewhat under explored instrumental funk direction for the 1980’s. It combines the bluesy song structure and organ improvising of hard bop/soul jazz, the guitar like Clavinet based sound of the 70’s and mixes both together with a mid 80’s digitized synthesizer/bass oriented approach. It really encapsulates the previous three decades of instrumental soul/funk in under 3 minutes. In the end, it helped give the Style Council their distinctive spin on funk and soul  for the 80’s.

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Staying Power” by Queen

Queen have proven to be among the most enduring of the mid to late 70’s rock bands. Their densely layered rock opera based style came into its fullest flower on “Bohemian Rhapsody” from 1975’s A Night At The Opera. Known for their blend of musical professionalism and theatrical stage shows, it was the bands lead singer/songwriter Freddie Mercury who helped to conceptualize Queen’s musical adventure. And it took them through many different musical forms-from opera,rockabilly,hard rock and disco, to maintain their sense of drama. Even after Mercury’s early passing from AIDS in 1991.

In 1980/81, Queen had a huge dance hit with the heavily Chic inspired Another One Bites The Dust. During the early 80’s, Michael Jackson was a close friend of the bands. This likely spurred Mercury onto the possibility of Queen re-fashioning their music into a funkier dance/rock based form. This led to the 1982 release of the album Hot Space. Its regarded by many hardcore rock writers and fans as their worst album. Especially coming right in the middle off the anti disco radio freeze out. For me however, the albums first track instantly got my attention. Its appropriately called “Staying Power”.

A percussive drum machine, Roger Taylor’s live drums and a round, fat sounding synth bass and John Deacon’s rhythm guitar begin the song with Mercury’s grunts and vocal ad libs. On the second part of the intro, horn charts arranged by Arif Mardin play call and response to Mercury’s vocals, Brian May’s guitar and the synth bass. This also represents the B section to the chorus, where Mercury’s sings along with Deacon’s guitar and a whooshing synth riser. After an extended big band horn chart on the bridge,an extended chorus continues until Mercury ends the final horn fanfare with a whispered “gotcha”.

“Staying Power” is a great defining way to begin an 80’s Queen album. Its heavy duty post disco funk-full of big brassy horn charts. Both vocally and musically, its also pretty much Freddie Mercury’s show. He plays many of the instruments on this song-from the drum machine,synth bass to the big windy synth wash.  So the rhythmic and melodic base of the song is his creation. Even if many in Queen’s classic rock style dislike them doing horn based electro funk without any lead guitars, Queen and Mercury’s musical power comes through both instrumentally and melodically on this hefty funk number.

 

 

 

 

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Swing Out Sister: “Blue Mood” by Swing Out Sister

Swing Out Sister began life as a UK trio in 1985. This consisted of keyboardist Andy Connell, drummer Martin Jackson and lead singer Corinne Drewery. While both Connell and Jackson had been in the bands A Certain Ratio and Magazine prior to this point, Drewery came from the world of glamour-being a fashion designer and model. This likely helped with their suave image. It was a member of another group called 52 Street, Diane Charlemagne. Connell’s association with her label Factory helped get the band signed.  Charlemagne sang on Swing Out Sister’s original demos as well.

The bands debut album Its Better To Travel came out in the spring of 1987. Its jazzy,horn fueled and very catchy debut sing “Breakout” had become a major UK hit in the autumn and early winter of 1986. It happened exactly a year later in the US of course. It was actually only several years ago that I picked up the record on CD. Did so because,while vinyl copies were available to me, the CD contained four bonus tracks. Heard “Breakout” while growing up. And enjoyment of that groove helped me to appreciate another song on the album-their non charting debut single from 1985 called “Blue Mood”.

A theatrical,orchestral crescendo beings the song. Then the popping synth bass line pops in-along with the digital percussion that is soon joined by the electro funk styled drum machine. Bursts of rhythm guitar and MIDI horns leap in and out of the mix on the refrains. For the chorus, the chord changes key to a jazzy,keyboard based melody-coming after a leaner B section of the refrain. There is a bridge of sorts that showcases a frenetic rhythm guitar playing on where the vocal line. An extended chorus closes out the song until it all fades out.

“Blue Mood” combines a number of musical threads of the mid/late 80’s. The base of it comes out of the post disco, techno based club music.  Rhythmically however, the song is structured more like an Afro-Latin jazz funk number. Tons big,bouncy percussion and freestyle drums. Accordingly, the melody is strongly based in jazz as well. It goes right in with the jazzier end of the post disco UK club scene-not dissimilar to the work of Basia/Matt Bianco in that regard. Its the emphasis on groove,from both the groove and the singer, that make this song do distinctive for Swing Out Sister.

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