Billy Preston was,in a similar manner to Stevie Wonder,an artist who used analog synthesizers,organs and pianos to create totally new sounds during the early/mid 1970’s. Wonder often utilized jazz oriented chord progressions-often emphasizing European classical arrangements as well. The sounds that Preston created were all based in hardcore soul,R&B and what had already occurred thus far with the innovation of funk. What both of them emphasized was a strong love of instrumental layering and love of leading their whole show by soloing on the Clavinet.
By 1975,the connection with Stevie Wonder’s music by Billy Preston became extremely evident. The album he recorded that year,It’s My Pleasure,was recorded at the TONTO synthesizer complex-the same facility used by Wonder,The Isley Brothers and Gil Scott Heron & Brian Jackson during this era. One of this albums hits actually featured a vocal duet with ex wife and frequent creative collaborator of Wonder’s in Syreeta Wright. She would eventually go on to do a duet album with Preston in the early 80’s. The name of this song was called “Fancy Lady”
Preston starts off the song with a descending Moog bass before the drum kicks in. This is a thick snare/cymbal kick surrounded by a bluesy sea of synth layers. This continues on the chorus-with the Moog bass and Clavinet weaving through it all like needle and thread. The refrains that Syreet sang on repeats the intro of the song instrumentally. Their are two instrumental bridges. One features polyphonic synths playing a call and response horn chart while the second is a percussive,unaccompanied drum break. Preston plays a full on synthesizer solo for the last minute and a half or so of the song before it fades out.
From the first time I heard it over 12 years ago,this song always stood out to me. Always had a special affinity for the early synth/proto electro funk that emerged out of the mid 70’s. Especially in such cases like this,it again brought the bluesy soul musical past into the electrified/digitized future. As synthesizers expanded in complexity,electro based music began to rely more on the sound than the musical base. And this is a good example of music that didn’t. Its funky because the synths are fat,play bass,guitar and horn lines and always maintain a heavy,chunky instrumental flavor.
Filed under 1975, Billy Preston, blues funk, clavinet, drums, Moog bass, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers, Syreeta Wright, TONTO
Syreeta Wright had a long and fascinating musical journey. She started as an aspiring ballet dancer from Pittsburgh who landed a receptionist job at Motown. Settling in Detroit,her backing vocals for latter day Supremes hits led her to be considered as Diana Ross’s replacement in the group. She met Stevie Wonder around that time. He encouraged her to begin writing songs. They two eventually married and recorded together for Wonder’s 1971 album Where I’m Coming From. Though the marriage ended in divorce,her and Wonder continued to collaborate creatively throughout the decade.
Syreeta had another short lived marriage a few years later,moving to Ethiopia in the mid 70’s to teach transcendental meditation. She returned to her solo career on Motown in the late 70’s and early 80’s Her second album of the 80’s decade was called Set My Love In Motion. I picked it up on vinyl in NYC around 1998 or so. Finally picked up a CD copy through the Funkytowngrooves reissue label. Its actually a very unsung classic in what I now understand to be the post disco/boogie funk genre. And the one song this album that signifies this most for me is called “Move It,Do It”.
This is a song dominated by instrumental layering. It starts out with a high pitched synth wail,a round bass one and an orchestral one right in the middle tone. These sweeten up the thick,slow rhythm guitar and equally slow funky drumming. On the vocal refrains of the song,the higher pitched synth plays a sunnier melody as the rhythm guitar goes up a bit in pitch. The song returns to the main chorus after this. The bridge of the song reduces that chorus down to the drums,rhythm guitar and synth bass before the main one returns to close out the entire song.
One conversation that Henrique and I had onetime had to do with the different musical courses Wonder and Wright were taking at the start of the 1980’s. Syreeta embraced the futurist synth funk/post disco boogie sound Wonder had helped to innovate in the 70’s during these years. Wonder meanwhile returned to a live band oriented sound during this period. “Move It,Do It” makes me wonder how Wonder’s sound might’ve been circa 1980-81 if he’d elected to base his sound of the time more on his one man band approach. Still the slinky sensuality of Syreeta’s attitude brings her own musical flavors right up front.