Tag Archives: The Bar Kays

Anatomy of THE GRoove: “Sammy-Joanne (One Half Woman,One Half Man)” by Vernon Burch

Vernon Burch  is a musical figure who is relatively obscure to me. Born in Washington DC, Burch is a guitarist whom its hard to find a great deal of personal information about. What could be found out about him was that he played with The Bar Kays during the time they recorded their Do You See What I See? album in 1972. He embarked on hissolo career starting in 1975-at first at United Artists and Columbia. He finally signed to Casablanca subsidiary Chocolate City in 1978,best known at the time as the label for funk stalwarts Cameo.

This was the disco era. And Burch’s place in music history was cemented in funk.  In 1979,he released his second album for the label entitled Get Up.  On the album he had arrangement help from Tom Tom 84 and funk icon Fred Wesley of the JB’s and P-Funk. Wesley arranged the horns on three of the songs on this disco funk album. While pursuing some of its songs on YouTube,one of these Fred Wesley arranged tunes leaped right out at me-for a number of different reasons both musical and otherwise. The name of the song is “Sammy-Joanne (One Half Woman,One Half Man)”.

A hard hitting disco beat from non other than James Gadson starts the song-along with a ticking keyboard from Michael Thompson. Burch’s rumbling,rocking guitar provides a string orchestra like effect as the intro slides into the main song-along with David N. Shields slap bass. As a descending synth and descending horns enter into it, the drum/ rhythm guitar/Clavinet/slap bass interaction all lock in  for the refrain of the song. The stripped down bass/drum/synth sound of the intro provides the chorus. A bluesy guitar solo from Burch on the bridge extends into an extended,fading refrain.

“Sammy-Joanne” is a hard driving stomper- a perfect example of a funk song functioning as disco. What surprised me in the song is how it focused on a healthier and perhaps less hedonistic aspect of the disco era. The Sammy-Joanne character in the song is a hermaphrodite who finds acceptance and love as an implied transgender’ disco dancer. The character is celebrated,not made fun of and hated. And with gender related matters being a strangely controversial matter in 2017, this 1979 song celebrates sexual difference with some of the most funkified disco-dance music possible.

 

 

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Grooves On Wax: Funk On The 4th Of July

Soul Survivors

These Philly one hit wonders made a big splash with “Expressway To Your Heart” from this 1967 album. It always reminded me of the Young Rascals. And most of this album does too. They do have some amazing Hammond B-3 organ work here,especially on a version of James Brown’s “Please Please Please”. Where the album gets most interesting is when the Indian classical and psychedelic soul influences come in.

Key Jams “Expressway (To Your Heart” and “Taboo-India”

Jackie Wilson

Jackie Wilson’s 1968 album reminds me of how close the musical flavors were between windy city soul and the Motown sound. Jackie was the link between the two as Berry Gordy wrote a lot of his big hits of the 1950’s. This represents his most uptempo soul oriented album (with only two show tune styled ballads) of his late 60’s comeback. And the Motown connection even begins the album with a version of “You Keep Me Hanging On”.

Key Jams: “I Get The Sweetest Feeling”,“You Brought About A Change In Me” and “Nothing But Blue Skies”

Rainbow Bridge

Hendrix was near the end of his tragically short life and career when he appeared in this film. I actually liked the story of a young woman’s journey to Hendrix’s music through a political awakening. The soundtrack showcases how he and the Band Of Gypsies (Billy Cox and Buddy Miles) were about to change the game on the funk/rock sound the same way Hendrix and the Experience had a couple years earlier with psychedelia.

Key Jams: “Dolly Dagger”,”Earth Blues” and “Star Spangled Banner”

Supremes_1970s_Touch

This beautifully arranged 1971 album by the post Diana Ross Supremes has some very loving liner notes from the now Sir Elton John. It actually showcases the revived trio’s sound as focusing their mid tempo cinematic soul sound more towards an album than a singles focus as well.

Key Jams: “Nathan Jones” and “Happy (Is A Bumpy Road)”

Ahmad Jamal

This Ahmad Jamal 2 LP collection came borrowed from my father,who loaned it to me. It’s a rare 1973 collection of Jamal’s not entirely common three Impulse albums such as 1968’s Tranquility and 1972’s Outertimeinnerspace. A lot of these songs have an Afro Cuban/ Caribbean vibe with a does of soul jazz thrown in with Jamal’s trademark cool,light piano touch. He even pulls out the electric piano on one occasion with amazing results.

Key Jam: “Bogota”

Bar Kays Coldblooded

The Bar-Kays third and final album for Stax in 1974 was probably their most funkified overall thus far. They still had a lot of the psychedelic soul/rock touches that had them freaking out hard on their earlier albums. Yet the wah wah continued to let go big time on the title song,and the influence of Sly Stone and their penchant for funky impersonation started to show up on “Fightin’ Fire With Fire” as well.

Key Jams: “Coldblooded”,“Smiling,Styling And Profiling” and “Be Yourself”

Bell & James

Leroy Bell’s career arc from success to obscurity and back reads almost like fiction,as it turns out. In partnership with Casey James,the multi instrumentalist duo served up this 1979 album that didn’t provide as big a commercial as they did on the hit “Livin’ It Up (Friday Night)”,but did really get down with some sleek Westlake studio sounding disco/pop/funk/soul straight out of the Off The Wall vibe. And with a lot of the same musicians playing on it as well.

Key Jams: “Shakedown”,“Laughing In The Face Of Love” and “Fare Thee Well”

stephaniemills-stephanie(1)

Stephanie Mills 1981 album is one of those boogie funk classics where every song,especially the uptempo ones,stand on just about equal footing in terms of success potential. Reggie Lucus and James Mtume’s writing and production help a lot in this degree. Even though it has it’s predictable aspects,the strong sound and Mills’ gospel/soul vocal chops really give this album quite a workout.

Key Jams: “Two Hearts” and “Top Of My List”

spinners-labor_of_love

One thing I really admire about The Spinners is that they kept up with uptempo boogie and electro funk sounds even after the disco era-rather than focusing solely on slow ballads.  This 1981 album,one of records very funky albums they put out that year,has perhaps even more harder driving funk material than their 70’s hit period with Thom Bell. One of it’s few ballads,”A Man Just Don’t Know What A Woman Goes Through” even focuses on male sensitivity to the opposite sex when it comes to aging. Not to even mention closing with a good attempt at an early rap/funk hybrid.

Key Jams: “Long Live Soul Music” and “The Deacon”Let There Be Sun

Sun were among the handful of iconic Dayton,Ohio funk bands who came out of the late 70’s. Each of these bands had their special qualities. This 1982 release being their next to last albums is actually the first Sun I’ve ever heard thus far. And want to hear more considering their own distinct approach to the P-Funk vibe they seem to have here.

Key Jams: “Slam Dunk The Funk” and “Super Duper Super Star”

Tyka Nelson

Yes,this 1988 album was presented to me on the selling point that Tyka Nelson was Prince’s sister. I knew all about Tyka before this,but not that she ever had a musical career. The overall vibe of this album is very much of a mid-tempo dance and ballad urban contemporary album of it’s day. Tyka’s soft,melodic voice actually carries these sleek numbers quite well.

Key Jams: “No Promises” and “Marc Anthony’s Tune”

 

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Ahmad Jamal, Bell & James, Boogie Funk, Chicago, Funk, funk rock, Jackie Wilson, Jazz, Soul, Soul Survivors, Stephanie Mills, Sun, The Bar Kays, The Spinners, The Supremes, Tyka Nelson, Vinyl