Tag Archives: The O’Jays

Tommy LiPuma (1936-2017): The Soulful,Funky Producer With The Blue Thumb

Tommy LiPuma

Tommy LiPuma is a record producer who represents something similar to what Quincy Jones,David Rubinson and Arif Mardin meant to me. That is if I saw their names on the production credits,there was the instant impression that funk,soul and/or jazziness would be deeply involved with said album. He was the  first person to produce The O’Jays in the year 1965. This helped them get their first R&B Top 40 hit in “Lipstick Traces”. The Ohio native was was so diverse, he even produced a single for the late Ricardo Montalban called “La Campanilla” two years later. He would go on to found the Blue Thumb label in 1968.

Much as with Quincy Jones, LiPuma consistently championed the black American music spectrum in his production choices. An ill child who discovered R&B and jazz through long hours listening to the radio,LiPuma took up saxophone when he went to barber school intending to follow his father’s footsteps. With the music bug never leaving the man,he began moving up the musical ladder to become one of the most renowned jazz/soul/funk producers of the 60’s,70’s and 80’s.  The best way I feel to pay tribute to him is create a list of my favorite album productions he did for you to check out. Let the exploring begin!


Michael Franks-The Art Of Tea/1975

Al Jarreau-Glow/1976

George Benson-Breezin’ & In Flight/1976

Stuff/1976

Al Jarreau-Look To The Rainbow/1977

Deodato-Love Islands/1978

Michael Franks-Burchfield Nines/1978

George Benson-Livin’ Inside Your Love/1979

Yellowjackets/1981

Randy Crawford-Secret Combination/1981

Randy Crawford-Windsong/1982

Yellowjackets-Samurai Samba/1985

Patti Austin-Gettin’ Away With Murder/1985

Miles Davis-Tutu/1986

Joe Sample-Spellbound/1989

Miles Davis-Amandla/1989

Joe Sample-Ashes To Ashes/1990

George Benson-Standing Together/1998

 

 

 

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The O’Jays: My Favorite Jams From On Board The Philly Foursome’s Love Train

O'Jays Painting

The O’Jays have always been a part of my musical core. And so much personal understanding of the Philly sound came by way of this vocal trio. From the first time hearing “Back Stabbers” on the radio and singing along with my mom all the way to ringing in the new millennium to the tune of their song “The Year 2000”. When looking upon a single song or album to break down,it didn’t quite feel right. So with Eddie Levert turning 74,and so many his generations music peers dying off this year,I decided to break down my favorite O’Jays uptempo grooves-song by song. So here come the Philly jams!


“Back Stabbers”/1972

Henrique Hopkins and I once discussed this and the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” as being Watergate era cinematic soul anthems of paranoia. With the sauntering,theatrical proto disco Philly soul “Back Stabbers” made the darker social climate of the early 70’s wiggle and wobble with a type of excitement and joy.

“For The Love Of Money”/1973

The first time I heard this song,it reminded me of the song “Poppy Girls” from Quincy Jones’s production of The Wiz.  Turns out that was an instrumental recasting of this song’s classic bass line. The original hear is a whole different thing-a frank bit of people funk declaring “some people gotta have it/some people really need it”. No irony is lost that the group performed this song one time on Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice.

“I Love Music”/1975

Always loved this fast paced slice of ultra fast tempo’d Philly dance music. It’s an anthem to the disco era of funk as representative of the love of music for both dancing to and playing it as well as for singing. The most humorous part is the first did I heard it-as part of a VH1 bumper featuring a stereotypical female librarian listening to it on an MP3 player on a subway. Really showcased the funky power of this groove.

“Travelin’ At The Speed Of Thought”/1977

The sheer drama of this Afro Cuban percussion/disco bass driven jam made an immediate impact on my ear holes. Hearing the trio sing to the tune of some serious space funk synthesizer’s  lyrics like “Come with me/unsolve the mystery/the mystery of you and  me” alone made my hairs stand up on end with funky emotion.

“Strokety Stroke”/1978

So Full Of Love was an album that was always available brand new from Borders Books & Music since they opened in 1995. That very same copy was still there when I finally picked it up on closeout when the Borders chain closed 15 years later. It was a big surprise to hear this hardcore rocking funk on the same album that delivered the sleek Philly jump of “She Used Ta Be My Girl” and the harmony drenched ballad “Brandy”. One of my favorites in a funk context on this wonderful 1978 album.

“Out Here In The Real World”/1981

This song probably has the most personal resonance in my personal life. Musically,it’s light shuffle isn’t too big a deal for me. Vocally it has some of Eddie’s strongest vocals and the trios fine harmonies. Lyrically,this was a song my own mother often referenced to me (via my own record collection-this song turned into a favorite of hers at the time) when I was facing the difficulties of employment and a future on my own. Long story short,it’s an ongoing journey of many unexpected challenges. Still it’s sometimes good to hear Eddie Levert’s opening line of “oh man,I’ve got to get myself together” for perspective.

“Can’t Slow Down”/1985

The only reason I found out about the O’Jays 1985 album Love Fever was because I found it in the $5.99 bin,again at Borders. Much to my surprise it showcased the O’Jays doing a style of music I’d never have expected to hear from them at that time: brittle synth/electro funk. The opener “Can’t Slow Down” was my favorite. Showcases how some of soul finest harmony singers can bring out at the best in vocal samplers and other mid 80’s technology.


There are many O’Jay’s albums that are not represented with songs on this particular list. That’s because the O’Jays discography is so large,I have yet to hear all of their studio albums. These are just some of the ones that stuck out to for me. What the O’Jays have always represented to me is Gamble & Huff parlaying their talent for writing message songs. Than utilizing their most powerful vocal trio to preach the gospel of humanism. And on Eddie Levert’s birthday this year,that is what I want to celebrate most about them.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, cinematic funk, disco jazz, Eddie Levert, Funk Bass, Gamble & Huff, message songs, Philly Soul, The O'Jays

Anatomy Of THE Groove Special Tribute To Eddie Levert-‘The Year 2000’ by The O’Jays

They say every picture tells a story. And this is actually a story I’ve told before on my previous blog. Personally? I found the 1990’s in my area anyway culturally and socially trying. Sometimes insurmountable. Towards the end of the decade along with the Y2K conspiracy theory? A Christmas gift from my parents,a twofer O’Jays CD on The Right Stuff label,ended up on my CD player on that dark,snowy Maine morning of January 1st,2000. The title of the 1980 CD was The Year 2000. And the title song was the first thing that came on.

It all starts off with a hi hat drum roll-into which emerges a heavily processed Fender Rhodes electric piano. Like the rhythm guitar which accents it? The piano is playing a short,bluesy melodic phrase. Following this twenty seconds of spare musicality? There is a brief pause before the swinging,percussive Philly medium tempo dance rhythm comes with the Rhodes still leading the way with the strong,fruity vocal harmonies of the O’Jays kick in for the chorus. On the melodic refrain? The strings that swell and fall climatically throughout the song are themselves phased through a futuristic,Leslie type filter. And this all sustains itself until the song itself fades out.

Before and after this? I’ve heard a lot of The O’Jays music from the 70’s and 80’s. There are many personal favorites of course. Yet something about this particular song sticks out for me as a musical statement. It goes far beyond any selfish form of nostalgia on my part. From what I’ve heard? This song is basically one of the final representatives of the early to late 70’s Philly dance sound pioneered by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. It continues a very futurist,cinematic space funk theme courtesy of MFSB,with many jazzy melodic and rhythmic accents that I could already hear with the O’Jays on late 70’s numbers such as “Travellin’ At The Speed Of Thought”. So it was instrumentally extending on a strong idea.

Lyrically? The the song is both beautiful,telling and on a personal level mildly haunting. Andresmusictalk is a blog whose most essential ingredient is hope. Hope for an instrumentally and thematically sustainable future for music. This is also a blog that celebrates and advocates for well rounded assessments. And sometimes that means that this hope may arrive from a questioning point of view. On this song? Eddie Levert sings the line “Will there still be wars/I hope and I pray they will cease to be/look at the time we’ve wasted/this is one of things that got the world in such a mess”. It looks back on a troubling recent past and towards a more human and joyous future.

What troubled me for some time is that 21 months after adopting this song as my personal anthem for the new millennium/new century? 9/11 occurred. And the weary “war on terror” lingered on for over a decade after. So in all frankness? No-Eddie’s prayer’s were definitely not answered. What does seem to be happening now though is that millions of Americans are starting to ask the same questions this song,which arrived at the tail end of what I call the “people music” era of the 60’s and 70’s,was striving for answers to. Would war continue to be the only way to protect freedom? Would poverty be the defining aspects of so many lives? If one can ask the question? Especially as this song did at or at least near the start of the Reagan era? Than Eddie Levert,The O’Jays and Philly soul did their good deed very well with this song.

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Filed under 1980's, 9/11, message songs, MFSB, Philly Soul, The O'Jays, The Year 2000, Y2K

The Inspiration Information of Shuggie at the Turning of the Millennium: Andre’s Outlook

Shuggie

Looking back on when the century and also the millennium turned,the year 2000 was felt very much like a huge temporal pain reliever for me. No Y2K,could buy anything in a record store without being constantly questioned as to the “credibility of my musical tastes and overall? The futurist mentality that most science fiction/Star Trek admirers such as myself had been pining for seemed to at last be on the horizon. One memory was on a dark,snowy January first playing the O’Jay’s song “The Year 2000” in my room and having similar thoughts as to what Eddie Levert was singing about-all that wonder and promise. It would be sometime towards the middle of this year that another millennial milestones of my musical development occurred: my own introduction to Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information.

First of all I wanted to say that during the 2000/2001 period? I wouldn’t have sought out Shuggie Otis on my own because I still couldn’t stand the blues. It had nothing to do with tuning into any cliches of self pitying lyrics or anything. It was more a cultural misunderstanding of intent. Growing up in 1990’s central/Northern Maine? All any music lover would hear was how much the blues was part of every popular music. Outside the Top 10 radio? Most non commercial radio at the time was obsessed with the blues. And with such a sense of seriousness. From what I saw? No one ever danced or clapped their hands to chase their blues away. Just listened,frowned and sometimes even drank a lot. Because those were not qualities I felt boded well with music,itself a motivating factor in life? I did flatly reject any connection that the music (which I loved with my heart and soul) and it’s connection with the blues.

So on one warm and welcoming day in the summer of 2001? My father and I were about to go for a cruise to take in the beauty of nature. As well as some always vital father/son bonding time. On our way we stopped at Bull Moose records,the local music store chain in the state of Maine,and my father came out very excited. He had a CD in his hand with this bright orange 70’s art deco style about it. He told me that Talking Heads’ David Byrne had declared this album the big unsung 70’s masterpiece and re-released it on his Luaka Bop record label. The album of course was Inspiration Information by this man I vaguely knew about named Shuggie Otis. When I asked my father who he was,he told me Shuggie was the son of the blues icon Johnny Otis.

What was I hearing here? Johnny Otis? The BLUES? Well I actually recalling rolling my eyes and tisking lightly to myself. Had a feeling of “here we go-someone trying to up-sell me on the blues again. Like it’s the only music in the world”. It was likely I wanted to hear a Stevie Wonder,Curtis Mayfield or Miles Davis record I’d bought with me at that time. It was my dad’s car of course,and I wanted to understand why he’d be so gleeful about this music. So my father put the record in the CD player of our used 1992 Toyota Corolla. The first thing that came out of the speaker was this beautiful swell of male falsetto vocal parts-harmonizing with each other over an upbeat wah wah bass/guitar and a sunny organ solo.

By the time the sweetly monotone voice of Shuggie himself came in with the lyrics “we had a rainy day/I’m in a sneak back situation/Here’s a pencil pad/I’m gonna spread some information/You, making me happier/Now I am snappier, while I’m with you”?How was this music blues? The only blues I’d heard thus far related mainly to unemployment,romantic distress and death. I wasn’t hearing any of that with Shuggie Otis. There was this realization I was indeed hearing that meaningful,bright funk/soul music I loved. But it was a totally different sound on that level. Through “Island Letter”,”Aht Uh Mi Hed”,”Happy House” and this amazing percussive instrumental called “XL-30” that I asked my father to repeat over and over again that afternoon? There was a hollow,dreamy sound about this album that I’d really never heard before.

My father told me Shuggie played almost all the instruments on the album the way Prince did. Later on as I listened and read the liner notes? It came to me where I’d seen Shuggie’s name before. During that era I was deeply into the music of the Brothers Johnson. Even more so when I fully realized their involvement with two musical icons in my life: Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. One of their biggest songs “Strawberry Letter#23” was originally written and recorded by Shuggie Otis in 1971 for his Freedom Flight album. After hearing the album itself and the bonus songs on that CD? I was truly shocked. By no definition I’d ever dealt with was this the blues that I had been hearing. Shuggie’s music helped me see the depth and complexity of the blues. This music was reflective,thoughtful,poetic and very tender.

Recently I debated with myself whether to bring this up here. But about seven years later? I was playing a beat up CD of this album I’d gotten later from the Bull Moose free bin with my fiancee while driving through town during a visit to see his family. Upon hearing “Aht Uh Mi Hed”? He remarked how much he enjoyed the way Shuggie used organ in his music. Such an instrumentally inclined remark from a fellow Generation X’er was very much unknown to me even by that time. It was only a year ago that I ended up with the album again-released with Shuggie’s newest set of unreleased material called Wings Of Love. After playing it in the car? Even my musically persnickety mother fell under the spell Shuggie Otis set with Inspiration Information. Although he absent mindedly remarked just last week that she thought “XL-30” sounded like something from the score of the film Napoleon Dynamite? Even her respect for Shuggie’s musicality remains undiminished.

Part of my overall respect for Shuggie Otis also came from how his music helped me to better appreciate session musicians and the vital role they play in many a musical masterpiece. I was aware of his session playing for his father Johnny. But not necessarily in how his playing helped to revitalize the careers of Etta James,Louis Jordan and Bobby Blue Bland and “Louie Louie” composer Richard Berry. Growing up I’d tended to view musicians who played out front in bands as being the most musically important-either as soloists or as members of bands. Though already very aware and involved with listening to The Crusaders by this time? My admiration for the non session/solo music of people such as Greg Phillinganes, Paulinho Da Costa, Bernard Wright,Weldon Irvine and bands such as Stuff began to grow and increase follwing my exposure to Shuggie.

As for my father,the man who originally introduced me to Shuggie Otis? He is still broadening my appreciation of the man to this very day. Only earlier today,when discussing this blog with him,did he discuss Shuggie’s involvement with Frank Zappa. Shuggie in fact played electric bass on Zappa’s iconic instrumental “Peaches en Regalia” from his 1969 album Hot Rats. My dad is a long time admirer of Zappa,who was an individual who often elevated musicians considered to be sidemen into positions of prominence. One such musician was the violinist Don Sugarcane Harris. It was mentioned by my father this afternoon that he first heard about Shuggie Otis via his session playing on Harris’s 1970 LP release Sugarcane. So when Luaka Pop reissued the Inspiration Information album on CD? My father,being unfamiliar with Shuggie’s solo music,was very eager to hear it. So as I was writing my own story about this man and his album? My father was telling me about the first time he heard of Shuggie Otis.

One of the reasons I still find this album to be some of the most beautiful funk ever recorded is association. When I first heard it? That magical 21’st century had arrived. The future that everyone had been dreaming about in the century before had at last arrived. And considering the dark days of the post 9/11 world would arrive in only a seasons time? This introduction to Shuggie Otis to my life always reminds me of the importance of maintaining dreamy optimism. Especially in the hardest of times. Also,with some later help from Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary? Hearing Shuggie Otis completely altered my perception of the blues. He really put a sunshine funk filter inside of his musicality. And it helped me realize that broadness of the soul/funk/jazz/blues musical spectrum-outside of any locally based misconceptions. As Branford Marsalis said of blues music itself? To this very day,whenever I hear Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information,it makes me smile.

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Funk, Local Radio, Maine, Psychedelia, Radio, Shuggie Otis, Soul

Anatomy of THE Groove 4/11/14: Andre’s Pick-Ronnie Laws “Live Your Life Away”

The entire purpose of this column began as a means by which to showcase the presence of funk,in its many forms,within music released just before or after the new millennium. In the case of today’s song,I am making a huge exception. The reason for this is to make a point about the message behind funk music itself and how it effects people in society. The message in the music is a very liberating one. So often one hears songs such as Earth Wind & Fire’s “Singasong”,Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” or Kool & The Gang’s “Love And Understanding”  and has a romantic vision in their minds of the 1970’s as being a thoroughly incredible time frame. I include myself in having has such visions.

Historically however,the 70’s decade had many similarities to today. The Watergate scandal created mass cynicism about political change for the better among a generation,an fuel shortage made transportation and even the pressing of vinyl albums themselves a difficult matter and poverty continued to broaden across America. That presumed “incredible time” comes from the fact that the popular culture,the funk era in particular,responded generally with hope for the future and encouragement for the present after the more paranoid outlook of The O’Jays “Backstabbers” or Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes”. And I cannot think of a song that encompasses this ethic much better than Ronnie Laws’s “Live Your Life Away”.

Musically the song,produced by EWF’s Larry Dunn and featured on the end of Laws’ 1978 album Flame,the song is instrumentally an very encompassing mixture of the sleekly produced band sound that one would hear from an EWF recording. On the other hand the instrumentation is based around a glistening,high pitched and chiming synthesizer solo with a strong and slinky bass synth set both beneath and all around it. So in terms of the playing style in general, the approach is a lot closer to that of Stevie Wonder-all coming together for that synergy that create an instrumental stamp unique for Ronnie Laws’ music. On the other hand on the chorus,the chords of the songs change to a basic blues hook-matched by the smooth 12-bar blues guitar riff courtesy of EWF supplicant,the late Roland Bautista. This perfect matches the duel nature in the mood of this song.

And this songs duel lyrical nature comes from the lyrics. On the rather melodically bright vocal refrains,the message is one that is sorely needed from popular music in today’s workaminute world-basically to “push ahead but don’t move too fast” and that people can spend too much energy and time “pursuing pleasures that really never pay”. The songs message is not only uplifting but extremely practical as it encourages balance over struggle,genuine relief of stress over denial. At the same time the chorus warns that this is so important to do because “you can live your life away”-instrumentally accompanied by the classic blues riff. And though this song represented something of a “so long” to the original funk era? It is the idea instrumental and lyrically conceptual funk direction for modern musicians to take in a society where the extremes of apathy and frustration and strong allegiances to social/political parties offered up as a confusing mixed message. As George Clinton said, funk not only moves but can remove. And today this type of groove would be just what the doctor ordered.

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Filed under 1970's, Disco, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Jazz, Late 70's Funk, Ronnie Laws, Stevie Wonder