Tag Archives: Tony Thompson

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Est-Ce Que C’est Chic” by Chic

Nile Rodgers had a colorful life long before being the one of the founding members of Chic. This native New Yorker was born to a teen mother who, like his father, was a beatnik and heavy drug user. More importantly, it was an environment filled with music. Being drawn to the guitar at an early age, Nile began as a session player with the Sesame Street band-which was led by the iconic composer Joe Raposo. He gained much of his experience as the guitarist for the Apollo Theater house band. With them, he backed up acts as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King and P-Funk.

It was while working for a  Sesame Street stage show that he met up with bassist Bernard Edwards.  Together they formed the Big Apple Band, who became the backup musicians for the vocal group New York City. After seeing a Roxy Music concert, Rodgers was inspired to change the name of the band to Chic. Their self titled debut helped establish disco as a genre of dance music-with songs such as “Dance,Dance,Dance” and “Everybody Dance” leading the way. The album also showcased what strong composers and musicians they were. Especially with album tracks like “Est-Ce Que C’est Chic”.

The song starts right off with an instrumental version of its chorus. This consists of Tony Thompson’s pocket dance beat with Nile and ‘Nard’s classic bass run/chunky rhythm guitar based rhythm dynamic providing the base of the song. Over that, there’s a chromatic walk down on piano. A glockenspiel and what sounds like an ARP string synth provide the harmonic sweeteners to the bottom of the song. The refrain take the song up a key slightly-emphasizing Nile and ‘Nard’s bass/guitar and closer piano riffs higher in the mix. After a barer version of it on the bridge, an extended chorus fades out the song.

“Es-Ce Que C’est Chic” showcases many examples of different trademarks this disco outfit would have in their time. One was the use of their name in song titles-along with a chorus that was sung partly in French. Instrumentally, it takes older black American ideas from bluesy soul jazz and R&B. And really stylizes them with a lot of sonic polish and elegance. The song lyrics about about an actress seducing people to get to the top, sung sweetly by Norma Jean Wright, showcase the witty (sometimes topical) story songs that reflect the disco era realities of which Chic were part of the soundtrack to.

 

 

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Jody Watley’s Debut Album Has Turned 30: Its Been Some Kind Of Love

Jody Watley

Jody Watley first came to my attention sometime in 1988 when my father recorded a block of MTV videos on a VHS tape for me. This was when he worked as a master control engineer at our local NBC affiliate WLBZ. Among all the videos were two from Jody Watley. The first was for the song “Some Kind Of Lover” and the other for “Don’t You Want Me”. A decade or so later,I found her debut CD with these songs on it at Bullmoose Music-also in my area. As my abilities to locate music have evolved,from radio and pre recorded VHS tapes to MP3’s, Watley’s music seems to pop up every step of the way.

Watley’s self titled debut turned 30 a couple of weeks ago. During the time when I was deeply interested in the music of Prince,the solo debut of this former Shalamar singer was a major reminder to me that the Minneapolis sound had a huge far reaching impact in terms of cutting edge dance music of the late 80s.  Actually wrote a review of the album on Amazon.com,yet another they elected to take down from public viewing. In recent years,the song from the album that’s gotten my attention is the funkified “Looking For A New Love”. Of course, I went into Watley’s debut a bit further in my review here.


In terms of dance music the 80’s definitely had different parts to it. It started with a form of post disco music that would latter be called boogie which,in it’s many forms was basically an extension of late 70’s musical ideas. From there we go on to a mid 80’s synthesizer/hand clap variety of dance music heavy oriented around layers of sound that I sometimes dub “tinky tinky dance” just for fun. Around 1986 or so came a very stripped down and groove based style that occupied a very good point in the middle of both of us.

Jam And Lewis’s work with SOS Band and Janet Jackson really helped to get this particular sound going. Anyway around it usually someone from the Minneapolis scene is involved. And for her part Jody had already had her participation in all of these developments as a member of Shalamar until 1983. By this time married to one time Prince protege Andre’ Cymone she found in the music he’d been producing a way for her to stake her own claim in the late 80’s dance funk pool. And I think she won out on all levels.

At a time when almost every album in the R&B/soul genre had to have a least one slow jam involved,this album seems to come out of a serious of album where every groove was a funk groove of one sort or another. In the 70’s the Commodores Machine Gun and P-Funk’s  Mothership Connection fit the bill for all funk all the time albums. Very much under the Minneapolis spell here,even more so than Miss Janet “Looking For A New Love” starts out the occasion with a stomping 80’s funk jam if there ever was one. And that same kind of flavor just continues on “Still A Thrill”,”Love Injection”,”Do It To The Beat”,”Learn To Say No” with George Michael and even the other big hit “Don’t You Want Me”.

Jody has managed along with musical co-participants Bernard Edwards,Tony Thompson and Herbie Hancock synthesizer player Jeff Bova to do something vital on these songs:create melodically inventive compositions that possess some great bass/guitar heavy grooves and a then contemporary dance/funk flavor. When the tempo goes up? Well you end up with faster grooves such as “Some Kind Of Lover” and “For The Girls”. It’s still fresh,it’s still funky and it’s full of Watley’s own unique flavor.

Jody doesn’t present herself as someone who is about to prostitute herself musically on this album. Her take on relationships on this album is very much as an equal co-participant who is also lucky enough to have a strong singular wit about her as well. There’s an appealing arty flair about the way Jody presents her music and lyrics here. Of course having one half of Chic and Andre’ Cymone involved certainly made a difference too. However Watley herself is a very multi talented person on her own as a producer/singer and songwriter.

She was also doing something that was not particularly common during this time much outside the Jackson family. She was presented herself as primarily an uptempo based artist rather than emphasizing the ballads and slow jams that were becoming somewhat of a mainstay among female R&B/soul/funk/dance artists around this time. The fact that her debut consisted of nothing but uptempo tunes showed that in the right hands,dance music could maintain a strong sense of groove and funk without sacrificing that for sometimes gimmicky up to the minute instrumental effects. If 80’s funk was baseball I’d say Jody Wately hit a home run on this one.


The musical vibe that Jody Watley set up a scenario similar to the one Beyonce picked up in recent years: a black American female vocalist who strongly emphasized uptempo music and a strong empowered female stance. Am unsure if this similarity is even a thing as far as the artists themselves are concerned. But I can hear it. Especially when it comes to this debut album of Watley’s. Also like Beyonce,Watley’s music would later mellow a bit in danceability and take on more direct social concerns. That likely makes Jody Watley and this album a strong influence on the career arc of the modern day funky diva.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Glad To Be Here” by Bernard Edwards

Bernard Edwards was a bassist who truly left his musical footprint in time. Even long before his best known audio footprint came along with Chic’s 1979 jam “Good Times”. This essentially showcased the exact transition from disco to hip-hop-by ‘Nard’s iconic bass line also being the basis for Sugarhill Gangs equally iconic “Rappers Delight”. Edwards style was based is economy with style,especially on his bass lines/solos on Chic hits such as “Dance,Dance,Dance”,”Everybody Dance” and of course “Good Times”. This was a major aspect in how Chic innovated their disco style through some heavy funkiness.

Some years ago,I became familiar with the first two solo albums by Chic guitarist/ songwriter /producer Nile Rodgers. I only found out that Bernard Edwards recorded a solo album in 1983 (around the time Chic ended its original run of albums)  following his death 20 years ago now of pneumonia. It was entitled Glad To Be Here. It was reissued on CD roughly around the time as they reissued Chic’s early 80’s catalog. Only recently have I began to explore the songs from by listening to them via YouTube. The tune that really epitomized the album was the closing title song.

A heavy drum kick opens the song before the Vocorder  comes in to introduce a melody. That’s when the main body of the song comes in. This consists of a tight,dripping higher pitched rhythm guitar. Edwards bass accompanies this sometimes to the letter,other times with stick slapping lines. This is accompanied by  quavering bursts of synth brass. Edwards raps seem to count down to the next section of the song. There are two instrumental bridges. One is built around a thumping synth bass solo. The other is a stiff,hiccuping higher pitched synthesizer that begins the refrain that fades out the song.

It comes as now surprise to me that,for all intents and purposes,this is still a complete Chic song. Tony Thompson provides the drums,Bernard Edwards is carrying on the bass while the guitar is from Nile Rodgers himself. The only thing it does is strip out the strings and lead/backup female vocals. So this represents Chic in its core rhythm section. And it becomes clear how funkified that sound is. This is heavy,naked electro funk. Basically what Chic might’ve sounded like going through the Minneapolis funk filter of the day. And it showcases how vital Edwards’ sound was as a part of Chic. Even on his solo material.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Bernard Edwards, Chic, drums, electro funk, Funk Bass, naked funk, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Tony Thompson, vocoder