William Royce Scaggs,nicknamed “Boz” (short for Bosley by a childhood pal) came out of his birthplace of Canton,Ohio to meet his original mentor Steve Miller-who went to college in Madison Wisconsin with Scaggs as well. After a failed stint on the London scene and a little known solo album released in Sweden in 1965, Scaggs returned to the US and became a key member of the Steve Miller Band for two albums of theirs during 1968. In 1969 he teamed up with the Muscle Shoals studio grew (in particular Duane Allman) to record his self titled major label debut album.
Scaggs always had the ability to surprise people with his music. He himself said he was interested in soul,R&B and funk. But what was contemporary in that music at the given time. The the result of his forward thinking musicianship were iconic songs such as “Lowdown”,”Jojo” and “Miss Sun”. In 1987,he retired from music to concentrate on his San Francisco nightclub Slims. After touring with a super group called the New York Rock & Soul Revue,he made his official comeback with the 1994 album Some Change. The song on it that got to me most was called “I’ll Be The One”.
A slow,swinging funky drum machine opens up the song with a light wah wah rhythm guitar. As well as brief accents from the vibraphone playing chordally off the bass and guitar parts. On the chorus,as the chords of the song change town,Scaggs’ voice is accompanied by a sustained organ like keyboard sound. On the secondary part of the chorus,the song changes chords again as a chorus of Vocorderized backup singers keep with these changes of melody. On the final few verses of the song,all of its instrumental elements come together with Scaggs’ vocal improvisation.
“I’ll Be The One” is one of those songs where,during a period when a good deal of soul music lacked instrumental vitality,that actually got exactly the right kind of vibe for the smooth jazz era. The production is slow,the groove a spare jazzy,funky soul. But the production is both sleek and punchy enough to stick out with its relaxed flavor. It also has a similar vibe to what would work for the Chicago stepping dances that originated in the 70’s. Don’t think its one of his best known songs,since the Some Change album produced no hit singles. At the same time,this is a very soulful non hit kind of hit.
Nu Shooz were an 80’s freestyle funk duo from the 1980’s who,among others,represented some of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio. Of course this came in form of the iconic 80’s hit “I Can’t Wait”. Hailing from Portland Oregon,currently 9 member group were led by the married couple of John Smith and lead singer Valerie Day. In the United States,they are considered something of a one hit wonder. Yet from the moment I began exploring that hit’s ultra funky flip side “Make Your Mind Up”,I know this would be a group worthy of exploration for any aficionado of strong 80’s soul/funk music.
Nu Shooz still record and perform today-occasionally recording independent online releases now and then. Its clear from listening to these new songs from them that they are indeed some of the funkiest bands of the 80’s still functioning today. Right up there Cameo to me,anyway. Over the years of course,there instrumental sound and priorities have changed. But there are still some core elements,such as emphasis on hummable melody,that remain intact. That’s very much in the case in the title song of the newest release from May 2016 entitled Bagtown.
A thick hard bop style synth solo begins the song. Then the shuffling funky drum/percussion rhythm kicks into high gear. The chicken scratch rhythm guitar is accompanied by a phat bass line playing the empty spaces within that guitar riff. In and around this,the harmonically complex horns play musical hide and seek with Valerie Day’s lead vocals. Towards the middle of the song,a vibraphone enters the mix as both a melodic and percussive element before the drums lead into a lower guitar solo. The bass/guitar dynamic becomes the focus until the horn chart and percussion close out the song.
“Bagtown” really showcase Nu Shooz having evolved into a sharp,live instrumental based jazz/funk outfit. Everything from the drums,vibes,bass and guitar just smoke on this song with a super hot mix. The harmonic nature of the horn voices brings my mind to something else. Its like a mixture of the soul jazz inspired hip-hop of Us3 in the early 90’s and the final musical decade of Miles Davis. Its got the funk,its got the soul but when it comes to how the horns treat the melody,its built upon a hardcore hard bop/soul jazz foundation. That makes this a standout jazz/funk jam for 2016 so far.
Filed under 2016, chicken scratch guitar, drums, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, John Smith, new music, Nu Shooz, percussion, soul jazz, synthesizer, Valerie Day, vibraphone
August Darnell got my attention instantly when I first heard Dr. Buzzard & The Original Savannah Band’s “I’ll Play The Fool For You” in the late 1990’s on CD compilation Pure Disco. The first thought I had was that it reminded me of what Duke Ellington’s orchestra would’ve sound like had Duke been alive for the disco era. The song had a heavy swing in with the dance beat to it. And it had that street level mix of wit and elegance so common in the swing era. It instantly got me seeking anything related to Dr. Buzzard or Darnell’s followup ground Kid Creole & The Coconuts.
Darnell himself is something of a man of mystery. He’s a native New Yorker all the way. The Bronx native even went as far as developing the fictitious back round of his Kid Creole character during the 70’s and 80’s,as he become more involved with different musical and theater related projects. Conceptualizing himself as a Caribbean Cab Calloway,his music had the funky eclecticism and conceptually obscurity of both Prince and P-Funk. Only with more if an island twist. One song on the groups 1985 album In Praise Of Older Women And Other Crimes really encompassed this beautifully. It was called “Endicott”.
A round percussion line kicks the song off. The groove itself is pretty much defined by a straight vamp throughout most of it. Its all the funky sweeteners that make it so exciting. The vamp itself is built on a stomping drum,a melodic vibraphone,chicken scratch rhythm guitar and a thick jazzy slap bass line playing very close to that guitar. These are accnted by Darnell’s soulful screams. Darnell’s lead vocals are accented by big band horn charts throughout the song. On brief bridges throughout the song,the female “coconuts” sing lead over the percussive drums. The original vamp of the song then fades it out.
Instrumentally speaking,this song has a Caribbean big band Prince vibe about it all the way. Especially on the rhythm guitar parts. Though the bass line is far thicker than most of Prince’s. Lyrically,this song is so hilarious to me. Endicott is a conceptual character Darnell sings about the whole song. He is willingly self sacrificing to his wife,and is considered an upstanding man. The Coconuts ask Darnell “why can’t you be like Endicott?” to which he sings “because I’m free,free of any made to order liabilities”. Its a wonderfully funky romp through the world of male/female domestic schisms.
Filed under 1985, August Darnell, big band swing, Caribbean Funk, drums, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, New York, rhythm guitar, vibraphone