The Bee Gees recorded music in a number of different styles over the years. And they always had lots of soul in it too. Their breakthrough international hit “To Love Somebody” was written for Otis Redding. They recorded it themselves only after he died before he got the chance to record his version. After a period of focusing primarily on baroque balladry, the Gibb brothers re-upped with the late Arif Mardin to produce their 1974 album Mr. Natural. Their followup Main Course reinvented them as contemporary soul/funk artists. Perfect for the disco era-especially with Barry’s fiery falsetto vocals.
After that breakthrough success, Robert Stigwood’s label RSO ended its distribution deal with Atlantic Records \. This meant they could no longer work with Arif Mardin due to the contractual conflict of interest. Barry, Robin and Maurice decided to produce the album themselves-hoping to extend on their new sound. Like Hall & Oates after them, self production proved to be their friend. Their 1976 album Children Of The World, recorded in Quebec, continued the winning streak. One album track that really stands out for me is “You Stepped Into My Life”.
The drum roll of Dennis Bryon gets the groove going into a slow and ultra funky beat. The snaky Fender Rhodes of Blue Weaver accompanies Barry and Maurice’s thick,wah wah fueled bass/rhythm guitar interactions. Weaver’s layered synth strings melodically lead the way for Barry’s falsetto lead. This musical combination represents the chorus. String arrangements lead the melody on the along with this rhythm section on the refrains. On the closing trail of the song, the chorus extends into a bluesy lead wah wah played smoothly by Alan Kendall as the song fades out.
The first time I heard this song, it was an equally funky (if somewhat faster) version done by Melba Moore in 1978. This original version is solid proof that a dance song is at its funkiest when the tempo of the rhythm is slower. The whole vibe is similar to Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby-especially the “funk functioning for the disco era” aspect of it. The groove of this song is just super infectious. And the Gibb’s wonderful way with song structure takes it to the next level. Very much like the majority of the Bee Gees output during the mid to late 70’s.
Michael Jackson began the sessions for Off The Wall, his first solo album produced by Quincy Jones, with the idea that he wanted to separate his adult solo career from what he’d been doing with his brothers. This was a concept he’d already pursued on their previous album Destiny from one year earlier. Talking with my friend Henrique, the then current sound of Barry White interested MJ in 1979-his album The Man and its emphasis on live horns and strings. That is the direction he pursued on the finished album. Early on in the sessions however, the music MJ and Quincy were making was slightly different.
Of course, instrumentally the same West Lake studio crew that worked on this album also played on the Brothers Johnson’s Light Up The Night. That album was recorded during the same time as Off The Wall, but was released in 1980. So musicians such as Greg Phillinganes, Paulinho Da Costa, Jerry Hey, Rod Temperton and Toto’s Jeff Porcoro likely switched off from one album session to another. Since Light Up The Night has a more electronic flavor to its grooves, it doesn’t surprise me too much that an early song from the Off The Wall sessions has a similar flavor. And it was called “Sunset Driver”.
The intro features what sound like higher pitched synth horns followed along closely by the drum-beat by beat. The drums then settle into a straight up disco friendly dance beat pounding away. The melody is led by a thick polyphonic synthesizer, with a pumping synth bass underneath it. Chucking right along with it is a scratching wah wah guitar. On the refrains of the songs, the string arrangements ascend and descend with MJ’s vocals. On the choruses, the strings sustain along with the lead synth. On the bridge, the lead synth goes into a more descending pattern before an extended chorus fades out the song.
Upon hearing it shortly following MJ’s passing eight summers ago, “Sunset Driver” emerged as an unreleased song I had trouble placing into MJ’s vast recorded catalog. Its a lot closer to the post disco/boogie funk of a Brothers Johnson song such as “This Had To Be”. Especially with the synthesizer being a far more significant element than it had been on the final cut of Off The Wall. Still with MJ’s dialog near the end of the song saying “that’s it Jerry,that’s nice”, its clear now that this shows MJ in a different and cutting edge electronic dance/funk flavor at the beginning of his adult solo career.
Andre L. Paker embodies the spirit of the lesser nationally known funk/soul/R&B based artists. Though not even apparently a major name in his native Danbury, Connecticut, Parker has performed with numerous bands and recorded 75 albums. These have run the gamut from R&B,jazz to heavy metal. Six years ago, one of Parker’s compositions entitled “Wo Wo Wo” was even played during the overnight forecasts on The Weather Channel. What makes Parker and his music so unique on Andresmusictalk is that he is a musician who actually contacted me.
He sent me a great deal of information on himself. About how he became a multi instrumentalist from the time his mother got him his first guitar at the age of 10. About his influences ranging from jazz drummer Max Roach to funk icon Sly Stone. Reading further into what he sent, he’s been online since about 2009 with a computer given to him a friend. And is very interested in me writing about his music. After looking through YouTube over the tracks from his upcoming triple set Bring Back The Funk, the song that most stood out to me as a funkateer was one entitled “For The Funk Of It”.
A thick one/two beat drum thump provides the basis for the song. Along with the pulsing synth bass and wah-wah guitar, this comes together to form the rhythmic basis for the song. Two extra rhythm guitar lines meet that rhythm during the next part of the song. One is a higher pitched strum and the other a more sustained acoustic line. Between each part, audience applause sounds provide a bridge. A whistling,almost G-Funk style synth melody comes into play on the last several bars of the song. And a combination of the applause and an electric guitar riff brings the song to a close.
What “For The Funk Of It” delivers to my personal ear hole is a musical concept of what I’d call a “one man jam”. That is a multi instrumentalist playing a consistent,melodic funk vamp that stays on the one. And doesn’t follow a strict pop song structure. And from hearing his other songs, Parker knows his way around pop structure. His approach to this is somewhere between P-Funk and Prince-with the multiple guitar parts and synth bass pump. Yet the vamp of the song has a hip-hop G Funk flavor to its rhythmic pattern. Excellent channeling from Andre L Parker of one generation of funk to another.
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Isaac Hays, born in Covington, Tennessee in 1942 was raised by his grandparents. He was encouraged to finish high school several years after dropping out due to the encouragement of his teachers. After turning down musical scholarships from several universities, Hayes began performing in the late 50’s as a teenager. By the mid 1960’s, he and David Porter became one of the major songwriting partners at Stax. Especially for the duo Sam & Dave. His solo debut Presenting Isaac Hayes wasn’t a big success in 1968. But its jazzier orientation pointed in a vital new direction for his music.
By that time, Stax was in trouble. Otis Redding had died with most of the original Bar Kays in a plane crash. And Atlantic Records had absorbed most of their back catalog. As a label functioning with no music, label owner Al Bell decided to have its remaining artists to record 27 new albums to give Stax new content. Hayes’s sophomore album Hot Buttered Soul was the most successful in 1969. Its extended, jazzy and psychedelic treatments of his own songs and interpretations became his signature sound. Even through his record breaking 1971 soundtrack for Shaft.
With Shaft, Hayes had basically created the production template for the disco era. That was elongated dance songs with heavy string and horn orchestration’s. As the disco era arrived in earnest, Hayes mid to late 70’s albums swam right along with the tide his earlier 70’s works had initiated. Not to mention his continuing soundtrack work for movies like Truck Turner and Three Tough Guys. As similar artists like Barry White ascended to popularity, some of Hayes’ albums got lost on the musical public. One of them was an album with an amazing title song entitled “Joy”.
A 7 hit drum beat (with plenty of hi hat around the middle) starts off the song at an approximately 80 BPM’s-which continues throughout the rest of the song. Then the snaky bass and distant seeming wah wah guitar accents chime in. From there, the strings rise up in volume right into the song-spiraling horn charts in the back round. A sustained organ swirl also joins the mix. A bluesy fuzz guitar plays to Hayes’s vocals. On the b section of the chorus, the melody gets a bit higher key with the orchestration. The song fades out with a long,grunting extended refrain.
At almost 16 minutes, “Joy” is one of those early 70’s funk operas. It actually reminds me a little bit of Barry White’s “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby” from the same year. Its among the faster of Hayes’ usual extended ballad approach of the earlier 70s. Still, Hayes’ distinctive psychedelic and jazz tones keep this distinct as cinematic soul/funk was becoming more the mainstream at the time. And its for that reason that its actually one of my favorite Hayes’ solo numbers along with “Theme From Shaft”, “Groove-A-Thon” and his epic version of “Walk On By”.
Superfly is a film I’ve never seen. Nor have the soundtrack to. One of the oddest omissions in my collection. The reason having the album never seemed a priority to own is because my father had the 2 CD special edition in the early aughts. A set complete with radio spots for the album from Curtis himself. And it was played to death. So there was a lot of exposure to the music from this 1972 classic soundtrack for the Gordon Parks Jr’s drug scene related epic staring Ron O’Neal as the dealer Priest-so as I understand a character planning on retirement after a final “sweet” drug deal.
Apparently Mayfield wasn’t particularly pleased by Parks’ movie after seeing a screening during the film scoring process. He was said to have described it as an “infomercial for cocaine”. Being the socially conscious man that Mayfield was? He decided to write a series of songs that not only ran thematically counter to the film. But also added depth based on different perspectives of Superfly‘s seemingly pro crime themes. The film itself can be debated. But what cannot be so easily is how Mayfield fleshed out one particular “flunky” pusher from the film in one of its classics called “Freddie’s Dead”.
Tyrone McCullen’s ultra funky drums start of the song accompanying Mayfield’s lead melody on a punchy fuzz guitar,with a layer of wah wah in the back round. As the song comes into itself,that bluesy melody the song starts out of with the countering orchestral strings,dreamy glockenspiel and big band horn charts accentuating the melody. All along with Henry Gibson’s percussion. Especially as the song jumps up a chord on the chorus. As the song progress,muted horns and psychedelic guitars and all, a bridge with a bass/string/percussion delay goes into extended chorus fading out the song.
“Freddie’s Dead” is one of those masterpieces of early 70’s cinematic funk for what became known as the “blacksploitation” genre of cinema at the time. It was famously covered by the ska/funk band Fishbone 16 years after the original due to its iconic status. Heard only as an instrumental in the movie, it gives a seemingly minor character an identity of people having “misused him,ripped him off and abused him”. Curtis then advises “Freddie’s on the corner now,so you wanna be a junkie wow,remember Freddie’s dead” in a beautiful example of funk working cinematically to help heal society’s ills.
Prince’s expanded edition of his breakthrough album Purple Rain is said to have been the last full musical project he ever worked on. My former blogging partner Zach Hoskins went into beautiful detail on the early reported contents of the album. There is one aspect to this 1984 album I brought out before though. The original albums contents,even according to some members of the Revolution,was a new wave dance/rock album with very little funk or soul influence. With the inclusion of vault material recorded during these sessions, the expanded addition of Purple Rain has changed that.
In August 1984, Prince recorded an 11+ piece just two days before “The Screams Of Passion”,which would eventually be given to The Family. Its been said Prince gifted the song to Andre’ Cymone after his mother asked him if Andre’ could record it-Andre’ apparently being “too proud” to do so. Andre’ then recorded his vocals for the song and released it on his AC album in 1985. It became a major success for Andre’. For years, Prince enthusiasts I’ve talked to have been hoping to hear Prince’s original version of the song. And now they can. The name of this song,of course is “The Dance Electric”.
A thick set of combined Linn Drum rhythms-filled with Minneapolis style flanger,shuffle and echoed claps begins the song cold. No decisive intro. And it stays there for the entirety of the song. Each clap is accompanied by a round synth bass tone. On the first chorus, high pitched and brittle synth strings are accompanied by a wiry wah wah guitar and laser beam like space synths moving between each segment. Every few choruses, the song strips back down to the the drum and synth bass intro. On the bridge,the laser synths and rhythm guitar take precedence before the extended chorus fades it all out.
There’s a distinct possibility that “The Dance Electric” is the most powerful piece of funk to emerge out of the sessions for the Purple Rain. I have no doubt Prince had every intention of releasing his version,even as a B-side,if his childhood friend hadn’t asked for it. The song is reminiscent of Alexander O’Neal’s 1987 number “Fake”. The overall rhythm of the groove is a punishing kind of funk. Its an end of the Minneapolis sound that finds the one right off. And lets that take the song exactly where it wants it to go. Its a great funky delight to hear Prince’s version of this officially available now.
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.
Johnnie Taylor has been a consistent conversation point between Henrique Hopkins and myself. And it was always in reference to him being a 60′ era soul singer who recorded and did consistently well with audiences up through the mid 90’s. The West Memphis, Arkansas native got his start as Sam Cooke’s replacement in the gospel group The Soul Stirrers. In 1965, Taylor signed to Stax records. He became one of the labels major stars,leading to his nickname as “The Philosopher Of Soul”. After Stax folded in the mid 70’s,Taylor signed with Columbia-where he remained for nearly a decade after that.
Johnnie Taylor is also one of those artists who I knew about long before even knowing his name. That was from dancing around as a pre-teen to his major pop Top 10 crossover funky soul hit “Who’s Makin’ Love” from 1970-hearing it on oldies radio all the time. In fact,that was a song I almost reviewed today. But there’s another song of his that came out half a decade later of his. One that Nelson George described the success of so wonderfully in his book The Death Of Rhythm & Blues. And musically,it has a surprising twist for me that I’ll get into after describing it. The name of this song was “Disco Lady”.
The drums kick right off into a slightly delayed 4/4 dance beat,accented by shaking bells. A high pitched melody on electric piano opens up the melody,which is accentuated by an equally melodic eight note bass line and a pulsing wah wah guitar. On each part of Taylor’s chorus,the horns accent his vocals in different ways. Sometimes with hard pulses,other times with a building sustain. On the bridge,the rhythm becomes a bouncing march before it melodically builds back into itself-complete with fanfaring horn charts and rubbery keyboards. The refrain repeats itself consistently until the song fades out.
“Disco Lady” is actually one of those fairly stripped down disco era funk songs where the instrumentation and the vocals are both designed for a slinky,sneaky attitude as opposed to a raucous one. As for that surprising twist I mentioned,it became known to me years ago that Taylor was backed up by P-Funk musicians on this song. Bassist Bootsy Collins, the late guitarist Glenn Goins and keyboard maestro Bernie Worrell and drummer Jerome Brailey play on the song. Along with backup vocals by Dawn’s (as in Tony Orlando) Telma Hopkins singing the backup vocals singing the chorus.
This song doesn’t exactly have the sound I would ever associate with P-Funk. And certainly not Tony Orlando & Dawn. But its songs such as this that have the power to help people understand how musicians function. If someone reads the liner notes to albums and look for names online,they’ll often find out that the best musicians in the funk,soul and jazz world especially have an expert sense of musical diversity. They know how to give a song what it needs-whether its based more on singers or instruments. And at least to me,that ethic is one of the major contributions of “Disco Lady”.
Jerry Butler,known as the “Iceman” from Philadelphia DJ George Woods,is someone I consider to be one of the prime architects of the soul ballad. He co wrote the song “For Your Precious Love” with the Impressions. And as Rolling Stone magazine once put it,it embodied that marriage of gospel and doo-wop pop music that became the essence of soul music. Shortly after this 1958 crossover hit,Butler went solo. Many of his early hits such as the calypso flavored”He Will Break Your Heart ” were written by the late,great Curtis Mayfield. He currently serves as County Commissioner for Cooks County,Illinois.
The first time I heard Jerry Butler was from a very unusual source. It was via one of many free vinyl albums from a 1994 WMEB radio giveaway at the University of Maine in Orono that I often reference. The album was a 1976 Motown release entitled Love’s On The Menu. Didn’t yet know anything about Butler’s importance to the history of soul. The song that first stuck out to me was the “Motownphilly” style opener “I Don’t Want Nobody To Know”. Looking into the album today,another stand out song was its only R&B hit in the song “The Devil In Mrs. Jones”.
A cymbal heavy drum swing opens the album,with a thick Moog bass rising into a clucking wah wah guitar. That gives way to the slow crawl of a drum shuffle that’s the rhythm foundation of the song. The thick,ultra funky bass line is uppermost in the song-filling in the empty spaces between the Moog and drums. Female backup vocals and horns color the bluesy melody that leads directly into the chorus of the song. All the instrumental elements of the song come most prominently into play during the choruses. And its on that chorus that the song repeats on as it fades out.
Somehow when I first heard this album,this song got ignored. Today,it emerges as the heaviest funk I’ve yet heard Jerry Butler record. And of course,the vast majority of Butler’s recorded catalog isn’t something I’m particularly familiar. Known for his deep,smokey baritone on melodic pop soul numbers,”The Devil In Mrs. Jones” not only gives up the funk,but does so with the heaviest possible stomp. Its got the walking wah wah guitar,snaky bass,ticklish Moog synthesizer and slow shuffle that really defined mid 70’s “united funk”. Right along with Butler’s growling vocal turns as well.