Ray Parker Jr. was no stranger to music when this 1978 debut dropped. All those years that the Detroit native provided guitar accompaniment to Rufus, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock made clear this multi instrumentalist had an individual enough sound (and personal identity) to survive as an entity on his own. As a matter of fact, aside from actually being in the position of employing a several session musics of his own such as Wah Wah Watson and Sylvester Rivers on piano plus a trumpet and sax player Ray Parker played, wrote,produced and engineered most the music on this album.
Jerry Knight was the only member of Raydio to accompany Parker instrumentally-as the bassist. Knight also brought his vocal ability along with Vincent Bonham and most notably Arnell Carmichael to create the vocal quartet of Raydio. Although showcasing by and large Ray’s distinctive layered mini-moog based sound hard funk jams such as “Is This A Love Thing”, “You Need This (To Satisfy That) and “Me” are all far more incredibly hard edged than the sort of of sophistifunk Ray/Raydio would become known for-with the horn and rhythmic voices having a more prominent live band flavor.
Adding some Smokey Robinson-like wordplay into the mix “Honey I’m Rich” is a more of Ray’s pop/funk sound. The breakout hit “Jack & Jill”, with its layers of mini Moog (both bass and otherwise) reverbed into some incredible melodic exchanges. It’s basically Ray’s signature musical sound and shows up again on excellent mid tempo funk grooves such as “Betcha Can’t Love Me Just Once” and “Let’s Go All The Way”. Much as Kashif and Prince would innovate later, Ray was using synthesizers in place of horn parts here. It anticipated the future but also created a musical present for him as well.
The album concludes with “Get Down”,a chunky bass/guitar oriented melodic funk instrumental and one of the best in it’s kind from Ray. In just about every imaginable way a musically impressive and significant set of sophistifunk classics this album provides the missing links between the era of Stevie Wonder and Prince. A link wherein the concept of the sexual revolution (lyrically) and the orchestral use of electronics (musically) would be explored to their fullest in terms of the funk genre. And honestly I am not sure if Ray Parker gets a lot of the credit he deserves for doing that.
Dennis Edwards, lead singer of the Temptations from 1968-1976 and again from 1980 to 1987 and Leon Ndugu Chancler, best known as the drummer on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”, both passed away within two days of each other this week. The former at age 74, the later at 65. The interesting part of it was Ndugu passed away on what would’ve been Edwards’ 75th birthday-on February 3rd, 2018. Edwards was a singer, Chancler was a jazz session drummer. And it was still surprising to me the breadth of commonalities these two late musical figures have in common.
Dennis and Ndugu both hailed from the South. Edwards from Alabama, Chancler from Louisiana. They both left the South- Edwards for Detroit and Chancler for California. Both men studied their craft at universities in their adopted home towns. Their career paths differed-as Ndugu became a session player for artists ranging from George Benson to Kenny Rogers. And he was even George Duke’s main drummer for a decade or so. Edward’s became the lead singer of The Tempts during their psychedelic soul period. And the two finally crossed paths on the 1982 song “Money’s Hard To Get”.
Kerry Ashby’s synth bass provides the intro to a song-played in close unison to Stevie Wonder’s bassist Nathan Watts. Ndugu’s powerful drums then come in playing right in the the pocket. Along with Melvin “Wah Wah Watson” Ragin’s nimble rhythm guitar, that also comprises the refrains of the song. The chorus features Benjamin F. Wright Jr’s ultra funky horn arrangements-whereas those two sides of the songs are linked by a unison vocal passage with Ashby’s synth bass playing a more clomping style. After a bridge featuring a synth solo with the horns, an extended chorus fades out the song.
“Money’s Hard To Get” finds both Dennis Edwards and Ndugu Chancler at some of their very finest. Edward’s second tenure with The Tempts as at its peak vocal powers here-in a reunion with the seven then surviving members. His voice follows the emotional attitude of the song too-itself a classic soul tale of “love or money” somewhat in the vain of The Isley’s “Work To Do”. Chancler’s drummer, along the the horns, rhythm guitar and electric/synth bass fusion make this a terrific example of early 80’s post disco/boogie melding the live sounds of the 70’s with the electronic/new wave ones of the 80’s.
Bobbie Humphrey stands along with Mary Lou Williams,Melba Liston and Patrice Rushen as one of the rare female instrumentalists in the jazz world. This Texas native was creature during the same time as Patrice. Main different was she was a flutist,so melodic soloing was her priority. She recorded her first album on Blue Note in 1971. Two years later she released her third album Blacks and Blues. This is as of now the only the Bobbie Humprey CD I personally own. It began her musical relationship with producer Larry Mizell. He and his brother Fonce were major creative forces at Blue Note at the time. They were than working with Donald Byrd after several years of recordings hits for Motown’s Jackson 5.
Humphrey was one of those artists who seems to have successfully adapted to changes in the music world. From jazz-funk,the disco era and even the new jack swing sound of the late 1980’s. Much as guitarist Bobby Broom played for R.Kelly in the early 90’s,Humphrey played on Gwen Guthrie’s 1988 song “Send Me Somebody” in a similar manner. Of course most famously she joined Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove for his 1976 song “Another Star” from his blockbuster Songs In The Key Of Life. While digging deeper into her music,I discovered an amazing musical reboot of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s standard “Satin Doll”,also the title song for her fourth album.
Wah Wah Watson’s multiple shades of guitar come in and out of the swelling Brazilian style snare drum heavy rhythms of Harvey Mason on the intro-along with Chuck Rainey’s one,two,three punch on bass. Larry Mizell’s synth introduces the main melody of the song. Jerry Peters’ piano than kicks into the mix-just before Humphrey’s flute begins playing the main melody-accompanied call and response style with Mizell’s synth and Peters’ piano. Her high, ethereal singing voice matches the huge arrangement-even as Peters’ solos find him coming down almost as hard on the piano keys as Duke might’ve himself before the song fades out with a male backup chorus singing the main melody.
Bobbie Humphrey and the entire 70’s Blue Note crew really do Ellington’s musical vision proud on this album. Humphrey tended to follow Duke’s concept of adapting her playing to changing styles of music. This takes the by this time late composer’s into the mid 70’s cinematic soul era. The highlight of this groove along with Humprhey was Melvin Ragin. He delivers three shades of his wah wah guitar in the first minute of the song alone-from a sharp stinging tone to a melodic ring. The classic mixture of futuristic melodic ideas and chase scene paced rhythms makes this a Duke Ellington interpretation to remember.
Filed under 1974, 70's Blue Note, Billy Strayhorn, Bobbie Humphrey, Brazilian Jazz, Chuck Rainey, cinematic soul, drums, Duke Ellington, flute, Funk Bass, Harvey Mason, jazz funk, Jerry Peters, Larry Mizell, piano, Satin Doll, synthesizer, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar, Wah Wah Waston
The Pointer Sisters-Anita,the late June and today’d birthday girl Ruth Pointer (also the eldest of them) have always stood to me as an example of a truly democratic group. Aside from the 1977 departure of sister Bonnie,the remaining three sisters developed a vocal approach that focused on the importance of groups in vocally centered funky music. Their 3 part harmonies assisted one or the others sisters’ vocal lead generally. Ruth’s voice has always stood out very strongly for me. Her gospel powered husky tenor calls to mind what I’ve heard from the iconic Mavis Staples and more recently Lalah Hathaway. So Ruth and her sisters have really prioritized uptempo music in their repertoire.
Diversity seemed to be the key for the Pointers while recording for the Blue Thumb label in the mid 70’s. Their first three albums on that label were a mixture of swinging jazz,jump blues and even country/western. Vocally they performed everything as if each was their chosen approach to music. Of course each of these albums got seriously funky at one time or another. And for me that’s where their musical soul really shined through. Their 1975 album Steppin’ is the best such example-containing contributions from Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. It was their classic writing partner of the era Allen Toussaint who provided Ruth’s shining groove on here called “Going Down Slowly”.
The drum and Melvin Ragin’s high pitched wah wah guitar give the basic beat a heavy reggae like skank to it. There are several layers of wah wah guitar-some of which trickle like falling rain while others burst forth like a revving engine. The piano comes down equally as hard while the bass line scales up and down as a strong,phat support system. Sharing the lead with her sisters Anita and June’s gospel/jazz style harmonies,Ruth even sometimes double tracks her own leads. After a brief bridge where the sisters “doo doo wop” harmonies scale up a pitch,the chorus repeats as the drums,guitar and piano to a fevered frenzy before fading down for the piano bring the song to an abrupt end.
One thing I love about this number is how it incorporates some of the static rhythm of reggae,itself a new and developing genre at that time,into it’s frenetic funk stew. The instrumentation of the song is pretty thick from the very start. But as the song evolves,the reverb and some more rocking guitar layers really thicken right up. In a more stripped down sort of way,this has a somewhat similar reggae/funk/rock approach that could be found a year later in the Rolling Stones “Hot Stuff”. Ruth’s voice has a power and elasticity that’s ideal for uptempo material. And she truly shines as the vocal lead on this example of musically powerful and lyrically assertive funk.
Filed under 1970's, Allen Toussaint, Anita Pointer, Bonnie Pointer, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, funk rock, June Pointer, Pointer Sisters, reggae funk, Ruth Pointer, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar, Wah Wah Waston