Phoebe Snow is a native New Yorker who went from an artistic family who raised her in Teaneck, New Jersey to her college years of gigging from one Greenwich Village nightclub to another. She released her self titled debut album in 1974-having her biggest hit with “Poetry Man”. Her sound was somewhat unique-a mix of folk,rock,funk,soul and blues that suited her distinctive,bluesy growl that could also spread across several octaves. Her decision to give up music to care for her child born with severe brain damage halted her career after the early 80’s. But she never totally disappeared.
Her selfless parenting didn’t stop Snow (born Phoebe Taub) from performing the theme song for the first season of the sitcom A Different World. And released a few more studio albums before her death of a cerebral hemorrhage in 2011. Her third album It Looks Like Snow was her second for Columbia Records. On it she interpreted a song that was one of the last major Temptations hits before leaving Motown. It was co-written by P-Funk’s Eddie Hazel along with Jeffrey Bowen. Its an amazing groove for sure. But in 1976 for her third album, Phoebe Snow offered us her own take on “Shakey Ground”.
The hard groove wah wah guitar riff and metronomic drum count in begin the song as on the original. Yet the straight up,acoustically textured blues guitar riffing before the main groove starts adds a totally different flavor to it all. After all of this, there is the layers of guitar: rhythm and wah wah along with an accenting Clavinet. And of course the horns playing the changes. On the instrumental bridge, the bluesy guitar from the intro (likely played by Snow herself) takes a full on solo. That’s before Snow’s vocals take the chorus on an extended musical journey before it fades out.
There’s not much point in me comparing Phoebe Snow and The Tempt’s versions of “Shakey Ground”. Each are hard funk monster jams in their own right. Its the little things that really make the difference on Snow’s. Her super bluesy guitar riffs and solos give it a slightly more old timey flavor. And her jazzy,growling and sometimes unpredictable vocals give the song an emotional vibe on par with the strongest end of the mid 70’s female perspective. When thinking of what would’ve been Snow’s 67th birthday, this song somehow seemed exactly the right one to overview from a funk/soul perspective.
Daft Punk,the French electronic house duo consisting Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo,have been extremely interesting to me. From their debut album Homework in 1997 up through their 2013 release Random Access Memories,their electronica /house combination has continually embraced elements of American funk and disco. And this tendency as gotten strong with each successive studio album they’ve made. The fact that both men play bass and guitar adds strongly to their rhythmic understanding of funky disco grooves. And has afforded them much commercial success as well.
First heard of the duo one evening while home alone with my dad at some point in 2001. We had the radio switched to local college radio WMEB. And one of the DJ’s was playing this song that really caught my ear. Wondered if it was a new acid jazz song by an artist like Jamiroquai or something. But it had a totally different flavor. More electronic. Since most radio stations in my area tended to play blocks of music with no announcements of songs/artists after 2000,it surprised me to hear the DJ announce that the artist was Daft Punk. And the name of the song was “Voyager”.
A very distant drum machine playing a disco beat begins the song,with an airy synthesizer accompanying it as the main melody. That intro soon breaks into a harder pounding version of the same beat-this time with a Nile Rodgers like clean rhythm guitar line along with the main melody. Within this,a wonderfully funky bass line pops out every note between the note possible in this song. This song has two bridges. One reduces down to a percussive rhythm with a wah wah guitar. The next features a Japanese sounding synth solo in the pentatonic scale. This becomes part of the final choruses the fade out the song.
“Voyager” is very representative of the kind of disco/funk hybrid coming out of electronic groups in the early 2000’s that I personally found very appealing. It had the synthesized sonic’s and melodies very popular on the European club scenes. But it also embraced the hard funk/disco approach that came from the American idiom. The fact that it had a Japanese style interlude might’ve served as a reminder of Japan’s pop culture strongly embracing funk and disco in the 70’s and 80’s. In all areas,this song represents a dry run towards the sound that would culminate on their 2013 hit “Get Lucky”.
It was in Portland that I located this particular album. There was a compilation album by the Jimmy Castor Bunch that was heavily circulating around my area on CD at the time. Much as was the case of many of the “united funk” greats of the early/mid 70’s? Their music was set up more in the context of concept albums than the singles equation. One could take a song out of this and have it work as something of a novelty record. But the overall idea was broadened by the longer stretch of length. Already listened to this 1975 album twice-including tonight. And in the end it does wind up being one of those album one might just need a couple listens to.
“E-Man Boogie” starts out the album with an ecstatic starts out with a percussive funk/rocker while “Bertha Butt Boogie” is the story of the title character-set to a slow,loping groove with a country style instrumental reference that continues over onto the soulful ballad “One Precious Word” “Hallucinations” continues on with a rhythmic guitar heavy melodic funky soul jam that ends with a faux news report on multiple societal ills-culminating in what sounds like an A-Bomb detonating. “Potential” is a classic percussion/wah wah style Castor funk number playing on variations of the title with the band members.
“You Make Me Feel Brand New” featuring the sax playing the vocal and “Daniel” done up with the Caribbean element turned up a bit more are the two interpretations while “Let’s Party Now” concludes the album with a Philly-like dance stomp. By the time this album came out? The disco era was already in full swing. This was a band that had always specialized primarily in jazz oriented funk grooves. Ones filled with often eccentric instrumental and melodic turns. That element is not present on this album at all really. This is basically a flat out funk/soul/dance album that really establishes the bands signature sound and approach. It’s one of their finest straight up funk releases as a result and I highly recommend tracking it down.
Originally posted on June 22nd,2015
Cameo started off under the name of the New York City Players-changing their name when they signed Cassablanca’s generally funk based Chocolate City imprint. The reason for that is thought to be avoidance of a lawsuit by the Ohio Players. Either way,they evolved from Larry Blackmon’s first band East Coast. That group had included the late vocalist Gwen Guthrie. By the time of their 1977 debut album Cardiac Arrest,the now septet had spent nearly two years polishing their grooves based on everything from the dance floor friendly grooves of Brass Construction to the sounds of P-Funk.
With each successive Cameo album,the band developed a sound that grew more and more distinctive. Most interestingly how they kept the growling flavor of hard Southern funk while adapting to the stripped down instrumentation of 1980’s naked funk. There are far too many wonderful and influential Cameo songs to discuss here on Andresmusictalk. With “I Just Want To Be”,”Shake Your Paints” and “Flirt” being just a few of a couple dozen. For the sake of Larry Blackmon’s 60’s birthday,I’m going to cover a song from their debut that epitomized their overall musical focus called “Good Times”
Dancable,cymbal heavy drums and hand-clapping start out the song-accompanied by a round grooving Clavinet. That’s when the low rhythm guitar comes in-along with a gurgling synth bass and a jazzy electric bass line jam their way into the mix. On the refrains,smoothly melodic electric piano gooses all the other instrumentation right along. On the choruses that start the song and repeat throughout,the horn section play some sharp and intensely rhythmic charts. Towards the end of the song,the drum begins fan-faring around a squirrely space funk synth before closing out on the chorus.
Musically speaking,this song showcases the early Cameo sound extremely well. In terms of sound,it is built around the thick wah wah sounds that defined their first hit “Rigor Mortis” from the same album-while also maintaining it’s jazzy harmonics as well. It also has the faster tempo and loose jamming style that would show up on “It’s Serious” from their sophomore album We All Know Who We Are from later that same year. Upon first hearing Cameo with this fuller sound some years ago,it came as a bit of a shock. It all showcased the versatility of funk that is the Cameo sound.
Filed under 1970's, Cameo, clavinet, dance funk, drums, electric piano, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, jazz funk, Larry Blackmon, New York, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synthesizer, wah wah
Just over ten days ago Larry Payton,the drummer for the Brooklyn based band Brass Construction passed away at the age of 62. The man was considered in the funk community as one of the major drummers of the day. Especially as danceable rhythms became a major musical priority in the disco era. Being that my mother was working in the modern dance field in mid 70’s NYC and was herself a Brooklyn native,it amazes me to think of all the powerful funk bands from Brass Construction to the Fatback Band having their days in the sun during that era. The story of this band and their musical breakthrough also runs very deep as well.
One of the bands founders Guyanese born Randy Muller. Originally founded as Dynamic Soul in Muller’s adopted home of Bedford-Stuyvesant (also my mom’s origin point),Brass Construction came out of an area blanketed by music as the funk era developed. A huge fan of the Afro-Latin percussion strains of Mongo Santamaria,the intellectually minded Muller turned down an offer for the band to sign to Motown’s Rare Earth imprint and signed the band to United Artists. Their self titled debut dropped in 1975. And it began with a song that would not only launch the band success wise,but also change the face of the funk for the rest of the decade. It was entitled “Movin'”.
The song begins with one of the heaviest horn blasts in funk before going into a quiet Fender Rhodes solo that launches into the main song. It is a hard hitting,percussive drum groove driven by hand-claps right on every beat. The rhythm guitar and a pumping, chordally jazz phrased bass line holds the groove steady as the horns play the main melody. A series of scaling chimes create a dream like atmosphere on top. On the refrains of the songs brittle wah wah guitar,sci fi synthesizers and the horns themselves each take on upfront soloing time. As the song goes on,these many combinations of rhythm and melody work with each other in funky unison until song fades out.
In terms of bringing the Afro Funk sound with it’s tight melodic horn charts and percussive drumming to the American public,”Movin'” really can’t be beat. With the emphasis on the basic 4/4 dance beat at the core,it was the nucleus of the New York disco sound that emphasized heavy funkiness. Payton’s drumming on this song echoed on through what would be heard on jams like “Running Away” from the Roy Ayers Ubiquity a couple of years after this. And this song was also kept funk’s Afrocentric identification intact in order to get people to really dance to their tune. This has made it one of the most enduring and important uptempo funk numbers of the mid 1970’s.
Filed under 1970's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afrocentrism, Brass Construction, Brooklyn, disco funk, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Larry Payton, New York, percussion, Randy Muller, rhythm guitar, synthesizer, Uncategorized
LTD are yet another wonderful example of a funk band with true state to state ethic,in terms of it’s membership. They started in Greensboro,North Carolina in 1968. As they migrated to Harlem. It was in Providence,Rhode Island that Jefferey Osborne joined up as lead singer and drummer. Two years after being in NYC,the band went to LA and bought in Jeffrey’s brother Billy and in 1974 signed up to A&M Records. After two commercially unsuccessful albums,they shortened their name from Love,Togetherness & Devotion down to LTD. Their third album in 1976 Love To The World got them their first big hit in “Love Ballad”,redone as an uptempo song four years later by George Benson to similar success.
Today is Jeffrey Osborne is turning 68. During 1977,Osborne focused his musical energies on being the lead singer of LTD with his rich gospel/soul baritone. During this time, Osborne began to share drumming duties with Melvin Webb. This was especially important on the bands fourth album Something To Love. The band maintained their mixture of hard funk and richly arranged soul ballads across this album. To this day,I don’t actually have a copy of this album but have heard most of it’s cuts. The one song from it that made the most impact on my ear holes actually wound up being the bands’ most successful songs. It’s called “(Every Time I Turn Around) Right Back In Love Again”.
The groove starts right in with the basic groove that defines it. It’s a percussive rhythm with a bouncing drum swing. This is carried along by a chugging wah wah guitar-along with a rhythm guitar playing a JB’s/P-Funk style horn line. The actual horns themselves carry the main melody after a rhythmic break. And the horns themselves continually to play that melodic role throughout the song. On each turn,these horns are either accessorizing Osborne’s lead vocals,or the rhythm licks of the refrains themselves. At the end of each chorus,the backing vocals of Lorraine Johnson sings the title lyric. The instrumental refrain of the song grooves on until the song fades out.
Somehow I always felt this is one of LTD’s strongest funk number. Considering that a lot of people see this band as more ballad oriented,this song was an enormous success as a #1 R&B hit and reaching the pop top 5. My friend Henrique’s commentary on this song is the most meaningful to me personally. He illustrated a funk jam played on just about every turntable in the homes of the black community in it’s time. Most importantly,the song had been a huge dancefloor success with gay DJ’s at the Paradise Garage,a disco in lower Manhattan famous for popularizing early EDM. But it also featured many classic funk acts and songs. So all around this is a funky triumph for LTD and Jeffrey Osborne.
Filed under 1970's, DJ's, drums, Funk, horns, Jeffrey Osborne, LTD, New York, P-Funk, Paradise Garage, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized, wah wah
James Ambrose Johnson,better known as Rick James has very misunderstood legacy to a number of people. Due to the controversy surrounding his sexual and drug habits, his musical legacy has been somewhat buried in the public eye. He started out as a member of the group The Myna Birds featuring Neil Young. He signed to Motown successfully with his Stone City Band in the mid 70’s following only minor success on the A&M label. A year or so later,he helped champion the career of another fledgling Motowner known as Teena Marie on her first solo album. And by the time the 80’s rolled around,James’ was poised for a whole other level of super-stardom.
According to Rick’s autobiography Confessions Of A Super Freak he pointed out how,very much like Prince he was a multi instrumentalist capable of doing so in the recording studio. Still he felt that the interaction of a full band,with it’s different rhythm and horn sections,could provide a broader musical base for his songs. So in the very first year of the 1980’s decade,Rick recorded the first album on the Stone City Band alone called In ‘N’ Out. I found a vinyl copy of this while crate digging over a decade ago. It’s an excellent big band funk album overall. It was the next to the last song on it that really caught my attention. It’s called “F.I.M.A. (Funk In Mama Afrika)”.
A space funk synthesizer starts everything off with accenting,marching conga drums. A shrieking Brazilian style disco whistle inaugurates the main song. From there it’s a ferocious mix of phat percussion,bassy wah wah Clavinet and horns playing to the Afrocentric vocal chanting. On the second refrain,this chanting becomes a call and response between the choral and solo voices. The percussion is also turned up louder in the mix at this particular point. The disco whistle and a slithery,liquid synthesizer emerge as the accompanying rhythm to this as well. The song fades out as this point with no break of the orchestration of the following tune leading it out.
There are times when listening to vinyl that I’ll move the needle on the record to one particular song that excites me-over and over again. And this groove is near the top of that list. Must admit that at the time of first hearing this, I had somewhat typecasted Rick James’ “punk funk” sound into too strict of a box. Was not expecting to hear such a hardcore Afro-Brazilian funk jam from the same man about to unleash “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak” into the world. This song finds Rick playing a similar role to his band as Barry White did to Love Unlimited Orchestra-acting a an arranger and band leader (rather than singer) for a festive,funky and meaningful instrumental revelry.
Filed under 1980's, Afro Funk, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Afrocentrism, Brazil, clavinet, Disco, horns, Motown, percussion, Rick James, Stone City Band, synthesizer, Uncategorized, wah wah
One of the important things I’ve learned about Curtis Mayfield over the years is the extent of which his social consciousness evolved. This was also an important factor in America’s silent generation as a whole-extending across the nations color and economic lines. Starting out as mainly the composer/guitarist for The Impressions,Curtis soon became the bands lead singer as well. He became something of a windy city whiz kid-writing and producing for other acts as well. This not only changed the entire trajectory of his musical career. But re-focused the thematic priorities of himself,Sam Gooden and Fred Cash as well.
Throughout the 1960’s,this Chicago powerhouse vocal trio continually churned out songs such as “Keep On Pushing”,”Amen” and of course “People Get Ready”-all anthems of the civil rights movement and released between the march on Washington and the murder of Malcolm X. With later songs such as “We’re A Winner”? It was clear the confidence of the civil rights movement was evolving into the black power movement-for America and The Impressions. In 1969,following the murders of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy a year before? Donny Hathaway co-produced the bands 1969 album The Young Mod’s Forgotten Story,which included another powerful song in “Mighty Mighty (Spade And Whitey)”.
First thing heard on this song is an enthusiastic,youthful applause before a thundering drum roll inaugurates the calling outcry of the Memphis soul style horn section that does a call and response dance with Curtis’s gurgling wah wah guitar. Throughout the main body of the song? The rolling beat is accented by a JB style mid pitched rhythm guitar. Before the horn sections emerge again,there’s a brief low blues guitar as well. On the chorus of the song,a sustained gospel style organ comes in to keep pushing the main melody of the song forward. Towards the end of the song,before the chorus closes out the song,the vocals of The Impressions completely recede while Curtis does a full Albert King style amplified blues solo.
In all honesty? Today is the first day that I’ve ever actually heard this song. Sometimes however? A first impression (pun more intended than I was hoping it to be) can say a thousand words. On two very important levels? This song speaks to two viewpoints of the cultural changes in race relations at that time. Musically the song is just about at the perfect intersection between the contemporary funk explosions of James Brown and the Chicago style urban blues that was coming out of the Chess label only a decade earlier. Lyrically it’s a similar situation. On one hand Curtis is very earnest in schooling the young that the power structure of America will be weakened as “we’re killing up our leaders” and “we all know it’s wrong”. By the end of the song he muses “if your cut you’re gonna bleed/might I get a little deeper/human life is from the semen seed”. This song musically and lyrically speaks so deeply into the primal nature of racial violence? It deserves to be understood in 2015 as much as in the late 60’s.
Filed under 1960's, black power, Blues, Bobby Kennedy, Chess Records, Chicago, civil rights, Curtis Mayfield, Fred Cash, Funk, funk guitar, horns, James Brown, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Sam Gooden, The Impressions, wah wah