Rick Stevens the man in the center of this album cover. Why he wasn’t seen on the cover has to do with the fact he’d left the band before Tower Of Power’s eponymously titled third album of 1973 came out. Warner Bros released 1,000 copies of this album with the wrong cover by mistake before withdrawing it. Steven’s was a lead singer for the band from 1969 up to 73. Sadly he passed away on September 5th at age 77 of cancer. Thought about doing one of the songs Stevens sang lead on in Tower Of Power. But his own story, first discovered by me in Wax Poetic magazine, is a far grander one to tell.
Stevens was born in Port Arthur,Texas. But grew up in Reno, Nevada where he began singing in church during childhood. His maternal uncle was the iconic R&B/soul singer Ivory Joe Hunter, for whom young Stevens held much admiration for and who came to visit him between touring. Stevens moved to the Bay Area in 1966. And recorded with a number of bands and, after an aborted time with one such band in Seattle, he moved back to San Francisco and joined Tower Of Power in 1969. He was a strong vocal presence on their first two albums,especially in terms of ballads.
Songs such as “Your Still A Young Man” remained Stevens signature songs throughout his time with the band. After leaving the TOP, he became part of another local horn oriented band in the Bay called Brass Horizon in 1975. Sadly a year later, he was arrested for his involvement in a failed and fatal drug deal. He spent over 30 years in prison, where he converted to Christianity and swore off drugs. He spent his touring Northern California with his new band Love Power. He released a CD with them entitled Rick Stevens Back On The Streets Again Vol. 1 in 2014.
The news of Stevens death came to me through by a writer and Facebook friend A. Scott Galloway. He’d found out about the singers passing via fellow TOP member Lenny Williams online post,after Williams had received the call from Stevens son. Later in the day after finding this out, my friend Henrique and I got to talking about how he framed some TOP album covers on his wall- in tribute to his local Oakland funk heroes. Though Stevens presence in TOP was comparatively brief, his story ended up being an abbreviated career that did end in a redemptive journey of sorts. RIP Rick Stevens!
20Ten is one of my favorite Prince albums of the new millennium before his 2014 comeback on Warner Brothers. Questlove wrote an article in Wax Poetics magazine five years ago about the 33 reasons why Prince was hip-hop. The 20Ten album provided a possible 34th reason-that being most contemporary hip-hop/R&B music with it’s stripped down drum machine/synthesizer sound is based on the same early/mid 80’s Minneapolis sound that Prince pioneered,and then returned to with this album. This is also one of very very few times I saw Prince return to the musical sound that made him so famous.
This was a difficult album for me to find. It was released shortly after Prince received a Lifetime Achievement Aware at the 2010 BET Awards. But in the UK only. And even for that as a covermount CD on British magazines like the Daily Mirror. My local record store Bullmoose would’ve had to ordered the magazines themselves to even sell copies of this. And that seems that they did because I managed to pick it up. After jamming to the first album a couple of times during that first week of having it,I went over to Amazon.com and had the following to say about it:
On his previous release Mplsound Prince was making it abundantly clear that he was reaching towards his classic one-man-band Minneapolis sound as a means of progressing into the future. This is actually a move he made on a number of occasions when his music and career seemed in question. Well right now his career isn’t in that state at all. He’s musically revered by many in this generation and was recently given a tribute on the BET Music Awards this past year. Prince himself also seems to obsessed with some strange form of eternal youth in which his music doesn’t age but his lyrical themes mature.
You will not find any explicit lyrics on this album for sure,same as you won’t find them on any of his albums since 2001. That doesn’t mean that effects the music at all because these are the most energized,lively,funky and musically sophisticated songs Prince has done in the new millennium. The album opens and ends on the same basic musical note with “Compassion” and “Everybody Loves Me” embracing the shuffling LINN drum led rockabilly styled funk with lyrics that alternately speak of both selflessness and selfishness. “Beginning Endlessly”,the amazing “Sticky Like Glue” and “Lavaux” all embrace the classic Prince all encompassing funk groove with some delicious synthesizer squiggles and layered drum and percussion tracks.
He hasn’t lost his touch as a multi instrumentalist in the least bit and actually has expanded on it to include light rhythmic nods to both hip-hop/R&B and contemporary 80’s dance revival (itself based on his own original music) without shamelessly surrendering to either style and still being himself. Songs like “Future Love Song”,”Walk In The Sand” and “Sea Of Everything” also embrace Prince’s touch with the slow jam to it’s absolute best effect. Typical of Prince he makes you flip through 75 separate 2-4 second empty tracks before we get to cut 77,which is the title song offered as a very hidden bonus selection. This is very much a TAFKAP era sounding funk/rap styled number but still his one-man-band style is very much in attendence. After all these years Prince obviously has no intent on being a fossil. He wants to keep being himself and now that he’s in his 50’s he also refuses to musically look down on those younger than them and also embraces many of their ideas into his own.
The summer season is already a few weeks in as I’m writing this. But wanted to officially inaugurate this as Prince Summer here on Andresmusictalk. It’s been underway for a few months now already. But there will continue to be a consistent emphasis on Prince’s own music here for a long time to come-as well as a continuing emphasis on the enormous influence of the many forms of the Minneapolis sound. Even if Prince himself didn’t always realize it,he is likely the last artist to really innovate musically in the funk/soul genre. And the album 20Ten is more than solid proof of this.
Filed under 2010's, Amazon.com, funk albums, Hip-Hop, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, Questlove, synth brass, synthesizers, UK, Uncategorized, Wax Poetics magazine
It was actually Issue 61 of Wax Poetics magazine that made me aware of the existence of this duo. During the first half decade of the 2010’s? It would seem as if funk,especially it’s analog synthesizer oriented cousin known as boogie,has been rediscovered as a vital template for contemporary soul, electronic, pop and hip-hop artists. And it’s really been healthy for instrumentalists in particular. And happily it’s emerged again from a source that has been drawn to it for over two decades at this point.
Stone Throw Records has really upped the ante in terms of celebrating live instrumental hip-hop and it’s offshoots. From the days of Peanut Butter Wolf,through the late J Dilla and Madlib. This was the beginning of hip-hop’s journey around to straight up funk again. Now Tuxedo has emerged from this brew. Staring the musical talents of Seattle native Jake One,producer for contemporary rappers such as Drake and Rick Ro$$ along with singer/songwriter Mayer Hawthorne? The duo have come out with a self titled album including songs such as “So Good” here.
Starting off with an insistent percussion accented drum beat out of the “Billie Jean”/”Ghetto Life” early 80’s “naked funk” school? A phat bass synth opens the door for a sharp,punchy and higher pitched melodic synthesizer. Both of these analog synthesizers dance and bounce rhythmically to the slow dragging funky drum of the song. This provides the musical core for Hawthorne’s vocals-assisted by an alarm like “video game” counter melodic line. A bridge of the song cuts out the bass synth and concentrates on the melodic one as an orchestral element-returning to the original electronic duet to the closeout of the song-with Hawthorne harmonizing with his own back-round vocals.
One of the things that I appreciate about this song is that it showcases the meatiest possible elements of boogie/electro funk. Jake One seems to possess a keen understanding of how much that style of funk and first generation commercial hip-hop of the early 80’s went hand and hand. The tongue in cheek video,recorded on VHS tape cable access style showcases Hawthorne,Jake One and the band performing the song in an expressionless manner. The actual song expresses a great sense of warmth and vitality in it’s melodic ideas-which lies in contrast to the loping rhythmic funk stomp underneath it all. A powerful example of modern day hard electro/boogie based synth funk.
Filed under 2015, Billie Jean, Boogie Funk, electro funk, funk revival, Hip-Hop, J Dilla, Jake One, Madlib, Mayer Hawthorne, Peanut Butter Wolf, Stone Throw Records, synth funk, Wax Poetics magazine
One thing that seems to be a constant in funk,both during its process on up through present day,is its strong connections to Latin America. In particular Brazil,whose polyrhythmic Afro-Latin percussion rhythms were part of the foundation of the genre. So it makes sense that the massive cross pollination of funk,jazz and Afro-Latin percussion coming out of and through Brazil would continue to spawn artists creating from within that expansive musical spectrum. One musician who emerged from that talent pool during the new millennium is Rio’s Ed Motta. This singer/songwriter/multi instrumentalist has connections into music far deeper than recording. And today I am going to talk about a song from his newest album,2013’s AOR called “Dondi”. And I wound like to thank my Facebook friend (and funkateer) Andrew Osterov of Kiev,Ukraine for introducing this song to me.
The song starts off with the traditional neo soul device of the sound of scratchy vinyl before going into a concise,highly melodic jazz/funk groove. Musically the song is built around a drum line and chordal changes that lay somewhere between the approach of George Duke and Stevie Wonder-a full on appropriation of funky soul and jazz that seems to be feeding into both styles. The instrumentation is hard hitting,yet gentle and coaxing as the big voiced Motta talks things out with his lady love about how they might want to consider more romance and less merely talking of it. Accended by flute accents and big popping slap bass between the choruses,the song has a strong major/minor chord bridge with David T. Walker’s fluid,virtuoso guitar taking a strong solo on the songs outro.
As with a lot of “nu funk” that I’ve come to be acquainted with,Ed Motta was an artist who came to me via Wax Poetics magazine-the only funk musician oriented periodical that I know of to be in existence. This particular song not only embodies all of the qualities that drew me to the funk/soul spectrum of music,but the qualities of it that I try to extol to others to get an introduction to this music. As with Eumir Deodato before him,Ed Motta brings Brazilian melodic and rhythm flavors to a highly singable pop-funk-jazz sound on this song. And very much in the attitude of the post Prince years? Motta is a DIY multi instrumentalist who also maintains a band with a stripped down yet expansive instrumental sound. However,simply the fact that this instrumentally crackerjack type of funky music will have most people humming along says a great deal for the songs virtues. And outside all of that,Motta is an avid vinyl record collector-understanding his music from both a listener’s and instrumentalists perspective. That makes him potentially one of the most well rounded DIY artists in the funk/soul/jazz spectrum today.