Saturday, September 26, 2020

Bootsy Collins Blazes Up The Funk With Hot New Track "The Power Of The One”

Hallelujah!! Bootsy is back with some brand-new funk. The legendary funk master recently dropped his latest single “The Power Of The One.” This is just what the doctor ordered to help us get through these turbulent, funkless days. Bootsy’s potent funk and positive energy are definitely needed now. The gargantuan groove contains enough funk power to light up the entire Las Vegas strip. And Bootsy puts it down like nobody’s business on his famous Space Bass. His bodacious bass line will have your hips shaking more than a rickety old Maytag washer. The multitalented musician also serves up ample helpings of funk on the drums and percussion. Brass player/recording artist Brennan Johns further elevates the groove with some ferocious horn lines. (He played both the trumpet and trombone parts.)

And if that still wasn't enough funk for you, guitar maestro George Benson unleashes some smooth fretboard magic for your groove enjoyment. Bootsy brings his patented goofy humor and charm to the lead vocals. The soulful background vocals are provided by Bootsy and The Williams Singers. Ouiwey Collins, Bootsy’s son, contributes a gritty rap; and jazz/R&B artist Brian Culbertson funks things up on keyboards and shadows Bootsy’s powerhouse bass line on synth bass. 

The song is accompanied by a stylish video that has a sci-fi, futuristic look and is filled with vivid eye-popping images and funky robots getting down on the dance floor.

“The Power  Of The One” is the title track for Bootsy’s new album, which is set for release on October 23. In addition to Benson, other distinguished guests featured on the album include Snoop Dogg, Victor Wooten,  Béla Fleck, Larry Graham and Dr. Cornel West. Bootsy co-wrote, produced and arranged the entire album.

A Bootsy-hosted livestream event is scheduled for October 23 to celebrate the album’s release and the P-Funk veteran’s 69th birthday. It's sure to be a funky affair.



Saturday, July 18, 2020

Revisiting James Brown’s “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” In the Black Lives Matter Era

The civil unrest and mass demonstrations that have rocked the U.S. in recent weeks compelled me to revisit James Brown’s landmark song “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Its strong message of black pride and empowerment couldn’t be more relevant in the racially charged Black Lives Matter era. And it’s fitting that one of the greatest black-pride anthems ever recorded is by the Godfather of Soul. In addition to being a world-renowned artist and performer, the funk pioneer was a revered and influential figure in the black community, particularly during the late 1960s and early ‘70s—the peak years of the Black Power Movement. It was important that he make a powerful musical statement to show his solidarity with his black audience during that period. Brown even cut his famous process and wore his hair in a short chemical-free Afro to further display his commitment to the cause and show pride in his African heritage.

“Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” was released in August of 1968, just four months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The song was met enthusiastically by radio listeners and record buyers and quickly shot to the top of the U.S. R&B singles chart, where it remained for six weeks; and it peaked at #10 on the U.S. pop singles chart. The song was also embraced by the Black Power Movement and became its unofficial anthem.

“Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” was written by Brown and his bandleader Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis. Brown also produced the track, which was released on King Records. As with many James Brown singles, it has a Part 1 and Part  2, with Pt. 2 on the B-side. The song is a call to black Americans to proudly embrace and celebrate their blackness. It also strongly condemns anti-black racism and discrimination in the United States; and it encourages black people to become more self-reliant and to empower themselves financially and politically: “Now we demand a chance to do things for ourselves/We’re tired of beating our head against the wall/And working for someone else.”

What separated this track from other songs that touched on black pride and equality is that it wasn't simply asking for fairer treatment of black Americans—it was demanding it. It was no doubt the song's blunt, unapologetic tone that Black Power activists found particularly appealing.

And the funk level on this track is off the charts; it’s funkier than three-day-old chitlins. The groove is anchored by “Sweet” Charles Sherrell's powerhouse bass line. And Clyde Stubblefield’s super-tight drumming keeps the groove sizzling and deep in-the-pocket. Jimmy Nolen serves up huge helpings of funk with some nasty guitar licks and brings a taste of down-home country flavor to the mix on the bridge. And the horn section rains down pure fire with some explosive funk volleys. The dynamic horn section consisted of Maceo Parker (tenor saxophone), Richard "Kush" Griffith (trumpet), Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis (alto saxophone), Waymond Reed (trumpet), St. Clair Pinckney (baritone saxophone) and Fred Wesley (trombone).

The track also boasts a rousing call-and-response chorus, which features a group of Los Angeles-area kids. The chorus is what took the song over the top and gave it an exhilarating anthemic feel.

It's interesting to note that Brown spoke the lyrics and only sang on the bridge and chorus. Perhaps he felt that the message was so important that the lyrics needed to be clearly spoken rather than sung—ensuring that listeners heard every word loud and clear. Plus, it gives the song a more personal and immediate feel. It sounds like Brown’s right there with his people in the black community; he’s not speaking from the perspective of a rich, world-famous recording artist but as someone who’s experienced much of the same racism and discrimination that others in the black community have. Growing up in the South in the 1930s and ‘40s, Brown experienced firsthand some of the worst racial discrimination imaginable, and he no doubt continued to experience it—though to a lesser degree—after he became famous in the late ‘50s. Celebrity and money didn’t make him any less of a “nigger” to racists; and they had much more latitude to openly show it without fear of repercussions in those days, and they had Jim Crow segregation laws to back them up.

There were tons of documented incidents where big-name black celebrities (including actors, music artists and athletes) were turned away from restaurants, hotels, clubs, casinos etc. due to their race. In fact, black entertainers often couldn't stay at the very same hotels where they performed. This practice continued up until the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial discrimination by private business owners.

Another reason why this song is so important is that it played a significant role in helping the word “black” become the preferred term among black Americans in describing themselves. At the time when Brown released “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” most black people in the U.S. still preferred being called Negro. However, many black activist groups had already begun using the term “black” to describes themselves as they felt the word Negro was demeaning and implied inferiority due its historical association with slavery, discrimination and the treatment of black people as second-class citizens.

Additionally, “Negro” was pushed on black people by whites, but the term “black” was what black people had chosen to call themselves. And that act in itself was liberating and empowering.“Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” successfully helped remove the negative stigma that many had associated with being called black. Black Americans were able to see the word in a new light, and they realized that it wasn’t a bad thing to be called black, but something positive and beautiful.

In an interview with Mojo magazine, Chuck D, leader of the influential rap group Public Enemy, discussed how the song personally impacted him as a young kid growing up in the '60s: “I'm Black and I'm Proud' was a record that really convinced me to say I was black instead of a Negro. Back then black folks were called Negroes, but James said you can say it loud: that being black is a great thing instead of something you have to apologize for.”

The push to replace “Negro” with “black” really started to pick up steam in the late ‘60s, thanks in no small part to Brown’s smash. Well-known black publications such as Ebony had dropped the use of "Negro" during that period; and the Associated Press and the the New York Times soon followed suit. And by 1974, “black” had become the preferred term of self-identification among the majority of black Americans. Nowadays, black and African American are both acceptable terms when referring to black people. “Negro,” on the other hand, is now considered an obsolete term and even offensive by many people. On the rare occasions that black people do use the term, it’s among themselves and generally in a joking, sarcastic manner.

“Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” had a huge cultural impact and is one of the most important civil rights anthems of the 20th century. It’s among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. And it’s ranked at number 305 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The track has also gotten a lot of love in the rap world. It has been sampled on 235 songs,  including “Insane in the Brain” (Cypress Hill), “100 Miles and Runnin’” (N.W.A.), “Nitro” (LL Cool J) and “Jackin’ for Beats” (Ice Cube).

“Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” (Pts. 1 & 2) was included among the tracks on Brown’s A Soulful Christmas album, released in December 1968. And both parts were also featured on his album Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud, which hit records stores in March of 1969.



“Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” (Pts. 1 & 2) available at Amazon

Sunday, June 7, 2020

"Love and Unity" by The Burroughs

Colorado groove masters the Burroughs recently released their new Eric Krasno-produced digital 45, “Love and Unity.” The track’s positive message of uniting people through music is sorely needed now in the wake of the explosive events that have ripped the country apart. The mass demonstrations and riots following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer were a stark reminder that America is still a greatly divided nation. Floyd’s tragic death sparked a global movement where hundreds of thousands of voices have been raised against rampant police brutality and the bigger underlying issue of systemic racism. The Burroughs’ uplifting song is a welcome breath of fresh air amid all the chaos and racial unrest.

Frontman Johnny Burroughs brings his usual charisma and flair to the lead vocals and gets strong vocal support from his fellow bandmates, especially on the infectious chorus. And the Burroughs’ ace horn section serves up some of its patented brass magic. The high-energy track also boasts an irresistible rhythm guitar riff, phat bass and a blazing funk beat.

“Love and Unity” has the same optimistic tone of Sly & Family Stone’s early counterculture anthems during their pre-There's a Riot Goin’ On days. You can also hear some P-Funk and Ohio Players influence in the mix.

The song has a really cool music video, which was directed by Johnny Burroughs and stars Coloradans Ian Sharkey and Lauren Johnston. Shot in the band’s hometown of Greeley, Colorado, the video is a vibrant celebration of dance and diversity. It has a playful sesame street vibe and is filled with colorful sock puppets and features talented dancers from the Colorado Dance Collective and FoCo Flava.

The B-side of “Love and Unity” is the blistering hard-rock jam “We Got To Stand.” The song’s powerful message of taking a stand against injustice and inequality and speaking out for those who can’t is especially significant in today’s climate. The nine-piece ensemble gets raw and nasty on this ferocious groove, which features some badass organ work and a thunderous beat.

The Burroughs have been bringing their exhilarating brand of “Sweaty Soul Music” to appreciative fans since 2013. The members are Johnny Burroughs (lead vocals); Briana Harris (alto saxophone); Sean Hagemeister (lead guitar); Mary Claxton (drums, vocals), Jeremy Fallis (trombone); Kelsey Shiba (keyboards, vocals); Hayden Farr (baritone saxophone); Brian Claxton (bass); and Alec Bell (lead trumpet).

In light of rising racial tensions and the numerous protests taking place across the country, the Burroughs posted the following message on their Facebook page: “We owe the legacy, creativity, and leadership of black musicians for the existence of the music we love and celebrate. We stand in solidarity against racism and injustice that threatens the safety and freedom of our black friends and neighbors.”

Visit the Burroughs' website to learn more about them.


The official music video for "Love and Unity"



The Burroughs performing "Love and Unity" in the CPR Performance Studio



"We Got To Stand"



"Love and Unity" at Amazon


Related blog entry: Soul/Funk Band The Burroughs Bring Some Classic Old-School Flavor To Digital 45

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Groundbreaking Rock ‘n’ Roll Innovator Little Richard Dies At 87

Influential rock ‘n’ roll legend Little Richard died on Saturday morning from bone cancer. He was 87. Born Richard Wayne Penniman in 1932 in Macon, Georgia, Little Richard was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most important architects. He played a crucial role in the development of the genre during its infancy in the 1950s. The fiery and flamboyant musician’s amazing talent, charismatic personality and powerhouse performances made him a star and a pivotal figure in the burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll movement. His discography includes seminal rock ‘n’ roll classics such as “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “Tutti Frutti,” “Lucille,” “Rip It Up” and “Long Tall Sally.” Little Richard lit up these tracks with his scorching gospel-infused vocals and explosive piano-playing style. His sound was a potent mix of boogie-woogie, rhythm and blues, gospel and jump blues.

Little Richard’s influence is immense. It reverberates in many corners of the music and entertainment world. And he was a major source of inspiration for iconic artists such as the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Elton John, Prince, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding.

Additionally, Little Richard and his music helped break down racial barriers (playing to audiences made up of black and white fans) during a time when Jim Crow segregation laws were firmly in place and strongly enforced by authorities. He was also one of the earliest well-known recording artists whose stage persona had androgynous elements, blazing a path for many gender-bending artists who followed.

 Little Richard was a trailblazer on several fronts. His many contributions to music and popular culture will forever be remembered and celebrated.



Monday, April 20, 2020

Top Five Bill Withers Songs

Acclaimed soul legend Bill Withers died on March 30 from heart complications. He was 81. Withers was one of the most cherished and respected artists of the 20th century. Throughout the 1970s, he released a string of amazing songs, many of which have become timeless classics. He continued to release great music in the ‘80s, particularly in the early part of that decade. Withers had a rare gift as a songwriter and storyteller that few artists could match. All of his songs possess a sense of authenticity and emotional power that makes the listener believe every word as if it were gospel. Withers’ talents earned him tons of accolades and awards, including three Grammys. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. In recognition of the artist, I’ve made a list of my top five favorite Bill Withers songs. Here is the list in no particular order

Kissing My Love (1973)

This joyous tune touches on a subject that many people can relate to—the feeling of pure euphoria when kissing your sweetheart. The infectious groove features a percolating beat, funky wah-wah guitar licks and a superb string arrangement. And Withers infuses his vocals with heaps of gritty down-home soul. When this cut comes on, you have no choice but to "pat your foot, don't stop/put your foot on the rock.”


Kissing My Love at Amazon


Lean On Me (1972)

“Lean On Me” is a stirring anthem of hope, resilience and solidarity. It has long been a go-to song at public gatherings to lift people’s spirits and bring them closer together; it has been sung in a variety of settings, including school assemblies, church services, AA meetings, sporting events, charity fundraisers, weddings, protest marches and family reunions. This beautiful gospel-soul masterpiece struck a universal chord among listeners and is forever etched in our cultural landscape. There’s even a major motion picture named after it. One of the things that separates “Lean on Me '' from a lot other inspirational songs is the honesty and sincerity that Withers so effortlessly brings to it.


"Lean On Me" at Amazon


Grandma’s Hands (1971)

There is something truly magical about this song. The lyrics are so powerful that they could easily stand on their own as a poem. I can imagine seeing them on the pages of an anthology of great African-American poetry. However, the haunting music arrangement coupled with Withers’ soulful baritone make “Grandma’s Hands” a transcendent piece. The singer reminisces about his late grandmother’s generous spirit and quiet strength. The song showcases what a gifted storyteller Withers was. You can clearly envision the events that he recounts about his beloved “grandma” in the verses.


"Grandma's Hands" at Amazon


Lovely Day (1977)

On this breezy slice of R&B, Withers reflects on the restorative power of love and how it can help a person maintain a positive outlook in the face of life’s many hardships and uncertainties. The song has an uplifting, reassuring tone and is great to listen to when you need a musical boost for your spirits. And the arrangement is topflight—groovin’ bass, soothing horn charts and airy strings. A bit of interesting trivia about the song: Withers set a record for the longest sustained note on a US chart hit when he held a high E note for 18 seconds near the end of "Lovely Day."


"Lovely Day" at Amazon


Use Me (1972)

“Use Me” is the bittersweet tale of a dysfunctional relationship between the song’s narrator and his overbearing, emotionally abusive partner. She humiliates and undermines him at every turn, but he readily endures this mistreatment because the benefits behind closed doors outweigh the abuse: “It ain't too bad the way you're using me/'Cause I sure am using you to do the things you do.” The musical arrangement fits the lyrical content well. The seductive groove is bolstered by Ray Jackson’s funky hohner clavinet and James Gadson’s super-smooth drum pattern. And Melvin Dunlap’s bass work keeps the flow sweet and sexy.


"Use Me" at Amazon

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

“Get It” by Stevie Wonder, featuring Michael Jackson

Stevie Wonder’s 1987 single “Get It” marked the second time that he and Michael Jackson dueted on a song. The superstar pair had previously traded vocals on “Just Good Friends,” a track from MJ’s multiplatinum album Bad (1987). “Get It” is a step up from “Just Good Friends,” which is a rather pedestrian piece of pop/soul fluff. “Get It,” on the other hand, has some real bite to it. Both Stevie and MJ deliver strong vocal performances over a potent dance groove; and Stevie anchors the track with a nasty synth bass line and a bumpin’ electro beat.

The song is about a woman who’s wary of getting into a new relationship due to being hurt too many times. But Stevie and MJ try to convince her that they are different from other guys and can offer her more than just material things, heartbreak and empty promises—and they’ll shower her with tons of “tender love and affection.” The high point of the song comes near the end when MJ and Stevie engage in an epic riff-off to win over the girl; the two artists let loose with some vocal fireworks. It’s a shame that they never got the opportunity to perform this song together live. They surely would have left the stage in ashes if they had.

“Get It” was written, arranged and produced by Stevie. It was a single from his platinum-selling album Characters (1987). He played all the instruments on the track except for the guitar part, which was played by his longtime sideman Ben Bridges. And Mary Lee Evans accompanied Stevie on the background vocals. The song performed extremely well on Billboard’s R&B singles chart, peaking at #4. It also had a strong showing on the Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart, climbing to #11. However, it only made it to #80 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart.

And “Get It” and “Just Good Friends” weren't MJ and Stevie's only music collaborations. MJ and his brothers provided background vocals for Stevie’s chart-topping protest anthem you “You Haven’t Done Nothin,’” a single from the Grammy-winning collection Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974). And Stevie wrote and produced an entire Jackson 5 album in 1974, but it was shelved. One of the songs recorded during those sessions was “Buttercup,” which appeared on the 2009 compilation album I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters.

Additionally, Stevie and Susaye Greene co-wrote the haunting ballad “I Can’t Help It” for MJ’s landmark album Off The Wall (1979). Not long after that, MJ sang background vocals on “All I Do,” a track from Stevie’s 1980 LP Hotter Than July. And in 1985, Stevie and MJ joined a slew of other big-name music artists for the all-star benefit single “We Are The World” to help raise money for famine relief in Africa. The song, which was co-written by MJ and Lionel Richie, sold 20 million copies worldwide and raised millions for famine relief.

MJ and Stevie had similar career paths: Both were child prodigies who began their professional music careers at a very young age; and both got their start at Motown. The two enjoyed highly successful music careers while still preteens and went on to even bigger success as young adults. Upon reaching young adulthood, they successfully pushed for more creative control over their art, which resulted in their best and fully realized work. And both artists’ music helped define a decade—the ‘70s for Stevie and the ‘80s for MJ.

Stevie and MJ were also close friends; and they maintained that close friendship until MJ’s death. The pop/soul legend learned a lot about recording music and songwriting from Stevie. This was mainly through observing Stevie at work in the studio, and he’d just soak it all in like a sponge. In fact, MJ was in the studio when Stevie was putting together his magnum opus Songs in the Key of Life (1976). And what better teacher to learn from about making music than the Wonder man himself? MJ always drew inspiration from the best and applied it to his own work, be it in the studio, on the stage, or in his music videos.



"Get It" at Amazon

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Soul Nova Niki J. Crawford Shines Bright In West Coast Music Scene

Singer/songwriter/performer Niki J. Crawford has been electrifying the West Coast music scene with her impressive vocal gifts, dynamic performances, and rich sonic gumbo of funk, soul, rock, reggae, indie, pop, R&B and blues. The multitalented LA-based artist brings an honesty and authenticity to her recordings and performances; and she always forms a strong connection with her audience at her shows. Her talents have earned her a dedicated and enthusiastic following that stretches across California and beyond.

Crawford has shared the stage with music luminaries such as Al Green, Carlos Santana, Snoop Dogg, Aaron Neville, Macy Gray, the Roots and Sharon Jones. And she has performed on popular late-night television shows such as Late Show with David Letterman, Conan, Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

A versatile singer, Crawford’s vocals can be soothing and reassuring one minute and forceful and brash the next. She rains pure fire on tracks like soul/rock burner “What If,” then turns around and delivers an elegant, understated vocal performance on the majestic “No Fear.”

Crawford was born in a small country town in Springhill, Louisiana. She developed an interest in music at an early age and began singing when she was only six. The talented young singer eventually became the lead soloist in her hometown church choir. And music has been a big part of her life ever since.

Crawford was the lead singer for acclaimed LA funk/soul outfit Orgone for three years before spreading her wings as a solo artist. She has years of touring experience under her belt and has lit up stages all over the world with her immense talent. She's truly a force onstage.

In 2015, Crawford released her EP Genesis Block, a topflight collection of songs. And she released her first full album, The Second Truth, in 2018. This album  also boasts really strong material, all of which was written by Crawford.

In addition to being a recording artist, Crawford has a burgeoning career as an actor; she has appeared in films such as He’s Just Not That Into You, Revival, American Dreamz, Love Ranch, Mr. Sophistication and Killer Diller, which garnered her much praise from film critics. And she has guest-starred on popular TV series such as Ally McBeal and Wanted.

To learn learn more about Crawford, get tour dates, or info on any film projects she may have in the works, visit her website.

Crawford's original song "What If"



Crawford performs "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" at  Long Beach Jazz Festival 2016



Crawford's original song "No Fear"


Crawford's music available at Amazon