Thursday, November 9, 2017

“Ain’t We Funkin’ Now” by the Brothers Johnson

With the release of their blazing dance track “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now” in 1978, the Brothers Johnson showed once again why they were one of the big dogs of the funk game. Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson’s powerhouse bassline drives this wall-shaking groove, and his brother, George “Lightnin’ Licks” Johnson, unleashes the funk with a scorching guitar solo. Also, the groove is augmented by a tight horn arrangement and Quincy Jones’ flawless production.

This mega-funky joint was a single from the talented duo’s third studio album Blam! (1978). It was co-written by Louis Johnson, Alex Weir, Quincy Johnson, Tom Bahler and Valerie Johnson. In addition to George and Louis, some of the other players on the track included their cousin Alex Weir (rhythm guitar), Steve Schaeffer (drums), Jerry Hey (Trumpet), William Reichenbah (trombone) and Lawrence Williams (saxophone). The track peaked at #45 on the U.S. R&B singles chart.

Blam! was produced by Quincy Jones. It topped the U.S. R&B album chart and climbed to #7 on the U.S. pop album chart. The LP went platinum, as did the other three Brothers Johnson albums that Q produced—Look Out for #1 (1976), Right on Time (1977) and Light Up the Night (1980).

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Influential Rock 'n' Roll Pioneer Fats Domino Dead at 89

Fats Domino, one of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding fathers, died of natural causes on Tuesday, Oct. 24, at his home in Harvey, Louisiana. He was 89. Domino was a towering figure in the music world who made significant contributions to rock ‘n’ roll and its development as a vital new genre in the 1950s.

The New Orleans-bred piano man carved out his own place in music history with his seminal sound, which is a vibrant mix of Delta blues, R&B, Dixieland and jazz. His powerful boogie woogie piano playing was complemented by his rich, soulful baritone voice. And in addition to his considerable musical gifts, Domino would charm audiences with his warm, easygoing personality. His genuine modesty was as big as his talent.

From the mid-'50s to the early '60s, Domino racked up a string of hits, including the standards “I’m in Love Again,” “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t That a Shame” “I’m Walkin’” “Blue Monday,” “Whole Lotta Loving" and “Walking to New Orleans.” Many of the songs were co-written by Domino and his longtime songwriting partner Dave Bartholomew.

During his career, Domino had 35 U.S. top-40 hits (11 of which landed in the top 10), and he sold more than 110 million records. He outsold every ‘50s rock act except for Elvis Presley. Additionally, Domino’s million-selling 1949 release “The Fat Man” is widely regarded as one of the earliest rock ‘n’ roll records.

Domino’s importance to modern music can’t be understated. He was one of the key progenitors of the new and exciting rock ‘n’ roll sound that took the music world by storm in the 1950s. And he was a significant influence and inspiration to many music greats, including Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Little Richard, Dr. John, Randy Newman and Elton John.

Moreover, Domino was among the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986—a well-deserved honor for an incredible artist whose music continues to be appreciated by people of all ages across all demographics.

"I'm in Love Again"

"The Fat Man"

Fats Domino performing "Blueberry Hill" on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956

Friday, October 13, 2017

"Funk Gets Stronger (Killer Millimeter Longer Version)" by Funkadelic, featuring Sly Stone

Funk masters George Clinton and Sly Stone
Legendary funk-soul brothers from another mother Sly Stone and George Clinton combine their groove forces for this dope Funkadelic joint. This funky strut of a groove is peppered with infectious horn lines, dirty guitar licks and stellar keyboard and synth parts.

Sly sings most of his verses in a bluesy whisper but occasionally lets loose with a few powerhouse wails to remind listeners that he was still in possession of one of the most soulful voices in funk music. And of course George Clinton is always down for a good funk party and contributes some clever lyrics and catchphrases as well as his signature off-center humor.

In addition to vocals, the multitalented Sly also played drums, keyboards, rhythm guitar and synthesizers on the track. Other players included Eddie “Maggot Brain” Hazel on lead guitar and Sly & the Family Stone alums Pat Rizzo (saxophone) and Cynthia Robinson (trumpet). Sly and Clinton co-wrote and produced the track.

This underrated funk cut didn’t get near enough play back when it was released on Funkadelic’s The Electric Spanking of War Babies album in 1981. In addition to “Funk Gets Stronger,” other great cuts from the album include the percolating “Electro-Cuties” and the lewd, crude and very funky “Icka Prick.”

Sly has recorded and toured with P-Funk off and on over the years and is close friends with George Clinton. Other P-Funk tracks that Sly has contributed his versatile talents include “Hydraulic Pump,” “Catch A Keeper” (both P-Funk All Star cuts), “The Naz” (Funkadelic) and “In Da Kar” by Funkadelic & Soul Clap.  Hopefully, there are more funky collabs to come with Sly, George and P-Funk.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Funkiest Synth Bass Lines

Herbie Hancock working his keyboard magic
The synth bass made its debut on the urban music scene in the early 1970s. It was introduced by groundbreaking artists like Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock, who had begun creating and experimenting with synthesizers in an effort to bring something fresh and unique to their sound. Synthesizers were soon taken up by other black musicians, and by end of the decade, many funk, R&B and disco artists had synth bass lines on their tracks. And by the mid ‘80s, the synth bass had become a fixture in contemporary music and could be heard in a number of different genres.

Listening to some of the great synth bass lines created over the years inspired me to make up a list of my 30 funkiest synth bass lines. Here’s the list in no particular order. 

Flash Light – Parliament 

Keyboard maestro Bernie Worrell took the synth bass to the next level on this galvanic funk classic. His big-bumpin’ Minimoog bass line serves as the funk engine for this roof-raising party jam, which had folks tearing up dance floors back in the day—and still does today.

More Bounce to the Ounce – Zapp 

Zapp’s influential funk classic features a Godzilla-sized synth bass line that forces listeners to surrender to the groove and rush the dance floor.

Living on the Front Line – Eddy Grant

This powerful politically charged reggae track boasts a searing synth bass line served up by the multitalented Eddy Grant, who plays every instrument on the track.

Bad  – Michael Jackson 

The sleek, sinister synth bass line drives this dynamic MJ classic, one of pop/soul legend’s funkiest grooves.

Boogie on Reggae Woman – Stevie Wonder

 Stevie brings bushels of funk and sonic joy through his amazing moog-bass work on this classic track. This song never fails to generate smiles and get heads bobbin’ whenever it’s played.

Smokey – Funkadelic

Bernie Worrell serves up some moog-bass brilliance on this unearthly gospel/funk masterpiece. The Wizard of Woo’s low-end work on this cut is thick, deep and devastatingly funky.

Sign ‘O the Times – Prince

Prince somberly reflects on the sociopolitical ills of the world on this funkified electro-blues chart-topper, which is anchored by a hard-hitting synth bass line.

Chameleon – Herbie Hancock

Jazz legend Herbie Hancock blew the minds of music lovers near and far when he dropped this gloriously funky instrumental back in 1973. This jazz standard features the now iconic synth bass line, which Hancock played on an ARP Odyssey.

Speed Demon – Michael Jackson

MJ brings massive doses of funk and attitude to this smokin,’ fuel-injected groove, which is bolstered by a badass synth bass line. 

Into the Void – Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor lays down a savage synth bass line on this ferocious industrial-funk groove.

(Not Just) Knee Deep – Funkadelic

Legendary groove master Junie Morrison delivers a sublimely funky Minimoog bass line on this epic funk/dance classic.

I Come Off – Young MC

Rhyme master Young MC spits his tight verses over a treacherous synth bass line on this dope old-school cut.

 Maybe Your Baby –  Stevie Wonder

Stevie delivers some potent synth bass magic on this blisteringly funky tale of heartbreak and infidelity.

Hyperactive! –Thomas Dolby 

 This electrifying new wave/funk hybrid is built around an urgent, stuttering bass line. It’s a truly unique groove that only the mad scientist of synthpop Thomas Dolby could have dream up.

Soft and Wet – Prince

This early Prince joint is filled with stellar synth work, including an irresistibly funky bass line. 

[couldn't find a clip of the original studio recording of the song online]

Atomic Dog – George Clinton

 George Clinton’s iconic and influential funk classic has a super-dope synth bass line that puts some extra stank on the funk.

You Are a Winner – Earth, Wind & Fire

Keyboard wizard Larry Dunn’s hyperkinetic synth bass line catapults this supersonic groove to its funkiest capacity.

Smooth Criminal  –  Michael Jackson 

 This singular R&B/rock/pop gem boasts an indelible synth bass line that immediately hooked listeners upon first play. It’s one of the most memorable and immediately recognizable bass lines in MJ’s discography.

Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop) – Parliament

Bernie Worrell lends his keyboard genius—including an ultra-funky Minimoog bass line—to this monster dance-floor groovathon.

Battle Flag – Lo Fidelity Allstars, featuring Pigeonhed

Andy Dickinson's inspired bass work (played on a real bass through synth pedals) significantly elevates the funk level on this exhilarating remix of Pigeonhed’s song.

Got to Give It Up – Marvin Gaye

Music legend Marvin Gaye personally laid down the bumpin’ synth bass line on this influential funk/disco classic. He played it on the RMI harmonic synthesizer.

Drive Me Wild – Vanity 6

This sexy Prince-produced track features a funky robotic-sounding synth bass line.

The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) – Missy Elliott

Missy Elliott’s blissfully bizarre 1997 hit contains one of the phattest synth bass lines to ever grace a track. I mean this bass line is straight-up obese and insanely funky.

Cash in Your Face – Stevie Wonder

Stevie’s scathing musical statement on housing discrimination features a wickedly funky synth bass line.

Superfly Sister – Michael Jackson 

MJ gets waist-deep in the funk on this super-tight groove, which boasts a bangin’ synth bass line.

Reach for It – George Duke

George Duke’s funkalicious Minimoog bass line sets off this awesome groove in style.

Hey Mr. Jones – Jane Child

Multitalented Canadian artist Jane Child delivers some fantastic low-end synth work on this dark, harrowing peek into drug addiction.

Gloryhallastoopid (Pin the Tail on the Funky) – Parliament

This loose, good-time Parliament groove features a nasty funk bass line on synth.

Natural Born Killaz – Dr. Dre and Ice Cube

Former Death Row keyboardist Priest "Soopafly" Brooks serves up a menacing synth bass line on this diabolical G-Funk joint.

Action Speaks Louder Than Words – Chocolate Milk

This smoldering political-message track is anchored by Robert Dabon’s angry Moog bass line.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

“Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey and The Detroit Guitar Band

Motown guitar legend Dennis Coffey and The Detroit Guitar Band blessed the music world with this incredible instrumental back in 1971. Coffey serves up a potent guitar performance on this sizzling funk/rock cut. The dynamic track also features a terrific drum/conga breakdown, followed by a badass bass solo from famed Funk Brother Bob Babbit. Also, a bit of song trivia: the opening guitar line is actually made up of nine guitar riffs overdubbed by Coffey, spanning three octaves, giving it a more explosive and powerful sound.

 “Scorpio,” written and arranged by Coffey, was a single from his second album, Evolution (1971). The track shot up the charts—peaking at #6 on the U.S. R&B charts and #9 on the U.S. pop charts—and went on to sell a million copies. It’s now considered a funk classic and has been sampled on a number tracks, including “Bust of Move” (Young MC), “Night of the living Baseheads” (Public Enemy), “The Score” (The Fugees, featuring Diamond D), “All My Love” (House of Pain), “We’re All in the Same Gang” (West Coast Rap All Stars), “Jingling Baby” (LL Cool J) and “Mama Gave Birth to the Soul Children” (Queen Latifah, featuring De La Soul).

In addition to Coffey and Babbit, the other players on “Scorpio” are Joe Podorsic (baritone guitar); Ray Monette (tenor guitar); Eddie “Bongo” Brown (congas); Uriel Jones and Richard "Pistol" Allen (drums); Early Van Dyke (piano) and Jack Ashford on tambourine.

Coffey was born in Detroit, Michigan on November 11, 1940. He began playing guitar at age 13 and had his first recording session at 15 where he laid down some hot licks on Vic Gallon’s rockabilly single "I'm Gone" on the Gondola record label in 1956.

In the early ‘60s, Coffey played with the rock ‘n’ roll instrumental band the Royaltones.  The band landed the hits “Poor Boy” and “Flamingo Express.” The Royaltones also played on tracks for other artists, including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Del Shannon.

During the late ‘60s through the ‘70s, Coffey made a name for himself as a prolific session player for the labels Motown, Invictus and Sussex.  As a member of the Funk Brothers—Motown’s legendary house band—Coffey played on tons of great tracks, many of which went on to become classics. 

Some of the well-known tracks that Coffey played on include “War” (Edwin Starr), “Band of Gold” (Freda Payne), “Someday, We’ll Be Together (Diana Ross and the Supremes) and the following Temptations songs: “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today),” “Cloud Nine,” “Psychedelic Shack,” “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).” 

Coffey’s creative use of distortion, Echoplex, fuzz tone and wah-wah pedals helped enhance the psychedelic-soul flavor on some of the Norman Whitfield-produced tracks for the Temptations.

Coffey also played on Funkadelic’s 1970 self-titled debut album, contributing his strong fretboard skills to the haunting, freakafied joint “Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?”

The guitarist, composer and producer released his first album, Hair and Thangs, in 1969. He dropped his third album, Goin’ for Myself, in 1972. The album contains the exhilarating rock/funk instrumental “Taurus.” The track performed well on the U.S. singles charts, climbing to #11 on the R&B charts and #18 on the pop charts.  And the album peaked at #37 on the U.S. R&B album charts.

Following Goin’ for Myself, Coffey continued doing session work as well as dropping several more solo albums on the Sussex and Westbound labels. And he, along with Mike Theodore, produced and arranged the 1972 international smash “Nice to Be With You” by soft-rock band Gallery. 

The guitarist also holds the distinction of being the first white artist to perform on Soul Train. Coffey and The Detroit Guitar Band performed “Scorpio” on the super-hip music-dance television program on January 8, 1972.

Additionally, Coffey scored the 1974 Blaxploitation martial arts flick Black Belt Jones, which starred Jim Kelly. The film is now considered a cult classic.

Coffey continues to gig and record music. He recently released the album Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge, which is a live album that was recorded in 1968.

Check out Coffey’s official website for upcoming concert dates and other info.

Friday, July 14, 2017

B.T. Express Kept Dance Floors Packed With Smash “Do It (‘Til You're Satisfied)"

Funk/disco band B.T. Express exploded onto the music scene in 1974 with their smash debut single “Do It ('Til You're Satisfied)." The dynamic funk-dance groove struck a chord with radio listeners and dance-floor junkies across the U.S.—from the hood to the ‘burbs—becoming a massive crossover hit. The track’s irresistible bass line, percolating wah-wah guitar licks, bumpin’ beat and super-tight horns had folks setting dance floors on fire back in the day. The track also boasts some funky conga work, dramatic strings, scorching organ and soulful vocals.

“Do It ('Til You're Satisfied),"penned by songwriter/guitarist Billy Nichols, was the title track off the band’s debut album, released in 1974. The song shot to the top of the R&B singles chart in the U.S. and peaked at #2 on the pop singles chart. And it charted at #8 on the U.S. dance charts. The album’s sizzling second single, “Express,” topped both U.S. R&B singles and dance charts; and it climbed to  #4 on the U.S. pop singles chart. The album also performed extremely well on the charts. It reached the summit of the U.S. R&B album chart and reached #5 the pop album chart. The LP eventually went gold.

The band scored another huge success with their second album, Non-Stop (1975). The album topped the U.S. R&B album chart and peaked at #19 on the pop album chart. Following Non-Stop, B.T. Express released several more albums to diminishing returns, with the hits coming in few and far between. Songwriter/producer/singer Jeff Lane produced the band's first four albums.

B.T. Express was formed in Brooklyn, New York in 1972. The band was originally named The King Davis House Rockers and later changed to Madison Street Express, then the Brooklyn Trucking Express, and finally B.T. Express. The band’s original lineup was Richard “Rick” Thompson (guitar, vocals); Bill Risbrook (tenor saxophone, flute, vocals); Terrell Wood (drums); Barbara Joyce Lomas (vocals); Carlos Ward (alto sax, flute, piccolo, woodwind); Dennis Rowe (percussion); and Jamal Rasool, previously Louis Risbrook (bass, vocals).

The band experienced several personnel changes over the years. Some of the other members included the late keyboardist/songwriter/producer Kashif Saleem (previously Michael Jones); drummer Leslie Ming and guitarist Wesley “Pike” Hall, Jr. B.T. Express disbanded in 1987.

Give Up the Funk: The B.T. Express Anthology 1974-1982, a comprehensive two-disc, 31-track anthology package of some of the band’s best work, was released in April.

B.T. Express is considered one of the pioneering acts of the funk-disco movement that was taking hold in popular music in the mid-1970s. And their music is now being appreciated by a new generation of music lovers thanks to sampling. The band's music has appeared on numerous hip-hop and R&B tracks via samples. For instance, “Do It (‘Til You're Satisfied)” has been sampled in 37 songs, including “Déjà Vu” (Beyoncé, featuring Jay-Z); “Addictive” (Truth Hurts, featuring Rakim); “Baller” (Dr. Dre) and “Gangsta Luv” (Snoop Dogg, featuring The-Dream).

Saturday, July 1, 2017

“Fresh” (Scratch Mix ) by Tyrone Brunson

Bassist, singer, songwriter and producer Tyrone Brunson dropped this bumpin’ cut back in 1984. The super-funky instrumental showcased the musician’s prodigious bass-poppin’ skills. It also boasts a hot beat, dope scratching and sterling synth work. Additionally, the track features some great James Brown samples, which were borrowed from his classics, “Say it Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud” and “Hot Pants.”

“Fresh” is a delicious slice of the influential electro-funk sound that was dominating hip-hop music at the time. The track was written by Brunson, Barry Eastmond and Milton Bond and produced by Russell Timmons, Jr. It was the title song off Brunson’s second album, Fresh, released in 1984. The scratch remixers for “Fresh” were Reggie Thompson and Scott Folks. The track also has a cool vintage ‘80s music video filled with pop-lockers, a scratchin' DJ, breakdancing, etc. And the DJ in the video is none other than the O.G. himself: Ice-T.

Calvin Tyrone Brunson was born on March 22, 1956 in Washington, D.C. He played and sang with several local bands throughout the ‘70s, including the tight funk outfits The Family and Osiris. Brunson landed a record deal with the Columbia-distributed Believe In A Dream label in 1982. His first single,“The Smurf,” which was named after the popular dance craze, became a heavily played club banger in New York and elsewhere. It climbed to #14 on the U.S R&B singles chart and #52 on the UK singles chart. The track was included on Brunson’s debut album, Sticky Situation (1982). The album’s title track was also released as a single and was a moderate hit, peaking at #25 on the U.S. R&B singles chart in 1983.

“Fresh,”the title track from Brunson’s 1984 sophomore album, had a solid showing on the U.S. R&B singles chart, climbing to #22.

Brunson eventually moved to MCA Records and released the album Love Triangle (1987) on the label. The collection was produced by James Mtume, who's best known for his production work with the popular R&B/funk band Mtume. In addition to vocals, Brunson played bass, synthesizer and drums on the album. The title track is a lush R&B ballad that features Gayle Adams, who turns in a soulful, impassioned vocal performance. Unfortunately, the song failed to gain any traction on the charts nor did any of the other songs on the album.

Following Love Triangle, Brunson worked mainly as a background vocalist, most notably for hit-making R&B trio Levert.  He left the music scene in the ‘90s and became a teacher of computer networking. He died on May 25, 2013 in Washington, D.C., at the age of 57.

“The Smurf” is what Brunson is most remembered for, but that are many other strong tracks in his catalogue that are definitely worth checking out, including "Fresh."