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."


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Old-School Gold: “Trespasser” by Bad Medicine

Bad Medicine was a talented funk/soul outfit who dropped some serious funk back in the day, including the bad-ass instrumental “Trespasser” in 1974. This smooth funk groove is sonic perfection. It features a cold-creepin’ bass line; sleek, imaginative synth parts; and dope guitar work, including funky wah-wah licks and some sweet Wes Montgomery runs. The track also has a great sax solo. Befitting its title, “Trespasser” has a furtive undercover vibe. 

Bad Medicine was formed in Syracuse, New York on Halloween night in 1968. The band’s formation sprang from a mutual love the members shared for blues, soul, R&B and “roots” music. The original members were Greg Johnson (bass), Tom Corradino (guitar/keyboards), Richard Clarke (drums) and Harry Rado (guitar). Saxophonist David Morton joined the fold shortly after the band’s formation.

The band’s repertoire consisted of a mix of originals and covers of contemporary funk and R&B hits, as well as popular blues classics. The young musicians made a name for themselves opening for well-known acts such as Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and Mitch Ryder. The band’s jumpin’ live shows always had people gettin' down and tearing up the dancefloor. The tight groove outfit soon became very popular around the Syracuse University area, establishing a dedicated following. The last addition to Bad Medicine was keyboardist Johnny Crocitti.

Bad Medicine was a bit of an anomaly due to its racial makeup. There weren’t many all-white bands playing straight funk, soul and R&B at the time. It even caused the band some problems booking gigs at certain venues. 

In 1970, the band released their first single, “She’s Taken All My Money,” on the small Orbit label. It’s a slide-guitar blues tune in which Corradino sings lead vocals. Around this time, the band befriended local record store owner Arthur Lane, who was planning to start his own record label, Enyx Records, with business partner William “Sugarbear” Armstrong. This began the band’s productive association with the label.

Enyx Records was launched in early 1973. With Enyx, Bad Medicine laid down the rhythm tracks for several songs featuring up-and-coming soul vocalist Michelle Sobers, including the Dr. John-penned “When The Battle is Over,” the label’s first release.

Bad Medicine released “Trespasser,” on Enyx Records in 1974. In an old interview posted at Soulstacks.com, Arthur Lane explained the genesis of the track: “I recall distinctly in the winter of 1974 telling Richard [Clarke] how cool it would be to record a song called ‘Trespasser.’ I asked him to imagine the feeling he would have if someone were up to no good and trespassing on his property. So I said, ‘Richard, just transfer the intensity and rage you would have chasing this guy into a song called ‘Trespasser.'”

The band recorded “Trespasser” at George Day’s Dayson Recording Studio in Syracuse. The players on the track were Tom Corradino (guitar); Johnny Crocitti (piano); David Morton (saxophone); Harry  Rado (guitar, rhythm); Greg Johnson (bass); Richard Clarke (drums and percussion); and George Day played Moog synthesizer. It was produced by Lane and Armstrong.

Only a minor hit locally upon its original release, “Trespasser” is now considered a cult classic due to its inclusion on Stone Throw Records' much-buzzed-about compilation The Funky 16 Corners (2001). The track has been embraced by funk aficionados and music lovers, old- and new-school. It has been sampled by Limp Bizkit (“The Key”), Cut Chemist (“Bunky’s Pick”), Yesterday’s New Quintet (“Thinking of You”), and Parallel Thought, feat. PackFM and Jean Grae (“Freaky").

Bad Medicine abruptly disbanded in 1975 after Corradino was seriously injured in a car crash on a snowy road.  More than a decade later, Corradino reunited with his old bandmates, Rado and Clarke, in the Washington, D.C.-based R&B/zydeco outfit Little Red & the Renegades—Corradino (accordion and piano), Rado (guitar) and Clarke (drums).

 Little Red & the Renegades are still going strong and have some gigs lined up this summer. Clarke is no longer with Little Red. He hooked up with Krewe of Renegades some years back.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

PHO Puts Modern Touch On Classic Funk Influences With Sophomore Album

Minneapolis-based progressive funk band PHO are back with some killer new tracks. The talented septet recently released their sophomore album, two.  The album, which consists of 13 instrumentals, is a strong follow-up to the band’s acclaimed debut album CASH It (2015). With two, the band brings a modern sensibility to classic funk influences, such as the J.B.'s, Parliament, the Meters and Tower of Power. PHO infuse the funk with their own unique flavor, adding a dash of psychedelia and hip-hop to the mix.

The album kicks off with the sumptuous and soulful “Sour Town.” It’s followed by “#2,” a high-octane funk groove that boasts imaginative synth work and blazing horn lines. The funk is relentless on this smokin’ cut. The funkalicious “Still Waiting” is a full-on sonic feast. The infectious groove has a stellar horn arrangement, tight drumming and some dope changes.

Next up is “Dr. Drake,” a powerhouse funk jam filled with fat bass, dizzying horn lines and wicked guitar licks. There’s definitely some Prince flavor permeating this hard-hitting funk track.

“Dew Like Me” is a smooth, laid-back groove. The track features some superb playing from the horn section, and the band drops some flute into the mix to enhance the groove’s chill vibe. PHO keeps things on a mellow note on “Responsibility,” a top-notch track heightened by the band’s flawless playing and a smoldering guitar solo.

The majestic “Tomorrow In Texas” is an album highlight. The track has sort of a cinematic flow and showcases the band members’ strong compositional skills. Everything is on point here: the musicianship, the arrangement, etc.  It’s just a brilliant cut and very inventive.

“Pop Top” is a potent groove that features some incredible guitar and keyboard work, as well as a splendid horn arrangement. “South 2nd” is one badass track; it boasts some super-funky bass work and a hot trumpet solo.

 “Face” is a stone-cold funk jam with some cool psychedelic flourishes and jazzy changeups. Also, the drumming is tremendous on this cut. The album closes out with the high-energy, horn-driven “Famous Waves.” 

This album is a very impressive sophomore effort. It’s consistently good and doesn't have a single weak track. The album was produced by John Davis and PHO. It was recorded in Cannon Falls, Minnesota at the legendary Pachyderm Studio where Nirvana recorded their final album, In Utero. The special guest musicians featured on two are Kirk Johnson from Prince’s New Power Generation on percussion and Sten Johnson on trombone.

The members of PHO are Luke Ibach (bass), Arthur "LA" Buckner (drums), Spencer Christensen (guitar), Patrick Horigan (keys), Lukas Skrove (trumpet and flugelhorn), Joe Paris (guitar) and Aaron Levin (tenor sax and flute). Former PHO member Demetrius Mabry, who was still a member during the recording of two, played drums on the album while Buckner played percussion.

Formed in 2013, PHO have taken the music world by storm with their dynamic funk sound, impeccable musicianship and thrilling live performances. The young funk outfit has captured the attention of legions of funk lovers, including Minneapolis' most celebrated musician—Prince. In the winter of 2016, the late music legend caught one of PHO’s live performances on Youtube and was very impressed. This led to an invite to open for funk master Larry Graham and Graham Central Station at the fabled Paisley Park complex in Chanhassen, Minnesota. PHO’s sterling performance at Paisley Park prompted Prince to post the following tweet to the band: “Come back anytime. Just Holla.” The Purple One’s blessing has helped open up many great new opportunities for the band.

PHO are currently one of the hottest rising young bands on the modern funk scene; the band has a dedicated following that continues to grow each day, and they have played with acclaimed funk outfits such as The Motet, Dopapod, Dam-Funk, Dumpstaphunk, among many others.

Some of PHO’s influences include James Brown, Slave, Jimi Hendrix, The Time, Lettuce, P-Funk, Fela Kuti, Sly Stone, and of course, His Royal Badness. The band brings a fresh new energy to the funk game; they’re charting out their own path but never losing sight of the classic funk traditions that provide the foundation of their music— and cultivating their new “Minneapolis Sound” in the process.

Check out PHO's website for tour dates, music releases and other info.


"Dr. Drake"

Friday, May 19, 2017

Superstar A Cappella Group Pentatonix Take On Michael Jackson’s Classics

World-famous a cappella group Pentatonix harness their vocal gifts to pay homage to Michael Jackson in their video “Evolution of Michael Jackson" (uploaded in 2015). The group performs a medley of some of the pop/soul legend’s biggest hits, covering his early days with the Jackson 5 through the Dangerous era. The talented quintet brings their flawless harmonies and creative vocal arrangements to these ageless classics.

Formed in Arlington, Texas in 2011, Pentatonix are one of the most successful a cappella groups in the world. They have sold more than six million albums in the U.S. alone and have earned three Grammys, as well as several other prestigious awards. And hundreds of thousands of fans across the globe flock to their sold-out concerts. Also, the group has shared the stage with music luminaries such as Stevie Wonder and Dolly Parton.

Additionally, Pentatonix’s videos garner millions of views on YouTube: "Evolution of Michael Jackson” currently has more than 32 million views, and their "Evolution of Music,” video has over 100 million views.

Group members are Scott Hoying (baritone), Mitch Grassi (tenor), Kirstie Maldonado (mezzo-soprano), Avi Kaplan (bass) and Kevin Olusola (beatboxer/ vocal percussions). Kaplan recently announced that he will be leaving Pentatonix after the group wraps up their world tour in September. He explained on a video posted at the group’s Facebook page that their fast-paced schedule had become too draining for him, mentally and physically, as well as prevented him from seeing family members and friends when he needed to.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Something In The Water by Mike Zabrin’s Funktastic – Album Review

Funk, jazz and R&B lovers get your ears and groove motors ready for some hot new music by bass wunderkind Mike Zabrin and his talented crew Funktastic.  The 25-year-old musician, songwriter and producer is set to release his new album, Something In The Water, on June 6.

The 10-song collection is a worthy successor to Zabrin’s widely acclaimed debut album Funktastic (2014). Like its predecessor, Something In The Water seamlessly fuses funk, jazz, soul and R&B on its tracks, as well as showcases the Chicago-based musician’s tremendous chops and consummate production skills.

The album kicks off with the hugely funky “Here We Go Again,” which features a powerhouse vocal performance from Laura Burke. Zabrin puts an exclamation point on the funk with his stellar bass work. The track also boasts some dirty guitar licks from Dumpstaphunk’s Ian Neville and super-tight horns, including a funkified trumpet solo from Connor Bernhard.

The band mellows things out a bit on the second track, “Blinded by Love,” with guest vocalist Sam Trump serving up some smooth soul. The lush groove is underscored by the impeccable horn work from Jim Schram (saxophone) and Trump (trumpet). And Zabrin’s bass playing here is fluid and funky. The track has a really chill and relaxed vibe going on.

Burke illuminates “What Do We Call This?” with an incandescent vocal performance. The soul-drenched love jam boasts a terrific sax solo from Schram. 

The album’s title track is a superb jazz-funk workout that showcases drummer Dana Thompson’s fantastic chops. The track also has an excellent horn arrangement, and Hayden Ashley kills it on keys. Burke adeptly handles the vocals here.

Zabrin delivers another incredible bass performance on the brilliant jazz-fusion instrumental “Slice.” The track also features some more dazzling sonic pyrotechnics from Funktastic’s badass horn section.  “Slice” is followed by the gorgeous “Where I Stand,” featuring Burke on vocals. 

The second half of the album starts off with the luminous soul ballad “Only,” which features award-winning Chicago vocalist Sarah Marie Young.

Things get funky again with “You Stepped In A Dream,” another potent jazz-fusion instrumental that showcases the band members’ impressive musical abilities. The album closes out with two more amazing fusion instrumentals, “Familiar Faces” and “Count It In Again,” respectively. 

Something In The Water is a really strong sophomore effort, displaying Zabrin’s consistency and versatility as a musician, producer and songwriter.  For those who love listening to great music performed by extremely talented musicians, this collection is definitely worth checking out.

In addition to those already mentioned, the Funktastic crew also includes Jeff Swanson (guitar), Doug Ferdinand (keyboards), Kiana Mayes (vocals), Ron Jacoby (trombone) and Nathan Mark (drums).

Check out Zabrin's website to preorder Something In The Water, concert dates, and other Funktastic-related info.


Video for "Here We Go Again," the first single from the album


Related blog entry: Review of Bass Phenom Mike Zabrin's Debut Album Funktastic

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Prince and Sheryl Crow Performing “Everyday Is a Winding Road” at Lilith Fair

With the recent one-year anniversary of Prince’s death on April 21, I’ve been binging out on his music and videos over the last few days. During the binge, I came across this great clip of him sharing the stage with Sheryl Crow for an electrifying performance of her song “Everyday Is a Winding Road.” The performance took place on August 22, 1999 at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and was part of the Lilith Fair music festival.

This clip illustrates Prince’s incredible versatility as both a musician and performer. He was right at home in this country-rock milieu; he contributes some sweet country licks on guitar and brings some church to the proceedings with his gospel-infused vocals. And Crow delivers a bluesy vocal performance. She can definitely get down when she wants to.

Additionally, the Purple One transfixes the audience with a soul-stirring guitar solo. You can see the  passion and pure joy he had for the act of playing and performing here--a true artist in every sense. He and Crow elevated an already terrific song with this powerhouse performance.