Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review of Eddie Hazel's Album Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs

Eddie Hazel displayed his dazzling guitar skills on his solo debut album Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs, released in 1977. This groovalistic collection of rock, funk and psychedelic soul provided a great showcase for the legendary fretboard wizard to cut loose with some superb guitar work.

The album has a strong P-Funk presence, with guest appearances from  Bootsy Collins, Garry “Starchild” Shider, Jerome Brailey, Bernie Worrell, Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton  and the Brides of Funkenstein (Lynn Mabry and Dawn Silva).  And a few other members of the Funk Mob also played on the album. The LP was co-produced by Hazel and George Clinton.

This seven-track collection contains some quality tracks and is a great listen. “So Goes the Story” is a cool little rock/funk cut that features some brilliant axe work from Hazel, and Bootsy lays down some deep liquid funk on his Space Bass. The track was written by Hazel, George Clinton and Bootsy.

Another album highlight is a sublime cover of the Mamas and the Papas' “California Dreamin'." Hazel completely overhauls the ‘60s classic, and the results are pretty amazing. His raw, soulful lead vocals add a wistfulness and poignancy to the song. Hazel was pretty underrated as a vocalist. People always talk about his great guitar skills, but dude could blow as well. And the Brides of Funkenstein’s gospel-tinged background vocals are simultaneously powerful and beautiful. The track also boasts some splendid bass work from Billy “Bass” Nelson. And of course Hazel's playing is top-notch as always.

“What About It?” (penned by Hazel and Clinton) is another terrific cut.  Hazel shares lead guitar duties with Michael Hampton on this spacey, irresistible funk groove.  It’s an exciting and indelible sonic experience to hear these two badass guitar slingers engage in an epic riffathon. And Tiki Fulwood's great drumming keeps the groove tight and funky.

The album also contains a phenomenal cover of the Beatles’ moody rocker “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Hazel serves up some scorching, mind-blowing solos on this cut, and the vocals (provided by the Brides of Funkenstein) are hauntingly soulful. The Brides are also featured on the mellow, outr√© track “Frantic Moment.” Their vocals go down nice and easy like a glass of some smooth cognac.

Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs was Hazel’s only full album that was released during his lifetime. Several of his previously unreleased recordings were put out posthumously following his death in 1992. Game went out of print shortly after its release. The LP remained out of print for many years. As a result, the album became a huge collector’s item. It was considered a badge of honor among hardcore P-Funk and Hazel fans to be the owner of this very rare album. It gave the owner significant bragging rights among his or her fellow funkateers and Hazel devotees.

Rhino Records reissued the album in 2004 as a numbered, limited-edition compact disc. The reissue had four bonus tracks, which were originally from Hazel’s 1994 EP Jams From The Heart. After all the copies of the limited release had run out, Collector’s Choice Music released the collection sans the extra bonus songs. And it was reissued again in Gatefold form by RealGoneMusic in 2012. This release doesn’t have the extra bonus tracks, just the original seven-track listing.

Hazel joined P-Funk in 1967 (known as the Parliaments at the time) when he was only 17. His prodigious playing abilities and inventive funk-metal style played a big part in shaping Funkadelic’s early groundbreaking sound. The six-string wunderkind was prominent on Funkadelic’s first three landmark albums: Funkadelic (1970), Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow (1970) and Maggot Brain (1971). Hazel’s elegiac, soul-wrenching solo on the title track (“Maggot Brain”) is what he’s most remembered for.

Following those three albums, Hazel’s role in the Funk Mob started to diminish due to his growing drug problems and alcoholism as well as ongoing financial disputes with George Clinton. He only made minimal contributions to the albums America Eats Its Young (1972) and Cosmic Slop (1973) but came back strong for Standing on the Verge Of Getting It On, released in 1974.  Hazel made major contributions to this sterling collection of rock, funk, soul, blues and psychedelia. He co-wrote all  seven of the album’s tracks and delivered some blistering solos on the rock/funk cuts “Red Hot Mama” and “Alice in My Fantasies.” This album illustrated what a talented songwriter Hazel was.

Following the release of Standing on the Verge Of Getting It On, Hazel continued his downward spiral of drug addiction and alcoholism.  His troubles came to a head later in 1974 when he was indicted for assaulting an airline stewardess and an air marshal along with charges of drug possession. The P-Funk guitarist spent some time in prison as a result of this incident.

Following his stint in prison, Hazel’s involvement with P-Funk projects was sporadic. His ongoing battle with drugs and alcohol seriously undercut his music productivity. However, he did manage to squeeze in some worthwhile projects. In addition to his work with P-Funk, Hazel contributed his talents to some tracks by the Temptations.  He co-wrote the Tempts’ massively funky cut “Shakey Ground,” which was a single from their 1975 album A Song For You. Hazel also played lead guitar on the track, and P-Funk’s Billy “Bass” Nelson held down the bottom.  The song has the distinction of being the Tempts’ last single to reach #1 on the R&B charts.

Hazel continued to gig and work on various music projects--including P-Funk recordings and concerts--throughout the years.  But his health began to deteriorate due to his many years of heavy drug abuse and drinking. He died at the age of 42 on December 23, 1992 from chronic bleeding and liver failure. But Hazel definitely made his mark while he was with us. He’s widely regarded as one of the most innovative and talented guitarists the music world has ever seen.  And he ranked  #43 on Rolling Stone Magazine's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time." Hazel also holds down the spot of funk's greatest guitar hero and most likely always will.

Game, Dames And Guitar Thangs at Amazon

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