Friday, March 5, 2021

“Stare” by Prince

This sorely underrated track features one of the sickest bass lines in Prince’s oeuvre. The insanely funky groove showcases the late music legend’s tremendous bass skills. People often sleep on what a beast he was on the bass; and his thump-and-pluck game was fire. The track also boasts a fantastic horn arrangement with the New Power Generation’s talented horn section raining down bucketloads of pure funk. And His Royal Badness keeps the groove quotient high with his super-tight drumming. The lyrics are quintessential Prince, full of cheeky humor and double entendres. The track also contains references to a couple of his past songs, including a quick sample of the famous chicken-scratch guitar intro to his 1986 smash “Kiss.”

“Stare” was written by Prince, and he played all the instruments on the track except for the horn parts. The horn players on the track were Joey Rayfield (trombone), BK Jackson (baritone sax), Philip Lassiter (trumpet), Adrian Crutchfield (alto sax), Nick Marchione (trumpet),  Marcus Anderson (tenor sax), Lynn Grissett (trumpet), Keith Anderson (tenor sax), Steve Reid (trumpet), Sylvester Onyejiaka (baritone sax) and Roy Agee (trombone). Joey Rayfield, Lynn Grissett and Marcus Anderson put together the horn arrangement.

“Stare” was initially released as a standalone track on the music streaming service Tidal in September 2015. It was later included on Prince’s 39th and final studio album HitnRun Phase Two, which was released digitally on December 12, 2015 on NPG Records. It was also the artist’s last album to be released during his lifetime. The album was produced by Prince and the New Power Generation. The collection includes the protest song "Baltimore," which honors Freddie Gray, the young Baltimore resident who died while in police custody. 

HitnRun Phase Two finally received a worldwide CD release on May 6, 2016 through Universal Music Group. It peaked at #40 on Billboard 200 album chart and climbed all the way to #3 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop album chart. The collection received generally positive reviews from critics. HitnRun Phase Two was a continuation of Prince’s album HitnRun Phase One, which was released on September 7, 2015.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

“Give Up The Funk (Let’s Dance)" By B.T. Express

At the dawn of the 1980s, Brooklyn groove outfit B.T. Express was still going hard in the paint with its exciting brand of disco-funk, dropping bumpin’ party jams like “Give Up The Funk (Let’s Dance).” This sizzling dance groove has the classic B.T. Express sound: phat bass, superb horn charts, powerful beat, funky rhythm guitar licks and catchy party chants. Also, the smooth keyboard work adds some extra flavor to the groove. With this track, the band showed that it could still throw down when it came to creating irresistible dance floor-ready funk grooves.

The song was written by saxophonist/flutist Carlos Ward, an original member of B.T. Express. The players on the track were Jamal Rasool (bass), Tyrone “Turkey” Govane (drums), Bill Risbrook (tenor saxophone), Rick Thompson (guitar), John Adams (keyboards), Wesley “Pike” Hall, Jr. (guitar), Dennis Rowe (percussion) and Carlos Ward (alto saxophone). Ward was also responsible for the track’s terrific horn arrangement. Vocals were provided by Thompson, Rasool, Rowe and Hall.

“Give Up The Funk (Let’s Dance)” was a single from B.T. Express’s sixth studio album 1980, which was produced by Morrie Brown and released on Columbia Records. The song had a solid showing on the charts, peaking at #24 on the U.S. R&B singles chart and #22 on the dance chart. It was the band’s last song to crack the top 40.

In 1974, B.T. Express made a big splash in the music game with the crossover disco-funk smashes "Do It ('Til You're Satisfied)” and “Express.” The band continued to score R&B and dance hits during that decade and is considered one of the pivotal music acts of the disco-funk movement.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

"Worship" by Lizzo

Singer/rapper/songwriter Lizzo dropped this exhilarating funk jam in 2016. This was shortly before she became a global superstar and body-positive role model. It was clear on this track that Lizzo had talent and charisma to burn, and it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world would become aware of her gifts. The super-energized groove features a fearsome electronic beat and a truly divine chorus. Lizzo lights up the track with her megawatt personality, bringing tons of soul and attitude to her vocals. She also delivers a killer rap on the bridge. 

Lizzo’s confidence level is through the roof on this cut as she demands respect and to be treated like the badass queen she is: “Worship me/On your Knees/Patiently, quietly, faithfully, worship me.” In an interview for the TV show “Articulate,” she said that the song is not about her telling a man to worship her. In fact, she said it’s not about a guy at all, but rather it's a call to society to respect and appreciate plus-size black women like herself. In that same interview, she said that the song was an ode to Aretha Franklin’s classic “Respect.”

Prince’s influence is heavy on this track—from the high-octane electro beat to the funkified horn lines, which were sampled from his song “Housequake.” And speaking of His Royal Badness, Lizzo had the opportunity to work with him in 2014. She was a member of the Minneapolis-based R&B/rap trio the Chalice at the time. The Chalice was featured on the irresistible funk track “Boytrouble” from Prince & 3rdEyeGirl’s album Plectrumelectrum (2014). In an interview with Fuse, Lizzo said that working with Prince was “one of those very surreal things that I will actually never get over...It’s almost like a fairytale.”

“Worship” is a track from Lizzo’s debut solo EP Coconut Oil, released on October 7, 2016. The writers credited on the song are Lizzo, Eric Frederick, Joe Spargur and the late Cuban singer/composer José Fernández Díaz. A part of Diaz’s classic song “Guajira Guantanamera” was sampled in “Worship.” “Worship” was produced by Ricky Reed, who also mixed the track  as well as played all the instruments. 

“Worship” was featured in the first episode of the television series “Step Up: High Water,” which premiered on Youtube Red on January 31, 2018. And it’s included on the soundtrack for the comedy Like a Boss (2020). The song was also featured on the season-seven finale of Showtime’s critically acclaimed comedy-drama series “Shameless.” The finale originally aired on December 18, 2016.

Lizzo was born Melissa Viviane Jefferson on April 27, 1988 in Detroit, Michigan. The multitalented artist is also a classically trained flute player. She often breaks out her flute during live performances and dazzles audiences with her playing abilities. And sometimes she even plays the flute while twerking. Now that’s some serious multitasking. 

Lizzo performing "Worship" at Glastonbury Festival 2019 in England

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

"Stool Pigeon" by Kid Creole & the Coconuts

Kid Creole & the Coconuts seamlessly meld funk, Latin, and big band swing for this dynamic tribute to old-school mobster lore. The track showcases the band members’ prodigious musical abilities. The powerhouse horn section lights up the track with some spectacular brass fireworks, and Carol Colman brings some heavy funk to the mix with a wicked bass line. Guitar ace Jimmy Rip serves up some sweet guitar licks, while Kid Creole infuses the lead vocals with his usual flair and brash charm. And that bridge is a killer. The song is about an old ex-con who becomes an informant for the FBI and snitches on his gangster buddies.  

“Stool Pigeon” was written and produced by August Darnell (stage name Kid Creole), who’s a musician, singer, songwriter, producer and bandleader. It was a single from Kid Creole & the Coconuts’ third album, Tropical Gangsters (aka Wise Guys), released in 1982. The song had a strong showing on the U.K. charts, peaking at #7. And it reached #25 on Billboard’s Club Play chart in the U.S. The song also charted well in Ireland (#15), the Netherlands (#19) and New Zealand (#8). The album Tropical Gangsters also performed well on the charts. It peaked at #3 on the U.K. album chart, and it spawned three top-ten singles in the U.K.

Some of the personnel for Tropical Gangsters included Jimmy “Rip” Rippetoe (guitar), Carol Colman (bass), Dave Spann (drums), Charles Lagond (saxophone), Peter Schott (keyboards), Dutch Robinson (vocals), Coati Mundi (vibraphone, vocals), Adriana Kaegi (vocals), Andrew Lloyd (percussion), Taryn Hagey (vocals), Ronnie Rogers (synthesizer), Cory Daye (special guest vocalist), Clarence Banks (trombone) and Cheryl Poirier (vocals).

Kid Creole & the Coconuts were formed in 1980 in New York City. The band’s founders were Darnell, Andy Hernandez (better known by his stage name Coati Mundi), and Darnell’s then-wife Adriana Kaegi. Hernandez is a talented percussionist, with his main instrument being the vibraphone. He was also musical director and arranger for the band, as well as Kid Creole’s comic foil onstage. Kaegi was the leader of the original lineup of the all-female trio the Coconuts, who provided background vocals for Kid Creole and performed entertaining dance routines and skits during live performances. As Mama Coconut, Kaegi’s duties included singing, costume design and choreography. The other original members of the Coconuts were Cheryl Poirier and Taryn Hagey.

Kid Creole & the Coconuts’ music is quite eclectic. Their sound encompasses a wide variety of styles, including Latin pop, disco, Afro-Cuban, funk, big band, R&B, new wave, and tropical. And the band always creates a fun, exciting, and party-like atmosphere at their concerts. Kid Creole is a charismatic frontman who’s known for his over-the-top stage antics and stylish retro attire. He often wears colorful Cab Calloway-inspired zoot suits onstage. The band’s stage shows also contain theatrical elements and  musical comedy. 

Kid Creole was born Thomas August Darnell Browder on August 12, 1950 in the Bronx, New York to a Dominican father and French Canadian mother. Growing up in the multicultural Bronx, Darnell was exposed to a myriad of music styles and developed a deep interest in music. In 1965, Darnell and his half-brother Stony Browder, Jr. formed the band the In-Laws. But the band broke up so Darnell could earn a master’s degree in English, which he used to become an English teacher. 

However, in 1974, the music bug bit Darnell again, and he, Stony Browder, singer Cory Daye, Andy Hernandez, and drummer Mickey Sevilla co-founded the big band and swing-influenced disco outfit Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band. Darnell played bass, provided lyrics for songs, and contributed vocals. Stony wrote the music, played keyboards, and contributed vocals. Daye was the lead singer, and Hernandez was the band’s percussionist. 

The band scored its biggest hit with the infectious big band-flavored disco song "Cherchez La Femme” in 1976. The song topped Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart; it reached #27 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #22 on the Adult Contemporary chart; and it peaked at #31 on Billboard’s R&B charts. The song also saw significant chart action in Canada (RPM Top singles #23, RPM Adult Contemporary #18), Australia (#49), and the Netherlands (#2). However, they were unable to replicate the huge success of "Cherchez La Femmeme" with subsequent recordings, and Darnell, Hernandez and Daye exited the band in 1979 to explore other music opportunities.

After leaving Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, Darnell began writing and producing for other artists. During this period, he co-wrote the 1979 hit “There But for the Grace of God Go I” for disco funk group Machine. Darnell also produced the track, which is now considered a disco classic. In 1980, he and Hernandez linked up again to form Kid Creole & the Coconuts. Darnell’s stage name Kid Creole was inspired by the 1958 Elvis Presley film King Creole.

Kid Creole & the Coconuts have released tons of great music over the years and have influenced a slew of artists in the process, including none other than the Purple One himself, Prince. And many believe that Morris Day’s cocky, flamboyant persona as the Time’s frontman was inspired partly by Kid Creole’s flashy Latin lothario. 

Darnell still tours occasionally with the current Coconuts; and the band released its most recent album, I Wake Up Screaming, in 2011.

The band performing "Stool Pigeon" live at Rockpalast in 1982

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