Thursday, March 28, 2024

"Groove (Ain’t No Doubt About It)" by Bobby Lyle

Acclaimed pianist and organist Bobby Lyle cooked up some wicked jazz-funk on his 1978 song “Groove (Ain’t No Doubt About it).” The funk level on this cut is through the roof. Bass titan Nathaniel Philips lays down some extra-nasty bottom, and Lyle electrifies the groove with his incredible synth work. Drummer Harvey Mason brings the funk with a scorching beat, while Paulinho da Costa fires up the groove with some percolating percussion.

“Groove (Ain’t No Doubt About It)” is a track from Lyle’s third album New Warrior, released on Capitol Records in 1978. It was written by Lyle, Mason and trombonist/producer Wayne Henderson, who also produced the album. The players on the track were Bobby Lyle (keyboards, vocals), Harvey Mason (drums), David T. Walker (guitar), Nathaniel Phillips (bass) and Paulinho da Costa (percussion). 

Lyle was born in Memphis, Tennessee on March 11, 1944. His family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota when he was a year old. He grew up in a musical household, and at the age of six, he began taking piano lessons from his mother, who was a church organist. In middle school, he was playing clarinet and flute for the school band but eventually returned to piano. Lyle’s early musical influences were jazz pianists Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Erroll Garner and Ahmad Jamal. He began playing jazz by ear while a student at Central High School in Minneapolis. He landed his first gig at 16. After graduating from Central High, Lyle attended Macalester College in St. Paul where he studied piano under pianist and composer Professor Donald Betts. 

After two years at Macalester, Lyle became a full-time musician in 1964. He played locally in Minneapolis for six years and then toured for two years with soul-jazz ensemble Young-Holt Unlimited. In 1970, Lyle met and had a subsequent jam session with Jimi Hendrix, who wanted to form a jazz-rock band with Lyle, bassist Willie Weeks and drummer Bill Lordan. Unfortunately, that band never happened due to Hendrix’s untimely death later that year. Lyle moved to Los Angeles in 1974 where he got a job touring with Sly & the Family Stone. He also gigged with the Ronnie Laws Band during this period. This led to a meeting with Wayne Henderson, who was a founding member of the Jazz Crusaders. Henderson took Lyle’s demo to Larkin Arnold, Vice President of A&R at Capitol Records. This landed Lyle a record deal with the label, which resulted in three albums: The Genie, New Warrior and Night Fire. Capitol eventually scrapped its jazz division, leaving Lye without a record deal.

As a result, he went back to doing session work for other artists. He played on recordings by notable artists such as George Benson, Phylliss Hyman and Esther Philips. He toured with Benson in the early ‘80s and was a guest artist on jazz-fusion band Yellowjackets’ 1981 debut album. Throughout the ‘80s, he served as musical director for the tours of Anita Baker, Al Jarreau and Bette Midler. 

During a 1987 performance with saxophonist Gerald Albright, Lyle’s talents caught the attention of Sylvia Rhone, who was VP of Jazz and Urban music at Atlantic Records at the time. This led to him signing a record deal with the label in 1988. This deal resulted in six albums in nine years. His 1990 album, The Journey, topped the Billboard Jazz Chart. He also continued to tour during this period, with his own bands as well as with Bette Midler. He received an Emmy nomination for his musical direction on Midler’s HBO special Diva Las Vegas (1997).

Lyle is the only artist to have an album, Straight and Smooth (2004), that simultaneously appeared on both Billboard’ smooth jazz chart and Billboard’s traditional jazz chart.

In 2013, the musician launched his own label, New Warrior Music, in conjunction with his Genie Productions company. On the label he produced and released a tribute album to his Hammond B-3 idol Jimmy Smith, who revolutionized the role of organ in jazz music by fusing elements of blues, bebop and gospel. The title of the album is The Way I Feel (2013).

In 2014, Lyle and smooth jazz radio personality Guy Michaels launched Houston’s first-ever TV jazz show. It’s called The J-Spot, and it’s taped before a live audience. The show is a showcase for a host of great musical talent in the Houston area. Lyle is a permanent host for the show and occasional performer.  

Lyle has recently been focusing on providing music education to young people. He has been working as a jazz piano and practitioner of master classes in high schools and colleges. Walker Elementary School in Houston has established a “Bobby Lyle Music Scholarship Fund.” Lyle encourages students to write essays explaining why they want to study music. The scholarship recipients are selected based on the best essays, meaning those that show a genuine passion for music as well as a  financial need. Those selected will receive enough money to pay for an instrument as well as receive private musical instruction. 

In 2020, Lyle was inducted into the Black Music Awards Hall of Fame in Houston, Texas. The musician is a pivotal figure in Houston’s music scene as both a performer and educator. He released his most recent album, Ivory Flow, in 2021 on his label New Warrior Music. He also tours frequently. 

Monday, March 11, 2024

"LA Type" by Kimbra

New Zealand-born singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Kimbra gets down and dirty on her funky track “LA Type.” The two-time Grammy-winning artist has dipped her toes into funk before but nothing quite as audaciously funky as this cut. She even brought in ace groovemaster and drummer extraordinaire Questlove to maximize the funk level. He contributes a monstrous beat that’s complemented by Spencer Zahn’s nasty bass line. The funk is further deepened by some electrifying keyboard work from Taylor Graves. And Kimbra delivers a dynamic vocal performance that’s full of attitude and sultry soul. She even raps on a few verses. Also, the song features some tight bars from guest rappers Pink Siifu and Tommy Raps. Additional background vocals are provided by Jacob Collier.

“LA Type” is a track from Kimbra’s fourth album, A Reckoning, which was released on January 27, 2023. In an interview with Paper Magazine last year, she said that the song is about her dating experiences in LA and “just some of the bullshit that comes with a city that’s built on entertainment.” She added that it addresses a culture in Los Angeles “that is very distorted and superficial.” Kimbra said that the song was inspired by Prince, whom she has frequently cited as a major influence and inspiration.

Kimbra is most recognized for her feature on Gotye’s Grammy-winning global smash “Somebody That I Used to Know,” which hit the airwaves in July of 2011. She has released some really interesting and cool music over the years. Her sound is an eclectic fusion of pop, jazz, R&B, indie rock, electro-pop and dance. She is an adventurous artist who’s known for her daring and inventiveness in the studio and in her music videos. And she’s a captivating live performer–thrilling audiences with her magnetic stage presence and raw charisma. Kimbra kicks off her 2024 tour in April. She has some tour dates and venue info posted at her website.

Kimbra performing "LA Type" at an Amsterdam concert last year

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Album Review of The Isley Brothers’ Go For Your Guns

The Isley Brothers had already been in the music game for more than 20 years when they dropped their fifteenth studio album Go For Your Guns in 1977. By the end of the ‘60s, the band had adopted a more funk-based sound as well as adding hard rock to their sonic palette. The album offers an exciting mix of funk, R&B and rock. And it showcases the band’s formidable musical, songwriting and production talents. 

Go For Your Guns kicks off with the powerhouse funk track “The Pride (Part 1 & 2)." This super-charged groove was bumped at parties and clubs everywhere back in the day. It features a furious bass line, percolating keyboards and a massive beat. The song is about maintaining dignity and perseverance in the face of life’s many adversities. It stresses the importance of self-esteem, inner strength and fortitude. The song also touches on how political leaders often have to straddle a fine line between representing the people and capitulating to the pressures of their position, as well as battling the seductive lure of power and big money.

“Footsteps in the Dark (Part 1 & 2)” is a superb slow jam. It’s beautifully arranged, produced and performed. The song features some ace guitar work from Ernie Isley, and Ronald Isley delivers an exquisite lead vocal performance. The song’s narrator expresses some doubts he has about his relationship. He’s uncertain if it is strong enough to weather the inevitable rough patches that often occur in relationships. This is one of the Isley Brothers' best-known tracks and was famously sampled on Ice Cube’s 1993 hit “It Was a Good Day.”

“Climbing Up the Ladder (Part 1 & 2)” is a scorching rock-fueled groove. It's about striving to achieve your dreams and reaching higher ground spiritually and mentally. The song’s protagonist will not allow circumstances or life’s many obstacles to prevent him from reaching his goal in achieving a higher plane and improving himself. The track features blistering guitar work from Ernie, who also kills it on the drums.

“Tell Me When You Need It” is a smooth, solid groove. The track is expertly arranged and produced. It’s elevated by Ronald’s sterling vocals and features an irresistible bass line and sweet keyboards.

The Isley Brothers go hard on the electrifying “Livin’ in the Life.” The funk doesn’t let up on this fearsome hard-hittin’ groove. The track features an explosive beat that’s enhanced by thunderous handclaps, as well as funky keyboards and a powerful bass line. The song’s narrator is living his life to the best of his abilities and continues to push forward through tough times and hardships. And he basically tells those who think he had it easy to kick rocks because they haven’t walked a mile in his shoes: “You ain't me and I ain't you/Check out the difference between the two.” 

Ronald serves up an incredible vocal performance on the majestic “Voyage To Atlantis.” This sonic gem is another example of the Isley Brothers’ absolute mastery of the R&B ballad. They never missed on their slow jams. The song boasts an impeccable arrangement that’s elevated by Ernie’s amazing guitar work. It’s about undertaking a pilgrimage to self-discovery and envisioning a life in “paradise” in the mythical Atlantis. The song’s narrator is torn between staying with his lover or undertaking the journey alone. 

The  album closes out with the scorching “Go For Your Guns," which is basically an instrumental part two of “Livin in the Life.” Ernie unleashes a face-melting guitar solo on this funky high-voltage groove.

Go For Your Guns is widely considered one of the Isley Brothers’ best albums. It’s definitely a must-have for Isleys fans as well as lovers of great R&B and funk music. The album was a huge commercial success. It topped Billboard’s R&B album chart and peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200 album chart. It remained on the charts for 40 weeks, making it one of the Isley Brothers’ longest-running chart successes. The album was certified double platinum by the RIAA with sales of more than two million copies. And album singles “The Pride” and “Livin’ in the Life” performed extremely well on Billboard’s R&B singles chart, peaking at #1 and #4, respectively. However, “Voyage to Atlantis” had a rather disappointing showing on Billboard’s R&B singles chart, only climbing to #50. But the song is now recognized as a classic and one of the great R&B slow jams of the ‘70s.

The album was written, arranged and produced by the Isley Brothers. It was released on T-Neck Records, which was founded by the Isleys in 1964. And it was the band’s fifth album to be distributed through their deal with Epic. The full personnel on Go For Your Guns was Marvin Isley (bass and background vocals), Ronald Isley (lead and background vocals), Ernie Isley (guitar, drums, congas and background vocals), Rudolph Isley (lead and background vocals), Chris Jasper (keyboards, background vocals and tambourine), O'Kelly Isley Jr. (lead and background vocals) and Everett Collins (congas).

Following Go For Your Guns, the Isley Brothers continued to release top-quality music and scored more big hits. They left behind an incredible musical legacy that spanned several decades. The Isleys still tour and have some upcoming concert dates posted at their official website.

Go For Your Guns full album

Sunday, February 18, 2024

“Doing It to Death” (aka "Gonna Have a Funky Good Time") Pts. 1 & 2 by Fred Wesley & the J.B.’s

This rousing funk classic could be heard blasting out of car stereos everywhere back in 1973, and it had folks setting dance floors ablaze across the U.S. It’s one of the great feel-good party jams of the ‘70s. The Godfather of Soul and his superbad groove battalion the J.B.'s unleash an avalanche of funk on this bumpin’ track. It’s anchored by a wicked bass line and a hot beat. The track also features some killer guitar riffs and a sweet horn arrangement. The J.B.’s bandleader and musical director Fred Wesley delivers a dazzling trombone solo, and horn legend Maceo Parker pulls double duty–serving up an extra-funky alto sax solo that’s followed by an exquisite solo on flute. And Jimmy Nolen accompanies Maceo's flute solo with some smooth Wes Montgomery-style guitar work.

Also, the track has a terrific hook with the catchy chorus, “We’re gonna have a funky good time.” And it boasts one of the baddest buildups to a key change ever put on wax: “I need to get down and order for me to get down, I got to get in D, need to get in D, down D, funky D, stankin’ D.” 

“Doing It to Death” was written and produced by James Brown. It’s the title track from the J.B.’s third studio album, released in 1973 on Brown’s label People Records. The complete nearly 13-minute-long original recording of the track was first issued on the J.B.’s compilation Funky Good Time: The Anthology (1995).

The song topped Billboard’s R&B singles chart and climbed to #22 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It’s the J.B.’s biggest hit and has sold over a million copies. 

“Doing It to Death” has been sampled on 10 songs, including “Cold Blooded” by Common and Eazy-E’s “Eazy Street.” Also, talented dancer/choreographer Moga Almeri created an excellent dance routine to “Doing It To Death.” The video of her and the Beat Turf Tendo Dancers performing the routine currently has 2.6 million views on Youtube.

The personnel for "Doing It to Death" was James Brown (lead vocals), Fred Wesley (trombone, backing vocals), Fred Thomas (bass), Maceo Parker (alto saxophone, flute), John "Jabo" Starks (drums), St. Clair Pinckney (tenor saxophone), Jimmy Nolen (guitar), Darryl "Hasaan" Jamison (trumpet), Hearlon "Cheese" Martin (guitar), Ike Oakley (trumpet), Jerone "Jasaan" Sanford (trumpet) and Eldee Williams (tenor saxophone).

Brown often performed "Doing It to Death" at his concerts, and he never failed to blow the doors off the hinges whenever he performed it.

James Brown and the J.B.'s performing "Doing It to Death" in Zaire in 1974

Moga Almeri and the Beat Turf Tendo Dancers performing a stellar dance routine to "Doing It to Death"

Related blog entry: Gimme Some More by the J.B.'s

Saturday, February 3, 2024

“I Was Made To Love Her” by Stevie Wonder

This sweet slice of Motown soul was an early Stevie Wonder classic that was released when he was still in his teens in 1967. The 17-year-old wunderkind brings tons of soul and conviction to his sterling vocal performance. His harmonica playing at the intro is also excellent. The song is masterfully arranged and boasts an infectious melody. And James Jamerson takes the song to a whole other level with his brilliant bass work. It’s truly a joy to listen to Jamerson work his groove magic on this track. The smooth, effortless finesse he always brought to his playing was unparalleled. 

Stevie wrote “I Was Made To Love Her” with his mother Lula Mae Hardaway, Motown songwriter/producer Sylvia Moy and Henry Cosby, who also produced the track. Stevie told Rock Around The World newspaper that the song, “kind of speaks of my first love to a girl named Angie, who was a very beautiful woman." He added, "Actually, she was my third girlfriend but my first love. I used to call Angie up and, like, we would talk and say, ‘I love you,’ and we’d talk and we’d both go to sleep on the phone. And this was like from Detroit to California, right? You know, mother said, ‘Boy, what you doing? Get off the phone!”

The song was a massive hit. It rose all the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent four non-consecutive weeks atop Billboard’s R&B singles chart. It also performed well on the charts in other parts of the world: The UK (#5), New Zealand (#16), Canada (#5) and Australia (#40).

The personnel for “I Was Made To Love Her” was Stevie Wonder (lead vocals, clavinet, harmonica), James Jamerson (bass), Benny Benjamin (drums), Eddie Willis (guitar) and The Andantes (backing vocals). It was the title track from Stevie Wonder’s album I Was Made To Love Her, released on Motown’s Tamla Records on August 28, 1967. 

The song has been covered by a slew of major artists, including Whitney Houston, The Beach Boys, Chaka Khan, Tom Jones, Boyz II Men, The Jackson 5 and Sister Sledge. Also, Stevie played drums on The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s instrumental cover of the song. It was recorded sometime in 1967. It’s included on The Jimi Hendrix Experience: The BBC Sessions, released on June 2, 1998.

Additionally, “I Was Made To Love Her” has been sampled on five songs, according to The song has been featured on the soundtracks for the films Dead Presidents (1995), Bobby (2006) and The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019).

This track was released during Motown’s golden era when artists from the label were a constant presence on the U.S. pop and R&B charts top 10. Many of the label’s releases during that period went on to become standards, including this one.

Stevie performing "I Was Made To Love Her" on The Merv Griffin Show in 1967

Related blog entries:

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

"Everybody Is a Star" by Sly & the Family Stone

“Everybody Is a Star” is a gorgeous psychedelic-soul ballad that Sly & the Family Stone released in December of 1969. The powerful anthem is about equality, self-worth and human dignity. Its main theme is that every individual has inherent worth, no matter what their social station, income level, race, religion or ethnicity; and also that people should remain true to themselves and not try to change who they are to conform to what society or the powers that be tell them they should be: “I love you for who you are/Not the one you feel you need to be.”

The vocals on this track are absolutely stunning. Sly Stone, Freddie Stone, Larry Graham and Rose Stone trade off on lead vocals, and they all bring the fire. This song highlights just how formidable the vocal talent was in Sly & the Family Stone at the time. And the horn charts are magnificent. The song also features some of the most beautifully poetic lyrics that Sly has ever written. Additionally, the musical arrangement is superb, and the production is flawless.

“Everybody Is a Star” was written and produced by Sly and released on Epic Records. It was released as the B-side of the band’s influential funk classic "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” It’s also included on their 1970 Greatest Hits compilation album and the two-disc best of/career overview The Essential Sly & the Family Stone (2002).

“Everybody Is a Star” has been covered by a host of well-known artists, including The Pointer Sisters, The Jackson 5, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Joan Osborne, Fishbone (featuring Gwen Stefani) and Al Jarreau and Miki Howard. It has been sampled by Madonna (“Everybody 1994”) and The Roots (“Star/Pointro”). And it has been featured on the soundtracks for the films Crooklyn (1994), Moonlight Mile (2002) and Molly’s Game (2017). The song was also performed in a 1977 episode of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.

The players on “Everybody Is a Star” were Sly Stone (vocals, keyboards), Cynthia Robinson (trumpet), Larry Graham (vocals, bass), Rose Stone (vocals, piano),Greg Errico (drums), Freddie Stone (vocals, guitar) and Jerry Martini (saxophone).

Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1975 chart-topping smash “Shining Star” has a similar theme to "Everybody Is a Star," that all individuals have value no matter who they are. Sly & the Family Stone were a major influence on EWF and many other funk artists and bands from the '70s to the present.

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Monday, January 29, 2024

"Never Noticed" by Cool Cool Cool

Cool Cool Cool is a talented group of musicians who have been creating quite a buzz recently with their exciting live shows and unique mix of funk, house and R&B. Formed in 2022, the septet is composed of former members of the funk band Turkuaz. After working with Turkuaz for more than a decade, they decided to form their own band. They had developed a strong musical synergy after working together all those years in a variety of settings–from international festival stages to dive bars. And they have brought that chemistry to Cool Cool Cool.

The band released their debut single “Never Noticed” last November. This dreamy, atmospheric groove takes the listener on a majestic sonic ride. The song sets a soothing, tranquil mood. It boasts a marvelous horn arrangement, exquisite vocals and a hypnotic bass line. In a statement, the band explained the meaning behind “Never Noticed”: “The realization of our universal connectedness is at the heart of this song, which we hope the listener can associate with their own lives.” The band added that they “want people to contemplate and discover how our stories are told and how they interconnect.” Cool Cool Cool also produced "Never Noticed," which was released on the Color Red label.

The members of Cool Cool Cool are Sammi Garett (vocals, percussion), Chris Brouwers (trumpet, keyboards, synthesizers), Michael Carubba (drums),  Shira Elias (vocals), Craig Brodhead (guitar, keyboards, synthesizers), Greg Sanderson (alto sax/tenor sax, vocals, EWI) and Josh Schwartz (baritone saxophone, vocals). In addition to Turkuaz, individual members of Cool Cool Cool have toured with notable acts such as George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Zac Brown Band, The Motet, Andy Frasco & the U.N. and more. The band has enlisted a number of great bass players for their live performances. They brought in Garret Sayers from The Motet to play bass on “Never Noticed.”

Up until the release of “Never Noticed,” the band drew from its members’ individual solo projects and various artistic influences to create setlists for their live shows. This includes everything from performing as both the opening act and backing band for Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew’s Remain In Light Tour to supporting Andy Fraso & The U.N. on their L’Optimist tour. 

“Never Noticed” is Cool Cool Cool’s first offering of new material that they created entirely as a unit. In an interview with website Live Music &, Greg Sanderson said the song was born out of “a true collaboration from the band.” “It started from a multi-day writing session, bouncing ideas around between Craig and the horn section, then passed around to really bring it to life,” he said.

The band has some concert dates lined up in February, March and April for their Never Noticed tour. Visit their website for more tour details. "Never Noticed" is available on all streaming platforms.