Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Brick Adds A Little Jazz To Their Funk For Hit Song Dazz

Funk/jazz band Brick lit up the airwaves with their dance smash "Dazz" in late 1976. The track is an infectious fusion of funk, disco and jazz, and it had folks stampeding the dance floor back in the day. "Dazz" (meaning a hybrid of disco and jazz) is the second single off the Atlanta-based quintet's debut album Good High. The groove is anchored by Ray Ransom's sinuous bass line. And reed and brass man Jimmy Brown pulls double duty on this track, playing both the sax and flute parts. He delivers a great jazzy flute solo during the song's breakdown.

There is something quite unique about this track that distinguished it from other popular R&B and dance records. It's jazzy funk over a hypnotic dance beat. The seductive groove captured the imagination of music lovers and dance-floor junkies alike. The song just beckons you to the dance floor, and you can't help but move and groove to it. Its slinky flow was perfect for doing the Body Language, a very popular dance on the urban dance scene back in the late '70s.

"Dazz" was written by Ransom and fellow Brick members Regi Hargis Hickman and Eddie Irons. The band sings the lead falsetto vocal in unison, which works really well on this track. The song shot to number one on the R&B charts where it remained for four weeks; and  it climbed to number three on the pop charts. In addition to "Dazz," Brick scored a few other great tracks that also did well on the charts before disbanding in 1988.

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Related blog entry: Review of Brick's Self-Titled Second Album

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Average White Band: Scotland's Funkiest Export

When funk music ruled the charts in the 1970s, Average White Band were one of the baddest R&B/funk outfits on the scene. Just looking at them you'd never imagine they could produce such monster funk. The Scottish sextet played like they were born and bred in one of America's funkiest hotbeds, spots like New Orleans, Detroit, Memphis and Philadelphia. AWB created a particularly potent brand of blue-eyed funk and soul and were significant figures in the funk revolution of the '70s.

The first song that I ever heard by Average White Band was their sizzling instrumental "Pick Up The Pieces" (1974), and I swore up and down that it was a track by James Brown's legendary band the J.B.'s and wound up having to eat my words when I found out who was really playing. It was clear that AWB were heavily influenced by Brown's super-syncopated, kick-the-doors-in funk style. But the band went beyond just being pupils of the Godfather's funk; they absorbed it and then charted out their own path--laying the funk back down with their own original flair and style.

Average White Band never faked the funk; they were no poseurs or some novelty act.  And man could these cats play! Their grooves have been recycled on numerous hip hop and R&B records, and they have influenced several bands in their own right, including the Brand New Heavies and Level 42.  And AWB could bring it on the mellow cuts as well. Check out "A Love of Your Own" and "Cloudy" for confirmation.

Average White Band was formed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1972 with the original lineup of Alan Gorrie (bass, vocals, keyboards, and guitar); tenor saxophonist Malcom "Molly" Duncan; rhythm guitarist and vocalist Onnie McIntyre; Hamish Stuart (guitar, bass and vocals); drummer Robbie McIntosh; and keyboardist/saxophonist Roger Ball. In addition to James Brown, some of the band's other influences included the Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, Sly & the Family Stone, Donny Hathaway, the Bar-Kays and Al Green; and you can hear these influences throughout AWB's oeuvre.

Their first album, Show Your Hand, was released in 1973. The album is a solid collection of R&B tracks, but it failed to generate much interest. However, their follow-up LP, AWB (released in August, 1974), was quite a different story. The album, which was produced by legendary producer and arranger Arif Mardin, was a massive success and put the band firmly on the map. The band kicked off the album with "Pick Up The Pieces." The  track was a smash on both the R&B and pop charts, climbing all the way to number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. It is the band's most recognized song and is now widely regarded as one of the top funk songs of all time. Another standout track from the album is the Tower of Power-style funk burner "Person to Person." The album contains several other great cuts and went on to become a million seller.

The band was riding high with the enormous success of AWB, receiving love from both critics and record buyers alike. However, tragedy struck the band before they could fully enjoy their newfound success. Drummer Robbie McIntosh died from an accidental heroin overdose while at a Hollywood party on September 23, 1974. While still mourning the death of McIntosh, the band started working on their third album, Cut the Cake, recruiting black British drummer Steve Ferrone as McIntosh's replacement. The band members managed to pull themselves together and came back funkin' harder than ever with the release of Cut the Cake in June of 1975. The album is a cracking collection of funk and R&B tracks.

The percolating title song launches Cut the Cake with a bang. On this track, the band doesn't miss a speck of funk. It's chock full of sassy guitar licks and tight horn lines. On the album's track list, "Cut the Cake" is followed by "School Boy Crush," a slow, wickedly funky groove with a sinister bass line that effectively captures the butterflies and slight sense of terror a young kid experiences upon his first crush. And the sleigh bells are a nice touch, playing up the song's childlike vibe. Gorrie and Stuart's vocal trade-offs are epic and add so much to the track. "School Boy Crush" is a funk classic and has been sampled by a slew of hip hop and R&B artists, including Janet Jackson, TLC and Eric B. & Rakim. Other highlights on Cut the Cake include the irresistible "If I Ever Lose This Heaven," the James Brown-inspired "Groovin' the Night Away" and the beautiful ballad "Cloudy," where Stuart delivers an impassioned vocal performance.  Cut the Cake was a big seller and rose all the way to number one on the R&B charts and number four on the pop charts. The band dedicated the album to McIntosh's memory.

In 1976, AWB came back strong with their fourth album Soul Searching. On this album, the band scored another great ballad with the gorgeous "A Love of Your Own." It's one of the great slow jams from the '70s. When this cut came on at parties back in the day, cats would  scramble to find a fine young lady and try to get a slow dance. The biggest hit off the album was the smooth and breezy "Queen of My Soul," which went to number 21 on the R&B singles chart. And of course, AWB brought the funk again on this album. "I'm the One" is a laid-back funk groove with a super-cool horn arrangement. Even though the album didn't have any huge hits, it still went  gold.

In the late '70s, AWB's record sales began to drop off, and their audience dwindled, a fate shared by many other great '70s funk and R&B acts near decade's end. However, the band has continued to produce great music over the years and still tours with a few lineup changes. And the band retains an extremely loyal and dedicated fan base. AWB left an indelible mark on funk and R&B music, and their legacy remains strong today.

AWB funk things up with a live performance of "Cut the Cake" on Soul Train in 1975.

AWB put some extra stank on the funk in their live performance of "School Boy Crush" on Soul Train in 1975.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Duwende: A Cappella Magic

Sometimes I am really thankful for youtube's existence, because it has hipped me to a number of  great musicians who I would have never known about had it not been around. And I have recently come across an amazing a capella band named Duwende on the popular video-sharing site. Duwende is made up of six very talented vocalists who are known for their singular bass-and-beatbox-driven funk/pop style. The members of the New York-based band are J. Aaron Boykin (baritone/tenor), Derrick L. Hicks (tenor), Abbey Janes (soprano), Neal Mortimer (tenor), Edward Chung (vocal percussion) and Ari Picker (bass).  - ccfldddd

Their vocal work is fluid and inventive, with rich, soulful harmonies. Each member contributes his or her own unique flavor to Duwende's sound. The band covers a wide range of styles, including funk, rock, R&B, folk, hip hop and world beat. The band has released four albums since forming more than ten years ago and first made its mark performing in traditional rock clubs and venues. Duwende has since played at music festivals, colleges and special events all around the U.S., as well as headlining major a cappella shows, including the East Coast Summit, SoJam and AcappellaStock. The band has also performed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and recently played on Park City Television during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

And at the 2002 Independent Music World Series, the editors of Billboard Magazine selected Duwende as one of the "Top 6 Indie Acts in the Northeast," and the band's album Radio Screaming (2004) won Best Pop/Rock Album from The annual Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards (CARA) in 2005, with album single "I Fall" winning Best Original Song. And in 2008, Duwende's album Collective (2007) earned the band a second CARA win for Best Pop/Rock Album, as well as Best Original Song for single "Young Leaders of Tomorrow."

On May 24, Duwende will release a Michael Jackson tribute album titled Remember: The Music Of Michael Jackson, which contains covers of some of his biggest hits, including "Billie Jean," "Black or White" and "Rock With You." The members of Duwende, who cite MJ as their biggest inspiration, put their own original spin on his classic songs, showcasing the band's versatility and creativity. The collection is the band's first cover album. You can learn more about Duwende at their websiteThe band is signed to independent label Duwende Music LLC.

Download Remember: The Music Of Michael Jackson at Amazon.

Duwende's cover of "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"

Duwende's cover of "Billie Jean"

Duwende performing original song "Sugar" live

Related blog entry: Duwende Performing at Java Jazz Festival

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Prince Tears The Roof Off The Sucka at the Forum in Los Angeles

Photo by Fabhouse73
 His Royal Badness continues to spread the funk across the nation with his Welcome 2 America Tour and is now thrilling Los Angeles audiences on his "21 Nite Stand" residency at the Forum in Inglewood, an LA suburb. Prince brought the funk with both barrels on Saturday night, May 7, at the legendary venue. After more than 30 years in the music biz, Prince showed that he hasn't lost a step and can still electrify an audience like no one else.

 The show opened with a solid set by Grammy Award-winning jazz bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding. After Spalding completed her set, The Purple One and his band the New Power Generation hit the stage like a funky cyclone with a bumpin’ performance of "D.M.S.R." The raucous track was an inspired choice to kick off the show, getting everyone on their feet and in a party mood. Prince and his crew kept the groove factor high nearly the entire show, only occasionally slowing things down. And when Prince did slow things down, he killed. The band wowed the audience with a majestic performance of slow jam "Shhh," which climaxed with a blazing guitar solo by Prince.

Some of the other highlights included hot performances of hits "1999," "Let's Go Crazy," "Rasberry Beret," "When Doves Cry" and "Kiss." In addition, Prince and the NPG delivered a powerful, gospel-drenched reading of "Purple Rain" that took the audience to church. The set also featured a furiously funky cover of Sly & The Family Stone's classic "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)." The band also did covers of other great '70s funk tracks, such as Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," "Love Rollercoaster" by The Ohio Players and Kool & the Gang's "Hollywood Swinging," where Prince had audience members chanting "Inglewood Swinging" in place of the original song title.

And Shelia E. received a big audience response for her roof-raising performance of her hit song "The Glamorous Life." And as he has done in previous shows, Prince had a well-known performer join him onstage for a song. This time he nabbed Nicole Scherzinger, former lead singer with the Pussycat Dolls, to perform "I'll Never Be Another Fool" with him. Scherzinger's gritty performance was a nice surprise, proving that she has some serious vocal chops that weren't fully utilized on the mostly lightweight dance/pop material she sang with PCD.

The show also featured a brilliant mashup of the Time's hit "Cool" and Michael Jackson's classic "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough."

It was an incredible show from start to finish, and audience members definitely got their money's worth and then some, with Prince returning for three encores. One of the things that struck me the most about the show was Prince's supreme confidence in everything he did. He took full command onstage, and there was no question of who was running the show. They don't call him His Royal Badness for nothing.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This): New Wave Soul

In 1983, British synth-pop duo Eurythmics shot to stardom with their smash hit "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and its provocative music video. The song is a brilliant hybrid of sterile synth pop and sultry soul. Annie Lennox's powerful vocal performance pushed the song beyond the cold and detached aesthetic of the genre, catching the listener off-guard. When I first heard the song, I thought for sure Lennox was black. I was like, "Who is this lady? She can blow." Musician, songwriter and producer Dave Stewart, the other half of the duo, nicely frames Lennox's vocals with a haunting and hypnotic synth groove.

I was surprised when I finally caught the video on MTV and found that the singer was a blue-eyed Scottish lass with close-cropped orange-dyed hair and sporting a man's suit and tie. The video has become an iconic classic of the early MTV era, years before the channel became a tedious reality show network.

Penned by Stewart and Lennox, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" is the title track off Eurythmics' sophomore album, which is a stellar collection of songs. The duo went on to produce more great music and landed several other big hits, but "Sweet Dreams" remains my favorite Eurythmics track. It is their signature song and rightly so.

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Related blog entry: Eurythmics perform "There Must Be An Angel (Playing with My Heart)" Live With Stevie Wonder

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pedro Bell: Picasso of P-Funk

Way back in the day, one of my favorite things to do after buying a new Funkadelic album was checking out Pedro Bell's sublime cover art while listening to the band's wildly inventive and intoxicating stew of rock, funk, soul and psychedelia. Bell's album covers were true works of art and played a big part in the P-Funk experience.

Back in the early 1970s, fledgling artist and illustrator Bell found the ideal muse in Funkadelic, as his oddly unique art style fit right in with the band's freaky image, irreverent themes and acid-funk sound. The two went together like a Super Fly perm and a pair of two-toned gators. The young artist's Funkadelic album covers were psychedelic landscapes filled with distorted cartoon images, bawdy humor and sharp satirical commentary. And all were set in a futuristic black urban milieu on the funky side of town. Bell's artwork was a pivotal component of P-Funk's mythology, providing a provocative visual to the band's frenetic, subversive music and George Clinton's ingeniously wigged-out themes and concepts. In addition to creating the albums' cover designs, Bell wrote the liner notes, which included clever puns, satirical observations, as well as P-Funk's silly-serious ideology.

Bell's first Funkadelic album cover was Cosmic Slop (released in 1973). The band actually had a promotional video for the album's title track, which I saw recently on youtube. It's freaky to say the least, but how many people actually saw the video back when the song was released? Prior to the MTV revolution in the early '80s, videos were not a big marketing tool in promoting musical acts. During the mid-'60s and '70s, album cover art played a huge part in disseminating a band or artist's image. And if you check out some of the old album covers from that era, you'll see that many were great pieces of art, particularly in the genres of rock, soul, jazz and funk.

Bell's phantasmagorical and grotesque cover art for Cosmic Slop looks like something Salvador Dali might have dreamed up after spending a wild weekend in the hood while on acid. The focal point of the cover is a topless black woman whose Afro appears to be made up of a multitude of flies in place of hair. Popping out from the middle of the bug 'fro is another woman's face, mouth agape. I can't tell if she's in rapt ecstasy or excruciating pain. The topless woman's teeth are jagged fangs, and the nipple on her left breast is a stereo volume dial. She also appears to be stoned, her eyes half-shut in possibly a heroin-induced stupor. And it looks like she has African tribal markings slashed across both cheekbones.

Additionally, an extraterrestrial creature spells out the album's title in a cosmic blast that disintegrates the woman's right shoulder, while a fetus floats in space nearby. Each letter in the album's title is made up of larval mutations, and a huge menacing horsefly hovers over the topless woman's head. In the background, there's a planet that consists mainly of a woman's butt cheeks. The cover also contains several other twisted and surrealistic images. The artwork on the album's inside cover is just as demented, with insect-faced pimps chilling with their mutant prostitutes. With this album cover, Bell created a warped parallel universe that could have only been inhabited by Funkadelic and their freakazoid acolytes. Who needs music videos when you've got someone like Bell to create amazing artwork like this for your album covers?

In all, Bell did the artwork for eight Funkadelic album covers. In addition to Cosmic Slop, he did the covers for Standing On The Verge of Getting It On; Let's Take It to the Stage; Tales of Kidd Funkadelic; Hardcore Jollies; One Nation Under a Groove; Uncle Jam Wants You (inside and back cover); and The Electric Spanking of War Babies. He also did four covers for George Clinton's solo albums, including  Computer Games, which contains the influential funk classic "Atomic Dog." In addition to Bell's cover art, he's tried his hand at animation, screenwriting, comic books as well as his own music. One of Bell's more recent creations is a portrait of jazz innovator Sun Ra (2006).

Unfortunately, I've heard that Bell had fallen on some hard times. I read that he was near destitute and in poor health and was looking to sell some of his originals. This prompted the Black Rock Coalition to sponsor a benefit concert on his behalf on January 2, 2010. P-Funk keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell, who is a good friend of Bell's, was one of the performers at the fundraiser. I hope Bell's situation has improved and that he's still producing great art. Bell deserves more respect and recognition for all the brilliant artwork he has created. His contributions to the P-Funk universe are immense, and I've always considered him an unofficial member of the Funk Mob. He's certainly earned the distinction.

Three Pedro Bell cartoons from 1988:

Bernie Worrell shares some warm words about his friend Pedro Bell at the Black Rock Coalition-sponsored benefit concert dubbed "Miracle for a Maggot" that was held early last year:

Related blog entry: P-Funk Artist Pedro Bell's Three Best Album Covers

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bootsy Collins Announces New Album Titled Tha Funk Capital of the World

Funk legend Bootsy Collins recently announced the upcoming release of his new album Tha Funk Capital of the World. The album is set to drop April 26, and it will be the first studio album the iconic bass man has released in nearly five years. According to, Bootsy recorded the album as a way to memorialize some of his musical heroes, including James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and P-Funk guitarist/singer Garry Shider, who passed away last June. Bootsy explained to how he was inspired to record the new album: "In 2008 we went out and did a tribute to James Brown tour many of the JBs together as I could," he said. "That really got me thinking about all these great cats who are no longer around and how people are just forgetting about them, and the music is becoming so watered down now. We're forgetting the ones that really opened the door."

Tha Funk Capital of the World was recorded over the last two and a half years and consists of 16 tracks. The album features a diverse array of guest stars. Some of those joining Bootsy on the album include hip hop heavyweights Ice Cube, Chuck D and Snoop Dogg; Dr. Funkenstein himself George Clinton; Bootsy's late brother guitarist Phelps "Catfish" Collins; banjo phenom Bela Fleck; jazz mavens George Duke and Herbie Hancock; guitar virtuoso Buckethead; actor Samuel L. Jackson; the Rev. Al Sharpton; soul legend Bobby Womack; and Princeton scholar Cornel West.

Bootsy told Billboard that he wanted to mix it up a bit and not make it solely a funk album: "I wanted to add a little rock, a little jazz, a little gospel in there, just come up with this thing where I can break out into a whole new kind of area," he explained. "You still get a whole lot of funk, but at the same time we took a few different approaches."

The P-Funk alum plans to tour behind the album this year and is currently making appearances at the NAMM Show (which runs January 13-16) in Anaheim, California. He is also set to appear at the private Hard Rock Funk Legends show in New York City on Feb. 28.

Download album at Amazon

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Earth, Wind & Fire's Shining Star: Funk that Inspires

Clocking in at just 2:50, Earth, Wind & Fire's "Shining Star" is pure sonic perfection. The monster track is one of the band's most recognized songs and is a timeless classic. Written by EWF members Maurice White, Philip Bailey and Larry Dunn, the track illustrates how the band could flawlessly meld genres. The record is a superb fusion of heavy-duty funk, radio-friendly pop and a pinch of hard rock thrown in for good measure.

"Shining Star" was the lead-off single from the band's multi-platinum album That's The Way of The World, and they couldn't have chosen a better song to launch the LP. When the song exploded on the airwaves in early 1975, Earth, Wind & Fire were already an established and successful R&B/funk act with a sizable black following. "Shining Star" was instrumental in helping the band reach an even wider audience. I believe it was the irresistible chorus that clinched the song's crossover appeal. It sounds universal and is catchy as hell; you can imagine people across the globe singing along and grooving to it. It's one incredible hook.

The song also boasts stellar vocal performances from Maurice and Philip. Maurice's fiery tenor nicely complements Philip's soaring falsetto. Their vocal trade-offs give the song that extra punch needed to take it over the top. Verdine White lays down a massive earth-shaking bass line, and guitarist Al McKay delivers a scorching rock-flavored solo. And the horns accentuate the groove with hot salvos of brass funk.

"Shining Star" shot to the top of both the R&B and pop charts and sold more than a million copies. The song earned the band a Grammy at the 1976 Grammy Awards for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

The song has turned up in numerous movies and TV shows. It's probably most recognized among television viewers for the episode of Seinfeld where the rhythmically challenged Elaine attempted to get her groove on to the song.

The track's inspirational lyrics touch on one of the band's favorite motifs: self-love, dignity and faith in oneself, that every individual, no matter what station in life, is special and has inherent worth. Just hearing the groove can make you feel better about yourself... well for 2:50 anyway.

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