Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Glee Pays Tribute To Michael Jackson Tonight

Fox's mega-popular series Glee is dedicating an entire episode to Michael Jackson's music tonight. The Glee cast will cover ten of MJ's songs. Here is the song list for tonight's episode: "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," "Smooth Criminal," "Black or White," "Never Can Say Goodbye," "Bad," "Scream," I Just Can't Stop Loving You," "Ben," "I Want You Back" and "Human Nature." It's interesting that "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" are not on the list. It seems that they would have been obvious choices, but overall it's not a bad list. I've already watched the Glee treatment of "Smooth Criminal" and "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" on youtube. The cover of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" is pretty decent, but they do a really good job on "Smooth Criminal," which features some great cello playing by renowned duo 2Cellos. Here's a clip of the performance.

I'm not a big Glee fan. I think I've only watched one or two episodes, but I'll definitely have to check out tonight's episode. It will be interesting to see what they do with the other songs on the list. The episode is scheduled to air at 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.

Related blog entry: Michael Jackson's Bad: Out Of The Shadow Of Thriller

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review of Funkadelic's Hardcore Jollies

Hardcore Jollies (1976) was Funkadelic's last guitar-driven, rock-oriented album before the band shifted toward a more dance-based sound that characterized the landmark One Nation Under a Groove and its excellent follow-up Uncle Jam Wants You. This is also Funkadelic's first album with Warner Bros. after recently parting ways with independent label Westbound Records. Hardcore Jollies is probably The Funk Mob's most underrated album. It doesn't get a lot of love from critics or P-Funk fans, but there are some hidden gems to be found on it.

The album kicks off with the monster rock/funk track "Comin' Round the Mountain," which was written by George Clinton and axe master Eddie Hazel (under his commonly used pseudonym Grace Cook). Hazel delivers a scorching solo near the end of the track, and legendary drummer Buddy Miles holds the groove down with some killer beats. "Comin' Round The Mountain" was the perfect track to set off Hardcore Jollies proper.

Next track up is "Smokey." Penned by Clinton and Garry Shider, "Smokey" is flat-out brilliant. The  track is difficult to categorize. I would describe it as extraterrestrial gospel/funk. Glen Goins' incredible, gospel-drenched vocals will send shivers down your spine. Bernie Worrell's sludgy synth bass creeps beneath the groove like bubbling swamp ooze, and Shider and Goins trade some nasty rhythm guitar licks. The spooky background harmonies are provided by P-Funk vocalists Mudbone, Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, Garry Shider, Grady Thomas and Ray "Stingray" Davis. "Smokey" is one of those tracks that just floors you upon first listen and addicts you immediately.

"If You Got Funk, You Got Style" has kind of a Parliament-like flow going on. It's not surprising that the song was written by Clinton, Worrell and Bootsy, the writing team behind some of Parliament's biggest hits. However, the track sounds a bit more freaky than most Parliament cuts. The song delivers a truckload of funk. Clinton brings his signature freaky-pimp ghoul singing voice, which fits quite nicely on this track. And Ray Davis' bass vocals add some extra flavor to the song. The "go ahead" chant is an irresistible hook, and Bootsy lays down some mean space bass.

Title track "Hardcore Jollies" is a blistering rock/soul workout that showcases Michael Hampton's considerable chops as a guitar slinger. Here, Hampton shows why he became the lead guitarist for P-Funk following Hazel's exit from the band.

"Soul Mate" is a freaky kind of love song with Clinton handling the lead vocals. Not one of my favorite Funkadelic songs, but it's a solid ballad.

A live verison of the band's 1973 classic "Cosmic Slop" features some more great axe work from Hampton as well as some tasty licks from Shider and Goins. Recorded live in Hangar E at Stewart Airfield in Newburgh, New York during rehearsals for the P-Funk Earth Tour, this version is a bit faster than the original but still maintains its power to move the listener.

"You Scared The Lovin' Outta Me" is a great ballad that contains another fantastic vocal performance from Goins. And Mudbone provides some cool background vocals. Another underrated gem.

The album ends with  "Adolescent Funk." The song has a real chill, laid-back vibe. There are no lyrics, just some scattered background vocals. Worrell shines on this track, displaying his prodigious keyboard skills. It's a nice mellow way to close out the album.

Another great thing about this album is Pedro Bell's amazing cover art. It's one of Bell's best works and my favorite Funkadelic album cover. So there's a lot to love about Hardcore Jollies.

Purchase the album at Amazon

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bootsy Stretches Out His Funky Rubber Band On Late Night TV

Bootsy blew the doors off the hinges with a massively funky performance of his hit "Stretchin' Out (In a Rubber Band)" on the late night television show Night Music back in 1989. The funkster was joined by sax legend David Sanborn and the late, great guitarist Hiram Bullock for the funk session. P-Funk veteran Gary"Mudbone" Cooper and powerhouse duo Pretty Fat provided backup vocals. Late night television rarely gets this funky. You can damn near smell the funk up on the stage. The premise of the short-lived Night Music (1988-1990) was to bring together a diverse selection of musicians from different genres and have them find common ground musically. Shame the show didn't have a longer run.

Related blog entry: Bootsy's Rubber Band Performing "I'd Rather Be With You" Live In Houston

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Epic All-Star Tribute To George Harrison

Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, Prince and Dhani Harrison pay tribute to George Harrison with an epic cover of the former Beatle's classic "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Petty and Lynne do a terrific job on the lead vocals, and Prince blows the audience away with a gut-wrenching guitar solo. I like that big smile of approval George's son, Dhani, gives Prince during the solo at 4:44-4:48. The performance took place at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2004 where Harrison was inducted posthumously for his impressive work as a solo artist. This was the second time the music legend had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was first inducted in 1988 alongside the other members of the Beatles. He no doubt would have dug this incredible tribute.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Time's Cool: Smooth Funk From The Baddest Boys In Prince's Court

This bumpin' chunk of Minneapolis funk was The Time's second single off their self-titled debut album. The Time began as one of Prince's side projects. The Purple One formed the band in 1981 as an outlet for some of  his more straight-forward R&B and funk grooves, which freed him up to experiment with other music genres on his own recordings. Prince co-wrote "Cool" with Revolution guitarist Dez Dickerson.  Prince produced and arranged the track as well as played all the instruments on the song's original recording. The groove has a smooth flow and is quite funky.

Prince adds some nice little touches that really spice up the track, such as tapping soda bottles with forks and spoons throughout the song. And Prince and Revolution keyboardist Lisa Coleman's background vocals add some extra flavor to the track. On this cut, The Time's lead singer Morris Day assumes his swaggering player persona that he later made famous in the film Purple Rain. You really need to listen to the full 10-minute-plus album version to completely appreciate the full impact of the groove. The long version has a nice guitar solo as well as some funky bass slapping and cool synthesizer vamps.

The Time are probably more recognized for their later hits, such as "Jungle Love" and "The Bird," but "Cool" is a killer groove that is often overlooked or underappreciated by funk fans. The original members of The Time are quite a talented bunch, and two of them went on to even bigger success after leaving the band. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis became a much sought-after production team, producing hot tracks for a slew of big names in the music biz, including Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, Gwen Stefani, Usher and Chaka Khan. The duo's crowning achievement was their stellar production work on Janet Jackson's groundbreaking album Control. And Jesse Johnson is a gifted guitarist and talented songwriter who produced some great music as a solo artist, including the funkified hit song "Crazay," featuring Sly Stone. And Morris Day currently fronts a revamped lineup of The Time, which maintains a solid fan base.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Larry Graham's Ten Funkiest Bass Lines

Larry Graham's slap-and-pop technique revolutionized modern bass playing. The legendary musician is a pivotal figure in the bass world because of his phenomenal bass-playing skills and innovations on the instrument. He has influenced a generation of bass players, and his influence can be heard everywhere today in various music genres. The funk master has created a number of great bass lines over the years as a member of Sly & The Family Stone and later with his band Graham Central Station. I put together a list of my ten funkiest Larry Graham bass lines. Starting with number ten, here they go:

10) It's Alright - Graham Central Station

Larry's slingshot bass line catapults the groove to its funkiest capacity.

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9) Hair - Graham Central Station

Larry was always coming up interesting and unique bass lines, and this is one of his most creative riffs. And if you're a bass player, it's a blast to play.

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8) Thank You For Talkin' To Me Africa - Sly & The Family Stone

Larry puts some extra stank on this nasty groove with an incredibly funky bass line.

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7) Earthquake - Graham Central Station

A bass-playing extravaganza where Larry rocks out as hard as he funks.

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6) Turn it Out - Graham Central Station

Larry and GCS drop three megatons of funk on this explosive groove.

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5) It's the Engine in Me - Graham Central Station

Larry goes on the warpath on this massively funky slap-and-pop workout.

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4) Pow - Graham Central Station

Learning to play this bass line has sort of become a rite of passage for aspiring funk players. As a teen I spent many hours trying to learn it and had the blisters to prove it. I never quite got it totally down pat, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

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3) Hey Mr. Writer - Graham Central Station

Funky ode to none other than Mr. Sly Stone. Larry's powerhouse bass line sounds like the engine of a funk locomotive.

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2) The Jam - Graham Central Station

Larry delivers yet another ridiculously funky bass line on this appropriately titled track. Each GCS member gets a solo on this one. I heard this cut played everywhere back in the day. It's one of the band's most recognized grooves.

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1) Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) - Sly & The Family Stone

Well, here it is, the granddaddy of all slap bass lines. This is the one that started it all. There's no telling how many people decided to pick up the bass after hearing Larry lay down this new innovative, extremely funky style of playing. This groove set off a new era in funk music, and players everywhere started slappin' and poppin'. Thank you indeed Sly and Larry.

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