Saturday, February 25, 2012

Here Come the Girls! By Ernie K-Doe

"Here Come the Girls!" is this terrific old-school cut that I heard for the very first time last week. I heard it on one of those obscure public radio stations where DJs can pretty much play anything they want, because they don't have to follow a rigid playlist format. You can find some great underplayed gems (old and new) on stations like these. Anyway, when I got home,  I immediately visited youtube to see if someone had uploaded it there. And, eureka, someone had; youtube is the bomb-diggity sometimesendless ads and abrupt video removals notwithstanding. The song was released in 1970 and is by the late R&B recording artist Ernie K-Doe.

I don't know why I had never heard this great cut before. I guess because it didn't get a lot of radio airplay when it was originally released. The song was written and produced by legendary producer, composer, pianist and arranger Allen Toussaint, and the instrumentation was provided by the Meters, one of the most influential funk bands of all time. The song kicks off with a funky military beat and then jumps into the groove proper. The track is pure ear candy; it is quite irresistible.

The song was forgotten for awhile but then resurfaced in 2007 when UK beauty store and pharmacy chain Boots used the song for a Christmas TV commercial. The popularity of the commercial led to the song being re-released in the UK that same year. It charted at number 43 in the UK, and it went to number 48 in Ireland. This prompted English pop girl group Sugababes to cover the track under the title "Girls" in 2008. The group rewrote the verses but kept the chorus the same as the original. It's a pretty decent cover. The group put a little cheeky sassiness in their version, but K-Doe's original obliterates it in my opinion.

New Orleans native Ernie K-Doe was best known for his mega smash "Mother-in-Law" (1961), which climbed all the way to number one on both the pop and R&B charts in the U.S. and charted at number 29 in the UK. He had a few other minor hits, and he became a popular radio personality in New Orleans after his career as a recording artist began to slow down in the '80s.  Around this time, K-Doe became known for his outrageous, over-the-top persona. He began calling himself "The Emperor of the Universe" and would often wear royal garb.

In 1994, K-Doe and his wife Antoinette opened The Mother-in-Law Lounge, a bar and live music venue in New Orleans. Following K-Doe's death in 2001, Antoinette preserved his memory through the lounge, having it serve as a shrine to her late husband. It has a fully costumed mannequin in K-Doe's likeness among other memorabilia. The lounge was totally destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but was reopened a year later. In addition to being a singer, K-Doe was also an accomplished drummer.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nikka Costa Gets Her Funk On With Larry Graham and Prince

Funk dynamo Nikka Costa shows she can hold her own onstage with music legends Larry Graham and Prince. This performance took place in Denmark during the NPG Music and Arts Festival last year. That ridiculously funky bass line Graham's playing is from the Sly & the Family Stone track "Thank You for talkin' to Me Africa," which appeared on the landmark album There's a Riot Goin' On. Costa and Graham are often featured performers at the Purple One's concerts, as he always enjoys performing with talented people who really know how to get down.

Costa dropped her eighth album, Pro*Whoa!, in June of last year on her own label Go Funk Yourself Records. The singer/songwriter/performer has been touring recently and played some dates in California this month, putting on shows in San Francisco, San Juan Capistrano and Redondo Beach. And she has a show scheduled in Los Angeles at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex on May 12.

Nikka Costa joined Prince on stage from NCFUNKERS on Vimeo.

Related blog entry: Nikka Costa: Fiery Redhead Funkster

The Hot 8 Brass Band Brings Some New Orleans Flavor To A Marvin Gaye Classic

In recognition of Mardi Gras, I thought I would share this terrific clip of New Orleans-based brass ensemble the Hot 8 Brass Band covering Marvin Gaye's classic "Sexual Healing." The band does a stellar job with its New Orleans-style makeover of the song. Hearing their version makes me appreciate the song even more. The band has also done covers of songs by Michael Jackson and Snoop Dogg. All the members of the Hot 8 Brass Band were born and raised in New Orleans. The band was formed in 1995 by Bennie "Big Bennie" Pete (tuba and band leader), Harry "Swamp Thang" Cook (bass drum) and former band member Jerome "Baybay" Jones (trombone). The other members of the band's current lineup include Terrell "Burger" Batiste (trumpet); Edward "Juicy" Jackson (trombone); Samuel "Lil Sammy" Cyrus (snare drum); Raymond "Dr. Rackle" Williams (trumpet); Gregory Veals (trombone); Alvarez "B.I.G. Al" Huntley (trumpet); and John "Prince" Gilbert (saxophone). Gotta love those nicknames.

The Hot 8 Brass Band fuses the traditional New Orleans brass sound with funk, jazz and hip hop. The band received a big surge in popularity after appearing in Spike Lee's powerful documentary When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006), which chronicles Hurricane Katrina's devastating impact on New Orleans. The band has also appeared on CNN, Nightline and was featured in The New York TimesThe band plays in second line parades hosted by Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs on Sunday afternoons. And they perform regularly at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and have also played in the Zulu Parade, San Antonio Zulu Association Festival, and the City of New Orleans New Year's Celebration. The band has toured worldwide, bringing their homegrown New Orleans music to places like France, Italy, Japan, Spain and Finland. And they have shared the stage with legendary artists such as Dr. John and Lou Reed. Yesterday, the band played at the American Theatre in Hampton, Virginia to celebrate Mardi Gras.

The band released its debut album Rock With The Hot 8 in October of 2007 on independent label Tru Thoughts.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

George Clinton Visits Berklee College of Music To Receive Honorary Degree

Photo by Kelly Davidson
George Clinton recently visited Berklee College of Music to receive an honorary Doctor of Music degree. On February 16, Berklee awarded the funk legend the honorary degree for his many contributions to contemporary music as the mastermind and guiding light behind Parliament-Funkadelic. P-Funk altered the musical landscape in the 1970s with its groundbreaking music and extravagant concerts. The funk/rock/soul collective has influenced two generations of musicians and hip-hop artists. And as a solo artist, Clinton released the highly influential funk track "Atomic Dog" in 1982.

Clinton spent a four-day residency on the campus where he visited classes, interacted with students and rehearsed with the Berklee P-Funk Ensemble, a group of student musicians that honor the music and legacy of Clinton and P-Funk. His four-day visit culminated in a concert by the Berklee P-Funk Ensemble that included an award ceremony where he received the honorary degree.

Following the ceremony, Clinton ditched the robe for a snappy silver suit and joined the group on stage to perform some P-Funk classics. Some of the tracks Clinton and the group performed included "One Nation Under a Groove," "I Wanna Testify," Alice in My Fantasies," and "Flash Light." The funk master's longtime horn players Bennie Cowan and Greg Thomas also joined the jam session.

Established in 1945, Berklee College of Music is the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world and is known for its innovative approach to music education and training. Its campus is located in Boston, Massachusetts.

Uncle Jam gets down with the Berklee P-Funk Ensemble

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Parliament Performing "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" Live In Houston

I recently came across this amazing old clip of Parliament performing "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" live at the Houston Summit in 1976. It doesn't get much funkier than this. The performance was during the band's highest level of funkosity. The late, great Ray "Stingray" Davis kicked things off with his legendary bass vocal intro: "Tear the roof off, we're gonna tear the roof off the mother sucka, tear the roof off the sucka!" And that's exactly what the band did.

There was no band funkier or badder than P-Funk during this period. The funk collective set off a new era in funk music, dropping an incredible amount of great music throughout the '70s. And their concerts were like three-ring funk circuses, which included elaborate stage sets, freaky costumes, and tons of booty shakin'. It was sort of like James Brown meets KISS.

"Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)" is the ultimate funk anthem and one of the band's most recognized songs. Even people who aren't into funk are familiar with this cut. Hell, it was even covered on Glee, and it's turned up in a number of films. My favorite cinematic usage of the song was for the film Slums of Beverly Hills, where Marisa Tomei and Natasha Lyonne get their groove on to the track. The song was written by the George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and P-Funk drummer extraordinaire Jerome Brailey.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bad Company's Shooting Star: A Rock Ballad Classic

Bad Company's "Shooting Star" is one of my favorite rock ballads. The track is a cautionary tale about the excesses of rock superstardom. The song tells the story of a kid named Johnny who dreams of becoming a rock star. He achieves his dream, but falls victim to the pitfalls and excesses of being a rock star and dies young from a drug overdose. Unfortunately, this sad scenario continues to play out all too often in real life. Over the last few years, we've seen more than a few music greats go out the way Johnny had in the song, making this track very timely and more relevant than ever.

There have been plenty of songs that have touched on this subject, but "Shooting Star" has a poignancy and quiet power that just moves the listener. The gentle, understated fashion in which Paul Rodgers sings the lyrics underscores the song's tragic tale. It also has a gorgeous chorus. The Rodgers-penned song was featured on Bad Company's triple-platinum album Straight Shooter (1975), which also included their top-ten smash "Feel Like Makin' Love." I thought "Shooting Star" was used very effectively for the opening credits of the film Wonderland, which is about the infamous Wonderland Murders in Hollywood Hills. It just seemed to fit so well.

British hard rock band Bad Company was formed in 1973. All four members had impressive rock pedigrees: Rodgers was previously the lead vocalist for Free; guitarist Mick Ralphs was formerly with Mott the Hoople; the late Boz Burrell had been the bassist for King Crimson; and drummer Simon Kirke had also been a member of Free. And the band was managed by the late Peter Grant, who also managed Led Zeppelin. The band was considered one of the first '70s supergroups and had a string of hit singles and a run of successful albums. Bad Company is one of the most acclaimed bands of the classic rock era, and Rodgers is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, with legions of artists and bands citing him as an influence both as a singer and a songwriter.

Bad Company disbanded in 1982, but has reformed in various incarnations over the years. However, none could touch the original powerhouse lineup of Rodgers, Kirke, Burrell and Ralphs in my opinion.

Download song at Amazon

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Carolina Chocolate Drops Bring Traditional Music To A New Audience

Photo by Appalachian Encounters
The Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Sugar Grove Music Fest
The Carolina Chocolate Drops are a critically acclaimed traditional black string band from Durham, North Carolina. The band is dedicated to preserving the old-time sounds of North Carolina’s Piedmont region and bringing it to a new audience. The band puts a modern twist on traditional music and sometimes includes hip-hop beats in their old-time musical arrangements. Each member sings and trades off on several instruments, including the banjo, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, snare drum, bones, jug and kazoo. The members of the band are Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons, Adam Matta, Hubby Jenkins and Leyla McCalla. Some of the styles the band covers include the following: Country Blues, Piedmont Blues, Regional Blues, Neo-Traditional Folk, Neo-Traditionalist Country, Folk and Modern Acoustic Blues. Their repertoire consists of original compositions and traditional string standards.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops formed in 2005 after its three founding members Giddons, Flemons and multi-instrumentalist Justin Robinson met at the Black Banjo Gathering at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. The 20-something musicians were drawn together through a mutual love for bluegrass, "jas," jug music and prehistoric country and rock. The band learned much of its early repertoire through jam sessions with esteemed old-time fiddler Joe Thompson. Since its founding, the band has released three albums and has toured internationally. Founding member Robinson left the band last year to pursue other endeavors. Following his exit, multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Hubby Jenkins and beatboxer and percussionist Adam Matta joined the band. Both musicians came out of New York City. And the most recent addition to the band is New Orleans-based cellist Leyla McCalla.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops have created quite a buzz on the music scene over the last few years. Last year, their album Genuine Negro Jig won a Grammy for "Best Traditional Folk Album," and they were awarded the Beyond Artist of the Year Award by DownBeat Magazine. And in 2008, they became the first African-American string band to appear on the Grand Ole Opry since the show debuted in 1925. They have also toured with legendary musician Taj Mahal and appeared on the live radio variety show A Prairie Home Companion. The band's new album, Leaving Eden, is set to be released on February 28, 2012.

It's great to see talented young musicians embracing traditional music forms and bringing it to a new generation of music listeners. Hopefully the band will inspire other young musicians to follow suit.

Purchase Leaving Eden at Amazon

Here's the band's old-time string treatment of Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)"

Their performance of Papa Charlie Jackson's "Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Great Clip Of Sly & The Family Stone Performing A Medley of Their Hits On TV Variety Show

I found this great clip of Sly & The Family Stone performing on the Smothers Brother Comedy Hour in 1968. The quality is surprisingly good for such an old clip. The band performs a medley of their songs "Hot Fun in the Summertime," "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" and "I Want to Take You Higher." Love the reactions of the audience members, especially the girl at 0:22. It looks like everyone is having a blast and getting their groove on. During this period, Sly & The Family Stone were one of the baddest live acts on the music scene. And check out those wild outfits the band's wearing on stage, particularly Sly's crazy two-piece getup.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was a comedy and variety show that aired on CBS from 1967 to 1969. It contained comedy sketches and musical performances. When it aired, comedy variety shows were all the rage. A slew of comedy variety shows aired during the late '60s and early '70s, such as The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Flip Wilson Show and The Carol Burnett Show.

Related blog entry: Review of Sly & the Family Stone's Stand!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ripple's I Don't Know What It Is, But It Sure Is Funky

"I Don't Know What It Is, But It Sure Is Funky" is a groovalicious blast from the past from interracial Michigan soul-funk band Ripple. The band dropped this funk gem back in 1973, and it became a big hit on soul radio stations. The powerful groove has a slight Afro-funk flavor to it, and the "Ola Ola aa!" soul warrior chant is a killer hook. The track also has a tight bass line and some badass horn riffs.

Ripple had several hits during the '70s, but this was their biggest smash and what they're most remembered for. The track rose to number 11 on the US R&B charts and peaked at 67 on the pop charts. The band only released two albums: Ripple (1973) and Sons of the Gods (1977). Ripple had a pretty diverse sound. The band incorporated jazz, funk, pop as well as other genres in their music. Some of Ripple's influences included Stevie Wonder, Sly & The Family Stone and Kool & The Gang.

The seven-member band consisted of the following musicians: Keith "Doc" Samuels (guitar, lead vocals); Simon Kenneth Carter (bass, vocals); Brian Sherrer (drums, percussion, timbales); Walter "Wally" Carter (conga, percussion, vocals); Dave Ferguson  (trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion); William "Bill" Hull (tenor sax, flute, percussion); and Curtis Reynolds (keyboards, vocals).   

In 2010, Reynolds and Samuels reformed the band, calling it Ripple 2.0. They released the album I Don't Know What It Is But There's More To Come under the new name.

Download the track at Amazon

Monday, February 6, 2012

Music Series Unsung Profiles R&B and Soul Greats

Singer Evelyn "Champagne" King
 My friend recently hipped me to this terrific documentary TV series called Unsung. It's similar to VH1's Behind the Music, except it focuses on old-school artists who were at their career peaks in the 1970s and '80s. The show profiles talented artists in the genres of R&B, funk, soul, disco and hip hop. Many artists profiled on the show were really popular back in the day, but have kind of fallen off the radar of late. So it's a good way to catch up on what they've been up to. Here's a list of some of the artists and bands who have been profiled on the show: Angela Winbush, Big Daddy Kane, Phyllis Hyman, George Clinton, Klymaxx, Sylvester, Billy Preston, The Bar-Kays, Bobby Womack, The Fat Boys, Evelyn "Champagne" King and Heatwave.

Unsung premiered on the American television channel TV One on November 27, 2008. I don't get TV One in my cable package, but fortunately episodes are available online. A lot of full episodes have been uploaded at Youtube. I recently watched an episode on '80s R&B songstress Stacy Lattisaw and thought it was topflight. The Unsung episodes are well-researched with plenty of eye-opening interviews from industry insiders, friends, family and fellow artists. The episodes also include tons of great performance footage. Each episode is an hour long, and they manage to pack a lot into those 60 minutes. Last year, the series won an NAACP Image Award for "Outstanding Information Series or Special."

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Soul Train Creator and Host Don Cornelius Dead at 75

On Wednesday morning February 1st, Don Cornelius, the creator and host of the iconic dance/music show Soul Train, was found dead in his home from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police found Cornelius' body around 4 a.m. at his home in Sherman, Oaks, California, and he was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. He was 75.

Cornelius created Soul Train as sort of the black answer to American Bandstand, a show that would provide a showcase for black artists and their music. The show had a huge cultural impact in that it gave black artists a medium through which they could reach a much wider audience. Although Soul Train  primarily focused on soul, R&B, funk and hip hop artists, musicians  from other genres often performed on the show. A plethora of music legends have performed on the Soul Train stage, from James Brown to David Bowie. And in addition to the musical artists, the Soul Train dancers became semi-celebrities in their own right and would entertain viewers every Saturday afternoon with their new dance moves on the legendary Soul Train line.

Cornelius, who was also the show's executive producer, was known for his smooth, low-keyed interviewing style and his famous catchphrase, "you can bet your last money, it's all gonna be a stone gas, honey!" as well as his parting words at the end of the show, "and as always, we wish you love, peace and sooooulll!" Soul Train aired in syndication for 35 years (1971-2006) and holds the title for the longest, continuously running syndicated program on TV.

Cornelius was born in Chicago, Illinois on September 27, 1936. He served in the Marines in Korea and sold insurance among other jobs before going into radio broadcasting. He began his career in radio in 1966 as a fill-in disc jockey and news reader at WVON-AM, a Chicago radio station aimed at the black community. He also moonlighted as a sports reporter on a show called "A Black's View of the News" on WCIU-TV, a small local station.

Cornelius recognized the need for a venue for soul music on television. In 1970, he pitched the idea for a black-oriented dance/music show in the vein of American Bandstand to WCIU's management, and they liked the idea. Soul Train premiered on WCIU-TV August 17, 1970, as a live show airing weekday afternoons. Jerry Butler, the Chi-Lites and the Emotions were the first musical guest performers on the show. It was an instant hit and caught the attention of Johnson Products Company, which later co-sponsored the program's expansion into national syndication. Soul Train began airing on a weekly basis in October of 1971, and the show also moved to Los Angeles at that time. Cornelius stepped down as host in 1993 but remained its executive producer.

In 1987, Cornelius launched the Soul Train Music Awards, an annual award show that honors musical artists in the fields of R&B, hip-hop and gospel music. The award show is still going strong today. The Soul Train brand expanded even further with two additional annual specials: The Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards (premiered in 1995) which celebrates top achievements by female performers; and the Soul Train Christmas Starfest (premiered in1998) that features holiday music performed by a variety of R&B and gospel artists.

Cornelius left a huge legacy with the influential Soul Train franchise. The show was instrumental in helping countless black artists break through to a wider audience. And for many of us, the show was an important part of our childhood. I remember as a kid (and later as a teen) looking forward to watching Soul Train on Saturday afternoons to catch hot live performances from some of the most talented musical artists of the day, as well as learn the latest dance steps from the Soul Train dancers. Rest in peace Mr. Cornelius. You will be sorely missed.