Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Glide" By Pleasure

In 1979, soul/funk band Pleasure scored a top ten hit with the bass-heavy, hard-hittin’ funk track “Glide.” The track features some excellent slap-and-pop bass work from Nathaniel Phillips and is a favorite among funk bassists, many of whom cut their teeth on this song. It also has a cool unison vocal arrangement as well as some funky chicken-scratch guitar licks and great synth vamps. The song is about maintaining a positive outlook during tough times and to just keep moving forward with your head up (just “glide on by”).

“Glide"was a single from Pleasure’s 1979 album Future Now. The song peaked at #10 on the R&B charts and rose to #55 on the pop charts. It was the band's highest charting single and what they’re most remembered for. However, the band has recorded a lot of other great music that unfortunately doesn’t get a lot of play these days. Their full oeuvre is definitely worth checking out. Pleasure’s sound encompassed jazz, soul, funk, rock and R&B, and they handled all these styles with flavor and finesse.

The lineup for Pleasure at the time they dropped “Glide” was the following: Nathaniel Phillips (bass, vocals); Bruce Carter (drums); Donald Hepburn (keyboards, vocals); Marlon “The Magician” McClain (guitar, backing vocals); Bruce Smith (percussion, backing vocals); Dennis Springer (tenor saxophone); Sherman Davis (lead vocals, backing vocals); Michael Hepburn (keyboards, vocals); and Tony Collins (trumpet, flugelhorn). Glide was penned by Phillips and Smith.

Pleasure was formed in Portland, Oregon in 1972 as a result of a merger between two local bands, Franchise (which included McClain, Phillips and Carter) and the Soul Masters (which included D. Hepburn, Smith, Springer and Davis). In 1974, the band got their big break when trombonist Wayne Henderson—co-founder of acclaimed jazz/funk band the Jazz Crusaders—caught one of their shows at a club in Portland. Henderson was impressed with the young band’s chops; this led to Pleasure signing a record deal with Fantasy Records. Henderson, who died earlier this year, served as both producer and mentor for the band and produced four of their seven albums.

In addition to their own albums, Pleasure did session work with artists such as Willie Bobo, Ronnie Laws, Gabor Szabo and Side Effect.

The band broke up in 1982 following the release of their final album Give It Up, which was released on RCA.

"Glide" at Amazon

Related blog entry: "Space Is The Place"

Monday, August 25, 2014

"Funk to the Folks" By The Soul Searchers

Chuck Brown and his crew get waist-deep in some raw, uncut funk on this dope track. The groove is just so irresistibly funky—super-tight horns, tasty wah-wah guitars licks, powerful drumming and heavy bass; it just unadulterated, no-frills funk. The track also boasts a sweet trombone solo from John Buchanan.

The track is from the Soul Searchers’ second album Salt of the Earth (1974) and was penned by Buchanan. The album is a quality selection of R&B and funk tracks and contains the minor hit “Blow Your Whistle.”And the drum break on the instrumental “Ashley’s Roachclip” has been sampled by numerous artists from various genres. Additionally, Salt of the Earth has been cited as one of most sampled albums in hip-hop history.

The Soul Searchers were formed in Washington, D.C. in 1966. The band eventually became an integral part of D.C.’s underground music scene by dropping top-shelf, hard-hittin’ funk and soul tracks. And they were a fantastic live act. The band never failed to get everyone in a fun, booty-shakin’ party mood at their concerts.

Late bandleader/guitarist/songwriter and singer Chuck Brown was the innovator of Go-go music, which is a bass-heavy, percussion-filled funk subgenre that fuses R&B, funk and hip hop. Spoken-word vocals are also a prominent feature of Go-go. The style originated in Washington D.C. in the mid-‘70s and quickly blew up locally. During that time, Go-go was blasted at house parties and clubs across D.C. And Brown was such a pivotal figure of the genre that he became known as “The Godfather of Go-go.”

Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers are probably most recognized for their 1978 smash “Bustin’ Loose.” The mammoth, chart-topping mega-jam put Go-go on the map nationally and is now considered a funk/R&B classic. However, the national Go-go craze was short-lived, but it remains very popular in the D.C. area.

The lineup for the Soul Searchers at the time they released “Funk to the Folks” was Chuck Brown (guitar, lead vocals); John Buchanan (trombone, piano, synthesizer, percussion, vocals); John Euell (bass); Kenneth Scoggins (drums, percussion); Lloyd Pinchback (flute, saxophone, percussion); Bennie Braxton (organ, vocals); Lino Druitt (congas, bongos, percussion); and Donald Tillery (trumpet, percussion, vocals).

Brown died on May 16, 2012 at age 75, leaving behind a rich musical legacy. The legendary musician is considered an institution in D.C.  A big tribute/celebration was held in Brown’s honor at Northeast Washington Park, in Washington, D.C. on Friday, 8/22/14, which would have been the Go-go pioneer’s 78th birthday. The ceremony included an unveiling of a memorial statue in Brown’s likeness, as well as a dedication from D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who marked that day Chuck Brown Day. The tribute also included a mosaic wall that depicts Brown at various stages of his life and career. And Mayor Vincent declared that part of park will now be known as Chuck Brown Memorial Park. The event also included a concert from Brown’s band. It was a well-deserved tribute to a great talent whose art enriched D.C. in so many ways.

And on August 19, a posthumous Chuck Brown album, entitled Beautiful Life, was released. The album contains nine previously unreleased tracks that Brown and his band recorded.  The collection also features guest appearances from Faith Evans, Doug E. Fresh, Wale, Raheem DeVaughn and others.

Beautiful Life album at Amazon

Related blog entry: Donna Summer and Chuck Brown Left a Legacy of Great Music

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review of Eddie Hazel's Album Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs

Eddie Hazel displayed his dazzling guitar skills on his solo debut album Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs, released in 1977. This groovalistic collection of rock, funk and psychedelic soul provided a great showcase for the legendary fretboard wizard to cut loose with some superb guitar work.

The album has a strong P-Funk presence, with guest appearances from  Bootsy Collins, Garry “Starchild” Shider, Jerome Brailey, Bernie Worrell, Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton  and the Brides of Funkenstein (Lynn Mabry and Dawn Silva).  And a few other members of the Funk Mob also played on the album. The LP was co-produced by Hazel and George Clinton.

This seven-track collection contains some quality tracks and is a great listen. “So Goes the Story” is a cool little rock/funk cut that features some brilliant axe work from Hazel, and Bootsy lays down some deep liquid funk on his Space Bass. The track was written by Hazel, George Clinton and Bootsy.

Another album highlight is a sublime cover of the Mamas and the Papas' “California Dreamin'." Hazel completely overhauls the ‘60s classic, and the results are pretty amazing. His raw, soulful lead vocals add a wistfulness and poignancy to the song. Hazel was pretty underrated as a vocalist. People always talk about his great guitar skills, but dude could blow as well. And the Brides of Funkenstein’s gospel-tinged background vocals are simultaneously powerful and beautiful. The track also boasts some splendid bass work from Billy “Bass” Nelson. And of course Hazel's playing is top-notch as always.

“What About It?” (penned by Hazel and Clinton) is another terrific cut.  Hazel shares lead guitar duties with Michael Hampton on this spacey, irresistible funk groove.  It’s an exciting and indelible sonic experience to hear these two badass guitar slingers engage in an epic riffathon. And Tiki Fulwood's great drumming keeps the groove tight and funky.

The album also contains a phenomenal cover of the Beatles’ moody rocker “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Hazel serves up some scorching, mind-blowing solos on this cut, and the vocals (provided by the Brides of Funkenstein) are hauntingly soulful. The Brides are also featured on the mellow, outrĂ© track “Frantic Moment.” Their vocals go down nice and easy like a glass of some smooth cognac.

Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs was Hazel’s only full album that was released while he was alive. Several of his previously unreleased recordings were put out posthumously following his death in 1992. Game went out of print shortly after its release. The LP remained out of print for many years. As a result, the album became a huge collector’s item. It was considered a badge of honor among hardcore P-Funk and Hazel fans to be the owner of this very rare album. It gave the owner significant bragging rights among his or her fellow funkateers and Hazel devotees.

Rhino Records reissued the album in 2004 as a numbered, limited-edition compact disc. The reissue had four bonus tracks, which were originally from Hazel’s 1994 EP Jams From The Heart. After all the copies of the limited release had run out, Collector’s Choice Music released the collection sans the extra bonus songs. And it was reissued again in Gatefold form by RealGoneMusic in 2012. This release doesn’t have the extra bonus tracks, just the original seven-track listing.

Hazel joined P-Funk in 1967 (known as the Parliaments at the time) when he was only 17. His prodigious playing abilities and inventive funk-metal style played a big part in shaping Funkadelic’s early groundbreaking sound. The six-string wunderkind was prominent on Funkadelic’s first three landmark albums: Funkadelic (1970), Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow (1970) and Maggot Brain (1971). Hazel’s elegiac, soul-wrenching solo on the title track (“Maggot Brain”) is what he’s most remembered for.

Following those three albums, Hazel’s role in the Funk Mob started to diminish due to his growing drug problems and alcoholism as well as ongoing financial disputes with George Clinton. He only made minimal contributions to the albums America Eats Its Young (1972) and Cosmic Slop (1973) but came back strong for Standing on the Verge Of Getting It On, released in 1974.  Hazel made major contributions to this sterling collection of rock, funk, soul, blues and psychedelia. He co-wrote all  seven of the album’s tracks and delivered some blistering solos on the rock/funk cuts “Red Hot Mama” and “Alice in My Fantasies.” This album illustrated what a talented songwriter Hazel was.

Following the release of Standing on the Verge Of Getting It On, Hazel continued his downward spiral of drug addiction and alcoholism.  His troubles came to a head later in 1974 when he was indicted for assaulting an airline stewardess and an air marshal along with charges of drug possession. The P-Funk guitarist spent some time in prison as a result of this incident.

Following his stint in prison, Hazel’s involvement with P-Funk projects was sporadic. His ongoing battle with drugs and alcohol seriously undercut his music productivity. However, he did manage to squeeze in some worthwhile projects. In addition to his work with P-Funk, Hazel contributed his talents to some tracks by the Temptations.  He co-wrote the Tempts’ massively funky cut “Shakey Ground,” which was a single from their 1975 album A Song For You. Hazel also played lead guitar on the track, and P-Funk’s Billy “Bass” Nelson held down the bottom.  The song has the distinction of being the Tempts’ last single to reach #1 on the R&B charts.

Hazel continued to gig and work on various music projects--including P-Funk recordings and concerts--throughout the years.  But his health began to deteriorate due to his many years of heavy drug abuse and drinking. He died at the age of 42 on December 23, 1992 from chronic bleeding and liver failure. But Hazel definitely made his mark while he was with us. He’s widely regarded as one of the most innovative and talented guitarists the music world has ever seen.  And he ranked  #43 on Rolling Stone Magazine's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time." Hazel also holds down the spot of funk's greatest guitar hero and most likely always will.

Game, Dames And Guitar Thangs at Amazon

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Unfinished Business" by the Blackbyrds

This sizzling, high-energy instrumental is one of the Blackbyrds’ funkiest tracks. This is the cut you put on when you want to pump yourself up for some big task; and it’s also good for just getting your groove on.

The syncopation on this track is just insane. The groove is just so smooth and tight. All the parts are played with flawless precision but without losing an ounce of funk. The track boasts some dazzling horn work, a super-funky bass line and infectious rhythm guitar licks. And Wesley Jackson delivers a marvelous sax solo. In some parts, the groove is reminiscent of one of Earth, Wind & Fire’s dynamic horn-driven instrumentals.

“Unfinished Business” is the title track from the Blackbyrd’s 1976 gold album. The song was written by keyboardist/composer Kevin Toney, who was one of the original members of the Blackbyrds. The song peaked at #14 on Billboard’s dance charts in the U.S. It also earned the band a Grammy nomination for "Best Instrumental Song."

The Blackbyrds were formed in 1973 by influential jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd. The late jazz legend—who had a Ph.D in music education—handpicked the band members from his pool of students at Howard University, where he taught in the music department. Byrd produced the first six Blackbyrds albums and wrote or co-wrote a number of their tracks. The initial lineup for the Blackbyrds was the following: Joe Hall (bass), Kevin Toney (keyboards), Barney Perry (guitar), Keith Killgo (drums), Pericles “Perk” Jacobs, Jr. (percussion) and Allan C. Barnes (saxophone, clarinet). Guitarist Orville Saunders and saxophonist/flautist Steve Johnson joined the band a short time later.

The Blackbyrds’ music garnered critical acclaim as well as major commercial success. The band had a string of hits throughout the ‘70s, including “Do, It Fluid,” “Happy Music,” “City Life,” “Rock Creek Park,” “Time is Movin’,” “Supernatural Feeling” and “Soft and Easy.” Their biggest hit and probably most recognized song is “Walking in Rhythm.” The track sold more than a million copies and earned the band a Grammy nomination. Additionally, the band scored three gold albums (500,000 units sold for each).

The jazz-funk outfit’s sound has been kept alive largely through hip hop. Their tracks have been sampled by numerous hip-hop artists, including Wiz Khalifa, Nas, De La Soul, Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, Heavy D, Eric B. & Rakim and NWA.

The band broke up in 1981 but was reformed in 2012 by Keith Killgo for the album entitled Gotta Fly.  In addition to Killgo, the other original members of the Blackbyrds who played on the album were Orville Saunders, Joe Hall and Allan Barnes. The newly formed Blackbyrds did some touring in 2012 and 2013 but have been fairly inactive this year.

Unfinished Business at Amazon

Related blog entry: "Do It, Fluid" by the Blackbyrds

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Soul Motivators Kick Some Vintage Funk on “Until the Sun Goes Down”

I’ve been replaying this badass cut by Deep funk band the Soul Motivators. The track is a delicious slice of old-school funk, containing the perfect ingredients for a killer groove: tight horns, percolating clavinet, wicked drums, fat bass, funky rhythm guitar and soulful vocals.  And trombonist Nathan Dell-Vandenberg serves up a super-smooth solo, which further increases the groove’s funk quotient. The track also features some stellar conga work from percussionist Nigel Pitt.

The Soul Motivators are a nine-piece ensemble that specializes in vintage soul and funk. The band also includes Afrobeat and hip hop in its repertoire.  “Until the Sun Goes Down” is a track from their self-titled debut EP, which was released in March of 2013. The EP is a superb collection of vintage soul and funk, which showcases the band's impressive musical chops.

The Soul Motivators were formed in Toronto, Canada in 2011. The members are as follows: Voltaire Ramos (guitar), Nathan Dell-Vandenberg (trombone), Lydia Persaud (vocals), Doug Melville (drums), Thomas Moffett (trumpet), Marc Shapiro (bass), James Robinson (keyboards), Nigel Pitt (percussion) and Dominique Morier (saxophone). The band has been steady gigging over the past few years; they’ve played at a slew of funk shows, festivals and special events across Canada and receive regular rotation on CBC Radio 1. They always bring massive doses of funk to each of their performances and never leave the audience disappointed.

The talented funk ensemble recently performed at the Beaches International Jazz Festival in Toronto. It marked the third year running that the band performed at the popular annual music fest. Their sets at the festival included brand-new tracks from their forthcoming full-length studio album. Additionally, the band has opened for music legends such as Afrika Bambaataa and Lee Fields & the Expressions. And on September 27, they will be sharing the stage with Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre. To learn more about The Soul Motivators, drop by their website.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Fencewalk" by Mandrill

This powerful funk track was Mandrill’s biggest hit and garnered the influential multi-genre band a flock of new fans upon its release in 1973.  The groove kicks off with a blaring horn volley that sounds like a runaway freight train. And what a groove it is: kinetic wah-wah guitar licks; punchin’ horn lines; a wicked bass line and a monster beat.  The track also boasts a blistering guitar solo from Mandrill axe-man Omar Mesa and some very funky clavinet work from keyboardist Claude “Coffee” Cave.  And the unison-sung lead vocals give the track a raw, soulful feel.

The track was written by the Panama-born Wilson brothers (Ric, Lou and Carlos), who co-founded Mandrill in 1968.  It was a single from the band's third studio album, Composite Truth (1973), which was their most commercially successful album. The song saw significant chart action, climbing to #19 on the U.S. Billboard Soul Singles chart and peaking at #52 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Fencewalk” is Mandrill’s most recognized song and has been sampled by several hip-hop artists, including Ice Cube (“Givin’ Up the Nappy Dugout”) and Cypress Hill (“The Funky Cypress Hill Shit”). And critically acclaimed R&B artist D’Angelo performed an excellent cover of the song at a 1995 concert in London. The performance is featured on his album Live at the Jazz CafĂ©, London, which was originally released in 1996 and later reissued this year.

The lineup for Mandrill at the time they dropped “Fencewalk” was the following: “Sweet Lou” Wilson (trumpet, percussion, vocals); Claude “Coffee” Cave (keyboards, vibraphone, percussion, vocals); Omar Mesa (lead guitar, percussion, vocals); Fudgie Kae (bass, percussion, acoustic guitar, vocals); Carlos Wilson (saxophone, trombone, flute, guitar, vocals); Neftali Santiago (drums, percussion, vocals); and Ric “Doc” Wilson (trombone, flute, saxophone, guitar, timbales, drums, percussion, vocals).

Mandrill was one of the most progressive funk bands on the scene in the 1970s and is considered one of the key pioneers in the development of World Music. Their eclectic sound is a dynamic fusion of jazz, funk, Afro-Caribbean, rock, Latin, soul, psychedelia and blues.  They have even influenced major ‘70s funk/R&B acts such as Parliament/Funkadelic and Earth, Wind & Fire.

"Fencewalk" at Amazon

Related blog entry: Here Today Gone Tomorrow by Mandrill