Friday, May 29, 2015

Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind & Fire, Featuring The Emotions

The mighty Earth, Wind & Fire brought a mystical vibe to their exquisite disco smash "Boogie Wonderland." The legendary band put their powerful and distinct stamp on this infectious dance track, which distinguished it from the flood of other disco cuts released in 1979. The song is impeccably arranged and orchestrated, and the band got strong vocal support from the honey-voiced R&b/pop sensations The Emotions. Additionally, Philip Bailey’s amazing falsetto soars to the heavens on the bridge. And Maurice White delivers a suave and assured lead vocal performance.

 The song is about how many people go to discos in hopes of finding something that has been missing in their lives whatever that may be: love, excitement, human connection, etc.  The disco is not just a place where people go to escape their troubles and worries on the dance floor for a while but also somewhere that provides them the illusion of something better than their lives.

“Boogie Wonderland” was written by award-winning songwriters Allee Willis and Jon Lind and was produced by White and Al Mckay. It was the lead single from EWF’s double-platinum album I Am (1979). The song peaked at #2 on the US R&B charts and climbed to #6 on the pop charts; and it charted at #4 on the UK singles charts. The disco hit sold more than a million copies and earned the band a Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental Performance.  And in addition to “Boogie Wonderland,” the album yielded another huge hit, the gorgeous ballad “After The Love Has Gone,” which peaked at #2 on both the US R&B and pop singles charts and reached #4 on the UK singles chart. The song landed the band a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by A Duo, Group Or Chorus.

“Boogie Wonderland” is now considered a timeless disco classic and has been featured in a number of films, including Happy Feet, Madagascar, Caddyshack, Roller Boogie, Don’t Look Under The Bed, Kronk’s New Groove, Billy & Mandy's Big Boogey Adventure and The Intouchables. It’s also used in the widely acclaimed Australian musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Boogie Wonderland at Amazon

Monday, May 25, 2015

Bass Titan Louis Johnson Dead at 60

Legendary funk bassist Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson died last Thursday, May 21. He was 60. The cause of his death has not yet been disclosed. Johnson was one of the most naturally gifted bass players to ever pick up the instrument. His explosive, ferociously funky playing abilities distinguished him as one of the preeminent bass players of the funk era in the 1970s and placed him in the esteemed company of bass giants such as Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins and Stanley Clarke.  In the mid-1970s, Johnson took Graham’s innovative thump-and-pluck technique and expanded on it, adding his own unique fire and intensity to the style. And as a result, he became a highly influential bassist in his own right—with tons of aspiring players trying to cop his dynamic, rapid-fire funk style.

Johnson was born in Los Angeles on April 13, 1955 and developed a huge interest in music at a young age. While in high school, he and his two brothers (George and Tommy) along with their cousin Alex Weir formed the band Johnson Three Plus One. Upon graduation, they began backing big-name music acts such as the Supremes and Bobby Womack on tour. Louis and George—who’s a talented guitarist—eventually broke off from Johnson Three Plus One to join Billy Preston’s band. They wrote two songs for Preston (“The Kids and Me” and “Music Is My Life”) before leaving his band in 1973. 

They were later hired to play on Quincy Jones’ album Mellow Madness (1975), which contained four of their compositions. To return the favor, Jones took them on his Japan tour and then produced their debut LP Look Out For #1 (1976), which was released on A&M Records. They began dubbing themselves the Brothers Johnson shortly before the recording of the album. The LP was an auspicious debut for the gifted duo. It contained the smash “I’ll Be Good To You,” which shot to #1 on the US R&B singles chart and peaked at #3 on the pop charts.  The collection also contains the dance-floor hit “Get The Funk out Ma Face” (#3 R&B chart, #30 pop chart and #11 dance chart). It also features a super-cool rendition of Beatles classic “Come Together.” The collection went platinum and topped the R&B album charts in the US; and it peaked at #3 on the jazz charts and climbed to #9 on the pop charts. With the exception of “Come Together,” the duo had a hand in the writing of all the album’s tracks.

Jones produced three more Brothers Johnson albums: Right on Time (1977), Blam! (1978) and Light Up the Night (1980). All three LPs went platinum. And the brothers had several more hit singles, including an inspired, funkified cover of Shuggie Otis’ psychedelic soul track “Strawberry Letter 23.” The track reached the top spot on the US R&B singles chart and peaked at #5 on the pop charts. It’s probably their most well-known song. Some of their other hits include the monster funk jam “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now”; the dance smash “Stomp!”; and the smooth, soulful “Runnin’ for Your Lovin’.”

Following Light Up the Night, the duo released six more studio albums: Winners (1981), Blast! (1982), Out of Control (1984), Kickin’ (1988), Funkadelia (1994) and Brothers ‘n’ Love (1996).

In addition to the Brothers Johnson’s albums, Louis and George worked on outside projects. Louis was an in-demand session player and contributed his phenomenal bass skills to tracks by notable artists such as George Duke, Herb Alpert, George Benson, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Michael McDonald, Stevie Wonder and Jeffrey Osborne. And he played on Michael Jackson’s landmark albums Off The Wall and Thriller. He laid down the bottom on iconic tracks like “Billie Jean,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and “Off The Wall.”

And an addition to his superb bass abilities, Louis Johnson was a talented songwriter and an exciting performer. He could electrify an audience with his raw energy and powerful bass playing.

Louis Johnson left an indelible mark on funk bass playing and on the genre itself. He influenced and inspired bass players across the globe with his incredible bass skills and ultra-funky style.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bootsy Collins Bridges Old School And New School On “Kool Whip”

P-Funk bass lord Bootsy Collins collaborated with young hip-hop artists Phil Adé and Morris Mingo for this nasty funk track. The song is a delicious mix of old-school funk and new-school hip hop. Mingo holds down the keyboards, while Adé serves up a strong rap. And Bootsy delivers a stupidly funky bass line.
The song also boasts some fantastic string work and a sexy, soulful vocal performance from Candi$weetz. And the tight horns help further raise the groove's funk quotient. The track also has an irresistible bridge. With this powerful groove, Bootsy proved that raw, uncut funk was still very much alive and kicking as we entered into the second decade of the 21st century.

“Kool Whip” was co-written by Bootsy, Adé and Mingo and is a track from the funk legend’s 2011 album Tha Funk Capital of the World. The collection offers a highly listenable smorgasbord of funk, rock, hip hop, soul, jazz and gospel. Back when the album was released, Bootsy said he recorded it to pay  tribute to some of his musical heroes, such as James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, as well as late P-Funk vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Garry Shider, who died in 2010.

The album also works as sort of a music history lesson for the young folks. And it features a myriad of celebrity guests, including Bobby Womack, Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Cornel West, Ron Carter, George Duke, Sheila E., Ice Cube, Buckethead, Chuck D, Béla Fleck, Musiq Soulchild, George Clinton and Rev. Al Sharpton. That sounds like one hell of a house party.

Kool Whip at Amazon

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

B.B. King's Best Live Performances

Blues icon B.B. King left behind an extraordinary musical legacy.

The universal outpouring of love for B.B. King over the past several days is a testament to the legendary guitarist’s massive legacy and how many millions he has touched with his music and performances over the years. B.B.—who died last Thursday at 89—was one of most iconic and influential blues artists to ever take the stage; he had an immeasurable impact on modern music and was major influence on a slew of celebrated guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, Mark Knopfler, Carlos Santana, Duane Allman and Buddy Guy, among countless others.

And it wasn’t just his soulful guitar playing, powerful voice and magnetic stage presence that endeared him to so many; it was also his humble and jovial demeanor. His laidback, down-home charm made everyone feel completely at ease in his presence, both onstage and off.  He was a true gentleman and a class act in every way. In recognition of the blues legend’s passing, I thought I’d put together a list of my five favorite B.B. King performances. Here they are in no particular order:

B.B. Performing “How Blue Can You Get” at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (1972)

B.B. brought the house down with this electrifying performance of “How Blue Can You Get” (aka “Downhearted”) at the notorious maximum security prison Sing Sing in New York. The revered bluesman brought his patented stage charisma and humor to this powerful performance. The performance was part of a concert that B.B. and famed folk singer Joan Baez put on for Sing Sing’s inmates in 1972.

B.B. Performing “Sweet Little Angel” with James Brown at the Beverly Theater (1983)

James and B.B. lit up the stage with a soul-stirring performance of blues standard “Sweet Little Angel." This was one of the many highlights of the historic concert that B.B. and James put on at the Beverly Theater in Los Angeles in 1983.  This was also the same concert in which Prince and Michael Jackson made brief guest appearances onstage.

B.B. Performing “The Thrill is Gone” in Montreux (1993)

B.B. delivered a majestic performance of the timeless blues classic “The Thrill is Gone” at his 1993 concert in Montreux.

B.B. and Gladys Knight performing “Please Send Me Someone To Love” (1987)

B.B. and Gladys Knight set the stage on fire with this show-stopping rendition of Percy Mayfield’s blues ballad “Please Send Me Someone To Love” at Los Angeles' Ebony Showcase Theatre in 1987. Both music legends dazzled the audience with their inimitable musical gifts.

B.B. Performing “Let The Good Times Roll” at the Beverly Theater (1983)

B.B. got the joint jumpin' with a rousing, crowd-pleasing rendition of Louis Jordan’s jump-blues classic during his concert with James Brown at the Beverly Theater in 1983.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Prince Hosts Two Peace Rally Concerts And Releases A Protest Song

Moved by the nationwide demonstrations following the untimely deaths of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown, Prince decided to let his voice be heard. On May 10, he released his new song, “Baltimore,” which  honors the memories of Gray and Brown, who both died from injuries sustained during encounters with police officers.  Many feel their deaths were two more examples of an ongoing pattern of the police using excessive force when dealing with African Americans. The song is a call for peace and an end to the unrest that has taken hold across the country. It also condemns police brutality and gun violence, which continues to cut short too many young lives in the United States—especially in low-income urban communities. Prince wrote and produced the song as well as played all the instruments. The song has a gorgeous melody and some sterling guitar work from the Purple One.  And soul/R&B singer Eryn Allen Kane sweetens the groove with her soulful vocals.

On May 11, the multitalented musician performed alongside his backing band, 3RDEYEGIRL, before a sold-out crowd at Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena for his second “Dance Rally 4 Peace” concert. Prince debuted “Baltimore” during the show. A portion of the concert’s proceeds will go to Baltimore-based youth charities. According to a statement released by LiveNation, the concert is meant to be a “catalyst for pause” and was done “in the spirit of healing.”

Baltimore resident Freddie Gray died from a spinal injury sustained while he was arrested last month. He fell into a coma while in police custody as he was being transported in a police van. Before falling into a coma, Gray pleaded for medical care but none was given. He died a week later. The 25-year-old's death ignited a new string of protests and riots across the country with people again decrying police misconduct and abuse.

His Royal Badness hosted the first “Dance Rally 4 Peace” concert on May 2 at his Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, near Minneapolis. When Prince announced the concert via social media, he asked attendees to wear gray in Freddie Gray’s honor. He and 3RDEYEGIRL treated the audience to 41 minutes of blistering rock and gutbucket funk. Some of the songs on the set list included “Chaos & Disorder,” “Guitar,” “Dreamers,” “Plectrumelectrum” and a cover of Tommy James & The Shondells’ classic “Crimson and Clover.”

And in an uncharacteristic move, Prince shared the entire concert on his new Soundcloud page.  He closed out his concert with these parting words: “Do me a favor and take care of each other, all right? It don’t matter the color; we are all family.”

Full "Dance Rally 4 Peace" concert at Paisley Park Studios

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Bee Gees Get Funky on "Boogie Child"

The Bee Gees were at their absolute funkiest on this irresistible hard-bumpin’ groove. The famed English-Australian trio released a lot of great grooves in their day, but none were quite as funky as this joint. “Boogie Child” is a potent slice of blue-eyed funk. The groove just kind of pimp-strolls. The group’s signature falsetto harmonies bring this track to its maximum groovosity. And Barry Gibb ably holds down the lead vocals, while brother Maurice serves up a dope bass line; the percolating keyboards and the funky guitar licks keep the groove crackling. Also, the track boasts a terrific bridge and an infectious sing-along chorus.  And the tight horns nicely accentuate the groove. It’s one of the top-selling group’s most underrated tracks.

“Boogie Child” was co-written by all three Bee Gee members (Robin, Maurice and Barry Gibb). It was the third single from their double platinum-selling album Children of the World (1976) and was released in January 1977. The song performed well on the charts, peaking at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart; however, it was overshadowed by the album’s monster chart-topping disco smash “You Should Be Dancing.”

In addition singing lead vocals, Barry Gibb played acoustic guitar on “Boogie Child” as well as provided backing vocals. Maurice and Robin also sang background vocals. Other musicians who played on the track included Dennis Bryon (drums), Alan Kendall (electric guitar), Blue Weaver (keyboards, synthesizer), Gary Brown (saxophone), Joe Lala (percussion) and brass ensemble the Boneroo horns. The song was co-produced by the Bee Gees, Karl Richardson and Albhy Galuten.

The Bee Gees went on to even bigger success with their contributions to the massively successful Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which was released in late 1977. The multiplatinum-selling soundtrack shot the group to the stratosphere, making them one of the biggest music acts in the world during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. However, none of their other releases could get close to the wicked funkiness of “Boogie Child."

"Boogie Child" at Amazon

Friday, May 1, 2015

Review of Cameo’s Debut Album Cardiac Arrest

New York-bred groove outfit Cameo brought their own original brand of funk to the music game with their impressive debut album Cardiac Arrest in 1977. The collection boasts some really strong funk grooves as well as some top-flight ballads. You can definitely hear influences of well-known funk acts of the day sprinkled throughout the album, including Parliament-Funkadelic, Kool & the Gang and the Commodores. This collection captures Cameo in the process of cultivating their own unique sound and putting their special flavor on the funk, which they dubbed “C-Funk.” And with each following album, the band continued to refine their singular “C-Funk” sound until they became influential trendsetters in their own right. The band had one of most distinctive funk styles of the ‘80s—along Prince’s famed Minneapolis sound and Roger & Zapp.

The album kicks off with the bumpin’ high-energy funk groove “Still Feels Good.” The track has a super-tight horn arrangement and some nasty guitar licks.  “Still Feels Good” is followed by “Post Mortem,” another hard-hitting funk track.  This nasty groove features some quality horn work, and bassist William Revis lays down some funky bottom.

“Smile” is a great ballad that has some soothing synth work from Gregory Johnson. And Tomi Jenkins elevates the track with his strong lead vocals.

“Funk Funk” is the centerpiece of the album. The mammoth groove is anchored by Revis’ supremely funky bass line, and the horns are on fire.  Drummer and bandleader Larry Blackmon is at the helm on this cut and gives the lowdown on the “C-Funk” concept with his trademark offbeat humor. This cut stands apart from the other tracks on the album as a truly original and potent slice of funk. You can hear the band finding their own distinct voice on this funkalicious track.

The irresistible dance-floor rump-shaker “Rigor Mortis” is almost as strong as “Funk Funk.” The powerful groove boasts a badass bass line that lured folks to the dance floor back in the day. The track also has a terrific horn-laden bridge.

“Find My Way” is a straight-forward disco cut. Jenkins serves up a superb vocal performance on this elegantly arranged dance track. And the song also contains some cool wah-wah guitar licks, which further enhances the track’s disco flavor.

The band keeps the groove momentum going with the upbeat “Good Times.” The kinetic track is driven by a Revis’ infectious bass line, and Johnson provides some stellar synth work. 

The album closes out on a mellow note with the soulful, heartfelt ballad “Stand By My Side.” The track is highlighted by some top-notch vocal work from Jenkins and vocalist Kurt Jeter.

Cardiac Arrest was produced by Blackmon, who also wrote or co-wrote seven of the album’s eight tracks. The album was released on Chocolate City Records, which was a subsidiary of Casablanca Records. The collection had an impressive showing on the charts. It peaked at #16 on the U.S. R&B album charts and #116 on the U.S. pop album charts. Also, three tracks from the collection charted on the U.S. R&B singles chart: “Funk Funk” (#20), Rigor Mortis (#33) and “Post Mortem” (#70).  And “Find My Way” shot to #3 on the U.S. dance charts.

Cameo’s full lineup during the recording of Cardiac Arrest was the following: Larry Blackmon (drums, percussions, lead and backing vocals); Eric Durham (guitar); Tomi Jenkins (lead vocals); Gregory Johnson (piano, synthesizer, electric piano, vocals); William Revis (bass); Charles Sampson (acoustic and electric guitar); Nathan Leftenant (trumpet); Kurt Jeter (vocals); Arnett Leftenant (saxophone) and John Kellogg (backing vocals).

Cardiac Arrest was an auspicious debut and put the band on the map in the R&B and funk scene. It's a definite must-have for true funk lovers. The fact that Cameo was able to create such a huge buzz right out the gate in a crowded field of great funk artists was a testament to band’s exceptional talent and singular style. With this album, the band showed that they were a funky force to be reckoned with; this LP was the first shot fired in setting off the glorious “C Funk” era.

Following Cardiac Arrest, the band went on to release a ton a great tracks in the ensuing years and became one of the most prominent funk acts of the ‘80s. And the anthemic funk classic “Word Up!” catapulted the band to superstar status worldwide in 1986.

"Funk Funk"

"Rigor Mortis"

Related blog entry: "I Just Want To Be" by Cameo