Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Jacksons Perform “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)” In Toronto For 1984 Victory Tour

The Jacksons electrified an audience of 35,000 strong with an earth-shaking performance of their dance-floor classic “Shake Your Body (Down To the Ground)” for the finale of a Toronto show on their historic 1984 Victory Tour. Michael Jackson effortlessly commanded the stage with his dazzling footwork and magnetic charisma. His performance was peppered with jaw-dropping spins, explosive kicks and smooth glides across the stage. And he flawlessly executed these moves while delivering a powerful lead vocal performance.

 Big brother Jermaine raised the funk level to the stratosphere with some wicked thumpin’ and pluckin’ on bass; Randy, Jackie, Marlon and Tito lit up the stage with their dynamic showmanship and soulful backing vocals. And in addition to vocals, Tito let loose with some sweet guitar licks. The performance included a funky breakdown section where the Jacksons really cut loose and got raw and dirty. The section has a funny bit where the brothers call out Marlon for his nasty dance moves. MJ would later include the breakdown part in performances of “Shake Your Body” on his record-breaking Bad World Tour (1987 –89).

The Victory Tour was especially significant because it was first time that all six Jackson brothers toured together; and it also marked the last time that Michael Jackson toured with his brothers. At the time of the tour, “Michaelmania” was in full swing. The pop/soul superstar was riding the crest of Thriller’s astronomical success, and everyone in his orbit was swept up in it. His participation in the tour no doubt gave a healthy boost to all of his brothers’ careers, as well as putting a cool $7 million in each in their pockets. (MJ reportedly donated all of his Victory Tour earnings to charity.)

Although MJ was the centerpiece of the tour, all of his brothers had opportunities to shine onstage—and rightly so. They’re all talented in their own right and have all worked extremely hard since they were very young for their success—as well as made tons of sacrifices. MJ was indeed a rare talent, but his brothers also deserve some props and recognition for their impressive accomplishments in the music game.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Review of Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations

Photo by Matthew Murphy
The immensely entertaining Broadway-bound musical Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations explores the storied history of legendary Motown group the Temptations. It’s chock-full of Tempts classics, from the flawless R&B/pop gems of their early years to the hard-edged socially conscious tracks of their psychedelic soul era in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. The talented cast performs these timeless tracks with flair, enthusiasm and tons of soul. 

Ain’t Too Proud is an exhilarating and bittersweet celebration of the Temptations and their amazing musical legacy. Award-winning playwright and Detroit native Dominique Morisseau wrote the musical’s book, which is based on founding member Otis Williams’ memoir Temptations. The memoir—which Williams co-authored with Patricia Romanowski—functions as both an autobiography on Williams and a history of the group.

Williams is the sole surviving founding group member, and the musical is told primarily from his vantage point.  He was the Temptations’ de facto leader and often served as the glue that held the group together. Williams is played by the charismatic stage and screen actor Derrick Baskin (Annie, Marshall), who turns in a superb performance. The other cast members are equally strong in their respective roles.

In addition to showcasing the Temptations' many career triumphs and milestones, Ain’t Too Proud also touches on some of the group’s lowest points—such as the bickering and backbiting among group members; drug and alcohol abuse; outsized egos; creative battles with Motown head Berry Gordy; and the prima-donna antics of the tremendously gifted but mercurial frontman David Ruffin.

Ain’t Too Proud boasts several show-stopping numbers that were amazingly performed and choreographed. The performers had audience members singing along with Temptations classics such as “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” “I Can’t Get Next To You” and “Papa Was a Rollin' Stone.”  And Morisseau does a great job at holding the audience’s attention between musical numbers with her sharp, cleverly written dialogue.

The musical is directed by two-time Tony Award winner Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys, The Who’s Tommy) and choreographed by Olivier Award winner Sergio Trujillo. In addition to Baskin, some of the other cast members include Ephraim Sykes (David Ruffin), Jawan M. Jackson (Melvin Franklin), James Harkness (Paul Williams), Jeremy Pope (Eddie Kendricks), Saint Aubyn (Dennis Edwards), Jahi Kearse (Berry Gordy), Christian Thompson (Smokey Robinson) and Candice Marie Woods (Diana Ross).

Ain’t Too Proud recently wrapped up a successful five-week run at the Ahmanson Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles and is set to play on Broadway early next year. The stellar production makes for a thoroughly rewarding theatergoing experience and is a definite must-see for devoted Temptations fans and lovers of musicals.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

“Blackberry Jam” by Leroy Hutson

R&B artist Leroy Hutson dropped this smelly funk groove back in 1976. This is pure uncut funk with all the groove essentials: tight horns, poppin’ bass, hot beat, nasty guitar licks and funky clavinet.  And some badass synth work further deepens the funk. The track also boasts a killer bridge.

“Blackberry Jam” was written, arranged and produced by Hutson. It was a single from his 1976 album Hutson II. It charted at #82 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. Some of the players on the track included Reggie Gillerson (bass), Cordell Carter (drums), Stephen Harris (guitar), Michael Harris (trumpet), James Hirsen (keyboards—ARP Odyssey), Bill McFarland (trombone), Jerry Wilson (tenor saxophone), and Hutson himself was working the clavinet.

Hutson is one of soul music’s most underrated and underappreciated artists. Rolling Stone magazine once characterized him as "the best-kept secret of Seventies soul.” The multitalented singer/songwriter/producer/instrumentalist was a member of various vocal groups around his native Newark, NJ in the ‘60s. He got his first taste of chart success with the 1970 socio-political song “The Ghetto,” which he co-wrote with soul great Donny Hathaway, who was his Howard University roommate.  The track—which peaked at #23 on the  U.S. soul charts and climbed to #87 on the pop charts—is now considered a classic and one of the definitive messages songs of that era.

At Howard, Hutson was also a member of the vocal group the Mayfield Singers, which was put together by music legend Curtis Mayfield. The group consisted of Hutson, Donny Hathaway and June Conquest. The Mayfield Singers were known for their rich, soulful, choir-like vocal work. They released several tracks on Mayfield’s short-lived indie label Mayfield Records. The group even got the opportunity to perform at the legendary Apollo Theater in New York City. Despite the group’s strong vocal talent, their records failed to chart.

Nonetheless, Hutson’s affiliation with the Mayfield Singers opened up a great new musical opportunity for him. He was tapped to replace Curtis Mayfield as the lead singer of famed soul group the Impressions in 1971.  The Impressions recorded two albums during Hutson’s two-and-a-half year tenure with the group and scored two moderate hits on the R&B charts: “Love Me” (#25) and “This Loves For Real (#41).  He left the group in 1973 to pursue a solo career.

Hutson wrote, produced and arranged his first solo album, Love Oh Love, which was released in 1973 on Custom Records. The album showcases Hutson's strengths as a ballad writer and vocalist; the bulk of it is made up of beautiful R&B ballads. In addition to the great ballads, the album boasts strong cuts like “Time Brings on a Change” a haunting message song in the vein of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield’s work.  The song features a dynamic string arrangement, a brooding bassline and stellar vocals.

The album’s two singles charted on the low end of Billboard’s R&B singles chart: “Love, Oh Love (#75) and “When You Smile” (#81). Hutson played percussion, synthesizer (ARP) and electric piano on the album. He brought in a talented group of musicians to handle the rest.

Hutson continued to record topflight music throughout the ‘70s and landed a few more hits, including the lush disco track “Feel the Spirit,” which charted at # 5 on Billboard’s disco charts and #25 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. And the irresistible sweet-soul love song “All Because of You” peaked at #31 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. In all, Hutson released seven solo albums in the ‘70s, and all were released on the Custom Records label.

Hutson’s musical output in his solo work slowed down considerably in the ‘80s. He only released one solo album in that decade—Paradise, which was released on Elektra Records in 1982. It’s a solid collection of jazz-laced mellow jams and quality funk grooves. It was his only release on the Elektra label.

In addition to his own material, Hutson has worked as a writer/producer for artists such as Roberta Flack, the Natural Four, Linda Clifford, The Voices of East Harlem and The Next Movement.

Hutson's music has been sampled by a slew of artists, including Erykah Badu, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Too Short, T.I., Wiz Khalifa, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Pete Rock, UGK, Adagio!, Young Jeezy, Memphis Bleek and Paul Wall.

Last year, he released the 19-song compilation Anthology 1972-1984 on Acid Jazz Records, a label based in East London. In February, Acid Jazz reissued the albums Hutson and Hutson II. And in May, they reissued two more of Hutson’s albums: The Man! and Closer to the Source. The label also released a four-part online documentary titled Leroy Hutson – The Man! It was directed by Lee Cogswell and produced by Mark Baxter. Watch it here.


Hutson II is available at Amazon on CD and vinyl

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Aretha Franklin, The Legendary Queen of Soul, Dies at 76

Aretha Franklin, one of the most celebrated and influential singers of the 20th century, died Thursday at her home in Detroit from advanced pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

Franklin has been the standard-bearer for female vocalists for five decades. Superstar vocal powerhouses—from Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey to Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson and Adele—are all indebted to the Queen of Soul. She created the blueprint for the larger-than-life vocal diva in contemporary music. Her influence is massive, extending across genres with legions of vocalists citing her as a major influence and inspiration.

The vocal legend was also incredibly versatile; she was at home singing in a number of different styles, including R&B, jazz, blues, gospel, pop, dance, show tunes and even classical.

Franklin’s powerful gospel-soaked vocals lit up classics such as “Respect,” “Baby I Love You,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “(To Be)Young, Gifted and Black.”

She scored 20 number one hits on Billboard’s R&B singles chart, and 17 of her songs made the top 10 on Billboard’s pop charts. She sold more than 75 million records worldwide. And she has won 18 Grammys and was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Additionally, Franklin and her music have had a huge cultural impact. Songs like “Respect,” “Think” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” made Franklin a feminist and civil rights icon. “Respect” became an anthem for both movements. It spoke directly to these causes in a way that no other medium could. “Think” has been embraced by women as a feminist anthem due its themes of freedom and respect.  And many view “A Natural Woman” as a stirring celebration of womanhood.

Franklin was also a talented songwriter and had a hand in the writing of some of her best-known tracks. She wrote “Day Dreaming” and “Rock Steady” on her own and co-wrote “Think” and “Dr. Feelgood (Love is a Serious Business)” with Ted White.

Like many great soul singers, Franklin’s music career began in the church. Her father, Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, was the pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. When she was very young, she sang with her two sisters, Erma and Carolyn, at New Bethel. The gifted young vocalist was performing solos by the time she was 10. In addition to singing, Franklin was an accomplished pianist, who taught herself how to play by learning the songs she heard on the radio.

Her father would often record his sermons, and these recordings were released on Chess Record’s Checkers label. Due to these recordings, the pastor’s fame grew and he would make appearances at churches around the country.  He brought his talented young daughter Aretha along on these church tours to provide piano accompaniment to his sermons and when he sang gospel songs.

At 14, Franklin recorded an album of hymns on the J.V.B. gospel label. After she turned 18, she decided to take her music in a secular direction. This decision was inspired by her musical idol Sam Cooke, who was a gospel singer before he switched to recording popular music.  She sent a two-song demo to Columbia Records, which resulted in her getting signed to the label in 1960. Franklin landed three top ten hits on the R&B charts with Columbia: “Today I Sing the Blues” (#10), “Won’t Be Long (#7) and “Operation Heartbreak” (#6). She was still in her teens when she recorded these tracks.

When Franklin’s contract with Columbia Records ended in 1966, she signed to Atlantic Records, which she had been eyeing for some time. Her association with Atlantic resulted in some of the greatest soul recordings of all time. She released a slew of classics during her 13-year tenure with the label, which helped bring soul music to an even wider audience. Franklin was crowned the undisputed “Queen of Soul” during this period.

She left Atlantic in 1979 and signed with Clive Davis’ Arista Records the following year. Franklin enjoyed more chart success with Arista with big hits like “Jump to It" and the Grammy-winning “Freeway of Love.” And she participated in some memorable duets with people like Dionne Warwick, Smokey Robinson, Elton John, Mariah Carey, George Michael, James Brown, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra.

Franklin was the embodiment of soul music and one of the most gifted vocalists of modern music. She leaves behind a phenomenal musical legacy. Her music has inspired, moved and brought joy to millions and will continue to do so in the years to come.

"(To Be) Young, Gifted and Black"

Aretha performing “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" on  The Merv Griffin Show in 1967

Aretha performing Inez and Charlie Foxx's classic "Mockingbird" with pianist Ray Johnson in 1965

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

"Cheater" by Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson had a surfeit of material when he and Quincy Jones were putting together the Bad album. He reportedly wrote 62 songs for his highly anticipated 1987 follow-up to Thriller. Jackson originally wanted Bad to be a three-disc collection made up of 33 tracks. However, Jones eventually convinced him to trim the collection down to 10 songs with a bonus track ("Leave Me Alone") on the CD version.

As a result, a lot of strong tracks didn’t make the final cut, including “Cheater.” The Gloved One brings the funk with both barrels on this nasty groove, letting loose with a raw, gospel-infused vocal performance. Additionally, the track features a bumpin' bass line and dirty rhythm guitar licks. It also boasts a terrific bridge.

Jackson revisits one of his favorite themes on this song: betrayal. He blasts some shady folks who have backstabbed him. He doesn’t specify who these people are and exactly how they have betrayed him, but whatever they did has him pretty damn heated. The pop legend delivers his verses with tons of soul, attitude and righteous anger. It's one of his grittiest vocal performances.

“Cheater” was written and produced by Jackson and veteran keyboardist/songwriter/musical director Greg Phillinganes.  It’s unknown why this great track didn’t make it onto Bad. It later appeared on the comprehensive box set The Ultimate Collection (2004).

The musicians who played on “Cheater” were Phillinganes on keyboards and David Williams on guitar. No drummer is listed in the credits, so a drum machine was most likely used; and Phillinganes held down the funky bass line on the keys.

The Ultimate Collection is available on disc at Amazon

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Top 10 Singers Who Rapped in Songs Before Rapping Was a Thing

Rap is one of the most popular and enduring genres in contemporary music. It has had a tremendous cultural impact and continues to be a dominant force in music and entertainment after 40 years in existence. The seeds for rap were planted many years before the hip-hop movement took off in the late 1970s. Recording artists would sometimes hit on a rhythmic spoken-word style in their songs that was very close to what we call rap today. These artists anticipated rap and showcased its potential as an effective mode of musical expression. This list in no particular order.

"Trouble Man" -- Marvin Gaye  

 Soul legend Marvin Gaye delivers a smooth rap break on his classic track “Trouble Man.” It is the theme song for the 1972 blaxploitation crime drama of the same title that stars Robert Hooks as a Los Angeles private detective/pool shark/ghetto fixer who’s on the run from both the police and a powerful crime boss. The film was directed by Ivan Dixon, who’s best known for his role as staff Sergeant James Kinchloe in the popular 1960s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes.

The song has an atmospheric, jazzy vibe with Gaye singing most of the verses in a soulful falsetto, and he also performs his rap in falsetto."Trouble Man" climbed to #4  on the R&B singles chart in the U.S. and peaked at # 7 on the pop charts.

Gaye wrote, arranged and conducted the entire soundtrack for Trouble Man; and the soundtrack handily outperformed the film. This was Gaye’s follow-up to his landmark album What’s Going On (1971). It was the late artist’s only film soundtrack and score.

Many young Marvel fans were first introduced to the “Trouble Man” theme through the blockbuster film Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). It is included in a scene from the film and is listed on the soundtrack.

"Trouble Man" at Amazon

"Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)" -- The Temptations

Motown’s marquee male vocal group the Temptations trade rap verses on their powerful political track “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today),” which hit the airwaves in 1970. This potent slice of psychedelic soul was co-written by the renowned songwriting team of Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, who also produced it. The song touches on many of the burning social issues of the early ‘70s, including drug abuse, war, segregation, gun control, rising unemployment, racism and civil unrest. And sadly most of these are still big concerns today.

The way the group tag-teams some of their verses brings to mind the trade-off rap style of early hip-hop groups like Run-D.M.C. And lead singer Dennis Edwards’ rapid-fire flow on some of his verses would impress many of today’s young rappers.

“Ball of Confusion” is one of the Temptations’ most iconic hits of their psychedelic-soul era. It reached #2 on the U.S. R&B singles chart and climbed to #3 on the pop charts.The song has been covered by several well-known artists, including Tina Turner, Duran Duran, Love and Rockets, the Undisputed Truth and Anthrax.

"Pusherman" -- Curtis Mayfield

 Legendary musician/songwriter/singer/producer Curtis Mayfield raps throughout most of his influential track “Pusherman.” It is from his critically acclaimed soundtrack for the 1972 blaxploitation classic Super Fly, which is about a New York City cocaine dealer trying to find a way out of the drug game. The song touches on the immense power that drug dealers have over addicts to the point that they eventually become all things to them: “I'm your mama, I'm your daddy/I'm that nigga in the alley/I'm your doctor, when in need/Want some coke, have some weed.”

“Pusherman” is a forerunner to the early hard-hitting rap songs that addressed the harsh realities of street life in urban communities—classic tracks like “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five and most of N.W.A.’s discography.

Super Fly—directed by Gordon Parks Jr. and starred Ron O’Neal—has the distinction of being one of the most popular blaxploitation movies of all time. It has been a mainstay of pop culture for 46 years now. And both the film and the soundtrack have had a significant impact on hip-hop, thematically and visually. A Super Fly remake opened in U.S. movie theaters on June 13, 2018. It stars Trevor Jackson from the hit TV series Grown-ish and was directed by Director X.

Mayfield’s Super Fly soundtrack performed extremely well on the charts. It topped Billboard’s Top 200 album chart for four weeks and remained atop the R&B album chart for a staggering six weeks. It soon went platinum (a million copies sold). And the album boasted two top ten hits: “Superfly” (#5 R&B, #8 pop) and “Freddie’s Dead” (#2 R&B, #4 pop).

 "Pusherman" at Amazon

"Every Brother Ain’t a Brother" -- Imhotep Gary Byrd

This 1971 message song by radio DJ and recording artist Imhotep Gary Byrd was a direct antecedent to the rap movement that would take off seven years later. It’s eerie how Byrd’s rap here sounds so similar to the style found on early tracks by pioneering hip-hop acts such as Kurtis Blow, The Sugar Hill Gang and Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five.

The theme of the song is that simply being black doesn’t automatically make someone a part of the movement to uplift, empower and unite the black community. It is about people who only give lip service to the cause but haven’t shown through their actions that they are genuinely committed. They just do it because it’s the trendy thing to do at the moment. The song also points out that those who are extremely detrimental to the black community—such as black criminals who murder and rob  other black people—don’t deserve to be called a “brother” or a “sister.”

The multi-hyphenate Byrd is a true Renaissance man. His impressive resume includes radio talk show host, recording artist, songwriter, poet, award-winning producer, rapper, radio DJ and community advocate/activist. He’s the host, creator and executive producer of the Global Black Experience (GBE), the longest-running black radio broadcast in New York City’s history.

Additionally, Byrd has collaborated musically with Stevie Wonder on several occasions. He wrote the lyrics for Wonder’s songs “Black Man” and “Village Ghetto Land.” Both are on Wonder’s Grammy-winning album Songs in the Key of Life (1976).

"Every Brother Ain't a Brother" available in 45 vinyl format at Amazon

"Here Comes the Judge" -- Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham

Singer/comedian/actor Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham’s 1968 novelty hit “Here Comes the Judge” is one of the most influential proto-rap songs ever recorded. In fact, many consider it to be the first rap song . Markham was a man truly ahead of his time with this comedy classic. His energetic, highly rhythmic rap style was a big influence on young rappers at the dawn of the hip-hop movement in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s; and that influence extended to ‘90s rap artists as well.

The song was inspired by Markham’s comedy routine “Heyeah Come Da Judge.” The bit, which lampooned formal courtroom etiquette, achieved mainstream appeal after Sammy Davis Jr. performed it on the hit TV comedy variety series Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. This eventually led to Markham being invited to perform it on the show. “Here comes the judge” soon became an oft-repeated catchphrase during that period and part of the pop-culture lexicon.

"Here Comes the Judge" at Amazon

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" -- Gil Scott-Heron

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by singer/poet /musician/political activist Gil Scott-Heron is the quintessential proto-rap political song. This 1971 incendiary classic, as well as much of Heron’s work, has influenced and inspired many politically conscious rap artists. Due to his massive influence on the genre, Heron is often referred to as “the Godfather of Rap.”

This song is more relevant than ever in light of the turbulent political climate in the United States. It’s about how a large number of Americans are asleep; they are anesthetized on television, consumerism, drugs, and other escapist diversions and are totally oblivious (or indifferent) to the powder keg that the country is sitting on. And today there are even more diversions to keep people asleep, including the Internet, smart phones, social media, video games, etc. Heron was warning complacent and apathetic Americans to wake up from their stupor, because racial tensions are at a boiling point in this country and a true uprising may be brewing. And people won’t be able to watch it on the eleven o’clock news from the comfort of their living rooms.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" at Amazon   


 "Talking Blues"’-- Chris Bouchillon

Country and blues musician Chris Bouchillon recorded his influential song “Talking Blues” in 1926. It was released in 1927. Bouchillon is credited as the originator of the talking blues style.Talking blues integrates folk and country music and is distinguished by rhythmic speech with a free-flow melody and a very strict rhythm.

Bouchillon played mandolin and provided vocals for a string trio that was made up of him and his two brothers Charley (fiddle) and Uris (guitar). According to legend, Bouchillon’s talking blues style was born out of his poor singing abilities; in place of singing, he developed an engaging spoken-word style that utilized his strong rhythmic sense, great facility with words and dry wit. He used this new style over blues progressions played on guitar.

Talking blues has been called one of the key sources of modern rap. And in addition to rap, talking blues has had a significant impact on 20th century folk music. Iconic folk legends such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan often used the style in their songs.

"Talking Blues" at Amazon

"Undisco Kidd"-- Funkadelic

Parliament-Funkadelic mastermind George Clinton is known for his imaginative and witty wordplay. So it’s not surprising he has had a major influence on rap artists. The funk legend has always been an MC at heart, possessing a natural gift for the rhythmic spoken word. Had he been born say 30 or 40 years later, he most likely would have been a full-fledged rapper today. Additionally, Clinton and P-Funk were highly influential musically to hip-hop; the legendary funk-rock outfit’s music has been sampled on countless rap songs, and Clinton is cited as the second most sampled artist of all time.

And P-Funk’s sonic stamp is not just confined to samples. Their musical influence permeates popular music in many different genres and can be found in the work of big-name artists such as OutKast, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, Prince, Talking Heads, Childish Gambino, Snoop Dogg and D’Angelo, among many others.

“Undisco Kidd” is a track from Funkadelic’s 1976 album Tales of Kidd Funkadelic. Clinton tells the funky, quirky tale of a super-chill young brother known as The Kid who meets his match in the form of a stout mama jama named Bertha. She calls him out on the dance floor and then proceeds to “bump him all in the face”causing him to lose his chill.

Clinton’s rap is filled with his patented off-center humor, and his flow is smooth and clear. Some of these young mumble rappers today could learn a thing or two from the funk master on how to properly spit their verses.

"Undisco Kidd" at Amazon

"Subterranean Homesick Blues" -- Bob Dylan  

Rock’s poet laureate Bob Dylan shook up the music world with the release of his groundbreaking song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in 1965. With this influential classic, Dylan helped further popularize folk rock, bringing it to the youth counterculture. The legendary singer-songwriter delivers his lyrics in a staccato spoken-word fashion. The song touches on myriad anti-establishment themes and is filled cultural and societal references. Dylan’s stream-of-consciousness lyrical approach is in the spirit of beat poets like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who were both big influences on him.

And beat poetry wasn’t Dylan’s only inspiration for the song. In a 2004 interview with Los Angeles Times music critic Robert Hilburn, Dylan said that Chuck Berry’s song “Too Much Monkey Business” and 1940s scat music were major inspirations behind “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

In addition to its impact on folk and rock music, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” also had a significant influence on rap music, both lyrically and thematically.

Moreover, the song’s promotional video clip is also quite influential. It features Dylan standing in an alley behind London’s famous Savoy Hotel flipping through large cue cards that contain selected words from the song’s lyrics. It’s often cited as one of earliest music videos. The iconic clip is shown at the introduction of filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker’s acclaimed documentary Don’t Look Back (1967), which chronicles Dylan’s 1965 tour of England.

Pennebaker shot Don’t Look Back on black-and-white 16mm film using a handheld camera. The film innovated the rock documentary as we know it today. In 1998, the Library of Congress selected Don’t Look Back for preservation in the United States National Film Registry due to its “cultural” and “historical” significance.

"Subterranean Homesick Blues” was the lead single from Dylan’s landmark album Bringing It All Back Home, released in 1965. It was Dylan’s first top 40 hit on Billboard’s U.S. Hot 100 Singles chart, peaking at # 39.

Subterranean Homesick Blues at Amazon

"Too Much Monkey Business" -- Chuck Berry 

Chuck Berry’s classic songs are distinguished by his adroit wordplay and masterful storytelling. The rock ‘n’ roll pioneer’s lyrical dexterity and prodigious storytelling abilities were just as important to his legacy as his musical innovations. Berry’s lyrical gifts are on full display on his 1956 track “Too Much Monkey Business.” This early proto-rap song is about the life of a harried working stiff who makes ends meet working a thankless low-paying job in the face of mounting bills and a slew of daily hassles and annoyances. Berry delivers his verses in a whiplash spoken-word style and only sings on the chorus. The lyrics are infused with the musician's signature humor, and his guitar work is stellar as usual. The song is the B-side of his classic “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.”

Bob Dylan has cited “Too Much Monkey Business” as the one of the key inspirations for his iconic track “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and has called Berry “The Shakespeare of Rock & Roll.” And Dylan is not the only legendary music artist who has shown appreciation for Berry’s song. Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Kinks have all recorded covers “Too Much Monkey Business.”

"Too Much Monkey Business" at Amazon

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Parliament Returns From a 38-Year Hiatus With Some Brand-New Funk: “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me”

Parliament has Funkateers back in full party mode with their funky new track “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me," which dropped on Jan. 15. The accompanying music video was unveiled on May 8. It’s the influential funk band’s first single in 38 years.

The deep funk groove is anchored by a phat, nasty Moog bass line served up by the late, great groove master Junie Morrison; the track boasts a powerful beat, smokin’ horns, creative synth vamps and sultry female background vocals from singer Nakid87 and music duo Kandy Apple Redd. George Clinton delivers a raw, gritty vocal performance, and he's “got that funk for your ass.”

The funk legend has said in interviews that the song is about drug companies and, in his view, their culpability in people becoming addicted to hard prescription drugs. The song’s character “Dr. Feel Good” symbolizes these companies: “I'm gon make you sick/I’m gon make you sick o’me/Then I’m gonna give you the antidote / Something to make you feel better.”

The track features guest appearances from veteran P-Funk vocalist Gary “Mudbone” Cooper and Scarface from famed rap group the Geto Boys. “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me” is the lead single from Parliament’s new album, Medicaid Fraud Dog, which was released today.

Throughout most of the 1970s, Parliament-Funkadelic were the baddest, funkiest and most innovative funk outfit in the game. The legendary groove collective was at the vanguard of the funk scene, setting trends and out-funking all comers. Parliament was the more straight-forward funk and R&B side of P-Funk, whereas Funkadelic mixed rock with its funk, continuing what funk-rock pioneers Sly & the Family Stone and  Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys had set off a couple of years earlier.

Parliament’s last single "Agony of DeFeet,” was released in 1980 and was a track from their album Trombipulation. The band then went on a long hiatus following legal woes arising from Polygram’s acquisition of Parliament’s label Casablanca, which forced the band to abandon its name; nonetheless, P-Funk continued to makes its presence felt in the ensuing years through several different avenues, including George Clinton’s solo work; the P-Funk Allstars; four Funkadelic albums; and myriad other P-Funk-related projects.

 It’s cool to finally have Parliament back in the mix after a near 40-year absence. And Funkateers worldwide are no doubt celebrating their return. It’s once again truly One Nation Under a Groove.

"I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me” at Amazon

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"It’s Too Funky in Here" by James Brown

James Brown dropped this nuclear funk blast at the tail end of the disco era in 1979.  He returned to reclaim his rightful funk throne and to remind everyone that there would be no disco—and most popular dance music for that matter—if not for him blessing the world with The Funk more than a decade earlier. The Godfather delivers a dynamic vocal performance over the smoldering groove, which boasts tight horn salvos and nasty guitar licks. And renowned session player David Hood unleashes some monstrous funk with a savage bass line.

The legendary funk pioneer sounds really energized here, like he’s genuinely enjoying himself. He had already been in the music game for nearly three decades at this point but could still get really pumped up when the right groove hit him.

“It’s Too Funky in Here” was written by Brad Shapiro, George Jackson, Walter Shaw and Robert Miller. It was a single from James’ 1979 album, The Original Disco Man, which was produced by Shapiro. The song charted at #15 on the U.S. R&B singles chart.

In addition to Hood, the other players on the track included Roger Hawkins (drums); Larry Byrum and Jimmy Johnson (lead guitar and rhythm guitar, respectively); Harrison Calloway (trumpet); Charles Rose (trombone); Harvey Thompson  (saxophone); Ronnie Eades (baritone saxophone); and Barry Beckett and Randy McCormick on keyboards. And the background vocals were provided by Cynthia Douglas, Donna Davis and Pam Vincent.

After dropping “It's Too Funky in Here,” James still wasn’t done funkin’ yet. He had more funk hits to come in the ‘80s with “Living in America,” “I’m Real” and “Gravity.” He also continued to kill it on onstage in that decade, maintaining his rep as one of the baddest performers to ever hit the stage.

 "It's Too Funky in Here" at Amazon

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Guitar Sensation Jackie Venson Lights Up The Austin Music Scene

Photo by Daniel Cevazos
Soul-pop guitarist Jackie Venson is an exciting new voice on the Austin music scene. The accomplished musician/singer/songwriter has been making her presence felt through her incredible guitar playing, soulful vocals and electrifying live performances. She’s one of the most talented young musicians in Austin’s thriving music community.

Jackie has been garnering heaps of awards and accolades for her prodigious musical abilities. She was nominated for the “Musician of the Year” honors at the 2018 Austin Music Awards, which took place on February 28. And she was among the six winners of the 2014 Southern Musician Showcase, handpicked from more than 2,000 entrees to earn a cash prize and a spot on the Belk Summer Tour.

She toured with acclaimed blues rock guitarist Gary Clark Jr. last year and even had the opportunity to jam onstage with legendary bluesman Buddy Guy.  She has also toured with music luminaries James Taylor, Tim McGraw and Jason Aldean. And in 2016, she sat in for five nights with Jon Batiste and Stay Human, the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Jackie was born in Austin, Texas. She is the youngest of nine children and grew up in a musical household. Her father, Andrew Venson, is a talented and well-known bassist in the Austin area. She began playing the piano at the age of eight and studied classical piano at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. During her final semester of college in 2011, she developed an interest in blues guitar and began teaching herself how to play. She had found her true musical calling. After working hard to hone her guitar skills, she began gigging around Austin and eventually formed her own band in 2013. Jackie thrilled audiences with her powerful playing and expressive vocals. It wasn’t long before she had built a dedicated fan base.

The musician also began recording her own original songs and so far has released two full-length albums and three EPs. She released her third EP, Transcends, on September 29, 2017. The stellar five-song collection showcases Jackie’s strong songwriting skills and impeccable musicianship. And she masterfully explores different moods and musical styles on the EP. It was produced by Michael Ramos (John Mellencamp, Los Lonely Boys, Paul Simon) and mixed by Boo Mitchell (John Mayer, Mark Ronson, Mississippi All Stars).

Although Jackie is often tagged as a blues artist, her sonic palette encompasses several different hues, including rock, soul, blues, pop, country, funk, reggae and even a bit of hip-hop. Last week, she dropped the irresistible reggae-flavored groove “Don’t Lie To Me,” where she unleashes a dazzling guitar solo.

In her interview with Funkatropolis below, Jackie discusses some of her biggest musical influences, the inspiration behind her EP Transcends, her experience touring with Gary Clark Jr., and more.

What drew you to blues music?

I absolutely loved electric blues guitar and electric blues guitar solos. Nothing better… Fender Strat through a fender amp screaming out a solo with a great blues band. Nothing. Better.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences? Was there a particular artist whose work impacted you to the point where you knew that you had to do music?

 My father in a huge way since he was succeeding in music every day. I literally watched his career happen and work! Same goes for my older brother, who has a really great career in music. As far as outside my family, Andrew Lloyd Webber - he is an excellent composer and songwriter and his music was extremely important to me when I was young.

You were a pianist for many years before you picked up the guitar. What got you interested in the guitar?

I was feeling bored and jaded on the piano, like the passion had left me. I heard a blues guitar solo by Jonny Lang and I just got bit by the bug. Good timing!

What was the experience like touring with Gary Clark Jr.? Was there anything that you learned from him that has helped you as an artist and performer?

It was an unforgettable experience for sure. I learned how to be zen about all of the crazy things that happen in this insane industry I have chosen to be a part of. I also learned patience and to go with the flow.

What was the inspiration behind your EP Transcends

Self-love and acceptance of self and others. Fighting for our right to be ourselves and to love ourselves. I also wanted a record that had damn good grooves.

I’m seeing more and more black female guitarists breaking out these days. In the past, you didn’t see a lot of women of color jamming out onstage with a guitar or bass. I’m also seeing more black female musicians venturing into rock and blues. What do you think is bringing about this change? 

I honestly don’t know, the world changes when it has culmination of previous events gathering a lot of tension and energy and then things just explode. This happened in the ‘60s in a lot of ways, this happened in the Renaissance era. It’s just how humans are and how society has always worked.

Is the guitar your main go-to instrument in writing songs or do you sometimes use the piano to write?

I sometimes use the piano but it really is mostly the guitar.

What are some of the things that you enjoy most about performing?

Sharing positive energy with people and connecting with people. I also love being surrounded by my own music just bumping loud as hell, making my bones vibrate.

What advice would you give to a young person who is considering a career as a musician?

Love it first, learn how to hustle and work your butt off, be humble, be patient.

Jackie has some concert dates lined up this month and in May. Visit her website for tour details or to explore more of her music.

Jackie  performing her song "Always Free" live

Video for "Don't Lie to Me"

Performing her song "Transcends" live

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Black Eyed Peas Return To Their Roots on "Street Livin’”

In the wake of the volatile political climate in the U.S., the Black Eyed Peas have put their good-time party music on hold for the moment to drop some serious street knowledge. On the powerful new track, “Street Livin’,” the multiplatinum-selling group takes on a slew of burning social issues—including systemic racism, immigration, gun violence, drug trafficking, black-on-black crime, police brutality and the prison-industrial complex. The track effectively brings home the harsh realities of daily life in the inner city.

“Street Livin’”–BEP’s first single in seven years—boasts a haunting, jazz-infused beat, which samples the intro from Os Catedráticos’ song “Pouca Duração." And, and Taboo deliver their rap verses with flair, power and conviction. (Fergie did not participate in the recording of “Street Livin’,” as she was busy working on her solo album The Dutchess and Double Dutchess. She has since left the group.) "Street Livin'" was written by,, Taboo and Joshua Alverez.

People who were only familiar with BEP's dance-pop hits were taken aback when the group released this unflinching, hard-hitting rap track in January. However, what many of BEP's young fans aren’t aware of is that the group released a great deal of socially conscious material in their early pre-Fergie days in the late ‘90s; and their alternative hip-hop sound was much different from the electronic, auto-tune-heavy party hits that they’re best known for. The group employed sparse, stripped down-beats that melded soul, jazz and funk on those ‘90s cuts.

When Fergie joined the Black Eyed Peas in 2002, the group changed up its sound and, for the most part, dropped its socially conscious themes and began releasing commercial pop radio-friendly tracks. BEP mastermind/leader hit on a winning dance-pop/hip-hop/EDM formula that made the group a household name. The songs were catchy and fun but lacked the depth and seriousness of the BEP’s early material. Not surprisingly, the group caught some flack as being “sellouts” from many of their early hardcore fans.

“Street Livin,’ is a step in the right direction to possibly win back some of those former fans. The overall response to the track has been very positive with many applauding the group’s return to more serious themes. Party tracks are cool, but it’s good for music artists to sometimes take a step back and take a hard look at the world around them and write about it. They have a huge platform that most people don't have and can reach many with just one song. BEP took that step back, and what they saw wasn’t pretty—and they dropped “Street Livin.”

However, the Black Eyed Peas members didn’t suddenly become “re-woke.” They have long been supporters of a number of charity foundations, educational programs, human rights causes and philanthropic endeavors; and they have established several foundations of their own, which work toward helping people in disadvantaged communities and providing better educational opportunities for young people in those areas. Their foundations also address human rights issues, both domestically and abroad.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Janelle Monáe Releases Prince-Inspired New Track “Make Me Feel”

R&B star Janelle Monáe gives a nod to her late mentor Prince on her new track “Make Me Feel,” a wickedly funky bisexual anthem. It’s fitting that there’s so much Prince flavor on this song, as he was all about sexual freedom and gender fluidity—long before it was widely accepted. It’s sort of a 21st century update on the Purple One’s funky classic “Kiss.” It has the same minimalist funk sound, replete with tight chicken-scratch guitar licks, hot synth jabs, a rubbery electro beat and an irresistible chorus.

“Make Me Feel” is a single from Monáe’s forthcoming album, Dirty Computer, which is set for release on April 27. In a recent interview on BBC Radio 1, she said that Prince was working on the album with her “before he passed on to another frequency, and helped me come up with sounds.” The album marks a welcome return to music-making for the six-time Grammy Award nominee, who has been busy with her budding acting career, appearing in the widely acclaimed films Hidden Figures and Moonlight. She released her last album, The Electric Lady, in 2013. So anticipation is very high for the new album.

“Make Me Feel” is accompanied by a provocative music video that was directed by Alan Ferguson and features actress Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok). It takes place in a hip nightclub where Monáe flirts with both Thompson and a good-looking male patron, which culminates in a bisexual triangle/dance-off. The video is fun and very sexy but stops short of being raunchy. It’s also peppered with lots of cool Prince references; and Monáe pulls off some smooth dance moves.

On the same day that Monáe dropped “Make Me Feel,” she released the hard-hitting rap track “Django Jane,” which is also a single from Dirty Computer. These two strong tracks bode well for the new album, indicating that Monáe could have another classic on her hands.

Related blog entry: Janelle Monáe Tore The Roof Off The Grammys With Explosive Funk-Filled Performance

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Album Review of The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown’s Volume 2

The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown are back and funkier than ever. The behemoth funk collective dropped their much-anticipated second album, Volume 2, last month. It’s a stellar follow-up to the Getdown’s critically acclaimed debut album, Volume 1 (2012). The collection is filled with powerhouse grooves, impeccable musicianship and tons of funk. And like its predecessor, Volume 2 boasts an amazing lineup of top musical talent, including Fred Wesley (James Brown, Horny Horns), Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Taylor Dayne, Norwood Fisher (Fishbone, Trulio Disgracias), Larry Dunn (Earth, Wind & Fire), Karl Denson (the Rolling Stones, Lenny Kravitz) and members from the following bands: Parliament-Funkadelic, Graham Central Station, Kool & the Gang, the Funky Meters, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, The Time, Dumpstaphunk, Mandrill and Bootsy’s Rubber Band, among many others. In all, more than 50 musicians from 18 bands contributed their talents to this album.

Volume 2 kicks off with the exuberant funk track “Rock It,” which features Speech from famed hip-hop group Arrested Development on vocals. This song has a lively, upbeat flow with tight horns, infectious guitar licks and a funkalicous trombone solo from horn legend Fred Wesley. And Larry Dunn brings some of his keyboard wizardry to the mix with some fantastic synth work.  Also, Speech’s energetic vocals help enhance the track’s fun, party vibe.“Rock It” is followed by the marvelous “Love Somebody.” Acclaimed singer-songwriter Laura Reed elevates the song with her exquisite vocals.

RonKat Spearman (Katdelic, P-Funk All Stars) delivers a dynamic vocal performance on the sizzling, high-powered funk jam “Groovy Nasty.” Jamar Woods (The Fritz) serves up a blistering organ solo while Ryan Martinie (Mudvayne) lays down some wicked bass. Additionally, the funk is augmented by blazing horn volleys from sax man Greg Hollowell (Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band); trumpeter Michael Ray (Kool & the Gang, Sun Ra Arkestra); and trombone players Clifford Adams (Kool & the Gang) and Derrick Johnson (Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band).

One of the album’s biggest highlights is the stunning “Mantra.” This jazz-laced soul gem features Grammy-winning songstress Kendra Foster (P-Funk, D’Angelo’s The Vanguard) and Speech on vocals. Foster serves up a mesmerizing vocal performance, and Speech is at the top of his game here, delivering his rap verses in a powerful, captivating fashion. Bassist extraordinaire Norwood Fisher holds down the bottom with his usual funky finesse. And the horn lines on this track are pure fire.

Laura Reed returns with more vocal magic on the lovely ballad “Word.” The track boasts some sterling flute work by Karl Denson.  It’s followed by the superb “Dream,” which features renowned singer Taylor Dayne, whose vocal skills are as impressive as ever.

The Getdown turn up the funk again on the hard-hitting fusion groove “Past, Present, Future.” The epic jam features some dazzling fretboard work from legendary guitarist Leo Nocentelli (co-founder of the Meters). Also, Mike Dillon (Mike Dillon Band, Primus) kills it on the vibes.

Fishbone’s frontman Angelo Moore and guitar virtuoso Vernon Reid are featured on the deep funk groove “Creatures of Habit.” Moore turns in a spirited vocal performance, and Reid tears it up with a scorching solo.

Rev. Desmond D'Angelo (The Soular System) provides the soulful lead vocals on the irresistible “B4u Loved Me.”

The Getdown brought it again on Volume 2, which is a superb collection soul, funk and R&B tracks. Those who enjoyed the Getdown’s first album definitely won’t be disappointed with this offering.

The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown is an ambitious project that bassist/producer John Heintz (Trulio Disgracias) conceived in 2007. The Getdown was created to celebrate funk music and its massive impact on contemporary music and culture. With the help of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band members Derrick Johnson and John-Paul Miller, Heintz assembled a group of some the baddest players on the planet in New Orleans for the Getdown’s first jam session in December 2007.

The epic session set the project in motion in a big way. The Getdown continued to expand, recruiting more talented musicians along the way. The funk supergroup released their debut album, Volume 1, in 2012, which received high praise across the funk, soul and R&B communities.

To learn more about the Getdown, visit their website or Facebook page.

"Rock It"


Related blog entry: The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown Pays Tribute To Funk Music

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Former Temptations Frontman, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dennis Edwards Dies At 74

Dennis Edwards, former lead singer for legendary Motown group the Temptations, died on Thursday, Feb. 1, at a Chicago-area hospital of complications from meningitis. He was 74.

Edwards was one of the foremost R&B vocalists of the late 1960s and ‘70s. As the lead singer for the Temptations, he lit up many classic tracks with his gritty, gospel-infused vocals. The singer joined the Temptations in 1968 as David Ruffin’s replacement. This was right when the group was entering its psychedelic-soul era, which was guided by visionary producer Norman Whitfield.

Edwards had has his work cut out for him, but he immediately proved that he was more than up for the task. His powerful, gutbucket vocal style turned out to be a perfect fit for the Temps’ new sonic direction, which was edgier and funkier than their previous work.  He brought his vocal magic to classic tracks such as “Cloud Nine,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today),” “Shakey Ground” and “Runaway Child, Running Wild.” Edwards’ vocals were filled with passion, conviction and a sense of urgency, which helped drive home the power and significance of the songs’ social and political themes. Edwards was a member of the Temptations from 1968 to 1977. He would briefly rejoin the group at various times throughout the ‘80s.

The singer also enjoyed success in his solo endeavors. His song “Don’t Look Any Further,” a duet with singer/songwriter Siedah Garrett, spent two weeks at #2 on the U.S. R&B singles chart in 1984. Edwards’ album of the same title also performed well on the charts, peaking at #2 on the U.S. R&B album chart. The song has been embraced by the hip-hop community and can be found, via sample, on a slew of rap tracks. 

 Edwards won three Grammy awards as a member of the Temptations. The first one was for “Cloud Nine.” The hit single earned the group a Grammy for “Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental” in 1969. It was the first Grammy win for the group, as well as the first Grammy win for the Motown label. In 1972, the Temps landed two Grammys for their classic “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”:  “Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus” and “Best R&B Instrumental Performance.”

Edwards was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 as a member of the Temptations; and he was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame as a Temptation in 2013.

Edwards will be remembered as the vocal powerhouse who led the Temptations through their most socially conscious and experimental period. He gave those tracks the rawness and immediacy they needed. The singer brought an abundance of soul and funk to the Temptations’ recordings, and his legacy will forever live on through those classic tracks.

The Temptations performing"Shakey Ground" on The Midnight Special in 1975

"Runway Child, Running Wild"

"Don't Look Any Further" -- Dennis Edwards, featuring Siedah Garrett