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 will.i.am., apl.de.ap 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 will.i.am., apl.de.ap, 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 will.i.am 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.