Friday, May 24, 2019

"I Know You Got Soul" by Bobby Byrd

James Brown’s longtime right-hand man Bobby Byrd scored a hit of his own in 1971 with the massively funky single “I Know You Got Soul.” The track is bursting with energy, soul and tons of funk. Byrd’s booming, earthy voice proved a perfect fit for this rousing funk anthem. The instrumentation is provided by Brown’s legendary band, the J.B.’s, so naturally the groove is tighter than a camel’s butt in a sandstorm. The syncopation is on full-tilt with the bass, drums and guitars intersecting to create a joyful rhythmic explosion. Also, J.B.’s bandleader Fred Wesley lays down a greasy trombone solo, and Brown provides some soulful background vocals. In addition to Wesley, the other players on the track are Fred Thomas (bass), John “Jabo” Starks (drums), Jerone “Jasaan Sanford” Melson (trumpet), Hearlon “Cheese” Martin (guitar), Jimmy Parker (alto sax),  Johnny Griggs (congas), Robert Coleman (guitar) and St. Clair Pinckney (baritone sax).

“I Know You Got Soul” was written by Brown, Byrd and Charles Bobbitt. It was produced by Brown and released on King Records.  It peaked at #30 on the Billboard R&B singles chart. In the late 1980s, the song found a new audience when it was embraced by the hip-hop community via sampling. It was sampled by a slew of rap artists, including Public Enemy (“Fight The Power), Eric B. & Rakim (“I Know You Got Soul”), Ice Cube (“Jackin’ For Beats”) and Kid ‘N Play (“Gittin Funky”). And it was sampled on Brown’s 1988 hit “Static,” which featured R&B/hip-hop group Full Force. In all, “I Know You Got Soul” has been sampled on 150 songs. An extended 4:42 version of “I Know You Got Soul” was included on the 1988 compilation album James Brown's Funky People (Part 2).

Other notable Bobby Byrd tracks include “Keep On Doin’ What You’re Doin'," “Hot Pants – I’m Coming, I’m Coming, I’m Coming” and “Funky Soul #1.”

Brown and Byrd had a long history that dated back all the way to the beginning of Brown’s professional music career—and even before that. The two met in 1952 during a baseball game outside of a juvenile detention center in Toccoa, Georgia where Brown was serving time for burglary. Byrd, who was from a religious family, was playing for his local baseball team in a friendly game against the prison team in which Brown was the pitcher. The two teens hit it off as they shared a mutual love of music. Byrd’s family successfully petitioned for Brown’s early release and opened their home to him.

 Byrd was a member of an a cappella group called the Gospel Starlighters. The group later changed its name to the Avons when it adopted a more secular R&B-based sound; they soon changed their name to the Five Royals and finally to the Flames. Brown joined the group as their drummer in 1954, but it wasn’t long before he took over lead-singing duties. The group made a name for itself as a great live act that boasted amazing stage chops and an extremely charismatic front man.  Due to their growing popularity and dynamic live shows, the group began calling themselves the Famous Flames. The headstrong Brown eventually relegated the other members to his background singers, and the group renamed itself one final time to James Brown and the Famous Flames.

The group released their first single “Please, Please, Please” on Federal Records in 1956. It became a big hit on the U.S. R&B singles chart, peaking at #6. The track served as a powerful launching pad for Brown’s incredible recording career, which spanned over four decades.  Byrd and Brown maintained a professional relationship until 1973. In his association with Brown, Byrd had a number of different roles, including background singer, organist, collaborator, hype man, songwriter and arranger.  Byrd was featured prominently on classic tracks such as “Soul Power” and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine.” And his cowriting credits include Talkin’ Loud & Sayin’ Nothin,” "Licking Stick – Licking Stick,” “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” “Get Up, Get in It, Get Involved” and “Lost Someone.”

Byrd is one of the unsung heroes of funk music; his significant contributions to the genre are often underappreciated or completely overlooked. He cowrote some of Brown’s seminal hits that helped push the funk genre forward. And let’s not forget, the world may have never been blessed with Brown’s great talent had it not been for Byrd and his family’s generosity. They recognized Brown’s gifts and potential early on and provided him an environment where those gifts could flourish. He might have fallen back into a life of crime had Byrd not entered his life.

 Byrd was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame posthumously in 2012 as a member of the Famous Flames. He was also a 1998 recipient of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award.

"I Know You Got Soul" at Amazon

Sunday, May 12, 2019

"Take De Funk Off, Fly" By The Ohio Players

As the 1970s were drawing to a close, the Ohio Players were still funkin’ as hard as ever. The legendary band dropped the gargantuan funk groove “Take De Funk Off, Fly” in 1979. This is nasty uncut funk as only the Ohio Players could do it. Marshall Jones steers the groove with a massively funky bass line, and the horn section rains down pure fire with some tight horn salvos. And Sugarfoot puts an exclamation point on the funk with his scorching lead guitar work.

Also, this track  features one of the coldest bridges I’ve ever heard. The sleek synth line coupled with a dope rock-tinged guitar riff elevates the bridge to pimp-level smoothness.

And there’s a bit of P-Funk flavor on this track with a Bootsy-esque spoken-word vocal, as well as possibly a Mu-Tron effect on Jones’ bass to give it a rubbery Bootsy Space Bass feel; or it could even be a synth bass shadowing Jones’ real bass. This illustrates just how much P-Funk dominated the funk game from the mid to late ‘70s that even an established band with their own original sound like the Ohio Players copped a bit of the Funk Mob’s swagger.  Don’t get me wrong, it still sounds like an Ohio Players joint, but the P-Funk influence is undeniable.

“Take De Funk Off, Fly” is a track from the Ohio Players’ Everybody Up album, which was released on Arista Records in 1979. The album's title song peaked at #33 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. The catchy, upbeat groove was probably the most disco-y cut the band had ever recorded. The album climbed to #19 Billboard’s R&B album chart and #80 on the pop album charts. Everybody Up was produced by the Ohio Players and was the only album that the band released on Arista.

The band lineup for Everybody Up was Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner (guitar, lead vocals); Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks (trumpet); William “Billy” Beck (keyboards, synthesizer, lead vocals); Marshall “Rock” Jones (bass); James “Diamond” Williams (drums, backing vocals);  Clarence "Satch" Satchell (saxophone, backing vocals); Marvin “Merv” Pierce (trumpet) and Clarence "Chet" Willis (guitar, backing vocals).

“Take De Funk Off, Fly” was written by Bonner, Jones, Beck, Middlebrooks, Pierce, Satchell and Williams.

“Take De Funk Off, Fly” at Amazon