Saturday, October 23, 2021

“Sing a Song” by Earth, Wind & Fire

No band could musically convey sheer joy like Earth, Wind & Fire. Their exuberant R&B/pop hit “Sing a Song” is a prime example. The track is overflowing with good vibes and positive energy. It sounds like a carefree outing to the park or beach on a beautiful summer day. The song is about the therapeutic power of music and how it can lift people’s spirits when they’re feeling down. It boasts a stellar arrangement with bright horn lines, energetic guitar riffs and groovin’ bass. And Maurice White and Philip Bailey elevate the track with their vibrant vocals. The track also has a sunny, infectious chorus. This is definitely the cut to bump when you’re having a bad day, but it’s also great to listen to when you’re already in good spirits.

“Sing a Song” was written by White and EWF guitarist Al McKay. It was a studio track from Earth, Wind & Fire’s triple-platinum double-live album Gratitude, which was released on November 11, 1975. The song spent two weeks atop Billboard's R&B singles chart and peaked at #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 pop chart. The gorgeous ballad “Can’t Hide Love,” another studio cut from the album, had an impressive showing on the Billboard’s R&B singles chart, peaking at #11. 

Gratitude was released on Columbia Records, and it was produced by Maurice White, Charles Stepney and Joe Wissert (live shows). The full band lineup for the album was Verdine White (bass, vocals, percussion), Larry Dunn (piano, organ, Moog synthesizer), Fred White (drums, percussion), Johnny Graham (guitar), Andrew Woolfolk (saxophone, percussion), Philip Bailey (vocals, congas, percussion), Maurice White (vocals, kalimba, drums, timbales, producer), Don Myrick (saxophone), Al McKay (guitar, percussion), Louis Satterfield (trombone), Ralph Johnson (drums, percussion) and Michael Harris (trumpet).

“Sing a Song” was included on the following film soundtracks: Something’s Gotta Give, Think Like a Man, Radio Arrow, The Color of Friendship and the video game For All Mankind Time Capsule. Also, it was sampled on the song “Hey Goldmember,” which BeyoncĂ© sang in the 2002 spy action comedy Austin Powers in Goldmember.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

“Hang Loose” by Mandrill

In 1973, Brooklyn groove outfit Mandrill scored their third hit with the eruptive funk jam “Hang Loose.” The dynamic track showcases the band's formidable musicianship. Fudgie Kae ignites the groove with a killer bass line, and the badass horn section serves up some potent brass funk. The kinetic percussion work and tight rhythm guitar riffs significantly enhance the song's groove quotient. Things shift from urgent hard-hitting funk to smoldering Latin jazz-rock on the instrumental bridge, which features a superb solo from guitarist Omar Mesa. Not to be outdone, Claude “Coffee” Cave lets loose with a scorching organ solo when the band returns to the main groove. 

The song touches on the daily struggle for survival in America, especially for those who live in distressed urban areas, and how this constant struggle places people at odds with one another, which begets violence and other crimes among those in the community.  “Hang Loose” calls for unity and peace and for people to respect one another.

“Hang Loose,” written by Cave, was a single from Mandrill’s third album Composite Truth (1973), released on Polydor Records. The song peaked at #25 on Billboard’s R&B single chart and #83 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The album also contains the band’s biggest hit “Fencewalk” (#19 R&B chart, #52 pop chart). The collection was produced by Alfred V. Brown and Mandrill.

The full band lineup for Composite Truth was Frederick “Fudgie Kae” Solomon (bass, acoustic guitar, percussion, vocals); Neftali Santiago (drums, vocals); Omar Mesa (lead guitar, percussion, vocals); Claude “Coffee” Cave (keyboards, vibraphone, percussion, vocals); Dr. Ricardo Wilson, aka “Doc Ric” (tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, percussion, vocals), Carlos Wilson (trombone, flute, alto saxophone, guitar, timbales, drums, percussion, vocals); Louis “Sweet Lou” Wilson (trumpet, congas, percussion, vocals).

Related blog entry: "Fencewalk" by Mandrill

Monday, September 27, 2021

Celebrated Sax Man, Pioneering Funk Veteran Pee Wee Ellis Dies at 80

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist, composer and arranger Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis died on Thursday, September 23, "following complications with his heart," said a statement shared on his Facebook page. He was 80.

Ellis was a pivotal figure in funk music and made major contributions to the genre’s early development through his work with James Brown. He joined Brown’s horn section in 1965 as an alto saxophonist but later switched to tenor saxophone, his preferred instrument. Within two years of joining the band, he was promoted to Brown’s musical director. Ellis co-wrote and arranged groundbreaking funk classics such as “Cold Sweat,” “Mother Popcorn (You Gotta Have a Mother For Me),“Licking Stick, Licking Stick,” and the iconic black pride anthem “Say it Loud - I’m Black and I’m Proud.” And he contributed his formidable saxophone skills to these influential tracks. The melding of Ellis’s jazz-honed chops with Brown’s gritty rough-and-tumble R&B roots helped bring a dynamic new element to Brown’s nascent funk sound.

In autumn of 1969, Ellis left Brown’s band to explore new music opportunities; he began collaborating with various artists, including George Benson, Hank Crawford and Esther Phillips. And in 1972, Ellis co-founded the jazz-rock funk band Gotham. The members of Gotham were Ellis, Linc Chamberland (guitar), Schuylar "Sky" Ford (vocals, acoustic guitar), Chris Qualles (bass), Frank Vicari (alto and tenor saxophone), John Gatchell (trumpet, flugelhorn), Jimmy Strassburg (drums, congas) and John Eckert (trumpet, flugelhorn). The band recorded some amazing fusion grooves together. 

Between 1979 and 1986, Ellis served as musical director and arranger for Van Morrison’s band and then again from 1995 through 1999. Ellis played on highly praised Van Morrison albums such as Into The Music (1979) and Beautiful Vision (1982).  In 2012, Ellis joined Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion, a quartet comprising Ellis, legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Alec Dankworth and percussionist Abass Dodoo. They toured in 2013 and 2014, thrilling appreciative music fans with their stellar musicianship.

In the late ‘80s, Ellis formed the J.B. Horns with former James Brown horn players Maceo Parker (saxophone) and Fred Wesley (trombone). This trio brought heaps of funk onstage and in the studio. They also frequently backed singer/performer Bobby Byrd, another James Brown alumnus, in concert. In the early ‘90s, Ellis formed his own band, the Pee Wee Ellis Funk Assembly. The band remained active, touring and recording, for years. 

Ellis had a tremendous impact on contemporary music, leaving a large footprint in funk, jazz, R&B and jazz-funk. His far-reaching legacy will not be forgotten.

"Cold Sweat," part 1 and 2

                                        "Ease My Mind" by Gotham

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

“Queen Of Clubs” by KC & The Sunshine Band

KC & The Sunshine Band dropped this electrifying dance track in 1974. This hot cut displayed the Miami-based disco-funk outfit’s considerable talent at crafting potent booty-shaking dance grooves. The song is about an avid clubgoer who’s a legend of the club scene due to the excitement she always brings to the dance floor. This track has a rawer, grittier sound than the band's more polished disco chart-toppers that would come later. The groove pulsates with energy and funk; it’s driven by a ferocious beat that’s complemented by a dirty bass line. And the sizzling rhythm guitar licks significantly increase the groove’s funk level, while the horns blast tight salvos of brass fire. Frontman Harry Wayne Casey, better known by his stage name K.C., delivers an enthusiastic and soulful lead vocal performance. And the irresistible chorus takes the track over the top.

“Queen Of Clubs” was the third single from KC & The Sunshine Band’s debut album, Do It Good, released in 1974. It was co-written by Casey and producer, songwriter, percussionist Willie Clarke. It peaked at #66 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and it climbed to #25 on the Billboard’s R&B singles chart. The song performed extremely well in the UK, rising all the way to #7 on the charts. 

Do It Good, produced by Richard Finch, is a solid collection of R&B and funk tracks. In addition to “Queen of Clubs,” other album highlights include the super-funky title track and the infectious grooves “Blow Your Whistle” and “Sound Your Funky Horn.” The full band lineup for the album was Casey (keyboards, vocals), Jerome Smith (guitar), Richard Finch (bass, drums, percussion), Ken Faulk (trumpet), Oliver Brown (percussion), Vinnie Tanno (trumpet), Mike Lewis (tenor saxophone), Fermin Goytisolo (percussion), Whit Sidner (baritone saxophone), Beverly Champion (background vocals), Margaret Reynolds (background vocals) and Jeanette Williams (background vocals). And guest musicians included Jimmy “Bo” Horne, George McCrae, Gwen McCrae and Betty Wright, all of whom provided background vocals. 

Following Do It Good, KC & The Sunshine Band rode a string of global dance smashes to superstardom, becoming one of the hottest disco acts on the planet. The band was the first act to have four number-one singles on the pop charts in a 12-month period since the Beatles in 1964. They won a Grammy in 1978 for their contribution of “Boogie Shoes” to the massively popular Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. And the band received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2002.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

“You Gotta Believe” by the Pointer Sisters

Richard Pryor and the Pointer Sisters on the Car Wash set
Richard Pryor and the Pointer Sisters on Car Wash set
“You Gotta Believe” is one of the Pointer Sisters’ funkiest tracks. The bodacious groove lands smack dab in the funk zone and doesn’t let up. The song showcases the legendary group’s powerful gospel-infused vocals. The talented quartet brings tons of soul and fiery conviction to the mix. They kick things off in epic fashion with, “Doodle wop a-rat-a-tat boom/I'll make the sound of a jet plane zoom.” That’s one hell of an opener. Rose Royce bassist Lequeint "Duke" Jobe serves up a wicked thumpin’ bass line that’s sure to bring a big smile to the faces of funk lovers and bass players. The track also features some dirty guitar licks and a mammoth rumbling beat. 

The Pointer Sisters performed the song in a spirited scene from the 1976 cult comedy classic Car Wash. They play the Wilson Sisters, who are devoted acolytes of a silver-tongued Reverend Ike-type evangelist named Daddy Rich, portrayed with verve and devilish charm by Richard Pryor. Although the song is specifically directed at the character Abdullah, it could be taken in a broader context and applied to anyone who shares a similar attitude. It’s about how many people these days don’t have any faith, hope or belief in anything and often imprison themselves mentally with their own negativity, cynicism and anger—and they frequently take it out on others rather than taking a hard look at themselves. And the fact that the Wilson Sisters are followers of a rapacious charlatan doesn’t make their message any less valid. Sometimes deep wisdom can come from the mouths of snakes. The lyrics also have an underlying feminist theme and reflect on the tensions between black women and black men during that time. The Wilson Sisters indirectly ask the militant Abdullah if they can be allies in his “revolution” as opposed to them being adversaries. But he first needs to drop his chauvinistic and disdainful attitude toward black women before they can work together for the common good of the movement.

“You Gotta Believe” was co-written by Jobe and Rose Royce drummer Henry Garner, who also played drums on the track. The other players on the song were guitarists Kenji Brown and Melvin “Wah Wah” Ragin, who were both members of Rose Royce. 

The song was included on the Car Wash soundtrack, which was produced by Norman Whitfield. And it’s the only track on the album that wasn’t sung by a member of Rose Royce. “You Gotta Believe” had a pretty strong showing on the U.S. R&B singles chart, peaking at #14.

The Pointer Sisters—Anita, June, Bonnie and Ruth—already had a few hits and a Grammy under their belt by the time they recorded “You Gotta Believe,” and their appearance in Car Wash helped further increase their popularity. Their star steadily continued to rise in the ensuing years, and by the ‘80s, they were one of the biggest music acts in the world with a string of huge crossover hits to their credit. They received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994 and were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2005. The group earned three Grammys during their career. 

Bonnie left the Pointer Sisters in 1977 to pursue a solo career and signed with Motown Records the following year. She landed several modest hits as a solo artist. Her biggest hit was a disco cover of the Elgins’ song “Heaven Must Have Sent You” ( #11 pop charts, #8 on the dance charts, and #52 on the R&B chart). She died last year from Cardiac Arrest at age 69. Anita and Ruth are the only surviving original members of the group. 

The Pointer Sisters performing "You Gotta Believe" in a scene from Car Wash

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Sly Stone taking the audience "Higher!" 
This powerful award-winning documentary takes a comprehensive look at the Harlem Cultural Festival. The free concert series was held in the summer of 1969—from June 20 through August 24—at Mount Morris Park (now known as Marcus Garvey Park), which is on the border of Harlem and East Harlem. It was held over six consecutive weekends, and more than 300,000 people attended. The festival was a rousing celebration of black music and culture. It was designed to be a positive and uplifting event that would raise people’s spirits and reinforce their sense of community and bring them together.

Ahmir “Questlove ”Thompson makes an auspicious directorial debut with Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). The acclaimed musician directs this absorbing documentary with the sure hand of a seasoned filmmaker. 

The long list of artists who performed at the festival reads like a veritable who’s who of influential black music legends. Some of them included Steve Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, Gladys Knight and the Pips, David Ruffin and the Staples Singers. 

In addition to concert and archival footage, the documentary contains commentary from several people who attended the festival as well as some of the performers. It’s fascinating to hear firsthand accounts from attendees as they relive their experiences while watching the concert footage. Since the festival’s footage had been locked away in a basement for 50 years, it was the first time they'd seen the performances since they attended the festival back in ‘69. The festival was a life-changing experience for many of the attendees, and this great documentary provided them a platform to express how much it meant to them and how it has impacted their lives. “That concert was like a rose comin’ through cement,” said poet and playwright Roger Parris, who was in attendance at the festival.

One of the documentary's most touching moments comes when the 5th Dimension founding member Marilyn McCoo tears up while watching their festival performance. At the time, the group was often accused of “not sounding black enough.” However, McCoo and her husband Billy Davis Jr. (also a founding member of the 5th Dimension) explained that they loved all kinds of music and that the 5th Dimension’s sound encompassed several different styles, including pop, R&B, soul and jazz influences; and they asked, “How do you color a sound?” It was clear that those “too-white-sounding” accusations stung the couple. So it meant the world to them to have the opportunity to perform at the festival and be received so enthusiastically. A tearful McCoo said, “We were so happy to be there.”

Another emotional moment is when Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples take the audience to church with a soul-stirring rendition of the gospel song “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” It was incredible to watch these two vocal powerhouses bounce off one another with revival-meeting fervor. In her commentary, Staples warmly reminisced about that moment and expressed how much of an honor it was to share the microphone with her “idol” and “hero” Mahalia Jackson. The performance was dedicated to the memory of  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated a little over a year earlier. It was the Nobel Peace Prize-winning civil rights leader’s favorite song. He’d often invite Jackson to perform  it at his rallies and speeches. 

Groundbreaking band Sly & the Family Stone dazzled the audience with its electrifying gumbo of funk, rock, gospel, soul and psychedelia. The band kicked off its set with a ferocious performance of “Sing a Simple Song.” The exhilarating set also included their chart-topping smash “Everyday People.” And for the finale, they delivered a roof-raising performance of “I Want To Take You Higher” where Sly Stone engaged in some spirited call-and-response with audience members exhorting them to yell “Higher!” as loud as they could. The band’s original drummer and founding member Greg Errico provided commentary. He said: “Sly wanted to address everybody and everything. Music was the common denominator. And music made you want to challenge social aspects that needed to be challenged. And that’s what we did.”

Nina Simone brought attitude, elegance and soul to the stage during her set, which included a luminous performance of her song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” This was her debut of the inspirational black pride anthem; she would record it two months later at a concert at Philharmonic Hall for her live album Black Gold (1970). The Harlem Cultural Festival was the perfect venue to debut the song as there were many young black people in the audience who needed to hear it and be inspired by it. She also performed “Backlash Blues,” a scathing protest poem by Langston Hughes that Simone set to music. This festival performance showed what a formidable artist Simone was and why she’s such a revered cultural icon. 

A 19-year-old Stevie Wonder displayed his incredible talent and versatility during his set. He first wowed the audience with a wicked drum solo during his performance of the Isley Brothers’ smash “It’s Your Thing,” and then he scorched the stage with a sizzling clavinet solo—played through a wah-wah pedal—on an extra-funkified version of his hit "Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day.” Little did anyone know that Stevie hadn’t even scratched the surface of his prodigious musical gifts at that point in his career. He would go on to completely alter the landscape of popular music in the next decade through a string of brilliant albums.

A plethora of music styles were represented at the Harlem Cultural Festival, including blues, soul, jazz, gospel, funk, R&B, Latin, African, Caribbean and more. And the festival attracted great artists who hailed from all parts of the globe, including legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who famously melded American jazz with African folk. The documentary also touched on how Latin and black music intersected in Harlem. Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans and Dominican Americans who lived in East Harlem influenced the music of their African-American neighbors and vice versa. This birthed fusion styles such as Afro-Cuban jazz. Pioneering Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria performed his popular Afro-Cuban jazz rendition of Herbie Hancock’s jazz standard “Watermelon Man” at the festival. Santamaria’s version of the song is a great example of how fusing Latin elements with African American-influenced jazz can often reap amazing results.

In addition to showcasing the amazing musical performances, Summer of Soul examines the festival’s cultural significance and the historical context of when it took place. During that period, the black community was experiencing a dramatic ideological shift. Attitudes and worldviews were rapidly changing among black Americans. As one commentator put it: “1969 was a change of era in the black community,” and another said, “We were creating a new world.” A number of young black activists at the time were adopting a more aggressive stance in fighting racial injustice; the feeling among this group was that the peaceful nonviolent approach advocated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders had run its course and a more confrontational one was necessary to effect major change in the system. In Rev. Al Sharpton’s commentary, he pointed out that by 1969 there was a clear divide in the black community between those advocating violence and those who believed that nonviolence was still the most effective means of battling systemic racism.

The Black Power Movement was in full swing at the time. The movement pushed for black autonomy and self-determination and the building of social, economic and political power within the black community. And revolutionary group the Black Panther Party was really starting to gain traction and had chapters in major cities across the U.S. Also, many black Americans were embracing their African roots; this was reflected in their fashion, art, hairstyles and music. Wearing African attire was not just a fashion statement but a political one as well. It served as a subtle act of rebellion against the norms of and traditions of the dominant white culture, as well as an expression of pride in one’s African ancestry. Many audience members at the festival proudly wore their African-influenced clothing and hairstyles. Sharpton succinctly summed up this change of mindset in the black community: “‘69 was the pivotal year where the Negro died and Black was born.”

Summer of Soul thoroughly explores all of these developments to give viewers a better idea of what was going on in the black community at the time of the festival. This adds an extra emotional punch to the film and underscores the festival’s great historical importance.

The entire festival was filmed by veteran TV producer Hal Tulchin. He later tried to sell the footage as a television special, but no one was interested. The festival was overshadowed by Woodstock, which took place that same summer just 100 miles away in Bethel, New York. Woodstock got all the mainstream media attention, while the Harlem Cultural Festival was completely ignored. Tulchin even began calling it the “Black Woodstock” in hopes that it would raise some interest, but to no avail. 

Fortunately, thanks to Questlove and the many others involved in the making of Summer of Soul  (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), the festival is finally getting the recognition and shine it deserves. Now people of all ages and races will know how significant it was and can experience it through this fantastic documentary. 

Summer of Soul has been showered with praise by film critics and has won several prestigious awards, including both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.  And it currently has a near-perfect 99% fresh score rating at American review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Music Duo BAD Parties On “Jupiter”

NYC-based music duo BAD (Julia Brex and Jackson Hoffman) are back with another offering of their infectious brand of throwback dance pop. Their new single “Jupiter ''effectively captures the feel-good vibe of synth-driven 1980s dance grooves. The duo couldn't have chosen a better time to release this exuberant track; it’s the perfect summer jam—great for grooving to at the beach, bumpin’ in your ride or blasting at the family cookout. And it coincides well with the recent lifting of many of the Covid-19 restrictions. The track is filled with great melodic hooks and exquisite keyboard and synth lines. Hoffman’s production work is topflight as usual, and Brex’s shimmering vocals lift the track to the stratosphere. The song also boasts an indelible sing-along chorus. And Philip Lassiter’s superb horn arrangement further enhances the track’s uplifting tone. 

“Jupiter” is about leaving Earth to party with some fun-loving extraterrestrials at an interplanetary bash. In a recent interview, the duo said the song was inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to “escape to another reality.” And they want the song “to help spin us out of this state of retrograde we’ve been living in.”

Singer-songwriter Brex and Hoffman, a producer/arranger/multi-instrumentalist, have been writing and recording music together for a decade now. They formed BAD in 2018, and it was born out of  their mutual love for funk music. Since BAD’s formation, the duo has dropped several stellar tracks, which all contain their distinct and irresistibly funky retro sound. And their song “Refresher” is featured in the new comedy-thriller The Misfits, which stars Pierce Brosnan, Nick Cannon, Jamie Chung and Tim Roth.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

“Iron Leg” by Mickey and The Soul Generation

San Antonio groove outfit Mickey and The Soul Generation released this deep-funk gem back in 1969. The track opens with roaring guitar feedback, which carries the listener into the smooth funk groove. Gilbert Rivera’s badass bass line and drummer Andrew Gordon’s cold beat provide a solid foundation for this old-school instrumental. Mickey Foster blasts the funk level through the roof with his smokin’ Hammond organ stabs. And the brawny horn lines further elevate the funk. This is the type of raw, no-frills funk that funk lovers can truly appreciate. 

Mickey and The Soul Generation was formed in San Antonio, Texas in 1967. The band emerged from the buzzing Texas funk scene of the late 1960s, which consisted of local and regional musicians. The original members were Emil Carter (saxophone, vocals), Mickey Foster (organ, keyboards), George Sallas (guitar), Andrew Gordon (drums), Gilbert Rivera (bass) and Johnny Hooks (tenor saxophone). The band was made up of two Latino and four black members. The sextet’s racial makeup reflected San Antonio's integrated music scene where blacks and Latinos commingled in the clubs and music studios. 

After spending a couple of years racking up wins at local talent shows, the band began cutting tracks at a local Tejano studio. “Iron Leg” was one of the songs that came from these recording sessions. The track, written by Foster and Rivera, was originally released on the GC Production label. It was later re-pressed and distributed nationally on New York-based label Maxwell Records. It had strong sales regionally in California, Florida and Texas. Its B-side was the wicked funk jam “Chocolate,” which was penned by Gordon.  

“Iron Leg” became so popular that comedian Nipsey Russell used it in an intro on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The band’s fame continued to grow, and they soon found themselves touring with Sam & Dave and opening for people like James Brown, The Supremes and Kool & the Gang. 

In addition to “Iron leg,” Mickey and The Soul Generation dropped a slew of other groove nuggets before breaking up in 1977. The band had been largely forgotten in the States when DJ Shadow (born Josh Davis) came across their music in 1992 and quickly became a huge fan and supporter. This resulted in the 2002 reissue Iron Leg: The Complete Mickey and the Soul Generation, which was released on DJ Shadow’s own label Cali-Tex Records. In the liner notes, Shadow wrote that Mickey and The Soul Generation was his “favorite funk band.” 

The reissue, originally released in both vinyl and CD formats, brought new buzz and attention to the band’s music and helped them gain a flock of new fans worldwide. This comprehensive collection is definitely a must-have for true funk lovers. It showcases the band's considerable talent and creativity. Many props to DJ Shadow for championing this great band and helping them get the shine they sorely deserved.  

"Iron Leg"


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Album Review of Parliament’s The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein

Legendary funk outfit Parliament released their fifth studio album The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein on September 29, 1976. It was the band’s hotly anticipated follow-up to their landmark album Mothership Connection. Needless to say, expectations were high for The Clones; and the talented P-Funk crew didn’t disappoint, delivering a high-quality collection of funk and R&B tracks.  

Like its predecessor, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein is a sci-fi-themed concept album; but instead of funky extraterrestrials, UFOs and space exploration, it’s monsters, ghouls, cloning,  and mad scientists. George Clinton’s wild imagination was exploding with cool and interesting new concepts for this LP. He came up with perhaps his best-known alter ego: Dr. Funkenstein. He’s the mad scientist who uncovered the ancient secret of the “Afronauts,” which have the ability to “funkatize galaxies.” He cloned these Afronauts in his own image, so he could propagate P-Funk.

The album begins with the spoken-word “Prelude.” It’s set to some inspired synth work from Bernie Worrell. Clinton recounts the legend of Dr. Funkenstein and closes with, “And funk is its own reward.” Truer words were never spoken. “Gamin’ On You” kicks off the album proper. The dynamic groove boasts a powerhouse bass line, spectacular horn charts, funky congas and some ultra-tight drumming. “Gamin’ On You” was penned by George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell.

“Gamin’ On You” is followed by the obscenely funky cut “Dr. Funkenstein.” Bootsy Collins’ gut-bucket bass line plunges deep into funky waters and is baptized with pure groovosity. George Clinton, assuming his alter ego Dr. Funkenstein, drops a brilliant proto rap that displays his great gift for clever wordplay. The track boasts a fantastic intro and an irresistible chorus. And the cherry on top of this funkalicious groove is a super-smooth trombone solo from Fred Wesley. Other cool things about this track include an ingeniously sped-up verse (“I’ll make your atoms move so fast/Expanding your molecules/Causing a friction fire/burning you on your neutron…”); Worrell’s squiggly synth work; the trollish Igor-like character; dope horn lines; and Bootsy’s ghostly funk wails. “Dr. Funkenstein” was written by George Clinton, Bootsy and Bernie Worrell.

“Children of Production” is one of the most underrated tracks in P-Funk’s oeuvre. It features a superb vocal arrangement that showcases the band’s formidable vocal talent. And the horn work is next-level. The song is about Dr. Funkenstein’s devoted clones/disciples who were created to spread the P-Funk gospel, which is designed to deliver humanity from its fallen, unfunky state. Clinton penned some great lyrics for this track. Here’s a sampling: “We're a flawless testimony/To the attainment of the P.Funk/Endowed with conceivement of true groove/We are deeper than abortion/Deeper than the notion/That the world was flat when it was round.” Parliament-Funkadelic would often perform a stripped-down version of the song at concerts with just the vocals, horns and synth parts. It is truly haunting to hear it performed that way live—chills for days. The song was written by George Clinton, Bootsy and Bernie Worrell.

Garry Shider delivers a marvelous vocal performance on “Getten’ To Know You.” The resplendent love song has a terrific horn arrangement and some topflight bass work from Shider. Michael Brecker sweetens the groove with a stellar sax solo, and Bernie Worrell follows it up with a deft piano solo. This underrated gem was written by Garry Shider and George Clinton.

The band recycles the bass line from Funkadelic's “You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure” to maximum effect for the feel-good funk anthem “Do That Stuff.” Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey’s killer drumming keeps the funk firing on all cylinders. And the rousing horn arrangement enhances the track’s exuberant party vibe. The song features a whimsical, cartoonish bridge that provides a nice contrast to the high-energy main groove. Goins, Clinton and Shider bring the thunder on their soulful co-lead vocals, and Worrell’s creative synth work adds some fantasy flavor to the mix. Also, Rick Gardner signals the groove’s climax with a galvanic trumpet solo. “Do That Stuff” was written by George Clinton, Garry Shider and Bernie Worrell.

“I’ve Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body)” features a mesmerizing vocal performance from Glen Goins. The seductive soul ballad provides the perfect showcase for the guitarist/singer's tremendous vocal gifts. The track boasts a sumptuous arrangement with the band musically creating a sensually-charged atmosphere. It was penned by George Clinton, Garry Shider and Glen Goins.

“Everything Is On  The One is” is a solid groove with some splendid synth work and great horn lines. However, it lacks the spark and imagination of the other tracks on the album. The chorus is not all that interesting and drags on a bit too long. This is the only track on the album that could be considered filler. It was written by George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell.

Goins serves up another incredible vocal performance on  “Funkin’ For Fun.” The song is about a young man charting his own path in life and following his passion for funk music. It’s possibly about Goins himself who joined P-Funk when he was only 20. The surprisingly sentimental track is also a loving tribute to mothers who have to say goodbye to their children as they venture out into the world as young adults and find their own way. The track is exquisitely arranged. The wistful verse section features some delicate guitar work and somber horn lines. On the chorus, the track goes full-out sanctified gospel funk, where Goins catches the spirit and takes the listener to church with some soul-stirring shouts, runs and screams. Cordell “Boogie” Mosson deepens the funk with a chunky bass line, and Maceo Parker contributes a nasty sax solo. The song was written by Glen Goins, George Clinton and Garry Shider.

The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein is an excellent work and a worthy addition to the P-Funk canon. True music lovers, whether they’re Funkateers or not, can appreciate the outstanding songwriting, production and musicianship on this album. It had an impressive showing on the album charts, peaking at #3 on Billboard’s R&B charts and #20 on Billboard’s pop charts. It was certified gold (500,000 units sold). The two singles, “Dr. Funkenstein” and “Do That Stuff,” were modest hits on the R&B charts, reaching #43 and #22, respectively. The album was produced by George Clinton and released on Casablanca Records. 

The full P-Funk lineup for this album was the following: George Clinton (vocals, production), Cordell “Boogie” Mosson (bass), Michael Hampton (guitar), Bootsy Collins (bass, drums, percussion, vocals), Fuzzy Haskins (vocals), Randy Brecker (trumpet), Bernie Worrell (synthesizers, keyboards), Gary “Mudbone” Cooper (vocals, drums, percussion), Garry Shider (guitar, vocals, bass), Debbie Edwards (vocals), Michael Brecker (saxophone), Glen Goins (vocals, guitar), Fred Wesley (trombone), Taka Khan (vocals), Maceo Parker (saxophone), Calvin Simon (vocals), Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey (drums, percussion), Grady Thomas (vocals), Rick Gardner (trumpet) and Raymond Davis (vocals). Fred Wesley and Bernie Worrell split horn-arrangement duties for the album's tracks, and both did an amazing job.

"Do That Stuff"

"I've Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body)"

Friday, March 5, 2021

“Stare” by Prince

This sorely underrated track features one of the sickest bass lines in Prince’s oeuvre. The insanely funky groove showcases the late music legend’s tremendous bass skills. People often sleep on what a beast he was on the bass; and his thump-and-pluck game was fire. The track also boasts a fantastic horn arrangement with the New Power Generation’s talented horn section raining down bucketloads of pure funk. And His Royal Badness keeps the groove quotient high with his super-tight drumming. The lyrics are quintessential Prince, full of cheeky humor and double entendres. The track also contains references to a couple of his past songs, including a quick sample of the famous chicken-scratch guitar intro to his 1986 smash “Kiss.”

“Stare” was written by Prince, and he played all the instruments on the track except for the horn parts. The horn players on the track were Joey Rayfield (trombone), BK Jackson (baritone sax), Philip Lassiter (trumpet), Adrian Crutchfield (alto sax), Nick Marchione (trumpet),  Marcus Anderson (tenor sax), Lynn Grissett (trumpet), Keith Anderson (tenor sax), Steve Reid (trumpet), Sylvester Onyejiaka (baritone sax) and Roy Agee (trombone). Joey Rayfield, Lynn Grissett and Marcus Anderson put together the horn arrangement.

“Stare” was initially released as a standalone track on the music streaming service Tidal in September 2015. It was later included on Prince’s 39th and final studio album HitnRun Phase Two, which was released digitally on December 12, 2015 on NPG Records. It was also the artist’s last album to be released during his lifetime. The album was produced by Prince and the New Power Generation. The collection includes the protest song "Baltimore," which honors Freddie Gray, the young Baltimore resident who died while in police custody. 

HitnRun Phase Two finally received a worldwide CD release on May 6, 2016 through Universal Music Group. It peaked at #40 on Billboard 200 album chart and climbed all the way to #3 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop album chart. The collection received generally positive reviews from critics. HitnRun Phase Two was a continuation of Prince’s album HitnRun Phase One, which was released on September 7, 2015.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

“Give Up The Funk (Let’s Dance)" By B.T. Express

At the dawn of the 1980s, Brooklyn groove outfit B.T. Express was still going hard in the paint with its exciting brand of disco-funk, dropping bumpin’ party jams like “Give Up The Funk (Let’s Dance).” This sizzling dance groove has the classic B.T. Express sound: phat bass, superb horn charts, powerful beat, funky rhythm guitar licks and catchy party chants. Also, the smooth keyboard work adds some extra flavor to the groove. With this track, the band showed that it could still throw down when it came to creating irresistible dance floor-ready funk grooves.

The song was written by saxophonist/flutist Carlos Ward, an original member of B.T. Express. The players on the track were Jamal Rasool (bass), Tyrone “Turkey” Govane (drums), Bill Risbrook (tenor saxophone), Rick Thompson (guitar), John Adams (keyboards), Wesley “Pike” Hall, Jr. (guitar), Dennis Rowe (percussion) and Carlos Ward (alto saxophone). Ward was also responsible for the track’s terrific horn arrangement. Vocals were provided by Thompson, Rasool, Rowe and Hall.

“Give Up The Funk (Let’s Dance)” was a single from B.T. Express’s sixth studio album 1980, which was produced by Morrie Brown and released on Columbia Records. The song had a solid showing on the charts, peaking at #24 on the U.S. R&B singles chart and #22 on the dance chart. It was the band’s last song to crack the top 40.

In 1974, B.T. Express made a big splash in the music game with the crossover disco-funk smashes "Do It ('Til You're Satisfied)” and “Express.” The band continued to score R&B and dance hits during that decade and is considered one of the pivotal music acts of the disco-funk movement.