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.