Posts Tagged ‘funk’

Buried Treasure: I’m Not Selling Out/I’m Buying In!

17 March 2009

[Today: Swamp Dogg outsizzles a cookbook…]

Swamp Dogg | I'm Not Selling Out/I'm Buying In!

The inveterate crate digger in me gives thanks for the tribulations of artists like Jerry Williams. Under the nom de funk Swamp Dogg, Williams dropped some of the most rollicking, zany funk/soul/rock this side of George Clinton’s ParlaFunkaThang, but hardly anyone has heard of him. Between 1970 and 1981, Dogg released 8 albums of horny, political, muscular music that defied every prevailing trend and left him with no audience to speak of. This run concluded with I’m Not Selling Out/I’m Buying In! – a more rocking affair that found him polishing his sound, meeting the mainstream halfway, and hoping for a breakthrough.

The front of the album features Dogg in top hat and tails, working a room full of bored record executives. The flip side shows one of those executives – now wearing a giant styrofoam cowboy hat – presenting Dogg with a check while his smiling colleagues look on. The seemingly LSD-fueled liner notes sum up Dogg’s state of mind at the time and his reasons for heading in this musical direction: “I love Rock ‘N’ Roll, I disapprove of 90% of the national politics and repudiate the other 10, still think the establishment sucks, and I needed a deal worse than a dead man needs a coffin…”

In spite of a fine batch of songs, I’m Not Selling Out… met the same fate as Dogg’s previous seven releases – which is to say it sold poorly and still can’t be found on CD or MP3. On the 20 second album opener ‘Swamping Salutations’ Dogg promises to rock & roll his ass off for you, and then throws down an unbroken string of great tunes. ‘It’s Just A Little Time Left’ sees him touch on El Salvador, the senseless killing of John Lennon, and the brevity of life, before the tune concludes with a funky sax breakdown and some jazzy piano licks. ‘A Hundred And’ is a funkified love song that sees Dogg pledging a century of love. ‘California Is Drowning And I Live Down By The River’ chronicles the legion of ills facing the Golden State, and is more relevant today than it was in ’81.

But even when Swamp Dogg tried to smooth out his sound, it still held a rough edge that kept him off the radio and out of public consciousness. He anticipated the chilly reception in his liner notes: “In the event you find this bit of musical, lyrical magic offensive, distasteful, repulsive, inane, meritless, dim witted and unsatisfying… stick it way up your ass (polywrap and all), run backwards nine miles on the Hollywood Freeway to my house and your money will be cheerfully refunded.”

Buried Treasure: Big City Funk

12 December 2008

[Today: A Motown session guitarist makes raw funk in his off hours…]

Dennis Coffey | Big City Funk

While in his early twenties, Dennis Coffey was simultaneously offered a touring job with jazz organist Groove Holmes, and a job as session musician for Motown. In order to stay close to his Detroit home, Coffey accepted the Motown gig, and became one of the famous Funk Brothers. This legendary collective of studio musicians provided the music for Motown’s hitmakers of the late 60’s and early 70’s, and Coffey played guitar on sessions for a wide variety of Motown musicians, including The Temptations, The Supremes, The Jackson Five and Marvin Gaye. His website claims that he “has played on over 100 million-selling albums.”

But during his off hours, Coffey was busy creating a series of blistering instrumental funk albums for the Sussex label. These albums (including classic and collectible titles such as Evolution, Instant Coffey, and Goin’ For Myself) feature wah-wah heavy jams that layer Coffey’s guitars nearly to infinity. Big City Funk compiles the best of his Sussex recordings from 1971 to 1974, and everything here (including the Top Ten hit ‘Scorpio’) sounds like the streets of Detroit in the early 70s – in other words, muscle cars, pimp fedoras, garbage in the streets, and all the trimmings.

Because Coffey’s music is full of spectacular breakbeats (the part of the song where the music gives way for the rhythm section to play unaccompanied) these songs have been sampled by a vast range of artists, including Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Moby, Roni Size, and Rage Against The Machine.

Coffey wanted to make music for Blaxploitation films, and to that end he left Sussex in ’74 to work on the soundtrack for the movie Black Belt Jones. But to my ear, he was making music for imaginary Blaxploitation flicks long before he was getting paid to do so.

Listen: Scorpio

Walking Like A Panther – The Cover Art

2 October 2008

The Black Panthers might be the most misunderstood political movement of the 20th century. Everybody knows about their mantras of gun-toting self-defense, but few people know that they pushed for and facilitated free breakfasts for children, in addition to a host of other socially-oriented programs.

The Panthers were an important part of the transition from the civil rights struggle of the 60’s to the ‘black & proud’ strut of the 70’s. Leaders like Huey Newton and Stokely Carmichael shrugged aside the shackled spirit of oppression, and attempted to take control of their own destiny, while protecting their neighborhoods from police brutality. It’s no stretch to say that the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama is an indirect result of the efforts and mindset of The Black Panthers.

Even though I’m a white guy, I’m proud to say that the Panthers were founded right here in Oakland, CA. This mix is my tribute to the sound and spirit of a liberating force that did more good than most people will ever know. The history books have been white-washed, as it were…

[Here’s the front]

[Here’s the front gatefold]

[Quote reads: “You can jail a revolutionary, but you can’t jail the revolution.” – Huey P. Newton]

[Here’s the inside gatefold]

[Here’s the back inside]

[Here’s the back]

[And here’s the track listing]
Richard Pryor | Niggers Vs. The Police
Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul | The Way They Do My Life
Sound Experience | 40 Acres And A Mule
Iron Knowledge | Show-Stopper
Jabba | Superbad
The Isley Brothers | Fight The Power – Part 1
Cymande | Brothers On The Slide
Black Nasty | Talking To The People
The Notations | Superpeople
Tommy Guerrero | Badder Than Bullets
Funkadelic | Everybody Is Going To Make It This Time
Brian Jackson & Gil Scott-Heron | Winter In America (Midnight)
Eddie Hazel | California Dreamin’
War | The World Is A Ghetto
The JB’s | Damn Right I’m Somebody
James Brown | Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud – Part 1
Mike Selesia | Brute Strength
Donny Hathaway | The Ghetto


Huge thanks to Devil Dick for providing the Iron Knowledge track – a super-obscure, absurdly muscular funk track that totally made the mix. Thanks Dick!

Buried Treasure: A Black Man’s Soul

6 September 2008

[Today: Remembering a bad, bad man…]

Izear Luster Turner, Jr was a bad man – perhaps a little too bad for his own good. In spite of having a legit claim to inventing rock & roll with his 1951 fireball ‘Rocket 88’, Turner is generally remembered for little other than being the abusive ex-husband of Tina Turner. In his autobiography Takin’ Back My Name, Ike pleads a sort of self-defense: “Sure, I slapped Tina… there have been times when I punched her to the ground without thinking. But I never beat her.” Quotes like that, along with a monumental cocaine problem, have long overshadowed a dynamic music career.

Turner roadied for blues legend Robert Nighthawk, produced Howlin’ Wolf, and scouted talent for Chess Records. But his greatest discovery came in the form of Annie Mae Bullock, who changed her name to Tina, married Ike, and instantly overshadowed her husband to become the star of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. In the late-60’s Ike & Tina had by far the hottest act on the so-called “Chitlin Circuit” of southern clubs. During the short breaks in their rigorous touring schedule, Ike hauled a well-seasoned version of his band – The Kings Of Rhythm – into the studio for several funk jam sessions.

Those sessions resulted in the all-instrumental 1969 gem A Black Man’s Soul. It’s top-shelf funk featuring tight yet meandering grooves that are heavy on wah-wah, horns and piano, yet rarely run longer than three minutes. The songs deliver the kind of loose, gritty vibe that titles like ‘Philly Dog’ ‘Black Beauty’ ‘Nuttin Up’ and ‘Getting Nasty’ so vividly promise. This is mood music for the greatest blaxploitation flick never made, and an essential purchase for fans of funk.

Ike Turner wasn’t a nice guy, but neither was he the sadistic lunatic that Laurence Fishburne portrayed on the silver screen. Somewhere between those two extremes lived a talented musician and first-rate band leader who deserves to be remembered as something more than just a wife beater. If you’re interested in hearing the other side of Ike Turner, A Black Man’s Soul is the place to start.

Listen: Getting Nasty

Masterpiece: Funkify Your Life

28 July 2008

[Today: New Orleans’ finest…]

The Meters enjoyed just four moderate hit singles in their dozen years of existence. But their influence on the sound of modern music stands in direct contrast to that modest commercial success. They released a couple of all-instrumental albums for regional label Josie before signing to Warner’s Reprise label and working in a more funk/rock vein for most of the 70’s. All of their albums contain gems, and none are below average. With 43 tracks spread over two generous discs, Rhino’s Funkify Your Life: The Meters Anthology collects all the high points in one super-funky package.

The Meters were a band in the truest sense of the word: there’s not a weak link to be found among their ranks. Drummer Joseph ‘Zigaboo’ Modeliste drove the band with his perfectly imprecise, zig-zagging rhythms that snaked in and around Art Neville’s Hammond lines. Meanwhile, guitarist Leo Nocentelli and bassist George Porter Jr were off doing their own funky thang that would inevitably meet up with Modeliste and Neville’s funky thang every couple of measures or so. Incredibly loose, but super-tight: it’s a contradiction for almost every band except The Meters.

In addition to their own albums, The Meters were producer Allen Toussaint’s house band, and played on sessions for a wide variety of artists, including Lee Dorsey, Dr. John, and Paul McCartney. [Fun fact: The Meters are the backing band on Labelle’s disco smash ‘Lady Marmalade’ (ie “voulez vous couchez avec moi“). The Meters are ingrained into many different facets of funk music in the 70’s, and that influence eventually stretched into hip-hop, where they’re among the most consistently sampled acts.

Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee has referred to The Meters’ sound as “…the formula for funk and hip-hop as we know it.” Unfortunately, the band broke up in 1977 when Toussaint exercised his right over the group’s name. Art Neville would go on to form the Neville Brothers, and while The Original Meters would reunite to play a few shows over the course of the last decade, it’s their music from 1969 to 1977 that still causes funk fans to shake their stuff, and DJs to hit the crossfade.

Listen: Cissy Strut

Buried Treasure: Thunder Chicken

27 July 2008

[Today: The Mighty Imperials mine a dusty sound…]

Recorded in 1999 but unreleased until 2004, Thunder Chicken sounds like the work of a veteran funk/soul band tearing it up back in the day. Thing is, this album was recorded by a bunch of 16 year-old white kids out of New York who got their hands on a copy of The Meters’ ‘Cissy Strut’ and got New Orleans funk religion. They quickly recorded the music here and then watched it moulder on the shelf when their label (Desco Records) encountered financial problems.

Of Thunder Chicken‘s 11 tracks, seven are gutbucket instrumentals that sound like they were lovingly dredged from the bottom of a 99-cent Goodwill bin. The four songs featuring veteran gospel singer Joseph Henry qualify as the album’s highlights. Henry’s rough vocals give the band some purpose – something to wrap their grooves around and keep them from meandering. It’s impossible to tell if the lo-fi production was intentional or the result of Desco’s limited means, but either way it makes the album sound like a genuine funk relic that was cut in the Crescent City around 1970.

The Mighty Imperials were Leon Michels (Hammond B3 Organ), Sean Solomon (guitar), Nick Movshon (bass), and Homer Steinweiss (drums), although befitting a band with a sound this throwback, they also employed colorful pseudonyms such as Otis Youngblood, Khaled Abdul Mohammed, and Clarence “Chicken Scratch” Johnson. Of course, the group split up before Thunder Chicken was finally released, taking their talents on to bands like Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings and Antibalas.

It’s tempting to lament the demise of this group and wonder what might have been if this album had seen a proper release schedule. But it’s hard to see where they could have taken their sound from here, and another record in this vein would be have been unnecessarily redundant. The 40 minutes of music that make up this album are perfectly sloppy, scratchy, soulful slices of funk. Thunder Chicken represents the band’s entire catalogue, and fortunately it’s all the Mighty Imperials you’ll ever need.

Listen: Joseph’s Popcorn

Masterpiece: Zombie

7 April 2008

[Today: Fela Kuti fights the good fight…]

Fela Kuti | Zombie

Nigerian-born Fela Anikulapo Kuti was the inventor of AfroBeat and a political agitator of some repute. Kuti’s music features extended jams filled with jabbing horns, percolating percussion, call-and-response chanting with backup singers, and lyrics focusing on governmental corruption. He combined the uncompromising political stance of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers with the international charisma of Bob Marley, while wailing on his saxophone and guiding his band, Afrika ’70, like a musical shaman.

An outspoken critic of African dictators and state policies, Kuti was a frequent target of shakedowns by the Nigerian government. But rather than back down, Kuti intensified his attacks, culminating with his 1977 album Zombie. The title track, which takes up all of side one, compares the Nigerian military to a pack of mindless zombies. “Zombie no go think, unless you tell ‘im to think” Kuti sings, before closing the song with fake marching orders (“Fall In/Fall Out/Fall Down”) that openly mock military conventions.

The Nigerian government was not amused, and struck back with force. Kuti’s personal compound was raided by more than 1,000 soldiers, who beat every man, woman and child on the premises. Soldiers threw Kuti’s mother to her death from a second story window, and beat Kuti himself within an inch of his life. But still the great musician would not back down. He had his mother’s coffin delivered to Nigerian military headquarters, and based his next album, Coffin For Head Of State, on those events.

It’s no coincidence that Kuti was known as ‘The Black President’ – he was a beloved figure in Africa and rebel of the highest order. He married 27 women in a single ceremony, smoked copious amounts of marijuana on stage and in public, and often performed clad in nothing but his underwear, but Fela Kuti will always be remembered for his outspoken struggles on behalf of equality and justice. It’s a tribute to the power of his music that those odd footnotes don’t even come close to overshadowing a dynamic musical and political legacy.

Listen: Zombie

Funky Five Spot

17 February 2008

After an epic game of phone tag, I finally got my old friend Aldo on the phone the other day for a little catch up. In addition to running down the fortunes of some of our high school classmates, he hit me up with the inevitable “What’ve you been listening to lately?” We spiraled off onto some other tangents before we got to my recent playlist, and the question ended up unanswered. So Aldo, if you’re out there reading this, here are five funky albums I’ve been playing way too much lately:

Dennis Coffey - album
Dennis Coffey * Big City Funk: Original Old School Breaks & Heavy Guitar Soul – Coffey recorded four albums for the Sussex label between 1971 and ’74, and his layered guitars, wah-wah’ed to inifinity, are the musical equivalent of a 70’s cop show – all uptempo adrenaline and funky vamping. This is gritty, bad-ass instrumental funk that constantly threatens to jump the shark, but redeems itself through wicked grooves. Big City Funk collects Coffey’s best tracks, which have naturally been sampled endlessly by hip-hop artists such as Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys.

Love's A Real Thing - album
Various Artists * Love’s A Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds Of West Africa – The brief liner notes paint an inviting picture of West Africans huddled around their transistor radios, digging the sounds of Jimi Hendrix and James Brown, and then flipping what they’ve heard into their own take on psychedelic funk. The music here – mostly recorded in the mid-70’s – is the byproduct of that scene, and it’s a treasure trove of irresistible funk that sounds like it’s been beamed to Africa, refracted off the moon and sent back. Ten thumbs up.

Clarence Carter - album
Clarence Carter * Testifyin’ – This is funk that grooves with the heavy, smooth consistency of buttermilk. Carter’s honeyed voice comes with a wink, making lines like “Everybody knows I’m bad news everywhere I go” seem like play-acting. A squadron of saxophones and trumpets round out the band’s sound and punctate Carter’s bold vocal proclomations of love and fealty. I bought it mainly because of the amazing cover art, but lucked into one of the best examples of the Muscle Shoals sound. Interesting note: longtime great Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss, Jr shot the photos on the back of the album jacket.

El Barrio - Fania
Various Artists * El Barrio: Gangsters, Latin Soul & The Birth Of Salsa 1967-75 – Fania Records – the latin funk label that was founded in the mid-60’s and more or less cornered the market on salsa music – has reissued a staggering number of incredible albums over the last year. The best way to dip into this potentially overwhelming wealth of funk is through one of the many great Fania compliations released last year. Three standouts are Gilles Peterson’s Fania DJ Series compilation, as well asThe Bad Boogaloo, and El Barrio. Muy mucho gusto!

Black Sugar - Black Sugar
Black Sugar * Black Sugar – These 70’s Peruvian funkateers sound like an indigenous version of Santana or War. Their 1971 debut was a best-seller in South America, but was only released in the US through a small Miami label, and didn’t make much of an impact here. But it’s full of chunky, percussive beats and Carlos Mejia’s impassioned vocal stylings. “Stay with me” he pleads over and over, his voice rasped out to the edge of coherence and reason. Little has been written about this group, but they are worthy of more scupulous attention, as well as repeated listenings.

Masterpiece: There’s A Riot Goin’ On

28 January 2008

[Today: Sly Stone can’t get no satisfaction…]

Sly Stone - album

In the early 70’s, Sly Stone looked around with heavy-lidded eyes, and didn’t like what he saw. So he did what any reasonably wealthy young musician at that time might do to dull the pain: he sequestered himself away from the world, snorted mountains of cocaine, and created a deeply funky and intensely paranoid album that reflected the state of the world around him.

In the year of production leading up to the November 1971 release of this album, newspaper headlines were littered with references to Charles Manson, Richard Nixon, Idi Amin, My Lai and Attica. From the bullet-hole riddled flag on the cover to the intoxicating, stoned grooves of the music inside, There’s A Riot Goin’ On is the product of a man futilely attempting to distract himself from the realities of a world gone mad. Few recordings have so successfully captured the trouble of their times.

The bulk of the album was created in the home studio in the attic of Sly’s Bel Air mansion. Its warped, fuzzy sound was allegedly achieved through repeated overdubbing – and later erasing – of various groupies who were allowed to ‘perform’ on the album. Sly uses a drum machine instead of Family Stone drummer Greg Errico, and it’s the only stable thing to be found here. Sly intentionally garbles ambivalent lyrics throughout, lays one impressive, slurred Hammond B3 run on top of another, and uses the wah wah pedal like that sad sound that signifies dejection in TV comedy. Sly gets it: the joke’s on him, the joke’s on you, the joke’s on all of us. But instead of a punch line, we get a state of the union address.

Listen: Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa

Masterpiece: Mothership Connection

16 December 2007

[Today: George Clinton launches funk into outer space…]

Parliament - album

Somewhere deep in outer space, there’s a planet where the party never ends, everyone can sing and play an instrument, and folks wear big diapers instead of pants. Mothership Connection is your invitation to that party, and anyone with ears is welcome.

If you got faults, defects or shortcomings,
You know, like arthritis, rheumatism or migraines,
Whatever part of your body it is,
I want you to lay it on your radio, let the vibes flow through

From 1975 to 1980, George Clinton enjoyed one of the most artistically prolific runs in the history of modern music. His twin groups Parliament and Funkadelic released 14 albums between them during that span. Funkadelic was based around guitars and Parliament swung with a horn section, but both bands were dedicated to creating the kind of out-of-this-world, psychedelic funk/rock that didn’t get played on black radio.

To that end, Clinton created this quasi-religious sci-fi cartoon with bumping beats that don’t quit. The sound is the product of some of the finest musicians in the business, including Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Glen Goins, The Brecker Brothers, and Jerome Brailey. It’s with good reason that these grooves have been sampled by thousands of hip-hop artists.

Like Jimi Hendrix before him, Clinton took his music into outer space in order to leave behind pedestrian rules and boundaries. This is an album loaded with ideas, but lighter than air and beyond gravity. Mothership Connection feels like a concept album, but its ideas are so diffused that all you’re left with are hooks and horns and happy times. This music speaks to your feet, and here’s what it says: groove is in the heart and the beat will set you free, if you let it.

Listen: Night Of The Thumpasorous Peoples