[Today: Pioneers of Funk…]
The evolution of Funk from the wellsprings of soul and R&B was a gradual process that was kicked off by Mr. Dynamite himself, James Brown. With his hit singles ‘Out Of Sight’ (1964) and ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ (1965), JB and his band emphasized the bass, played on the downbeat, and pointed the way forward for black music. But more than any musical embellishment, Brown injected his tunes with the badass attitude (“Papa don’t take no mess!”) that would come to define Funk.
Not coincidentally, Funk began to develop during an era of Civil Rights marches and the rise of Black Power. Following the path cut by James Brown, and reflecting the confidence of a just cause, black artists began to make music with a swagger and strut that set it apart from R&B and soul. The first piece of Rhino’s excellent 6-disc history of Funk, In Yo’ Face! Vol 1/2 – The Roots Of Funk captures a cross-section of Funk from 1966-1973, and serves as a thorough primer on the early pioneers of the form.
While a little bit of soul seeps through on early tracks by Lowell Fulsom (‘Tramp’) and Don Covay & The Jefferson Lemon Blues Band (‘Sookie Sookie’), things get fully funky by the third track, when Dyke & The Blazers weigh in with ‘Funky Broadway’. Some artists compiled here are known commodities (The Meters, Wilson Pickett, Lee Dorsey) while others are more obscure (Paul Humphrey & His Cool Aid Chemists, Fugi, Soul Brothers Six) but they all share a common sound and funky purpose. The recipe for the genre may already have been set, but these songs are driven by the genuine enthusiasm of musicians leaping headlong into a new style.
By the early 70’s, Funk was the dominant black musical style, and soul was on the wane (even soul holdouts like The Temptations and The Four Tops eventually came around). More danceable Funk bands, like Kool & The Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire, would prefigure the rise of disco, while heavier artists who reported from the streets, like Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes, set the wheels in motion for gangsta rap. But before all that, Funk was party music, set to a nasty beat, with a ton of bottom. And …The Roots Of Funk captures many of the folks who got the party started.
Listen: Tramp [Lowell Fulsom]
Listen: Some Kind Of Wonderful [Soul Brothers Six]
Listen: Mary Don’t Take Me On No Bad Trip [Fugi]
Listen: Mojo Hanna [Tami Lynn]