The Anatomy of THE Groove 8/22/14 Rique’s Pick : “Still the Man” by Bootsy Collins featuring Al Sharpton

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James Brown Is still the man!

Originally posted on Andresmusictalk:

Bootsy Collins 2011 album “The Funk Capital of the World” was rightfully hailed as a return to form for Bootzilla, the top student, the Rhinestone rockstar, the promised one of funk. Such titles might sound like blustery braggadocio, but when you look at his career arc of providing top shelf funk for two of the pillars of the music, James Brown and George Clinton, as well as carving his own unique legacy as  a player,  personality and band leader, one must admit there has always been something extra special about Bootsy. “The Funk Capital of the World” as a whole was informed by Bootsy’s apprentischip in the James Brown band. While Bootsy spent the majority of his career expanding the horizons of the bass, developing his own thick, wet, effects laden bass tone, and hot rodding his bass so that he could solo with the guitar expressiveness of Jimi Hendrix, this…

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#SummerofJB I: J.B’s antitdote to ’70s Malaise

President Jimmy Carter gave a speech in 1979, which many felt doomed his Presidency, which has popularly been known as the “malaise speech” ever since, which is interesting because he never mentioned the word “malaise” once in the speech. The speech was based on a book called “The Culture of Narcissism : American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations” by Christopher Lasch. The book theorized that phenomenon such as Americans apetite for things such as oral sex proved that Americans had been babied during the ’50s and ’60s, and really, for the whole 20th century, leading to a people now incapable of making the types of sacrafices that made the country great. Carter translated this into a speech about how America had lost the can do, optimistic spirit it used in World War II and its aftermath to become the most powerful industrial nation the world had yet seen. I think this speech in particular is one reason my parents and other people I grew up around always said President Carter was too honest for politics. All of this was done in an effort to get Americans to consume less oil, as it was becoming clear America’s dependence on OPEC oil combined with the Muslim countries new fundamentalism would spell the end of the United States ability to dictate to other countries. This speech was seen as one of the primary reasons Carter got thumped by Ronald Wilson Reagen in the 1980 election, or at least, the attitude contained within. Carter was asking the United States to do something it was not ready to do, to limit itself in order to remain self sufficient and powerful. The counter message coming from Ronald Reagen was that this was fundamentally un American. Accepting limits in American life, mainly the power to consume, would be like surrendering to Germany and Japan in 1941. Reagen brought a Cowboy optimism that was the exact opposite of President Carter in style, and truthfully, more in line with the American spirit.

The Godfather of Soul James Brown, ever hip to cultural currents, gave his “Malaise Speech” four years before President Carter gave his, in 1974. Inflation and gas supply were still a problem then, but added on top of that, one of the biggest crisis of leadership America has yet faced, the Watergate scandal, had replaced Richard Nixon, who J.B endorsed in 1972, with Gerald Ford, who the Godfather found to be a total drag, as did the rest of the country. The difference between J.B’s indictment of American malaise and President Carter’s is that the Godfather laced his with one of his phattest grooves, one that has stood the test of time in funk and hip hop.

The ’70s are largely seen today as a decade of breezy fun, disco, cocaine, free sex, good rock, funk and soul music, and a kind of continutation or day party for the party that started in the late ’60s. It was that, but it also was a decade where American political consensus had been rocked by the protests of Civil Rights, Womens Rights, Black Power, Immigrant and Indian Rights, and finally Gay Rights. At the same time there was little consensus at home, the end of Colonialism and the Third World Revolution raised the prices on commodoties. America was very much an old dad trying to deal with the younger generations. Gas prices and prices on all kinds of products went up.

Amazingly, the Godfather of Soul James Brown, was toward the end of one of the best periods of his career in 1974. The Funk that had been introduced with “Cold Sweat” in 1967 and been supercharged by Bootsy and Phelps Collins in 1970 had become fully mature by 1974. J.B had an incredible run of early ’70s hits, including “Get on the Good Foot”, “Hot Pants”, “Sex Machine”, “Soul Power”, “Get up, Get Into It, Get Involved”, “King Heroin”, “Super Bad”, and many others.

But even with that amazing string of hits, there were problems. For one, J.B’s 1968 Black pride anthem “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”, seemed to doom him on the pop charts, as he did not crack the top ten of those charts until 1986’s “Living in America”, even while dropping generation defining funk songs that hit #1 R&B. Mr. Brown’s son, Teddy, died in a car crash, and the mom & pop record label he dominated, King Records in Cincinati, got bought out by a German company, Polygram. Yes, Mr. Brown was in the situation many American workers were, going from working for Americans to working for a large multinational conglomerate, and he came to feel they didn’t understand him or his music. Also, there were tax problems. And to top it off, he was taking hits in the black community for endorsing a man they viewed as their clear enemy, Richard M Nixion, in 1972.

Brown, a Gold Glove boxer in his youth, would never in his life go down without swinging though. 1973-74 feature some of his biggest and best known hits, from Fred Wesley and The J.B’s family reunion classic “Doin It to Death”, to “Papa Don’t Take No Mess”, to “The Payback.” But on “Funky President” he addresses the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

The “Funky President” of the song is President Gerald Ford, a transitional figure who is mainly known in pop culture for falling off airplanes, which was potrayed by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live. Brown mentioned that he thought Ford was a good man, but every time he spoke people seemed to get depressed. Ford would only serve out the end of Nixons term before losing to Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Brown’s “Funky President” deals with what a drag the country was becoming, but it proposes super heavy funk as a motivator and togetherness as the antidote. The track itself is funky, but different for James Brown, when you listen to the funk of “Superbad” or “Get on the Good Foot” or “Soul Power.” Maybe the reason for this is because Brown uses studio musicians instead of his J.B’s on the track. The sound of the track is also different, being recorded at Sound Ideas studio in New York City. James Brown was known for recording in various places whenever the mood hit him rather than holing up in one studio as many other great acts do. The sound on “Funky President” is clean and well seperated, and I want to go out on a limb and say I think it utilizes heavy overdubbing as well, which was not the general wasoy Brown recorded. Brown preffered to get everybody in the room together and cut the song from top to bottom live with minimal fixing of mistakes. It’s almost as if the political plea of “Funky President” demanded a clean, apple pie All American funk sound so the message wouldn’t be lost.

The band was made up of well known studio musicians such as David Sanborn, Joe Farrell, Joe Beck, and Gordon Edwards. Very interestingly, Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis is also on the track, which is interesting because he was James Browns arranger during the early period of J.B’s funk in the late ’60s and hadn’t worked with Mr. Brown for some timewhen “Funky President” was recorded. The drummer, who must be noted, is Allan Schwarzberg, a white Jewish guy, and not one of J.B’s regular drummers. That’s signifigant because “Funky President”‘s drum pattern is one of the most sampled in hip hop, and it didn’t even come from one of Brown’s regular drummers, like Jabo Starks, Clyde Stubblefield, or Melvin Parker. Conga Player Johnny Griggs is the only player from J.B’s regular band listed.

The music itself is unique for J.B’s heavy funk period. It’s very clear, clean, in control, yet heavy. It seems tailor made for doing the classic ’70s dances. The sound is also very studio centric as opposed to Brown’s famous live sound. The song begins with a super heavy, phat drumbeat from Allan Schwarzberg. The drum beat starts with a snare drum fill that would be a favorite of hip hop samplers such as the Legendary Marley Marl. The drum part is really just a super funky 8th note pattern, very well recorded and prominent in the mix. The combo of the drums, the wah wah guitar, and J.B saying “Funky”, is the jelly the hip hop samplers would go crazy over in the ’80s, but we must remember, the original hip hop D.J’s , Kool Herc, Afrika Baambaata and Grandmaster Flash were playing this joint when it came out as well. The bass line is very simple and funky, leaving space for the drums, the incessant and almost sequence like guitar riff, and a very involved horn chart that serves as J.B’s back up singers. The song also has very funky breaks that allow Brown to really emote.

J.B describes the litany of problems facing America in the 1970s He says the “Stock Market is going up, the jobs going down.” That phenomenon the Godfather mentioned is one that affects America even today. Basically, whats good for the capitalist class who run business and own stock, is not always good for working folks. “Productivity”, which could mean cutting jobs, increasing hours, cutting benefits, etc, is good for a company’s stock, but usually not the working man. That can be seen in the recovery from the 2008 “Great Recession”, as the stock market has rebounded fully while jobs have not.

J.B speaks of taxes going up. Browns tax problems have been well documented, and the saddest thing about them is he thought the political work he’d done would save him from the I.R.S, but generally it didn’t. Brown uses blues like lyrics to describe how tight things were, saying “I changed from a glass/now I drink from a paper cup, getting bad.”

But this is no blues. This song is a funky song of motivation. At the heart of the song lies James Brown’s advice for Black America in particular, and it’s one he consistently advocated and practiced in his own life. The Godfather tells us:

“Lets get together, get some land/Raise our food like the man/Save our money like the mob/Put up the factory on the job.”

The Godfathers economic plan is one that had been espoused by Booker T Washington, Marcus Garvey and The Honorable Elijah Muhammed for years. In the America of 1974, with rising commodity prices, gas shortages and coming off the Vietnam War, James Brown advocated self sufficiency for Black people in particular. Just four years after this song in 1978, the Civil Rights Movement would come to an official historical en with the Bakke decision. J.B, being a man with his ear to the street as well as experiencing the pinch in his own life, knew the outlook was bleak for both America and Black people in particular. The program he advocated in particular would have been a great boon to the black community going through the 1970s into the 1980s, with Republican Governments hell bent on rolling back Civil Rights gains as well as a country with a lessened ability to dictate terms to foreign countries.

But Brown went for that ass in delivering this message. Strangely, right after this political rap, J.B goes back to talking about sex. He talks about praising the Lord, and then says “Get sexy, sexy, get funky and dance.” Love me baby, Love me nice/Don’t make it once/but can you make it twice/I like it.” Then he goes right from that to his encouragement, telling people to “Turn on their funk motors.” Its almost as if the religious faith and the sex are the things Brown is proposing as the spiritual and physical fuel people need to get up offa that thang and face the challenges of the times. He ends this verse with encouragement, telling folks “Hey , give yourself a chance to come through/tell yourself I can do what you can do.”

The phat, well recorded Allan Schwarzberg James Brown drumbeat would go on to become a staple in Hip Hop. In the early ’80s the Sugarhill house band would actually recreate the beat with live musicians for people like Spoonie Gee to rap over. In the sample heavy late ’80s, Marley Marl would sample other drums and use them to play the pattern Schwarzberg played on classic cuts such as “Eric B. is President.” J.B would go on to have other hits, but 1974 would be his last year as a consistent hitmaker, with “Funky President” getting all the way up to #4 on the R&B charts. He’d have other monsters like “Bodyheat” and “Get Up Offa That Thang” a few years later, but “Funky President” stands tall in the Brown ouvere for it’s funky beat laid down with studio musicians and the funky political stump speech that got people out of their malaise rather than bathed them in it, with the true “Funky President”, James Brown himself accomplishing something Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagen could not!

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The Anatomy of the Groove 7/18/14 Rique’s Pick : “Din Daa Da” by The Roots

Friday Funk I wrote about on my other shared blog, “Andreasmusictalk.”

The Anatomy of the Groove 7/18/14 Rique's Pick : "Din Daa Da" by The Roots.

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#SummerOfJ.B: A Funky Introduction.

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The debut on August 1, 2014 of the James Brown biopic “Get On Up” starring Chadwick Boseman, Jill Scott, and Viola Davis, allows hard core James Brown fans like myself a chance to reassess his legacy. When the Godfather passed in 2006, there was a suitable outpouring of emotion represented by his tributes at the Apollo Theater and at James Brown Auditorium in Augusta, Georgia. Yet, Brown had survived Otis Redding, Miles Davis, Elvis Presley, John Coltrane, Marvin Gaye, Little Willie John, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, and many other artists of his generation who were essential in providing a musical soundtrack for the social changes that took place in the latter half of the 20th Century. Because of his longevity and the massive reach of his impact, Mr. Brown became someone one could almost take for granted.

The true appreciation of Mr. Brown for me began early, but still somewhat later than it should have. As an ’80s baby, I grew up with The Godfathers descendants such as Prince, and Michael Jackson. The large funk bands were generally seen as on the decline, excepting Cameo, The Gap Band, and survivors like Kool & The Gang and The (Lionel Ritchie less) Commodores. Groups like New Edition had the youth audience. New soul flavors were coming over from the United Kingdom. My parents were huge James Brown fans but they were also musical progressives. In the home I was hearing a lot of Grover Washington Jr, Miles Davis, Sade, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, George Benson, recent late ’70s Commodores, Herbie Hancock electric funk, Steps Ahead, and a whole lot of Reggae. My older brothers and sisters were playing Prince and Hip Hop, plus great ’80s singles like “Hangin On a String” by Loose Ends. On lazy Saturdays or Sundays Dad would break out the reel to reel machine and play Coltrane, Herbie Mann, Stan Getz, old Miles Davis, Eddie Harris, Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, Louis Armstrong, Diz and Bird, and many programs he D.J’ed for VOA’s “Sound of Jazz” program.

Somehow in all of this, I only saw and heard fleeting glimpses of James Brown. Of course, J.B was very busy at this time, recording “Unity” with Afrika Baambaata, having one of his biggest pop hits ever in “Living in America”, touring all around the world, and eventually, getting into trouble. But somehow, in Oakland, California, a city that had been finally taken over politically by its black majority, and which had always been a key stop on the James Brown Express, I didn’t actually hear too much J.B in my earliest years.

All of this seemed to change around 1987, 1988, which is right when Hip Hop reasserted James Brown’s influence on both their music and the culture. The early Hip Hop D.J’s in New York used all manner of James Brown tunes to rock their parties. What sometimes gets lost is, many of these James Brown songs were contemporaneous to the early hip hop parties. For instance, in 1974 when the first Hip Hop parties were held, James Brown had singles such as “The Payback”, “Doin it to Death”, and “Funky President.” He also rocked the concert in Zaire (now the Congo) that went along with the Muhammed Ali, George Foreman title fight known as “The Rumble in the Jungle”, of which this year is the 40th anniversary. James pop profile dimminished each year after that, but he still had thunderous hits like 1976’s “Get Up Offa That Thang” (which provided the horn blasts for Boogie Down Production’s classic “South Bronx”). He was a fixture on the R&B charts even in the late ’70s, as viewings of ’70s episodes of Soul Train will attest to. Records like “The Spank”, “For Goodness Sakes Take a Look at Those Cakes”, “Eyesight”, “A Man Understands”, “Bodyheat” and “Give Me Some Skin”. These records captured the essence of the J.B groove in the high point of the great funk bands such as EWF, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Commodores, Kool & The Gang, The Isley Brothers, Sly & The Family Stone, Graham Central Station, and many other funky artists in that funky decade. A glance at Soul Train episodes post 1975 will show you how whether a song went to the top of the charts or not, James Brown funk always did what it was designed to do, get people up!

Of course, around 1988-1989 Mr. Brown came into my attention for the troubles he was having with the law at that time. I’d seen him earlier do his cape routine on the special, “Motown Goes Back to the Apollo.” It was kind of hard to seperate James Brown, his impact, and how his music still related to the modern thing, when he was placed alongside his peers and rock and roll legends such as Little Richard, Lloyd Price, and the Four Tops. All of these artists were great, influnetial artists, but their music and social impacts were not about to reignite like Mr. Brown’s was, in the late ’80s.

I remember watching Entertainment Tonight with my mom and seeing Mr. Brown going to jail and her talking about “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”, and James Browns concert in Monrovia, Liberia, and how she loved his hair. My dad talked about James Brown and the J.B’s and his favorite songs, like “You Can Have Watergate (But Gimmie Some Bucks and I’ll be straight), and “There Was a Time” with it’s “Groove Maker”, and “Doin it to Death”, and J.B’s career as an organist on Smash records.

Then, my real immersion into hip hop began. Earlier Hip Hop in the ’80s had used drum machines to contstruct spare, original beats, inspired by older funk and rock, but not directly sampling the recordings. By the late ’80s it seemed the world was a constant barrage of raw, James Brown beats. On every side of hip hop I liked, JB was there, from Eric B and Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul” and “I Aint No Joke”, to Salt & Pepa hollering “Pick up on this”, from Kool Moe Dee’s “I Go to Work”, to The 45 King’s “900 Number.”

My primary two influnces in hip hop, disparate as they were, both trafficed in James Brown. Public Enemy and M.C Hammer covered different sides of the man’s music and legacy. Public Enemy sampled bits and pieces of many recordings to create their own new funk. Chuck D and Flavor Flav traded off vocals in the manner of James Brown and Bobby Byrd. Their music focused on street conditions and black empowerment, just as Mr. Brown did on “Dont Be a Dropout”, “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing”, “Mind Power”, “Get Up, Get Into it, Get Involved”, “Soul Power”, “Funky President”, “Reality”, and many other songs. The controversy they generated at times in their career could call to mind the social currency James Brown had, the way he was black listed after “Say it Loud” for instance.

M.C Hammer, my Oakland hometown hero, represented another side of James Brown legacy. While Public Enemy were consumate performers as well, Hammer actually was a dancing machine, with a large band, back up dancers, and the theatrical presentation that Mr. Brown and other soul era performers bought. He also was largely successfull and admired for his business acumen, as Mr. Brown was in his day, when he was known for owning 4 radio stations and a Lear Jet. Hammer built on and expanded on the R&B influenced side of Hip Hop performing, represented over the years by Afrika Baambaata, Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Whodini, and Kool Moe Dee. This style has pretty much always lost out in hip hop to the spare RUN DMC style of M.C’s walking back and forth across the stage, which some people feel is more pure and reflective of Hip Hop’s New York City park origins. But there are always people like Hammer who bring the R&B glitter and excitement to their performances as well. Hammer though, was the best and the most compelling.

Hammer also represented the other side of James Browns social concern. If Public Enemy was pegged as the radical side, Hammer represented the side that was about stopping the violence in the urban neighborhoods, getting an education, going to work, owning businesses, and building. Of course, in a post Civil Rights, post Black Power world, Hammer, who was from the city of the Black Panthers, had a millitant side too, but that is not what people saw. Hammers insistence on not cursing because he was a role model for kids was also from the James Brown book. Together, Public Enemy and Hammer represented all those sides of J.B.

But Browns impact was not limited to them. Somehow, as a little kid in the ’80s I didn’t know Michael Jackson and Prince were descendants of J.B as well, maybe the TOP two. M.J maybe took James Browns performance based ethic to it’s highest height, and Prince expanded on his role as a musical innovator of funk, by also incorporating the innovations of Brown’s contemporaries, like Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, Little Richard, The Rolling Stones, P-Funk, Al Green, and many others. But M.J and Prince were able to inhabit a whole other rarified air for black pop stars, delivering music that was authentic and yet widely popular at the same time. But somehow, it would take much later for me to understand the high tech, futuristic funky pop of The Thriller and His Royal Badness as fruits from the James Brown root.

Arsenio Hall’s show was key in exposing me to James Browns performances. I remember pestering my Dad about Brown, and pops breaking out the vinyl to “Live At the Apollo Vol 2″ and “Doin it to Death”. He laughed as he recounted stories of Richard Nixon and Watergate. And he told me about a huge audience in Monrovia, Liberia singing along to “Hey, Hey, I Feel all Right.”

My appreciation for Mr. Brown would grow throughout the ’90s, as I purchased CD compilations and eventually vinyl albums. A James Brown concert was even my first concert ever, at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, California, with my parents and my best friends, Jesse and Frank. The appreciation of Mr. Brown has been something I’ve bonded with over many people, and his determination, drive, attention to appearance, independence, pride and many other aspects of the man continue to inspire me to this day.

This series will cover various aspects of James Brown’s music and career in anticipation of the August 1 release of the “Get on Up” movie. It will continue to run for the duration of the summer, which will take us into around October on the West Coast. James Brown’s funk music is very direct and does not take much thought to get into. But James Brown’s life, career, impact, and the specific messages he put out there are very rich subjects that point to a very unique viewpoint on America, Black people in America, and the world. James Brown was a poor sharecropers son who grew up in a Whorehouse and was a Juevenile Delinquent, who rose from that to become one of the most impactful, classiest entertainers of all time. As such, he had a unique message to share. And he was never one of those singers who felt they should “just sing.” Brown was unique because although his show definitely provided escapism, through its funky grooves, slick outfits and large dynamics, it was an escapism of, or through IMMERSION. James Brown, in that fine Black tradition, immersed you in reality, and sometimes troubles, to get you to go past and transcend them. Or as he would say, “Get Up offa that thang, and dance till you feel better!” As Chadwick Boseman brings him to life across the celluloid screen, now is as fine a time as ever to look at a portion of what Mr. Brown did and how he did it.

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The Anatomy of THE Groove 6/6/14 Rique’s Pick : “Daft Funk” by Nathan East

Friday Funk from Nathan East

The Anatomy of THE Groove 6/6/14 Rique's Pick : "Daft Funk" by Nathan East.

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In the city of Belo Horizonte, 1970s Black Soul Music is alive and well; James Brown would be proud!

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Great post from Black Women of Brazil about a thriving funk scene in Brazil

Originally posted on Black Women of Brazil:

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1970s Black Soul and Funk alive and well in one major Brazilian city; James Brown would be proud!

When most non-Brazilians think of Brazil, they most often think of Rio de Janeiro because of its reputation for a good time, beautiful beaches, raucous Carnaval, scantily clad women and the Christ the Redeemer statue. When one doesn’t think of Rio, the country’s economic engine São Paulo, Brazil’s equivalent to New York, often comes in second. Still others have discovered increasingly popular tourist destinations in the northeast in cities such as Salvador, Recife or Fortaleza. But one major city that perhaps doesn’t get its due has the country’s third largest metro population area as well as the fifth largest economy. That city is Belo Horizonte, the capital city of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais.

1970s Black Music Saturdays starting at 2pm Location: Quarteirão do Soul

1970s Black Music Saturdays starting at 2pm
Location: Quarteirão do Soul

Another thing that BH (pronounced “bay-ah-gah”)…

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The Anatomy of THE Groove 5/30/14 Rique’s Pick : “On the One” by the RH Factor

The Anatomy of THE Groove 5/30/14 Rique's Pick : "On the One" by the RH Factor.

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