Tag Archives: George Clinton

The ’87 Sound: “Bring the Noise” by Public Enemy

One of the most interesting facets of Public Enemy’s 1988, “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back” for me personally, is the way it took shape. As we mentioned in discussing P.E’s “Rebel Without a Pause”, the musical innovations of Eric B & Rakim and Boogie Down Productions, featuring lead rapper KRS ONE, made the crew dissatisfied with the sound they achieved on their debut, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show”. Public Enemy got moving quickly, creating the “Rebel” single and giving their career new life. “Bring The Noise” would be their next single in ’87, which would make two key cuts released as singles before “Millions” was finished and released in 1988. A third single, “Don’t Believe The Hype” would also be released in 1988, several months before “Millions” was released. These singles laid out P.E’s brand new bag and set the stage for what many call the greatest Hip Hop album of all time. In the case of “Bring the Noise”, the song was composed for the Def Jam soundtrack to the movie “Less Than Zero”, which was a popular book and film in its time that told the story of rich kid cocaine dealers. “Bring the Noise” was a mission statement for P.E and has gone on to become an anthem in the repertoire of the band.

The song begins with a Malcolm X sample saying, “Too Black too Strong.” Which is followed by a very noisy horn sample of Marva Whitney’s James Brown produced “It’s My Thing” (an answer record to The Isley Brothers “It’s Your Thing.”) “It’s My Thing” provides several musical elements of the track. Right alongside that is a thunderous drum kick playing insistent 16th notes, as Flavor Flav delivers the type of hype man energy that secured his place in Hip Hop history, “Yo Chuck, these Honeydrippers is still frontin’ on us/show em that we can do this/cause we always knew this.” After which he lets out an epic “Yeah, Boyeeee!” as the snare drum hits on all fours and a bass fill leads up to the verse. Chuck D booms out the lines which have become so well known in the years since, “BASS! How low can you go?/Death Row?/What a Brother know?/once again/back is the incredible/rhyme animal/the Incredible!/D!/Public Enemy Number One/Five-O said “Freeze!?And I got numb.” Underneath that The Bomb Squad concoct an amazing track of sampled riffing JB’s horns from “It’s My Thing.” Greg Tate remarked at the time the horns sounded like “Decaying kazoos.” Underneath that Terminator cuts up Funkadelic’s “Get off Your Ass & Jam”, focusing on the trippy, alarm sounding guitar solo that ended up being very close to DJ scratching. So right there, the track combines the two pillars of funk, J.B, and P-Funk. A loud guitar sample from “Get off Your Ass” loops, with its guitar solo peak energy sounding more like an alarm than music. Chuck D goes on to describe a scenario where he is literally persecuted for his music, put in jail because of the Pro-Black stance the group espouses. Which would almost literally happen to rappers such as 2Pac, Ice T, Ice Cube, N.W.A and many others in the next few years after this song.

The chorus gets even noisier musically, with D proclaiming, “Turn it Up!/Bring the Noise!!!” Vocal samples, scratches, and horn blasts mix as Flavor says, “Yo Chuck! They sayin we too Black man!” The next verse was always super unique to me for the early triplet based cadence Chuck used. The rhyme is supported by a sample of Clyde Stubblefield playing on James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, but The Bomb Squad don’t leave it naked, they lay a heavy stomping drum kick over the top of it, for Chuck to lay down his flow, “Never badder than bad/but the brother is madder than mad/at the fact/thats corrupt like a Senator/Soul on a roll/but you treat it/like soap on a rope/cause the beat and the lines are so dope.” After which the arrangement returns to the original verse. Chuck D also calls out Black radio at the end of the verse, “They call themselves Black but we’ll see if they play this.” Chuck spends the last verse praising his D.J and talking about music more generally, defending the artistic merits of Hip Hop compared to artists like Yoko Ono and Anthrax (which would lay the groundwork for P.E to redo this song with Anthrax in 1991). The song goes out with a sickly sounding “Transformer” D.J scratch routine.

“Bring the Noise” was a musical marvel that was the second step in paving the way for the classic P.E sound. It utilized a unique combination of samples and placed all that “noise” within a context of song structure, with an intro, verses, a bridge where the beat changes, and D.J solo space as you would give a musician. All of this was the perfect music to match with Chuck D’s stentorian baritone, and he laid down a great rap that broke new ground for Rap, in so much as it was bragaddocio, but it was strong, defiant and bold about political situations and the world at large, as Chuck took on both his critics and the critics and naysayers of Hip Hop and Rap music as a whole. He achieved 3 different unique flows by taking three verses he had from different songs and combining them here. With the creativity of Chuck, Flav, The Bomb Squad (Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler) and Terminator X all in play, “Bring the Noise” was another important 1987 step to P.E’s 1988 triumph.


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Filed under "This Might Offend My Political Connects", A little Hip in your HOP, Appreciation, The '87 Sound

Music 4 the Nxt 1, 04/01/17: “Junie’s Boogie” by Nicholas Payton

New Orleans multi instrumentalist Nicholas Payton has been one of my favorite artists working in modern music for at least the past 5 years now. He’s escaped the limiting prison of “jazz” music despite being one of the greatest trumpeters on the scene, through his sense of groove and his broad artistic vision. He also has articulated the social and personal ideas behind his music through his blogging. He has turned his musical movement, which he has titled “Black American Music” or “#BAM”, into a record label and an ongoing institution. His latest album, “The Afro Caribbean Mixtape”, is self released on his own label and features a numnber of highly rhythmically and melodically engaging tunes, but today’s selection, “Junie’s Boogie” is one that stood out to me for Paytons’ patented brand of late ’70s/early ’80s funk, which was very much in the vein of a great musician we lost this past month, the Dayton Funk multi instrumentalist Junie Morrison.

“Junie’s Boogie” starts off with Payton playing a funky pentatonic bass line that moves upward. The line sounds as if its played on a piano sound and a clavinet sound together, so that it has that extra weight. The line plays two times unaccompanied to set the groove up. The second part of the bass riff has a little Nicholas Paytonism that I’ve heard on some of his other lines such as the one from “By Your Side (Illeth’s Blues).” After the bass figure is introduced, the groove starts to heat up with a percussion roll accompanied by string glissando’s and a 2 and 4 bass kick. The bass line also plays on synthesizer, while Payton also plays high synth lead melodies. When the groove comes in it has a funky churning motion, as the bass line steps upward and the melody descends. The drums just maintain a steady groove with an open hi hat. The groove swtiches up to a sweetly melodic section after 8 bars, based on a bouncy octave type of groove with multiple instruments maintaining the same rhythm. Payton also unleashes some sweetly wailing synth lead lines, switiching the analog synth sound to another lead sound as the arrangement goes into a passage that ratchets up the intensity through its use of insistent strings in the middle of the “Funky Worm” style synth patch. The strings and synth tastefully take their rest as the main groove returns, but continue to add punctuation as the groove begins to take on more and more of a jam feel within its well arranged structure. The groove calms down for Payton to begin his trumpet solo, which is backed by strings playing at a lower dynamic that occasionally swell, a funky electric bass, and Payton playing choice phrases. The regular groove comes back during Payton’s solo and is eventually joined by choral voices while Payton plays the same line the voices are singing on his trumpet. After the vocal/instruemntal interlude Payton adds some starp phrases followed by a change in the arrangmeent that takes on a darker minor tone over a rich chord progression. Payton trumpet interacts with his analog synth lines before he plays a long sustained note that signals the end of the tune, while he plays a phrase on piano very reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man.”

“Junie’s Boogie” is a wonderful tribute to the late Junie Morrison and a great example of how the rich late funk band vibe is still fertile for current musical growth. Payton’s musicality is of such that he creates a groove that fits in with the groove of the time period he was invoking without direct copying , but using subtleties such as the synthesizer melody reminiscent of the patch on The Ohio Player’s “Funky Worm.” “Junie’s Boogie” introduces a very funky groove and surrounds it with dynamics while also leaving room for improvisation. It has that epic late ’70s funk feel of a Junie Morrison classic like Funkadelics “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” Which is both a fitting tribute to that legacy and music to groove to in the here and now!!

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Music 4 The Next 1, 12/10/16 : “Have Some Love” by Childish Gambino

Childish Gambino just dropped one of the hugest surprises on the music world from a funk perspective that anybody could hope to drop in this lifetime or the next. Already buzzing in critical acclaim from his fantastic slice of life Black TV sitcom, “Atlanta”, Gambino’s new album, “Awaken, My Love”, goes (not just) Knee Deep into the funky waters of early to mid ’70s Funkadelic and P Funk in general. This is coming from a commentator who had pretty much resigned himself to the variations on ’80s funk currently being released and explored by Dam Funk, Tuxedo, Anderson Paak, Bruno Mars, and even occasionally reaching the commercial pop, Hip Hop and R&B worlds. Of course, the Dap Kings, Budos Band and several other groups explore a Funky late ’60s, early ’70s James Brown/Meters sound. But few even attempt to do a whole album in the zone of early ’70s Black light poster smoked out psychedelic funk inhabited by Sly & the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Issac Hayes, The Temptations, Maxayn, The Undisputed Truth, Willie Hutch, and of course most famously, the original Funkadelics, and that is exactly what Gambino captures on this album. The sound of a band playing live (whether it was overdubbed or not) with a live drummer filling in and leading the sections, tight baselines, keyboards, psychedelic effects and incredibly topical lyrical content all come together in a way it maybe hasn’t in the whole post ’70s funk revival. The rock funk legacy of Funkadelic was translated through people like Prince into the modern day, and groups like Outkast and D’Angelo definitely trafficked in that territory, but not to put one funk up against the other, Gambino tops even Outkast and D’Angelo on “Awaken”. The reason is he eschews drum machines and any attempt at heavy modern production for a full, phat, organic funk groove, that is both more human and softer than the modern Hip Hop groove, and more virile and powerful than the grooves found in Neo Soul and modern R&B or smooth jazz. In other words, that bed be just right! And to tell the truth, its more focused on the bottom end and cleaner sonically than early ’70s Funkadelic, along the lines of the other psychedelic funk innovators such as Curtis Mayfield and War, but still with that Tiki Fullwood/ Jerome Brailey type groove and the way out lyrical concepts of Dr. Funkenstien. The album is so dope we have to bless you with two cuts this weekend, and the first one to really catch my attention was the early ’70s “People music” (as my good brother Andre Grindle would say) of “Have Some Love”.

“Have Some Love” starts out in a way that makes it’s ’70s funk pedigree unmistakeable, with a well recorded, solid drum beat from drummer Chris Hartz. The beat is rock solid upfront drumming, with Childish Gambino’s tamborine accompanying the fatback playing. After two bars the sounds of the vocal chorus come in, intensifying the early ’70s soul/funk feel. The chorus is comprised of Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) himself and a full choir, Brent Jones and the Best Life Singers, singing the uplifting people music chorus “Have a word/for your brother/have some time/for one another/really love one another/its so hard to find!!!” The choral sound is full, consisting of male and female voices together, with deep bass on the bottom and soprano’s on top, reminiscent of the Parliaments singing over the original Funkadelic bands heavy grooves. The inclusion of a bass singer reminds me of the Parliaments great bass vocalist Ray Davis, as well as Melvin Franklin of The Temptations, who also innovated in psychedelic Funk after receiving an early P-Funk influence.

After one go round of the chorus the vocal starts. The vocal is accompanied by a super funky, riff based early ’70s type groove. Album producer Ludwig Goransson takes the bass duties, playing a standard funky bassline in concert with the guitar of Sam Sugarman. The bass line moves upward in a funky strutting motion very related to the vocal melody, as Lynette Wililams holds a suspenseful chord on the Hammond B-3 organ that she adds color tones to as Gambino’s verse moves forward. Gambino’s vocal sound is as strained and paranoid as George Clinton could be vocally, as he sings an oblique verse, somebody has come to get the protagonist, and Glover sings a song of keeping his own mind and independence, also a very P Funk/early ’70s theme that resonates today. As Gambino moves into the second stanza of his verse Lynette Williams starts to chop 8th notes on her organ, adding to the tracks galloping, progressing funk feel. Behind the vocals and the band, people whoop, holler, scream, and ullate, which in addition with the rocking funk of the band give the song a truly live, rocking, human feel.

The song goes into another chorus, supported by synthesizer and acoustic guitar strumming from Sam Sugarman. At the end of the chorus we are provided with a beautiful musical moment, as there is a brief pause and you can still hear the choir singing the chorus as the music changes to the next sections. It has that real live feel of the group being a hair off in their arraignment OR of the recording being a splice of two differently recorded sections, and that “mistake” feeling adds to the human touch of the song. The change section is powerful and dark, with the Goransson playing a strong three note bass line and then improvising on the next bar, the B-3 playing sustained color chords and soloist singers stepping out to verbalize with the whole chopus backing. A high synth also provides a trippy sustained melody line on top as Gambino begins to sing “Wherever you are” at which point the bass player supports his vocalizing with more active bass runs. Hartz’s drumming also really stands out at this point as he caps off each turnaround with sharp drum rolls. The groove halts at a very natural point as the arrangement goes back to the starting point for the verse.

Instead of going back to Gambino singing alone, the whole choir sings the next verse together, which is inspirational and about how “we’ve got to really stay together”, supported by whoops and soul hollers. The song ends out on a jaunty country soul acoustic guitar and the sounds of exuberance at the musicality just released by the collective.

Childish Gambino came in a year that has been so rough for music with the loss of so many, and that has also been rough politically and dropped the absolute funk bomb. There is no way around it. “Awaken, My Love” is funky, trippy, well played, well produced, well sung, the concepts are sharp, and it has that full diverse broad scope of what author Rickey Vincent termed “United Funk.” It brings back a style some have attempted but rarely achieved. It’s amazing to me because even though I grew up with many P Funk fans and influences in my music, it was always based on the late 1970’s video game/synthesizer based style so popular in the hood. Very rarely was it based on the post-60s Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix inspired style of the early days. But Gambino on “Have Some Love” uses that as a starting point and creates a nonspecific protest/upliftment song in that classic style. I, among others, am very thankful for Gambino laying this whole project on us, I have an album review on it coming up soon, and if you haven’t yet cop it, go out and do your ears, booty, feet and mind a favor!!!


Filed under Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters

Music for the Next ONE 7/18/15 : “i” by Kendrick Lamar

As Hip Hop moved away from what some call “The Sampledelic Age”, when producers like The Bomb Squad, Prince Paul, Marley Marl and Dr. Dre would layer songs with a drumbeat from here, bass from there, guitar and keyboard hooks from this record, vocals from that record, songs from the legendary group The Isley Brothers began to yield some of the biggest results for beat samples and song remakes. This includes records such as “Today Was A Good day” by Ice Cube, “Big Poppa” by The Notorious B.I.G, “Crossroads” by Bone Thugs N Harmony, and “At Your Best You Are Love” by Aaliyah. The past 15 years in Hip Hop have seen a moving away from samples, as well as a moving away from soul, funk, and traditional forms of Black Music. Something else the music and culture has lacked is artists to pick up the crown worn in the past, the crown of encouragement, motivation and cultural value through music. With today’s weekend funk feature, “i”, Kendrick Lamar accomplished both the reinvigoration of a classic funk/soul sound through hip hop, as well as delivering the type of universal message music the people need.

“i”, produced by L.A producer Rahki and featuring Butcher Brown guitarist Keith Askey, dispenses with samples all together to recreate The Isley’s classic, “That Lady.” Interpolations, or re created cover versions, were a staple of early hip hop, providing the basis for early classics such as “Rappers Delight” and “Beat Bop.” Lamar made the wise creative choice to interpolate rather than sample “That Lady.” The music to the Isley’s classic song sounds reinvigorated as a result, and Rahki uses skillful hip hop oriented production techniques to highlight basslines, guitar parts, and percussion, revealing the intricacy of the original composition as well as the recording musicians performances.

The song begins with the classic “That Lady” intro, a guitar strumming groove over three straight eight note kick drums that sound like heartbeats. Lamar begins in a very heartfelt matter, “I done been through a whole lot/trial, tribulation, but I know God.” As Lamar goes through his verse, rapped in his trademark technique of alternating vocal tones, Askey fires up the lead guitar, exactly as Ernie Isley did. The verse is timed so that as soon as Lamar ends his verse, the hook begins, which also brings in the classic busy funk/calypso bass line, eighth note rock/funk drumming, and classic overdriven lead guitar. It’s to great musical effect that the super powerful chorus “I love myself” is tied to the explosive rhythm arrangement of “That Lady.” Lamar and Rahki solve the challenge of fitting rap lyrics into a busy funk arrangement, setting Kendrick’s raps over a relatively subdued section of the music and the inspirational chorus over Askey’s interpretation of Isley’s soaring guitar. In particular I like the musical section arranged for the last verse, with the bass improvising a busy sixteenth note line, and a drum machine being utilized with sharp horn stabs. The song flows out with busy military style drumming and a fine sixteenth note oriented bass guitar solo.

The throne of relevancy in black music has sat vacant for a very long time. The throne once sat artists such as Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, The O’Jays, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, John Coltrane, Earth, Wind & Fire, and P-Funk. Not to mention hip hop entities such as Public Enemy, BDP, Nas, Tupac, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Lauryn Hill. The throne and crown that goes with it of an artist making music that is both funky and musically appealing, while also relevant in its spirituality, humanism, and value for human living. Kendrick acknowledges those links by including funk icons George Clinton and Ron Isley in the video for “I”, as well as asking Isley’s permission in person to use the song before he recorded it. Nelson George wrote once that Hip Hop starts with the word “I”, positioning Hip Hop music as a Muhammed Ali influenced exercise in black self esteem, pride and redemption. Even when the message isn’t there, Hip Hop always has that value by nature. Kendrick Lamar writes his “i” in lower case letters, just as bell hooks writes her name, to emphasize the individual’s connection to other individuals. And that self love should translate into love for ones neighbors, community, nation and world. He goes back to the rousing spirit, Afro-Latin dance funk of “That Lady” because in the black community that ’70s funk, long before there was a thing such as crack cocaine, represents hope, optimism, peace, love, and having fun, as James Brown and Afrika Baambaata put it. Looking at YouTube comments, some youngsters didn’t get it, mainly because they’ve been raised on a steady diet of Playstation music. But there were many things I didn’t get when I was younger either. In the end, I still vote for “i” as the new Millennium Hip Hop version of “The Greatest Love of All”, “Wake Up Everybody” and “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now.” The new link in a long chain of hope, resilience, and freedom. All Hail King Kendrick!

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SoulSchool TV Upcoming Teaser : Rickey Rouse of P-Funk and Death Row

My last post on riquespeaks “P-Funk is Hot: Go see ’em”, was a review of last weekend, May 8-10’s Parliament-Funkadelic gigs at Yoshi’s San Francisco in the Filmore distric, in particular the show on May 10. What I didn’t go into in that post was that Calvin Lincoln of SoulSchool Television had the oppurtunity to interview guitar player Rickey Rouse and I was fortunate enough to be behind the camera for the interview. We met up with Rickey at the bands hotel in Oakland. Rickey was really cool as he ran down his dope musical resume. He’s a lead guitarist who also plays other instruments as well as writes songs, and he was well acclaimed in years past for being an excellent interpreter of Jimi Hendrix classic catalog and guitar style. Rouse laid out an engaging musical story, taking him from auditioning in Detroit at the exact same time as Stevie Wonder with Motown, going to hanging out with George Clinton and the early Funkadelics, seeing Sly Stone at his peak, playing with The Undisputed Truth, being good friends with Gary Shider of P-Funk, playing with Chaka Khan, and then problably the work for which he is most known, his studio work with Dr.Dre and Death Row Records at the peak of G-Funk. It’s funny because I had been on a Beyonce trip recently and I was listening to her and Jay-Z’s “Bonnie & Clyde ’03” a record I hated at its release time, because 1) It had the audacity to take a favored Tupac song that was one of the best metaphorical tunes ‘Pac ever released and make it a straightforward rather unimaginative “love” song, and 2) Queen Bey had the audacity to throw in lyrics and melodies from Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend” at a time I was living by “Sign O’ The Times. Basically I was jealous they got to it first on that one.

I also got the chance to tell Rouse that his work on ‘Pac’s “Makaveli” album had a great impact on me, hearing the bass and guitar he laid on that album. On songs such as “Bomb First”, “Against all Odds”, “To Live and Die in L.A”, and especially “Just Like Daddy”, and “Life of an Outlaw”, Rouse laid down beats, bass lines, guitar parts, and other musical treats that expanded my perception of what could be done with live instruments in hip hop, two years before Outkast would come with “Aquemini” and contemporaneous to Outkast cuts like “Elevators.” Listening to those instruments in my AKG headphones late at night in East Oakland made me want to play music too! This interview will be aired Friday and can be seen around the world on http://www.vcat.tv!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, Appreciation, FUNK, Music Matters, Oakland-Bay Area

P-Funk is Hot : Go see ’em, A Merry Go Round Concert Review, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, 5/10/14 Yoshi’s San Francisco

George Clinton and the U.S Funk Mob are still on the road and their show is extremely tight and funky. I went down and inspected them for funkiness at Yoshi’s in San Francisco last night, and my clothes are so funky I’ll probably have to burn them. I’ve reviewed a P-Funk show on riquespeaks before, last year, and that review spoke to how funky, tight, and slick the band has been recently. The shows they gave this past week at Yoshi’s both met and exceeded the standards the Mob has been upholding the past five years or so.

Calvin caught the Friday night show, one I was unable to attend due to other commitments, and he basically made it a must that I catch this series of gigs. The band played one of my favorite P-Funk records of the 1980s that night, Xavier’s “Work that Sucker to Death.” That is a record I never thought I’d hear P-Funk perform. He also raved about the version of “Funkentelechy” he heard , as well as the way they approached the Parliaments first hit song, “Testify.” The impressive things were both the way George and the band were approaching their volumnious catalog, pulling goodies out of Dr. Funkenstein’s bag that go beyond the handful of huge hits everybody knows and loves, and also the fact they were performing them RIGHT. P-Funk’s recordings were highly sophisticated, multi tracked artifacts that featured multiple rhythmic lines, synthesizers, horns, multiple guitar tracks and male and female chorus style vocals. In short, they can be terribly hard to reproduce on stage. That might not matter to the casual fan, because no matter how big of a sucker you are, you will dance at a P-Funk show, any P-Funk show. But it does factor in for those of us who fell in love with the intracacies of P-Funk music through their major recordings. That was no problem at all at the gig I saw last night.

As per my usual M.O, Calvin and I caught the late show at Yoshi’s. I overheard the first show and the band was absolutely murdering another P-Funk classic I don’t often hear, 1978’s “Agua Boogie”. The opening act was George’s grandsons group. I didn’t quite understand the name of the band, but I know the leader is named Tracey Lewis Jr, his father being Treylewd, George’s son. The band consisted of Tracey, a drummer, a guitarist, a dude who seemed to control the sequences and loops, and a dude who sang and played the Digeredoo. Yes, he was on stage with a Digeredoo! He played it in a rhythmic manner that often augmented the drum beat. I actually thought the bands music was extremely good, they achieved a mix of head nodding, Timbaland style start and stop hip hop, mixed with instrumental funkiness and the unique rhythmic and melodic textures of the Digeredoo. Tracey Lewis rapping was also witty, fast paced, highly rhythmic, and well executed. I thought the bands presence spoke to George’s career long nurturing of innovation. The band had the Yoshi’s audience bopping and added a good hip hop flavor to the Funk that would come later.

P-Funk took the stage promptly and without hesitating launched into 1974’s “Cosmic Slop.” The song has always been one of my favorites, from the rock/funk main riff, to Gary Shider’s original falsetto vocals, to the touching ghetto story told through the lyrics. There was something about the song that hit me in particular last night, the terrifiying march of the riff conjuring up some feeling I hadn’t had in a long time. It was also deep to hear the lyric, “I can hear my mother call”, on a night that would move into Mother’s Day.

P Funk shows at Yoshi’s are fast paced affairs. Part of the fun is seeing how P Funk is going to squeeze their extra long uncut funk into Yoshi’s sleek and chic silk underwear. Somehow they manage to do it very well, while flashing voluptous grooves, round bass, and curfew testing song lengths. The very next song they eased into was the all time funk classic, “One Nation Under a Groove.” They began it in fine gospel style, with the keyboardist playing church style chords and Gary Shiders son, Garrett, engaging the audience in revival style call and response. I’ve seen numerous videos of the late great Gary Shider doing “One Nation”, often beginning with the question, “Is this One Nation?” Garrett does his daddy proud. The intro served to build the anticipation to such a level that when the songs gospeldelic funky bassline kicked in, it felt like an ice cream cone on a hot day in the Congo. The audience sang along en masse to one of my favorite P-Funk lyrics, “Ready or not/Here we come/getting down on/the One/which we believe in.”

The next song was “Flashlight.” That’s how fast P-Funk was moving last night. They went into a series of songs that I had yet to hear live. The heavy rock vibes of Funkadelic were represented by “Alice in My Fantasies” and “Red Hot Mama.” “Alice in My Fantasies” got the crowd up and rocking hard, as did “Red Hot Mama.” Ricky Rouse scorched the building with lead guitar soloing, full of feedback and power. “Red Hot Mama” ended with a super funky breakdown highlighting the songs chicken pecking ending rhythm guitar riff.

The Parliament side was well covered by “P-Funk Wants to Get Funked Up”, for which Foley joined the band on drums. Foley was in Miles Davis last bands as the “Lead Bassist”, for which he strung a guitar with bass strings. He has more recently joined P-Funk as a drummer, and he took over on “P-Funk’s” jazzy drum work. Of course, the whole audience was chanting “Make My Funk the P-Funk, I wants to get funked up!” Of course, from that, the California green began to be consumed even more copiously and George got in on the party, of course. George’s granddaughter Shonda came forward to do “Something Stank and I want some.” At that point, the show moved from James Brown tightness to ’60s rock band grooviness. The Mob moved from that to their mid ’00s record, “Hard as Steel (and still getting harder), which was backed with a thunderous riff that the whole band hit in unison, and was exactly as Viagra rigid as the lyrics promised.

Two of the ultimate Parliament records were played, one being “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker). Jeff “Cherokee” Bunn came up to play Bootsy’s classic bass line on that number, and then went into a bass solo that included quotations from Funkadelics classic “Cholly (Funk Getting Ready to Roll).

They also performed the ultimate Parliament record, the one that got it all started, “Testify”. “Testify” brought another kind of gospel, ’60s soul energy to the house that night. It was great to hear George sing it and to hear the band authentically nail such a mean ’60s soul groove, which is something I don’t get to hear live too often these days. It was motivation to break out my best Temptation walk. “Testify” might have been my high point of the night, for George’s impassioned vocal.

They ended of course with the largest hit of the P-Funk All Stars, “Atomic Dog”. All in all it was a great show that left me wanting more. P Funk’s current show is a show that is suitable both for Maggots, Freaks, Funkateers, and Virgins. The tight playing of the classic songs will impress somebody to whom you’ve bragged about how much they will enjoy P-Funk live, while the performing of songs such as “Alice in My Fantasies”, “Red Hot Mama”, and “Testify”, on any given night, will get the blood circulating in those who may have thought they’d lost that funky feeling. P Funk is on fire right now! Go see ’em!


Filed under FUNK, Give me My Flowers While I'm Alive, Music Matters, Oakland-Bay Area

Quick Thoughts on Nelson George’s “Finding the Funk”

In the mid 1990s there was a documentary program I viewed on PBS entitled “The History of Rock & Roll.” One of the later episodes of this program was entitled “Make it Funky.” This episode was a comprehensive examination of funk music through the James Brown roots, and covered the major proponents of the genre, from James Brown, to Sly Stone and P Funk, interviewing musicians such as Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker, and featuring commentators such as James Brown and Prince road manager Alan Leeds, and author Nelson George. I taped that documentary on VHS and would study it over and over again, marveling at the outfits, the musical clips, and the idea that there was a black dance based music called funk that ruled black dance music and stage presentation from roughly 1965 to 1982. The interesting thing is, I knew all the artists the show talked about. I also knew the songs, from “Cold Sweat” to “Superfreak”, and I knew words such as “funky”, “Groove”, “Thumping”, and other words synonymous with the genre. I also knew the Hip Hop I loved was drawing from that time period. Many of those records were also present in my home. But in some form or fashion, I didn’t know that Funk was it’s own music, seperate and distinct from soul and hip hop both. I didn’t know that Funk represented such a revolution in outfits, playing styles, subject matter and aspirations. That documentary and Rickey Vincents opus, “Funk: The Music, People, and History of the One”, helped solidify in my mind what had already been my favorite music all of my life, from James Brown, to the Commodores, to Ramsey Lewis, to Herbie Hancock, M.C Hammer and Public Enemy. One of my favorite writers, Nelson George, who was also very prominent on that earlier documentary, has a new one, entitled “Finding the Funk”, that stands out by taking the basic story of funk which has already been sketched , and coloring and texturing that story, with another 20 or so years of perspective and grooves laid on top of the documentary that came out back in the ’90s.

Nelson George has always been one of my favorite writers, due to the unique, black perspective he provides on black music. It might sound redundant, but he’s actually in a very rarified air of black writers who’ve written with consistency about the specific musical tastes of the black community. He actually wrote and covered funk during it’s heyday, so it was a pleasure to see him take up this project.

“Finding the Funk” uses a modern multimedia internet age approach to telling the story of funk, with “Funk Chunks” appearing on the screen at various intervals to add information to what is being discussed or displayed on the screen. I really like the “talking heads” used, featuring musicians such as Marcus Miller, Questlove and Mike D from the Beeastie Boys. These are all musicians who were not generally old enough to be major players during the heyday of funk, but served their apprentichips in that era and have kept the flame of funk buring during their careers in the ’80s, ’90s’, and ’00s. In Millers case, he was involved in records in the late ’70s on the tail end of the funk era. The Beastie Boys also had a funk and punk cover band in the early ’80s, and Questlove was learning to play those records and in some cases playing them as a little kid in his fathers band. These commentators all speak of funk from the perspectives of fans, but also musicians serving their apprentischips and learning, as when Miller demonstrates Larry Grahams “Hair” or “Skin Tight”, Questlove the Honey Drippers “Impeach the President”, D’Angelo doing Parliaments “Do That Stuff”, or Mike D Funkadelics “Good Ole Funky Music.” These performance features are some of my favorite momments of the doc.

“Funk” goes farther than the documentary I saw back in the ’90s in tracing the musics history, reminding me more of the deep roots Rickey Vincent uncovered for the music in his book, the roots musicians have always given for the music. It traces the Funk back to New Orleans, which is so crucial in black music as the area that kept the drums of African music alive in America. He talks to New Orleans brass bands that play funk to this day, in the age of hip hop and electronic music. The roots of the music are traced from there to the Hard Bop jazz movement of the 1950s, where artists such as Jimmy Smith, the Jazz Crusaders, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, Miles Davis and Ray Charles embraced modal jazz, the blues scale, the 12 bar blues, African percussion (and often African and muslim names), gospel music, honking horns, and other down home musical elements they described as “funky.” These elements were a “blackenizing” of the music in reaction to the extremely popular West Coast Cool school, as well as a reaction to the often undanceable abstractions of be bop. This movement towards funkiness in jazz was what inspired the sound James Brown was going to the most, as Brown always mentioned early rock & Roll pioneer Louis Jordan as his biggest influence, and Jordan was a musician who came from Swing Jazz.

The doc goes on to focus on the Kings of Funk, James Brown, Sly Stone, and George Clinton, but it adds space that other funk docs havent, for Earth, Wind & Fire, and Prince in the ’80s. It also deals with hip hop as the direct desendant of funk, and deals with the new funk frontier, also featuring D’Angelo and Dam Funk. This was a modern approach I was particularly pleased with. The earlier “History of Funk” I saw back in the ’90s made a clear narrative choice to treat funk as the creative black music of the ’70s, that was overtaken by hip hop in the ’80s. While that is true to some extent in historical terms, its only a small part of the story in real terms. George alters this perception by covering funk bands that were cracking in the late ’70s and early ’80s like Slave, and highlighting how Prince was a musician well versed in funk, as was Michael Jackson. He also emphasizes the importance of funk to hip hop. All of this is a vital contribution to how we think about funk.

The regional nature of the funk is another thing George took care to stress in his doc. The film uses map graphics to represent the regional spread of the one, from Brass Construction and Crown Heights Affair (who I was glad to see mentioned) in New York City, to War and The Brothers Johnson in LA, to Sly Stone in the Bay Area, and a whole mess of groups in Dayton, Ohio. He also highlights how groups like Cameo and EWF moved around to find the spot that would suit their grooves the best. The story of Dayton Funk in particular is a valuable contribution to funk on the screen. The economics of the matter were discussed, as Scott Brown mentioned parents in Dayton had the disposable income to purchase instruments to keep their children out of trouble.

The economics of funk were mentioned several times in the doc. Stuart Matheson of Sade mentioned you get funk by getting people in a room together and jamming, which is really expensive these days. Nile Rogers made the point that whenever he got together with hip hoppers, they were always amazed at his chops and he always took sampling to say, “I wish I could do that.” The film definitely brought out the long held belief that Reagenomics and the decline of the cities helped kill the black band movement and make the spare technology of hip hop a more affordable artistic direction.

Otherwise, there are plenty of other gems to be found here. Prince finally gets his due from a FUNK standpoint, with it being mentioned that Prince’s adoption of “white” rock is really not unusual in a funk context, when artists like Sly Stone, Parliament Funkadelic, and even Issac Hayes, the Temptations and Curtis Mayfield did the same with the psychedelic rock techniques of their day that were heavily blues based. The doc also sheds some light on the battle for funk dominance between Parliament Funkadelic and Earth, Wind & Fire,captured for the first time on film. D’Angelo made a comparison I’d heard Gary Shider of P Funk himself make, that EWF represented the “good guy” facet of Funk a la The Beatles, and P-Funk the black hatted, Rolling Stones role. EWF’s elegance was mentioned, and supported with an exceptionally funky film clip of a live performance of “Shining Star.”

“Funk” also makes many other rarely made connections. Nona Hendrix and Labelle are covered, which aims to make up for the sorely under discussed female side of funk. In discussing their fabulous stage outfits, George also talked about Larry Legazi, a costume designer who masterminded many of the space funk outfits of the era.

One of the most valuable things about the documentary, is it’s compiling of anecdotes about funk. Many of these anecdotes have been revealed over the last 20 years or so, but the screen has its own unique power to bring them across. We get anecdotes from a slick suited marcel waved George Clinton about hairstyles and music, we get Bootsy Collins talking about the dynamics of “The One”, and Dawn Silva talking about how (literally) funky the room was when the MOB recorded “Knee Deep.” We are also treated to lesser known anecdotes, like Steve Arrington talking about how his singing on “Just a Touch of Love” was an accident.

Of course, everybody I talk to seems to have a long list of artists they felt were excluded. For me, there could have been more focus paid to how the big soul stars did funk, such as Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Issa Hayes, Barry White, and the Isley Brothers. These artists made some of the funkiest songs ever, but their musical catalogs are so varied and their star power so great that some don’t place them within funk. But I dare people who say they don’t care much for funk to say they don’t like “Higher Ground”, “Freddie’s Dead”, “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquidali (whatever) or “Live it Up” and “Fight the Power”, all of which are funk songs. I also would have liked to have seen more coverage on the Crusaders, Headhunters, Jaco Pastorius, George Duke, and artists who came at thefunk from a jazz perspective. I could also have had stylistic innovators like Ray Parker Jr. Bernard Purdie, Richard Tee, Chuck Rainey, and other musicians covered who were funky session musicians and made many funky records although they didn’t per se play in “funk bands.” But those musicians styles are definitely a part of what funk musicans play today. Of course, some mention of Funk’s international reach must also be made at some point, as we’re discovering more and more each year that funk was a music that deeply touched the African diaspora as well as the African continent itself, with funk being uncovered regularly from Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo and other countries.

“Finding the Funk” is an essential piece of viewing, and it would be even if it simply consisted of Sly Stone saying funk sounded like musicians who “wanted to curse”, playing. It extends the story of funk before James Brown and after P-Funk, on into the ’80s and also tips the viewers off to some of the Funk innovators of today. It’s also special that 50 years on, the major principals of funk were captured in interviews as well. All in all it’s a worthy companion to Rickey Vincents “The History of Funk”, and many Nelson George books such as “The Death of Rhythm & Blues” and “Post Soul America.” And because of George’s efforts, we have a new film in 2014 to help people visualize what we’re talking about when we talk about funk.

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Filed under FUNK, Music Matters