Category: funk

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On this day in music history: April 27, 1970 – “Spill The Wine” by Eric Burdon & War is released. Written by Charles Miller, Howard E. Scott, B.B. Dickerson, Lonnie Jordan, Harold Brown, Thomas “Papa Dee” Allen and Lee Oskar, it is the debut single release for the R&B/Funk band from Long Beach, CA. In 1962, friends Howard Scott (guitar, vocals) and Harold Brown (drums, vocals) form The Creators, with Charles Miller (saxophone, vocals), Morris “B.B.” Dickerson (bass, vocals) and Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan (keyboards, vocals). Backing singer Little Johnny Hamilton, the band record for Dore Records. By 1968, their line up also includes Thomas “Papa Dee” Allen (percussion, vocals). Changing their name to Nite Shift in 1969, they’re hired to back L.A. Rams Defensive End Deacon Jones, who is pursuing a singing career. Playing at a club in North Hollywood, Nite Shift are seen by former Animals lead singer Eric Burdon, producer Jerry Goldstein (The Strangeloves) and Danish harmonica player Lee Oskar. Looking for new musicians, Burdon and Goldstein approach the band about working together. Adding Oskar to the line up, they change their name to War. Steve Gold, an executive from MGM Records is interested in recording them. With Burdon living in San Francisco, Gold books them into Wally Heider Studios (now Hyde Street Studios) in January of 1970. During one session, Lonnie Jordan comes into the control room, where the others are sharing a bottle of wine. He knocks over the bottle, spilling it right into the mixing desk. With that studio out of commission, they go into the other studio and jam. Improvising a Latin groove on the spot, Eric comes up with the phrase “Spill The Wine”, to acknowledge the incident, and writing the lyrics to “celebrate women”. Laying it down on tape, they go back and lay down passages of Burdon’s then girlfriend, talking in Spanish. Recording the rest of their first album “Eric Burdon Declares War” in just three days, MGM releases “Spill The Wine” as a single. Entering the Billboard Hot 100 at #99 on May 23, 1970, it peaks at #3 thirteen weeks later on August 22, 1970. After recording a second album (“The Black-Man’s Burdon”) later in 1970, Burdon leaves and they continue without him. Regarded as one of the great “Summer songs” of all time, “Spill The Wine” establishes War as a innovative musical force, throughout the 70’s and into the early 80’s. “Wine” is covered by The Isley Brothers, A Lighter Shade Of Brown and Michael Hutchence. The original version is featured in the films Boogie Nights, Remember The Titans, and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. “Magic Mountain”, the non-LP B-side of Burdon & War’s hit, is sampled twice by De La Soul on “Potholes In My Lawn” and “Pass The Plugs”. UK trip hop band Portishead also samples it on the track “Wandering Star”. “Spill The Wine” is certified Gold in the US the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: April 24, 1980 – “Cameosis”, the fifth album by Cameo is released. Produced by Larry Blackmon, it is recorded at H&L Studios in Englewood Cliffs, NJ in Late 1979. Riding high off of the success of their fourth album “Secret Omen” and the back to back hits “I Just Want To Be” (#3 R&B) and “Sparkle” (#10 R&B), Cameo quickly return to the studio in the Fall of 1979 to record the follow up. The resulting album sees nine piece R&B/Funk band enjoying their first taste of pop crossover success, and becomes their best seller to date. It spins off two singles including “We’re Goin’ Out Tonight” (#11 R&B) and “Shake Your Pants” (#10 R&B). The album also marks the final appearance of vocalist Wayne Cooper, whose distinctive falsetto vocals are heard on several of Cameo’s hits (including the two singles from “Cameosis”), leaving the band after the albums release for an abortive attempt at a solo career. Cooper passes away in 1984 at the age of 28. The album is remastered and reissued on CD in 1996. “Cameosis” spends two weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number twenty five on the Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: April 20, 1978 – “Come Get It!”, the debut album by Rick James is released. Produced by Rick James and Art Stewart, it is recorded at Crossed-Eyed Bear Studios in Clarence, NY and The Record Plant in New York City from Mid – Late 1977. The first album by James comes some twelve years after first recording for Motown as a member of The Mynah Birds, a band featuring James and future Buffalo Springfield members Neil Young and Bruce Palmer. In the years in between, travel around the world, before moving to California and start a series of bands that lasts for a brief period. At one point, he reconnects with Motown briefly as a staff writer for the label before parting ways again. Finally, he signs with Motown in 1977 after when staff producer Jeffrey Bowen hears a demo of several songs that Rick has written, playing them for label executive Suzanne DePasse. Shortly after this, he is signed to the label and is paired with co-producer and engineer Art Stewart (Marvin Gaye). James plays most of the instruments on the album himself before assembling The Stone City Band in 1979. It spins off two singles including “You And I” (#1 R&B, #13 Pop) and “Mary Jane” (#3 R&B, #41 Pop). “Come Get It!” peaks at number three on the Billboard R&B album chart, number thirteen on the Top 200, and is certified 2x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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Betty Davis photographed by Fin Costello, February 1976.

On this day in music history: April 7, 1981 – “Street Songs”, the fifth album by Rick James is released. Produced by Rick James, it is recorded at The Record Plant in Sausalito, CA and Motown/Hitsville USA Studios in Hollywood, CA from December 1980 – January 1981. After the poorly received “Garden Of Love” album, Rick James regroups, returning to his hometown of Buffalo, NY writing songs chronicling his life experiences. The albums second single “Super Freak” (#3 R&B, #16 Pop) is a last minute addition, born out of a joke. When one of the members of The Stone City Band jokes that Rick “hasn’t written anything that white people can dance to”, James quickly comes up with funky, new wave flavored song. It receives airplay right out the box while the first single is climbing the charts. The unique synthesizer sound on “Super Freak” and other tracks on the album, are from an Oberheim OB-X synth actually belonging to R&B superstar Prince. Having toured with Rick, and engaged in a fierce rivalry, James has his road crew steal Prince’s keyboard off of the equipment truck at the end of the tour. Rick takes the keyboard to the studio in Sausalito, and uses it on the album. He eventually sends the instrument back to Prince with a “thank you note”. The end result is the biggest album of Rick James’ career, spinning off three singles including “Give It To Me Baby” (#1 R&B, #40 Pop) and “Ghetto Life” (#38 R&B). The track “Fire And Desire” (a duet with Teena Marie), though never officially released as a single A-side (an edited version appears as the B-side of “You Turn Me On” in 1984), becomes a huge airplay favorite on R&B and Quiet Storm radio, becoming nearly as popular as the album’s big hits. The album is remastered and reissued as double disc Deluxe Edition in 2001. The first disc includes the full original album plus the 12" mixes and instrumental versions of “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak”. The second disc features a complete unreleased concert recorded at the Long Beach Arena on July 30, 1981, during the Street Songs Tour. It also features two tracks by Teena Marie who was James’ opening act. A single CD edition is issued in 2002 with the original eight song album, with the two 12" mixes of the first two singles included as bonus tracks. Out of print on vinyl since the late 80’s, it is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP in 2016, as part of Universal’s “Back To Black” reissue series. The vinyl edition, is also reissued in a limited red vinyl pressing in 2019. “Street Songs” spends twenty weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number three on the Top 200, and is certified 3x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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PRINCE 1982-86

In 1982 Prince produced 1999. The disc will sell 4 million copies in the United States. In Italy
only a few private radio stations specializing in the American black scene, broadcast the singles “1999” and “Little Red Corvette”.
For me, as a teenager, it is an enlightenment. The album in its entirety will remain unknown to me for years.
Only a couple of years later with the explosion of “Purple Rain”, Prince’s previous production will come
also explored and widespread in Italy. I will first buy the CD, printed with the omission of the track “D.M.S.R”, and then finally
the double vinyl. The album is a masterpiece, dominated by the characteristic sounds of previous albums.
“Little Red Corvette” is a song that stands out from the atmosphere of the disc; a pop rock song appears, capable
to penetrate even the white audience. It ‘sa small gem, which highlights, perhaps for the first time, the inspiration, the ductility of
Prince, able to go further, to build bridges towards a broader and more creative musical discourse.
11 tracks make up the album, which after many years remains a work full of charm.
Two years later it’s time for “Purple Rain”, the album and the single that will identify Prince from that moment to the
public. Released on June 84, I remember my summer dominated by the first single “When Doves Cry”. A single
which resumed the sounds of “1999” and anticipated an album with more pop-rock content. All the tracks remain
live and present in my heart. I consumed the album, and I still listen to it frequently and always with renewed pleasure.
Masterfully mixed, the pieces follow one another in a perfect way giving the whole a continuity that gives the sensation
of a race, a race that has its goal in the 8 minutes of the title track, which masterfully closes a perfect record.
The following year it was the turn of “Around The World In A Day” and once again Prince amazed the world. The album is not the sequel
of “Purple Pain”, does not resume the sounds of “Controversy” or “1999”. It is a record that will remain unique in the artist’s production
of Minneapolis. Prince’s psychedelic album puzzled me, but it gave me beautiful songs like “Paisley Park”, “Pop Life” and of course
“RaspBerry Beret”.
“Parade” was released the following year,driven by the single “Kiss”; Prince is now a pop star. The album is a solid work, with its precise identity;
leaves the rock soul of “Purple Rain”, resumes the psychedelic style of the previous album integrating it with a more accentuated funk and jazz vein.
It is the soundtrack of the film “Under The Cherry Moon” and therefore there are songs that have precise references to the protagonist: Cristopher Tracy,
played by Prince himself. Years later, a fresh record remains, full of ideas and references.

On this day in music history: April 5, 1980 – “Stomp!” by The Brothers Johnson hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, topping the Club Play chart for 3 weeks on April 12, 1980, and peaking at #7 on the Hot 100 on May 24, 1980. Written by Louis Johnson, George Johnson, Valerie Johnson and Rod Temperton, it is the third R&B chart topper for the Los Angeles, CA based R&B/Funk duo consisting of brothers George and Louis Johnson. Producer Quincy Jones initiates the writing of the song by giving George Johnson the title and challenges him to write a song with that title. Jones also have the brothers collaborate with songwriter Rod Temperton (“Rock With You”, “Off The Wall”) of the band Heatwave. The trio along with Louis’ wife Valerie write the music together, with the instrumental track being cut shortly after. Following the initial tracking session, George goes back home and writes the lyrics and melody. After spending over eighteen hours writing and re-writing, George returns to the studio the next day with the completed lyrics. He records the majority of his lead vocal on the first take. Released as the first single from The Brothers Johnson’s fourth album “Light Up The Night” in February of 1980, “Stomp!” is an instant classic. Powered by catchy, infectious hooks and Louis Johnson’s epic percussive bass solo, the single becomes a dance floor staple and one of their signature songs. The success of “Stomp!” drives the “Light Up The Night” album to Platinum status in the US, becoming their fourth to reach that sales plateau. Producer Quincy Jones covers “Stomp!” himself on the album “Q’s Jook Joint” in 1995. Jones’ version features Chaka Khan, Charlie Wilson, Shaquille O’Neal, Coolio, Melle Mel, Luniz, Mr. X. Yo Yo, and cast members of the musical “Stomp!”.

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PRINCE 1979-82


William Harrison “Bill” Withers, Jr. 

RIP                               (Slab Fork 07/04/38 – Los Angeles 03/30/20)