Category: funk

Early Years

On this day in music history: November 11, 1978 – “C’est Chic”, the second album by Chic is released. Produced by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, it is recorded at The Power Station Studios in New York City from Mid – Late 1978. Buoyed by the success of their their Gold selling debut album, Chic returns to the studio in the Spring of 1978 to work on their sophomore release. With original lead vocalist Norma Jean Wright departing the band for a solo career, Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin become the lead voices for Chic. While working on their own album, Edwards and Rodgers also concurrently produce an album for Philadelphia based family group Sister Sledge after Atlantic Records executives let them choose whatever act on the company roster they want to work with. The song “He’s The Greatest Dancer”, originally intended to go on Chic’s album is given to Sister Sledge, while “I Want Your Love” (#5 R&B, #7 Pop) written with the intent of giving it to the Sledges, is instead placed on “C’est Chic”. The albums’ cornerstone track, “Le Freak” (#1 Pop and R&B) is inspired by an incident at the legendary Studio 54 disco on New Year’s Eve of 1977, when the producers are invited by singer Grace Jones to discuss working with her. Edwards and Rodgers are met with the club’s infamous “velvet rope” door policy and are not admitted. They instead go to Nile’s apartment around the corner, and begin jamming on a riff that starts with the refrain “ahhh, f*** off!!!, which evolves into “ahhh, freak out!!” With “Le Freak” being issued as the lead single, the album quickly takes off, becoming Chic’s biggest seller and today is regarded as a landmark album of the Disco Era. The front and back cover photos are taken by legendary photographer Joel Brodsky (The Doors, Ohio Players, Funkadelic). Beyond the albums’ two hit singles, the lead track “Chic Cheer” also becomes a dance floor favorite, later being sampled on singer Faith Evans’ hit “Love Like This” in 1998 and on Fatman Scoop’s “Be Faithful”. Originally issued on CD in 1990, it is remastered and reissued by Warner Japan in 1998, packaged in a mini-LP sleeve (w/ HDCD encoding). Out of print on vinyl for nearly thirty years, the album is  reissued as a 180 gram LP by Friday Music in 2013. The album is remastered again, by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios. It’s reissued as part of the box set “The Chic Organization: 1977 -1979” as a five CD, or four LP + 12” single half speed mastered vinyl set, on November 23, 2018. The vinyl edition is also issued separately, coming with an OBI strip detailing the half-speed mastering process. “C’est Chic” spends eleven weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number four on the Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: November 11, 1975 – “Gratitude”, the seventh album by Earth, Wind & Fire is released. Produced by Maurice White, Charles Stepney and Joe Wissert (live tracks), it is recorded in Chicago, IL, Los Angeles, CA, St. Louis, MO, Atlanta, GA, Boston, MA, New York, NY, Philadelphia, PA, and Washington DC from Late 1974 – Mid 1975 (live tracks) and Hollywood Sound, Wally Heider Studios in Hollywood, CA in June 1975 (studio tracks). Following their huge breakthrough success with “That’s The Way Of The World”, Columbia Records requests another album from the band for release in time for the 1975 Christmas holiday season. Not having enough time or new material written to record a brand new studio album, they begin recording their live shows. The finished album is a two LP set with three sides of live material and a fourth side with five new songs. It is also released with the lower list price of $7.98 ($8.98 cassette and 8-track) rather than the normal $11.98 or $12.98 price for a double album. It spins off the hits “Sing A Song” (#1 R&B, #5 Pop) and “Can’t Hide Love (#11 R&B, #39 Pop). "Gratitude” is regarded by many fans and critics as one of the best live recordings of all time. The album is remastered and reissued in 1999 on a standard redbook CD and single layer SACD. It is remastered again in 2011 for the box set “Earth, Wind & Fire – The Columbia Masters”, and in 2012 as a two disc high resolution Blu-Ray disc in Japan, replicating  the original album packaging in mini-LP form. Out of print on vinyl since the late 80’s, it is remastered and reissued by Friday Music in 2015, as a limited edition pressed on blue vinyl. Another LP reissue pressed on standard black vinyl is released by Sony Music also in 2015. “Gratitude” spends three weeks at number one on the Billboard Top 200, six weeks (non-consecutive) at the top of the R&B album chart, and is certified 3x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: November 10, 1978 – “Holy Ghost” by The Bar-Kays is released. Written by Henderson Thigpen, Eddie Marion and James Banks, it is the twentieth single release for the R&B/Funk band from Memphis, TN. Enjoying both triumph and enduring tragedy, The Bar-Kays are rightfully acknowledged as soul survivors. After the loss of Ronnie Caldwell, Phalon Jones, Carl Cunningham and Jimmy King, all of whom perish with singer Otis Redding in a plane crash in December of 1967, it initially seems that the band is over. However, bassist James Alexander who had been traveling on another plane, and trumpeter Ben Cauley, the lone survivor of the crash, rebuild The Bar-Kays with new members. The reformed band includes Harvey Henderson (saxophone), Michael Toles (guitar) Ronnie Gorden (organ), and Willie Hall (drums). Former Temprees vocalist Larry Dodson joins the band in 1970 becoming their lead singer. By 1975, Stax Records is in major trouble, due to mismanagement and a disastrous alliance with CBS Records, seals the venerable R&B label’s fate. In the Fall of that year, The Bar-Kays record several songs including a funky mid tempo groove titled “Holy Ghost”. Featuring Larry Dodson’s fiery lead vocals, a couple of versions are recorded. Before the album can be completed, Stax is involuntarily forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy on December 19, 1975, abruptly shuttered. All of its assets are then seized on January 12, 1976. Suddenly without a record label, The Bar-Kays are at loose ends, but quickly bounce back and are signed to Mercury Records, where they enjoy even greater success. Even with the demise of Stax Records, it makes a surprising re-dux, with The Bar-Kays as unlikely flag bearers. After Stax’s assets are liquidated, the label’s famed catalog eventually sees the light of day again. In 1978, Stax is purchased by Berkeley, CA based Fantasy Records. Going through the tapes, Fantasy discovers The Bar-Kays unfinished album (titled “Money Talks”) from 1975, completing it with outside studio musicians. Among those songs is “Holy Ghost”, released just before their third Mercury album “Light Of Life”. Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, “Holy Ghost” becomes an R&B smash, peaking at #9 on the Billboard R&B chart on Feburary 3, 1979. It out charts all three of the bands recent Mercury singles. Also released as an extended 12" single, it becomes a sensation on the dance floor in part due to its extended timbale break. That breakdown also becomes a favored break beat by Hip Hop DJ’s, and becomes a crate staple. The song and the band are also name checked on The Sugarhill Gang’s classic “Rapper’s Delight” later in 1979. It’s also sampled on M/A/R/R/S’ classic “Pump Up The Volume”, the Beastie Boys “Hey Ladies” and Def Jef’s “Give It Here” to name a few.

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On this day in music history: November 10, 1973 – “Ship Ahoy”, the eighth album by The O’Jays is released. Produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, it is recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, PA from August – September 1973. Following the success of “Back Stabbers”, Gamble and Huff continue their prolific creative streak, with The O’Jays becoming their chief messengers. “Ship Ahoy” continues the theme of combining socially conscious songs, with ones that explore relationships and romantic love. The title track “Ship Ahoy” had originally been earmarked for the film “Shaft In Africa”, but the producers end up keeping it. It is initially intended to be part of a theme album about slavery in its various forms, and its affect on Africans brought to the new world. The epic track paints a visceral aural picture, complete with the sounds of crashing ocean waves and cracking bull whips. This imagery also extends to the cover artwork, illustrated by artist James Barkley. The inner gatefold features a now iconic photo of group, taken by CBS staff photographer Don Hunstein. The album is led by the up tempo first single “Put Your Hands Together” (#2 R&B, #10 Pop) whose message of coming together in the spirit of cooperation and brotherhood, starts the set off with an optimistic tone. However, it is the follow up “For The Love Of Money” (#3 R&B, #9 Pop), that has the longest lasting impact. Written as commentary on the negative affects of materialism and greed, its point is driven home with unerring precision by Walter Williams and Eddie Levert’s twin lead vocals. The instrumental track featuring members of Philly International’s house band MFSB, provides an ultra funky and arresting back drop. Recording engineer Joe Tarsia adds memorable touches to the mix, by adding phasing effects to drummer Earl Young’s cymbals, and echo to Anthony Jackson’s bass during the songs’ intro. Another key track is “Now That We Found Love”, which is later covered by the reggae band Third World, turning the ballad into a simmering dance floor classic. Other stand outs include “You Got Your Hooks In Me” and “Don’t Call Me Brother”. “Ship Ahoy” is another major success, and like its predecessor is regarded as a classic album. It is also remixed and released as a quadraphonic stereo album in 1974. Reissued on CD numerous times, it is released as a hybrid SACD in 2001. It features the original stereo mix, and a new 5.1 surround remix by Al Quagileri. Out of print on vinyl for many years, it is reissued by Sony Music in 2006, and is remastered and reissued again by Music On Vinyl in 2015 as a 180 gram LP. A third LP reissue is released by Sony Legacy in 2018, on standard weight vinyl. “Ship Ahoy” spends three weeks at number one (non-consecutive) on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number eleven on the Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: November 9, 1991 – “Cream” by Prince & The New Power Generation hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks. Written and produced by Prince, it is the fifth US number one pop single for the Minneapolis born artist. Issued as the second single from “Diamonds And Pearls” in early September of 1991, Prince later claims he wrote the song while standing in front of a mirror. The track is recorded at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, MN circa late 1990 – early 1991 with New Power Generation members Michael B. (drums), Sonny T. (bass), Levi Seacer, Jr. (rhythm guitar), Tommy Barbarella (keyboards), and Rosie Gaines (vocals and keyboards). Interestingly enough, the single does not chart on the R&B singles chart as black radio is serviced with the track “Insatiable” instead. “Cream” is backed with the non LP B-side “Horny Pony”, which was originally slated to be on the album but is instead replaced by “Gett Off”. Entering the Hot 100 at #46 on September 28, 1991, it quickly rises to the top of the chart just seven weeks later. “Cream” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: November 8, 1975 – “Low Rider” by War hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #7 on the Hot 100 on November 29, 1975. Written by Sylvester Allen, Harold Brown, Morris Dickerson, Jerry Goldstein, Lonnie Jordan, Howard Scott, Lee Oskar and Charles Miller, it is the biggest single for the Long Beach, CA based R&B/Funk band. The initial inspiration for “Low Rider” comes from the band’s guitarist Howard Scott and sax player Charles Miller, having grown up in the midst of the low rider car culture in their respective hometowns of San Pedro and Long Beach, CA. While the two are jamming together, Miller begins spontaneously singing the hook to “Low Rider”. The pair show what they have come up with to the rest of the band and finish writing it all contributing their individual parts. Issued as the second single from their seventh album “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” on September 20, 1975, it quickly becomes another smash for War. “Low Rider” is adapted as an anthem in the Mexican American community, and among the low rider culture in general. The song becomes a pop cultural touchstone, being featured and referenced in movies and on television programs. Comedian George Lopez also uses “Low Rider” as the theme to his television sitcom running from 2002 to 2007.

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On this day in music history: November 8, 1975 – “High On You”, the first solo album by Sly Stone is released. Produced by Sly Stone, it is recorded at Columbia Recording Studios in San Francisco, CA and The Record Plant in Sausalito, CA from Late 1974 – Late 1975. The first solo release for the leader of the legendary R&B/Funk band comes following the implosion of Sly & Family Stone following a disastrous gig at Radio City Music Hall in January of 1975. The other members of the band depart (except trumpeter Cynthia Robinson) though Jerry Martini, Freddie Stone and Rusty Allen appears on a few tracks. Allen’s replacement is a teen aged Latino bass player from San Francisco named Bobby Vega that Stone discovers. With the band owing CBS Records one more studio album on their contract, Stone completes the album mostly on his own with Vega and session musicians. The lead single “I Get High On You” (#3 R&B, #52 Pop) is the only major single from the album, with the follow ups charting poorly. The album track “Crossword Puzzle” is later sampled by De La Soul on their song “Say No Go” in 1989. CBS also releases a version of the album remixed in quadraphonic stereo. “High On You” peaks at number eleven on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number forty five on the Top 200.

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On this day in music history: November 7, 1982 – “Living My Life”, the sixth album by Grace Jones is released. Produced by Chris Blackwell and Alex Sadkin, it is recorded at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, The Bahamas from Spring – Summer 1982. Issued as the third and final release in the “Compass Point Trilogy” series of albums that the singer records at the famed recording studio owned by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, Jones co-writes all but one track on the album. She once again collaborate with Sly Dunbar and Barry Reynolds, and members of the Compass Point All Stars that including Sly and Robbie, Wally Badarou, Steven Stanley and Uziah “Sticky” Thompson. It spins off three singles including “Nipple To The Bottle” (#17 R&B, #2 Club Play) and “Cry Now, Laugh Later”. Also released in extended form as a 12" single, the US 12" of “Nipple To The Bottle” is backed with a dub version of the track “My Jamaican Guy” (issued on the European 12" in edited form). Re-titled “J.A. Guys”, the dub mix is later sampled as the basis of LL Cool J’s hit “Doin’ It” in 1995. The albums’ striking cover art designed by Jean Paul Goude (Jones’ partner and frequent collaborator) and Rob O’Connor. It features a cut out photo of Grace trimmed with an exacto knife to make her face and the top of her head more angular, then superimposing a piece of tape over one eye. “Living My Life” peaks at number nineteen on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number eighty six on the Top 200.

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On this day in music history: November 7, 1981 – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Roger hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #79 on the Hot 100 on November 28, 1981. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, it is the first solo number hit for the front man of the R&B/Funk band Zapp. For his cover version of the Marvin Gaye classic, Roger takes inspiration from artists such as funk contemporaries Cameo, fusion jazz stalwarts Weather Report and from songwriter/producer Norman Whitfield when coming up with an original arrangement for the song. Roger plays most of the instruments on the track himself, except for the drums and which were handled by his brothers Lester and Terry “Zapp” Troutman. When his debut solo album “The Many Facets Of Roger” is released in the late Summer of 1981, is issued without a lead single. When Troutman and Warner Bros can’t decide between “So Ruff, So Tuff” (eventually released as the second single) and “Grapevine”, the latter wins out by default when DJ’s favor it over other tracks on the album. Clocking in at nearly eleven minutes on the album, it is edited split into two parts for single release in August of 1981. The success of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” also drives “The Many Facets Of Roger” album to the top of the Billboard R&B album chart on the same date, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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