That Larry Williams: The Resurrection Of Funk by Larry Williams

June 20, 2013

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Larry Williams (1935-80) is best remembered as a 1950s rock and roll pioneer. While he began his career as a pianist for such artists as Lloyd Price, Roy Brown, and Percy Mayfield, it was his two-year stretch with Specialty Records, 1957-58, that cemented his place in rock and roll history. Hits such as “Short Fat Fanny,” “Bony Moronie,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” and “Slow Down” not only sold millions of records for himself but went on to be recorded by dozens of artists.The 1960s found him moving in a different direction. He produced two albums for Little Richard and recorded with Johnny “Guitar” Watson. He also acted in several films. During the 1970s he wrestled with drug addiction and an unhealthy lifestyle.

The year 1978 found him in the studio one last time. The result was That Larry Williams: The Resurrection Of Funk. Two years later he was dead from a bullet to the head. Whether suicide or murder (arguments have been made on either side), it brought to an end the career of Larry Williams. His last release has now been re-issued by Real Gone Music.

The album is one of the great lost releases of the late 1970s. It combines the joy and energy of Sly Stone and the style and rhythms of George Clinton. It demonstrated that Williams had moved far beyond his 1950s rock and roll roots and was exploring territory that was very modern and cutting edge at the time.

He created a full and layered sound. He provided the lead vocals and keyboards and was supported by second keyboardist Rudy Copeland, guitarist Tony Drake, bassist Gary Brown, drummer Joe Brown, and percussionist Antoine Dearborn. He also was supported by a full brass section and a backing vocal group.

“Bony Moronie (Disco Queen)” is re-imagined with a combination of synthesizers and electric piano in addition to some horn accents to create rhythms that are far different from the original. “ATS Express” and “One Thing or the Other” are built upon a deep bass beat, with the brass filling in the gaps. The album’s best track is “The Resurrection of Funk (Funk Comes Alive).” It has a depth to the rhythms as they come at you from several different directions. Very close in quality, and somewhat out of place, is the album’s only ballad, “How Can I Believe (What You Say).” It is a look back to the 1950s when sentimental slow songs were in style, yet it has a timelessness that holds up well.

Williams’ tragic death in 1980 at the age of 44 deprived the music world of an artist who was moving in a creative and exciting direction. That Larry Williams: The Resurrection Of Funk is a good look into the emerging funk scene of the late 1970s and is well worth a listen.


Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag 45 by James Brown

April 25, 2012

James Brown was an American music legend whose recordings and live performances were some of the best in music history. He began as a rhythm & blues singer and moved on to help establish funk as a viable music form.

His singles regularly charted on the rhythm & blues charts for nearly 50 years with 17 reaching number one and six more coming close by stalling at number two. However, he also had 99 singles chart on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

“Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” remains one of his signature songs. Released during the summer of 1965, it reached number eight on the BILLBOARD Pop Charts.

It was very different from what was being played on the radio during The Beatles/Beach Boys era. It was an education to the American music buying public. Essential to the history of 1960s music.


TSOP 45 MFSB

January 13, 2012

Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff owned the Philadelphia International label
and wrote and produced hundreds of singles and dozens of albums.

March 2, 1974 found them releasing their own single. They gathered three dozen studio musicians together plus the female vocal group, The Three Degrees, to fill in the gaps and released TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) under the name MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother).

It was a smooth, up-tempo, and funky tune. It reached number one on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart for two weeks becoming one of the biggest hits in the labels history.


Dance To The Music 45 by Sly & The Family Stone

February 20, 2011

“Dance To The Music” was the song that jump-started Sly & The Family Stone’s career. Released February 10, 1968, it reached number 8 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Cart.

The best way to describe Sly & The Family Stone is as a psychedelic soul group. Led by Sylvester “Sly Stone” Stewart, they would produce some of the best and most influential music of the late 1960-s through the first half of the 1970’s. Their performance at Woodstock was legendary.

“Dance To The Music” was emblematic of the first half of their career as the song was a joyous fusion of rock and funk. Bass player Larry Graham, who would go on to a solid solo career, was the foundation upon which the sound was built.

Over 40 years after its initial release, the song still makes you want to get up and dance along.


Everyday People 45 by Sly & The Family Stone

December 22, 2010

At one time Sly & The Family Stone mattered. Ther were a cutting edge R&B/Funk band who were inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994.

They also were responsible for some of the most cutting edge socio-political lyrics of the late sixties and early seventies.

“Everyday People” was their biggest hit topping the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Charts for four weeks during late 1968 and early 1969. It was an upbeat and funky tune that featured Sly’s keyboards/vocals, guitarist Freddie Stone, bassist Larry Graham, drummer Gregg Errico, trumper Cynthia Robinson, and pianist/vocalist Rosie Stone.

It remains a nice slice of late sixties music.


Ain’t But The One Way by Sly and The Family Stone

June 9, 2009

It is a little unbelievable that Sly Stone has not released a new studio album in 26 years (and counting). Ain’t But The One Way, released in 1983, was the last gasp from one of the originators of funk music and a member of The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

1981 found Sly and George Clinton in the studio together working on a new Family Stone album. Clinton had a dispute with Warner Brothers which caused him to leave the label, effectively ending the recording sessions. Sly also disappeared and WB hired outside producer Stewart Levine to make some sense out of what had been left behind. Two years later the finished album was released. It was not the best way to put an album together. Even the cover photo was almost five years old. Needless to say it was a commercial failure.

Sly Stone has remained practically a recluse for the past quarter century. He contributed to ex-Time member Jesse Johnson’s hit single in 1986 titled “Crazy.” He released one single himself, “Eek-A-Bo-Static,” for the A&M label but it quickly disappeared. In 1987 he spent time in prison for cocaine possession. Rumors have surfaced for the last decade that he has been working on a new album but no new material has surfaced.

And so Ain’t But The One Way remains Sly Stone’s swan song, which is unfortunate as it is by far the weakest studio album of the eleven he recorded during his career. Given the circumstances it’s not surprising that it has an unfinished feel. There are hints of ideas under the surface but Stewart Levine was never able to bring them to fruition.

Many of the tracks follow the formula that Sly established and in doing so remain pale imitations of his best work. Songs such as “One Way,” “Hobo Ken,” and “L.O.V.I.N.U.” establish a comfortable groove and use some horns and a bass line in places but just never coalesce into anything interesting. The song that may somewhat up the whole dismal affair is a cover of the Kinks, “You Really Got Me.” If there was ever a song that was immune to a funk treatment this is it.

The only interesting track is “Who In The Funk Do You Think You Are” which fuses funk rhythms with a rock sound. This may have been an area that Sly was going to explore, but we’ll never know.

As of 2009 Sly Stone is still out there somewhere and who knows, maybe he has one more good album left in him. If not, we will have to be content with the likes of Stand, There’s A Riot Goin’ On, and Dance To The Music which form the core of a small but extremely brilliant and influential catalog of music.


Dance To The Music by Sly & The Family Stone

June 7, 2009

Dance To The Music was released April 27, 1968 and was the second album by Sly & The Family Stone. Their first album was titled A Whole New Thing but it was this second effort that would live up to that title as it did indeed invent a whole new type of music.

1968 found flower power and the hippie movement at their height. The Beatles were winding down and such artists as The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, and Jimi Hendrix were starting to completely change the American music scene. Psychedelic music and drugs were abroad in the land. It was against this background that Sly & The Family Stone would issue this release.

They would create a music type that would be labeled psychedelic soul but its legacy includes the origins of the funk movement. The varied rhythms, the horns weaving in and around the other instruments and the scattered and interactive vocals were unique in 1968. This sound would appeal to both white and black audiences. Artists such as Bootsy Collins, The Temptations, Rick James, Prince, and even the 70s James Brown would take their cue from Sly’s music and move it in a number of different directions.

Sly (Sylvester Stewart) Stone would write all the songs plus produce, arrange, play the keyboards, and share vocal duties. Despite all that, in retrospect, bass player and vocalist Larry Graham and drummer Greg Errico were important parts of this new sound. Graham experiments with an early fuzz tone on his bass plus Errico’s altering of traditional rhythms fit Sly’s musical vision well.

The first side of the original release is superior. The title song, “Dance To The Music,” just roars out of the gate. It featured four lead singers who traded vocal lines. It was the first song to signal that Sly & The Family Stone had recorded something very different. It would become a hit single and a commercial break through for the group. Rolling Stone Magazine would place it at number 223 of their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

“Higher,” which would form the foundation for a later anthem by the group, and “I Ain’t Got Nobody (For Real)” would continue this rock/soul fusion. It would be the twelve minute “Dance To The Medley” that would be the highlight of the album. Consisting of several songs, it was both exhilarating and exhausting, as it pulsed along. Music in the late sixties did not get much better than this extended jam.

Dance To The Music is a joyous party album as Sly had not yet begun to write the socially relevant lyrics that would soon follow. The energy level through the nine tracks and forty minutes has rarely been equaled. It is a rare occasion where influence and listenability intersected well.


The Mothership Connection Live 1976 (DVD) by Parliament Funkadelic

May 22, 2009

I’m not sure how an aging, balding, Beach Boys fan like me ended up reviewing a Parliament Funkadelic DVD but somehow it magically appeared in my mail box. So here I am, transported to Halloween eve of 1976, watching the mother ship land in Houston, Texas.

George Clinton began his musical odyssey as a member of the Parliaments who were basically a cross between a barbershop quartet and a doo-wop group. The popularity of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix plus the rise of psychedelic music in The United States inspired Clinton to help establish and popularize a hybrid musical form known as funk.

By the mid 1970’s he was a star due to such popular albums as Mothership Connection and The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein. Halloween night of 1976 found Parliament Funkadelic at the height of their powers as they brought their form of interplanetary funk to the Summit in Houston, Texas.

The tour would feature such outlandish costumes as fur coats, big (and I mean gigantic) hats, musicians in diapers, and all sorts of costumes. Through it all, however, they produced some of the best jazz and blues of the 70s and infused it with a James Brown rhythm and blues sound. There are scintillating rock riffs, a pulsating bass, and brass playing over the top of it all. It all seemed to work and so we have a funk sound.

The DVD form is a good introduction to Parliament Funkadelic. In many ways it is just as important that they be seen as heard.

The concert is controlled chaos as Clinton acts as the ring master for the musical circus that is performing around him. The performance is fairly short at around 85 minutes and there are no extras. The sound, however, is excellent especially for 1976. The camera work tends to be a little too tight at times as the whole band is rarely shown. Still, it has a strong visual appeal plus the music is terrific.

The fourteen songs tend to flow into one another as wave after musical wave washes over the audience. “Dr. Funkenstein,” “Give Up The Funk,” “Night Of The Thumpasorus Peoples,” and “Cosmic Slop” revs up the energy with raw power. The finale finds Clinton inviting opening acts, The Sly Stone Band and Bootsy Collins on stage for a rousing finish.

And yes the mothership does land and I don’t mean metaphorically. Great special effects included a spaceship descending from the ceiling and of course it is George Clinton who steps out of the smoke.

Parliament Funkadelic was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1997. The Mothership Has Landed Live 1976 is an excellent chronicle of a creative group live in concert. Prepare to be funked!


Live In Concert (DVD) by Johnny “Guitar” Watson

April 29, 2009

Johnny “Guitar” Watson, (1935-1996), never really received his due as one of the more creative guitarists and vocalists of the past fifty years. He progressed from a jazz and blues artist in the 1950s to a 70’s funkster. He even managed to play some great rock ‘n’ roll along the way. He recorded his first album in 1953 and toured with the likes of Little Richard, Johnny Otis, and Larry Williams. It was, however, as a sharp dressed, jive singing funk artist in the 1970s that finally brought Watson some fame.

The heart of Live In Concert is his appearance at the 1993 North Sea Jazz Festival. This 11 song, 78 minute performance presents a good retrospective of the last 25 years of his career. He has a brass section in support, and while they may flirt with jazz, Watson’s vocals are pure funk throughout the performance.

“Booty Ooty” serves as a warm up for Watson as he just fronts the band as a singer and cheerleader. He creates an energy in the concert hall and forms an intimate relationship with the audience. He finally picks up his guitar, if only for a short time, on “I Need It.” “Superman Love” is one of the strongest tracks on the DVD. It is more melodic than many of the other songs, yet leaves some room for vocal and instrumental improvisation.

“Gangster Of Love” shows what a creative and technically sound guitarist Watson can be when he is so inclined. The lyrics may be funky but the guitar playing is rooted in the blues. At least on this album he does not sing and play at the same time. He also shows a knack for letting the members of his backing band step forward and shine without interfering.

The DVD extras include three live tracks from the 1996 Blues Fest Leverkusen concert just before his death. It shows the high quality of his live act at the end of his life. Also included is an interview from 1987 and vintage footage from 1980.

If you are a jazz/blues Johnny “Guitar” Watson fan then this DVD is not for you. If, however, you would like a little funk from a deceased master, then Live In Concert is a good place to start.