The Nite-Liters: Down and Dirty
From S/T (RCA, 1970)
The Nite-Liters: K-Jee
From Morning, Noon and Nite-Liters (RCA, 1971)
I had been meaning to do a Nite-Liters series of posts for the longest – ever since I posted up a song by Harvey Fuqua’s Moonglows back in October. However, when our good friend over at Moistworks recently posted up the Nite-Liters’ “Tanga Goo Bonk” (as part of a Brand Nubian inspired series), it got me off my ass and into the crates.
In general, I don’t recommend that aspiring collectors become completionists – to track down every single album/record associated with an artist is seriously some anal-retentive, nerded-out habit. Believe me, I can understand and appreciate the impulse, but all it’s really guaranteed to do is deplete your wallet in search for ephemera you don’t really need except for the sake of having it.
That said, if you’re going to be a completionist for any particular funk group, may I recommend the Nite-Liters? Actually, I’d first recommend the three Meters albums on Josie but technically speaking, if you were a real completionist, you’d also have to pick up the Meters albums on Island and I don’t know if I can recommend that in good conscience. However, the Nite-Liters makes it easy for you: just five albums, all on RCA, all good, at times, bordering on straight up great.
While there are some Nite-Liters albums with vocals, they were primarily an instrumental outfit, produced by the aforementioned Harvey Fuqua who would go onto to bigger fame by splicing off members of the Nite-Liters and plugging them into a group called New Birth that would have a string of R&B hits in the mid-to-late ’70s. The Nite-Liters are not what you’d call obscure – they were on RCA after all, no tiny indie label in the ’70s – but they’re not dollar bin common either and though they had a few hits along the way, I hardly think they’re overexposed and I definitely think they’re underappreciated.
Basically, on every single Nite-Liters album, you were guaranteed at least one really, really great funk song and on most of their albums, you might actually get two, three or even more. That kind of consistency over five albums may not seem as impressive compared to the massiveness of James Brown’s output but apart from big guns like Brown, Sly Stone, EW&F, P-Funk, etc. it’s pretty hard to find that many groups that 1) even had the opportunity to release more than one or two albums and 2) managed to make all of them worth owning.
Fuqua has one of the truly storied careers in R&B history and I don’t think I can do it proper justice except to say that he’s had over five decades of experience in the industry and has worked with giants in the field, most famously Marvin Gaye. You can read up more at his own homepage. In regards to the Nite-Liters (aka Nightlighters), I don’t think it’s an insult to suggest that Fuqua’s sound – as a producer and arranger – is JB-influenced. You can hear it in his short, snappy arrangements, in his extensive use of brass, in the thick, rolling rhythms he lays on many of his songs. However, “influenced” doesn’t mean “cloned” and Fuqua had a very distinctive sound for the Nite-Liters that carries across the 50+ songs they recorded between 1970-73. In fact, it bespeaks how far and wide Fuqua’s influence would become that I’ve seen Nite-Liters songs covered by groups in Peru, the Philippines, and Chile (seriously. It’s crazy), not to mention sampled by Brand Nubian, Positive K, Dr. Dre, etc.
Start with “Down and Dirty,” from their debut, self-titled album. Slick and smoky, it kicks off beautifully with that guitar line and then lays down some chattering drums. Altogether, a great dancefloor cut. Even better is “K-Jee,” arguably the group’s biggest single (from their 2nd LP). This time, the Nite-Liters put the horns up first with a signature melodic line that powers the song throughout. It’s uptempo and boasts some sparkling flair and pizzaz.
Next post: two more songs from the Nite-Liters third and fourth LPs respectively, including that classic of geriatic-inspired funkitude: “Do the Granny.”