Thursday, August 30, 2007

Summer Songs: Dave Tompkins
posted by O.W.

Dave swears this isn't the Polyphonic Spree

(Editor's Note: Barring some unforeseen circumstances before next week, this marks the last Summer Songs post for 2007 and we're going to end with a spectacular flourish courtesy music writer Dave Tompkins, one of my most favoritest people in the world. Look for his upcoming book on the history of the Vocoder. For those too lazy to read, Dave says "Overlord Ice Dog is going to recite the whole book in Auto-Tune." --O.W.)

Quick-Tail The Sky Down

by Dave Tompkins

Nora Dean: Angie-La-La
From 7” single, B-side of U-Roy's "Tom Drunk" (Duke Reid, 1970s)

“And then I started making extinct bird calls.” (The Rubbles usually answer on the third ring.) Nora also executes one of the best weees on record, with respect to Digital Underground’s pool party “weeee!” I suspect a supernatural agency at work here, more than a fat guy jumping on an inner tube. That’s the way love is. Nora also did a song called “Scorpion In His Underpants,” which must have surprised the shit out of the ants. Not that a creature who wears its ears on its legs could be surprised.

Key & Cleary: Young People
From 7” single (Amherst, 1970s)

Jesse Key and Sylvester Cleary recorded an instrumental about the tragic Buffalo blizzard of 1977. Its violins sound even more forlorn in the Spring and by June they can’t even get out of bed. Mr. Cleary himself makes a fool out of summer inertia, designing tube socks, candy bars and bicycles while bottling wine from the pear trees in his back yard. (A friend recently described Key and Cleary as “people who can’t stop doing stuff.”) There’s also the Key and Cleary pet shop promotional record, with violins “designed specifically for the enjoyment of your dog.” This is good since the average dog is pretty much screwed in August.

“Young People” would’ve done Schoolhouse Rock some good--no wonder kids always wanted to hang out at Key & Cleary’s house, where the label motto is: “The best thing that ever happened to anybody.” (Serious.)

Not old enough to drive, flicking cards at each other, trying to avoid the snappy orange guy in the top hat that lives in the fridge, whose idea of a good time is celery sticks and frozen OJ squares. These kids, looking for a brand new game. (Look no further than “I Need Wheels” by Lil Mac the Lyrical Midget of Texas.)

Funkadelic: Music for My Mother (Instrumental)
From 7” single (Westbound, 1970). Also on Funkadelic.

The last time I saw George Clinton he was in a golf cart that ploughed through a game of 3-on-3 basketball in a parking lot in Atlanta, back when the Fu-Schnickens were still together. Adrock was on that day but Money Mark spent more time in the air, probably from doing all those Moog-ups on stage. (Mike D=Almost Rambis). George was headed to the tour bus to have a speck of glitter extracted from his cornea. I remember him nictitating like Herbert Lom at the end of Pink Panther Strikes Again (when Lom’s being rubbed out by his own doom ray). For a wonderful moment all that remains is Lom’s eyeball, an ocular tic floating in front of a church organ, which is still blaring and feeling pretty Lon Chaney about things when all turns to castle manure.

This is the instrumental of an early Funkadelic record, only on the 45. That opening bit of guitar is Van Cleef facing off with the humidity—hold heat, sweat bullets. And check that misplaced split end of a twang, which, if your turntable has its pants on backwards, has a tendency to loop by accident around 1:30. It all sounded pretty 80 in a 55 this past June when I was knocking back telephone poles across South Carolina and west Georgia, near Omslum? Osmium? (Map says National Cane Forest.) A big snake was crossing and I gave it a haircut. No harm done, though you can imagine all his boys ribbing him with “Plissken! I-heard-you-were-dead!” jokes for the rest of the night.

And a George-related bonus for your patience

Compton’s Most Wanted: Late Night Hype
From It’s a Compton Thang (Capitol, 1990)

There’s no way I could speed to this song and so the popsicles had transmattered before I got home. I like how MC Eiht (the g is understood) acts surprised because Unknown once made tracks like this.*

Now it’s Anita Baker and a bassline played by Iguanodon thumbs. Then a late night exchange at a gas station, something poking out the window—what this guy from Gastonia used to refer to as “the Wavy Wavy.” Then Eiht wakes up on his floor, thanks to the ding-dong timing of Rick James’ bag of weed.

*A minute or so into it you realize this thing is kicking Rain Forest’s ass. This is back when CMW’s DJ Slip did that E.V.I.A.N. 12, the only record credited to Parisian bottled water with cover art depicting a seahorse and a starfish playing strap-on keyboards.

Rodney O & Joe Cooley: Gimme The Mic (Instr)
From Days of Way Back (Psychotic, 1993)

Among the better Eric B rumors that might get us ventilated (eg, he once drove an ice cream truck in Red Hook) is the one about him hooking up the loop of Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness” and bringing it to Paul C/Large Pro and Rakim. For whatever reasons, they turned it down, maybe because Rakim was too busy making math with another Kool & the Gang song called “Chocolate Buttermilk.” Then Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince released “Summertime.” Then Eric B pawned his gold anchor for a yacht with 75 girls, made an R&B album and started managing a guy who said, “Look out Ma, I’m in my own world.”

This is Rodney & Joe Cooley’s version of “Summer Madness” with some Michael Jackson run-off from the previous track as mixed by either Joe Cooley or Egyptian Lover, who I swear yells “Fender Rhodes” at one point.

Segment 2 : Cold Pump That Body (Dub)
From 12” single (Tandem Records, 1980s). Also on Tandem Jams the Bass

This is better at the wrong speed but I tip my gas can to whoever was programming those lawn sprinklers out in Burlingame, California.

More likely, this is what that guy upstairs was listening to in HP Lovecraft's "Cool Air"--before he turned into muckspit. Apparently refrigerated pumps weren't all that back in 1928. This called for words like "unutterably." Or "slitherful." Which was coined by Mr. Buckshot of Brooklyn, not Mr. Lovecraft of Red Hook by way of Providence, waking up with drawbridge jaw somewhere between. Bog gob it all to hell.

“The lounger, it seems, had fled screaming and mad-eyed after his second delivery of ice.”

Latin Rascals: Lisa’s Coming
From ssshhhh (Tommy Boy, 1980s). Also on The Tommy Boy Story Vol. 1

Summer of 1986. While the Fat Boys were in their dressing room, Latin Rascals opened up Fresh Festival III in powder wigs. They were dancing to the same JS Bach organ that opened the non-LL version of Rollerball. Rollerball is worth seeing for John Houseman’s boiled owl brows and a porned-out instrumental called “Executive Lounge Party.” The scene with people in evening gowns shooting down trees at dawn always saddened me. But who wouldn’t wear rollerskates for Maud Adams? Rollerball was adapted from Rollerball Murder, a collection of William Harrison stories that includes one about a kid who spends his summer with an aunt who teaches him how to eat furniture.

“What’d you do this summer?”
“Left my teeth in my aunt’s Noguchi sun porch.”

Summer is also about talking into electric fans. An IEEE guy I spoke with calls this effect Vortical Shedding. Or Shredding, depends on which fabric of the universe is stuck to your ass that day. One girl told me she spoke into fans because she wanted to sound like an ice cream cake from outer space. Another said she could get to Mars by speaking through a used Kraft cheese wrapper. At least that’s what her mother said—and she lives in Chillicothe.

Sine: Mosquito Walk (Reedit)
From 12” single (Moonstew, 2004)

Didn’t get disco in North Carolina. Then moved up here and saw folks in summer dresses dancing to an endless version of “Atmospheric Strutt” on the Coney Island boardwalk. The mosquitoes were pretty into it too. And if these creatures must go around smuggling CDC ketchup packets through the air then we may as well get a nice blood-siphoning keyboard out of the deal, no? Produced by Patrick Adams, “Mosquito Walk” is credited to a Canadian group called Sine but this edit subtracts the cloying dweedleness of the original. Nor is there anything more summery than a late night proboscis in your ear. Slap yourself to sleep.

Extra slitherful is Lalo Schifrin’s birth of a mosquito theme from The Hellstrom Chronicle.

Creative Source: Good Lovin’ Is Good Livin’
From Consider the Source (Polydor, 1980s). Also on Bugz In the Attic.

Two summers ago at my oldest brother’s memorial throwdown on a pig farm/art gallery in West Georgia. A circle of 280 people holding hands and screaming blind metal at the sun, most of them strangers to me until that day, including a guy who’d built a mosquito the size of a Go Kart, using an old propane tank, a Dirt Devil thorax and some Bridge Out reflectors. Then someone told me a story about my brother tripping over an alligator in the dark. Then a guy from Olivia Tremor Control offered one about him playing drums inside an empty water tower (the bats must’ve loved that one) choked in kudzu’s chest wig, out near Danielsville where I’d met the Skinny Boys’ DJ’s cousin. (No fibrillator.) I tried to repay them with the retread about my brother offering the late Tammy Faye Bakker some nachos when she was ducking reporters at a Chi Chi’s in Charlotte. Then the sun got tired of getting yelled at. Sheesh! And slunk off without telling anybody. So it was up to Creative Source, in an orange poof of dirt at dusk. Sounded even better because we knew tomorrow would be out for blood.

(You think the crawdads are wondering how the fuck twilight ended up with “crepuscular?”)

Milton Wright: I Have You
From Spaced (Alston, 1970s)

This one is to reclaim July since it was less a month than tragic ordeal for most of my friends. (Can't we just swap out for an extra October?) Milton brushes real dirt off his shoulders--a wrinkled suit with an epaulet auto-swiffer.

One more for the roadcoder.

(My license has been expired for three years--dohcoder)

No wait, I first heard this 14 summers ago when I had to take one of my students to a hospital in Orange, Virginia at 2 a.m. (meningitis scare) and I passed out over three detention chairs in the waiting room with a box of Fruity Pebbles. Luckily it was a false alarm and this song took our faces out the window during the ride back.

Fall is the best time for the beach anyway.

As my puppet-making grandmother used to say, "It's been real and I certainly have seen you."


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

posted by O.W.

Rita Wright: Touch Me, Take Me
From 7" (Jet, 1976)

Soul Survivors: City of Brotherly Love
From S/T (TSOP, 1975)

Both from The Wants List.

Masterplan: Clinton Park
From 7" (De-Lite, 1974)

Sly, Slick and Wicked: Sho' Nuff
From 7" (People, 1973)

Both from Soulful Thangs Vol. 1.

San Francisco TKOs: Ooh Baby Baby
From 7" (Golden Soul, 1971)

Emulations: These Are the Things (snippet)
From 7" (Emulate, 1970s)

Both from Big Bad Bay Area Vol. 1.

It's not easy to put together a good compilation (believe me!) since song selection can both be a blessing and a curse. On one hand, a hardliner could claim that a comp is only as good as its weakest song but I also find that, personally, I'm willing to forgive more mediocre inclusions if there's some stunning material on there to help balance things out. But the most important factor for me is whether or not a comp has songs that are so good, it makes me want to go out and hunt down the original (of course, some folks would just be content with having a mastered version on the song off the comp...alas, my vinyl affliction does not allow for such easy satiation).

Keep in mind: it's not always about rarity/obscurity. Case in point, The Wants List is something I originally picked up because I was looking for a copy of Rita Wright's "Touch Me, Take Me." It's a mid-70s female funk groover whose intro drums sound a great deal like Barry White's "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More" (note: this is a good thing) and is rare as hen's teeth. Not that I actually know how rare hen's teeth actually are. But the original single is not easy to come by.

In getting the comp though, I realized that many of the other songs on there weren't, per se, rare...but they were very good and in some cases, turned me onto songs that I hadn't known about or had slept on. For example, there's a Carl Carlton song, produced by Leon Haywood, called "This Feeling's X-tra Rated" which is off the same LP as "She's a Bad Mama Jama" - you can find this LP in dollar bins - but I had never bothered to peep it before. However, to me, what I really enjoyed discovering was the Soul Survivors' "City of Brotherly Love." It's not a heavy soul piece by any means but it's also an obvious album that modern soul folks look for (unlike, say, Collins and Collins). The whole LP (which I promptly sought out) is excellent - classic Philly soul sound production (much of the album is produced by Holland-Dozier). This song, in particular, lays down a sweet groove for the waning days of summer.

Soulful Thangs is part of a large series (at least 7 volumes) that focuses on sweet, harmony soul - think AM radio in the droptop, after sunset songs. The consistency in the series is very, very good overall - you may not love everything, but there's much more that's likely to appeal to folks who are into sweet soul (and really - who isn't into it?) This comp is how I first heard the Masterplan's "Clinton Park," a song about a girl who lives in the Clinton Park housing projects in Oakland, CA. I like songs with geographic identities attached to them - gives you a better sense of time and place and besides, I just like how Masterplan sings (they did "Only You" which I posted back in January).

Soulful Thangs Vol. 1 also features "Sho' Nuff," a James Brown-produced sweet soul tune by the Sly, Slick and Wicked though it should be noted, this is not the same Sly, Slick and Wicked as these guys (who bill themselves as the "Original Sly Slick and Wicked" these days), nor should people get confused with the song, "Sly, Slick and Wicked" by the Lost Generation.This group is from Cleveland, Ohio (thus explaining their connection to James Brown's People imprint). Great little number and one of those People releases that I've probably let pass under the radar for too long.

Big Bad Bay Area is from the same label (Latin Soul Recordings) and is, as you might guess, a Bay Area-centric compilation of similar sweet/harmony soul recordings. They get even more deep on here though, with a few songs that are truly tough to find, like the Emulations' sublime "These Are the Things." I got hepped to this through a friend earlier in the year and apparently, it's one of those 45s that were pressed so poorly on styrene that playing it even once effectively destroys it (even on the CD, which was clearly mastered from the vinyl and not original tapes, you can hear a touch of cue burn).

This comp also has a great version of "Ooh Baby Baby," done by the San Francisco T.K.O.s, one of those local groups who never made a huge splash yet have become legendary on the collector's circuit. This is actually the b-side of "Herm," a slick little funk number previous comped on the Bay Area Funk album from a few years back. Not often you find a 2-sider 45 of this quality (read: I need this.)

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Lee Fields + Bronx River Parkway: Truth, Soul and Love
posted by O.W.

Lee Fields & The Expressions: Love Comes and Goes (snippet)
From 7" single, B-side to "My World" (Truth & Soul, 2007). Forthcoming from Many Moods of Lee Fields.

Bronx River Parkway: La Valla (Soul Sides Edit)
From 7" single (Truth & Soul, 2006).

This (and the next) post are a long, long time coming. Truth & Soul Records, run out of NYC, have become one of the few retro-soul labels which, in my opinion, challenge the quality and consistency of what Daptone Records has been putting out. That should be no surprise since Truth & Soul has roots going back to the days when Soul Fire Records (remember them?) was around and Leon Michels (of the El Michels Affair) was helping lead the Mighty Imperials. (I should be clear in noting: Daptone and Truth & Soul may be competitors but they're also allies and several of their releases share the same personnel).

The label first really came to my attention last summer, when I had both Lee Fields & The Expressions' "Honey Dove" on constant rotation and was stamping my late pass for how excellent the El Michael Affairs' Sounding Out the City was. And of course, there was the El Michels/Wu-Tang "Shaolin Series" 45s, plus the "PJs From Afar" 12" with Raekwon. (Somehow, I managed to miss writing about

Later this week, I'm going to write about the new Truth & Soul release, Tyrone Ashley's Funky Music Machine (plus giveaways!) but wanted to play catch-up a bit first:

"Love Comes and Goes" is from the new Lee Fields 45 which came out earlier in the summer and it's the lead single for the upcoming Many Moods of Lee Fields album which T&S is putting out. It's no secret that "Honey Dove" is one of my all-time favorite retro-soul songs - an absolutely sublime track - but this new 7" comes close to duplicating the same excellence. "Love Comes and Goes" is a beautiful ballad, especially with the vocal harmony on the chorus but both sides are killer. It's a great two-sider 45 (not a common occurrence by any means). However, only those with turntables can appreciate that now - for the rest of you, you'll have to wait for the CD to drop.

The Bronx River Parkway cut is something I slept on for a minute before Jared at Big City Records in NY hepped me to it by handing me a copy of "La Valla" and basically nodding, "try this. You'll like it." And indeed, I did: it's a hard-knuckled Afro-Cuban tune that reminds me of the kind of ferocious groove that something like Antibalas' "Che Che Cole" laid down. I gave this a slight edit - the opening piano is actually from one of the bridges in the middle and I brought it back to the beginning. By the way, the actual song is longer than this but I made it a snippet edit before realizing the 45 is currently out of stock (hopefully, this won't be a permanent condition). The Bronx River Parkway album is also supposed to be due out before the end of the year and expect us to write about that when the time comes.

Oh yeah: winners of the Budos Band contest: T. Booth, A. Garde, and B. Nate. Congrats!

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Now-Again: Return and Remix
posted by O.W.

Koushik feat. Percee P: Cold Beats
Aloe Blacc: Blind World
L.A. Carnival, Cut Chemist, M.E.D.: Blind Man Remix + Rap (Soul Sides Edit)

All from Now-Again Re:Sounds (Now-Again, 2007). Also available through iTunes.

This compilation from the Stonesthrow reissue subsidiary, Now-Again, snuck out there in mid-July and has stayed on the low which is a shame since it's actually a great way to make available a bunch of different songs that really haven't been on a single CD or LP before.*The history behind the album is this: one of the advantages of having Stonesthrow and Now-Again as sibling labels is that they're able to integrate projects across their respective genre lines. This has often taken the form of remixes of Now-Again funk/soul selections by the likes of Cut Chemist, Koushik, J-Rocc, etc. plus MC cameos from folks like Oh No, M.E.D., Percee P and other Stonesthrow affiliated rappers.Re:Sounds compiles together a dozen or so of these past remix projects plus adds another seven, previously unreleased. (You can see the full playlist here).

The "Cold Beats" remix by Koushik, featuring the rhyme inspector Percee P, was previously released on a 12", takes a variety of different loops and breaks off the Cold Heat comp and mashes them together into a thick-knuckled beat for Percee P to bring his signature fast rap over. Let the homicide continue.

The next two songs are taken from "Blind Man" by L.A. Carnival, one of the early 12"s on Now-Again and one of the best "rescued" songs I've heard in years. Aloe Blacc, on "Blind World," an unreleased cut, unleashes his own verbose lyricism onto a track built off elements of the original cut, his voice and that of the Carnival's vocalist contrasting against one another.

The next cut represents two of my favorite releases on Now-Again - the Cut Chemist remix of "Blind Man" which I edited together with the former white label remix by Cut feat. M.E.D. That original 12" remix of "Blind Man" by Cut is one of the greatest edits I've ever heard of a soul/funk song, especially because it flows together so organically, the remix (really, an edit), to me, is superior to the original song but it never sounds like "a remix." If you compare the two (check the original here), Cut's edit takes all the best elements and reconstructs the song and creates a new interpretation of it that is sheer brilliance. Then, with the M.E.D. remix (a remix of a remix!), the song takes on a whole new form as a hip-hop beat with the artist formerly known as Medaphor just killing sh-- on top. H y p e.

The comp also has some other gems, including Edan's "Sagitarrius Rap", J-Rocc's "Cold Heat Funk Mix" and a new Amnesty song discovered by the folks at Truth and Soul.

If you really want to ball - there's a 7" box-set featuring 7 7-inches with material not found on the CD. Go crazy!

*For those with blogs and other ways of getting the word out, try to plug this if you can!

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Craig G +Biz Markie + MC Lyte: Past or Present?
posted by O.W.

Graig G [sic]: Catch a Lyrical Beatdown
Biz Markie: My Name Is...

Bonus: MC Lyte: Listen Up (snippet)

All from Topshelf 8/8/88 (Manhattan-JPN, 2007)

Here's a little hip-hop mystery for you all...

A friend hit me on IM and said, "hey, what have you heard of this Top Shelf album?" I had no idea what he was talking about so he sent me here. The short story is that, supposedly, this compilation is made up of recordings lost back in 1988 when Top Shelf Studios in New York were looted. 19 years later and some of the tapes were found and voila.

If this story seems to push the edge of credulity, it's probably because it does (to me at least) sound rather implausible for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that for such a "Holy Grail" set of recordings, what is it doing on a super-limited distribution CD from Japan? Moreover, you'd think someone, at some point, would have shared, "oh yeah, there's all these lost tapes of hip-hop giants missing from '88."

The thing is though - the recordings themselves both lend credence to this back story's validity as well as undermine it because, in some cases, the songs really do sound like they could be vintage but in many cases, they also don't sound anything like what hip-hop in '88 would have been like, especially in the production department.

On the side of, "hey, maybe this is real," there's the Craig G (mis-typed on the album as Graig G) and "Catch a Lyrical Beatdown" which is a f r e s h cut in any era. Of course, his reference of Die Hard (which came out in 1988) seems juuuuuust a little too convenient but the flow and voice sounds right for the late '80s/early '90s and the beat is also reminiscent of the period though it sounds just a tad too sophisticated to be '88.

That's definitely why Biz Markie's song, "My Name Is..." (which I really like) doesn't sound convincing to me from the era. He's supposed to be 18 on this? Word? And the beat feels a few steps beyond, say, "Return of the Biz Dance" or "Albee Square Mall" (songs from '88).

You have to say this much: if this is a hoax, all the artists did a great job of trying to kick styles that sound "right" for the era, especially in some of the lyrical references to historical icons and nomenclature (the LQ!). And there's a few songs, like the Grand Puba and Black Sheep cuts, which, if not from '88 sound like they're still more vintage than what you've heard them kick in contemporary times. Intriguing.

I included a snippet of MC Lyte's contribution, "Listen Up," since A) it's a cool song, B) I love MC Lyte and C) it uses the "Time and Place" (Lee Moses) loop that Lyte's old First Priority partner Positive K used for "Night Shift." This is actually one of my fave songs on here - Lyte sounds great.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Marco Polo + Large Professor + DJ Premier: Remix Science
posted by O.W.

First of all, while he's yet to be the blogging machine that is J-J-J-J-J-Just Blaze, DJ Premier is podcasting and that's good 'nuff.

In the midst of that near 2 hour podcast (sorry Shug, but looks like your boy Vick is going down), Primo dropped this ridiculous cut in the midst:

Marco Polo feat. Large Professor: The Radar Remix
From 12" (Rawkus, upcoming 2007)

Just to give you the real flavor, I left in all of Premier's cutting up of the intro drums. You gotta love radio's unlike mixtapes and club mixing since you really can't get away with long back-and-forth cutting like this is any medium outside of radio. Yet, when a DJ really gets into it (peep the old Pete Rock WBLS shows if you want to know what I mean), it's just pure pleasure to listen to.

And a solar hot remix to boot. Marco Polo's album, Port Authority is one of the best underground hip-hop efforts I've heard in a while and he elevates with his own remix of "The Radar," featuring Large Professor. The 12" is coming out soon and while I haven't bought very many singles in the last few, this one is at the top of my list.

Congrats to Benjamin J. for winning the Light in the Attic contest!
Budos Band winners coming soon.
Next giveaway comes from the folks at Truth and Soul Records.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Birthday Bash
posted by O.W.

In celebration of my 35th, I decided to share a present with ya'll: a digitized copy of my first funk/soul/jazz mix-CD, Soul Symphony. I originally put this out back in the '90s (at this point, I can't even remember when) and have never brought it back into rotation. It was a concept mix of a sort and rather appropriate with Soul Sides itself since all the music on here was inspired by Sole Sides, the Bay Area indie hip-hop label whose name obviously inspired mine. Sample hounds will enjoy this but it's also got some great songs regardless of how it's been used by later producers. Unfortunately, I don't have a tracklisting available - ya'll will just have to piece it together yourselves ;).

Soul Symphony - Side A
Soul Symphony - Side B
Password = gimmesoul

(oops, I redid the second link. The original was the wrong one).


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Max Roach: R.I.P.
posted by O.W.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Remembering Richard "Kush" Griffith
posted by O.W.

Kush: Up There and Out There + New Thing
From Kush and His Blues Meet Funk Mediocre (Kushsights, 2006)

James Brown: Ain't It Funky Now
From Ain't It Funky Now (King, 1970)

Parliament: I'm a Fish (And You're a Water Sign)
From Motor Booty Affair (Casablanca, 1978)

Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns: When In Doubt: Vamp
From Blow For Me, Toot For You (Atlantic, 1978)

(Editor's Note: If I had my sh-- together better, I would have posted this a week ago, on August 8th - Richard "Kush" Griffith's b-day. He would have been 59.

The following post was written by Chuck Fishman who sent me a CD filled with his favorite songs by this groundbreaking JBs/P-Funk trumpeter. I'll be candid - I never really knew much about Kush at all; the only JBs horn player that I knew, instantly, by name, is Fred Wesley but both men were instrumental in developing the song of funk across the span of the 1980s. Fishman was clearly a huge fan of Kush and I felt like he could write an excellent tribute to the late master. Here it is... --O.W.)

Written by Chuck Fishman
    We are losing influential members of the funk music community. The latest name to pass on to the funky side is one you may not know, Richard "Kush" Griffith; he was a close personal friend of mine. To friends and fans, many know him simply as Kush. He played trumpet and arranged and recorded for a roster of artists including Buddy Miles, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson Five, the Commodores.

    Kush's work and contributions to James Brown / JB's and Parliament / Funkadelic camps are certainly the most well known. Obviously the two influential funk units have a common thread, as William "Bootsy" Collins got his start in the JB's and brought several members over to P-Funk in the mid-seventies.

    Readers of SoulSides likely know who those JB's are that joined P-Funk : the sax master Maceo Parker, and trombonist and arranger Fred Wesley. They shaped the funk with James Brown, and gave Parliament its punchy R&B horn sound on top of Bernie Worrell's spacey synths and Bootsy's bass thumps.

    Fred and Maceo also brought Richard "Kush" Griffith along from the JB's into the P-Funk horn fold  ... but Kush had actually been leading his own rhythm section at Motown, called Bottom & Company since he left the JB's with Maceo to form Maceo and All The Kings Men in 1970. I couldn't find the picture of the album cover for Bottom & Company's LP, "Rock Bottom" which features a smiling Kush. Here you see him in the center, and Bottom & Company had a good run from about 72 to 76 not only as its own unit, but as Motown house band.

    Kush first appeared as a member of P-Funk through Bootsy's Rubber Band 1977 effort "Ahhh ... The Name is Bootsy Baby" and was on the Parliament album out that same year, "Funkentelechy and the Placebo Syndrome". He went on to be the bandleader of the Brides of Funkenstein in the P-Funk camp, and also of course George Clinton signed "Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns" to a deal with Atlantic; the band featured Fred, Maceo, Kush and the final member of the horn quartet is Rick Gardner who comes from the horn group Chase.

    Kush is a Leo like me, and he lived large. As you see from the picture here of P-Funk's "Horny Horns" he was as large as he lived.

    Kush in the middle; Bootsy's Rubber Band

    Kush on left in Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns publicity shot.

    But when I first met Kush in Denver in 1999, he was weak and frail. Years of drugs, drinking, the road caught up with him ... he was blind, crippled and hostage to kidney dialysis. He had arthritis, spinal stenosis, a heart condition, a torn rotator cuff and a list of other physical ailments that's long, and nasty. Franky "Kash" Waddy, the drummer from Bootsy's Rubber Band told me in 1999, Chuck, hey you got to help Kush make some music ... and we did that with our own bands Uncut, and fONKSQUISh, and of course Kush's solo effort here. Despite Kush's health situation, he was determined to make music and we did that in our Denver studio over the past few years. I couldn't believe what a tour de force he was in the studio. Fortunately, while his health was getting even worse in 2006, we got an album done for Kush, titled "Kush and His Blues Meet Funk Mediocre".

    I am not sure if you can still really buy this from anymore, because it came out in a limited release last year. "Up There and Out There" is my favorite track on the album for its sinster funk slink, but likely a track you will really dig more is "New Thing" because of its melodic horn lines and emotional singing from Kush.

    In 2006, I asked Kush, with his large catalog, what his 5 favorite tracks were from everything he participated in over the years. I was struck that his first choice was The S.O.S Band's "Take Your Time", which he played trumpets on with Fred Wesley on trombone.

    For his James Brown years, Kush said his favorite contribution was to "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)." Sure, but I offer up "Ain't it Funky Now" here so you can hear Kush get called out by James.

    For Parliament, Kush said its one song from the "Motor Booty Affair" album. It's "I'm a Fish (And You're a Water Sign)". This song was written by a very talented Walter "Junie" Morrison, and that's a name for a whole another post. Kush is also a credited writer here. Kush said George and Junie handed him the horn arrangement duties and the results are just so beautiful. Kush told me he was very proud of the opening horn riff.

    For Bootsy, wow, it's been a bit, and I can't recall what Kush told me his favorite work was here ... but we did discuss "Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns", again the LPs where Kush and his horny compatriots got to shine as the lead artists. While it's not my favorite track at all from the group's first LP, "A Blow for Me, A Toot to You", Kush insists it is the highlight of the album, and its his favorite: "When in Doubt: Vamp".

    I hope this sheds some light on the "Funky Trumpeter", Richard "Kush" Griffith. I didn't say yet in the post how warm this man was -- so briefly : he was always willing to pep you up, take a long phone call, and give out that good old life advice. He recently returned to Louisville, KY as of last year. That's his home, and the town he took off from when he joined the James Brown band in the late 60's. When I called him once in Kentucky, he told me how the local thugs had stolen his trumpet. He got it back, and he was still bright despite terrible, deteriorating health and just plain old ghetto conditions.


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Monday, August 13, 2007

Budos Band: Sting, Sting, Sting
posted by O.W.

The Budos Band: Chicago Falcon + Budos Rising (snippets)
From Budos Band II (Daptone, 2007)

Most associate Daptone Records with Sharon Jones and the Dapkings and certainly, that is the label's crown jewel but it's worth remembering that the label is home to other artists as well, including The Budos Band, one of the more impressive funk instrumental groups out there. Time was when most funk bands were replaying hip-hop licks - and there was certainly a time and place for that (still is, if you look at the success of the El Michels Affair/Wu-Tang collabos) - but over the years, many groups have learned the musical chops of more than just the JBs and Meters-style of funk. If Antibalas is the nuevo-Afrobeat group then the Budos Band is clearly updating Ethiopian beat to our times -think compositions of eclectic, exotic arrangements and melodies mixed with funky rhythms that even Mulatu wouldn't have seen coming.

This entire new album (check out the group's first as well) is incredibly listenable, meaning it's the sort of music you can throw on in any situation and just let it ride. I especially like "Budos Rising," which is a masterpiece of different styles all colliding together in sublime unison.

Thanks to the kind folks at Daptones, we have a few copies of the new CD to give away. To win, tell me the names and instruments of the group's horn section. Send your answer here. I'll randomly select two-three winners after August 17th.

Speaking of which, congrats to the winner of the Marc Broussard LP giveaway - Deb.
Congrats to the Mark Ronson CD giveaways - Phil, Ken, Tim, Justin and KB.

Do I have more goodies? Oh yeah.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Titans Rock
posted by O.W.

Mezzanine Owls: Lightbulb
From Slingshot Echoes (2006)

This is a somewhat autobiographical post, off the typical Soul Sides track but indulge me for a sec...

As I've gotten older, I've grown increasingly curious about what my high school classmates are up to. (I graduated class of 1990). One reason for this is that I attended a very affluent, very competitive public high school (San Marino, if you must ask) in Southern California and one byproduct of both its affluence and competitiveness is that most of my classmates were aspiring professionals. I might be painting with a very broad brush but I've always gotten the impression that most of my classmates ended up as mid-level professionals - one big mass of corporate attorneys, dentists, ophthalmologists and junior VPs.

As a result, it's been far, far harder to locate classmates who went into artistic/creative work. I'm hardly a bohemian as a professor and music writer but from what I can tell, that's rather "black sheep" for my alma mater. In any case, in the last few years, I've taken to randomly Google-ing classmates to see if I could find anyone who was NOT a corporate attorney, dentist, ophthalmologist or junior VP.

It is, to be sure, a very short list. Of course, I didn't methodically go through 250 names (the size of my graduating class) since I barely remember even a third of that but for the most part, I only turned up a teeny handful of creative types, including Phat Phuong (awesome name), a digital artist who works for Pixar and more recently, I discovered that the drummer from my junior high school marching band (Huntington Foxes, holla!) is now the drummer for the Mezzanine Owls - a group of some renown in the L.A. indie rock scene. (That's their photo above. Pauline is on the far right).

I checked out their music - it's definitely more along the lines of something Music For Robots or Stereogum would plug (and that's meant in a complimentary way).

I wasn't close friends with Pauline growing up, though in hindsight, I did always think it was cool that she, as both female and Chinese American, was into the drums so it's really nice to see that she stuck with it and was lauded, in some place I read, as the best female drummer since Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss retired (sniff). And hey, it could be that she's actually an ophthalmologist by day and just rocks Silverlake clubs at night but as one of the first practicing musicians I've found from SMHS' "mighty class of '90" - I'll take it.

Speaking of high a lot of Asian American kids growing up in the suburbs of L.A. in the 1980s, I listened to a lot of modern rock (before I discovered hip-hop) and as any of my flock will tell you, New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" was the anthem for Asian Americans in that generation. I still can't completely explain why though my friends Todd and Hua both have had their theories, likely connected to AZN anomie in suburbia or something like that. So it's with a heavy heart that I learned that Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records which was the original home to New Order/Joy Division, just passed today, at only 57.

The movie, 24 Hour Party People was a semi-fictionalized bio-pic of his life and times (a thoroughly enjoyable film, especially if you know the music). Here's a favorite scene from it, which seems appropriately titled: Tony Wilson meets God. RIP!

And on a similar note: I had meant to mention this earlier, though folks had posted in the comments section...but guitarist Eddie Fisher, a favorite of this site, passed away last month. I had the privilege of meeting his son in San Francisco when he dropped off a copy of Fisher's amazing Next 100 Years CD reissue and his father will be sorely missed. RIP as well.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Incognitos Redux Back in Stock
posted by O.W.

It only took, um, a few years but I finally put Incognitos Redux, my rare rap CD, back in stock.

As an incentive, here's one of the songs featured:

De La Soul: Double Huey Skit
From 12", test pressings of "Say No Go" (Tommy Boy, 1988)

As I note in the liners for the mix-CD: "The "Baby Huey Skit" was introduced to me by Jeff "DJ Zen" Chang way back in the day. He knew I was a De La Soul fan and wanted to hep me to something that I didn't know about yet - a song that was only available on test-pressings of "Say No Go" (as well as promo-CD copies of the same song as I was to discover later). As you can hear, the skit uses the theme from the "Muppets Show" which explains why it never made the official 12": sample clearance deaded it. It's a fun song, not the least of which is that it has Double D (of Steinski and Double D fame) and Mase rhyming on it. A must for any De La completionist."

I haven't had Incognitos available in a while and I'm not sure if I'm going to keep it in permanent rotation so get your copies while you can.


Papo Felix/Ray Rodriguez + Joe Acosta: Ghetto Sounds
posted by O.W.

Popo Felix and Ray Rodriguez: Work Out (Part 2)
From Papo Felix Meets Ray Rodriguez (Ghetto, 1971)

Joe Acosta: I Need Her
From The Power of Love (Ghetto, 1971)

I've been on a massive Latin kick lately, finally committing to beefing up my collection with titles I've looked at for years but hadn't pulled the trigger on. Expect to see a slew of Latin/boogaloo-related posts in the weeks to come.

Just so we're clear though - I got both the Acosta and Felix/Rodriguez on CD - original vinyl copies are in scarce (and astronomically $) supply. However, my interest in the albums isn't an issue of format. I was originally put onto the Ghetto catalog by a friend who knew I was researching my Wax Poetics story on Joe Bataan. At the time, I knew about Bataan's records with Fania and his later career with Salsoul but I didn't realize he had, for a brief time, branched out with his own record label: Ghetto.

You can hear Joe's own words about Ghetto here but the short story is this: Joe created Ghetto when he was in the middle of a stand-off with Fania. Rather than let his career sit on hold, Ghetto was a way for him to both stay busy in the Latin music world as well as try his hand at producing records for others. The label was funded by George Febo, a local uptown drug dealer who had aspirations of his own to dabble as a music exec.

The label turned out, at most, half a dozen albums, all of them very collectible (though the Bataan-produced Paul Ortiz album does turn up fairly often). The Papo Felix/Ray Rodriguez is one of three that Bataan himself produced and it was a bit of a revelation. I was expecting more of a Latin soul album but this is a full-fledged, descarga-ed, big band dance effort that sounds little like Bataan's own albums from the era (and this not meant in a negative way). Instead, it's loud and rousing, with brassy charm in spades. The cut with the most Latin soul sabor is the sizzling "Work Out (Part 2)," a funky affair of clanging percussion and a piano riff that charges with the energy of a car chase. I'd buy this album just that track alone (if I could actually afford to).

The Joe Acosta, ironically, is not one of the Ghetto albums that Bataan oversaw yet the inclusion of "I Need Her" is the closest thing to Bataan's style of doo-wop-derived soul singing. It's a slow, shuffling ballad that really showcases Acosta's Jon Cruz's distinctive voice (reminds me a little of Bill Withers). I'm no expert, but I get the sense here that he's oversinging the notes a bit as a way to get around some pitch issues but regardless, the net effect works for the song.

There's one other Ghetto album that was reissued: Orquestra La Fantastica's Ear to Ear which I hear is worth checking out as well.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Proper, Proper, Proper
posted by O.W.

Tickets available through Ticketmaster

I wish I was anywhere near NY for this show.

But...for the rest of us...
    Fall Tour

    10/6/07 - New York, NY - Apollo Theater
    11/9/07 - Boston, MA - Middle East
    11/11/07 - Montreal, QC - La Tulipe
    11/13/07 - Toronto, ON - Lee's Palace
    11/14/07 - Detroit, MI - Magic Stick
    11/15/07 - Chicago, IL - Park West
    11/16/07 - Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue
    11/17/07 - Milwaukee, WI - Turner Hall
    11/20/07 - Cleveland, OH - Beachland Ballroom

    12/01/07 - San Diego, CA - Belly Up Tavern
    12/04/07 - Los Angeles, CA - Venue: To Be Confirmed
    12/05/07 - San Francisco, CA - Bimbo's 365 Club
    12/07/07 - Portland, OR - Doug Fir Lounge
    12/08/07 - Seattle, WA - Neumo's
    12/09/07 - Vancouver, BC - Commodore Ballroom
    12/10/07 - Bellingham, WA - The Nightlight

Speaking of things related to both Harlem and music: there's a rally today in Harlem to save Bobby Robinson's home and store from eviction.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Cal Tjader, Camp Lo, 45 King/Latee, Maurice Davis: Sparklin'
posted by O.W.

Cal Tjader: Leyte
From Soul Sauce (Verve, 1964)

Camp Lo: Sparkle
From Uptown Saturday Night (Profile, 1997)

45 King feat. Latee: Brainstorm
From For DJs Only EP (45 King Records, 198?)

Maurice Davis: Mr. Lonely
From 7" (BeeGee, 197?)

I've spent the last week or so slaving over an assignment involving classic funk tunes and frankly, if I hear another Commodores or Ohio Players song, I might have a seizure. To unwind, I've been listening to a variety of different tunes, a sampling of which follows.

Technically, these songs are a bit out of order since I wouldn't have gotten to Tjader's "Leyte" if I hadn't been listening to Uptown Saturday Night and wondering, "I wonder what sample Ski used?" Admittedly, I probably should have already been up on "Leyte" given that Soul Sauce was one of Tjader's most successful albums ever but oddly, I never got around to picking this one up (probably because I saw it around so much, I just figured I'd grab it "next time").

Sometimes, there's nothing so good to chill out to than a great vibraphone track and Tjader has these in embarrassing abundance (at some point, I really need to post up his version of "Morning" off of Agua Dulce but another time, another time) and "Leyte" is right up there with the best. It has a smoky, Afro-Latin sabor that's laid-back without being lazy, what people should mean when they speak of "lounge" music instead of that campy kitsch that often passes for it. And the vibes - ah, the vibes - sparkling...

...which of course, brings us to Camp Lo's "Sparkle," one of the smoothest cuts off the still-slept-on Uptown Saturday Night album and obviously, one that borrows heavily from "Leyte." Given the throwback, '70s steez of Camp Lo, they sound perfect over this track (even if their lyrics could be more obtusely stream of consciousness than Ghostface's). By the way, be sure to track down the "Mr. Midnight" mix of "Sparkle" which is basically an acapella set over the "Sparkle" beat but filtered to a ghostly wisp of the original. Mega-minimalist and surprisingly effective.

As it was, by sheer coincidence, in my iTunes playlist, "Leyte" was followed by "Brainstorm" and the two songs were perfect for one another given that this obscure 45 King track also uses vibes on it. I still have to thank's Robbie E. for swapping this EP with me, plus Cold Rock Da Spot gets love for their recent 45 King-themed post. Had this been on a commercial single, it would have easily been up there with the best of Latee's Wild Pitch catalog not to mention 45 King at his best.

Lastly, I recently got a copy of this Maurice Smith single from rapper/producer/game show player Thes One who knew I was a fan of BeeGee material (the local, Los Angeles, Scientologist-funded label), especially since he thought keyboardist Shelton Kirby was playing the Rhodes on here (and I love me some Rhodes). As a vocalist, Smith's style sounds initially too old-fashined for the song - there's a time warp effect - but as the song builds, it all melts together better and Smith ends up reminding me of Eugene McDaniels; this song, sound-wise, would have fit nicely onto something like Headless Heroes. I love how the song builds slowly, and the arrangement takes these small, but significant turns after each bridge. Lovely indeed.

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