I moved up to the Bay Area in the early â€™90s when the acid jazz scene was popping off there but alas, I never took advantage to go to the central parties at Nickieâ€™s BBQ in the Upper Haight and other venues where folks like DJ Greyboy or Mark Farina would spin when they were in town. That said, the sound of acid jazz was there in the background when I was learning to become a DJ and even if I didnâ€™t spin a ton of it, I was more than aware of its influence in the worlds of hip-hop and dance music.
â€œStep Into Lightâ€ is clearly influenced by Adminâ€™s long history working with jazz, deep house, and similar dance styles. Iâ€™m a sucker for songs that begin with a good piano loop so this caught my ear from jump. But I like how it patiently builds over the course of the opening 16 bars, not bringing in the heavy drums until youâ€™ve had some quality time, soaking in that slow burn intro. Iâ€™m also not normally a fan of sax but the way itâ€™s used in this dreamy (vs. saxy-sax) way is fine by me. Like I said, the whole vibe takes me back to the era of Farinaâ€™s Mushroom Jazz mixes.
Admin was generous enough to share some of the making-of details behind the song. For one, he started working on it at the beginning of the CV19 pandemic:
it was pretty bleak in the UK during a winter lockdown and I think a lot of people including myself were finding solace in listening and producing music. The names of the tracks are reminders to keep on moving forward and to take time on yourself [b-side is entitled â€œReflect + Healâ€].
Musically, Admin explained that he was drawing on some of his favorite influences: jazz, house and hip-hop and while he wasnâ€™t giving up his sources, his samples on here reflected his usual production process:
Iâ€™ll usually just pick something out of my collection, just on a hunch, and play through listening for anything that can be used for a track. I remember both tracks just fell into place, which is always a good sign when making beats.
Lastly, I wanted to know why he decided to release this as a white label vs. a more formal release and it had everything to do with the context in which the songs were created:
I needed to keep myself busy and was at a stage where I had put out a few edit whitelabels previously, so it all just clicked really. I wanted this release to be personal.
That partly explains why he opted to release this as a white label:
The project came about quite organically at the start of the COVID pandemic. I needed to keep myself busy and was at a stage where I had put out a few edit whitel abels previously, so it all just clicked really. I wanted this release to be personal.
My thanks to Admin for his time and Dave Haffner for putting me up on this glorious slice of hopefulness. â€œStep Into Lightâ€ b/w â€œReflect + Healâ€ are available for digital purchase via his Bandcamp account.. The 500 units of the physical copies sold out quickly and though they still pop up, youâ€™ll have to hunt them down.
This is a revisit of sorts though I havenâ€™t written about the Skye single since 2008. Itâ€™s a disco 45 where Iâ€™m continually surprised that dancers donâ€™t seem to adore it as much as I do. In my more active DJing days, I was convinced it would be a floor-filler and while it wasnâ€™t quite a floor-killer, it just never produced the kind of reaction I assumed/hoped for. People just treated it likeâ€¦whatever and it made me want to grab a mic and shout â€œyou fools, this is amazing! Whatâ€™s wrong with the lot of you?!â€
But câ€™est la vie. Maybe Iâ€™ve had the wrong crowds. Or maybe Iâ€™m just alone on this hill (I donâ€™t think so though).
Skye traces its beginning back to JFK High School in Richmond CA where members of the school jazz band, including Johnnie â€œSargentâ€ Tucker, Kevin Burton, Carl Lockett, Kevin Lockett, Michael Jeffries, Michael Griggs and Marciel Garner, formed into Two Things in One. They drew the interest of Ray Dobardâ€™s prolific Bay Area label, Music City, who released their first single â€œSilly Song/Snag Nastyâ€ as the Music City Two In One in 1971 but later, the groupâ€™s name was changed to The Two Things In One by 1973. Officially, they only released two more singles on Music City but the bulk of all their recordings were compiled back in 2011 for the Together Forever anthology..
In 2011, I interviewed Alec Palao, who compiled that anthology, for my Sidebar podcast and he was the first person from whom I learned about the connection between Two Things In One and Skye; totally blew my mind since I knew of both groups but not how they were linked. Skye was formed by most of the former members of The Two Things In One after a relocation to L.A. to continue pursuing recording opportunities. This included lead singer Michael Jeffries, drummer Marcel Garner, bassist Sargent Tucker, guitarists Carl Lockett and Michael Griggs, plus newcomer Greg Levias on keys.
Back in 2008, writing about about songs, I had this to say about â€œAinâ€™t No Needâ€:
â€œAinâ€™t No Needâ€ is the kind of song I want to wrap around me like a sleeping bag â€“ everything about this is sublime to me. Itâ€™s practically all chorus in essence but the chord progressions and instrumentation combine so beautifully that you can lose yourself inside the groove forever.
Let me add (13 years later): the main groove powering the song feels like the platonic ideal of what great disco should sound like: driving and energetic but very importantly, also uplifting. If Jeffriesâ€™s lyrics are to be taken at face value, this is a breakup song but it doesnâ€™t feel like one, quite the opposite. It feels euphoric, even perhaps spiritual in how the groove and Jeffriesâ€™s vocals keep cycling over and over. It becomes a literally repetitive song yet itâ€™s anything but static in its kineticism. This is precisely why I donâ€™t understand it doesnâ€™t light up the dance floor; I find it completely irresistable in making me want to move something.
In any case, a few year ago, Jeffries and Garner sold off dead stock copies of â€œAinâ€™t No Needâ€ and in doing so, helped fill in some of the history behind its recording, namely that it was taped during a 10 hour session in the spring of 1976 and released a few months later in the summer.
The outstanding questions Iâ€™d still have: what studio was it taped at? Why did A&M create Anada and why did it have so few releases? How was the single initially received? Etc. More I think about this, the song would make a great candidate for a future Single Servings episode.
However, what makes “Falcon” so memorable isn’t simply the instrumentation. The arrangement here is funky but in what I find to be a very distinct way. There’s songs that fall into a clear “Latin funk” category; take Ricardo Marrero’s “Babalonia” for example. However, “Falcon” isn’t that kind of funk tune; to me, it’s primarily a salsa dura cut that incorporates just enough funky polyrhythms â€” and that electric piano â€” to give it this subtle funk foundation while still staying true to its Afro-Cuban roots. The absolute gold standard for funky salsa cuts is Roberta Roena’s epic “Que Se Sepa” but while I don’t think “Falcon” is quite at the same level, it’s definitely in the mix with other top quality funky salsa dura jams like Luis Santi’s sizzling “Los Feligreses” from the ’70s or Peliroja’s 2014 jam “Ciudad de Nadie.” But who were Caffe? Where were they originally from? As Michael notes in his blog, he’s stumped everyone he’s played it for thus far and I’m no closer than he is to solving this particular riddle.
Richard Ryder and the Eighth Wonder: Phase III (Y’Blood, 1972)
This is a very curious 7″ EP I’ve had for years but it wasn’t until earlier today that I was thunderstruck by something about it â€” and specifically the song “Phase III” â€” that I should have picked up on a long time ago: the song is intertwined with Amanda Ambrose’s “(I Ain’t Singing No More) Sad Songs”. Fans of my Soul Sides Vol. 1comp (or of The Artifacts) should already be well-familiar with Ambrose’s tune but it wasn’t until today that I even realized that it and “Phase III” had so much in common.
My theory â€” and this is purely based on circumstantial evidence â€” is that “Phase III” was the equivalent to a demo version that eventually was turned into “Sad Song” (as it was originally entitled) on Ambrose’s Laughing LP. For one, the Phase III EP was copyrighted in 1972, Ambrose’salbum was copyrighted in ’73. Moreover, “Phase III” is mostly an instrumental, with some similarities in arrangement, but neither song immediately sounds like a cover of the other; had “Phase III” been purely an instrumental, I doubt I ever would have made any connection between the two. But around the 2:40 mark, the main hook of Ambrose’s “Sad Song” is right there. *mind blown emoji*
Backing up a sec…this whole EP is already unusual. It was bankrolled by George Youngblood on his Y’Blood imprint and in case people didn’t know who he was, the back cover conveniently tells us that he was the former defensive back for the Chicago Bears (though he was drafted by the Rams). Y’Blood only put out a handful releases, including singles by both Eighth Wonder (who I assume was some kind of family band) and Richard Ryder and it seems like each of their respective Y’Blood 45s were reissued onto this EP.
However, I don’t know to what extent Ryder or Eighth Wonder had anything to do with the song “Phase III.” On here, writing credit goes to both Youngblood and Don Trotter, the latter of whom, we are told on the cover, was the writer of “Love Land,” a minor hit for the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band in 1970. Trotter is the credited producer for the Phase III EP but notably, his name is not anywhere connected with Ambrose’s “Sad Song.” The credited writers on that song are â€” and this just blows my mind â€” Charles Wright, Catherine Rahman and Yusuf Rahman. On Ambrose’s original Laughing LP though, it’s only a “V. Rahman” who’s credited; presumably Yusuf but mis-credited with a “V” instead of “Y.”
Let’s back up even further: Yusuf Rahman was a keyboardist who helped co-write the Watts 103rd St.’s 1969 song “Comment” and he also helped arrange and play onseveral other Watts 103rd St. albums. As such, it seems almost certain that Rahman and Trotter knew one another; at the very least, they would have moved in the same circles. None of this explains the connection between “Phase III” and “Sad Song” however. If it truly was a Trotter composition in 1972, how did he get replaced as the credited writer in 1973 by Rahman? And if “Sad Song” was co-written by Wright, did Wright also have anything to do with the PhaseIII project? As far as I can tell, there’s no formal connection between Wright and Youngblood or Ryder or Eighth Wonder.
I love these little mysteries because something as simple as a song can hint at a larger world of musical communities that aren’t always obvious at first glance but once you scratch the proverbial surface, you begin to see the intersections all criss-crossing around.
2019 was a good balance between new music I discovered/enjoyed vs. old tunes I’m continually finding via records. I find that raising a teenager helps with the former and while I would never try to pass myself off – these days – as having a finger of the musical zeitgeist, I think it’s valuable to stay engaged with new music coming out. Anyways…I’m going to flip this from the round-ups of the last few years and start with the old tracks I gave heavy run to last year. (Not in ranked order)
1. The Rascals: My World (1968)
So…yeah, I slept. I think the only reason I even came across it last year was because of the 3 Ft. High and Rising anniversary mixtape. Anyways, this is an example of a perfect ’60s pop song in terms of all its core elements: the vocal interplay is key, the instrument and arrangement decisions are lush without being overbaked, and the hook is a legit ear worm.
2. Karen Dalton: Are You Leaving For the Country? (1971)
Credit for this goes to Jason Woodbury who brought in the Dalton LP for our Heat Rocks episode. I find the song haunting and melancholy and even this city boy isn’t immune to its sentiment.
3. Basabasa Experience: Homowo (1979)
Earlier this summer, I was crashing for a couple of nights with my friend Hua and in his office, he has a small stack of records and this was near the top. I was intrigued by the title and asked about it and he just put it on and I was instantly smitten. It’s easily the best African disco LP I’ve ever heard and “Homowo” is a standout thanks to those opening synths and the lyrics.
4. Italian Asphalt and Pavement Company: Check Yourself (1970)
No shade on The Intruders, who originally recorded this Gamble/Huff tune, but this cover by the IAP Co. is straight crossover fire.
5. Ohio Penitentiary 511 Jazz Ensemble: Psych City (1971)
The best prison spiritual jazz LP ever recorded. Ok, maybe the only but seriously, this whole album is a gem. Read more here.
6. Kalle & L’African Team De Paris : Africa Boogaloo (1971)
I’ve long been a fan of New York boogaloo influences returning to its African roots and this single, written/produced by Manu Dibango, is a stellar example of the genre.
7. Nina Simone: Cosi Ti Amo (1970)
The High Priestess taking it higher for an Italian jukebox-only cover of her “To Love Somebody,” sung in Italian. I have Y La Bamba’s Luz Mendoza to thank for this since I came across it when she chose Simone’s LP for her Heat Rocks episode.
8. R.D. Burman: Dance Music (1976)
Listening to Freddie Gibbs/Madlib’s “Education” (see below) compelled me to track its sample source back to this R.D. Burman-produced Bollywood marvel that packs in four movements in so many minutes. I find the whole song to be magical but the portion that kicks off a little after two minutes in is the best.
9. Herman Davis: Gotta Be Loved (1971)
A white whale that took me a few years to hunt down, I think of this as a repentant playboy’s anthem. Love the whole groove of this one-off single from St. Louis MO’s Davis, especially the plinkling piano after “I hear the raindrops” opening line.
10. The Delfonics: He Donâ€™t Really Love You (1968)
Talk about coming out the gate: this is the Delfonics’ first single and it’s a masterful deep/sweet soul tune. The hook is massive and shout out to whoever is working the kettle drum on this.
11. Sweet Daddy Reed: I Believe To My Soul (1969)
Came across this via my dude Pablo: Sweet Daddy Reed takes Ray Charles’s original and strips it down to its bluesy bones. So deep, so good.
12. Breakers Two: I’m Gonna Get Down (1965)
When I came upon this in Amsterdam’s awesome Wax Well Records, I assumed it was an early electro single given the artist name and song title but nope: it’s a gorgeous island soul single from Guyana.
13. Joby Valente: Tu N’es Pas Riche, Tu N’es Pas Beau (1970)
Same trip to Amsterdam also brought me to Paris and I scooped this (plus the “Africa Boogaloo” single from earlier) at the ace Superfly Records. Originally from Martinique, Valente recorded several sides for the French/Guadalupe label Aux Ondes and this B-side is a killer blend of her voice with some soul boulder goodness on the track.
14. Members of the Staff: Stop the Bells (1972)
Bought this one off of the aforementioned Hua: a Leon Haywood-produced, Gene Page-arranged, local L.A. tear-jerker that’s definitely NOT what you want to play at a wedding.
15. Fully Guaranteed: We Canâ€™t Make It Together (1972)
One of the last things I picked up in 2019, I love how this is an answer/rebuke track to the 1970 soft rock hit, “Make It Together.” Take that, Bread!
Ok, onto the new joints….
1. Jamila Woods: Betty
I mean…Jamila made a song about Betty Davis. That’s already frickin’ awesome but it’s also my favorite tune off her Legacy! Legacy!” Those opening piano chords lure you in and I was hooked all the way through the stinger. I just wish it was longer but hey, I don’t want to be greedy.
2. Valerie June: Cosmic Dancer
Would I have guessed that Valerie would absolutely smash a T-Rex cover? Actually, yes, yes I would. The melancholic beauty of her rendition is just sublime.
3. Bazzi: I.F.L.Y.
This might be the most “Spotify sound” track on my list but if I’m a victim of the algorithm, I’m ok with that. Give me all the mellifluous guitar R&B beats.
4. Normani: Motivation
This feels like retro-Destiny’s Child and I mean that in all the best ways.
5. Los Retros: Someone to Spend Time With
I’m fine with Tapia’s general sound but it’s the pairing of his voice with Firelordmelisa’s that makes this work as well as it does.
My only knock: why is there no 45 for this yet?!?!?!
6. UMI: Sukidakara
UMI is one of my favorite new artist discoveries and I love that she gets to bust out her Japanese skills on this one. My 14 y.o. was already into her sound but discovering that UMI is half-Japanese (like her) endeared her even more.
7. Samm Henshaw: Church
London’s Henshaw is also one of my favorite new artist discoveries. I thought his 2018 single, “Broke” was stellar and this new gospel-infused single is similarly awesome. Glory glory hallelujah.
8. Kota the Friend: Chicago Diner
The lyrics here are…just ok but the vibe? Cookies in the oven on a Sunday, indeed.
9. Lady Wray: Come On In
As the late Matthew Africa would have called this: it’s a soul boulder.
So. Damn. Heavy.
10. Brainstory: Beautyful Beauti
Straight outta the Inland Empire, Brainstory’s Buck was one of my favorite albums of 2019 and this single, in particular, embodies everything great about their sound/style.
11. G Yamazawa: Good Writtens Vol. 5
I’m digging G’s entire “Good Written” series so this really was a toss up between equals. Regardless, I’m hyped for whenever he puts out some new studio material in 2020.
12. Amber Mark: Love is Stronger Than Pride
Technically from 2018 but no song got more early 2019 play than Mark’s luscious riff on Sade’s classic.
13. Solange: Stay Flo
I’m not sure how a song can sound sparse and lush at the same time but here we are.
14. Freddie Gibbs, Madlib, Yasiin Bey, Black Thought: Education
I suppose this is lab-engineered to appeal to ’90s heads like myself but I don’t care. Having these three cats flow over that R.D. Burman loop (see above) is lo-fi gold.
15. Lizzo: Truth Hurts
Artist of the year and it’s not particularly close. We’re all in Lizzo’s world now.
Back in spring 2011, I visited New Orleans and came back with a handful of records. Amongst them was a single by Floyd Anckle and the Majestic Brass Band, performing what I expected to be a cover of The Meters’ mid-70s hit, “Hey Pocky-Way.” However, the one thing I noticed right away is that it opened with a big tuba riff that wasn’t like anything in The Meters’ song at all.
That song stayed with me for a long time but it was hard to find much on Anckle or the Majestic and at the time, I didn’t pursue much more background research on it. Then, a year and a half ago, I was back in NOLA, giving a talk at Tulane and one of my hosts literally wrote the book on New Orleans brass bands: Matt Sakakeeny. On a whim, I played the track for him. He didn’t recognize the single but he instantly recognized the tuba riff. “That’s Tuba Fats!” He said. “Huh?” I replied.
In the latest Fall 2018 issue of 64 Parishes, published by the Louisana Endowment for the Humanities, Matt and I have an essay all about Tuba Fats. The name, as I soon learned in 2017, refers both to a person â€“ Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen, a legendary tuba player in New Orleans’ second line brass bands â€“ and the riff itself, one of the most famous in the city. I’ll spare you all the details since you can just read about it yourself:
This post isn’t meant to duplicate what’s already in that article. Rather, it’s a companion post, with all the necessary songs you might want to hear, related to the essay. Read it first, the come back here.
We may as well start where I started, with the Floyd Anckle song.
Floyd Anckle and the Majestic Brass Band: Hey Pocky-Way (C&E, 197?)
As Matt and I note, we aren’t certain Tuba Fats himself actually played on this but the single is either the first or second time the riff ever was committed to record. Here’s the other time, and this one, we know Lacen played on:
The full track begins with “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” one of the Olympia Brass Band’s classics, but midway through, they turn things over to Tuba Fats to do his thing and you can instantly hear that riff come in to mark the transition.
As Matt notes in our article, “Tuba Fats” wasn’t so much a record that circulated in the city; it was the riff that everyone knew, so much so that the fact that it was never a hit record was besides the point. As our piece opens with, “Tuba Fats” was so popular in the city that a generation later, Mannie Fresh and Gregory “D” open their “Buck Jump Time” single with the riff and tell the listeners “you know the bassline!” Notably, they say this on the local, NOLA release of the single but when it was picked up for national distribution, they kept the track intact but no longer reference the riff/bassline as an obvious nod since, presumably, outside of the Crescent City, no one would have known what they were referring to.
I heard this one in a tiny story in Orange County when a friend and I were cruising through and I loved it from jump: it clearly has some “Sunny” vibes but that massive brass section brings into full into the ’70s. Plus, I dig the low-key (high-key?) corny lyrics such as: “Like a song without an ending, like a sea without a tide…” Kansas City, MO, represent.