Thursday, May 18, 2017

Representative: Rocker Chris Cornell has died at age 52

The Wheel of Life is so fragile: we never know when it's our turn to transition. Goodbye, Chris Cornell.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Styx: progressive theatrical arena rock

Styx was a band I enjoyed for the first minute or two--and then something happened that was stressful. I never was sure why, but it was a feeling of pretentiousness that didn't fit. To me, Styx took progressive rock and joined it with arena rock--and turned it inside out. They weren't glorious like Yes, but they did have the pryo-technics chops to fit alongside Boston or Journey, Kiss (without the make-up), or certainly the stage theatrics to imitate Genesis. But it still made me gnash my teeth--and it bothered my ears. Even their videos were a problem: "Too Much Time on My Hands" is hard to watch. But at least in concert, they could let all hell break loose, and maybe that's why their fans love them. It's "A Grand Illusion" for sure! And just an example: on the second show, the real event begins NINE minutes after the intro and dialogue. And THEN they keep talking!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Brothers Johnson (revisited): Sophisticated funk and Quincy Jones

(From All Things, a site dedicated to black music and the culture that surrounds it. Here you'll find everything from classic soul to the latest broken beat offerings discussed, as well as news and opinion.)

The Brothers Johnson enjoyed a run of hits from the mid 70s to the mid 80s that were marked by tight instrumentation and George Johnson's, er, unique singing voice. Louis (aka "Thunder Thumbs," bass) and George (aka "Lightnin' Licks," guitar) Johnson began playing their respective instruments as children, developing a reputation in their hometown Los Angeles as a formidable unit.  After turning pro, they got work in Billy Preston's band, at which point they came to the attention of Quincy Jones.  Q featured them on his Mellow Madness LP as musicians and recorded several of their compositions, including the one that would introduce them as a recording entity: "Is It Love That We're Missing." The slinky groove of "Missing" became a hit, and Jones decided to develop them as frontmen by helping them get a deal with A&M, his label at the time.  Look Out for # 1 charted two large hits on "I'll Be Good to You" and "Get the Funk Out Ma Face," going platinum in the process.   The hot streak continued on Right On Time, a classic example of sophisticated funk. "Strawberry Letter 23" was the cut, a dreamy, near-psychedelic reading of the Shuggie Otis song.

They set up to reclaim their funk credentials on Blam.  The lead track "Ain't We Funkin' Now" was as direct as the album title, proving the Brothers were still prime candidates for the funkiest act around. 
Because they were so highly revered in the funk world, Light Up the Night took many people by surprise.  The groove was still funky, but now there were undeniable shades of disco in the mix, quite similar to what Jones was doing with Michael Jackson for Off the Wall.  The perennial favorite "Stomp" was a #1 hit but some hardcore fans were dissatisfied.

Maybe the Brothers were, too.  After Night, the Bros J split from Quincy Jones to produce themselves.  "The Real Thing" nearly made the top 10, but was their last hit until "You Keep Me Running" in 1984.  I think they quit recording after that.  Louis Johnson continued playing on Q's sessions, laying down the vicious basslines of "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" and "Billie Jean."

By the time Look Out For Number One (1976) was recorded, they had had 5 years of experience, making this not so much a debut LP but the reward for years of paying dues.  And they were determined not to mess it up.  They come up with two numbers Quincy Jones would revisit in "I'll Be Good To You" and "Tomorrow" and serve up punishing funk on "Get the Funk Out Ma Face."  "Thunder Thumbs and Lightnin' Licks" shows off their instrumental skills, indicating they could have easily been a successful fusion combo (Louis did in fact cut some sides with Herbie Hancock and Grover Washington, Jr.)  Even the Beatles cover comes off nicely.  The Johnsons weren't playing around on this one, announcing to everyone via the title that there was a new contender on the scene.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

R.I.P. Col. Bruce Hampton: jam band-jazz pioneer

Col. Bruce Hampton died onstage last night doing what he loved: making music with friends and bringing joy to people. Thank you, sir, and bless you for the energy and memories.