Saturday, February 9, 2013

Music Reviews-New Prince Music, The Ohio Players

As you may know Prince has not exactly been a fan of online music, either for free or for pay. He once sued youtube to force removal of all uploads of his music. His music, his rules. Well that may be changing somewhat as Prince or apparently (hopefully) someone with his permission recently placed numerous uploads of new Prince music online for free and for purchase. Maybe this signals a permanent thaw in the Purple One's often frosty relationship with online music consumers. I was first hipped to this on a different board by a younger friend who is likely the biggest Prince fanatic I've encountered in quite a while. And that's saying something, I think. The rumor is that there is a new album that will be released later this year. I hope that's the case. 

Anyway check these out and enjoy. Some of this stuff harkens back to his early 1980's Cars inspired rock-n-roll sound, with straight eighth chank rhythms and synths. Other music not only makes nods to jazz, for all intents and purposes it is jazz. Much would not have sounded out of place on seventies George Benson or Crusaders albums. No one is going to mistake Prince for Joe Pass anytime soon but he still remains one of modern music's most fascinating and eclectic songwriters and performers. I grew up with jazz enthusiasts and was proud and lucky to do so. I don't think they would have automatically rejected some of this music, which in and of itself, would be pretty high praise for someone like Prince, who is not and has not been considered a jazz musician. Some blues musicians and scholars have been known to make the claim that essentially all popular music descends from the blues one way or the other. The drastically reworked song "I could never take the place of your man" which has been turned into a Hendrix/Hazel workout complete with gospel type vocals certainly would seem to support that pov. I could not believe this was the same song. I don't know how long any of this music will be online so go download purchase it now.

Blues version of I could never take the place of your man  Screwdriver

Chapter and Verse Dakota1 Elephants and Flowers (Alternate version) Rock-n-Roll Love Affair

The Ohio Players
The Midwest in general and Ohio in particular was a hotbed of soul and funk in the sixties and seventies.
Ohio could boast musicians and groups like Bootsy and Catfish Collins, Slave, The O'Jays, Lakeside, The Dazz Band and of course The Ohio Players. The Ohio Players were led by guitarist and vocalist Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner, who just recently passed away. As I've discussed before many people who like to write themselves into history argue that as black audiences lost interest in traditional blues, such music was kept alive by British or White American bands. Well there's something to that but it is also a fact that traditional blues morphed into soul and funk. Sugarfoot Bonner and the Ohio Players certainly are prime examples of that. A tremendous amount of their music has blues roots or is straight up pure blues ("The Reds"). Bonner himself was a hardcore blues guitarist when he first started out. Bonner was a bluesman for his generation. The Ohio Players grew out of the backing band for such greats as Wilson Pickett, Mack Rice and Eddie Floyd, none of whom were known as "blues" singers per se but all of whom had tremendous voices packed with blues feeling. Shortly after lead guitarist Robert Ward left to go on to a solo blues/soul career and almost singlehandedly keep the sound of the Magnatone amplifier alive, Sugarfoot Bonner joined the band, now known as The Ohio Players.

The band signed to Detroit based Westbound records, where like label mates Funkadelic they soon became known as much for their record covers (often softcore S&M) as for their music. Musically The Ohio Players created a potent melange of soul, funk, R&B, blues and jazz. They didn't get quite as far out as some of the Funkadelic or Hendrix stuff. The Ohio Players had an explicitly jazzier sound. I had heard some of their music on the radio or at relatives' homes but because of the record covers I generally wasn't able to get too many of their albums into my home as a kid. So as a result I was much more of a P-Funk fan than an Ohio Players fan growing up. I didn't really get into them seriously until late high school and college when I was more able to do what I wanted to do. The Ohio Players had more commercial hits after they left Westbound and signed with Mercury Records. At Mercury they had a more smoothed out sound and one with slightly more prominent horn breaks. Bonner took over most of the singing and became the band's most identifiable front man. His double neck guitar, outrageous outfits and especially his pleading drawling "awwwwwwwwwwww girl" vocals, were a signature. Bonner wasn't the first singer to use that vocal style (Bobby Bland anyone?) but he was one of the most popular. He influenced people like Lionel Richie and Larry Blackmon. I wasn't a huge fan of the drummer for some reason. I can't quite say why.
Their first big hit (at Westbound) was "Funky Worm", written by keyboardist extraordinaire Junie Morrison, who later joined Funkadelic. "Funky Worm" lived on in just about any rap song recorded between 1990 and 2000. The Ohio Players had hits with "Fire", "I want to be Free", "Sweet Sticky Thing", "Fopp", "Who'd She Coo?", "Far East Mississippi" and several other tunes. I love the bass line on "Pain". I don't know who started it but there was an urban legend that the scream heard on "Love Rollercoaster" was that of the cover model who was murdered during the recording session.Obviously untrue but in the pre-internet days this just added to the band's mystique. "What the Hell" sees Bonner turning up the amp and giving us a very lengthy memorable modern blues solo. Their early cut "You Don't Mean It" has the bass turned up a lot, which is just how I like it. The horn riffs on "Food Stamps" have an ever so slight resemblance to the horn charts on Al Green's "Love and Happiness". I'm sure it's purely accidental...

The Reds  Skintight  Pain  Who'd She Coo?   I Want to Be Free
Food Stamps Y'all Funky Worm  Fire  Fire (Live Long Version from 1975)
Walt's First Trip   Love Rollercoaster  Heaven Must Be Like This
Jive Turkey What the Hell You Don't Mean It

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