Lyrically speaking, a life without music is a life without meaning. And I find, as a 64 years old I find that the music that has accompanied my life this far has not faded into oblivion with the passage of time. Generally speaking, I dislike lists – one man’s poison is another’s ….. That said, in no particular order, here are are some of my favourite musical reflections of the decades past:
The Undisputed Truth – A 1970s Motown recording act assembled by record producer Norman Whitfield as a means of experimenting with psychedelic soul production techniques. Joe “Pep” Harris served as main lead singer, with Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans on additional leads and background vocals. Favourite: Smiling Faces Sometimes
Stevie Wonder (Stevland Hardaway Morris) – An American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist – a child prodigy of the late 20th century. Stevie Wonder signed with Motown at the age of 11 and he continued performing and recording into the 2010s. He has been blind since shortly after his birth. Among Wonder’s works my favourites are: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours“, “Superstition“,”Living for the City”.
Isaac (Lee) Hayes Jr. – An American singer-songwriter, actor, voice actor and producer. He was one of the creative forces behind the Southern soul music of Stax Records label where he was both an in-house songwriter, session musician and record producer. He teamed with his partner David Porter during the mid-1960s, along with Bill Withers, the Sherman Brothers, Steve Cropper and John Fogerty (All of whom have been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame), the duo Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas and others. Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Favourite: Theme From Shaft (1971)
James (Joseph) Brown – An American singer, songwriter, dancer, musician, record producer and bandleader. Brown began his career as a gospel singer in Toccoa, Georgia. He joined an R&B vocal group, the Gospel Starlighters founded by Bobby Byrd.
James Brown, often referred to as the “Godfather of Soul”, had a career that lasted 50 years and influenced the development of several music genres; and is considered the progenitor of funk. He is a major figure of popular music and dance.
Curtis (Lee) Mayfield – An American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer, and one of the most influential musicians behind soul and politically conscious African-American music. He first achieved success and recognition with The Impressions during the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, and later worked as a solo artist.
From Chicago, Illinois, Mayfield started his musical career in a gospel choir. Moving to the North Side, he met Jerry Butler (1956) at the age of 14 and joined the vocal group The Impressions.
As a songwriter, Mayfield became noted as one of the first musicians to bring more prevalent themes of social awareness into soul music. In 1965, he wrote “People Get Ready” for the Impressions, displaying his politically charged songwriting.
Sly & The Family Stone – An American band from San Francisco (1966 to 1983) pivotal in the development of funk, soul, rock, and psychedelic music. The core line-up was led by singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone, and included Stone’s brother and singer/guitarist Freddie Stone, sister and singer/keyboardist Rose Stone, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, drummer Greg Errico, saxophonist Jerry Martini, and bassist Larry Graham. It was the first major American rock group to have a racially integrated, male and female lineup.
Their critically acclaimed album “Stand!” (1969), combined pop sensibility with social commentary. Music critic Joel Selvin wrote, “there are two types of black music: black music before Sly Stone, and black music after Sly Stone“.
By 1975, drug problems and interpersonal clashes led to dissolution; problems which forced Sly’s effective retirement (1987). The work of Sly and the Family Stone, however, influenced the sound of subsequent American funk, pop, soul, R&B, and hip hop music.
The Castor band included keyboardist/trumpeter Gerry Thomas, bassist Doug Gibson, guitarist Harry Jensen, conga player Lenny Fridle, Jr., and drummer Bobby Manigault. Many of the group’s tunes have been heavily sampled in films and in hip-hop, particularly the saxophone hook and groove from “It’s Just Begun“, and “Troglodyte (Cave Man)” (1972).
Archie Bell & The Drells – An American R&B vocal group from Houston, Texas and one of the main acts on Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. The band’s hits include “ Tighten up (1968)“, “I Can’t Stop Dancing” (both 1968), “There’s Gonna Be A Showdown”, “Girl You’re Too Young” (1969), “Here I Go Again” (UK hit 1972]), “Soul City Walk” (1975), “Let’s Groove”, “Everybody Have A Good Time” (1977), and “Don’t Let Love Get You Down” (1976).
Archie Bell, who founded the group, was born in Henderson, Texas. He is the older brother of lead vocalist of Motown’s Dazz Band and world karate champion – Jerry Bell. His brother Ricky Bell was an NFL player and Eugene Bell was the last brother.
The origins of “Tighten Up” came from a conversation Bell had after receiving his draft notice. Butler, in an attempt to cheer him up demonstrated the “Tighten Up” dance to Bell. Bell asked what it was and Butler told him the name. Bell then put together the track which hit the charts following his induction into the Army. “
King Curtis (born Curtis Montgomery – An American saxophonist known for rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, blues, funk and soul jazz. Variously a bandleader, band member, and session musician. He was also adept at tenor, alto, and soprano saxophone, he played riffs and solos on such hit singles as “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, (1967)and his own “Memphis Soul Stew” and “Soul Serenade (1964)”
Jr. Walker (Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr.) from Blytheville, Arkansas; grew up in South Bend, Indiana. His saxophone style was the anchor for the band’s overall sound. The other original members of the group were drummer Tony Washington, guitarist Willie Woods, and keyboardist Vic Thomas.
Walker’s career started when he developed his own band in the mid-1950s – the “Jumping Jacks” and his friend Billy Nicks (drummer) formed his own team the “Rhythm Rockers.” Periodically, Nicks would sit in on Jumping Jack’s shows and Walker would sit in on the Rhythm Rockers shows.
Santana – A Latin and rock band formed in San Francisco, California in 1966 by Mexican-American guitarist Carlos Santana. The band came to public attention with their performance of “Soul Sacrifice” at Woodstock in 1969. This exposure helped propel their first album, also named Santana, into a hit, followed in the next two years by Abraxas and Santana III. Lineup changes were common.
Booker T. & The MG’s – An instrumental R&B/funk band that was influential in shaping the sound of Southern and Memphis soul. Original members of the group were Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass), and Al Jackson Jr. (drums).
Having two white members (Cropper and Dunn), Booker T. & the M.G.’s was one of the first racially integrated rock groups. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2008, and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2012.
The Meters – An American funk band formed (1965) by Zigaboo Modeliste (drums), George Porter Jr. (bass), Leo Nocentelli (guitar), and Art Neville (keyboards) in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The band performed and recorded their own music from the late 1960s until 1977 and played an influential role as backing musicians for other artists, including Robert Palmer, Dr. John, and Allen Toussaint “Ride Your Pony“. Their sound is defined by a combination of tight melodic grooves and highly syncopated New Orleans “second line” rhythms under highly charged guitar and keyboard riffing.
While they rarely enjoyed significant mainstream success, The Meters has been nominated four times for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was presented the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. They are considered originators of funk along with artists like James Brown and their work has been influential on many other bands.
Tina Turner (Anna Mae Bullock) – An American-born singer-songwriter, dancer, and actress who rose to international prominence as a featured singer with Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. Before recording hit singles with Ike and as a solo performer. One of the world’s best-selling artists, she has been referred to as The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll she is noted for her energetic stage presence, powerful vocals, and career longevity. Favourites: “River Deep, Mountain High (1966)”, “Proud Mary (1971)“
Sam & Dave – An American soul and R&B duo who performed together from 1961 until 1981. The tenor voice was Sam Moore and the baritone/tenor was Dave Prater. Nicknamed “Double Dynamite,” “The Sultans of Sweat,” and “The Dynamic Duo” for their gritty, gospel-infused performances, Sam & Dave are considered one of the greatest live acts of the 1960s.
Many subsequent musicians have named them as an influence, including Bruce Springsteen, Al Green, Tom Petty, Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Elvis Costello, The Jam, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Joel and Steve Winwood. The Blues Brothers, who helped create a resurgence of popularity for soul, R&B, and blues in the 1980s, were influenced by Sam & Dave. Favourites: “Sweet Soul Music”, “Hold On. I’m Coming”.
Sam & Dave are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.
Rare Earth – An American rock band affiliated with Motown’s Rare Earth record label from 1970–1972. Although not the first white band signed to Motown, Rare Earth was the first big hit-making act signed by Motown that consisted only of white members.
The main personnel in the group were Gil Bridges, saxophone, flute, vocals; Peter Hoorelbeke (aka Peter Rivera), lead vocals, drums; John Parrish (aka John Persh), bass guitar, trombone, vocals; Rod Richards, guitar, vocals; and Kenny James, keyboards. In late 1969 Edward “Eddie” Guzman (congas and assorted percussive instruments) was added to the group. Favourite: “I Know I’m Losing You”, “Get ready (Single 1969)”,
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – An American-English rock band that formed in Westminster, London, in September 1966. Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Jimi Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding, and drummer Mitch Mitchell comprised the group which was active until June 1969. In April 1970, Hendrix, Mitchell, and bassist Billy Cox performed and recorded until Hendrix’s death on September 18, 1970.
Iron Butterfly – An American rock band formed in San Diego, California; their heyday was the late 1960s. Original members were Doug Ingle (vocals, organ) formerly of Jeri and the Jeritones and Palace Pages. Jack Pinney (drums), Greg Willis (bass) and Danny Weis (guitar). They were joined by tambourine player and vocalist Darryl DeLoach.
Best known for the 17-minute title track of Iron Butterfly’s second album “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” 1968 which provided a dramatic sound that led the way towards the development of hard rock and heavy metal music. The 17-minute In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida became a top-30 hit (edited down to 2:52) in 1968.
The members when In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was recorded were Doug Ingle (vocals and organ), Lee Dorman (bass guitar), Ron Bushy (drums) and Erik Brann (guitar and vocals). Iron Butterfly played its first national tour in 1968 alongside Jefferson Airplane.
“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is what “In the Garden of Eden” sounds like after consuming a gallon of cheap red wine. After hearing then-lead singer Doug Ingle slur the words,
Steppenwolf – A Canadian-American rock band (1968 to 1972) was formed in late 1967 in Los Angeles by lead singer John Kay, keyboardist Goldy McJohn, and drummer Jerry Edmonton, Guitarist Michael Monarch and bass guitarist Rushton Moreve. Steppenwolf sold over 25 million records worldwide including “Born to Be Wild“, “The Pusher”, “Magic Carpet Ride (1969)”, “Tenderness“.
Lou Reed (Lewis Allan Reed – An American musician, singer and songwriter. He was the lead guitarist, singer and principal songwriter for the rock band the Velvet Underground; and also had a solo career that spanned 50 years. The Velvet Underground achieved little commercial success during their existence but are now regarded as one of the most influential bands in the history of underground and alternative music. Favourite: “Walk On The Wild Side“.
Rick James (James Ambrose Johnson Jr) – an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, he began his musical career in his teen years in various bands and groups before entering the U.S. Navy to avoid being drafted in the early 1960s.
In 1965 he deserted to Toronto, Canada where he formed the rock band the Mynah Birds and eventually signed a recording deal with Motown Records in 1966. After forming the Stone City Band in his hometown of Buffalo in 1977, James finally found success as a recording artist after signing with Motown’s Gordy Records, releasing the album, Come Get It!(1978) wihich has the hits “You & I” and “Mary Jane”. This was followed with three more successful album releases (1981) which included hits such as “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak”(which mixed elements of funk, disco, rock and new wave. James was also known for a successful career as a songwriter and producer for other artists (Teena Marie, The Mary Jane Girls, The Temptations, Eddie Murphy and Smokey Robinson).
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – An American hip hop group formed in the South Bronx of New York City in 1976. Composed of one DJ (Grandmaster Flash) and five rappers (Melle Mel, The Kidd Creole, Keef Cowboy, Mr. Ness/Scorpio, and Rahiem). The group’s use of turntablism, break-beat deejaying, and conscious lyricism were significant in the early development of hip hop music.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five built their reputation performing at parties and live shows in the mid-1970s and achieved local success. By the time the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight (1979)” was released, the group realized the potential of cutting records and signed with various labels until staying with Sugar Hill Records where the group rose to prominence in the early 1980s with their first hit “Freedom” (1980). It was not until the release of “The Message” (1982) that they achieved mainstream success.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five eventually broke up into two separate groups due to differences until a brief reunion in 1987 before permanently disbanding.Widely regarded as among the most influential of hip hop acts, their biggest single and acknowledged masterpiece “The Message” (1982) is often cited as one of the greatest hip hop songs of all time. In 2007 they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (The first hip hop group to be inducted).
Brick – An American band that created a successful merger of funk and jazz in the 1970s. Brick was formed in Atlanta, Georgia (1976) from members of two bands, one disco and the other jazz. Their most popular single was “Dazz (1976)” – a song that mixed R&B with a combination of disco, funk and jazz “Disco Jazz”. It was released in 1976 – their Good High album that would become their biggest hit.
Other hits followed, such as “Dusic” but Dazz remains their most heavily sampled by hip-hop artists like MC Lyte “Cold Rock A Party”, Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline”, Dana Dane “Cinderfella Dana Dane” (1987) and Snoop Dogg “Snoopafella” (1999).
Parliament-Funkadelic (P-Funk) – An American funk music collective of rotating musicians headed by George Clinton but primarily consisting of the individual bands Parliament and Funkadelic. P-Funk is an abbreviation of Parliament-Funkadelic or Plainfield Funk.
The collective’s origins date back to the doo-wop group the Parliaments, formed by Clinton in the late 1950s in Plainfield, New Jersey. Under the influence of late-1960s artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, and Frank Zappa, Clinton later relocated to Detroit and began the sister groups Parliament and Funkadelic.
Their distinctive funk style drew on psychedelic culture, outlandish fashion, science-fiction, and surreal humor that would have an influential effect on subsequent funk, post-punk, hip-hop, and post-disco artists of the 1980s and 1990s,
Parliament played an eclectic and commercial form of funk while Funkadelic incorporated more psychedelic rock influences. Both groups released albums such as Maggot Brain (1971), Mothership Connection (1975) and One Nation Under a Groove (1978) and scored charting hits with singles such as “Give Up The Funk (1976)”, “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up (1975)“, “Funkentelechy“. Sixteen members of Parliament-Funkadelic were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1997).
KC and the Sunshine Band – An American disco and funk band founded in 1973 in Hialeah, Florida. The band took its name from lead vocalist Harry Wayne Casey’s last name (“KC”) and the “Sunshine Band” from KC’s home state of Florida, the Sunshine State.
In 1973 Harry Wayne Casey (KC), a record store employee and part-timer at TK Records in Hialeah, Florida was introduced to Richard Finch, an engineer working for TK Records. This was the beginning of the Casey-Finch musical collaboration. The initial members, including Casey and Finch were Jerome Smith (guitarist) and Robert Johnson (drummer), also TK studio musicians.
The Average White Band (AWB) – A Scottish funk and R&B band that had a series of soul and disco hits between 1974 and 1980. AWB formed in early 1972 in London by Alan Gorrie and Malcolm “Molly” Duncan, with Owen McIntyre, Michael Rosen (trumpet), Roger Ball and Robbie McIntosh in the original line-up.
According to Duncan, members of the band had played together before in Scotland but had moved to London separately and met up by chance at a Traffic concert. They decided to jam together; a friend who heard them “This is too much for the average white man” which was adapted as the band’s name.
The Persuaders – A New York City-based R&B vocal group best known for their hit singles in the 1970s, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” (1971) and “Some Guys Have All the Luck” (1973) originally formed in 1969 after previously singing with other local groups. They were signed by Atlantic Records in 1971 with an original line-up of Douglas “Smokey” Scott, Willie Holland, James Barnes and Charles Stodghill. By 1973 John Tobias and Thomas Lee Hill had replaced Barnes and Stodghill.
The Persuaders recorded the original soul versions of songs later covered by other artists, notably “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” a major hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips. “Some Guys Have All The Luck” was covered by Robert Palmer and Rod Stewart [personally think it’s the worst cover to date!] and by Maxi Priest. It’s a “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” British rock band The Pretenders [best cover!].