I now engage you to follow me down a road looking at a very brief and abbreviated history of the genre that started it all . . . FUNK. This blog series combines myself (Erik Hargrove) and Musiio’s AI analyzing select Funk songs that I’ve chosen from Funk’s Creators, Innovators and Caretakers.
Part 1 of our journey starts in the 1960’s. Broken up into three sections, we’ll glide all the way through to the end of the 70’s.
But First… Who Am I?
Photo Credits: Maree Laffan Photography and Scott Myers Photography
My name is Erik Hargrove. From January 1998 until March 2005, I toured, recorded and performed on the drums with James Brown. In 2008, I was asked to join Bootsy Collins‘, “A Tribute to James Brown” Tour until 2010. And in 2013, Bootsy asked me back to play with his iconic Rubberband until 2015.
Section One: Early Funk
Funk Music was born, nurtured and secured in the African-American communities. Originating in the Southern part of the United States, Funk soon branched out coast to coast and quickly to the rest of the world were it is revered by die hard Lovers of The Funk and Funkateers.
Already known as The Godfather of Soul, James Brown and his musicians, namely Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, started a revolution in 1960’s modern music.
When he composed, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in 1965, James Brown talked about changing the feel of Beats 2 & 4 to Beats 1 & 3. As a result, this created Early Funk.
But in 1967, when Pee Wee Ellis and James Brown created, “Cold Sweat” (with all it’s syncopation), a spark from Early Funk became a fire!
Three Staples of Early Funk (Click to listen)
Musiio’s current genre tags include Funk, Soul and Early Soul (for a full list of their taxonomy, please see here). As we can see, the early days of Funk were influenced by the Soul and Early Soul movements. Ideally, the James Brown and Sly & The Family Stone tracks would include Early Funk, and The Meters would include Early Funk and New Orleans Funk, so if you want to add these tags to the mix, I’d recommend taking Musiio’s custom AI training to add extra Funk!
Let’s have a look at the Mood and Emotion analysis. How do these tags compare to how you feel when listening to these songs? I’m diggin’ this AI. Very impressive indeed!
GREAT JOB Musiio!!!
Let’s continue our Funk evolution and AI analysis in the next set of results.
Section Two: Solidified & Funkified
By the mid 70s, Funk had made its mark and there was no denying that this was the music you sang your heart out to, partied to and danced to. It was feel good, get off you butt and move, put your stank face on kind of music.
It was also political. Many artists put messages to the people in their songs. These messages mainly expressed, in one manner or another, the freedom from oppression that African-Americans were constantly fighting just to live through.
I asked Bassist Bobby Watson about what the vibe was like for him when Funk and R&B was solidified during the mid 1970s. Bobby was the bassist for RUFUS Featuring Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson (on numerous albums), The Temptations, The Pointer Sisters, WAR, Max Weinberg, Chromeo, Ledisi and many more. He now leads his own band called Rufusized.
Here’s what Bobby Watson had to say about the state of funk and R&B in the 70s…
“[The 1970s were] a great time for Funk and R&B music. On the radio airwaves, very creative musicians, engineers, producers, instrument makers (think synthesizers) all came together to make the exciting new sounding and feeling records… I was overjoyed with all the black bands (a few white bands too) that exploded on the scene (too numerous to name here!). It was also a time when actually, most artists and bands were producing themselves.
In those days of “garage bands“, [bands were] rehearsing in the garage, then taking those songs and sounds to the clubs and stages, [developing] that individual band’s signature sound and style. No one told them what to play or how to play it. It developed from playing together everyday in the rehearsal space (the garage). I came from this era and with my band, Rufus, our music was totally different from other bands. We were influenced by the groups before us, but we were also hungry to develop our own sound & style. With the addition of Wah Wah guitars, electric Rhodes pianos and synthesizers, we headed into the songs with full Funk velocity!!!”
– Bobby Watson
James Brown is now a world icon. Many artists revered and copied his energy and fire that he brought to every performance. He embodied (and continues to today!) the total package that every entertainer longs for. Even Rock artists such as The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin can’t help but take their cues from James Brown.
Subsequently, the music that we listen to today would not be the same if it were not for James Brown and his musicians. Mainly; Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, Fred Wesley, Clyde Stubblefield, John “Jabo” Starks and Maceo Parker.
Three Staples of 1970’s Funk (Click to listen)
As you can see by this new set of analysis, Musiio also generates the strength of Male & Female Vocals and/or a combination of both. The results also give us the audio recording Quality, the Key of the song, Tempo and Tempo Variation.
Let’s look at James Brown’s, “Get On The Good Foot”. The current genre tags are Funk and Rock; perhaps a future addition to Musiio’s tags would be a combination of the two: Funk Rock. When looking at the Mood results, I personally don’t feel Relaxed; this is because when I was on stage playing with James Brown, he demanded deep emotional content in our performances and feeling relaxed wasn’t part of that experience! His vocals were tagged both Male and Female – it looks like his signature screams are making the AI think it’s actually a woman!
During this time period, Funk is what everybody was shaking their booty to. But something else had been creeping up that the world was getting Funked up on; a new genre that was taking elements of Funk to gain popularity. And by 1979, this “thing” that was creeping had already taken its foothold.
Section Three: Funk & Disco
KEEP THE FUNK ALIVE!
The mid 70s marked the rise of Disco. By the late 70s, Disco had taken over where many believed Funk used to be, or would have been. Using many of the same elements of Funk, Disco’s main and underlining characteristic was the “Four On The Floor” bass drum pattern and the upbeat open hi-hats or accents. Many Funk groups were struggling with the idea of either: 1) trying to move more towards Disco, 2) mix their own Funk with Disco, or 3) remain true to The Funk and themselves.
Staying current meant staying in business. Some who couldn’t stay current found themselves at the bottom of the charts and at the front of the unemployment line. Though they still may not be on the charts today, you will find that many Funk groups and artists have made a resurgence performing live and touring the world with sold out shows and festivals.
One of the Funk artists who melded their Funk with Disco was none other than the main founder of Funk Music himself. . . James Brown. With his song, “Get Up Offa That Thing”, James Brown saw where Disco was headed and started his transition into the genre by mixing a disco groove with his signature vocals, horn hits and band background vocals. “Too Funky In Here” was another one of Brown’s later Funk & Disco hits from his 1979 album, The Original Disco Man. Other Funk groups, such as Earth Wind & Fire, also dipped their toes into the genre of Disco with their song, “Boogie Wonderland”.
There were also those who stayed true to their own Funk. Though they may have dabbled in Disco with songs like, “One Nation Under A Groove”, George Clinton’s group Funkadelic stayed true to their Funk. But George Clinton has always been a master of pushing the limits of Funk and experimenting in other styles.
Three Staples of Funk & Disco (Click to listen)
It’s interesting that Musiio’s AI identified, “It’s Too Funky In Here” as 100% Disco
and that it was able to show that George Clinton (Funkadelic) stayed true to his Funk. I like how, for the most part, the Mood results have all been in the Positive range too. During those times, people were partying and shaking their groove things throughout these two decades and Musiio’s AI has reflected that in its analysis.
How the Funk will Musiio’s AI hear what I throw at it next?
Look out for Part 2 in this series as I start from the 80s
and progress up to Present Day.
Former Drummer for James Brown, Bootsy Collins and many others. (Credits: Photo by Maree Laffan Photography)