Funk and R&B
Funk, an heir to and an outgrowth of soul music, is unquestionably the most raw and aggressive form of rhythm and blues.
Drawing on African, syncopated polyrhythms and a more freeform jamming structure, the origins of funk date back to James Brown’s mid-1960s soul hits “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (1965) and “Cold Sweat” (1967). Brown’s band members played off each other to establish a groove and worked it relentlessly. Scratching guitar chords and hard horn riffs made for an ensemble that could not be tighter.
Keith Richards witnessed James Brown and his band the Famous Flames at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem in 1964. “On stage, James would snap his fingers if he thought somebody had missed a beat or hit a wrong note, and you could see a player’s face fall,” recalled Richards. “He would signal the fine he had imposed with his fingers.”
"I Got You (I Feel Good)"James Brown performs "I Got You (I Feel Good)" at the Concert for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995
"I Got You (I Feel Good)"
Funk is a force that tore the roof off the sucker that is modern music.
Jimi Hendrix also had a major influence on the soul guitar sound. The blues rock and psychedelia he was playing was transformative. His technical ability and painterly application of such effects as wah-wah and distortion transformed the sound of rock, funk and everything that followed.
Sly and the Family Stone had started out in 1966 as a soul band influenced by psychedelic music; by 1969 they were a full-on funk ensemble. The trailblazing racially-integrated group had a series of funky soul hits including “Dance to the Music” (1967) and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (1969).
Funk’s watershed moment arrived when Brown released “Get Up (I Feel Like a) Sex Machine (1970).” With a super hard groove and a minimalist arrangement, Brown sang with a freeform stream of consciousness and well-placed shouts, gasps and wordless utterances. Brown’s work evolved into the brand of funk favored by George Clinton and his iconic bands Parliament and Funkadelic, who defined the melting pot known as funk: a freeform melding of rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel and psychedelic rock. The tight ensemble playing prefigured everything from hip hop to techno and alternative. Latter-day disciples include Michael Jackson, Prince, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Outkast and Bruno Mars.
At George Clinton and P-Funk’s 1993 induction into the Rock Hall, Prince said it all when he paraphrased Parliament’s iconic 1976 single “Give Up the Funk”: “Funk is a force that tore the roof off the sucker that is modern music.”
Emerging in the mid-to-late 1930s, the hot, uptempo sound of rhythm & blues was a citified, uptown retort to country ways by an increasingly urbanized Black population. The term was created to replace “race music,” after it was deemed offensive. The genre capitalized on new amplification technology and the advent of the electric guitar, which took a prominent role in the makeup of bands. Yet at its root, R&B remained an amalgam of gospel, swing and blues, whether played by a big band like Joe Turner’s or a small combo such as Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five, whether sung by a macho belter like James Brown or a sassy soul diva such as LaVern Baker.
Joe Turner rates as the first major figure in R&B and a founding father of rock & roll. (“A different name for the same music I had been signing all my life,” he once said.) Louis Jordan joined Turner in laying the foundation for R&B in the 1940s, cutting one swinging rhythm & blues masterpiece after another.
Other cornerstones of R&B and its transformation into rock & roll include Etta James, Fats Domino, Roy Brown, Little Richard and Ruth Brown. Not the least of R&B’s legacy was its perpetuation of the group-harmony tradition as heard in the vocal blend of “doo-wop” groups like the Orioles, the Ravens and the Dominoes. The tradition of the genre continues to live on through contemporary artists like Mariah Carey, Usher, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé.
"Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean"Ruth Brown with Bonnie Raitt perform "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean" at the 1993 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
"Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean"
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