Whether it’s the sweet soul sound of the Delphonics, the southern funk of the Dramatics or the expansive soul of Curtis Mayfield; like any great stew or soup, the quality and success lies within the basis. In the case of soul, funk and blues, it dwells within the rhythm section. Thom Bell’s string and horn arrangements on “Ready or Not” are powerful, but would not be as powerful if it were not for the rich groove sustained by the drums and bass below the haunting melody and atmospheric harmonies.
In the tradition of Black American, small combo music the structure is traditionally, drums, bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, whereby a competent pianist/ keyboardist can fill in for one or both of the guitar parts. Traditionally, the left hand locals the groove and the right hand colors with lead lines. As a left-handed pianist, I occasionally flip this tradition, playing leads with my left hand and comping the groove with my right.
Going back over the album tracks, Eddie Ray did some amazing drum work, along with the amazingly inventive and inspired bass work of Red Bone. On the original sessions, my keyboard parts were meant to be scratch tracks to be later replaced, but a few of them were keepers as rhythm parts and a few leads lines. As we build the textures and colors of the album, I once again return to my inspiration vaults to flesh out the arrangement. The weekly gigs during the summer at Torino’s Restaurant in Hyannis, have given us a wonderful opportunity to experiment with the sounds on the songs as background music for the customers.
An album from my record mother’s collection, that I wore out as a kid was “SOUL” by Billy Preston, particularly his renditions of “Shotgun” and “Drowning In My Tears”. I couldn’t help but notice from the line notes that Preston played both the piano and organ on the tracks on this album, laying out the rhythm parts with the piano and leads with the organ. As a young one, I was completely unfamiliar with the concept of multi-track recording, and envisioned Mr. Preston playing the piano with one hand and the organ with the other, seriously trying to figure out how he did it all with only two hands. Later on I learned about overdubbing.
As I mentioned before, Preston, Jimmy Smith, Horace Silver, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and
Ray Charles were among my old-school influences as soul and blues pianists and organists. Of the latter day musicians and producers, I have to give respect to Kashif, Bernard Wright, Pieces of A Dream, and Teddy Riley in particular who were masters of the respective “Mid-Tempo Groove” and “New Jack Swing”styles that were keyboard/ synth dominated, yet maintained the integrity of the small combo tradition.
I created a listening list of great rhythm guitarists as well, as a means of inspiring color and textures for the album’s arrangement. These guitarists included:
For the last two sessions, the focus was to create and record rhythm tracks for the songs that would compliment the incredible bass and drum work of my brothers, locking the groove together and allow for endless possibilities of framing and coloring by lead keys, as well as backing and lead vocal parts. From my listening list I was able to ascertain that by habit of rich, complex harmony voicing would be over-kill on a solid rhythm track, resolving instead to use a lot of 2 and 3-note chords.
As with any old recipe, there are no exact measurements, only approximations. While there are always going to be certain key ingredients that you’ll need to make the dish you want. The quality of the ingredients, knowledge of the chef, monitoring of the cooking process, and ability to make proper adjustments during the process will usually yield the flavor experience you’re looking for.
On we funk…
By the way, we’re playing the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston on August 14th…
To Be Continued…