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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Last Funk Brother Standing: Interview with Jack Ashford on Motown and beyond

Today marks the anniversary of the release of Marvin Gaye's landmark album What's Going On, which debuted on May 21, 1971.
Motown's last surviving Funk Brother Jack Ashford who played tambourine, vibes, and percussion on the LP just celebrated his 90th birthday a few days ago and gave a career retrospective interview to Jointz Of The Day, our daily old school music newsletter on Substack.

It is one of the most intimate, revealing interviews ever given by Ashford, who besides playing on hundreds of hits during the 1960s and 70s and helping shape the Motor City sound is also one of the greatest unsung songwriters and producers of all time. Backed by the other Funk Brothers as they moonlighted from their regular gigs at Hitsville U.S.A., with much more freedom to improvise and jam, his independent production companies and record labels took the Motown sound to a higher, more creative level and churned out one amazing song after another.

Click below to read the full interview.

Exclusive Interview with Jack Ashford of Motown's Funk Brothers (born May 18, 1934) by JointzOfTheDay

The iconic percussionist who played on hundreds of Motown hits and is one of the greatest songwriters and producers of all time looks back over his career.

Read on Substack

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Why you've likely never heard of unsung disco icon Alma Faye Brooks

(Editor's note: This post on how the anti-disco backlash cut short the recording careers of Alma Faye Brooks and many other promising Black artists is cross-posted from @lostcityforever.)

Alma Faye Brooks was born in Texas but raised in Montreal. She starred in a touring musical of Hair and in 1977 released the international disco hit Stop, I Don't Need No Sympathy which wowed dancefloors with her amazing voice. "It came out and made some noise," Brooks said in 2012. "It got some nice numbers. But it's all serendipity. Things just fell into place."

The following year in 1978, Alma Faye Brooks received the first of her two nominations for Juno Awards (the Canadian Grammy's) for Most Promising Female Vocalist. She was nominated alongside Claudja Barry, but both lost that year to Lisa Dal Bello. Brooks next signed a deal to record her debut LP for Casablanca Records.

She was also in demand as a backing vocalist. Brooks appeared on Boule Noire's underground disco LP released in 1976, Les Années Passent, featuring the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section. She contributed backing vocals to Geraldine Hunt's 1978 debut LP Sweet Honesty which was arranged by Denis LePage of Lime.

Brooks then began writing her own material. She co-wrote all the songs she recorded for her debut LP. While working on it, she also wrote or co-wrote all songs on another album from her producers, Black Light Orchestra's This Time (1979), like the upbeat, excellent opening cut Show Me.

Billed simply as Alma Faye, her album Doin' It was released by Casablanca in 1979. The LP's first single It's Over hit U.S. dance charts that spring. Next came the superb Don't Fall In Love which seemed ready to cross over to a broader R&B audience. But trouble lay ahead.

Don't Fall In Love by Alma Faye hit Billboard's R&B charts on July 21, 1979. It was barely one week after the infamous Disco Demolition Night at a July 12 Chicago White Sox game that ended in a racist riot as the mostly white male crowd destroyed records by Black artists. That summer, disco was still riding high on radio and the charts. Donna Summer's Bad Girls was the #1 R&B song in America when Don't Fall In Love charted, with Good Times by Chic at #2.

Disco Demolition Night didn't end disco's heyday by itself. But it was the most high-profile public event associated with the racist, homophobic anti-disco backlash that resulted when bigots finally realized disco threatened white supremacy.

As the 1970s became the 80s, disco artists felt the backlash. Radio stations dropped disco formats. Major labels scaled back or closed their disco divisions. When labels stopped promoting disco records and stations quit playing them, mass audiences stopped buying.

Countless new artists were buried in the wake of the growing racist hostility to disco. Alma Faye Brooks' crossover moment passed as Don't Fall In Love quickly fell off the charts. Polygram bought out Casablanca Records in 1980 and Brooks was cut from the label.

Even disco's biggest stars were taken down. “In the summer of '79, Disco Sucks killed my band CHIC,” Nile Rodgers noted in 2014. Alma Faye Brooks joined other great singers like Sharon Redd, Alton McClain and Chaka Khan's younger sister Taka Boom as artists who never found the widespread success they deserved. partly because they arrived just as the disco backlash was brewing.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Disco legend Alma Faye Brooks is back with Con Te Partirò (Time To Say Goodbye)

It's not every day that an unsung disco icon re-emerges and drops a future dancefloor classic. But that's what Montreal's Alma Faye Brooks just did. Con Te Partirò (Time To Say Goodbye) is a soaring, emotion-packed celebration of life and togetherness that every disco lover should have on their playlists for the holiday season, New Year's Eve, and beyond. She brings a stunning, inspirational vocal performance to this updated, high-energy dance version of what was originally a classical hit for Andrea Bocelli in the 1990s, first solo and later as a duet with Sarah Brightman.

DJ's and dance music fans agree this track is something special. "What a voice!" said DJ Heidi Lawden, the Los Angeles via London dublab resident who headlines clubs and festivals worldwide. "Will be a classic," predicted Ray Caviano, former head of Warner Brothers' disco division and sub-label RFC Records. "Very well done," said DJ Josh Cheon, founder of San Francisco’s Dark Entries Records, the label that has kept Patrick Cowley and Sylvester’s legacies alive for a new generation.

Released internationally on October 29, Con Te Partirò (Time To Say Goodbye) was co-produced by legendary remixer and dance music pioneer John Luongo for his label JLM Recordings. Brooks' longtime collaborator Louis Toteda also co-produced and arranged the track, with accompaniment by the High Steppin' Orchestra. Toteda was the creative force behind the Canadian disco studio group Nightlife Unlimited who released several acclaimed albums.

Alma Faye Brooks is a twice-nominated runner-up for best new artist awards. Yet she remains relatively unknown even to most disco connoisseurs.

Like so many talented singers of the 70s, her career was just taking off when the racist and homophobic anti-disco backlash began in 1979. As a result, the record-buying public never got to hear her full potential. "I came out doing disco, I was raised on soul and gospel, and it has made me what I am today," said Brooks in a 2012 interview.

She started out as a backing vocalist on Montreal disco records, then scored an international disco hit with Stop, I Don't Need No Sympathy (1977). Her solo LP on Casablanca Records, Doin' It, was released in 1979 and is now considered an overlooked disco classic. She toured Europe with disco-funk synthesizer wizard Patrick Gammon and was featured as a guest vocalist on his 2XLP live set Spin The Jam (1983).

Over the years Brooks has released other recordings in collaboration with Louis Toteda including I Still Don’t Need Your Sympathy (2013) and the soulful house jam You Can Count On Me (2017). The two artists married in the 1980s.

And now, Alma Faye Brooks is back and sounding better than ever in 2021.

Con Te Partirò (Time To Say Goodbye) co-producer and JLM Recordings owner John Luongo began his career as a DJ in Boston, where he founded one of the nation’s first record pools. He then became one of the first disco remixers, helping create numerous iconic dancefloor hits for artists including the Jacksons, Patti Labelle, Melba Moore, Dan Hartman, Jackie Moore, and Gladys Knight & the Pips.

The second remix Luongo did for the Jacksons, Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) (1979), helped revive their career at a moment when they were about to be dropped by their post-Motown label Epic Records. Its percussion techniques combined with those on Luongo's previous remix of Blame It On The Boogie (1978) directly influenced the dancefloor-friendly sound that Quincy Jones crafted shortly afterwards for Michael Jackson's breakthrough solo LP Off The Wall.

With extended dance mix, dub and single remixes by renowned San Francisco-based disco DJ/remixer Paul Goodyear, Con Te Partirò (Time To Say Goodbye) is available on digital platforms worldwide. JLM Recordings is considering a limited signed edition vinyl release in 2022.

- Dyn-O-Mite

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Barbara Roy & Ecstasy, Passion and Pain - If You Want Me (1981)

Sometimes, a track comes onto your radar screen and changes everything.  This is one of them, so if you haven't heard it before, today is the first day of the rest of your funky life!  Barbara Roy and ​Ecstasy, Passion & Pain​.  I first found out about them from DKB, a cat who ran some killer clubs back in the day and chilled out with legends like Arthur Baker in NYC.  Barbara Roy was the triple threat - a soulful singer and guitarist with gospel roots (born in Kinston, North Carolina) who co-wrote most of Ecstasy, Passion & Pain's songs.

Her band had some hits in the 70s, but in '81 they dropped this joint right here - ​If You Want Me.  Released on Roy B. Records, a New York-based disco label owned by Roy Bermingham.  Put on your headphones, and get ready for a finger poppin', foot stompin', gospel-flavored, butt thumpin', boogie woogie mind blowin' rollerskate-friendly disco funk anthem!

On the strength of its irresistible groove and timeless lyrics that anyone who's ever felt neglected in a relationship could identify with, this made it to #3 on the dance charts.  Barbara Roy went on to hit even bigger, comin' in with a #1 dance smash in '86, ​Gotta See You Tonight​.  But If You Want Me was probably her masterpiece.

- Moon Ra

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Electronic System - Skylab (1974)

On May 14, 1973, Skylab was launched. And apparently, inspired this epic, spaced out Moog joint by Electronic System, aka Dan Lacksman, who later formed the Belgian avant garde synthpop group Telex.

America's first space station orbited the planet until falling back to Earth in 1979. In the pre-internet, pre-cable news era, it was still a global media event.

- Dyn-O-Mite

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Jean-Pierre Mirouze - Sexopolis (1968)

A long-forgotten original soundtrack from a 1968 French exploitation flick yielded this funky cut. The whole soundtrack would have been lost to the ages if an acetate copy hadn't been rescued from a landfill in Paris a few years back.

If you can decipher Google's slightly twisted translation, or speak French, you'll dig this page, which drops some knowledge about the strange career of Jean-Pierre Mirouze, including how he was hired in the late 60s to create the music for a never-completed political film called Farewell America, after a book of the same name. The entire project was supposedly a creation of the French intelligence service, embarked on with the knowledge and/or encouragement of Bobby Kennedy. It was to have featured the full-length Zapruder film (then unseen by the American public), and like the book, explored the possibility that multiple gunmen killed JFK, with backing from a cabal of U.S. oil interests, rogue elements of the CIA, and Kennedy's domestic political enemies.

- Dyn-O-Mite

Monday, August 15, 2016

Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra - Soul Power (2009)

Also known just as Kokolo. Formed in NYC circa 2001, by now these cats have over 50 releases to their credit and apparently are one of the reasons there's been a global Afrobeat revival in recent years.

From their 2009 LP Heavy Hustling, with a sexy assist from Sheree, doing her original tiger dance! Of course, a reworking of the 1971 James Brown classic.

As certain fiends and denizens may recall, the version redone by Maceo and the Macks as Soul Power '74 was a Pink House standard back in the day.

- Dyn-O-Mite

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Chakachas - Stories (1972)

The Chakachas were a group of studio musicians from Belgium (including Tito Puente's wife, the singer Kari Kenton) who laid down some seriously funky Latin soul tracks. They were best known for their sex funk hit Jungle Fever, which went to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 after being released in late 1971, and undoubtedly resulted in the birth of many a Gen Xer. It sold over a million copies in the U.S., and was a seminal track of the early disco era, heating up the then-underground dance floor scene.

But this cut right here, Stories, was also a killer.

Off the follow-up to Jungle Fever, 1972's Los Chakachas, it's a playful groove with lots of giggles and silly background noises, and clearly a song that a lot of folks enjoyed while getting stoned. With recreational marijuana use on the ballot this November in five more states (California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine, and Massachusetts), it's high time to revisit some classic smoking tracks!

- Dyn-O-Mite

Saturday, August 13, 2016

King Floyd - Groove Me (1970)

Went to a wedding today, and this was one of the only decent tracks the DJ threw down.

Turns out there's a romantic story behind it. King Floyd wrote Groove Me as a poem that he planned to give to a coed he was crushing on who worked with him at a box factory in East L.A., since he was too shy to ask her out. But after he wrote it, she never came back to work. "Man, I'd sure like to meet her one day just to thank her," Floyd said in 1999. The track was a #1 hit on the Billboard Soul chart over four non-consecutive weeks in early 1971, and crossed over to the white pop charts, making it to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. He was working at a New Orleans post office when the song blew up, and Groove Me's success allowed him to quit his job and tour the U.S., pursuing his musical career full time. R.I.P King Floyd (1945-2006).

- Dyn-O-Mite

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Skobie Won - Burn (2015)

While hanging out at the new gelato spot today, I ran into a CT-based rapper and producer named Skobie Won. It intrigued me to learn he's out of New London, since I recently relieved the the New London Sal's of all their decent vinyl, and found another large used record stash at a nearby antique mall that yielded some goodies, too. Skobie said he had a big collection, and I bet he does...those producer cats stockpile up all the good crate-dug shit. He just dropped his third album, Drive, and checking out his website led me to this very dope electro-flavored track right here, Burn:

which was the first single off his last album, Bedlam and Squalor. Burn to the ground, baby! Just keep the flames away from the gelato.

- Dyn-O-Mite

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kool & The Gang - I Remember John W. Coltrane (1973)

Thinking about Kool & The Gang today, I stumbled onto this rare groove. One of the most beautiful tributes to Coltrane I've ever heard.

From their 1973 LP Kool Jazz, produced by De-Lite Records owner Gene Redd. I was aware their jazz lineage ran deep. But I never knew that Thelonious Monk was Robert "Kool" Bell's godfather. They were originally known as the Jazziacs, formed in Jersey City back in 1964. Even though Kool was only thirteen years old at the time, over the next few years they occasionally played with McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders.

- Dyn-O-Mite

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From 2000-2008, Ringside in Durham, NC was the South's coolest nightspot, a decadent refuge for queers and straights alike. Ringside may be gone, but memories of the best damn party in town live on!