Funk and the blues

Blues progressions and funk rhythms are one of those fusions that worked well for a time. Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp” and Alvin Robinson’s “Down Home Girl” spring to mind here. It was combination that worked best in the 1960s – a time of blues-inflected top 40 hits from cities like New Orleans and Memphis – a time of R&B and soul records with earthy flavor and hard drumming and spare productions.

1. Buddy Conner, Half-Way Loving (Early Bird)
Though Buddy Conner and company were actually from the Bay Area, the organ, the Memphis-style horn section, the shuckin’, the jivin’: “Half-Way Loving” is as resolutely Southern as it gets.

But a few walloping drum beats later, they wasted no time getting into the down home spirit on this off-kilter bit of late ’60s funky soul.

2. Shelley Fisher, I’ll Leave You (Girl) (Kapp)
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve heard lines like “I don’t need that kind of treatment, girl / Your love is the choking kind.” Fisher can toss out every cliché from the book of blues one-liners; sometimes a selection can succeed on the sheer gutbucket strength of its drums alone.

The Mississippi-born Shelley Fisher recorded “I’ll Leave You (Girl) (For Somebody New)” shortly after his arrival in Los Angeles in 1970, and near the beginning of his long career as a singer, songwriter, and performer. He is still active today.

3. Lee Harris, I’m Gonna Get Your Thing (Get You) (Forte)
Singer and guitarist Lee Harris’s raucous “I’m Gonna Get Your Thing (Get You)” was pressed to vinyl around 1970 and released on one of Kansas City’s fine independent soul labels, Forte. (See this page for an excellent overview & discography of Forte.)

There’s warping tape near the song’s beginning – that audible whoosh – there’s the stylistic shift of the song’s last loopy minute, and, in between, there’s a roomful of musicians, manic background vocalists, and two strategically placed microphones. It’s exciting to hear things captured in such visceral fidelity. I get excited, too, at sorting out exactly whose thing is whose. Maybe it’s your thing, I don’t know.

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12 Responses to Funk and the blues

  1. Anonymous says:

    this topic warrants a few more songs. these are awesome.

  2. Anonymous says:

    where do you get such amazing records? Good work once again, LD. Now impress us all and do another week or 2 of this topic. Do 6 more blues/funk “jams” of this caliber (.45?) even exist?

  3. Anonymous says:

    isn’t lee harris just another version of “daddy don’t know about sugar bear” by marva whitney on the same lbl (re: on ampex)? it seems like the music is just a crude re-edit with completely different vocals over it. But still, it’s got a different bridge and outro? i gots to do so research.

  4. Right you are! (Regarding the Lee Harris.) Same track, just more trebly – and with Marva’s screaming vocals more prominent. Gotta love those indie labels: they knew a good track when they had one. NOTHING went to waste.

    I had to look up that Marva Whitney track, by the way.

  5. This kind of exhausts my limited reserves of “bluesy” funk, alas. It’s a sound that I generally find myself avoiding. Sometimes even the Stax/Volt stuff is too bluesy for me (or maybe just too “Southern” sounding). To each his own, I suppose.

    Anyway, thanks for y’all’s encouraging words!

  6. For debate’s sake, I think that there is a big difference between authenticity and purity, at least purity in the sense that you seem to mean, which I think is stylistically pure. One can mix styles in music and still be authentic. In fact, you could argue that the most authentic makers of music are the ones who treat it as a living breathing thing and look at the notion of purity as stiffling at best, dishonest at worst. Dishonest? Yeah, because very little music is pure. And certainly no American music can claim purity. All draw from someplace(s) outside their own genre. The trick is to do it well. Here you have to look at the spirit in which the music is getting made, because that is where authenticity REALLY matters. To use punk as an example: A current band playing chord perfect 1-2-3-4 77 punk might be pure but are they authentic if we are to judge authenticity by the spirit of punk. Of course not, because the spirit of punk is about using parts of the past to challenge the future, to make new things out of old, not to repeat the same shit your parents did before you. So a band that takes punk and fuses it with say gypsy music might not be pure, but they sure are authentic. I think all music that is alive should be approached the same way. Anyway, just some thoughts before I kick off to sleep.

    Keep up the great work!

  7. Hey, thanks for your observations, Scott. Authentic music? Yup, I agree. It happens everywhere. Even in America, where, thankfully, we can still depend on an individualistic streak to occasionally bubble up through a thick, choking, homogenizing blanket of pop culture.

    But I should have in retrospect forced myself to elaborate more on what were basically totally unformed thoughts about purity and authenticity. I did in one sense mean “stylistically pure” by “pure.” And to that end I’m totally in agreement with your suggestion that there really isn’t any pure American music – or ANY MUSIC ANYWHERE that is ultimately undisturbed by outside influences. (Though, just to be difficult, I would say there are types of musical traditions still practiced much as they have been for years and/or decades, and that in their own weird way that these are sort of “pure,” or pure-ish, even if they are totally non-vital.)

    So, anyway, there’s that anthropological/historical idea of purity.

    And then, to my mind, there’s the idea of purity within the context of a specific tradition or “genre.” Which is more the *aesthetic* idea of purity, more a tendency to make ideals, more the tendency of collectors, historians, writers, enthusiasts, etc. to make statements about, say, Mississippi Delta blues, and why one singer is less “pure” than another because his recordings sometimes featured trombones in the background. It’s the tendency behind the formulaic ideal of ’60s garage bands which has coalesced over years – and why a great, wild 45 is regarded dismissively if there isn’t a guitar solo.

    I cringe when I hear people – especially collectors – talk like that. I cringe because they are revealing themselves as snobs. And I cringe, too, because I realize I have many, many, many of the same impulses. It’s just that I’m more embarrassed to show that attitude too much – or I am keenly self-conscious of it, at least. (Though obviously with Office Naps I myself organize music around an ideal of that theme.)

  8. Anonymous says:

    when I think funk + blues – 2 records come to mind right away..

    Little Sonny’s “Black and Blues..”
    and Albert King’s “I wanna get funky”

    funky blues? bluesy funk? jazzy funk? funky jazz?

    necessary distinctions – no doubt about it

    but for me – in the end – either the music floors you or it doesn’t
    and when I put on a tuff record – genre usually flies out the window


  9. habryoutube says:

    The soul of this blog is its eclectic nature. I’ve devoted a 512mb-player to Office Naps, and some time next year I will have a great little machine filled with different takes on 60’s, jazz, soul and probably some more funk as well.
    (this is so obvious:)Other blogs have different souls, check out the links on O-Dubs site. Personally I like redkelly’s “B”-side and “A”-side blogs for the “genre” soul.
    Mmmm…it’s monday soon!

    (and our gang)

  10. Anonymous says:

    This settles it for me: I just don’t enjoy blues in any form – the funky kind included – anymore (except possibly the very jazzy kind that hardly sounds like blues). What a revelation!!! Thank you for helping me find myself!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hey there,

    the flip of the Lee Harris is soo great. Would be great if you would feature it sometime?!

    Thanks for a really nice blog I just came across.



  12. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, the ballad (Don’t Let Your Love Fade Away) on the other side is a very nice ballad. There’s also a version of both sides of this 45 on the same label by Gene Williams, that’s considered better by many, including myself. In fact there are two Gene Williams 45s of these songs, one yellow, one red. The yellow one is the better take or the two but both are definitely worth owning.

    Just found this blog, really nice work.


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