The music of Rock Candy Funk Party sounds so fresh, contemporary, and hot off the presses that it can be hard to remember that it has roots – roots that go down deep into the world of jazz and funk. There are even some very funky blues tunes serving as inspiration, which Joe Bonamassa and Matt Abramovitz discuss on the latest edition of The Pickup radio show. That conversation is especially timely for Joe, who spent the day of the radio recording also working on the new Rock Candy studio album. On the show they play a sample of the lead track off of their first album, We Want Groove, “Octopus-E,” a “funky, James Bondy kind of song” according to Joe.
It is easy to understand the reference to Mr. Bond. If the impeccably dressed, dashing, martini-sipping superspy went on the hunt for the world’s deepest groove, he might find it wrapped up in the syncopated beat of “Octopus-E.” The song title is a stylized referenced to the Bond film of the same name, which was released in 1983. Just two years earlier, jazz genius Miles Davis had released his jazz-funk rave up, “We Want Miles,” whose music, title, and album cover all served as direct inspiration for Rock Candy Funk Party’s first album.
Later in the episode of The Pickup, Joe remarks that you can’t do a funk radio show without playing perhaps the seminal figure of the genre, the Godfather of Soul, the hardest working man in show biz, Mr. James Brown. Similarly, it would be wrong for us to blog about the roots of funk without mentioning Brown, one of the three members of what Allmusic.com deems the holy trinity of funk, Brown, Sly Stone, and George Clinton. Brown’s music isn’t the direct inspiration for the music of Rock Candy Funk Party – that would be the aforementioned Miles Davis, along with other jazz-funk giants like Herbie Hancock. But it is impossible to imagine the influential work of those jazz cats if not for the forefathers of funk paving the way for them in the 1960s and 70s.
In The Pickup, Joe talks about his favorite Brown tune, “I Got The Feeling” which is from the album of the same name, released in 1968. The song itself was a hit, reaching #1 on the R&B charts and #6 on the pop charts. As Joe indicates on the radio show, there is a kind of beautiful simplicity to the song. The tune is mostly built around the I chord, although it does eventually move to the IV chord – but not before Mr. Brown is good and ready for it. As Joe notes, the move to the subdominant chord gives the song a bluesy tinge. See, we haven’t left the blues completely behind here even with James Brown! Brown really paved the way for funk with historical singles like “I Feel Good” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” songs permanently emblazoned in our cultural history. But allmusic designates another, later tune as the one that truly ushered in the funk era in music, and I happen to concur.
“Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” is the quintessential early 1970s funk song. The songs opens with a call and response from Brown and his band, as he exuberantly asserts that he’s ready to do his thing “like a sex machine.”A staccato riff then blasts off into the song proper, and the immaculate groove is launched, kicking off the jam.
What is groove anyway? You know it when you hear it, but more than anything, you know it when you feel it. All of the instruments in a funk song help build toward the groove, which usually features a beat emphasized on the 1 count, rather than on the 2 and 4 counts as traditional R&B does. Repetitive, hypnotic, and more than anything, it makes you want to dance. Funk isn’t music that was designed for the polite symphony hall, after all. Funk is about getting those hips moving, sweat dripping down your face, arms waving, everything shaking. That’s funk!
Part of the reason that Brown achieved this deep funk groove in “Get Up” even more than in his previous work is that he was literally working with an almost entirely new band. And probably nothing influenced the change in direction more than the Collins brothers, Bootsy on bass and Catfish on guitar. The Collins brothers were brought into the fold in an emergency situation. Depending on whose account you are getting, Brown’s band mutinied and then either quit or was fired right before a show in Columbus, Georgia. James brought in members of another band, The Pacesetters, including the Collins Brothers, and a new James Brown band, The JB’s, formed.
Bootsy’s bouncy bass line is almost a lead instrument in his hands, and Catfish’s scratchy, high fret guitar work, combines with Jabo Starks’ syncopated drumming to spellbinding effect. Overlaying this is the call and response of Brown and Bobby Bird. composed of earthy, raw vocals, which sound mostly improvisational and drive more towards pure, underlying feelings rather than the literal meanings of the words. James has referred to his music as jazz before, and you can hear the similarities between the two idioms in the free form vocal technique used here.
Adding to the harmonic mix with a little bit of acoustic piano, James maintains a formula similar to the one Joe noted in his description of “I Got the Feeling,” but here it’s on steroids. The song remains mostly at its tonal home on the I chord (sounds like e flat to my ear) until Brown finally “takes it to the bridge.” The shift of the chord to the subdominant has an Earth-shaking effect, building the tension ever higher before finally releasing back to the 1 chord for maximal funk satisfaction. This all leads to non-stop booty-shaking. My colleagues here at J&R Adventures are wondering why I’m having so much fun over here at my desk with my headphones on.
I would say they don’t make ‘em like this anymore, but happily, we have bands around like Rock Candy Funk Party to pick up the groove torch, unleashing torrents of joyful jazz-funk to quench the thirst of those who dig it. Perhaps I can put in a request to them at their next show for a cover of “Get Up,” the funk Helen of Troy that launched 1,000 groovy musical ships.
Rock Candy Funk Party is playing this New Year’s Eve at The Baked Potato in Studio City, CA. Come out and ring in 2015 the right way! You can purchase tickets here.
What’s your favorite funk song? Comment below to let us know!