The Psychedelic Imagination History and Major Figures of Jazz Origins of Reggae, Ska and Dub

This document looks at the origins of Rhythm and Blues, Soul and Funk music in the United States by:

  • identifying important artists
  • examining the role of a number of key independent record labels in bringing their music to a much wider audience, and
  • putting these developments into context - for example, each of the independent labels is associated with a particular U.S. city (Atlantic Records: New York).

    The music that Atlantic Record’s Jerry Wexler called Rhythm and Blues (R & B) in 1949 became known as Soul Music in the sixties. Musically, Soul came to mean songs with secular lyrics about love, dancing and other worldly concerns, sung and arranged with the techniques and, more importantly, the fervour of gospel music.

    Funky originally meant dirty, or a dirty sound but in the way that black music culture employs irony in language so that "bad" means "good," Funk became a metaphor for the perfect groove. Funk is a type of rhythmic, soulful dance music, often with a bass part that employs a technique of slapping one string with the thumb and popping (pulling out and releasing) another string with a finger (slap and pop). The idea behind this technique is that the slap = the kick drum and that the pop = the snare. There are variations of this technique which use double thumbing or tapping down on the string with the fingers.

    The Importance of The Independent Record Labels
    New York’s Atlantic Records was founded in 1949 by Ahmet and Neshui Ertegun, the sons of a Turkish diplomat. They built an impressive enterprise, with Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, the Drifters and the Coasters and it was Atlantic Records Jerry Wexler who coined the term Rhythm and Blues in 1949. Ray Charles talked Atlantic Records into letting him try something different. "I Got a Woman" (1954), "What’d I Say" (1959) and later his version of "Georgia on My Mind," put the ferocious devotional energy of the Baptist church into tales of sinning, drinking, and sexual anguish that made him into a national institution, and made soul music a cleansing, cathartic medium for its secular fans.

    Atlantic Records also recorded and released jazz luminary John Coltrane's Giant Steps (1960) and in the late 1960s signed Led Zeppelin to the label.

    Chicago’s Chess Records had been catering successfully to black tastes with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and to white teens with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, since the early 1950’s.

    Sun Records was founded in 1952 by Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee. Phillips initially concentrated mainly on African-American musicians because he was a fan of rhythm and blues and wanted to bring it to a white audience. Sun discovered and first recorded white artists like Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, and Johnny Cash.

    James Brown began his recording career in 1956, recording for Cincinnati-based King Records and during the 1960s the "hardest working man in show business" became known as the Godfather of Soul.

    Tamla-Motown was formed in Detroit by Berry Gordy Jr. in 1959 and aside from putting a down payment on the 2648 West Grand Boulevard building, Berry formed Jobete Music Publishing, the corporation Berry Gordy Jr. Enterprises, Hitsville, USA, the Motown Record Corporation (a contraction of Motortown), which would issue records under a variety of labels, including Tamla, and International Talent Management, Inc. (ITM), to guide the careers of his signees.

    In the summer of 1959, the Miracles’ "Way Over There" was the first record released on the Tamla label, and if that weren’t historic enough, it was Smokey’s (Robinson) first solo production. It sold 60,000 copies by the end of it’s run, most of it in the midwest, a remarkable number for an unknown Detroit label. In early 1961 "Shop Around," written by Smokey Robinson and performed by the Miracles, went to number one on the R & B chart and number two on the pop chart.

    Over the next three years, roughly 1960 through 1962, a community of administrators, musicians, and entertainers began coalescing inside the West Grand Boulevard building. The musicians who formed the backbone of the Motown sound, bassist James Jamerson and drummer Benny "Papa Zita" Benjamin, were jazz musicians who had worked with Berry Gordy on and off since the early Miracles records.

    In the early sixties, when Jamerson and Benjamin were just beginning to realise how well they worked together, the studio band was headed by Joe Hunter, a burly jazz pianist and also included Dave Hamilton, who would make a vital and largely unknown contribution to Motown music, played the unlikely combination of guitar and vibes. By 1964 the studio band had become known as the Funk Brothers and consisted of the key rhythm section of Jamerson, Benjamin and pianist Earl Van Dyke and other musicians such as guitarist Robert White. These musicans were not credited on most of the records they played a crucial part in creating until the 1970s. Paul Justman's film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" is a tribute to these musicians who played on more #1 records than The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and Elvis combined.

    The twenty nine number one pop hits for Motown artists between 1961 and 1973 are as follows:
    1961: "Please Mr. Postman" by the Marvelettes
    1963: "Fingertips-pt. 2" by Stevie Wonder
    1964: "My Guy" by Mary Wells, "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love" and "Come See About Me" by the Supremes
    1965: "Stop! In the Name of Love," "Back In My Arms Again" and "I Hear a Symphony" by the Supremes, "My Girl" by the Temptations
    1966: "You Can’t Hurry Love," "You Keep Me Hanging On" and "Love is Here and Now You’ve Gone" by the Supremes, "It’s The Same Old Song" and "Reach Out and I’ll Be There" by the Four Tops
    1967: "The Happening" by the Supremes
    1968: "Love Child" by the Supremes, "I Want You Back" by the Jackson Five and "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye
    1969: "Someday We’ll Be Together" by the Supremes and "I Can’t Get Next to You" by the Temptations
    1970: "The Tears of a Clown" by the Miracles, "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough" by Diana Ross, "War" by Edwin Star, "ABC," "The Love Save You" and "I’ll Be There" by the Jackson Five
    1971: "Just My Imagination Running Away With Me" by the Temptations
    1973: "Neither of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)" by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

    The South, particularly Memphis, Tennessee - and more specifically a record label called Stax - became the artistic and commercial home of soul. Stax, founded by a white man, Jim Stewart, and run by a black man, Al Bell, either recorded or inspired the eras greatest soul records, and during the mid- to late sixties provided the first dollars-and -cents challenge to Motown’s domination of the black music industry. The label was well organised and was distributed by a company long established in black music - Atlantic Records. Stax folded in 1975 as a result of a costly legal battle with CBS.

    Artists who changed the face of black music in the 1960s included Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex ("Hold What You’ve Got"), Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. These artists all cut tracks in the South which were distributed by Atlantic Records. Many of these songs, including “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett and “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” and “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, were recorded at Rick Hall's Fame Studios in Alabama with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a group of white session musicians also known as the Swampers. Greg Camalier's 2013 documentary film "Muscle Shoals" about Fame Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio provides insights into some of the legendary recordings that were made there through interviews with the people who made them.

    Some of this music has also reached a wider audience through the "Blues Brothers" and "Commitments" movies.

    Motown writers and producers Holland-Dozier-Holland left Tamla-Motown in 1968, citing non-payment of royalties, and formed their own Invictus and Hot Wax labels. Hit making artists on this label in the early 1970’s included Chairmen of the Board ("Give Me Just a Little More Time" and "Pay the Piper") and Freda Payne ("Band of Gold" and "Bring the Boys Home").

    In 1968 Curtis Mayfield, who had by then established himself as a high calibre songwriter and was enjoying success as the lead singer of the Impressions, started his Curtom label with Eddie Thomas in his native Chicago.

    Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International label introduced the Philly (Philadelphia) soul sound that would dominate R & B music throughout the mid -1970s with hits by the O’Jays: "Back Stabbers" (1972), "Love Train" (1973) and "For the Love of Money" (1974), Billy Paul: "Me and Mrs. Jones" (1972), The Spinners: "Could it Be I’m Falling in Love" (1972) and "The Rubberband Man" (1976), Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Intruders and the Three Degrees.

    Other Developments: Putting R & B, Soul and Funk in Context
    During the mid sixties, the British beat boom, spearheaded by the Beatles, took America by storm. And in the midst of all this, while the Beatles were giving credit to Motown and other forms of black music, Motown acts such as the Supremes were topping the pop charts.

    In the late sixties bands like San Francisco's Sly and the Family Stone further expanded the precepts of "soul music" with a vision of psychedelic utopia and a band which included men and women, blacks and whites, working together, shifting roles and sharing the spotlight. Sly’s bass player Larry Graham was one of the pioneers of the slapping technique which has become one of the hall marks of funk. Other bass players to pioneer and develop this style of playing from the early 1970s include the late Doug Rauch (new Santana band) and Stanley Clarke (Return to Forever).

    Jimi Hendrix cut his teeth as a sideman on the Southern R & B chitlin’ circuit before bursting into prominence with the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1966. Although Hendrix died in 1970, others picked up where he left off. Curtis Mayfield and War blended elements of Hendrix’s guitar sound and Sly Stone’s rhythms into soul and pop classics.

    Following the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis in 1968, the vibe began to get more street wise. By the end of the 1960s Curtis Mayfield had become a motivating voice for civil rights and black pride with songs like "Keep On Pushing" (1964), "People Get Ready" (1965) and "We're A Winner" (1968). His first solo album "Curtis" was released in 1970 and included the nearly nine minute long cut "Move On Up," possibly one of the earliest recording to incorporate a fast breakbeat of the kind that now characterises drum n bass music.

    By the 1970s Tamla-Motown artists such as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were seeking greater artistic freedom and went on to produce ground breaking albums. Their music began to reflect different moods and to address the ecological, social and spiritual concerns. Along with Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" (1971) and Stevie Wonder's "Innervisions" (1973), Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" (1972) was to usher in a new socially conscious, funky style of popular soul music.

    Other seminal funk bands like the Meters came out of New Orleans, considered the birthplace of jazz. Other important funk artists to come out of New Orleans include Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) and the Neville Brothers (Art and Cyril Neville were members of the Meters).

    White ("blue eyed") soul artists to emerge in the late 1960s and early 1970s included Steve Winwood (the Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith and Traffic), Joe Cocker and the Average White Band (these artists are all British). Other artists to emerge in Britain with a funky sound in the early 1970s included Afro-rock band Osibisa, with members from Ghana and the Caribbean, and Argent (most notably on songs written by guitarist Russ Ballard). Bassist Tiran Porter brought a bit of funk to the Doobie Brothers.

    Originally from Chicago, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock was considered a child prodigy. He recorded his first solo album "Takin' Off" in 1962 and "Watermelon Man," a track from this album was a hit for Mongo Santamaria in 1963. Having caught the attention of Miles Davis, he joined the Miles Davis Quintet on piano in 1963, staying until 1968, while contining to make albums as a leader. After leaving Miles he formed a sextet which released "Mwandishi" (1971), "Crossings" (1972) and "Sextant" (1973). Having professed to be a fan of funk music and particularly of Sly Stone's music, he then went on to produce some of the most definitive jazz funk of the early to mid 1970s. "Headhunters" (1973) was the first of a series of funk albums recorded in San Francisco with musicians from the Bay Area, including bass player Paul Jackson, drummer Mike Clark and percussionist Bill Summers. Another important San Francisco Bay Area band making this kind of music around the same time was Tower of Power.

    A number of vocal groups, such as Bloodstone ("Natural High" - 1973), Blue Magic, the Delfonics and the Stylistics, who had enjoyed some commercial success in the early 1970s were hindered by the rise of disco music in the mid 1970s. This was in part due to the fact that Club owners went from hiring groups to just playing records and many of the independent labels folded or were swallowed up by the majors due to a loss of popularity of the artists on their roster, thanks to disco.

    Earth, Wind and Fire, Rufus and the Isley Brothers were primarily funk groups who hit their commercial prime in the late 1970s.

    Talking Heads was a band to emerge out of the punk/new wave movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s to incorporate elements of funk into their sound. By the start of the 1980s, black popular music was still dominated by disco and self-contained funk groups like the Commodores, Parliament/Funkadelic and Slave, and by the 1980s the time was right for a more widespread appreciation of the unique contribution Africa would make to the more general evolution of funky dance music. As a result, funky music became even more diversified during the 1980s and by the mid 1980s a number of African artists such as Hugh Masekela (South Africa), Yossou N’Dour (Senegal), Mory Kante (Guinea) and Salif Keita (Mali) began to be successful outside Africa with funky sounds. Characterised by consummate musicianship, high-tech modern production and a potpourri of influences, including traditional African music, this new music became known as Afrobeat in Nigeria, Zouk in the French Antilles and Mbalax in Senegal.

    During the late 1970s and early 1980s hip hop and rapping began to emerge as modern urban black musical forms. Jamaican born DJ Kool Herc moved to New York in the late 1960s and brought with him the Jamaican tradition of "toasting," which involved reciting improvised rhymes over instrumental sections of reggae records. He used two turntables and cut back and forth between two records to create a new sound, "rapping" to the crowd while he was "MCing". "Rapper's Delight" (1979) was one of the first rap recordings to become an international hit. It used beats and the bass line from the disco track "Good Times" by Chic. Sampling music from a variety of other sources like this and scratching, which was discovered accidentally by DJ Grand Wizard Theodore, have become a hallmark of hip hop.

    In the late 1980s, the core of musicians behind the early Sugarhill recordings such as "The Message" (Skip McDonald - guitar, Doug Wimbish - bass and Keith Le Blanc - drums) moved to the U.K. and teamed up with mix maestro Adrian Sherwood to form Tackhead and the On-u Sound label. A number of identities such as The Strange Parcels, African Head Charge and Little Axe emerged in the early 1990’s featuring the same musicians. This music cross fertilises blues, soul, funk, reggae and dub influences.

    In the 1990s, the funky muse was still going strong. Soul artists to emerge in the late 1980s and early 1990s included Prince (the Minneapolis Sound) and Seal. A number of British bands emerged in the 1990s which were heavily influenced by 1970’s jazz funk, including Jamiroquois, Incognito, Galliano and the Brand New Heavies. This music became known as acid jazz. Incognito is the vehicle for the music of Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick and features brass and string arrangements, soulful vocals and top class musicianship. Their sound is informed by jazz, latin and R & B music.

    More recently the term Rhythm and Blues has been reintroduced to describe a lot of contemporary African-American or African-American influenced music, although the distinction between R & B and hip hop is now not always clear when much of this music uses the African and African American idea of call and response with a rap answered by a soulful vocal, as well as sampling and scratching.


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