For Black Music Month I’m digging in the archives for gems
D’Angelo became the symbol of the neo-soul movement in the mid-90s, as he and slew of young musicians and singers brought an organic sensibility to R&B, whose mainstream sounds had become digital and technologically driven. But, as his last album, the Grammy award winning Black Messiah made clear, this Richmond, Virginia native is passionate about progressive sounds in funk and rock. On his last tour with his band, the Vanguard, D spent more time playing guitar than keys, which suited material that was often politically edged and substituted abrasive haze for the warmth of his first two studio albums. In honor of black music month I go back to an interview with D’Angelo done for my documentary Finding the Funk (available via www.amazon.com).
MUSIC TO HEAR
Mentioned in this piece is EDDIE HAZEL (known for his ten minute guitar solo on Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” in 1971), the BAND OF GYPSYS LP (1970) recorded live at the Filmore East in New York by Hendrix, drummer BUDDY MILES and bassist BILLY COX, PRINCE’S DIRY MIND LP (1981) and BOOTSY COLLINS tenure in the JAMES BROWN BAND (1970 TO 1971).
I think the whole concept to me and what Funk really means to me is (that) it’s black rock and roll. When George (Clinton) said “We have returned to reclaim the pyramid.” That’s what that represents to me. We are coming to reclaim what is ours and this is ours. Rhythm and blues, what you call rock and roll, this is our music. It’s not just about, you know no disrespect to white boys playing guitars but, you know, we kind of invented this, so, and it’s just like a reclaiming of that you know.
JIMI HENDRIX & THE BAND OF GYPSYS
When Jimi (Hendrix) when had Buddy Miles playing the drums he had such a heavy back beat behind him, so he was able to like space out. Like to me all of what Eddy Hazel was doing with Funkadelic. It’s kind of based on that one album ‘Band of Gypsys.’ Jimi took all that heavy back beat that Buddy Miles was doing and he took it in outer space. So it was like outer space blues, blues on acid. So to me that’s the essence of what Funk is really about. (Cause) Jimi’s a blues man to me. He’s just like blues man from outer space. It’s as primitive as it is and it’s as futuristic it can be at the same time.
PRINCE AS D’s ENTRY POINT TO FUNK
Well the first one to be the catalyst and point the way was Prince for me. I was so young when say ‘Dirty Mind’ came out. To me that was the shift. He kind of like put his flag in the ground and I was what, seven years old, but my brain was so open for what it was. But I mean everything that I guess would kind of influence him or that I learned influenced him, that’s what I wanted to go seek after.
I went and aggressively sought out James Brown, George Clinton and Funkadelic. I could tell that he was influenced by Ohio Players. So Prince kind of pointed me in the direction to hear all that. During like the late 80’s early 90’s, when sampling became such a big thing and it was about crate digging, and getting samples and finding new breaks and what have you, I started listening to things like Band of Gypsys. The way it sounded I couldn’t tell whether it was made back then or if it was made now. Cause the beat sounded like (DJ)Premier’s beats. The way Buddy Miles was hitting those drums sounded like Premier to me.
I felt the same way about the Meters. When I first heard The Meters I was like that sounded like it was made just now. It sounded like Marly Mar or something. So I guess that was the thing cause I started recognizing these common threads. They kind of put all these things together: Hip Hop and music that was being made back then like The Meters and Band of Gypsies.
JB AND BOOTSY: SAME PLACE, DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS
It’s interesting cause I heard a tape just recently of when James first got Bootsy and Catfish and them from King’s Studio and they were like opening up for the real James Brown band and so they just did like an instrumental set. They was doing Jimi. They was doing “Power of Love.” They were playing The Meters.
It was more like a generational thing. He was coming from all of that rock or progressive funk and James was coming from the blues and gospel side coming to Funk, but they were coming and they met in the middle. It was funny because I think the reason it was short lived, cause they were going in different directions at the same time. Then they met and they kept going.
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For more of my writing on the legacy of black music in America check out: Where Did Our Love Go: The rise and fall of the Motown Sound (1986), The Death of Rhythm & Blues (1988), Hip Hop America (1998), The Hippest Trip in America: the story of Soul Train (2014) or The Nelson George Mixtape, available only via www.pacificpacific.pub.