This is the second in a series of mini articles I committed to sharing about my particular and nuanced veiws of certain songs and the artists who wrote, produced, sang, and played on them.
Let me be perfectedly clear. I am an unabashed fan of Rhythm & Blues. It is, I think, one of the purest forms of projection of human emotion ever created by man. It contains many nuances, if you know how to listen to music that is unparalleled, even by the so-called masters.
It has been said that Jazz is America's only art form. Isn't it strange that when something reaches worldwide acclaim it suddenly becomes America's? However, I disagree. I most certainly appreaciate and give mad props to those geniuses of musical improvisation. Who can deny Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Christian, Dizzy, Coltrane, and the host of other magicians of sound were Gods? Not I!
However, I have also heard and felt the acoustical abracadabras of Thom Bell, Barret Strong, Roger Penzebene, Kenneth Gamble, and the great Norman Whitfield, whose songs would influence me enough to want to live. I got it!
While R&B, like Jazz, is hard to describe or define, it is actually experiential. I have heard and read different explanations of what R&B is. Many contradict each other in description, yet there are two things they all agree on: drums and bassline. From the start, some perhaps unknown genius decided that they liked the flow of the kick drum and bass guitar and when they were syncopated you heard a sound like never before. By putting accents and emphasis on certain beats, and later as the sound became more sophisticated and complex, arrangers used dynamics, hesitation, and all kinds of musical tricks all to find and massage that special groove that made people to this day holler out, "That's my song!"
The next time you hear one of James Brown's old songs, say "Make It Funky" a song that kind of just swings real easy with just a hint that the funk may come and the anticipation is there, but the rhythmic continuous flow of soft horns and chants mesmerizes you, the listen for the inevitable funk drop. When you hear it for the first time, you will think perhaps Brown was just taking it easy, none of that hard staccato making the entire band a rhythm section.
So, there you are on the dance floor where its safe and easy, you think. Mr. Brown and crew are chanting "Make it funky" repetitiously and then you hear what may be a warning. Just when you thought it was safe, Brown shouts out, "Take me on ....... To the bridge" and then one more time just in case you think he's bullshitting and then...BAM! One of the hardest, get ugly in the face lead breaks, you know what old folks call, "the good part" that "Aw shit now" known as the bridge. And oh what a bridge it is. All on the one! So welcome to my world, this is not Hip Hop, it is not Quiet Storm, Easy Listening, no none of that.
It is slick, smooth, intelligent the hard line and yes in a sense even raw. This is the Bridge!