Tag Archives: Average White Band

Rocks In The Attic #745: Jeff Beck – ‘Blow By Blow’ (1975)

RITA#745I’ve been getting my funk back, these last few months. Something I’ve been meaning to listen to again was this, Blow By Blow, Jeff Beck’s head-first dive into funk from 1975.

It’s a stunning album. Produced by George Martin (at his AIR studios in London), it’s a fully instrumental record – aside from a few appearances by a talk-box on the almost unrecognisable cover of the Beatles’ She’s A Woman, and the funk workout, Thelonius.

What’s this honky doing, recording a funk album in the middle of the 1970s, you might ask. In fact, only the drummer of the group, Richard Bailey, is black. The bass player, Phil Chen, is Chinese, while Beck and keyboardist Max Middleton are as white as you can get. And that’s not even mentioning George Martin, who’s so white, he’s almost transparent.

RITA#745aStill, Stevie Wonder was heavily involved with this record, which gives it more than an air of authenticity. Two of Wonder’s unrecorded songs, Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers and Thelonius were gifted to Beck, with Stevie even playing a FUNKY (but uncredited) clavinet line on the latter.

Of course, I shouldn’t be so glib. It shouldn’t be about race. Anybody can be funky. It’s just that the common misconception is that white man can’t funk. But try telling that to the Average White Band. Or the Goodies.

Hit: Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers

Hidden Gem: You Know What I Mean

Rocks In The Attic #605: Various Artists – ‘Stax Funx’ (1997)

RITA#605This is an awesome compilation of some of the funkier moments from the Stax label in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The first side is all instrumentals – always a good thing with funk in my book (see the Average White Band’s Pick Up The Pieces or the Commodores’ Machine Gun) – but the vocal tracks on the flip-side are just as good.

The interesting thing about this collection is that a few years following its 1997 release, Quentin Tarantino would pick up the record’s first cut, Isaac Hayes’ Run Fay Run, for use on the soundtrack to 2003’ Kill Bill. It’s a good chance he heard the song on this release, or perhaps he already knew it from its original use on the soundtrack to the 1974 Blaxploitation flick Three Tough Guys (also known as Tough Guys). Of course, it’s entirely possible that both is true – he could have already known the song from the film, and potentially this compilation just reminded him of the song. Remember, this is the guy who complimented me on my Stax t-shirt.

The record is a great tester of the more harder-edged sounding material from the Stax vaults. And whether it spinned on Tarantino’s turntable or not, it serves as a great reminder of the strength of the kind of material than would otherwise have been referred to as a deep cut, or worse, forgotten completely.

Hit: Run Fay Run – Isaac Hayes

Hidden Gem: L.A.S. – South Memphis Horns

Rocks In The Attic #417: K.C. & The Sunshine Band – ‘K.C. & The Sunshine Band’ (1975)

RITA#417I presume I have an original pressing of this record – it looks really old, and I’m guessing it wouldn’t have had that many reprints – and the one thing that always gets me is how thick the cardboard of the sleeve is. You could use it to prop up a car while you change a tyre, it’s that thick. I wonder if there’s a reason for it, or if the record company simply got hold of some industrial strength cardboard by mistake. Perhaps it’s to soak up all the sweat from the insides of discotheques when DJs were playing the record.

This is album number two for Harry Wayne Casey and his band. It has two of their biggest hits in That’s The Way (I Like It) and Get Down Tonight. Strangely, Boogie Shoes, also on this record, wasn’t released as a single but is perhaps more well known for its inclusion on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (and subsequently every other film and television soundtrack where there is a short, two minute scene set in a discotheque, or with a hot girl on roller-skates).

It’s easy to write K.C. & The Sunshine Band off as a disposable relic of the disco era, but their roots are in the funk years of the early 1970s. They’re just a bit more accessible than the heavy superbad funk of James Brown or Funkadelic. In fact, if anything they’re just a funk band with a white guy as a band leader. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does hark back to the musical equivalent of the basketball maxim, ‘White Men Can’t Jump. We all know white men can funk – just listen to the Average White Band’s Pick Up The Pieces. Funky honkies are few and far between though – for every Beck Hansen, there are a thousand Kurt Cobains.

Hit: That’s The Way (I Like It)

Hidden Gem: Let It Go (Part One)

Rocks In The Attic #415: The Commodores – ‘Machine Gun’ (1974)

RITA#415It’s a shame the Commodores are in black and white on the cover of this. I suspect they’re wearing the same colour skivvies as the Wiggles. Wake up Lionel!

Machine Gun has to be one of my favourite R&B songs – second only to Pick Up The Pieces by the Average White Band. This is the sort of music I was turning to just after I left my DJing gig in the early 2000s. I walked out on that gig after the bar manager asked me to play more Limp Bizkit – I think history deems me the righteous winner in that exchange.

I prefer an alternate timeline, one where Lionel Ritchie doesn’t go solo, one where he stays in the Commodores and they churn out dirty R&B stompers like Brick House and Machine Gun year after year after year. How fabulous. And no Hello or Dancing On The Ceiling

Hit: Machine Gun

Hidden Gem: The Assembly Line

Rocks In The Attic #219: Average White Band – ‘AWB’ (1974)

RITA#219Quite how a Scottish soul and R&B band can produce one of the deepest funk records – Pick Up The Pieces – almost out of nowhere, is at times hard to believe. Just to give you an example of how Scottish they are, their drummer is called Robbie McIntosh, their guitar-playing vocalist is called Hamish Stuart, and their other guitarist is called – my favourite – Onnie McIntrye, which sounds like a made-up Scottish name. It wouldn’t be hard to believe if you found out that the long-lost seventh member of the group was called Kilt Mcsporran.

My love for Pick Up The Pieces is widely known among my friends. It’s easily my favourite song ever, and due to its lack of lyrics, I don’t get bored of it. It’s just an extremely funky record, and just that bit more musically interesting than the best of James Brown. The counterpoints between the horns and the guitars, with the percussion sitting in the middle, really are a joy to listen to.

The rest of this album, the band’s second, is quite terrible. Apart from a decnt cover of The Isley Brothers’ Work To Do, they almost sound like a different band to the musicians that play on Pick Up The Pieces; and if I could compare them to anything, I would have to put them next to the worst of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

Hit: Pick Up The Pieces

Hidden Gem: Work To Do