I have been enjoying Black History Month in the way that most excites me.
Sure, I appreciate the African-American scientists, inventors, civic and political leaders – but the innovators who pluck my strings the most are the musical masters. Yes, my 3 favorite bands of all-time are the pale, but prolific, Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin – but I know quite well that they all formed out of a love for black music. Most everything we listen to today has come by way of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
Right now, though, I want to express my thoughts on one particular genre;
BIG, FAT, BONE-RATTLING, FUNK.
There are many sub-genres within funk. I want to focus on the nasty stuff from the early 1970s through the early 1980s.
Full disclosure: On the outside, I am very white. An Irish-American former New York police officer. About as far from Rick James as a person can get. However, funk is all about the feeling. It’s inside you. I feel I am qualified to write a few words on the subject because
A) I have yet to meet a person who owns more funk CDs and vinyl than I. They number in the thousands. You, the reader, may indeed have more, and if so, I can only hope we will meet someday.
B) I can name a whole lot of folks who have been members of Parliament/Funkadelic, and not just the obvious ones.
C) I am well aware that the Commodores could bring some of the ugliest (in a good way) funk to ever fill a wax groove, yet most of the world knows them for the syrupy ballads. I still own my original 45rpm single of “Machine Gun”, and it is in mint condition.
D) I have been retweeted by George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Freekbass.
I also will not be trying to gain false credibility by peppering this blog with terms like “thang”, “dat”, and “y’all”. I feel the funk, but I don’t really write the funk. To do so would be disingenuous.
Over the past 25 years or so, I have heard very little “new” funk of the type I like, the aforementioned Freekbass being a notable exception. Not sure why this great musical monster has all but vanished, but I hope that somewhere, some kids are listening to the classics and putting their own spin on them.
For those kids, I humbly offer a few tips on what would get this funk lover (and countless others) to give their songs/albums a listen.
What follows is a bit of goofy fun, but is also oddly true. So, let’s get “on the one”, shall we?
SONG TITLES. Featuring some of the following in your song names, would have me greedily snatching up your music:
Use parentheses. A song title that follows this theme: “This is our song (but this is what you probably call it)” is pure gold.
Toss in a title that ends in “A-Zoid” or “Zilla”.
Mention creatures such as worms, maggots, birds, mice and dogs.
Use the wonderful apostrophe. Movin’ – not Moving.
Exxtra letters are funkalicious. Toss in a “Bbam” or a “Ffloor”. Bonus points for multiple Z and X use. “Foxxy” tops “Foxy”, and the triple X “Foxxxy” is the nastiest of all.
Name a dance after your song.
Have a part 1 and part 2. Pure brilliance.
Make a song a “Theme From” record. There need not be anything tangible that the theme is actually from.
Toss an abbreviated year in your title. “Mudd Splatter” is not nearly as cool as “Mudd Splatter ’74”
Don’t limit yourself to “funk”. “Fonk”, “Funck” and “Fungk” are just the tip of the iceberg.
Write a song about the tip of an iceberg.
Exhaust all possibilities of outer-space references. Name things after planets, stars, galaxies, basically anything celestial. When you run out of space junk, start on the underwater stuff.
In addition to aliens and aquatic life, fill your record with munchkins, elves, chipmunks, grannies, and clueless, straight, bean-counters. Every creature in your funk world should be able to speak. The voices will range from the deepest bass to shit only a dog can hear.
The following words are like precious metals: Sticky, Sweaty, Nasty, Greasy, Gooey, Chunky, Fat, Hot, Smoke, Jam, Thump, Stuff, Robot. Add additional letters as desired.
Instruct your listener to do something. It can be Dance, Work, Ride, Jump, Hump, or another thousand different things.
Incorporate any variation of traditional Universal Studios monsters into your song/album/band name. Dracula, Frankenstein (or his Bride), Wolfman, or Mummy.
Make a song title one long word. “Can’tgetmyjamoncauseIgotnobread”. Feel free to use that one.
Multiple exclamation points make for bad prose, but hot song titles. Use them!!!
Name a song after a Disney character.
OTHER STUFFF: Wear colorful clothing; from African-inspired garb to Martians on acid – just bring the color! Black cowboys are good too.
Consider donning something along the lines of a long dinosaur tail, big yellow chicken feet, pastel hair and/or a gargantuan hat.
Have a guitarist who sounds like he could comfortably play in a major rock or metal band.
Have a bassist who sounds like he has at least 12 fingers.
Individuals might consider a single, descriptive name. Bootsy, Sly, and Sugarfoot have already been claimed.
ADVANCED CLASS: Create a large family of side projects.
WHEN YOU HAVE “MADE IT”: Have two identical groups, with all of the same members, recording brilliant albums for two different record labels, under different band names, at the exact same time.
Well, there you have a list of funk tips from a white guy who can’t play a single instrument. You’re welcome.
It is also important to remember that, before anyone was “Gangsta”, they were “Gangster”. The latter term was proudly used in song and album by funky masters such as George Clinton, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and the man who broke down all barriers, Jimi Hendrix. Hell, even Heatwave used “Gangster” in their groove!
Your pallid funkateer (me) knows a little about Gangsters too, and I’ve written a book about them. You can grab a FREE peek, and see some great reviews and big name praise by following the link below. If a book can have the funk, I promise you that Sons of the Pope has it.
It’s on the one.