Vol. 1, Issue #10 June 9th - June 22nd, 2006

Tiger Beat From Hell
By: Wilhelm Murg

Soul Psychedelicized

Like everyone else, I was saddened to see Isaac Hayes leave South Park –but what an exit! By the way his departure became headline news, it looks like Hayes might be remembered more for his work in animation, or possibly his religious beliefs, instead of his music, which would be a tragedy. After all, Hayes was the man, “Black Moses,” “Truck Turner,” the young genius behind songs like Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Coming”; a ba-ad mother!

Hayes’ masterpiece, “Hot Buttered Soul” (1969,) is one of the meanest R&B albums ever released; it’s dead on the heavy funk with treated electric guitars that go off like crack freezing the liquids in your head, and it made the ladies swoon. It chronologically lands dead center between Robert Johnson’s demon dealin’ blues and the dark underground of gangsta rap, and it points in both directions at the same time. Blinged out on the cover with gold and shades, Hayes originally approached director Gordon Parks for the lead role of “Shaft” (1971,) but ended up doing the classic soundtrack instead.

And it wasn’t just Isaac Hayes. There was an untelevised revolution going on in what was then called “soul” – now called “R&B” – “Psychedelicized,” to borrow a term from The Chambers Brothers’ trippy “Time Has Come Today” (1968). Sly Stone was already breaking barriers with an integrated band – featuring both men and women - that redefined soul, with the help of Larry Graham’s machine-gun bass and early electronic instrumentation. The Rotary Connection, featuring the astounding five-octave vocal range of the late Minnie Ripperton, was Motown’s attempt at recording a soul-based acid trip, but their mix of trippy orchestrated rock covers led by a funky bass was way ahead of it’s time.

Jazz was also a factor in the revolution; this all happened after Miles Davis went electric with a group of young musicians. Though there is a whole series of Davis’ free fusion funk albums, the great set is “Bitches’ Brew” (1970) which they started recording the day after Woodstock ended. Many of Davis’ musicians went on to start the first wave of jazz fusion with their own bands; Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, Joe Zwinul’s Weather Report, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, and especially Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. Hancock went on to become one of the pioneers of electronic music, and he released his own version of the blaxploitation groove with the soundtrack to Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish” (1974). Even Grover Washington Jr. who later became the worst example of how fusion turned into light Muzak, got a few licks into the dark side with his cover of Marvin Gaye’s blaxploitation anthem “Trouble Man” (1973).

The top forty became filled with dark, heavy funk in the early seventies; Stevie Wonder’s original version of “Higher Ground,” along with “Living For The City” (both 1973), “I Wish” (1976), and “Superstition” (1973), shows why he was proclaimed a genius, even if he seems like an empty shell of that person today. Due to Sly and the Family Stone’s success, Motown producer Norman Whitfield took The Temptations into their acid period in the late sixties with “Psychedelic Shack,” “Ball of Confusion,” “Cloud Nine,” and “I Can’t Get Next to You,” which ended with the 11 minute epic “Papa was a Rollin’ Stone” (1972).

One of the most positive things about this world is that Curtis Mayfield’s anti-drug soundtrack to the glamorized drug world of “Superfly” (1972) is seen as a universal classic. Though it was a hit at the time, and seemed to influence a generation, it was out of print for years. If you ever watch that film, you’ll see the main point is that giant pimp mobile rolling down the street to Mayfield’s beat.

The same could be said for jacked up War compilations that left out their essential spiritual masterworks like “Cisco Kid” (1972) and “Gypsy Man” (1973). Though they were the revolutionary’s musical revolutionaries, with their poly-rhythmic fields of African and South-of-the-Border beats, the band seemed to remain in print just for the sake of “Low Rider” (1975), which was something of a novelty coda after their run of deep and heavy hits.

In the wake of Tarantino’s ode to blaxploitation films, “Jackie Brown” (1997), which effectively used the paisley soul of the Brothers Johnson’s Quincy Jones produced “Strawberry Letter 23” (1977) in the soundtrack - there was something of a revival of the heavy funk groove. The Hughes Brothers went for the same thing in their highly underrated “Dead Presidents” (1995), but unfortunately it became the fallen tree in the forest that no one heard. The film was released the same week O.J. Simpson was found innocent, and many saw its box office failure as a backlash against anything black.

The classic period ended, like a lot of things, with the birth of disco. You could still hear remnants of the funk revolution even through the disco groove, especially in tracks like Heat Wave’s “Groove Line” or Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner” (both from 1978), but as a black woman once told me, “disco was created so white people could dance.” Once skinny John Travolta walked down the street with a paint can to The Bee Gee’s “Night Fever” (1977), we all knew the macho soul of Isaac Hayes was doomed. We had to go all the way through the less than macho funk of Michael Jackson and Prince to find our way back home, and I’m still not convinced it’s the same place. Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” has become a gay anthem because so many dance divas have recorded it. Even Isaac Hayes overshadowed his major achievements with “Chocolate Salty Balls” (1998).

“We shouldn’t be mad at Chef for leaving us. We should be mad at that little fruity club for scrambling his brains.” - Kyle Broflovski, “South Park: The Return of Chef!”

Right on! Brother! Right on!

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©2006 NONCO Media, L.L.C.