Mr. Edwin Bocage aka Eddie Bo
“Listen – Funky, Yeah MP3″
I have returned once again, refueled by a weekend spent doing anything but actually working – though I may have “worked”, my labor was wholly at my own disposal and that of my family as opposed to that which I do for my regular (regular of course being a very flexible word) employer – and giving a lot of thought to how I was going to lay it down tonight (in the written sense, but as it’s only about 9:00PM anything is possible…).
When I said I had a bunch of groovy gravy set aside for dissemination in this very space, I was not talking smack, Jack, nor was I blowing smoke, or any other euphemism for hot air scented with dishonesty.
The cool thing is that I could hardly claim to bring some heat without at least a touch of that Eddie Bo majesty you’ve come to know and love. Mr. Bo, he of New Orleans, is nothing less that one of the great makers and movers of black music (and I use an all encompassing term like that because he has crafted works of genius in R&B, soul, and funk for nigh on fifty years), in his capacity as performer, writer, arranger and producer. Along with the mighty Toussaint, and Wardell Quezerque, Bo forms a mystical triangle of musical wonder (so mystical in fact to have inspired an informal cult of sorts, of which I consider myself a charter member, fez, secret oaths and all) that not even a cataclysmic hurricane/deluge could wash away.
If you’ve been a regular visitor either to the Funky16Corners web zine or the blog, you will already be aware that I hold Mr. Bo and his musical creations in the highest possible esteem, and have made this clear by rattling on about same, over and over again, and will probably continue to do so until I’ve run out of records about which to rap (though at that point I fully expect to begin a process of reappraisal/deconstruction/reconstruction and reevaluation that will being the cycle anew, on and on until I expire clutching a worn copy of ‘Hook and Sling’ which I will have taken to wearing about the neck as a totem).
He’s that heavy.
But you probably already know that.
Well, brother, if you do, get ready, because the heavy is about to undergo an alchemical transformation and get even heavier.
I begin by taking a brief detour to the New York Times obituary page (a place I stop practically every day as it is the last stop for a wide and wonderful variety of people) where I read the other day of the passing of one Brad Delp, he the lead singer of the band Boston.
Why do I mention this?
Bear with me and all will become clear(er).
Back in the day, when I was a lad of 14 or 15, I had my Dad make a special trip to the local Two Guys (a long defunct department store chain) where took the few dollars I had to my name, headed over to the record department (yes kids, they used to sell records in department stores) and dropped said money on a couple of 45s, one of which was Boston’s ‘More Than a Feeling’. (Feel free to take a moment for a Borscht Belt spit take..).
At the time, fresh off of a major Beatles infatuation, I was starting to sidle up to the musical bumper crop of the 1970’s, hard rock. My friends had already started to fill my head with Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, but while all that seemed undeniably heavy, and cool, there was something about it that suggested to me the record collection of my next door neighbor’s older sisters, and their slightly dangerous dirtbag friends that bedeviled my old man by hot rodding up and down the block. While I dug the music, it nagged at me with a certain second-handedness.
Then Boston came along.
They were new, and their music was to my 14 year old ears a serious blast. Loud (very), vaguely poppy and polished to a high, chrome-like gloss that the budding wannabe rock musician in me found eerily seductive.
This was an age when my pals and I would sit around marveling at Tom Scholz and his seeming ability to use all 611 tracks in his super secret, high tech pleasure dome/studio where he, his transistors, oscillators and thousands of miles of magnetic tape would come together to make musical magic (POOF!).
I took that Boston 45 home, placed it on the turntable of the huge Montgomery Ward console stereo that seemed to take up about half of my bedroom and played it over and over again, much as I had my copy of Frampton Comes Alive. I often look back in wonder that my parents weren’t to kick in my door and beat me half to death because of the noise (especially after I got a drum set).
But the reason I am spinning this half-assed version of the ‘Wonder Years’ is that at the time, and for a few years afterward, the kind of blaring guitar rock that Boston and bands of their ilk were creating was what I craved. There were of course exceptions to the rule (those being the Beatles, and my first encounter with Otis Redding which happened not too long after this), but when I heard a song like ‘More Than a Feeling’ (or long forgotten attempted anthems like Billy Thorpe’s ‘Children of the Sun’) my head instantly filled with images of huge wall of amplifiers, laser beams, massive 98-piece drum sets and an overpowering need for chest-rattling volume.
Imagine my surprise a few short years later when the whole thing was blown to smithereens by my high speed collision with reality, in this case embodied by punk rock (60’s and 70’s), and soul music.
In a relatively brief period, my entire musical worldview was mangled and reconstituted. I left behind the world of arena concerts for a decade spent witnessing the kind of music that could only be heard in bars and nightclubs.
That I was embarrassed by my mid-teen musical tastes was partially the result of moving in an entirely different world in which the artifice of the commercial rock juggernaut and all of its trappings were anathema (the kind of circles where an “ironic” appreciation of Led Zeppelin had not yet become fashionable, though even that was but a few years off), but also because in my heart of hearts I realized that a lot of what I – and my friends – had been listening to paled in comparison to the sounds I had now surrounded myself with.
Strangely enough the kinds of things I treasured in hard rock (aside from the surface elements) were pretty much what I dug in “alternative” sounds (the big A word being used in it’s general sense, not yet having been appropriated by major label America), i.e. raw power, emotion and attitude, though a different species of attitude entirely.
In the five or so years between the purchase of that 45, and when I first started collecting soul and garage punk 45s in earnest, my need for “heavy” in my music was undimmed, while my definition of what actually constituted heavy-osity changed drastically. Where I once craved power chords and rock anthems I now needed Wilson Pickett, fuzz guitar and once my constitution was strong enough to handle it, the foot stomping boogie of John Lee Hooker.
As the years marched on, and my record collection and knowledge of other musics expanded, the deeper I dug and the wider I opened my ears, the more I began to realize that I had only ever seen the tip of the tip of the iceberg, and that the music I once considered heavy was by and large the lightweight blathering of a group of musicians who oddly enough started out worshipping the same people I was now worshipping, and at some point took a tragically wrong turn, inverting the lemons-into-lemonade formula, crafting instead, a ripe toxic sludge.
So…time marched on, and I’ve never stopped looking for new things to listen to, and each new sound (new to me that is) informed, or were informed by, the sounds that were already part of my experience. Today, despite all of the music I’ve listened to in 44 years, I remain convinced that somewhere out there, something even more amazing is yet to be heard.
Even though the search continues, there are countless pieces of music that have registered as benchmarks of a sort against which all new sounds are measured. The kind of music that hits both the heart and the mind – though not always in equal measure – and stays with me, filed away so that I may return and experience them again and again as needed (the basic explanation for any record collection).
It was in that search for deep sounds that I first encountered the work of Eddie Bo, eight or nine years ago. His wasn’t the first deep funk that I heard, or loved, but it hit me in a serious way, which got more serious as I discovered the breadth of his catalogue. Exploring the works of Eddie Bo, from his early R&B days, through the soul era and on into the years of heavy funk, the listener is treated not only to a microcosm of New Orleans music (as you would investigating the aforementioned Messrs. Toussaint or Quezerque), but of the black musical experience in general.
Bo recorded pure rhythm and blues, pop soul, dance craze, sweet soul, funky soul, out and out funk and then, for a brief period in the early 70’s he whipped on the world a couple of absolutely deadly slabs of funky black rock that would redefine – once again – my definition of what was truly heavy.
Black rock, which has become something of a defined subgenre amongst the crate diggers, collectors and obscurantists of the funk and soul world was, in a period that lasted roughly from 1968 to 1974 (keep in mind that I’m placing those temporal parentheses in place somewhat randomly, being positive that someone applying a certain level of diligence would be able to find examples both before and after) the intersection of funk and soul with psychedelia and hard rock. Though there have been some comps of note exploring this genre (most notably ‘Chains and Black Exhaust’), the best way for someone unfamiliar with these sounds to start investigating is to begin with late-period Hendrix (Band of Gypsys et al) and work your way down the ladder of fame, stopping along the way at Funkadelic (first three Lps especially), with detours into the world of Norman Whitfield, Sly and the Chambers Brothers on down through Fugi, checking out every heavy brother with a ruffled shirt and lysergic tendencies on the way.
The movement – as it was – has it’s roots in bluesmen like Buddy Guy, Freddy King and Albert Collins, all of whom had flirted with rock styles, but never really came to fruition until Hendrix blew things wide open. Though for years he has been considered first and foremost a rocker, Hendrix’s music always had a soulful edge, getting even moreso as he left the Experience behind. His influence on a certain strata of the black music community was profound, allowing cats like George Clinton, himself but a year or so out of a high, processed conk, to let their freak flag fly high and wide. Beginning with some of the later Parliaments 45s (especially ‘A New Day Begins’) and on through the first few Funkadelic LPs, culminating with the blinding power of ‘Super Stupid’ on ‘Maggot Brain’, Clinton and company took the baton from Hendrix and ran like crazy.
Down in New Orleans, Eddie Bo, already having tasted a level of nationwide fame with the brilliant ‘Hook and Sling’ in 1969, continued to create funky sounds, but was also allowing fuzz and volume to make appearances on his palette.
Oddly enough, the two finest examples thereof were both recorded under other people’s names.
One of these, ‘Hey Mama Here Comes the Preacher’ by Doug Anderson on the Janus label. I’ve never been able to ascertain whether there ever was a “real” Doug Anderson, but the man responsible for “Hey Mama…” was none other than Eddie Bo, and the record is a heavy, heavy, piece of murky, psychedelic funk.
The other one – the one we’re here to talk about today – is a little killer called ‘Funky, Yeah’ by Curley Moore and the Kool Ones (also this time, Eddie Bo).
Though I’ve tried – yes I have brothers and sisters – I’ve never gotten the whole story on this record.
If you look at the label, it is evident that someone named Shelley Pope appears to have “collaborated” with Mr. Bo in the creation of the record (as is the case on the flip side “Shelleys Rubber Band”* as well as the Doug Anderson 45). In fact, Shelley Pope was a New Orleans DJ, who had little or nothing to do with the music on those records.
Now, some years ago I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Bo about the presence of the name Curly Moore on the label, and he (Eddie) said that Curley was basically hanging around in the studio and was similarly vestigial in the actual creation of the sounds on the disc. This was some time before I had heard anything by Curly Moore, and in the ensuing years I have come to the conclusion that although he didn’t have much to do with the record, I believe that the voice at the beginning of ‘Shelleys Rubber Band’ is in fact Curley Moore and not Eddie Bo. I may be wrong, but I have a hunch I’m right.
Anyway, the side of the record we concern ourselves with is the other (side that is), that being ‘Funky, Yeah’ (gotta love that comma and all it brings).
That record is one of those life changers, redefiners, and more importantly ass-kickers that come along rarely.
Opening with a brutally pounding snare roll, joined by a distorted rhythm guitar (and a bed created, I think, by an organ), the song literally explodes upon the entry of the lead guitar. This is a lead guitar** that combines a gumbo-delic mixture of southern chicken lickin’ guitar spanking, acid-drenched fuzz and lobe smashing volume that leaps through the mix like some kind of synaesthetic slap to the face that leaves the listener alternately stunned and hypnotized, all the while marveling that it all manages to be utterly freaky yet undeniably funky.
‘Funk, Yeah’ – like all great examples of black rock – is lashed to the mast of soul, all the while passing through a thundering wall of rock. It is rock, once (and future) severed from it’s black roots (profoundly so some years later by the likes of Boston), proudly reclaimed.
Ironically, this was a reclamation that a deeply stoned America was by and large oblivious to, tuning into the lysergic vibe while ignoring the funk within. Hundreds of thousands found themselves on the rockfest circuit soaking this all in as if on a film negative (i.e. Rare Earth, Vanilla Fudge and any number of other white rockers with pretentions (at widely varying levels of success) of soulfulness.
Thirty-five years on – as it was largely ignored at the time of its creation – ‘Funky, Yeah’ is for most people a stunning wake up call to what might have been (or actually was on a very small scale). The cool thing is, that despite its powerful dose of unfuckwithableness, ‘Funky, Yeah’ – and it’s excellent A-side, are fairly easy to come by at an affordable price. Though you have it in ones and zeros once you’ve completed the download, I can’t imagine not being seized by an overpowering urge to leave the house in search of a ‘hard’ copy (in convenient 45 form).
As always, you’re welcome.
* Part of a string of NOLA “Rubber Band” records that included the Meters ‘Stretch Your Rubber Band’ (on Josie) and Eddie Bo and the Soul Finders very own ‘Rubber Band’ (on Knight)
** The brilliant guitarists name, sadly lost to the ages