Blues You Can Use - Harvey Brooks: The Electric Groove

HARVEY BROOKS OCCUPIES A UNIQUE PLACE in the history of electrified music.

 Harvey Brooks HARVEY BROOKS OCCUPIES A UNIQUE PLACE in the history of electrified music. As a “Fender” bassist coming up during the 1960s, the New York native played on several recordings that defined the decade’s tumultuous transition from folk to folk/rock, blues to blues/rock, and jazz to jazz/rock fusion. Invited by keyboardist Al Kooper to take part in the landmark sessions that produced Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited [Columbia, 1965], Brooks went on to tour with Dylan’s first electric band, sometimes to riotous crowds of enraged folkies. At one gig in Forest Hills, New York, “They charged the stage,” Brooks remembers. “Guards were tackling people, Al Kooper had his stool pulled out from under him. We didn’t know if they wanted to kill us or not!” Later in his career, while working as a producer for CBS Records, Brooks was tapped by Teo Macero to play on Miles Davis’ watershed electric jazz album Bitches Brew [Columbia, 1970]. “We just played in the studio for four days,” Harvey says. “The composition aspect all took place during the editing. Here I was, an R&B, folk/rock bass player—I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. There were no chord changes. Talk about epiphanies. I had one every minute!” Harvey’s big sound, confident pulse, and sense of swing supplied the underpinning for many classic moments with artists like the Doors, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Seals & Crofts, to name a few.

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This month, we’re looking at a bass line from Harvey’s stint with the Electric Flag, a prototypical blues/rock band that featured Mike Bloomfield’s cutting-edge guitar work, Buddy Miles on drums, Nick Gravenites on vocals, and Barry Goldberg on keys. Their jazz-inspired use of a horn section pre-dated both Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago, but they were also prone to psychedelic explorations and blasts of soul music. On 1968’s Long Time Comin’, the band recorded the ubiquitous “Killing Floor” with an upbeat rock approach that preceded Led Zeppelin’s up-tempo raves in their version—a.k.a. “The Lemon Song” [Led Zeppelin II, Atlantic], but Harvey Brooks and Buddy Miles are way funkier than those British guys. The track opens with a political statement, using audio of President Lyndon Johnson speaking to highlight the connection between the grisly lyrics and the ongoing Vietnam War. Harvey says, “The bass line came from me locking in with Buddy Miles’ drum pattern, which was different from Howlin’ Wolf’s version. Michael Bloomfield’s arrangement was a little quicker, and we added some turnarounds using the horns to make it more interesting.”

Example 1 closely resembles Harvey’s line during the second vocal chorus, following the basic 1–3–4–#4–5 melodic shape from Wolf’s original version, but with a syncopated answer phrase to make it a two-bar pattern. His use of 16th-note skips on the “a” of the beat implies a double-time feel, giving the line swing and propulsion. In bar 2 he employs the time-honored drop from the octave down to the lower 3rd, but finishes it unusually with a G#–G–E line that was most likely intended to be G–F#–E (hey, things happen). In bar 4, we see a classic syncopated descending line from the octave that resolves chromatically to the IV chord. Harvey echoes the basic pattern over the IV chord, as well as over the following return to the I—this time using a double chromatic approach from below to bring the line to the V chord. The V and IV chords last only one bar, so only the first half of the pattern is used. The turnaround bar is a high-energy moment for the drums and horns, and the eighth-note rest on beat one leaves the right amount of space to let the action unfold.

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For the first chorus of Bloomfield’s guitar solo, Harvey switches to a simpler root–5 quarter-note line (Ex. 2) that gives it a funky, country/gospel feel similar to Jerry Jemmott’s approach on Aretha Franklin’s “Think,” although this track was released one month earlier. The quarter-notes let the groove settle down a bit, but the muted 16ths give the line an extra kick in the pants. Brooks’ and Miles’ aggressive stance gives the track great thrust, and while the horn writing is a bit over the top at times, the intro and interlude sections give the arrangement some interest. The track ends with the “tape slow-down” effect now available with the push of a button, but Harvey tells us, “The ending of the tune happened when we were recording the original rhythm track— the tape ran out, producing a new sound!”

Check out Harvey’s series of videos on YouTube called “View From the Bottom” to learn more about his historic career. Until next time, if you ain’t got no shoes, I got some blues that you can use!

Ed “the Bass Whisperer” Friedland plays, writes, and teaches out of his bass base in Pegram, TN.