After the last few months of talking about James Brown’s colossal impact on popular music, and in particular his 1967 funk breakout, “Cold Sweat,” I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what was happening in the music world surrounding this seismic shift in consciousness. Using the Billboard 100 charts as a basic reference, we see a world largely dominated by Motown and Atlantic artists. The year started out with Aaron Neville’s sweet-and-sultry ballad “Tell It Like It Is” leading the way at #1 for several weeks—a classic New Orleans 12/8 torch song featuring some of the Crescent City’s top session players. The creamy-smooth Neville delivers a timeless performance—in fact, he sounds exactly the same 51 years later!
The two weeks prior to “Cold Sweat” hitting the charts saw Aretha Franklin hogging the #1 slot for the third time that year. Previously, she ruled for seven weeks with “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You),” and again for another eight weeks with her now-iconic rendition of “Respect.” But the third #1 hit for the Queen of Soul was a groovy number called “Baby I Love You.” The bouncy two-feel played by Tommy Cogbill (who also appears on the two previously mentioned Aretha tracks) lays back in the right places, but the ghost-note pickups give the line the occasional goose to the caboose (see Ex. 1). Immediately following this tune’s two-week tenure in the #1 slot, “Cold Sweat” hit for three weeks on top, and was knocked out via a one-week grab by Wilson Pickett’s “Funky Broadway” (also featuring Cogbill on bass).
Searching through other charts, I found a gem by the Fantastic Johnny C, a Philadelphia-based soul artist who hit #5 on the R&B charts with “Boogaloo Down Broadway.” Broadway seems to have been a popular concept for driving R&B hits that year, and Johnny C had the Philly session team that would soon morph into MFSB—Mother, Father, Sister, Brother (or perhaps something less G-rated?). Bassist Ronnie Baker and drummer Earl Young anchored some of the biggest soul hits from the City of Brotherly Love, including “The Horse” by Cliff Noble, “Cowboys to Girls” by the Intruders, and “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps, perhaps the baddest of all disco grooves. Example 2 shows a glimpse of Baker’s greasy groove on “Boogaloo Down Broadway.” More info on Ronnie Baker can be found in my book The R&B Bass Masters [Hal Leonard].
Another chart-maker from ’67 was a success that would be inconceivable in today’s music business—a genuine hit record from a long-established jazz artist. Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” hit #2 on the R&B charts for two weeks, and remained charted for a total of 16 weeks. Written by the quintet’s pianist, Joe Zawinul (who later co-formed the ground-breaking jazz unit Weather Report), the instrumental has become a standard for funk/R&B/jazzers and never fails to grab a crowd. Victor Gaskin played the upright bass line shown in Ex. 3, and he keeps his simple pattern locked in with drummer Roy McCurdy. Couple that with a catchy melody, and no wonder this popjazz classic still thrills.
Next time, we’ll take a look at 1968, another big year that surrounded James Brown’s previously discussed hits “I Got the Feelin’” and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” While not the only influence in the realm of R&B music, Brown certainly was a major force not only in music but also in the era’s social developments, and his contributions can never be overstated.
Ed Friedland of Tucson, Arizona, is currently touring with Grammy Award winners the Mavericks.