Upon relistening to this LP now, it seems rather scattered and is definitely not one of my finer moments of recording. It serves a place in my musical development, but overall is not a great LP.
The name for my first MPS record was to be called "SOLUS". The year was 1971 and I had joined The Cannonball Adderley Quintet (replacing Joe Zawinul). Three months into my gig with Cannon, I recorded this LP. I had already begun to experiment with the Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos with Jean-Luc Ponty and Don Ellis, so I continued doing the same on this record. Joining me on this LP were John Heard bass, Dick Berk drums.
Besides John and Dick, Armando Perazza joined us on percussion. He was living in San Francisco and playing with Santana. Also on the date were Jerome Richardson on saxes and flute; Luis Gasca on trumpet and flugelhorn; James Leary on bass for one tune.
I feel I should mention that on all my LP's for SABA and MPS, that Baldhard G. Falk is listed as producer. I want to clear this up once and for all. He did NOT produce these recordings musically. He did keep track of the budget, pay the bills, secure the LP covers, etc. He's a great music lover that gave me my first shot, never got in the way musically, and was always extremely supportive. He was one of the good guys that was also supportive outside the music arena, and my mother liked him too.
I should also mention that I played Trombone on all the horn tunes. Overdubbing is a wonderful thing! From what I remember, this was the last time I played trombone, at least on record. Oh well, ta ta!
The band was John Heard bass, and my new buddy, Leon Ndugu Chancelor on drums. Ndugu and I would go on to have a long musical relationship.
Actually the album was to be called Faces. But a Rock group had come out with an album called Faces and BG didn't want any confusion between the records.
I began experimenting with odd time signatures and various synthesizer textures. This was my first solo record using a synthesizer. Frank Zappa is responsible for my introduction to synthesizers. He told me one day, that I should play synthesizers. It was as simple as that! He bought an ARP 2600 and put it next to my Rhodes. It had all these knobs and looked totally intimidating. I took it home a few times with the manual, but got nowhere. I thought I was back in College studying some abstract foreign language. I finally settled on something simpler. It was an ARP Odyssey. I decided to use an ARP, purely to be different from Jan Hammer, who was playing the Mini Moog, and had a head start on me in the mastery of synthesis. Also, Ian Underwood was real good on the 2600, and I knew I'd sound like a total novice compared to him. But I must admit, I was really drawn to the possibilities inherent therein. There were some things that were a drag also! Remember, at this time there were no presets or ways of saving patches. Not only that, but you were limited to one note at a time. So overdubbing, a good memory and management system became very important. The year was 1974.
I have been asked many times who the guitar player was on "Love" and "Old Slippers". It was Frank Zappa using the alias name, Obdewl'l X. Just as an aside, I did an arrangement of "Old Slippers" for a Joe Henderson album also.
Back in the 70's, Fantasy records was a haven for jazz. There were three studios, and at any given time, I could walk out into the hall and see Joe Henderson, Cannonball Adderley, Joe Williams, Sonny Rollins or Gene Ammons. Because of this incredible informal interplay, most of us wound up playing on each other's records. Hence, on this LP, you can find the services of Airto perc, Flora Purim vocals.
I really think it is possible (and still do) to make good music and be commercial at the same time. I believe it is the artist's responsibility to take the music to the people. Art for art's sake is nice; but if art doesn't communicate, then its worth is negated, it has not fulfilled its destiny. Uh oh, I guess I'm getting heavy.
Anyway, Feel remains a favorite with many of my fans. Also, college radio was very important not only to this album, but to fusion/funk/jazz artists in general.
I would also like to mention that this record began a long relationship with Kerry McNabb, who was an incredible recording engineer at Paramount Recording Studio in Hollywood. His recordings still stand up today. I met him through the many hours of work in the studio with Zappa. I started calling him Mr. McFreeze because he liked the temperature at sub freezing levels in the studio. Last I heard, he took over his fathers company which specialized in making knobs.
"Dawn" was written at The Caribou Ranch Recording Studio, in my room, after a session with Zappa. We recorded there for a week or so, and I guess the snow and altitude had an affect on my creativity. I've always loved this tune.
I re-recorded an old tune of mine, "Foosh," with a funkier approach. I had already recorded it with Jean-Luc Ponty, but had a different idea for this LP.
My love affair with Brazilian and Latin music began many years before this LP, but my real love wasn't felt on record until now. Malibu, became a hit jazz radio cut. There were vocals, but no lyric. I had everyone in the band sing, and added a couple of professionals so we wouldn't sound so bad. Actually, I wanted the vocals to sound like everyday average people singing the melody. I got my wish - it's kinda rough! The tune is really an instrumental with a vocal singing along.
"Echidnas Arf" was written by Zappa. I loved playing this tune with Frank, and decided to record it on this album with a different vibe. I also recorded "Uncle Remus," an original song of mine that Frank wrote lyrics for, and was first released on his album Apostrophe.
"Fools" became my first attempt at singing an R&B flavored tune. I always felt that I had more vibe singing in falsetto than my natural voice. I still do! It wasn't a great vocal, but one sure can tell how I wound up singing the way I do now. This was the beginning! The year was 1975, and I was still touring with Zappa's band.
I was even more intent on orchestrating my music on this LP. I began to use marimbas and violin. The Zappa influence is very evident on certain tracks, but my funk and R&B nature comes out as well. I used to call my music Multi-Stylistic. I grew up listening to all kinds of music, and I didn't see why I should be kept in a box musically. I felt, and still feel, that there is intrinsic worth in all forms of music, even the simpler forms. I've always wanted to bring cultures and music together - you know, make a nice stew. In the end, Frank Zappa was responsible for breaking down my musical elitism. I will always owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for that!
Emil Richards had a huge array of percussion instruments. He used to play on all the film scores in town. I called on him to add some exotic flavor to the LP.
This was the most diverse record I had recorded to date. It was totally against the rules, but you know, I was young, adamant, and black! I wanted to do it my way. This record was recorded at the end of my tenure with Zappa.
One song, "Someday," became a radio hit, and as a result, many people became aware of my singing. It's the first time I thought my vocal sounded decent on record, using my falsetto as best I could. I sang all the vocal parts and played all the instruments, except for the drums, which gave the track a real smooth R&B type feel. I am still to this day asked to perform this tune. Many singers have said they love the song and were going to cover it, but none have to date. I'M STILL WAITING!!
"Seeing You" is a disaster! It really was the fault of radio! All that airplay for "Someday" made me want to hear more of my material on Black Radio. However, this was not the way to do it! It took me a long time to figure out what type of material was suitable for my voice.
I was also forming a band with Billy Cobham just before this LP was made, so I think my energies were directed elsewhere.
The most successful material on this record are the freer-style jazz material. I enlisted Napoleon Murphy Brock from Zappa's band to sing on some of the cuts. I also like the synthesizer arrangements of excerpts from my opera, Tzina. More on that later. I used the same band from I Love The Blues except for David Amaro, who was the guitarist with Flora Purim, and could play nice Brazilian rhythms. His wife Bonnie also sang on a cut. Also, Al Johnson (Embamba) played bass. Of course he later left Weather Report to join The Cobham/Duke band.
I also like "After The Love," which was homage to Milton Nascimento whom I love very much. I had become acquainted with him when I went to Brazil with Cannonball Adderley. I bought every record I could find by him, and other Brazilian artists. Before I went to Brazil in 1971, I only knew of Sergio Mendes and Brazil '65, '66, and Stan Getz with Astrud Gilberto. I love them, but in Brazil, I found so much more diversity. "Liberated Fantasies" was my attempt to add a strong instrumental jazz flavor to typical, or sometimes atypical Brazilian type melodies. I loved playing this tune live!
I was in the process of leaving the Mothers of Invention, not because I was unhappy, but I just needed to challenge myself in other ways. I wanted to dive headfirst into fusion. Also, my contract with MPS records was ending. Little did I know, that this LP would become such a classic. More musicians have told me that this record changed their lives. Fortunately, I kept the entire original recordings, and more unreleased material exists from the original sessions. Billy and I plan to release that material in the near future.
Besides Billy and myself, the band was rounded off with John Scofield on guitar. He was perfect for the band. Al Johnson was not the first bass player with the band; it was Doug Rauche, who had played with Santana. He was a wild - straight out of the sixties bass player. He really looked the part, and could really play as well! However, he had a rather large substance abuse problem, so we were eventually called Al Johnson to do the gig.
Adding Al to the band was in some ways strange, because in those days all the major fusion bands toured together. We toured with Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock etc. all the time.
I remember the first night that we played with Weather Report, and a young bass player named Jaco Pastorius, had just joined the group. The audience was chanting Al Johnsons name while the band started its first tune. However, it didn't take long for the audience to warm up to Jaco.
Anyway, The Cobham/Duke Band lasted a year before other pressures pulled the band apart. The LP was recorded in 1976, at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and The Hammersmith Odeon in London over three nights. Our idea was to incorporate other ideas into Fusion Music - comedy, vocals, and funk.
My manager Herb Cohen, then Zappa's manager, enlisted the services of Cal Schenkel to do the artwork for the record. He used to do all of Zappa's covers, so we thought something kinda off the wall would be nice. I never thought it would be this off the wall, however.
Joining forces with Billy was one of the highlights of my career!
The term, "solo" for this record, means I played all the instruments. It is mostly an acoustic piano record, but a few cuts have drums and synthesizers. Yes, I played the drums. I'm no drummer, but with the help of Chester Thompson (Zappa's drummer who eventually joined Phil Collins and Genesis), I got through it.
This was the first time Dianne Reeves and I worked together. We sang a duet on You And Me. Zappa's influence is still felt quite heavily on tracks like "From Me To You" and "What Do They Really Fear."
Because they were giving me so much money (at least it was a lot back then), I felt a lot of pressure to sell records.In order to be perfectly clear, let me say that they never once requested that I record anything other than what I wanted; the pressure was internal Δ it came from me!!
I was signed because Bruce Lundvall took a liking to me and told Ron Alexemburg at Epic about me. Bruce was and still is a great record man. He gave me my first real break at the big time, as a solo artist in this country. He was a VIP at Columbia Records, which was in the same building as Epic. They were sister companies so to speak.
I was still in the same key of making very diverse sounding records, so, this is one of those.
Earth, Wind & Fire also had an influence on me. I thought that a lot of singing was necessary to have a hit. Needless to say, this record was not a hit. That is not to say that there was no good material herein. Quite to the contrary, there are some very special moments here, but the album, as a whole does not make a cohesive statement musically. Anyway, I guess I had to go through this to find where my next level would be.
Stanley Clarke is also featured on several cuts. We had begun working a lot together. He is a special bass player. We were in sync about what music should be, and were willing to take chances. We would change tempo and vibes in a second. As fate would have it, Stanley and I have had a long musical relationship. He is truly the brother I never had. Ndugu is my other brother.
Byron Miller and Ndugu are back with me, and Mike Sembello played guitar. Besides being a great singer and composer, Mike is a fantastic guitarist.
As an aside, I hated the album cover. I tried to change it, but was told it would hold up my release date, and I needed the album to be out because of my touring plans. So, I gave in. Big mistake!! I wouldn't do that now. I learned my lesson.
There were some real funny moments during this period. I can clearly remember my cohorts Stanley Clarke and Herbie Hancock asking me how I was able to tour with ladies in my band. They were referring to the "wife" dilemma. I explained that this was business and I had a lot of respect for the girls. Besides, I knew that my audience would dig seeing these ladies on the stage. Having three background singers gave me flexibility, particularly because with my voice added to theirs, I could stretch the chord voicings out a bit. This was still an instrumental group, so the singers were icing to an already slammin' cake.
"Reach For It" became the hit from this record. It broke out of Washington DC and Detroit before the rest of the nation. We were on tour when the record hit, and were amazed at seeing the record moving to the top of the R&B chart.
The tune came about as a result of a gig at The Cellar Door in Washington DC. Ndugu had played a drum solo, and started playing this beat. I began to play this bass line and motioned for Byron Miller to play a solo. The audience went completely nuts. I knew that we had something!
Back in Los Angeles when we were in the studio recording (I waited until after dinner and wine), I asked the band if they remembered that groove we had come up with at the club in DC. They said they did, so we recorded it. I told the engineer to put on a reel of tape and just let it roll. I would pick out what I wanted later. It turns out that I made two tunes out of that session, "Reach For It" and "Son Of Reach For It"
(Dream On LP)
The band consisted of:
George Duke - Keyboards
Leon "Ndugu" Chancler - Drums
Byron Miller - Bass
Charles Icarus Johnson - Guitar
Deborah Thomas - Vocal
Dee Henrichs - Vocal
Sybil Thomas - Vocal
Additional musicians include Stanley Clarke on Watch Out Baby, Manolo Badrena - perc (Weather Report), Raul de Souza-trombone (His was the first artist I produced in the USA for Capitol Records), and Mike Sembello - additional guitar. Many people don't know it, but Flora Purim and Jean Carn sang on Reach For It. I couldn't use their names due to contractual obligations, but their contributions are duly felt!
I also added a young percussionist from Oakland named Sheila Escovedo, who had just turned eighteen. I had a meeting with her dad Pete, and promised him that I would take care of his beautiful and talented daughter. It's rare to find someone as talented as Sheila who looks as good as she does, as well. We used to wear our audiences out with music and beauty. We became family. This music could not have come to life without them.
One of the singers was an incredible young singer named Josie James. Her flexibility proved to be a huge plus to the way I wrote for vocalists. With her, I felt I had no limitations. In fact, the entire band was like that - totally multi-stylistic. I was also fortunate to enlist the services of Napoleon Murphy Brock who I met touring with Frank Zappa. He was a tour de force of a singer, stage performer and sax player. I called him instant energy, and he was funny!
"Dukey Stick" became the hit off this record. I felt I needed to solidify my new audience with another funk hit. This song gave me instant identifiability.
I must tell you a story of playing in the States right after "Reach For It" hit. We returned from a successful tour in Europe where we were told that we were now hot property. This was weird, because we sure didn't leave that way! Keep in mind, that except for Festivals, we played in nightclubs, 150 to 800 people at the most. When we returned from Europe, my manager had booked us in four thousand seater halls for mostly two sold out shows all over America.
We tried playing the same show, but found that it didn't work with our new largely black audience. We only had one hit, and that's what they wanted to hear. They didn't care about all that pseudo Brazilian, jazz/funk/rock. After the first leg of the tour, I had a meeting with the band, and told them we needed to change our image and alter the music somewhat.
So, I went home and hired the same clothes designer that LTD used, had my keyboards put in plexiglass, including my mini moog that for at least one number I could bear to wear around my neck during the hit songs. I knew I needed to stand and play, so I wouldn't have to remain sitting behind a wall of keyboards. My manager was intent on getting me to the front of the stage somehow. I began to realize that at least half of what my audience was hearing was directly related to what they were seeing! We had to become more visual if we were to remain viable in the R&B market.
In short, this record was a true follow up to its predecessor and did very well. It solidified, along with the tours, my position in the market place. It's really a nice record, still diverse, but more cohesive than most of my earlier efforts.
Many of my fans believe that the instrument I wear around my neck is The Dukey Stick. Well, it's not. The Dukey Stick was, and still is, a magic wand in the tradition of Star Wars, but with a finely tuned funk alignment. I should also mention that we had a huge globe that used to travel with us which housed my plexi mini moog (which also could light up). On tour, we'd stage a ceremony for the unveiling of the instrument. The Dukey Stick was the magic Wand that caused everything to happen. I won't go further into detail here, I'll save that for my book.
So, there are a lot of vocals on this record. The current group stayed together for a long time. The addition of Lynn Davis made a huge difference in what I was able to write. I composed with the band in mind, utilizing each of their personal musical strengths. The single largest change in the band was the loss of Ndugu on drums. He went on to work with Santana. I hired a young drummer from Detroit named Ricky Lawson. He was, and still is, a real solid drummer. He has gone on to become one of the most requested drummers in the world: Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Babyface to name a few.
This was the first time I thought the vocals took on a special quality as a group. The record featured everyone in the band.
Disco had become popular, so I realized I needed to alter my grooves a little to get play on the radio and sell records. The Latin side of my nature is still evident here with tunes like "Festival." This record didn't have a big break out single, but still did very well. Songs such as "Say That You Will" and "Party Down," garnered much radio play here in the States.
However, these jazz/funk records were having a toll on me Internationally. My sales in Europe had dropped, and CBS Japan had threatened to stop releasing my records there. I guess there is a price to be paid for whatever you do. I was selling great in the States but miserable in Europe and Japan. They were not ready for this kind of music at that time. In fact, on a trip to Germany, after our first number at The Berlin Jazz Festival, the audience threw whatever they could find at the band, forcing us off the stage.
The real funk was represented by "I Am For Real" which kept us in the good graces of the funk community. Overall, a nice record and nicely produced I might add.
I kind of forced my hand on this one. Because of the success the band was having in the R&B world, I asked Epic to let me take the band to Brazil and record an album with some of the great local musicians from the area. They hesitated, but eventually gave in to my request. What resulted is one of my favorite albums, and one which has stood the test of time. Many of my fans think this is my best record, and a good argument could be raised for that point of view.
My idea was to take typical Brazilian rhythms and put my stamp on them with my current touring band. I wanted to work with Milton Nascimento, and I might add that I was thrilled when he said OK. I mostly worked with his rhythm section and intermixed them with mine. One regret I have is not using a young and as yet unknown singer, composer that I met on the beach in Brazil named Ivan Lins. Julie Sayres, who worked in the International department at CBS, was a real asset to this LP. Her enthusiasm was one of the reasons it got off the ground. She is responsible for introducing me to Ivan, and everyone else I met down there. I never will forget the night that I had dinner at his home, and he and his then wife Lucinha (who sang backgrounds on the record) performed these amazing songs for hours. I already had the material for the record set, so I didn't add any of his material. This was a mistake!
I love Brazil! There truly is music in the air. It seems to me that the people breathe music not air.
Charles Johnson had left the band (after I gave him money to help buy a Volkswagen I might add) and I began using Roland Bautista on guitar, who eventually took Al McKay's place with Earth, Wind & Fire.
The actual recording process left a lot to be desired. I took Kerry McNabb, my long time engineer, with me. When we arrived at the studio, none of the musicians were there. They slowly wandered in two, three hours later. I was furious, but after the first few notes were played, I learned to relax and go with the flow. Also, when Kerry wanted to splice some tape together, they gave him some scotch tape. Not only that, but we found out that the first several songs were recorded on used tape. Brazil was another world! I just wasn't used to the way they operated.
However, despite all, I had one of the most pleasant experiences of my career recording this record, also in 1979.
The guitar chair was changed again to another Detroit native (who is now a fireman in Detroit) named David Myles.
Alas, this was to become the swan song for the band. We made no more records with the intact touring unit. I really miss The Family - those were the best days of my life!!
The music speaks for itself, a combination of danceable rhythms with jazz overtones.
I began using a young recording engineer whom I had heard on a Gino Vanelli record. His name is Tommy Vicari. We had a long association, and he was perfect to follow McNabb because he was so musical. He didn't have the technical expertise of Kerry, but he had big ears. He knew how to turn a piece of music into a song.
The year was still 1979. Yeah, I spent a lot of time in the studio that year.
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