Berry Jones | Tonight

3 08 2010

This album from Philly-based Berry Jones is an extremely refreshing release from some young new talent. Tonight is a collection of works that honors two musical legends who spent their careers perfecting the art of the dance song: Quincy Jones and Berry Gordy. Released on a format I happen to think is ideal for today’s consumers (LP w/ free MP3 download), it’s one of my top Summer picks that will surely be great for late night parties and lazy beach days alike.

As I said, all of the music was conceived as an homage to two of leader Jim Thomas’ musical heroes. Creating something that stands up to such visionaries is quite a tall task but Thomas does it with great reverence while being sure to inject his own youthful sensibilities into the mix. The album is separated (rightfully so) into an A Side & B Side, true to vinyl form. The A side tends to showcase the aesthetic and appeal of mid-80’s Quincy Jones. Throughout you’ll hear all the electronic synthesized tendencies that ooze so tastefully from those great Michael Jackson albums of the era, along with a pulse that undeniably makes you want to move. The opening track “Bouffant Bangout” is, perhaps, the best tune on this side as it’s inclusive of all the elements that made Quincy an icon. “Philly Night” is also a standout but it’s difficult to narrow them down as each song has it’s own unique thing happening and all are equally enjoyable. The B Side is full of tunes that bring back that propulsive Motown sound. Wisely, Thomas doesn’t try to recreate the sound of Gordy’s famous Studio A. Instead, he focuses on the power of those old R&B  arrangements from yesteryear. It’s a style that has nearly been forgotten by young musicians but Thomas seems to be a long time fan who grew up listening to old Detroit soul music. Fittingly, there is a little inspiration from the Sweet Philly Soul days as well. As a native to the Philly area, it would be hard to ignore such influences like Jackie Wilson, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and even The O’Jays. As evidenced by songs like “Baby, Baby” and “Work It Out”, he definitely has a firm grasp on this 60’s soul thing. But, what is most interesting to me is how the sound and style of the contemporary singer/songwriter at the heart of Thomas’ solo work blends so smoothly with the material on this entire album. By design, it’s a concept album but in execution it’s much more. Each song is a testament to something old but they all seem so relevant and relatable for young audiences. As an album, it proves to be very accessible and may be just what the doctor ordered for the tail end of this long, hot Summer.

Here are a few of my favorites songs to sample:

“Bouffant Bangout”

“Philly Night”

“Baby, Baby”

“Work It Out”

These guys are pretty cool live too, although  as of lately you can only catch them in the local Philly area. Here is a video I captured from a pre-release gig a few months back. Right on par with Thomas’ typical musical tastes, they do a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s classic “Move On Up”. They were a horn or two short that night but the energy is still all there…

Below are some links to learn more about the album, artist and this interesting side project. Of course,  you will also find a link to sample the album and purchase it in either vinyl or digital format.


Purchase Tonight Online

The Official Berry Jones Site

Berry Jones on Facebook

Berry Jones on MySpace

Berry Jones on YouTube

Blue Floor Records Site

Blue Floor Records on MySpace

More info on Quincy Jones

More info on Berry Gordy

Shuggie Otis | Strawberry Letter 23

20 05 2010

Strawberry Letter 23 is a great old tune from guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, producer Shuggie Otis. It’s from his 1972 album Freedom Flight. Otis wrote the song for a girlfriend who used strawberry-scented paper when she wrote letters to him. Unfortunately, since the mid 70’s Otis has practically fallen to near obscurity. His biggest hit was actually a song called “Inspiration Information” and it only reached #56 back in 1975. “Strawberry Letter 23” was never a hit for Shuggie himself but the song was covered by The Brothers Johnson in 1977, which rose to  #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and all the way to #1 on the R&B charts. Their version is much funky which translated better for the times, plus it was produced by legendary Quincy Jones, a icon known for making accessible dance music. Interestingly, Quincy kept the guitar solo the same  as the original but had Lee Ritenour come in to record it. Lee’s is lick for lick a copy of Shuggie’s masterpiece. Through the years “Strawberry Letter 23” has been covered or sampled countless times and many of those songs have had much greater success than the original. Despite that, Shuggie still remains a relatively unknown artist. Although, the sheer quantity of tributes is a testament to his popularity amongst musicians. Which is probably a legacy that he appreciates more than commercial success as Shuggie is truly a musician’s musician. The guy has been a studio player on some major recordings and has numerous credits as a writer. He was even approached to tour with Billy Preston and the Rolling Stones but declined. Otis started playing professionally at age 12 and is not just a master guitarist but is also quite proficient on the piano, bass, organ and drums. His ability is obvious in his session work, most notably Shuggie played bass on Frank Zappa’s “Peaches en Ragalia”.

Below is the original “Strawberry Letter 23”, circa 1972. It’s brilliant…

Here is a live version of The Brothers Johnson cover from 1977. It’s got all the Quincy bells & whistles… and damn is it funky.

This is Shuggie’s ‘big‘ hit “Inspiration Information”. Just a REALLY great song, despite relative obscurity.

One last one here… this is Zappa’s “Peaches en Regalia”, featuring Otis on electric bass.

There is a great radio interview with Shuggie Otis from just last year. He discusses everything from his music to his work with Zappa, Mos Def and Beyonce, and he even delves into Barack Obama. Check it out HERE.

Samples & Covers:

Color Me Badd’s “I Want To Sex You Up”

Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson”

Beyonce’s “Dangerously In Love”

DJ Quik’s “Safe & Sound”

Tevin Cambell’s “Strawberry Letter 23”


More info on Shuggie Otis

More info on “Strawberry Letter 23”

More info on The Brothers Johnson

Fairlight CMI

18 01 2010

Since I’m on the topic of Herbie Hancock, check out this video of Herbie and Quincy Jones playing around with a really old synthesizer, the Fairlight CMI. I first saw Herbie messing around with this thing on Sesame Street… waaaay back when. All I could remember was that it was really weird for children’s programming. I just found that same video on the web and upon watching again I pretty much came to the same conclusion (20+ years later). The CMI first came out in 1979 for like $25,000 and it basically became the sound of the 80’s. Peter Gabriel and Stevie Wonder bought the first 2 that rolled off the production line… which makes sense. You’ve definitely heard it before in many, many 80’s classics.

Note the light pen/stylus thingy. For some strange reason, it kind of reminds me of that weird pen, Mortimer Ichabod,  from Bill Cosby’s Picture Pages (Nickelodeon circa 1990-ish) . I don’t know, it must be the overt digitalness and/or the fact that it’s seems totally ridiculous because it’s supposed to be so ahead of it’s time and yet seems so dated. Little did they know the stylus would become completely obsolete in the new millennium. Look at us… just using our fingers to interact with these crazy gadgets.

There are numerous videos of this thing for reference, like Keith Emerson of ELP on The Today Show – 1983. This is actually a REALLY good one. It’s crazy to see their mentality about digital music in the early 80’s. You need to hear some of the questions this reporter poses. It borders on fear mongering. In 2010 it really sounds absurd.

There are also many more just like or very similar to that one but, I certainly  don’t want to post them all here so follow the links below back to YouTube if you are curious. I’m even linking Mortimer the Pen too. How could I not?

Other Video Links:

Mortimer Ichabod (Picture Pages Pen)

Fairlight Factory Tour -1984

Peter Gabriel shows you how he made some of his worst music on the CMI

Really odd UK news show, This Week, features the CMI. Old + odd… usually a recipe for a pretty decent video.

Additional Background References:

Wiki – Fairlight CMI

GH Services

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