Someone once said that in the taxonomic scheme of rock and roll, where lines are drawn and artists are painted with broad brushes we are attempting to find order where there may only be chaos. This system of classification, however artificial it may seem, consists of a hierarchical structure composed of types and subtypes and gives us a shorthand to organize and understand and talk about the music. For example — Southern rock’s a subtype of hard rock. Thus while all Southern rock bands are hard rock, not all hard rock bands are Southern. In other words a band needs more constraints to be considered a particular subtype of a larger type. This is what keeps us from thinking someone might be talking about a group like Lynyrd Skynryd when they’re actually talking about, say, Black Sabbath.
In today’s batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl we take one of my favorite species of rock and put it under the microscope for a closer look at two of its subspecies. Huddling under the larger umbrella that we call Horn Bands are at least two subtypes, jazz rock and funk rock. When we talk about jazz rock horn bands, the first to come to mind are Blood Sweat and Tears and early Chicago. Look a little deeper into the jazz rock tracks and you’ll find Chase and Ballinjack. Well, as it turns out, all four of these groups have a seat at today’s table. Over on the funk rock side of the Horn Band equation we’ve got the likes of Tower of Power and Earth, Wind, and Fire. Again, looking deeper, you’ll find a band out of Brooklyn called Mandrill, a very cool group formed by brothers Rick, Lou, and Carlos Wilson in 1968. Mandrill blurred the lines of funk, jazz, and R&B and we’ll hear a great example of that at the end of the set with the “Fat City Strut.” Now it’s hard to articulate the differences between jazz rock and funk rock but to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart from the majority opinion in that famous obscenity case, I know it when I hear it. If I had to narrow it down to one thing, and I’m sure Justice Stewart would agree with me here, that one thing would be dance-ability. If it makes you want to shake your booty, it’s funk. So Hi-de-ho and Open Up Wide, here’s Earth Wind and Fire.
|Earth, Wind, and Fire
|Open Up Wide
|Blood, Sweat, and Tears
|Tower of Power
|Maybe It’ll Rub Off
|Fat City Strut
|Tower of Power
Wrapping up that horny little set, that’s the “Oakland Stroke” from Tower of Power. Actually, that’s the second of two versions of that little instrumental, both on Back to Oakland. They do a slightly shorter version to open the album and that’s the version that closes it. Before that, from Just Outside of Town, we heard Mandrill doing “Fat City Strut” a cool little bit of Latin jam sandwiched between some seriously funky horns. And, as I’m sure you know, sixteen years after that came out, Schooly D sampled that one for his track, “Am I Black Enough For You?” Before that, a bit of Urban Renewal from Oakland’s Tower of Power, we heard “Maybe It’ll Rub Off.” In the middle of the set, out of Seattle, Ballinjack, some old pals of Jimi Hendrix. From their debut album, we heard what is probably their best known rock radio track: “Super Highway.” Before that, we drew a little Blood, Sweat, and Tears covering the Carol King / Gerry Goffin composition, “Hi-De-Ho.”
Elsewhere we heard Chicago from their second album, with “Movin’ In.” At the top of the set another horn band out of Chicago: Earth, Wind, and Fire doing “Africano.” From their album That’s the Way of the World, which was also the soundtrack to the long forgotten film starring Harvey Keitel as a renegade record producer who turns his back on the white pop music industry in order to save his artistic soul. On the heels of Earth, Wind, and Fire, we heard Chase. A band formed by the late trumpet virtuoso Bill Chase who had played with Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd before starting his own jazz-rock outfit. We heard his composition, “Open Up Wide.” Now Chase was a horn band with a difference. If you listen to Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Ballinjack (what the All Music Guide fairly characterizes as the White Horn Bands) you’ll hear a mix of saxophones, trombones, woodwinds, and flugelhorns. But the Chase horn section was four trumpets blowing like a storm and nothing else, except perhaps the set lists and show commentaries which you can find at billfitzhugh.com along with unrelated paraphernalia, unindicted co-conspirators, and unspecified charges to which we will no doubt plead not guilty. From the Way Back Studios, I’m Bill Fitzhugh, thanks for listening. I’ll be back next time with a fresh batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl, and I hope you’ll join us, right here in the Deep Tracks.