Tag Archives: Funk

Bernard Edwards/Chic

Good to be back, a busy summer schedule has meant this little project has been on hold for a while.  Also with so many musicians to choose from its hard to decide exactly who to write about at a given time.  Skipping through Jaco, Stanley, Victor,  John Paul Jones, Paul McCartney, James Jamerson, Stanley Jordan, John Pattitucci, Chuck Rainey (see what I mean?) …. and more …. I’m cutting ahead to one of my greatest teachers and favorite players – Bernard Edwards of Chic fame.

One of my first ever working/gb bands was a dual boot ABBA/Disco group in the UK back in the early 2000’s.  I don’t remember the name but I do remember that ABBA Banana was in the running but didn’t make it.  Thank God.  When I was asked I need the work so I said yes without really knowing the music or having an opinion about it.  In those first few months I grew in my appreciation not only of the sophistication of ABBA’s pop music but of the beauty, power and simplicity of the repetitiveness of disco music.

Cut to music… 1978 …. Le Freak

(Sound on Sound have an  article about the writing and making of this song) 

As a young player schooled in rock and 70’s fusion I was all over this!  Licks to the left, licks to the right!  A good time was had by all – we were a successful and fun band and playing together all over the country with good friends is one of life’s great pleasures.  As I settled down into the material and listened back to Bernard it struck me that he was actually saying MORE by choosing his moments. Listening back to ‘Le Freak’ I’m still impressed by his understatement, the first variation in the line is not until half way through the  second verse (a unison with the vocal that creates that special ‘2nd verse is slightly different’ moment).  The ‘bass solo’ is simply a great 4 bar loop that repeats with slight variation, and out of tune bends that sound great!

Next time that song came around I played it Bernard’s way and heard, felt and saw the difference in the crowd.  The groove went deeper throughout the whole piece, the other players shone more brightly and the crowd was dancing a frenzy.  That was it for me, no more ‘bass solos’ for about 5 years!  I was hooked on simplicity, hooked on ‘the hook’ – the concept of taking a simple idea and catching the fish/listeners.

As you no doubt picked up from the Sound on Sound piece (if you didn’t go back and read it, all their articles are goldmines), Edwards and his partner Nile Rodgers were involved heavily in the production of dozens of hit records  in that late 1970’s early 1980’s period.  There are so many wonderful tracks to check out, so many iconic dance-floor bass lines to absorb.  Here are few of my favorites with thoughts…

We Are Family – Sister Sledge

Marcus Miller talked at his recent clinic in DC about the playing with the power of expectation – setting the audience up to expect a lick or idea and then NOT playing it (instead).  That’s exactly the feeling I get when I listen to the first chorus and miss that hammer-on bass lick not happening on the third repetition of the intro – consequently when it comes again it’s a welcome reappearance of an old friend, not overplayed but is underplayed to great effect.

One of my other favorite moments is the double snare tap in the second verse after the line  “No we don’t get depressed” … You always know if a drummer has really learned a song from little details like that.  Another instance of the slight variation in the second verse.

It seems kind of obvious to include Good Times, but to not to would be a glaring omission.

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Wikipedia has a lot to say about Bernard but this is a nice paragraph to end on.

 Thanks for reading.

CB

Influence

Bernard Edwards is considered one of the most important bass players of the 20th century. His bass line from Chic hit “Good Times” has become one of the most copied pieces of music in history, and had a huge influence on musicians of many genres when released and was the inspiration for “Another One Bites the Dust” by Rock group Queen.

The Chic song “Good Times” was credited on Sugarhill Gang‘s “Rappers Delight” in 1979 (“based on the music from the song ‘Good Times’ N.Rogers/B Edwards”, is on the vinyl label)- the first rap song to become a mainstream hit. The following twenty-odd years has seen it sampled by artists of diverse genres, from Rap to Punk and Techno to PopDuran Duran bassist John Taylor often played the song in homage during his solo performances, and cited Edwards as his primary influence.

On 19 September 2005 Edwards was honored posthumously for his outstanding achievement as a producer, when he was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame at a ceremony held in New York.

Flea (RHCP)

Blood Sugar Sex Magic changed my life. High school English Literature class with Mr Martin Richards (my favorite teacher – bless his departed soul) and I sit next to Louise Fulwell. We became friendly after the entire french class got seated boy/girl… something to do with a sticky note appearing on a potted plant saying “Cannabis plant – Do not smoke”… okay maybe it was me 🙂

We would talk about music, books and life, what little we knew of them aged 15 anyway and one day she presented me with a brightly colored cassette tape (copy of course) that she had made of the album.

It was (and still is) fantastic. At the time I was still (just?) a drummer but the way that the drums and bass moved together got to me. Flea would place these greasy slides and pops in the gaps, the bass lines WERE the songs in many regards (many folks have said this about Paul McCartney and the Beatles) and I loved air-drumming to this tape, over and over again.

If you are only familiar with their later works I wholeheartedly encourage you to go back and get a copy. Really well recorded, raw emotion and groove. They all sound fantastic, Mr John Frusciante is in top form also. There is a documentary about the making of the album called “Funky Monks”, while not being for the squeamish or fainthearted, is great viewing. Watching Rick Rubin (producer, massive beard) bond with Chad Smith listening to Zeppelin or sitting with Flea urging him to play “less notes” on the cut of Give it Away are both highlights for me. Sex, drugs, madness, ghosts … it’s all there kids.

Onto the music. Every cut on this album has an inventive, hooky bassline so it’s hard to choose between them. One track that stands out for me, looking back, is Naked in the Rain.

The bass and the drums move as one. (Drop D tuning for the bass-nerds). The solo (2:25) is the first one I remember trying to learn note for note. As well some thumping, some funky horn-like lines and serious attitude the last section is just so raw. Flea described it as (and I paraphrase) ‘just going weeeeeeeeee!!!! all up and down the neck”. Works for me.

The other records are great too, don’t get me wrong, just that this is my favorite. I learned every note from Mother’s Milk through Californication and I can’t help but recommend you do the same.

If you love it, buy it.
Don’t fake the funk.
CB