Saturday, March 22, 2014

Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Band

I've been reading "Hole in our Soul, The Loss of Beauty & Meaning in American Popular Music" by Martha Bayles, 390 pages of scholarly research and contemporary insight that's still relevant even though it was published in 1994. Shocked but pleased to find my love for 1960s funk vindicated as the author shares the point of view that something was lost circa 1968 forward as the music industry became more voracious and sophisticated, promoting "perverse modernism," shocking the public, pandering to the prurient. On the positive side, she celebrates 60s soul music as a culmination of the finest aspects our culture as expressed through the continuation of Afro-American traditions of community, ritual celebration and musical evolution.

While her book has many excellent analyses of various artists, their styles and relationship to surrounding society, the focus is on macro forces and philosophies, leaving closer examination of stylistic nuance to other authors. In keeping with the Funk Now charter, this week I'm going to hip you to some of the funkiest cuts ever produced, the works of Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Band. A few weeks ago I tried to qualify for Google AdSense hoping I could make some bread off of blogging, but they turned me down as not prolific and simply posting pointers to YouTube videos. Nevertheless, my role here is virtual guide to the golden age of funk, and my value added is to save the reader time by preselecting the best songs and the best representative recordings, adding (hopefully) insightful comments.

I'm surprised that my initial searching for information on the Watts 103rd Street Band has offered little more than what Wikipedia and the LastFM site usually offer about any artist. Notably two fine guitarists appeared in Mr. Wright's bands, Al McKay (later with Earth, Wind and Fire) and Mel Brown who I met and gigged with briefly in Honolulu in the mid 60s. Obviously Benorce Blackmon is also an excellent guitarist, having played on everything after Al McKay left in 1969, and Charles is a lefty guitarist himself. If I had but one CD by this band it would be Express Yourself: The Best of Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, an excellent collection featuring most of the YouTube links I have gathered from my memories and recent explorations.

My Amherst Studio Update blog will take a look at some of the architectural elements of a good funk recording next week, and I'll reference some of these songs for study. For now, just take a listen and enjoy!

Do Your Thing   first notable release
Express Yourself parts 2&1
Your Love (Means Everything To Me)
Loveland  a great doo-wop/funk fusion
What Can You Bring Me  bass on upbeat eighths!
Ninety Day Cycle People (funk sci-fi!)
I Got Love
Till You Get Enough
Gimme That Sammich
Nonsense (long - a lesson in spontaneity)

Martha Bayles has a new book, Through A Screen Darkly. Find out more at While America's image has been tarnished by cultural exports, she hopes to chart a positive path for the future. I hope to join that future and will offer some ideas when I finish my overdue essay on The Shape of Funk To Come.