The Verge Of Getting Down: Bill Brewster’s Funk Rock Rarities

We set crate digger extraordinaire, Bill Brewster another challenge. This week, make us a set culled from the less fashionable - mainly white, blue collar and European - backwaters of funk rock… he came up with some beauties

For me, most of this began with hip hop, but for the rock bands of the late 60s and early 1970s, it was born of a deep love and respect for the blues, jazz and soul they grew up worshipping (rock music’s never had the same appeal for me since its idols stopped wanting to be Little Willie Dixon, John Coltrane or James Brown).

Forty years ago, a good deal of rock was funky. A lot of it was made for the dancehall as much as the student hall and you can hear it in so many tunes of the era. But occasionally, even back then, something would stand out so much it was almost impossible not to notice. In the early discotheques of New York, for example, before ‘disco’ records were being made, they played ‘Sultana’ by Norwegian rock band Titanic and John Lennon’s banging ‘What You Got’ from Walls & Bridges and even the unlikely Troggs’ ‘Summertime’ and those guys knew how to rock a dancefloor.

But it wasn’t just them. There were the brass rockers led by Chicago (included here), Blood, Sweat & Tears, Tower Of Power, Ten Wheel Drive, Cold Blood and Average White Band (but for a geographical accident of birth would’ve been rightly hailed as the pre-eminent funksters they so obviously are). There were the giants of the genre like Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Steve Miller and even (yes, yes) Deep Purple whose early oeuvre, before they got distracted by the work of the Swiss fire brigade, had the fonk. Even Emerson, Lake & Palmer have been sampled countless times and in ‘From The Beginning’, they wrote a timeless groovy classic.

And there’s the black funk-rockers, led by King George Clinton and the merry funksters of Detroit, Parliament, Funkadelic, Brides Of Funkenstein, and Prince, Black Merda and all those many many funky records made by kosmische Germans from the obvious (Can’s ‘Vitamin C’) to the nutty (Michael Bundt’s ‘The Brain Of Oskar Panizza’). But we’ve tried to dig deep and pull out the ones you might not know from deep in the crevices of the 45 box and LP racks Do feel free to add to the list below the line, one can never have too many funk-rock gems stuffed up one’s sleeve.

Sopwith Camel – ‘Fazon’

Here’s a band that looks like they know one end of a bong from the other and their records are all the better for it. Sopwith Camel had a hit in 1967 with ‘Hello Hello’ which they never repeated but they did record the excellent album The Miraculous Hump Returns From The Moon (see what I mean about the bong?). Funky, spacey and faaaar-out.

Hot Rocks – ‘Chopper’

Now that poor Mike Leander’s unfortunate association with Gary Glitter has pretty much killed his reputation (Leander died of cancer in 1996), it behoves me to do what I can to exhume some of his music from the musical wreckage of Mr. Gadd. This is a great example. Funky glam rock with an open break at the start and some suitably grungey clavinet to nice up the soup, it was a minor hit in the discos of the time.

Nazareth – ‘Waiting For The Man’

Funky heavy rock? Yeah there is such a thing (see also: Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Andwella etc). No relation to the Velvets, this is all predicated by a rising guitar line and a killer bassline that drives it all on. I discovered this via the Idjut Boys who when questioned about what they played, tersely replied: "Whatever we can get away with." Including, obviously, Nazareth.

Fanny – ‘Beggar Man’

Yay for the funky girls. ‘Beggar Man’ is culled from their 5th and final LP and written by Patti Quatro, the band’s mainstay. Her sister is, of course, Suzi, who’s also weighed in with some funk herself (including the superb Chinnichap song ‘Your Mama Won’t Like Me’), while not forgetting Birtha’s ‘I Can’t Stop The Madness’, ace LA rock-funk.

Stoney & Meatloaf – ‘What You See Is What You Get’

Before Meatloaf became Meatloaf, he made this rather good album with Stoney (aka Shaun Murphy, who then spent most of her career doing BVs for some serious rock acts like Bob Seger, Eric Clapton etc). There are two or three good cuts on the album, but I’ve always loved the Motown-rocky feel of this one.

Crystal Mansion – ‘Somebody Ought To Turn Your Head Around’

This tune got name checked in Muzik about 20 years ago by, I think, Theo from the Wiseguys, who made it sound so compelling I had to track it down. It was worth it. He was right, it’s incredibly funky, has this ace guitar figure and the best and most daft hippie lyrical couplet ever: "We’ll build a Far-Out Factory/ and manufacture harmony." Let’s do it!

Foghat – ‘Gotta Get To Know You’

This British rock band formed out of the ashes of Brit-beat band Savoy Brown. They recorded a long series of LPs for American label Bearsville, eventually scoring US hits in the mid-70s with ‘Slow Ride’ among others, but nothing quite surpasses their debut album closer ‘Gotta Get To Know You’. (The other remnant of Savoy Brown, Chris Youlden, recorded the belting Nowhere Road in 1973.)

Hammer – ‘Tuane’

One of those fantastic out-of-nowhere tunes that takes the best bits of early ’70s riffing prog and allies it with some fantastically adept percussive touches and some frankly worrying scat singing that just works. I know almost nothing about Hammer, other than the composer of this tune, Norman Landsberg, by a quirk of fate, is also the co-author of Jay-Z’s ’99 Problems’, thanks to his co-write on Mountain’s ‘Long Red’ (one of the most sampled breaks in hip hop, fact fans). As pension policies go, there are worst ways to retire.

Tullio De Piscopo – ‘Fastness’

Tullio De Piscopo is best-known in the UK for his Balearic sunshine-filled 80s tune ‘Stop Bajon’, but has been a mainstay in Italy for much longer. This is drummer Piscopo’s debut 45 (the B-side is also great) and shows his love of funky drumming and as the Italian equivalent to the wondrous Steve Gadd.

Spaghetti Head – ‘Funky Axe’

Looking at the protagonists on this tune (Clem Cattini, Les Hurdle, Frank Ricotti), it could almost be a library record that somehow escaped onto a regular label. It was the B-side to a cover version of ‘Big Noise From Winnetka’ that was originally released on RCA but licensed out to a number of territories. Yet despite its wide release, it’s always fetched a decent price. Sparse, slow, brilliant.

Angelo & Eighteen – ‘Flight 2’

I first heard this on the excellent Saint Etienne compilation, Songs For The Dog & Duck about six years ago and have been looking for it ever since. It’s on RAK, right? Must be easy to find. Wrong. Still no sign of a copy anywhere, although the last one on eBay went for £150. I don’t know much about the guys behind it (Angelo Finaldi and Richard Tate), but I believe they were French-Canadian musicians who worked together in the early 1970s (they also collaborated with Nanette Workman on her solo albums). Whatever brilliant alchemy is behind it, it’s one of those essential drum-oriented tunes that are essential for all funk-rock fans (see also: Resonance’s ‘Yellow Train’).

Ry Cooder – ‘Down In Hollywood’

Taken from my favourite Ry Cooder album, Bop Till You Drop, there’s no wonder this is so darn funky, since it features top LA sessioneer Jim Keltner on drums and jazz drummer Milt Holland on percussion (Chaka Khan on BVs doesn’t harm it either), and all driven by Ry’s hypnotic rattling snakeskin guitar line.

Elephant’s Memory – ‘Mongoose’

Elephant’s Memory are probably best known as John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s backing band in the early ’70s (they also had a couple of tunes on the Midnight Cowboy OST, including the excellent ‘Jungle Gym At The Zoo’). ‘Mongoose’ was a minor hit in the US, though it didn’t do much anywhere else. There are bewildering amount of different versions of it, too. I prefer the 7-inch version.

CCS – ‘Hang It On Me’

I used to listen religiously to Alexis Korner’s radio show on Radio 1 in the late 70s and early 1980s and much of the oddball sounds he championed were instrumental in setting me off in all sorts of weird tangents, that stretched from Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports (see below) to Jo-Ann Kelly. CCS, his own group, were obviously well known for providing Top Of The Pops with its theme for many years, as well as having a few hits of their own, but this 7-inch B-side is their funkiest offering.

Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports – ‘Can’t Get My Motor To Start’

A crazy album full of skronk and madness that sits well alongside Rip, Rig & Panic and co and features the cream of UK session and jazz bods: Carla Bley, Gary Valente, Chris Spedding. ‘Can’t Get My Motor To Start’ is one of those brilliantly freewheeling songs that appears to have been made up on the spot, being little more than a chant and a great Valente solo on the trombone. Check out ‘I Was Wrong’ from same album featuring Robert Wyatt. Ace!

Chicago – ‘Woman Don’t Want To Love Me’

Before they turned to mush around the mid ’70s, they were one of the leading proponents of a jazzy rock style that also included Tower Of Power and Blood, Sweat & Tears. But this song, taken from Chicago VII, both in its outstanding original version and the Joe Bataan cover is gritty, soulful and funky.

Supermax – ‘Fly With Me’

Helmed by Austrian Kurt Hauenstein, but based in Germany, they recorded a series of albums for the European market, with ‘Lovemachine’ a big hit in the German-speaking market. I first discovered them via a charity shop in Freeman Street, Grimsby, attracted by a song called ‘African Blood’ (also v. funky) and the absurdly European name. All first three albums are worth getting.

Coalkitchen – ‘Chained To The Train Of Love’

Taken from their only album on Epic/Full Moon, ‘Chained To The Train Of Love’ is as anomalous as it is fantastic. I must confess to only discovering last year via the splendid Amsterdam digging spot Redlight Records, where proprietor Tako, when asked if they had any funky rock, immediately grabbed this out of the bins and promptly made me moist at the knees.

Mud – ‘As You Like It’

It is a minor obsession of mine to locate the funkiest records by the least likely of artists and, let’s face it there aren’t many less likely than Mud (mind you, there’s Smokie and the Grumbleweeds even have a secret tune or two). They had an earlier attempt in 1976 with their disco cash-in ‘Shake It Down’, which didn’t shake much at all, but here Rob Davis (who, of course, later worked with Paul Oakenfold and co-wrote ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ for Kylie) pairs up with bass player Ray Stiles for this ace slice of Average White Band style funk.

Attitudes – ‘If We Want To’

For some reason this reminds me of the Stranglers’ ‘Peaches’ but obviously much funkier and somewhat less sexist. Attitudes was a bunch of session musicians led by Jim Keltner who recorded a couple of uneven albums for George Harrison’s Dark Horse label (‘In A Stranger’s Arms’ is a fine slice of blue-eyed soul), but the standout tune is this studio jam that freewheels all the way to the bottom of the hill, before scampering up it again for another serious bout of funk.

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