A Musical Journey by Butch Ford
Let’s have a little fun with today’s topic. So, join me on a musical journey that spans the better part of three decades.
I touched down in the dead of winter during the fourth quarter of the 1960’s in Detroit, Michigan…post-riot. Aretha was already “The Queen” around these parts. The Motown Sound was at its pinnacle. The shiny suits, elegant sequined dresses and meticulous choreography made famous by the Temps, Tops, Supremes & Marvelettes were slowly making way for the more social and politically charged content of “Hitsville” heavyweights Marvin and Stevie. Black Power was the epicenter. I have fond memories of my grandparents telling me about the unity and pride displayed by our people during this era as the decade was ending. Profound!!!
In addition to Black Power, the sound of the early 70’s was about finding and losing love. There was a mesh of Blue-Eyed Soul combined with down home Rhythm & Blues. The playlist of AM radio stations enveloped this vast collection of songs. I don’t recall “all black” radio coming into existence for several more years. You’d hear The Bee Gees, Doobie Brothers & The Average White Band, and a super talented, soulful Caucasian duo out of Philly, played in succession along with Isaac Hayes, Barry White, and those five talented brothers from Gary, Indiana with the dynamic young lead singer. The daughter of the great Nat King Cole had also made her grand appearance in the spotlight. Musical Genius Curtis Mayfield had lent his talents to Hollywood for several projects in black cinema Powerhouse groups such as: The Stylistics, Chi-Lites, Spinners and Dells dazzled audiences far and wide with their quality distinct vocal abilities.
The mid to late 70’s boasted extreme sex appeal, while introducing the masses to The P-Funk and a totally new sound called Disco. We were captivated by the spirituality of Earth Wind & Fire, intrigued by the tight “pocket” of Chic and utterly blown away by the sounds of Cameo, The Brothers Johnson, Bootsy Collins & Parliament Funkadelic…just to name a few. Peabo & Teddy P. revolutionized a whole different type of party with the red lights in the basement. Right ladies??? While Gladys & The Pips, The Isleys, Whispers, O’Jays, Commodores and LTD were in heavy rotation in my household. Especially on Saturday mornings during my family’s scheduled housecleaning.
Just down the road, in Ohio there was a Funk Revolution happening with the likes of Zapp, Slave, Lakeside, The Dazz Band and some Players named after the state in which they all originated. While on the local scene The Dramatics, Enchantment, The Jones Girls, Michael Henderson, Chapter 8 and the Floaters were all creating a buzz around town. And I’d be remised if I failed to mention the diminutive blond from California with the big powerful voice…who everyone thought was black, and her musical mentor out of Buffalo, N.Y. who was more aptly known to tie masses as “Slick” Rick James.
The 80’s saw Michael J. moonwalk his way to the top of the charts, witnessed The Purple Army (featuring The Time, The Revolution, Andre Simone, Vanity 6, Sheila E., Jesse Johnson & Alexander O’Neal) led by “His Purple Badness” Prince, as he changed the game musically with his infectious Minneapolis Sound. And the incomparable Mr. Vandross crooned his way into our hearts…proving love is eternal.
There was a brief British invasion mid-decade that showcased a plethora of talented acts across “the pond.” And this was followed by a whirlwind phenomenon that nobody saw coming (but we’ll get to that momentarily). Michael’s baby sister and Whitney were about to embark on historical record setting crossover careers. Legends like Chaka Khan, Frankie B, Ms. Patti, Sade and Uncle Charlie and his band from Oklahoma were in full stride. Stephanie, Evelyn and Anita were sangin their butts off as well and were no slouches when it came to great music. The R&B genre was thriving and in great hands.
Oh…but something epic, something ground-breaking was brewing in New York. There was a new form of musical expression know as Rap. Rappers or MC’s would rhyme and wordplay in a poetic, rhythmic cadence over dope beats. Early incarnations were simply designed to rock the party. Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five feat. Melle Mel & Run-DMC were the early pioneers of this new Hip-Hop Movement.
Subsequently, the sound of R&B changed drastically, due to rap music becoming more mainstream. Production teams like Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and LA Reid & Babyface, along with New Jack Swing creator and innovator Teddy Riley manufactured hits at a prolific pace, rounding out the 80’s, while fusing these two genres. It was a match made in heaven. New Edition, Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, Al B. Sure, Guy, Karyn White, Cherrelle and After 7 were all beneficiaries of this new sound.
The early 90’s brought about a renaissance of the singing group. Boyz II Men, Jodeci, The Tony’s, TLC, EnVogue, SWV, BBD, Troop, and Hi-Five led the way. While later in the decade Jagged Edge, 112, Destiny’s Child, 702, and Blackstreet made their marks, respectively. Hit making juggernauts R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige and Gerald Levert were superstars in the making who laid the musical blueprint for years to come.
There were several other artists too numerous to mention. It just wasn’t possible to list everyone. I meant no disrespect by omitting anyone. I simply wanted to spotlight those who were significant in the near 40-year soundtrack of my life. The “Godfather” James Brown had a huge stamp on all of this. He was just a little bit before my time…and I didn’t have the accounts or recollection of him personally to share his accomplishments. But he’s still quite influential in Hip Hop and R&B music today.
In conclusion…artists such as Bobby Womack, Switch (The Debarge Family), Angela Winbush, DJ Quik, Dr. Dre, Aaliyah and The Body Sisters (out of Detroit) were impactful throughout “My Musical Journey” and had to be mentioned. It’s been an incredible ride and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store musically and culturally.
Thanks for Riding Along,