Good Times

Last night a DJ saved my life. I was in a club in Clapham, which in all honesty, I thought was going to be a cheesey music night. Now let’s get one thing straight people, when I say cheese this means the Baywatch theme tune, Ghostbusters theme tune, Grease megamix, 5ive megamix etc. It does NOT include disco. Disco ain’t cheese. It’s dance  music.

I’ve been reading Nile Rodgers’ autobiography:

Nile Rodgers

I’ve gotten a little obsessed with it. I wanted to read a fiction book but my sister put me onto this saying it would inspire me to write music. Not only has it done that but it’s also reminded me of my obsession with disco when I was a teenager. I’ve liked disco since I was a kid. We used to have record nights on Sundays, and my dad would always put on a mix of his “classics”: The Weather Girls, Sister Sledge, The Three Degrees, Yvonne Elliman, Liquid Gold. When I got a little older, I’d listen to more of these old dance tunes. 

I really got into disco when I was about 13. I used to daydream about going to a proper disco – I wanted to live in the seventies and go to a disco, or at least go to a school disco and dance to…disco! I hated most of the stuff in the charts at that time – pop and garage music mainly. Saying that, I did love some modern music, and that was funky house – mainly because a lot of funky house is simply sampled disco with a faster beat. I also got into the film 54, practically fell in love with Ryan Phillippe (Rodgers has some wild stories about that club). The disco obsession was unhealthy. Even more unhealthy than later obsessions with Woodstock, The Beatles, the sixties… Now I’m reading this book, it’s making me obsessed all over again. And I feel like I did when I was thirteen.

chic

People at school thought I was a bit weird because of it (and many other reasons). But actually, I just really loved the bass and drum grooves, and in fact, disco pretty much made me want to learn how to play the bass. In particular, Bernard Edwards, the  bassist of Chic, made me want to learn. I can’t remember who it was who first taught me how to create that distinctive disco bass sound – the octave run up and down the neck, but that was the start of my bass journey. As a result, I just had to learn how to play Everybody Dance, one of the trickiest basslines I’ve come across. I finally managed to conquer it, but still need to practise it regularly in order to keep my hands from cramping, because it is so fast and I use a different technique to Edwards. It is probably my favourite Chic song.

It was the first song they laid down as well – written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, who went on to write many other songs that have inspired songs in all genres, and have been sampled across the board – most notably in The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight. I’m pretty sure that even the pop song Stomp by Steps was inspired by Everybody Dance

Rodgers’ story about the song Everybody Dance in his autobiography is the most memorable so far. He writes that a month after they laid down the track, a DJ in a club called Rodgers in the middle of the night. He told him to go  to his club and tell the doormen that he made Everybody Dance. When he got there, the doorman let him in and pretty much congratulated him. When he got inside, he found out that the crowd would dance to nothing but their song. He watched as they danced to it on repeat for an hour.

Which brings me back to last night. I was dancing with my friend, and I said, “I want to request something, but most DJs hate it when you request things.” A DJ got annoyed with me at new year for requesting something. But then I looked at the DJ and thought, maybe he won’t mind this particular request. I asked my friend if she’d ask for me and she said yes. I wrote a text on my phone: It would be great if you could play something by Chic. She took the phone and showed him.

I can’t remember what was being played but then the next song changed to a completely different genre – Chesney Hawkes possibly – and I thought, he’s changing the tempo – maybe he will play something by Chic. And then I heard the bassline and whooped: my first opportunity to dance to Everybody Dance in a club. Most of the people were a little earshocked by the change from a cheesey rock song to an upbeat disco tempo (mainly white people). Think I might have bumped into a few people while I was dancing. I said thanks to the DJ afterwards.

I went to see The Best Disco in Town back in 2004 with my sister and brother in law. A number of disco acts were playing, amongst them Shalamar, Rose Royce, Tavares and headlining them was Chic. I was all ready to watch them play and they came onstage…but no Bernard? I didn’t know that he’d died back in 1996. I was pretty gutted when I found out why he wasn’t there. I’ve yet to read how it happened in the book.

classic4bernarde

Still, the bassist in the contemporary Chic was pretty decent, and the concert was great, but as we could only afford seats waaay back in Earls Court, we couldn’t really see much. So I’m going to see Nile Rodgers with Chic again in July and I’ll get the chance to dance to that song again – but live this time. And I’ll see Rodgers up close.

This is a Journey into Sound (Part One)

Disclaimer: this post is not meant to be taken as seriously as the others (as if I have to tell you – nobody takes disco seriously anyway).

Maybe this post jars a little with previous post topics, but oh well, I’m writing it anyway. It all started when I recently watched an evening of disco on BBC4 (some people say that disco died in the eighties – as long as I’m still alive – and BBC4 for that matter – it will be too), which seemed to show all the dodgy duds of disco, that I came across this charmer:

For your awareness, this isn’t exactly my cup of disco tea; I just like watching it (their chuffed smiles bring light into my world), and their effort on making a British claim on something American is commendable. I thought it was usually the other way round. Recently, when I found myself drawn to staring at their jiggling heads once again, I was suddenly struck by something that I’d never thought of before now:

What exactly is the hustle? And more importantly, the British Hustle? This is my latest historical quest.

I am a disco geek. I’ve boogied on down to it since I was a nipper, and it in fact led me to learn the bass, Bernard Edwards of Chic being a divine inspiration (RIP). So I know quite a lot about disco music. Or at least I thought I did.

I heard from someone that Harry “KC” Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine Band coined the disco sound. Here’s where I was going to say,

“You know that song Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry where they sing ‘Play that funky music, white boy’? Well, it referred to KC of the Sunshine Band – he was the white boy.”

 

One of my favourite disco songs. That’s a video of KC. Here’s a picture of him now:

That’s what happens when you party too hard (as with most disco acts – many thought they were untouchable. Many, I’m sure, thought they were travelling on a disco spaceship though time and space…). I suppose I have to give his age some credit.

About Play That Funky Music above – that’s what somebody told me and what I’ve believed for years. And yet, I was completely wrong. Sorry to those I ever told this “fact” to. I don’t know where the person who told me this heard it, but this is what happens when you do a history blog that involves research – you have to authenticate everything you hear. I discovered from Wikipedia, though I know that some of you will definitely say this is no place to authenticate ANYTHING, that it was actually because Wild Cherry were a hard rock band at the time, and dance music – disco music – was very “in”, so when their fans shouted for some dance music, the drummer said,

“Play some funky music, white boy,” to the singer. The song was born. Nothing to do with KC.

With regards to KC being the leader of the disco sound, from more research I’m led to believe that he didn’t necessarily invent disco, just helped bring it to the forefront of the pop world.

Disco evolved in American underground clubs, a sped up offspring of funk and northern soul. In fact, if you listen to some soul tracks like Jerry Butler’s One Night Affair you can hear the disco influence before the genre was properly recognised:

To me, it’s the pace, orchestral string instruments and drumming style (heavy snare and ringing hi-hat) that sets disco apart from funk and soul, though there are some definite overlaps, with BBoy funk. I’d say BBoy music is set apart by rhythm and percussion, but more on that in another post. Here are two obvious examples where you can hear exactly what I mean:

Grease – Frankie Valli (of the Four Seasons):

A Fifth of Beethoven -Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band:

And I have to throw a little bit of Chic in, considering the Chic Organisation  – the production company created as a result of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic – are behind many music acts. They called themselves Chic after the chicly dressed people they watched dancing to their music. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards wrote, produced and collaborated on many funky tracks for many funky acts – Diana Ross, Sister Sledge and David Bowie to name a few:

Yeah, diggin’ that…

Anyway. What is the hustle?

The hustle is a dance move. You do it. Do the hustle:

This is what you do it to:

 (I wonder if there’s a limit to these videos…)

Anyway, the hustle is…a name for several popular disco dance styles. Apparently, it primarily incorporates partnered movements and emerged around the same time as the Discofox dance move. I know what you’re thinking: but what is Discofox? (Either that or you’re thinking, shut up about disco) In answer to your question, I think my Dad may be a Discofox…or a sweaty Discofox perhaps. And not really in the John Travolta idea of a “Discofox”. But he does like disco, although I’m not sure if the Goombay Dance Band really count:

 

Is that song really disco? Maybe that’s another topic for another post but not on this blog any time soon. I should give my Dad more credit than that anyway – he introduced me to Earth, Wind & Fire and Sister Sledge.

Jokes aside, Discofox is a “social partner dance” – the European equivalent of the American Hustle. If you look the dance up on You Tube, you can see how it may be influenced by tango or salsa. Real smooooth.

So we have the “Hustle”, and yet above, they’re singing, “Do the Hustle”. But which one? There’s the British Hustle, as voiced by Hi-Tension in the opening clip, but there’s also the Spanish Hustle, and many more besides (apologies for the naked, dancing woman – it’s not her fault):

I had the glory of dancing to a band that played this song live in a bar in Whitstable, Kent. Not like the woman in the video of course – she’s not doing the hustle at all! Though I’m not sure I was really doing it either.

Back to the Hustle’s variations – apparently, the early originator was the Manhattan Hustle. Then there’s the Continental Walk – a bit like disco line-dancing – or for you modern kids, Kylie’s The Locomotion, but funkier. You can see a similar example in the Fifth of Beethoven video above, and its clip from Saturday Night Fever – an old film that’s quite like Glee, but with a bit of rape and suicide. Actually, they’re doing a tango hustle, invented specially for the film, but you get the idea.

So, was there such thing as a Spanish Hustle or a British Hustle?

I couldn’t find any evidence of the British Hustle, or how it drove anybody “crazaire” as those lads of Hi-Tension sing, yet the song was apparently very popular on the little British Isles. The Spanish Hustle on the other hand is just another term for the Hustle. From my hisorical wanderings, it appears there is no basis for the British Hustle. If you know any more than me, then please comment on this post and prove me wrong.

Otherwise, I will be forced to invent the British Hustle, and I don’t think my dance partner-to-be will be very happy with this conclusion.

I can’t finish without mentioning one of the first funky basslines I ever wanted to learn, by the all-female disco act A Taste of Honey – a couple of widely talented female musicians who could play anything and wrote all their own music, but were sadly treated as pop fodder due to their all-femaleness. I once had a conversation with a man in a pub for half an hour about this bassline:

Here’s one final British disco classic that cannot be missed out of this post…something tells me the drummer got a bit carried away:

Better still, check out the Reggae Disco Hustle.