I’ve been digging deep in my crates this week people, just looking for some stuff to sample as well as for a new mix. I have revisted some old gems, as well as some stuff I haven’t listened to in a minute. At any rate, while going through these Lps, I came across an artist I haven’t reviewed yet, and a side I need to start spinning out. Here is Ronnie Laws with a cover of the Stevie Wonder written “Tell Me Something Good” off of his 1975 Blue Note Records Lp Pressure Sensitive.
One of 8 children (4 of them musically gifted), Ronnie Laws was born in Houston, Texas in 1950. He learned to play sax after an eye injury at 11 stopped his hopeful baseball career. After attending Texas Southern and excelling at music, he would go on to briefly join the unknown and unsuccessful band Earth, Wind, and Fire. There he played flute and saxophone on their record Last Days and Time before leaving after two years. This was before the band would gain momentum and become the commercial (and legendary) success it is today. He also cut his teeth with bands like the Jazz Crusaders, Doug Carn, and Walter Bishop, and Hugh Masekala. With some help from the legendary Donald Byrd and the Jazz Crusaders Wayne Henderson, Laws released Pressure Sensitive on Blue Note in 1975. His first effort garnished much success, and was followed up by Fever in 1976. With much praise comes much criticism though, his critics claiming he wasn’t pure enough for Jazz, that his fusion style wasn’t the real deal. Laws answered by excelling with his style and crossing over to R & B, Pop, and ushering a new sound called “The Quiet Storm” in. It’s unfortunate, but even a site like allmusic.com says of Law: ” Ronnie Laws has a nice soulful sound on tenor, but has never seriously pursued playing jazz. hroughout his career, which includes early-’70s gigs with Quincy Jones, his brother [Hubert Laws], Ramsey Lewis, and Earth, Wind & Fire, Laws has essentially been an R&B player.” Laws would go on to much success, quieting his critics, and still continues to make music, tour, and release records today.
“ After years of playing on other people’s sessions, Ronnie is a superhuman hornman, rough edged yet capable of great tenderness ”
“Tell Me Something Good”, a song written by Stevie but made popular by Rufus and Chaka Khan, was tastefully covered by Laws. In fact, with a guy like Donald Byrd “assisting” you, there is no way you could pull off a bad cover. If that opening guitar lick sounds familiar, well then you aren’t hearing things. It’s the sample off the Beastie Boys “Shake Your Rump”. What follows after that lick is nothing short of piping hot wax. Part Sanford and Son and part fusion madness, this is a groove to move you all day. There is one part where there is some harmonizing, and even though it’s 1975, there could be a DJ cutting those vocals in, it’s that damn far ahead of it’s time. At it’s time, it was one of the most successful Blue Note sellers due to it’s unique sound. Laws and company stacked the players on this record. Utilizing the skills of two drummers, Steve Guitierrez and Michael Willars, Clint Mosely and Wilton Fender on bass, Joe Sample and Mike Cavanaugh on Electric Piano/ Clavinet, Jerry Peters on Strings and the Arp Synthesizer, and finally a one man rhythm section in Joe Clayton, players from his home town Houston and members of the Jazz Crusaders helped round out the cause. People in Hip Hop talk about this record and hold it in high regard. I’ve seen it go for a few bucks, although I paid about a buck for it. While the cut “Tidal Wave” is the most often sampled (and will be featured in a future Anatomy of a Sample): Organized Konfusion, Black Moon, Peanut Butter Wolf, and Quasimoto among others), I think that “Tell Me Something Good” is often overlooked (other than the Beasties) and a great look into the way artists were going as the world of music was changing around them. While a lot of artists were trying their hands at Disco, Laws took his Jazz proficiency in another direction, crossing over and discovering new territory. Some of the Jazz elite thought it as not being true to the art, or selling out so to speak. Laws kicked it up a notch. Look what they did to Miles Davis with “On The Corner”, same deal. They burn you at the stake as a witch for branching out. Laws was able to push through to the next level, his own level. As Clayton Frohman said on the back of the LP: “After years of playing on other people’s sessions, Ronnie is a superhuman hornman, rough edged yet capable of great tenderness”. After 36 years, Ronnie Laws is still relevant in Hip Hop and Jazz music. I imagine he never thought that he’d have a hand in releasing classic Hip Hop songs through sampling:
“From downtown Manhattan the village
My style is wild and you know that it still is
Disco bag schlepping and you’re doing the bump
Shake your rump”