The JBs - The Grunt Pt1
These are the J.B.s!
Hey, look! It’s Friday. Wheeeee! As a special treat (and under advisement from my wife) I’ll dispense with any existential grousing and get right to the music. I’ve wanted to post today’s selection for a long time, and I don’t know why I never got around to it. The likely explanation is that I was distracted while flipping through records by more obscure artists, or something shiny flew past my window...I don’t know. I’m easily distracted these days (addled, fried...whatever). Anyway...I decided that I was going to get it posted this week, no matter what. The only problem is, I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach this record (which is The J.B.s ‘The Grunt’ by the way), and not having a lot of success. It should be simple enough. It is – of course – a great funk record, by one of the great funk bands of all time. That sounds easy, n’est ce pas???? Unfortunately, nothing is ever that simple hereabouts, a problem that I attribute entirely to myself. My initial take on the record has always been this: ‘The Grunt’ sounds to me like the band director from ‘Drum Line’ directing the orchestra from the prison for the criminally insane. The opening sax-o-ma-phone squeal is about as crazy as anything committed to wax since Edison was reciting ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’, and it’s placement at the very beginning of the tune is to say the least disconcerting. The juxtaposition of this single, strange element against the powerful beat is tempered almost immediately by the sound of the J.B. horns blaring away as if their lives depended on it. The march-like aspects of the tempo only serve to enhance the wild abandon of the rest of the record. It’s not hard to imagine the JB’s, in uniform, high stepping around the studio led by some kind of other-worldly drum major in orange sequined hot pants (or some such). Though it may seem that I am portraying the record as somehow chaotic (which in a way it is) the chaos exists within the constraint of the patented James Brown Rhythmic Method. While the band may be going nuts, the whole affair is bolted into an iron box. It may lack the subtlety and grace (or as some might say, smooth mechanical precision) of a record like ‘Sex Machine’, but ‘The Grunt’ is in many ways a more powerful statement. The very first record released under the J.B.s name, it was also one of a handful of singles recorded with the line-up that included former members of the Ohio band the Pacesetters, i.e. Bootsy (William) and Catfish (Phelps) Collins, Frank ‘Kash’ Waddy and Philippe Wynne. James Brown had hired the Pacesetters when the majority of his existing band walked out on him. The Collins brothers would leave the fold soon after, for many of the same reasons, mainly Brown’s tyrannical attitude toward his band. The wild sound of ‘The Grunt’ is especially interesting when you realize that the very next record in their discography is the comparatively subtle and jazzy ‘These Are the J.B.s Pts 1&2’. It’s almost as if the acid had worn off, and James had forced Bootsy to get a haircut. I’d go as far as to say that while the J.B.s were one of the hottest bands in the land, they never made a record (under that name) as hot as ‘The Grunt’.
Part 2: Cheapies vs. Expensive-ies....
One of the regular readers left a comment on this Wednesday’s post, saying that he hoped I hadn’t paid a lot for the record (King Ernest Baker’s ‘Somebody Somewhere (Is Playing With Yours)’) because it was a “cheapie”. Normally I’d let something like that go without comment, but this time it irked me a little. I’m positive, that if you were to make a survey of my collection, you would find a wide variety of records for which I had alternately underpaid, or overpaid for as the case may be*. That’s the way these things go. Sometimes you get lucky, and find normally costly records for pennies, and other times you pay more than the going rate for a record because you really, really, REALLY want it and don’t feel like waiting for a cheap copy to present itself. I find the collector preoccupation with the financial “value” of records to be unsettling. It brings along with it a lot of baggage, especially when you start to balance the cash value against the musical value. I’ve heard plenty of expensive records that pale in comparison to 45s that I got for a dollar. The collector mentality (something I’ve recognized in myself from time to time) places an inordinate value on rarity of the physical item (i.e. the 45 itself) that often ignores the quality of the music in the grooves. I’ve featured a number of exceptional 45s in this space that are readily available for $20 and under, as well as scarce items that the average Joe might only be able to grab on a CD reissue. Not to mention that for those that are willing to dig (and experiment) there are tons of amazing, little known (or appreciated) records out there to be had – if you’ll forgive the pun – for a song. I think sometime soon I may have to do a week or two devoted exclusively to “cheap” records. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.