-- Paul B Allen III: December 28, 2019

INSTRUMENTALS – PART 2 (1968 - 1975) 

As I step back in time to research, it hits me that instrumental music with R&B flavor had a modern-day renaissance between the years of 1968 and 1975. There were so many influential artists and songs that took the nation by storm that it is really incredible. And, though I didn’t know it at the time, one instrumental was going to change my life forever. 

In 1968, Hugh Masekela, an African trumpeter, had a #1 instrumental hit in America with a song named “Grazing In the Grass.” And, just a year later, a group named Friends of Distinction would do a vocal version of that Masekela hit, and their version would go to #3 on Billboard’s charts. 

At that time, I was too young and innocent to know that “grazing in the grass” was really talking about the effects of smoking marijuana, and encouraging everyone to "partake." But I was running up and down the streets singing, 

“I can dig it, he can dig it, she can dig it, we can dig it, they can dig
it, you can dig it, O
h, let's dig it. Can you dig it, baby?” 

People must have been shaking their heads at what they perceived to be the youngest pot-head they had ever seen! 

Isaac Hayes had many hits, but none as popular as his 1971 instrumental hit, “The Theme from Shaft.” It went to #1. You will find in today’s videos one of the very best live TV performances I have ever seen. They got the sound just right for the live performance of this song. 

1973 was going to be an awesome year for instrumental music with hits by Barry White, with his #1 hit “Love’s Theme” and The Edgar Winter Group with their #1 hit “Frankenstein.” And, although Herbie Hancock’s song “Chameleon” just missed the “hit” status by peaking at #42, it would go on to become a jazz standard, coved by several artists in decades to come. 

Two of my favorite groups of all time both put out some excellent instruments in 1974. The Average White Band hit #1 with their song “Pick up the Pieces,” and the other group, Tower of Power had an album cut that was not released as a single, but it showed the world how great an instrumental could be. My younger brothers and I marveled at “Squibb Cakes” from the Back to Oakland album 

And then came the fateful year of 1975. One of the biggest instrument hits of all time was Van McCoy’s “The Hustle.” Definitely, #1. And it started the line dance craze called The Hustle. (There was the Puerto Rican Hustle which came way before, but it was a two-person dance, not the line dance that even I learned how to do back in the day.) 

And then in 1975 came an instrumental that would literally change my life forever. To explain the history of this song, writer Denis Poole shares this story on a website called Soul Tracks

“When Ronnie Laws sat down with William Jeffrey to write the song ˜Always There" the chances were he was not looking beyond his 1975 debut release Pressure Sensitive on which the track can be found.  The story behind how ˜Always There" went on to become a club classic and a genuine Smooth Soul Survivor is an interesting one that owes much to the acid jazz movement prevalent in the UK during the early nineties.  Ostensibly an instrumental in its original form "Always There" provided the platform for Laws' urgent sax but did contain a smattering of background vocals.  These came courtesy of the band Side Effect, far more than a group of session singers, who were already forging a recording career of their own.  When they went into the studio in 1976 to record what arguably proved to be their best-ever record, What You Need', they included ˜Always There" that, by then, had acquired vocals written by Paul Allen... ˜Always There" was now out there, a vocal pile driver, and it was only going to be a matter of time until someone else picked up on it.  However, it wasn't until the early nineties when acid jazz innovators Incognito discovered the tune that things really started to happen.  With a penchant that has developed through time for including a variety of guest singers, Incognito has continued to push the envelope of its own brand of jazz-tinged soul and their choice of Jocelyn Brown to handle vocals on ˜Always There" was nothing short of inspired.  Brown's truly breathtaking urgency made the song completely her own and led to its inclusion on her own 1999 ˜Hits' album. Other notable covers in the acid jazz idiom include a version by Never Left that can be found on the 1994 release ˜US Dance Classics and another from Avenue Blue featuring Jeff Golub from their 1997 CD Nightlife.  An interesting interpretation can be found by Rick Braun on the 2000 compilation 30 Years Of Montreux Jazz Festival' but most pleasing of all is perhaps Incognito's own reworking of the number on their current release Bees+ Things+ Flowers.  Deconstructing the tune to its basic elements and allowing Jocelyn Brown to sing in unfamiliar falsetto tones they effortlessly turn this club classic into a thing of beauty. ˜Always There" is a true Smooth Soul Survivor and one which will undoubtedly continue to feature in the years to come.” By Denis Poole – Soul Tracks Website 

Why did Wayne Henderson of The Crusaders, who was the co-producer of the album Pressure Sensitive, the Ronnie Laws' album that contained “Always There,” call me and ask me to write lyrics for this song? It was because of a crazy, kamikaze move I made when I first met him. Without his asking me to, I took one of his Crusaders’ instrumentals and put lyrics to it. Don't ask me why I did it. To this day I have no clue. But, something inside of me said "do it," and I did. This was absolutely the presumptuousness of youth at work. When Wayne acknowledged that he had received my new “vocal” version of his song, he said NOTHING to me, other than that he had received it. I figured, “Well, there you go. You just took a promising career and flushed it down the toilet. This man is never going to want to work with you again. What a knucklehead I am!” 

But, when Wayne decided that he wanted a vocal version of “Always There,” he called me, so in this case, the presumptuousness of youth paid off. Now, looking back, I ask myself a “chicken or the egg?” type question. Did Wayne remember that I was pretty good at putting lyrics to music, so that when he decided he wanted to make a vocal version of “Always There” that I was the man he called? Or, did my unexpectedly sending him lyrics to his instrumental give him the idea of making “Always There” into a vocal version? 

At any rate, Wayne called me on a Wednesday night. I took Thursday to write the lyrics, and on Friday, I drove from San Bernardino, California to Hollywood and placed the lyrics in Wayne’s hands. Then I came back home and totally forgot about the whole thing, until around six months later when Wayne called and invited me to come to a studio in LA to hear my new song that had just been recorded by Side Effect. I had no clue what he was even talking about until I arrived to hear "Always There" kicking down the walls of the studio and Side Effect standing there, as proud as they could be. They had done magnificently.  

“Always There” is now a classic jazz instrumental (The Pressure Sensitive album went to #25 on the Soul charts, and “Always There” from the album became a song that every sax player in the world has played at one time or another). 

And the vocal version of “Always There” / “Such a Good Feeling” (my lyrics placed over other music) went to #6 on the UK Pop charts, #1 on the American Dance charts, and is now considered one of the top 50 dance singles in the history of music. It is on hundreds of compilation CDs. 

Enjoy the original instrumental version, and don’t miss the vocal Incognito version with their awesome performance in London to celebrate their 35th year in the music business. 

Thanks for hanging out with me here today. Please enjoy these vintage videos (and the newer ones too). 

Hoping to see you next week for a new Saturday Morning Song Chronicles.