EDDIE HAZEL-GAMES, DAMES AND GUITAR THANGS.
EDDIE HAZEL-GAMES, DAMES AND GUITAR THANGS.
A few years ago, in 2006, I was listening to an Atlantic Records box set What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves 1967-1977, when I came across an Eddie Hazel track California Dreamin.’ Wow, the Mama and Papas song never sounded like this I remember. I started trying to get across a copy of the album this track was from Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs. The original album from was long out of print and all I could find was an extremely rare copy of the album on compact disc released by Rhino Records in 2004. Thankfully, I was able to get a copy and when I first played it, I was blown away by the former Funkadelic and Parliament guitarists performance. Not only did he transform California Dreamin’ into something it had never been before, nor had ever been envisaged, but he did the same to Lennon and McCartney’s I Want You (She’s So Heavy). To say that this was a virtuoso performance is underselling Eddie’s playing on the seven tracks. After hearing Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs, I set about finding out about the album, an album that somehow, had escaped my attention until then.
Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs was Eddie Hazel’s only solo album, released in 1977. It was co-produced by Parliament and Funkadelic leader, Georg Clinton and Eddie Hazel. Together, they added the necessary P-Funk into the album, which is only seven songs long, but a seminal demonstration of Eddie Hazel’s guitar playing. Of the seven songs, George Clinton co-wrote Frantic Moment and What About it with Eddie, while Bootsy Collins joined the pair in writing So Goes the Story. George Clinton contributed another song he’d co-written, Physical Love, which he’d co-written with Bootsy Collins, Gary Cooper and Garry Shider. Overall, Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs was very much an album where Eddie’s bandmates from Parliament and Funkadelic played an important role in its production. On the album were guitarists Mike Hampton, Garry Shider and Glenn Goins. Add to this almost the complete Parliament and Funkadelic rhythm section of Bootsy Collins, Billy “Bass” Nelson and Corden Mosson on bass, while Jerome Brailey, Bootsy Collins and Tiki Fulwood on drums and in impressive and funky selection of personnel is unfolding. On keyboards was P-Funk veteran Berrie Worrell. With such an array of talent joining Eddie, you’d have thought the album would be a huge success.
Sadly, Although Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs was well received when it was released, it wasn’t a commercial success, and now, original copies are scarce and collector’s items. Even the edited version of California Dreamin’ that was released as a single didn’t sell well and what would be Eddie Hazell’s only solo album passed almost unknown. Since an episode of Homicide: Life On the Streets used one of Eddie’s songs from Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs interest in the album has been rekindled, with the album being rereleased in 2004 and 2010, much to the delight of funk and soul fans everywhere. This allows many of them to hear Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs for the first time. It’s that album that I’ll now tell you about.
Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs opens with Eddie’s reinterpretation of the Mama and Papas’ California Dreamin.’ A searing, chiming guitar reverberates and is joined by a piano and the funkiest of rhythm sections as Eddie Hazel and friends transform the anodyne California Dreamin’ into a slice of psychedelic funk. Eddie’s voice isn’t strong, but has a warmth and is accompanied by backing vocalists. However, what steals the show is his guitars solo. It’s fast, intricate and he never misses a note. Meanwhile, behind him, the rhythm section allow Eddie to take centre-stage, remembering that here, there merely side men. Their playing is frugal, but still furiously funky. Although recorded in 1977, the track has a real sixties sound and vibe, especially when he’s joined by a choir of backing vocalists. By the end, the transformation of the track is complete. This is a real life Cinderella story, with California Dreamin’ becoming queen for a day.
Frantic Moment has a slight hesitant start, with it seeming nobody wanting to take the lead. Step forward Eddie, with his guitar chiming, shimmering and searing, accompanied by an understated rhythm section and backing vocalists. Keyboards play in the background, while Eddie and the choir of backing singers take charge. Quickly, Eddie is left to solo, while the rest of the band play round him. He must have thought at last, here was his chance to be the main man, with George and Bootsy staying in the background. This track is quite different from the previous one, and apart from Eddie’s solos, the arrangement is quite understated but tight. The addition of the backing singers more than made up for this, with their addition giving the song focus, whereas without it, it would just be a Eddie showcasing his virtuoso guitar skills.
When So Goes the Story opens there’s a real Parliament and Funkadelic sound, while the backing vocalists bring to mind early Sly and the Family Stone albums. Against a backdrop of a quick, screaming, guitar solo, the backing vocalists deliver some surreal sounding lyrics that could’ve been written by Salvador Dali. Augmenting this combination is the rhythm section who like Eddie, combine elements of funk, rock and even free jazz. A combination of funk laden rhythm section, wah-wah guitars and flourishes of keyboards combine brilliantly, the tempo quick, the lyrics spare and surreal. By the end of a track played at breakneck speed, but with accuracy and passion, you’re almost exhausted just listening. How the musicians felt after this masterclass in combining musical genres masterfully is anyone’s guess. What I do know, is that if you love Parliament, Funkadelic or funk music, then you’ll love this track.
Of the seven tracks on Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs, my favorite has to be the epic version of I Want You (She’s So Heavy). I was never a great fan of the original, but this is something very different. A combination of rhythm section and slow, searing guitars combine as the track opens, and until the backing singers enter, it’s not entirely obvious how the track will unfold. With drums punctuating the sound dramatically, accompanying the vocal the track slowly reveals itself. Keyboards enter, joining the rhythm section and Eddie’s guitar solo that snakes and soars its way through Lennon and McCartney’s song. Technically Eddie was a hugely talented guitarist, but also was able to inject soul and emotion into the track. With the keyboards accompanying him they take the song on a Homer-esque musical journey that resembles The Odyssey, taking the song to places it’s never before visited, or will visit again. Later, effects are used by Eddie to add a sense of drama, when he slows things down and the bass lopes alongside him, while the drums play slowly and powerfully. Things get even better when multi-tracked vocals sit high in the mix, adding to the almost overblown, drama of the track as it heads to end of its majestic and almost mystical journey at the hands of Eddie Hazel.
After the the epic drama of the previous track, you’d think anything else would be an anticlimax. That isn’t the case with Physical Love a track with a much more mellow sound. It’s just the rhythm section, keyboards and Eddie’s guitar that combine on this track. Eddie’s playing is much more gentle, not as overpowering as on previous tracks, as if realizing that it would be hard to surpass what’s just preceded this track. Similarly, it seems that everyone playing on the track has a more relaxed, laid back style. This results in a track where the playing is much more thoughtful. The addition of a horn briefly is a welcome addition, but its visit was but brief. Meanwhile, Eddie has locked into a groove with the bass and keyboards. The bass keeps up with Eddie, while the keyboards are played more sparingly. This means you tend to focus on just Eddie and the bass, but when the keyboards enter, they help fill out the sound and provide a musical contrast. Although this track is quite different from its predecessor, it shows a different side of Eddie and his band, who play in a very different way, but play with the same professionalism and passion.
What About it? is a quicker track with Eddie’s guitar at the heart of the sound. It chimes, soars and screams producing a funk drenched sound, while the rhythm section play at a similar breakneck speed. A myriad of wah-wah guitars, punchy drums and looping bass combine with keyboards to produce a track that takes a groove and builds around it. Again, Eddie’s left to take centre-stage while George, Bootsy and company are content to play the role of backing band. This they do wonderfully, playing both sparingly and with funky flourishes, resulting in nearly four minutes where funk, rock and jazz music are mixed together magnificently and the result being a stunning track, that sounds incredible.
Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs closes with a short reprise of California Dreamin’ that allows you another chance to hear the irresistible track that opens the album. For just over ninety-seconds, Eddie and his band give the track a new twist, with backing vocalists accompanying Eddie and the rhythm section. Sadly, just as you’re beginning to really enjoy this new take on an old song, it’s all over, and all your left with is the funky memory, of a track that although short, is sweet.
Although Eddie Hazel and all the musicians who played on the album are funk musicians, you really don’t have to be a huge funk fan to enjoy this album. Even people who love rock music will enjoy the album, given Eddie’s considerable, virtuoso guitar skills. Although he’s a hugely talented guitarist, he never resorts to being showy or flashy. If anything, Eddie’s playing is understated and sometimes subtle. He never plays four notes where one or two will suffice. It would be fair to say that Eddie Hazel was a guitarist’s guitarist. Sadly, Eddie never lived to see the resurgence of interest in his only solo album Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs. He died in 1992, aged just forty-two. However, along with the many albums he recorded with Parliament and Funkadelic, Eddie Hazel left behind some wonderful music, including the brilliant Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs. Standout Tracks: California Dreamin,’ So Goes the Story, I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and What About it?
EDDIE HAZEL-GAMES, DAMES AND GUITAR THANGS.