Between 1972 and 1975, Ronnie Foster released four studio albums and one live album for the legendary Blue Note label. His debut album was 1972s critically acclaimed The Two Headed Freap, before releasing the funk drenched Sweet Revival in 1973. It saw Ronnie interpret ten tracks, including The O’Jays classic Back Stabbers and a track that will forever be synonymous with Billy Paul, Me and Mrs Jones. Next came Ronnie’s only live album, Ronnie Foster Live: Cookin’ With Blue Note At Montreux which was released in 1974. Later in 1974, came what’s arguably one of Ronnie’s best Blue Note albums, On the Avenue. Ronnie’s final album for Blue Note was Cheshire Cat, a soul-jazz classic recorded in just four days. While Ronnie Foster’s albums were critically acclaimed, this didn’t translate into sales. After the release of Cheshire Cat, Ronnie was dropped by Blue Note. During the next three years, Ronnie was without a record contract, but was busy working with other artists, including playing on and writing a track onGeorge Benson’s classic crossover album Breezin.’ Following the success of Breezin,’ Ronnie contributed a track to each of George’s next three albums. Then Dr. George Butler, who’d previously worked at Blue Note, started working for Columbia as Vice-President of the label’s jazz department. One of his first signings would be Ronnie Foster.  Ronnie was ready to resume his recording career, so signed to Columbia Records, where he’d record two albums. The first of these was Love Satellite, which will be rereleased by SoulMusic Records on 18th June 2012. Before I tell you about the music on Love Satellite, I’ll tell you about the background to the album.

For Ronnie Foster’s debut album for Columbia Records, Ronnie had written eight of Love Satellite’s nine tracks. He would play piano, electric piano, Keyboards, synths and even drums on one track. As if this wasn’t enough, Ronnie sang vocals and contributed backing vocals on three tracks. Jerry Peters was chosen to produce what would become Love Satellite, with George Butler executive producer. To help record what was his fifth studio album, Ronnie was accompanied by some of the best jazz musicians of the seventies. Recording would take place at Total Experience Recording Studios in Hollywood. 

During his career, Ronnie having accompanied many artists, including Stevie Wonder, Grant Green and Grover Washington Jr. This had lead to Ronnie making many contacts in the music industry. Many of them would join him in recording Love Satellite, including some of the best jazz musicians of the seventies. Harvey Mason played drums on four tracks, Alphonso Johnson played bass and Paulinho Da Costa added percussion, castanets and tambourines. Leon “Ndugu” Chancler would add timbales and percussion. Two of the highest profile guest artists were Stevie Wonder and Roy Ayers, who played on Happy Song and Midnight Plane respectively. Together they helped Ronnie record Love Satellite, his comeback album. Would Love Satellite see Ronnie Foster crowned the comeback King?

Before the release of Love Satellite in 1978, Ronnie hadn’t much time to promote the album. Instead, he’d spent time doing a course at a motor racing school in Arizona, where he graduated second in his class. This is why on Love Satellite’s album cover Ronnie is seen wearing a racing helmet. Having graduated from racing school, Ronnie went back on the road with George Duke. In doing so, there wasn’t much time to promote Love Satellite. On the release of Love Satellite, the album neither charted in the US Billboard 200, nor the US R&B Charts. Its only chart position was number thirty-three in the US Jazz Charts. For George Butler who’d signed Ronnie Foster to Columbia, this must have been disappointing, even frustrating given the music on Love Satellite which I’ll now tell you about.

Opening Love Satellite is Why Don’t You Look Inside. There’s certainly no shortage of funk as the track opens. Ronnie on keyboards, drummer Dennis Davis, bassist Alphonso Johnson and percussionist Leon “Ndugu” Chancler combining, before the track briefly, settles down. Still there’s a funky groove, before Ronnie’s vocal gentle, grows in power like the arrangement. Meanwhile the band create a hypnotic jazz-funk beat, as waves of dramatic, driving music unfold. Later, Ronnie lays down a peerless keyboard solo, demonstrating his musical virtuosity, on this dramatic, driving jazz-funk track that launches Love Satellite.

A Soft Heart is not only very different to the previous track, but is graceful and beautiful. The tempo is slower, with the arrangement more spacious. Just a rhythm section of drummer Harvey Mason and bassist Byron Miller accompany Jerry Peters on acoustic piano, while Ronnie plays electric piano and synths. Here, the arrangement meanders along, with Harvey’s drums and Byron’s bass adding bursts of drama. Key to the track’s success are Ronnie’s keyboard and synths playing. They veer between gentle and flowing, to flamboyant flourishes. Together, Ronnie and his band create a track that’s not only graceful and beautiful, but intricate and intriguing.

On Happy Song Ronnie Foster is joined by Stevie Wonder, who plays drums on the track. Stevie’s drumming and another virtuoso performance from Ronnie on electric piano and synths are vital to the track’s sound and success, especially the way Stevie uses his hi-hats. Lush strings elegantly sweep above the arrangement, while Paulinho Da Costa sprinkles percussion throughout the track. However, it’s Ronnie and Steve who take centre-stage. They create an arrangement that one minute is jaunty and dramatic, the next glides elegantly along mixing jazz, funk and soul seamlessly.

Shooting Star isn’t so much a track, just fourteen compelling and intriguing seconds, of cascading effects from Ronnie’s trusty synths. It’s just a shame this track wasn’t developed as it nicely whets your appetite.

On Midnight Plane, Ronnie is joined by another high-profile guest Roy Ayers on vibes. Here, Ronnie delivers one of his best vocals. His voice is world-weary, accompanied by backing vocalists. Meanwhile the rhythm section, keyboards and percussion create an arrangement that flows along, complimenting his vocal, reflecting the sadness and emotion in his voice. Later, Roy Ayers adds one of his unmistakable vibes solos, before later, Ronnie’s keyboard solo steals the show. His playing adds what’s the finishing touch to a track laden with sadness and regret.

When you listen to I Want To Bring My Love Home it’s hard to believe that only two musicians and backing vocals from Ronnie and Jerry Peters created this track. Previously, a track like this would’ve required a much bigger band. This shows how synths were replacing musicians in sessions. Just Harvey Mason on drums and Ronnie on synths and piano create this track. Not only does it feature a heartfelt and sincere vocal from Ronnie but is full of waves of drama and emotion about life on the road for a musician in love.

Easier Said Than Done is one of the highlights of Love Satellite. Pounding drums open the track, before the rhythm section, percussion and backing vocalists accompany Ronnie on keyboards. Both his vocal and keyboard playing are amongst his best on the album. Midway through the track Ronnie unleashes a dramatic, simmering keyboard solo. This demonstrates just why he was so in demand as a session player during the seventies. After this, his impassioned vocal returns, accompanied by backing vocalists and his tight and talented band. Although they play their part in making this one of the highlights of the album, it’s Ronnie’s who steals the show, with his vocal and keyboard playing.

Not only is Nassau Day one of the funkier tracks on Love Satellite, but is the only one to feature a cowbell. Here, Ronnie drives the track along with his synths, while adding to the myriad of percussion added by Paulinho Da Costa. Harvey Mason plays drums and a syndrum hi-hat metronome. His drumming is powerful and thoughtful, arriving in waves. He’s almost competing against himself on syndrums. As wave after wave of drum rolls unfolds, Ronnie’s synths buzz along, augmented by the percussion and not forgetting that cowbell, played by producer Jerry Peters. The result is a track where technology and traditional instruments unite as one, resulting in a track tinged with a Caribbean influence.

Closing Love Satellite is the title-track Love Satellite,  a slow, thoughtful sounding track. Straight away, a space-age sound is apparent, bringing to mind a satellite spinning through space, spreading a message of universal love. Drums, synths and percussion combine, creating a floaty, spacious arrangement. Later, flourishes of keyboards, floaty backing vocalists and percussion add contrasting sounds. They join the meandering, sometimes dramatic synths that dominate the track, as Ronnie Foster spreads his message of universal love, and closing Love Satellite with a wistful, thoughtful song and powerful message.

Listening to Ronnie Foster’s fourth studio album since 1972, but debut for Columbia Records, it’s interesting to see how his music has changed. By 1978 his music had evolved from his early seventies soul-jazz sound. He’d incorporated new technology, including synths which were much more commonplace and affordable. This saw his music move in a more jazz-funk and R&B inspired direction. Accompanied by some of the best jazz musicians of the seventies, including Harvey Mason, Alphonso Johnson and Paulinho Da Costa the Ronnie Foster you hear on Love Satellite is a mixture of music for the feet, soul and head. During the nine tracks on Love Satellite, you’ll not only want to dance, but the music will tug at your heartstrings and make you think. Among the emotions Love Satellite will provoke, are sadness, regret and joy. Love Satellite is an album that the more you listen to it, the more its subtleties, charms and secrets reveal themselves. Sadly, Love Satellite like Ronnie’s Blue Not albums, wasn’t a commercial success. After the release of Love Satellite, Ronnie Foster only released two further albums. These were 1979s Delight and 1986s The Racer. Both Love Satellite and Delight will be rereleased by SoulMusic Records on 18th June 2012, complete with three bonus tracks. Maybe this time around, Ronnie Foster’s Love Satellite will have a more successful landing than it did in 1978, on its original release. Standout Tracks: Why Don’t You Look Inside, A Soft Heart, Midnight Plane and Easier Said Than Done.


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