SUN-WANNA MAKE LOVE/SUN-POWER.
SUN-WANNA MAKE LOVE/SUN-POWER.
In a recent article, I mentioned how during the seventies, Dayton, Ohio was funk central, with the region producing some of the greatest funk bands of the era. From The Ohio Players, Lakeside, Zapp, Slave, Bootsy Collins, Platypus and Sun, who released eight albums between 1976 and 1984. Of these eight albums, Sun’s most successful albums were their first two albums, Wanna Make Love and Sun Power, which were rereleased by SoulMusic Records on 17th September 2012. However, the story behind Wanna Make Love’s success is the result of a quite unorthodox promotional campaign that resulted in the album’s title being changed. As if that’s not enough, before Sun even changed their name before they’d even recorded one song. Before I tell you about the music on Wanna Make Love and Sun Power, I’ll tell you about the road Sun travelled before joining Ohio’s funk elite.
Byron Byrd who would go on to found Sun, was always destined to make a living making music. Whilst still at Roosevelt High School in Dayton, Byron started playing alto saxophone and by the mid-sixties, had founded his first group The Ohio Majestics. Soon The Ohio Majestics became the Overnight Low Band.
Quickly, the Overnight Low Band gained the reputation as one of Ohio’s top live bands. This lead to the Overnight Low Band recording singles for James Brown’s King label and Chicago’s Chess Records. Having been encouraged to record a session for King by label vice-president Henry Glover, The Witch Doctor was released on the Deluxe label in 1972, but didn’t chart. The following year 1973, Chess released Get To Your Soul, but like The Witch Doctor, failed to chart. Having learned from the experience, the following year Byron Byrd and the rest of the Overnight Low Band’s luck changed.
1974 saw the Overnight Low Band embark on a national tour, playing mostly colleges and universities. This was the Overnight Low Band’s chance to join Ohio’s funk elite. However, even then, there was a disappointment in store, when three members decided to jump ship and join an early lineup of The Ohio Players. Then enter producer Beau Ray Fleming, who discovered the Overnight Low Band opening for Mandrill.
Beau Ray Fleming was by then, an experienced songwriter and producer. His career started in the sixties and since then, he’d produced Mandrill and Jon Lucien’s debut albums. When he saw the Overnight Low Band he was hooked and instantly, saw that they were a talented band. As the Overnight Low Band started their set, Beau rushed from Mandrill’s dressing room into theatre and watched their show. At a party after the show, Beau introduced himself and the following year 1975, signed the Overnight Low Band to a production deal. Before that, Beau and the Overnight Low Band began looking at an alternative name for the group.
By late 1975, the Overnight Low Band’s search for a new name was still ongoing. Then, totally out of the blue, someone suggested Celestial Sun. Beau liked part of the name, so when trumpeter and trombone player John Wagner suggested dropping the Celestial part, Sun was born, and the Overnight Low Band became a footnote in Ohio funk history. With a new name, Beau started looking for a record deal for the newly named Sun. Then Beau met one of his music industry contacts Larkin Arnold, who had a new job at Capitol Records.
Larkin Arnold was something of a music industry veteran, who had just been installed as head of Capitol Records newly formed music department. Together, Beau, Larkin and Sun concluded a deal which saw Sun at last, signed to a major label. With their luck changing, another DJ and Drayton native Shad O’Shea entered their lives, offering Sun a deal which meant they could record their debut album on a budget.
Shad O’Shea, or to use his real name Howard Lovdal had formed his Counterpart record label in 1963 and since then, Ohio bands had recorded there. So, rather than record at a bigger studio, the decision was made to record their debut album at Counterpart Creative Studios in Cincinnati, Ohio. The seven piece Sun, comprising Byron Byrd, John Wagner, bassist Hollis Melson, drummer Kym Yancey, guitarist Shawn Sandridge, percussionist Chris Jones, and Dean Hummons on keyboards set about recording their debut album in early 1976. Nine songs were recorded and they would become their debut album Live On, Dream On. However, there would be further changes to the album after its release.
For their debut single, the title-track Live On, Dream On was chosen as Sun’s debut single from Live On, Dream On. When the single was released it failed to chart and the album, their debut album Live On, Dream On wasn’t making much of an impact. Things changed, and so would the album title, after the release of the second single.
Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My Bic) was chosen as the second single from Live On, Dream On. The single started climbing the US charts, reaching number seventy-six in the US Billboard 100, number thirty-one in the US R&B Charts and number fifteen in the US Dance Charts. This successful run was helped along by a promotional campaign by the makers of Bic pens. With Live On, Dream On also climbing the US charts, Capitol decided to reissue the album as Wanna Make Love. This and the unorthodox promotional campaign gave the album the boost it needed. After this, Wanna Make Love climbed all the way to number fifty-four in the US R&B Charts. For anyone whose familiar with Sun’s music and Wanna Make Love, this is no surprise. However, for anyone yet to discover Sun’s debut album Wanna Make Love, I’ll tell you about the album
WANNA MAKE LOVE.
For a debut album, Wanna Make Love was an accomplished debut from Sun, It shows a tight, talented and experienced band, with two sides to their music, one funky and the other soulful. Sun demonstrate their funky side as Wanna Make Love opens. The album almost explodes into life with the funk drenched Live On, Dream On. Given its title, this is apt. It could just as easily by Sun’s theme song. The tempo might drop on Tell the People, but it’s another course in this nine course veritable funky feast. They’re Calling For Me sees Sun’s rhythm and horn sections driving the track along while Byron pleas for fans to “buy your ticket, get your seat.” Not only should they buy a ticket, but they should buy Wanna Make Love.
My Women is one of several tracks show another side to Sun’s music, one that’s very soulful. This includes two of my favorite tracks. One is the slow, soulful and very beautiful ballad My Woman. It shows another side to Sun, and is a paean to the many roles women fill in life. For me, it’s one of the best tracks Byron Byrd wrote on Wanna Make Love. Another of the slower tracks is Love Is Never Sure, which has a gloriously dramatic introduction and one of the most heartfelt vocals on Wanna Make Love, that’s accompanied by horns that rasp gently add to the emotive, beautiful sound. The Show Is Over has a similar sound and feel to Love Is Never Sure. Byron’s weary, vocal is accompanied by tender harmonies, keyboards and subtly, braying horns. They provide a gorgeous accompaniment to Byron’s vocal and play their part in what is one of the most emotive, soulful songs on Sun’s debut album.
The track that changed Sun’s fortunes was Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My Bic), one of the funkiest tracks on Wanna Make Love. It features an instrument made famous by Stevie Wonder the clavinet, which is central to the track’s sound and success. Given how good the song is, I’ve always wondered whether the track would’ve been the same success without the unorthodox promotional campaign?
Give Your Love To Me closes Wanna Make Love and is and is a slower, but still funky track. A piano and Sun’s horn section play important parts in the arrangement. Byron’s vocal is punchy, with tight sweeping harmonies accompanying him as Sun close their debut album Wanna Make Love on an uber-funky high.
It’s somewhat ironic that it took what was almost a guerilla marketing campaign changed Sun’s fortunes. If it hadn’t been for Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My Bic), maybe Sun would’ve been one of those bands who only ever record one album. Having said that, Wanna Make Love was an accomplished debut from Sun, where a tight, talented and experienced band, show the two sides to their music. One side was the good time funk sound, the other deeply soulful. By changing the album title to Wanna Make Love, this changed funk history. Capitol Records believing that their Sun would shine bright, got Sun to begin work on their second album Sun-Power.
Sun-Power, Sun’s sophomore album saw an expanded lineup of Sun enter the recording studio. Ernie Kinsley and Gary King percussionist and trombonists and guitarist Bruce Hastell joined Sun in time for the group to enter Counterpart Recording Studios with producer Beau Ray Fleming. For their second album Sun-Power, Sun recorded eight songs. When Sun-Power was completed, Capitol Records gave the album priority, believing Sun were a group who had a big future. Would that be the case when Sun Power was released?
On the release of Sun-Power in 1977, the album fared better than Wanna Make Love, reaching number thirty-nine in the US R&B Charts. The lead single Boogie Bopper was the only single to chart, reaching number fifty in the US R&B Charts. We’re So Hot and Just A Minute of Your Time both failed to chart. At least, Sun were making progress, in their journey to joining Ohio’s funk elite. However, is Sun-Power a similar combination of funk and soul as Sun’s debut album Wanna Make Love?
Opening Sun-Power is the playful Light Me Up, with Sun’s expanded horn section punctuating this new mid-tempo funky track. There’s a different sound to Wanna Make Love, with Sun sounding even tighter and more polished. The horns are punchier, the rhythm section funkier and the harmonies that accompany Byron’s vocal sweeter. Boogie Bopper sees Sun at their funkiest best, with the rhythm and blazing horns driving this slice of good time funk along. If you were to cross elements of Kool and The Gang with Earth, Wind and Fire this is what you’d get. There’s a change on We’re So Hot, with Sun delivering their very first instrumental. With the guitars and rhythm section driving the arrangement along, ferocious stabs of growling horns join the mix, and a driving, slab of funk unfolds at breakneck speed. Sometimes, the track heads in the direction of jazz-funk, but mostly, this track has made in Ohio stamped all over it. Conscience sees the funk of the previous tracks continue, but some delicious harmonies added to the equation. This is reminiscent of several tracks from Wanna Make Love and is an opportunity for Sun to showcase their harmonic skills. After four funky tracks, Sun decide to change things around, returning to their more soulful side on the next two tracks.
Time Is Passing is a slower dramatic track where Sun revisit their soulful side. The track features some of the best lyrics on Sun-Power. It offers another, alternative perspective on the subject of time and absence in relationships. Rather than absence making the heart grow fonder, Byron Byrd wonders whether absence can make the heart restless? Here, Sun get another opportunity to deliver some stunning harmonies, while Byron delivers a vocal full of confusion, guilt and regret. Strings add to the emotion, while the harmonies add to the song’s beauty. The result is one of the highlights of Sun-Power. Just A Minute of Your Time has a Philly Soul sound from the initial bursts of growling, rasping horns. Byron’s vocal and the sweeping harmonies add the Philly Sound. Add in the Hammond organ and the rhythm section, complete with its dramatic, crashing cymbals and you begin to wonder if this is a hidden Philly Soul gem?
After two soulful tracks, Sun return to the funky side of their music, with Organ Grinder is a mid-tempo funk-laden track that’s also laden with double entendres, and introduces a tougher, edgier side to Sun’s music Closing Sun-Power is another “relationship song,” sung from the point of view of a man whose partner took his love for granted. Byron’s vocal is full of anger, bitterness and resentment, as his relationship lies in tatters. Reinforcing his emotions are growling, angry horns, stabs of Hammond organ and soaring harmonies that accompany Byron’s embittered vocal. Given that this track fuses the two sides of Sun’s music and is one of the best tracks on Sun-Power, it’s the perfect way to close Sun-Power.
For anyone yet to discover Sun’s music, then not only are Wanna Make Love and Sun-Power are their two best and most successful albums and are perfect places to start. Wanna Make Love and Sun-Power feature a tight, accomplished and experienced group in Sun. Unlike many groups, they’d paid their dues and spent many years honing their sound. This resulted in Wanna Make Love featuring a delicious mixture of funk and soul. Wanna Make Love featured the seven-piece lineup of Sun, while Sun-Power featured the newly expanded ten-piece lineup. Sun-Power also saw Sun’s funky side feature much more than their soulful side. However, the quality and standard of music that featured on Wanna Make Love, was also present on Sun-Power where, Sun were evolving as a group. Although Sun-Power was just the second album in Sun’s eight album musical adventure, Sun had already joined Ohio’s funk elite. They would be in good company when the history of Ohio funk music was eventually written. Sun would join The Ohio Players, Lakeside, Slave, Bootsy Collins and Platypus. Of the eight albums Sun would go on to record, Wanna Make Love and Sun-Power are in my opinion, their two finest albums. They’re the perfect starting place for anyone new to Sun’s music, and luckily for newcomers to Sun’s music, both Wanna Make Love and Sun-Power were rereleased by SoulMusic Records on 17th September 2012 on the one album. However, lest we forget, if it hadn’t been for one single, Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My Bic) and an early guerilla marketing campaign, then Sun might not have had the opportunity to record a second album, never mind seven more. So anyone who loves Sun’s music, including Wanna Make Love and Sun-Power, should remember the part Bic played, in helping Sun join Ohio’s funk elite. Standout Tracks: My Woman, Love Is Never Sure, Time Is Passing and Just A Minute of Your Time.
SUN-WANNA MAKE LOVE/SUN-POWER.