SWEAT BAND-SWEAT BAND.

SWEAT BAND-SWEAT BAND.

After George Clinton and his manager Archie Ivy formed Uncle Jam Records, the nascent label’s first release was the debut album from Bootsy Collins newly formed P-Funk supergroup Sweat Band. Formed out of the ashes of Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Sweat Band was a short-lived P-Funk group, who released just one album in 1980. This was Sweat Band, which was recently rereleased by BBR Records. However, Sweat Band were no ordinary band. Instead, they’re worthy of being described as a P-Funk supergroup, albeit with a soulful twist. Before I tell you about Sweat Band, I’ll tell you about the background to the band and their only album Sweat Band.

Sweat Band were formed out of the ashes of Bootsy Collins’ previous group, Bootsy’s Rubber Band. They were one of a number of P-Funk spin-off groups, formed by members and former members of Parliament and Funkadelic during the seventies. This included Parlet, Quazar and Mutiny. However, not every P-Funk group enjoyed the success of Bootsy’s Rubber Band. Between 1976 and 1980 they released four albums, including the critically acclaimed and commercially successful sophomore album Ah, The Name Is Bootsy, Baby. Everything was going well for Bootsy’s Rubber Band, until a folk group challenged their legal right to use the name “Rubber Band.”

When the case came to court, Bootsy Collins lost the right to use the name Bootsy’s Rubber Band. So, what might have become the fifth album by Bootsy’s Rubber Band became Sweat Band’s debut album. Despite the change of name, Sweat Band featured many of the same members as Bootsy’s Rubber Band.

For Sweat Band, Bootsy Collins, wrote Body Shop and cowrote the other six tracks. With Gary Shider and Carl Small he cowrote We Do It All Day Long and We Do It All Day Long (Reprise). The trio also cowrote Freak To Freak with Jeanette Washington.  Bootsy and Joel Johnson cowrote Hyper Space, while Bootsy and Maceo penned Love Munch. Maceo and Bootsy then cowrote Jamaica with Robert Johnson. These seven tracks became Sweat Band’s debut album Sweat Band.

When Sweat Band began recording at Detroit’s United Sound System, it was a P-Funk supergroup that Bootsy had put together. Bootsy was a one-man rhythm section, playing bass, drums and guitar, while also playing percussion. Augmenting his efforts were drummer Jerry Jones plus guitarists Garry Shider and Michael Shider. They were joined by keyboardists Bernie Worrell and Joel Johnson, percussionist Carl Small and The Horny Horns, who included Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Richard Griffith and Larry Hatcher. The backing vocalists included Ray Davis, Michael Payne and ex-Spinner Phillip Wynn whose Wynn Jammin’ was due for release at the same time as Sweat Band. Once Sweat Band was recorded, it was due for release in November 1980, a controversial release date if there ever was one.

Before the release of Sweat Band, Freak To Freak was released as the lead single in September 1980. It reached number twenty-five in the US R&B Charts and number forty-seven in the US Disco Charts. Controversially, Sweat Band was released in November 1980, on the same date at Bootsy’s fifth album for Warner Bros. Ultra Wave. Sweat Band reached number 150 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts. The second single Body Shop, released in December 1980, failed to chart. Despite Sweat Band’s all-star lineup, it wasn’t a commercial success. Maybe this was why Sweat Band was the only album Sweat Band released? However, was this a missed opportunity and if Sweat Band had been given time, could’ve been a successful P-Funk group like Bootsy’s Rubber Band?

Opening Sweat Band is Hyper Space, an instrumental penned by Bootsy and Joel Johnson. Although there’s a strong Parliament and Funkadelic sound, elements of jazz, boogie and disco shine through. Driving the arrangement along, are synths and Sweat Band’s uber funky rhythm section and hypnotic handclaps. By now, there’s a much more mellow, laid-back sound. Gone is the really heavy funk of other P-Funk groups. Even when percussion, bubbling, sci-fi synths and searing, rocky guitars are added this doesn’t spoil things. Quite the opposite. They play there part in a track that’s variously mellow, jazz-tinged, hypnotic, dramatic and dance-floor friendly.

Freak To Freak has a much heavier P-Funk sound, and is the polar opposite of the opening track. Key to this is Bootsy’s elastic, slapped bass. He hollers and ad-libs as the Sweat Band kick loose, combining funk, soul and blues. Chiming guitars, blues harmonica, handclaps, stabs of piano and sweet, soulful harmonies join the hypnotic handclaps. Soon, the Sweat Band are in the tightest and funkiest of grooves. You wish they would stay there for much longer than seven minutes. Especially with harmonies this sweet and soulful adding the finishing touch.

Love Munch is another instrumental, where Bootsy and Co. demonstrate their versatility. There’s a real jazzy sound as horns rasp and strings sweep, providing a wistful backdrop for the piano, percussion and rhythm section. The arrangement literally floats along. Described by some people as smooth jazz, that’s a misnomer. Smooth jazz equals bland. This is far from bland. While the percussion provide a shuffling backdrop, the horns take centre-stage. Not only are they played with passion, but controlled power that results in one of Sweat Band’s highlights.

We Do It All Day Long sees a return to the P-Funk sound of Freak To Freak. This version of We Do It All Day Long is only two minutes long. Despite the track’s brevity, you’re smitten from the get-go. Sweet and sassy sing-along vocals accompany growling horns, dark synths, handclaps and a funk-laden rhythm section. Irresistible and infectiously catchy, the only thing wrong with the track is its brevity. However, at least the Reprise is an eight-minute epic.

Jamaica is something of a misnomer. You’re expecting a reggae track, perhaps something paying homage to Jamaican music? Not at all. This is no reggae track. Instead, it’s an explosive slice of funk. It’s like the type of track you’d expect to find on the soundtrack to a seventies Blaxploitation movie. When the track bursts into life, you can imagine a high speed car chase. Driven along by the rhythm section and keyboards, horns growl and blaze. Sassy, feisty and chatter, percussion and harpsichord augment the horns and rhythm section. Crucial to this storming and joyous track’s success is Bootsy’s bass playing. Quite simply he delivers a masterclass in how to play an uber funky bass.

Body Shop was written by Bootsy Collins. After Bootsy hollers: “I like your body,” sassy, feisty female backing vocals strut in. They’ve a slight hip hop sound. That’s the signal for the arrival of some heavy duty P-Funk. Soon, the Sweat Band are into the tightest and funkiest of grooves. Bootsy unleashes some of his trademark bass lines, while scorching guitars, Hammond organ and haunting, moody male vocals accompany him. By now, the arrangement fuses everything from P-Funk through hip hop, psychedelia, seventies funk, jazz and rock. This results in a captivating, genre-sprawling track whose influences span three decades.

Closing Sweat Band is We Do It All Day Long (Reprise). While the original version was just a mere Amuse Bouce, this is a much more substantial musical meal. Slow, thunderous drums are joined by a Hammond organ, bubbling, sci-fi synths and sassy harmonies. As Bootsy’s bass weaves its way across the arrangement, disco strings dance, guitars chime and urgent harmonies soar above the arrangement. Together, they create the tightest of grooves. Crucial to the song’s success are the singalong vocals. They delivers the cheeky hook with just the right combination of sass and sensuality, while the rest of Sweat Band combine to create a nine-minute, hook-laden musical Magnus Opus.

Although Sweat Band stalled at number 150 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts, it’s a much better album than that. After all, Sweat Band featured some of the best funk musicians of their generation. Lead by Bootsy Collins, and featuring the combined talents of Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Bernie Worrell, Carl Small and ex-Spinner Phillip Wynn, Sweat Band was a multitalented, versatile, all-star band. Indeed, there’s much more to Sweat Band than P-Funk.

With its combination of P-Funk, jazz, boogie, disco and soul, there’s much to commend Sweat Band. Tracks like Freak To Freak, We Do It All Day Long, Body Shop and We Do It All Day Long (Reprise) feature the trademark and familiar P-Funk sound. During these tracks, Sweat Band kick loose and do what they do so well. For lovers of P-Funk, then these four tracks feature Bootsy and Co. rolling back the years. The other three tracks are very different, demonstrating another side to Sweat Band’s music.

On Sweat Band’s other three tracks, a different side of Sweat Band emerges. Hyper Space features a mellower sound and like Love Munch, features a jazzier sound. Indeed. Love Munch is the highlight of Sweat Band. Jamaica, rather than a reggae track, is a storming slice of seventies funky music. Gone is the P-Funk sound, with Bootsy and Co. just laying down some peerless funky licks. Which side of Sweat Band you prefer will be down to personal preference. Of the two sides to Sweat Band, I much prefer it when they move away from the P-Funk sound. After all, that was the same sound Funkadelic, Parliament and their various spin-off groups had been releasing since 1970. New and innovative as P-Funk was a few years earlier, this was now 1980, and music was changing. The various P-Funk groups, including the newly formed Sweat Band had to change to stay relevant.

Maybe the reason Sweat Band wasn’t a commercial success, was that P-Funk was no longer as fashionable. It had been overtaken by new musical genres. Granted funk was still popular, but not as popular as during the seventies. So, possibly, Sweat Band was possibly the wrong album at the wrong time? A new decade had dawned, and music fans were looking for new and innovative music. This was certainly something Sweat Band were capable of. Proof of this is Hyper Space, Love Munch and Jamaica. These three tracks saw Sweat Band take their music in a new, innovative and exciting direction. It’s just a pity Sweat Band, with its all-star lineup, didn’t take this innovation further. After all, Sweat Band were a new band, and this was the perfect opportunity to do this. Having said all that, Sweat Band with its mixture of familiar P-Funk and innovative music is an album that’s well worth discovering.

Whether you’re a newcomer to P-Funk, or a veteran of many a Funkadelic and Parliament album, then Sweat Band is well worth discovering. There’s neither faux pas nor filler on the seven tracks that comprise Sweat Band which was recently released by BBR Records. Instead, Sweat Band never miss a beat as they  seamlessly veer between P-Funk, jazz, boogie, disco and soul. Sadly, Sweat Band was their only album. This to me, is a missed opportunity. Who knows what direction Sweat Band’s music would’ve headed in. Maybe they’ve forsaken their beloved P-Funk, in an attempt to create new, exciting and innovative music that would’ve inspired a new generation of musicians? That, however, wasn’t the case. Instead, Sweat Band remains a tantalizing reminder of what might have been. Standout Tracks Hyper Space, Love Munch, Jamaica and We Do It All Day Long (Reprise).

SWEAT BAND-SWEAT BAND.

 

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