RIPPLE-SONS OF THE GODS.

RIPPLE-SONS OF THE GODS.

During their seventies heyday, Ripple released just two albums and nine singles. This included two dance classics. The first of these was I Don’t Know What It Is, But It Sure Is Funky. Released in 1973, it reached number sixty-three in the US Billboard 100 and number eleven in the US R&B Charts. Although they released another six singles for GRC, they never replicated the commercial success of I Don’t Know What It Is, But It Sure Is Funky. Then in 1976, their time at GRC ended somewhat abruptly. 

GRC Records was a successful Atlanta label. It was run by Michael Thevis, an infamous porn baron, nicknamed the Scarface of Porn. In 1976, his luck ran out. He was charged with, and found guilty of, various offenses. When he was sent to prison, GRC Records folded. This left their roster of artists, who included Loleatta Holloway and Ripple, without a label. Like Loleatta Holloway, Salsoul Records, which was now disco’s premier label, would be their new home. That’s where Ripple released the genre-melting Sons Of The Gods, which was recently released by BBR Records. Sons Of The Gods featured Ripple’s second dance classic The Beat Goes On And On. Between these two dance classics, a lot happened to Ripple. Before I tell you about the Sons Of The Gods’ I’ll tell you about the ups and downs of Ripple’s career.

Ripple’s story starts in Michigan. That’s where the multiracial band were formed. The group were a sextet, whose lineup included a rhythm section of guitarist and lead vocalist Keith Samuels, bassist Brian Carter and drummer Brian Sherrer. They were joined by percussionist Wally Carter, while Curtis Reynolds played vibes, organ and piano. Bill Hull was the final member. He was another multi-instrumentalist, who played flute, tenor saxophone and percussion. Ripple were not unlike Sly and The Family Stone, whose popularity had soared between the late-sixties and early-seventies. Just like Sly and The Family Stone, musical and racial boundaries fell. Their music crossed racial and musical boundaries from their debut single.

I Don’t Know What It Is, But It Sure Is Funky was Ripple’s debut single. It was released on Michael Thevis’ Atlanta-based GRC Records in 1973. They were establishing a reputation as a successful label. This was further enhanced when I Don’t Know What It Is, But It Sure Is Funky reached number sixty-three in the US Billboard 100 and number eleven in the US R&B Charts in 1973. The followup was Willie Pass The Water, which reached number twenty-seven in the US R&B Charts. Both tracks featured on Ripple’s 1973 eponymous album. It failed to replicate the success of Ripple’s first two singles, failing to chart. Ripple it seemed were purely a singles band. 

That was case. In 1974, You Were Right On Time reached number fifty-one in the US R&B Charts. Later that year, A Funky Song reached number forty-one in the US R&B Charts. After releasing four singles from Ripple, 1975 saw Ripple releasing their first new material since 1973.

This Ain’t No Time To Be Giving Up was the first new material Ripple had released since 1973. It didn’t fare as well as previous singles, stalling at a disappointing number eighty-one in the US R&B Charts. Worse was to come. Much worse.

Apart from running a record label, Michael Thevis was an infamous porn baron. In 1976, his luck ran out. He was charged with, then found guilty of, various offenses. This resulted in a prison sentence. In his absence, GRC Records folded. Without a label, things weren’t looking good for Ripple. Then they got the chance to sign to what is regarded as disco’s greatest label..Salsoul.

Now signed to Salsoul, Ripple began work on their sophomore album, which became Sons Of The Gods. It was about time. After all, it was 1973 when Ripple released their debut album. All they’d released were a handful of singles. That wasn’t good enough. This was a time when groups would release two albums a year. Ripple were risking becoming a forgotten band. They desperately needed a successful album. So work began on Sons Of The Gods.

Victor Jerome Burke played a huge part in Sons Of The Gods. He penned Victorious, Facts Of Life and Do What You Wanna Do. Victor cowrote The Beat Goes On And On, which he cowrote with Floyd Smith, Simon Carter,Wally Carter, Barry Ryan Lee and Brian Sherrer, who also wrote Today. The other two tracks were cover versions. Call Me Traveling Man had given The Masqueraders a hit in 1975, while Sons Of The Gods was a Charles Earland composition. These eight tracks became Sons Of The Gods.

Recording of Sons Of The Gods too place at two studios in two cities. In Atlanta, The Sound Pit was used. Then in Chicago, the Chicago Recording Co. was chosen by producer Floyd Smith, Loleatta Holloway’s husband. Once Sons Of The Gods was recorded, it was released in February 1978, five years after their debut album.

For Ripple, they must have felt like a new band. After all, it had been so long since they released their debut album Ripple. The Beat Goes On And On was chosen as the lead single. Released in December 1977, it reached number nine in the US R&B Charts and number three in the US Disco Charts. That was Ripple’s biggest single, surpassing even I Don’t Know What It Is, But It Sure Is Funky. Things looked good for Ripple. That proved not to be the case. When Sons Of The Gods was released in February 1978, it failed to chart. Neither did Today, when it was released in March 1978. Ripple it seems were always going to be a singles band. However, do they deserve to be remembered for Sons Of The Gods? That’s what I’ll now tell you.

Opening Sons Of The Gods is Call Me Traveling Man. It debunks the myth that a musician’s life is a glamorous one. Here, all the traveling man wants is to find love. That’s unlikely. His life is on the road. Ripple bring the lyrics to life. Straight away, they have your attention. An understated arrangement with a Fender Rhodes providing a melancholy backdrop to Keith Samuels. His vocal is heartfelt and filled with hope, while harmonies sweep in hopefully. Especially when swathes of strings sweep, as drums provide a wistful, and sometimes dramatic backdrop. Guitars chime, strings quiver and the Fender Rhodes adds to this beautiful song’s wistful, hopeful sound. Why this song wasn’t released as a single, seems a missed opportunity?

Today was released as a single and failed to chart. It’s the polar opposite from the previous track. Uber funky, Keith’s vocal is a feisty, sassy vamp. Punchy harmonies answer his call, as horns blaze and banks of keyboards join Ripple’s rhythm section. Along with wah-wah guitars, they provide a heavy duty funk sound. Wah-wah guitars. Sometimes, echo is used as to distort the sound. Sadly, it doesn’t work. Later, as the track takes sounds like a party in a studio, a glistening guitar solo wah-wahs its way across the joyous, funky arrangement on this paean to positivity.

Victorious bursts into life, allowing Ripple to showcase their not inconsiderable skills. What follows is a genre-melting track. Disco, jazz-funk, Latin and funk melt seamlessly into one. Ripple show how tight and talented a band they are. This is apparent when it comes to the solos. Whether its Curtis Reynolds keyboards, Wally Carter’s percussion or Simon Carter’s bass, there’s no passengers in Ripple, just versatile and talented musicians.

From the opening bars of Here I Stand, you realize something special is unfolding. Soulful, funky, jazz-tinged and dance-floor friendly what more do you want. Layers of strings dance, harmonies coo, horns blaze and the rhythm section provide a pulsating heartbeat. Add to this wah-wah guitars and Keith’s crooning vocal. He’s like an old-fashioned crooner, as he delivers a needy, impassioned plea. Especially with the harmonies for company. The result is, a genre-melting track, full of slick, poppy hooks.

Probably the best known track on Sons Of The Gods is The Beat Goes On And On. It was chosen as the lead single, giving Ripple their biggest hit single. No wonder. It’s a six minute opus from the bubbling bass line, keyboards and swathes of lush strings. Everything is dropped in at the right moment by producer Floyd Smith. That includes the cascading harmonies, percussion and flourishes of strings. Guitars bubble, reflecting the track’s effervescent and vibrant sound. Then there’s the congas, hissing hi-hats and chiming guitars join. They join the rasping horns and the vocal. Using the female vocal was a masterstroke. The song suits a female vocal. This allows Ripple to provide a pulsating, dramatic and infectiously catchy backdrop to the ethereal beauty of the vocal.

Following up the previous track should be difficult. It isn’t. That’s because Ripple change tack. Facts Of Life is a slow, sensual and soulful track that demonstrates Ripple’s versatility. A spacious, understated arrangement sets the scene for Keith’s needy, heartfelt vocal. With Thom Bell horns, pizzicato strings, deliberate piano and a wistful rhythm section for company, Keith unleashes one of his most emotive vocals. It’s enthralling. So is Ripple’s performance. Strings shiver as the rest of Ripple provide the backdrop for Keith’s half-spoken vocal, vampish plea. Full of heartbreak, hurt and regret, Keith lays bare his soul.

Charles Earland wrote Sons Of The Gods. For anyone yet to discover his music, he’s one of the finest soul jazz Hammond organists. Here, Ripple, with Floyd Smith’s help, transform the track into a blistering slice of cosmic funk. Add to that a dance-floor friendly beat. Horns blaze and the rhythm section, percussion and keyboards keep things funky. Blistering, searing, showboating guitar solos wah-wah their way across the arrangement. As for Keith, he takes his lead from Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix and George Clinton. His vocal heads in the direction of psychedelic soul. The next, it’s much more tender. Then when it becomes impassioned, it’s not unlike Stevie Wonder. From there, genres and influences melt into a nine minute lysergic, dance-floor friendly, funky and soulful opus.

Do What You Wanna Do closes Sons Of Gods. It’s a song about society’s problems, but doesn’t provide any answers or solutions. Having taken the listener a walk on the wild side through the ghetto, Ripple’s answer is don’t worry it’ll be okay. Banks of keyboards set the scene for Ripple as they kick loose. They provide an infectiously catchy backdrop for Keith’s vocal. It’s impassioned and earnest, while the arrangement sees funk, soul and Latin unite. As Keith sings call and response, harmonies add to the song’s soulful sound. A combination of a blisteringly funky arrangement and soulful vocal result in Sons Of Gods ending on a dramatic, soulful and funky high.

Five years after Ripple had released their eponymous debut album, they were back with Sons Of Gods. This couldn’t have been easy. After all, if an artist isn’t releasing music regularly, they’re forgotten about. Luckily, Ripple had several secret weapons. The first was The Beat Goes On And On, which gave them the biggest single of their career. Things looked good for Ripple. Then Sons Of Gods failed to chart. For Ripple, producer Floyd Smith and everyone at Salsoul they must have been shocked. Sons Of Gods should’ve fared much better. Ripple should’ve been more than a singles band. Far more.

Of the eight songs on Sons Of Gods, there’s no filler. Far from it. Call Me Traveling Man and Facts Of Life are two beautiful slices of soul. Then there’s the cosmic funk of Sons Of The Gods. Genres then melt into one on Victorious, Here I Stand and Do What You Wanna Do. Just about any one of these tracks could’ve been released as a single. Instead, they released the weakest track on Sons Of Gods, Today. Salsoul should’ve chosen either the beautiful ballad that is Call Me Traveling Man, or Here I Stand, which is full of slick, poppy hooks. They didn’t. Today failed to chart. That was the end of Ripple’s recording career. 

While there was a short-lived comeback in the nineties, Ripple’s career was all but over. The commercial success and critical acclaim they enjoyed isn’t a reflection on their talent. Who knows what would’ve happened if another track had been chosen as the second single? That could’ve rejuvenated Ripple’s career. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and Ripple’s second album, Sons Of The Gods, which was recently released by BBR Records, proved to be their swan-song. What could’ve been a long and successful career was cut short. Ripple’s career consists of just two albums, of which Sons Of The Gods is the best. Not only does Sons Of The Gods feature their biggest hit The Beat Goes On And On, but is a reminder of Ripple’s versatility and talent. Standout Tracks: Call Me Traveling Man, Here I Stand, The Beat Goes On And On and Facts Of Life.

RIPPLE-SONS OF THE GODS.

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