The New Birth
- Sweet as honey, stinging like a bee
Our own Karsten Östlund gets into an intoxicated frenzy when hit by a funk missile. Is it an expose? An odyssey? -Who knows? But It's ALL GOOD, man.
In the sixties and seventies the soil was fertilised with well-dressed, finger-clicking combos. Their goal: to get the audience dancing and have a good time, by any funk necessary. The Bar-Kays, TSU Toronados and dozens of others toured the USA, slicing out bits of party R&B for the masses. If the crowd just stood still and listened, applauding politely at the end of each song, then the gig was a failure. A successful set on the other hand would end with the audience tearing down the walls in an intoxicated frenzy, shouting for encores with lips firmly attached to members of the opposite sex.
The seventies gave us all-nighters with George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars. The funk may have been a little to spaced out for the hardcore upbeat soulster, but when the mothership descended from the ceiling and the groove locked on target, getting ready to fire those funk missiles it sure spelled P-A-R-T-Y.
Into the mist
But somewhere around the mid seventies something happened. Pink Floyd, Genesis and their peers went for the "expanding" sound. Music wasn’t supposed to be fun and games anymore. Popular music was serious business, not to be taken lightly. Enter the quadruple concept album, best enjoyed at home in the dark all by yourself. Preferably through headphones, with incense slowly impregnating the room. But that’s rock, mind you. The soul and funk of the seventies, although heavily influenced by psychedelia, still kept its groovy roots, rarely succumbing to aural mischief. Isaac Hayes motivated his funk n´ soul symphonies on "Hot Buttered Soul" by making parallels to love-making: "If you’re making love you would want it to last longer than three minutes. Same thing with my music. Why would you want to settle with three-minute songs when you can have twenty-minute ones?".
Shipyard rock, anyone?
By the 1980´s, the party band scene was upgraded to overblown stadium events, where superstar bands and artists did their groovy thing. The music may in some cases have been all right, but the ambience from the small and medium-sized venues where it all had started went lacking. Commercialised and franchised to death, the live music experience was watered down to pure speculation: how many people can we fit into this football stadium? (or, as the case were in Gothenburg, Sweden: how many people can we fit into this discarded shipyard?). The American college scene, where the party bands of the sixties often started out, didn’t demand black party music in the same degree as the case was in the preceding decades, where soul and funk was sought after from both predominantly white and black colleges. The music scene on the whole became more segregated in the 80´s, with the commercially successful black artists of the time such as Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Tina Turner and Lionel Richie adapting rock clichés and adding crap guitar solos to their songs. Because of all this, it’s quite ironic that one of the greatest party bands of the 60´s and 70´s, released their comeback single "Kute Girls" in the year 1982.
From nitelite to new birth
The story of the New Birth started way back in Louisville, Kentucky. The year was 1963. Fuelled by Kentucky bourbon and a devotion to the funk, the Nite-Liters battled bands like the Ohio Untouchables (later known as the Ohio Players) for the groove championship trophy, backing artists like Carla & Rufus Thomas and Al Green. Eventually the Nite-Liters carefully groomed groove paid off. They won a contract in a talent search arranged by the Louisville radio station WLOU together with producer Harvey Fuqua, a member of doo-wop legends the Moonglows and married to Motown boss Berry Gordy´s sister Gwen. Under the motto "The band that plays Funk-N-Roll!" the Nite-Liters drew inspiration from Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, The Staple Singers and Sly & the Family Stone.
The producer, songwriter and mentor Harvey Fuqua had two other bands under his wings: Love, Peace & Happiness and New Birth. The three groups started touring together, backing each other up and the decision was taken to merge the three groups into one. The name chosen was New Birth. The old Nite-Liters line-up formed a solid, funky rhythm & horn backbone for gospel groomed vocalist brothers Leslie and Melvin Wilson.
Leaner and meaner
The original New Birth line-up was already shattered when the three groups merged. When the original 17-piece New Birth played the New York Hippopotamus club Harvey Fuqua thought the concept was too confusing and messy for the audience. Too many people on stage at the same time, to put it simple. Because of this Fuqua fired seven of the nine vocalists, keeping only Londee Loren and Bobby Downs. They together with the brothers Wilson formed the vocal output of the band. Ann Bogan - a former Marvelette - joined the band on their second album "Ain´t No Big Thing But It´s Growing" and blew minds away with her singing on what may be the New Births finest moment up to date; "Honeybee". And while we´re talking about natural sweeteners, "Honeybee" would have fitted Invictus finest Honey Cone perfectly. Ann Bogan didn´t stay long, though. She left the group to care for her children.
As the "new" New Birth, the group enjoyed a fair share of success in the early and mid seventies. After a couple of concerts opening for Bobby Womack, the New Birth released their version of Womacks "I Can Understand It" in 1972. It went to #4 on the Billboard soul chart, and the band was on a roll. They recorded songs for two blaxploitation movies; "Theme from ´Buck and the Preacher´ " in 1972 and "Come On And Dream Some Paradise" from the film "Gordon´s War" in 1973. These films don’t rate high in movie guides, but as for the music: no complaints. Sticking to the funk-n-soul formula and touring intensively, they built up a reputation as a class A live/party band.
After signing to Buddah Records in 1975 they finally scored a #1 on the Billboard R&B chart with "Dream Merchant". But that success proved to be the last for the New Birth. Two more albums on Warner Bros. without hits and one equally unsuccessful on independent label Ariola, the band called it quits. In 1982 however, they reformed for the "I’m Back" album, which features some nice and slick eighties soul. To this day, that album is the latest released material from the New Birth. But the two vocalists Leslie and Marvin Wilson still do concerts and TV performances under the New Birth flag, trying to keep the flame alive and searching for opportunities to record new material.
[Published 26 April 2001]
|Simon T Mallett||maj 7 2001 2:55AM|
|"Ain't No Change" is a classic tune. Respect is due!|
|John R||maj 3 2001 1:47PM|
|Hell yeh! mod - schmod, funk is king!|
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