As I’ve taken to listening to so much old school R&B over the course of my adult years, and thanks to the magic of TVOne’s “Unsung” program, I’ve found myself asking “Hey – what about so and so?”
So this is my first blog in a series of old school groups and artists that I will spotlight that are forgotten about even by back in the day standards. First up is a Bay Area Band influenced by Sly and the Family Stone but soon found their own groove in uptempo dance funk classics and smooth slow grooves.
Con Funk Shun was started in Vallejo, California (about 45 minutes Northeast of Oakland and San Francisco) by Louis McCall Sr. and Michael Cooper. The band started off backing up The Soul Children as Project Soul, then were named Con Funk Shun after a Nite-Liters instrumental.
They recorded their solo debut in 1973, then moved to Mercury Records in 1976 when they became famous for their best known run of gold albums and singles. The group broke up in 1986 and Louis McCall and vocalist Felton C. Pilate were instrumental in the rise of MC Hammer in the late 80s-early 90s.
Sadly, Louis McCall was murdered in his suburban Atlanta home in 1997 and after a long, exhausting campaign to bring his killer to justice by his widow Linda Lou, the accused was set free over evidence issue.
Con Funk Shun’s sound was different from many groups at the time because of that Bay Area influence, as they took Sly Stone’s rock/psychadelic sound and smoothed it out with funky guitars and synth play. The numbers don’t lie as the group had a top 20 R&B hits over the course of nine years.
As I do with every music post, I will give you a definitive 10 songs to go by to familiarize yourself with Con Funk Shun
“Chase Me,” from Candy, 1979: Plenty of funk available in their third top five hit in 18 months, including a neat flute solo in the middle by Paul Harrell. The song is clearly about a man who wants to be chased in a quick and funky fashion.
“Straight From The Heart,” from Con Funk Shun 7, 1981: Aside from funky dance floor hits, Con Funk Shun could create a heartfelt love song. Although “Straight from the heart” didn’t make a dent in the R&B charts when released as a single in 1982, it still is one of the band’s most enduring love songs.
“Let me put love on your mind,” from Candy: Michael Cooper handled his business with the vocals and blistering guitar work on a heater of a slow jam, a story of a man who wants to put love on a woman’s mind and “a smile in your life.” I think I’ll be adding this to a playlist or two.
Ffun, from Secrets, 1977: The band’s first and only R&B Number one at the beginning of 1978, it also just missed the Pop top 20 and introduced the world to a Brand New Bay Area Funk. There of course is also the unique spelling of the word Fun, which hopefully will be explained before I die.
“Baby I’m Hooked,” from Fever, 1983: Probably their smoothest slow jam at the dawn of synth-dominated R&B, the band still managed to put together a very smooth song about a man who is hooked on the love of one woman and wants to show her how much he is hooked.
“Got to be enough,” from Spirit of love, 1980: Felton C. Pilate takes over the lead on this song about a man who hopes what he does for his woman has “Got to be enough.” Soaring strings, strong horns and understated bass carry the song with a solid drum patter from Karl Fuller.
“Bad Lady,” from Con Funk Shun 7: One of two singles from Con Funk Shun 7 to reach the R&B top 20 in 1981, the tale of an irresistible lady who is really good when good, “but when you’re bad, you’re better.”
“Too Tight,” from Con Funk Shun 7: The second (and higher-reaching) R&B top 20 single from this album, the song with punchy horns celebrates a love that is too tight and too strong to be broken up by anyone also cracked the pop top 40.
“Shake and Dance with me,” from Secrets: Fresh off the success of “Ffun,” “Shake and dance with me,” arguably one of the truest of West Coast funk tracks, also made the R&B top five, solidifying the band’s place in R&B/Funk circles as a forced to be reckoned with.
“Love’s Train,” from To The Max, 1982: While many remember the group by this song, it failed to even make the R&B top 40 when released as a single in early 1983, but as the Quiet Storm Genre really became a black radio staple, “Love’s Train,” well, gained steam and became the song the group is best known for.