Whenever well known musicians die, sales of their music spike. I’ve never quite understood this. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely get wanting to hear them again, but if the dearly departed meant enough to you to mourn their passing, wouldn’t you already own their music?
And yet I find myself buying several albums by the recently deceased George Duke. I knew who George Duke was, of course. I even saw him live long ago with the Mothers of Invention. And I knew how eclectic his resume is, from jazz to rock, fusion to funk. I own a few of his solo albums, along with some of his recordings with Stanley Clarke, Frank Zappa, Bill Cobham, Jean-Luc Ponty and, of course, Michael Jackson, whose “Off the Wall” he played on:
I was also vaguely aware that he has been heavily sampled in hip hop. However, I had mostly lost track of him.
Listening to some of the music in the many online memorials made me realize what a shame that was. In particular, I had missed his late ’70s funk work. At that time, I was heavily into punk, listened to little other than punk, new wave and their offshoots. It was actually one of those offshoots that led me to funk when I backtracked Bernie Worrell from his collaboration with Talking Heads to his work with Parliament-Funkadelic. This opened up a whole new world for me, as I spiraled out through all of the P-Funk connections and disconnections and on to their contemporaries like Ohio Players, Mandrill, Gap Band, and many, many others
But somehow I overlooked George Duke’s funk. By then, I had a pretty negative view of jazz fusion (it started off well, but soon became wallpaper music to my ears). The testimonials made me well aware of just how wrong I was to lump George Duke with this elevator music.
The title track of his 1977 album, Reach for It, placed him firmly “on the one” . . .
. . . and the following year’s “Dukey Stick” takes it to the bridge that is the hyphen between Parliament and Funkadelic, down to George Duke’s “Starchild” vocals that complement Byron Miller’s Bootsy bass thump:
It also features Sheila E.’s percussion years before she moved to Paisley Park. How did I miss this?
And I now find myself one of those mistaking a hearse for a bandwagon and jumping on it. I just ordered the very reasonably priced Complete 1970s Epic Albums Collection. Of course, buying the CD collection instead of tracking down the individual LPs means I won’t be able to act like I had these albums in my collection all along.