One of the most distinctive features of funk music is the role played by bass guitar. De-emphasizing the European reliance on melody and harmony.  Funk brings the strong rhythm of electric bass and drums to the foreground. Unlike R&B and soul songs, which had many chord changes, funk songs are often based on an extended vamp on a single chord.

What Makes Funk distinct:

Funk utilized the same extended chords found in bebop jazz,  In the 1970s, jazz music drew upon funk to create jazz-funk, which can be heard in 1970s recordings by Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. The strong bass line is primarily what separates Funk from R&B, soul and other forms of music. Also, compared to the soul music of 1960s, funk typically uses more complex rhythms, while song structures are usually simpler. Often, the structure of a funk song consists of just one or two riffs. The basic idea of funk was to create as intense a groove as possible Like much of African inspired music, funk typically consists of a complex groove with rhythm instruments such as electric guitar, electric bass, Hammond organ, and drums playing interlocking rhythms. Funk bands also usually have a horn section of several saxophones, trumpets, and in some cases, a trombone, which plays rhythmic “hits”.


Papa’s got a brand new bag

James Brown and others have credited crazy azz Little as being the first to fuse Funk and rock n roll.  Following his exit from secular music to become an evangelist, some of Little Richard’s band members joined Brown and his Famous Flames, beginning a long string of hits in 1958. By the mid ’60s, James Brown had developed his signature groove that emphasized the downbeat – with heavy emphasis “on the one” (the first beat of every measure) – to etch his distinctive sound, rather than the backbeat that was familiar to many R&B and soul musicians. Brown often cued his band with the command “On the one!,” changing the percussion emphasis/accent from the one-two-three-four backbeat of traditional soul music to the one-two-three-four downbeat – but with an even-note syncopated guitar rhythm (on quarter notes two and four) featuring a hard-driving, repetitive brassy swing. This one-three beat launched the shift in Brown’s signature funk music style, starting with his 1964 hit single, “Out of Sight” and his 1965 hit, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”

Pappa’s got a Brand New Bag

Brown’s innovations pushed the funk music style further to the forefront with releases such as “Cold Sweat” (1967), “Mother Popcorn” (1969) and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” (1970), discarding even the twelve bar blues featured in his earlier music.

In a 1990 interview, Brown offered his reason for switching the rhythm of his music: “I changed from the upbeat to the downbeat … Simple as that, really.”  According to Maceo Parker, Brown’s former saxophonist, playing on the downbeat was at first hard for him and took some getting used to. Reflecting back to his early days with Brown’s band, Parker reported that he had difficulty playing “on the one” during solo performances, since he was used to hearing and playing with the accent on the second beat.

Other musical groups picked up on the riffs, rhythms, and vocal style developed by James Brown and his band, and the style began to grow. In New Orleans, The Meters came out with a Top Ten “R&B” hit with “Sophisticated Cissy” and “Cissy Strut” in 1969.

Meters – Cissy Strut

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band were releasing funk tracks beginning with their first album in 1967, culminating in their classic single “Express Yourself” in 1970.

Express yourself

Another group who would define funk in the decade to come were The Isley Brothers, whose funky 1969 #1 R&B hit, “It’s Your Thing”, signaled a breakthrough in African music in America Inc., bridging the gaps of the rock of Jimi Hendrix and the upbeat soul of Sly & the Family Stone. Guitarist Ernie Isley and Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic were influenced by Jimi Hendrix’s improvised solos. Eddie Hazel, who worked with George Clinton, is one of the most notable guitar soloists in funk. Ernie Isley was tutored at an early age by Jimi Hendrix himself, when he was a part of The Isley Brothers backing band and lived in the attic temporarily at the Isleys’ household. Funk  guitarists typically play in a percussive style, often using the wah-wah sound effect and muting the notes in their riffs to create a percussive sound.

It’s Your Thing

Who’s That lady

 Funk also creates an intense groove by using strong bass guitar riffs and bass lines. Funk was built on Motown recordings, which put bassists such as James Jamerson to the forefront. Like Motown recordings, funk songs used bass lines as the centerpiece of songs. Notable funk bassists include Bootsy Collins, Bernard Edwards, George Porter, Jr., Louis Johnson and Larry Graham of Sly & the Family Stone.  

As was stated, one of the most important aspect of Funk music is the bassist, and few has had an impact on the sound than one Larry Graham, late of Grahm Central station, one ina million fame, and former bassist for Sly and the Family Stone. Graham is generally credited with inventing the percussive “slap bass technique,” which radically expanded the tonal palette of the bass, although he himself refers to the technique as “Thumpin’ and Pluckin’. The “Slap bass’ mixture of thumb-slapped low notes and finger “popped” high notes allowed the bass to have a drum-like rhythmic role, which became a distinctive element of funk.  

Larry Graham slapp basse playing

Family Affair

 Everyday People


1970s and P-Funk

In the 1970s, a new group of musicians further developed the “funk rock” approach innovated by George Clinton, with initial band Parliament, after being screwed out of the name, and later Funkadelic. Together, they produced a new kind of funk sound heavily influenced by jazz and psychedelic rock (wow, Parliament influenced by psychedelic music? LOL!). The popularity of Parliament-Funkadelic gave rise to the term “P-Funk,” which referred to the music by George Clinton’s bands, and defined a new genre of music. Sometimes 1970s funk bands are divided to “hardcore funk” and “sophisticated funk”, former concept referring to earthy sound in a vein of James Brown or Funkadelic while “sophisticated funk” refers to artists such as Earth, Wind & Fire or Brothers Johnson who use softer sounds and fill their albums with soul ballads.

 Make my Funke the P-Funk

“P-funk” also came to mean something in its quintessence, of superior quality, as in the lyrics from “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)” a hit single from Parliament’s album “Mothership Connection”:

Punk-funk (or funk-punk)

introduced to the world, by social butterfly, Rick James which fused elements of Funk and Punk music, continued the evolution and innovations starting with James Brown and continued with Parliament.

Give It To Me Baby


Influential funk performers include James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield, The Meters, The Funk Brothers, Bootsy Collins, and Prince. Notable 1970s funk bands included Earth, Wind & Fire, The Ohio Players, The Commodores, and Kool & the Gang though many of these most famous bands in the genre also played disco and soul extensively. Funk music was a major influence on the development of 1970s disco music (watered down shit, that gave Caucasian performers some what equal footing to real funkers).


Eighties Funk

The Funk genre has lost most of its popularity since the 1970s, this was due to Caucasian producers and record companies believing that the too African, too aggressive sound was too … “black?”, for the general (Caucasian) audience.  Funk experienced a mini-revival in the early 1990s due to the sampling of Funk songs by hip-hop artists, but since the pool of artists that actually know music and instruments are getting smaller, African music in general and Funk music will continue to be altered by “Mr Clean”.  Examples of popular contemporary funk artists include Soulive and funk pioneer George Clinton, who’s still recording new music after more than three decades.



You Dropped A Bomb On Me

Brick House

More Bounce To The Ounce

Get the Funk outta ma Face

Funk samples are used in most styles of house music and hip hop music, and it’s also the main influence of Go-Go. Today, house music seek to carry on the tradition of its Funk inspiration, but unless you are a die hard house fan, you may not overstand it’s influence.  This signature jam from the house music genre points to where the music is being embraced the strongest.

God made me Phunky



Standing in the Shadows of Funk

escerpted from the website:

In 1959, Berry Gordy gathered the best musicians from Detroit’s thriving jazz and blues scene to begin cutting songs for his new record company. Over a fourteen year period they were the heartbeat on “My Girl,” “Bernadette,” I Was Made to Love Her,” and every other hit from Motown’s Detroit era.

By the end of their phenomenal run, this unheralded group of musicians had played on more number ones hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined – which makes them the greatest hit machine in the history of popular music. They called themselves the Funk Brothers.

Forty-one years after they played their first note an a Motown record and three decades since they were all together, the Funk Brothers reunited back in Detroit to play their music and tell their unforgettable story in STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN.

With the tumultuous sixties as a backdrop, Motown’s unsung heroes take the viewer on a compelling journey in time as they trace the evolution of The Motown Sound” from its origins in Detroit to its demise in Los Angeles during the seventies. Through the eyes of the riveting characters who ruled Hitsville’s studio by day and the club scene of Detroit by night, we enter a world of unparalleled soul and emotion as the Funk Brothers revisit the sites of their musical roots, triumphs, and eventual heartbreak.

For more than four decades, from the dance floors of the world, to the Detroit riots of 1967, to the war in Vietnam, the music the Funk Brothers created has played a major role in the cultural fabric of all of our lives. STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN finally puts some faces on that music and introduces these heroic musical figures to the world.

James Jamerson is unanimously acclaimed as the first virtuoso of the electric bass. Plagued by alcoholism and emotional problems throughout his career, James has influenced every electric bassist to ever pick up the instrument. Arriving at Motown in 1959, James’ bass playing evolved over the next decade from a traditional root-fifth cocktail style of bass playing into an astonishing new style built upon a flurry of sixteenth-note runs and syncopations, “pushing the envelope” dissonances, and fearless and constant exploration.

 A converted upright bass player with bear claw hands, James plucked the strings with only the index finger of his right hand (which he dubbed “The Hook), and effortlessly and routinely pulled off head-turning, technical feats on the ’62 P-Bass he nicknamed “The Funk Machine.” His explosive, earthquake-heavy bass lines have had the entire world dancing and grooving to Motown records for over four decades. But he labored in total obscurity – a condition that ate at him throughout the last years of his life. Recognition finally came on March 6, 2000 when James Jamerson was inducted posthumously into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

In memory of James Jamerson the greatest of the Funk Brothers

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