Photo: Michael Weintrob
Bootsy Collins: "I'm Hoping The World Comes Together Like We Did On This Album"
On his new album, 'The Power of the One,' released Oct. 23 on his own Bootzilla Records, we witness the almost-69-year-old (his birthday is Oct. 26) thriving in his musical playground
GRAMMY winner and 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Bootsy Collins has been embodying the funk and sharing his grooviness for decades, ever since he joined James Brown's band in 1969. It was then, from the Godfather of Soul himself, he first learned the Power of the One, or the importance of synching on the one-beat.
With George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Bootsy's Rubber Band, his solo records and endless collaborations, he's harnessed that funky power and grown it into a philosophy, a way of life. Through it all he's always bringing the funk into new spaces and to new ears, whether directly—Fatboy Slim's GRAMMY-winning 2000 dance anthem "Weapon Of Choice" wouldn't soar without Collin's voice—or through those he's influenced like Childish Gambino on his infectiously groovy GRAMMY-winner "Redbone." He is the true definition of a living legend, yet he's incredibly humble and always interested in learning more and working with other artists.
On his new album, The Power of the One, released today (Oct. 23) on his own Bootzilla Records, we witness the almost-69-year-old (his birthday is Oct. 26) thriving in his musical playground. It's playful, funky, joyous and filled with talented collaborators from across the musical spectrum, including Snoop Dogg, Dr. Cornel West, Branford Marsalis, Ellis Hall and up-and-comers Brandon "Taz" Niederauer and Emmaline. While he had to adapt to virtual collaboration when they pandemic hit—the album was about half done at this point—he is undeniably thrilled with the result and rightly so.
"To be around these people, they made the record become what it is because to have the older people with the younger people and everyone in-between, all this going on on the record. And just making music together. It's like making love, it's like making friends. In a time like we're in now, to do that, what else could you ask for? It's just a great feeling. I can tell you, I know they had the same kind of feeling," Collins told us recently over the phone.
We caught up with the master himself to learn more about finishing the album during quarantine, bringing together the talented collaborators, mentoring younger artists over the years and, of course, the Power of the One.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. I hope your day is good so far.
Yeah. Just gearing up, getting myself together to go out there and do it one more time, you know? We got the record off. That was the good part for me, was to at least get through it because it is a very deep time that kind of hit us out of the blue. Getting through it was a beautiful thing. It actually helped keep me sane.
Read: "Use Your Mentality, Wake Up To Reality": How 'Red Hot + Blue' Reimagined Classic Pop Songs To Enact Social Change
I bet, having something to work on. And my first question is about your new album, The Power Of The One, which is coming out pretty soon. What do you hope this album offers to the world and to its listeners?
I'm hoping the world comes together like we did on this album. All the musicians, everybody that really put their time and energy in it—and they really, really wanted to do it. It wasn't like somebody forced them to do it or paid them on such a big scale that they just had to do it. Everybody joined me and did it because it was fun.
It reminded everybody that, even in a difficult time, each and every one of us can get some kind of joy out of it and at the same time, help somebody else share some good vibes. If we didn't get nothing else but some good vibes, that was really good enough because everybody needs some of that right now.
I think on this record, that's what it's really all about. Good vibes, being in the kitchen cooking up something a little different here and there, using a different recipe. Even a recipe that's not traditional. On this album, that's what I wanted to show—it doesn't have to be a certain traditional record. It could be everybody together just having a good time because, to me, that was the main thing. Stop stressing yourself. Have a good time doing it and doing it with somebody you want to do it with. That's key. I think everybody felt that and it comes off of the record like that, from what people are telling me.
You're right, I think we all need some good vibes right now.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That to me is what the Power of the One is, the power of all of the people coming together and just doing what we have to do to get through it, to get over the hump. Putting all of our differences all by the wayside because we all realize we're just human and we need each other. We're coming up in a time where people don't really feel like they need each other because the technology we have is saying you don't need nobody. You can take your office with you. You got it right there in your hand, your iPhone, and you really don't need people.
Once you get used to that, it turns on you. It's like a Frankenstein monster. The monster is cool and everything, but one day he wakes up and realizes he's a monster and turns on you. I think that's what happened in the world. We got to take the power within all of us where we're standing. I think this music will help in our healing, help in our focus, and help us to have a little joy and a little fun along with all the deepness that is going on. That's what I wanted to do with this record, really just to put some joy and fun in everybody's lives.
More Inspiration: Brandon Lucas Talks Staying Hopeful, Working With Dr. Cornel West & Empowering Dance Producers Of Color
Can you explain the Power of the One a little more, both like musical technique and the philosophy?
Well, actually The Power of the One grew out of when I worked with James Brown, he was always saying to the band, "You got to put it on the one. Give me that one and you can play everything else, but just hit it on the one." On every measure you count, the emphasis is on that down beat. To this day, even on a computer, when you have a four by four [beat], you got that one. You'll hear that click louder on the emphasis on that one beat. That brings everybody's focus to it.
This is where we all meet up, right here on the one. I, out of that training with James Brown, I took that over to Parliament-Funkadelic and George Clinton made a whole concept out of everything's on the one. He even made a record called "Everything Is On The One." I guess with all of that growing and experiencing the one, it grew to me as even bigger than just being a musical term. Now for me, it's more everybody is part of the Power of the One.
It's like everybody's around that one wall and everybody gets that certain frequency all at the same time and that wall will come down. That's the Power of the One. We just have to realize that that's what we got to do, everybody's got to be in sync with each other. Once we began to be in sync with each other, all of this mess that we're going through falls down. I want to get people to realize that we do have that power within ourselves.
We got to get focused and quit running from each other. We've got to all come together on the one and that's when you get the Power of the One. I'm just trying to redirect people to come together. It doesn't matter who your father is—I just have to respect your father and you have to respect mine. That's the Power of the One, when you realize that none of that stuff really matters.
We're all on this spaceship mother earth and we're traveling through time and space on earth. This is our mothership. Nobody's throwing us out. We're on it together and the sooner we realize that, the better. Because you can't be here and be better than somebody else. I'm not better than nobody else. Out here, I'm just like you.
It's really about us getting along and getting together while we're here. This is the opportunity for us. It's just like this album. This album was the opportunity to put all these beautiful people together that are not necessarily supposed to be together on a record. I'm just crazy enough to believe that if we can do it on an album, we can certainly can do this in a world like we have today.
That's mainly the reason I wanted to do something like this, to show that it's bigger than all of us. It's much bigger than what I think it should be or what you think it should be. It's much bigger than that and that's the Power of the One that's within all of us. No one's got it more, no one's got it less. Everybody has their power, you just have to develop it.
"It's really about us getting along and getting together while we're here. This is the opportunity for us. It's just like this album. This album was the opportunity to put all these beautiful people together that are not necessarily supposed to be together on a record. I'm just crazy enough to believe that if we can do it on an album, we can certainly can do this in a world like we have today."
That's some philosophy right there.
[Laughs.] I hope you got it down. I'd like to read that book myself. [Laughs.] Oh, man. That's the top layer at least. I'll have to keep digging and we'll get more of it coming up. For now, that's where I'm at. I just want people to respect and believe in each other, and dig in on each other. We got to get back to having some kind of fun. I think that's got a lot to do with why this has happened. These kinds of tragedies, it's like man, if you can't wake up after this, you're already dead. I know we're not dead now.
We're being hard headed. We are thinking we're something that we're not. We're all human. We haven't transformed yet into that other frequency. Until then, we got to deal with each other. We got to start learning how to because we've been learning the complete opposite. Now, the One has introduced us, now you have to know and love and trust each other. There's no other alternative now. We are past that point. It's either that or the other craziness.
Read: I Met Her in Philly: D'Angelo's 'Brown Sugar' Turns 25
I feel that. There are a lot of really great collabs on the album, but I wanted to talk specifically about the creative process behind "Jam On" with Snoop Dogg and Brandon Taz. How did that one happen?
Oh, man. That was a track that Snoop and I had done and hadn't really finished. We did it for another album. It was like, man, that track would show a lot of fun and that you can mix different things and come up with something that is not new in a sense, but I guess fresh for today. It brings the old with the new, the guitar playing from Taz, his new energy that he's got, with Snoop's raps and my own peace vibe going on. I thought that would be a beautiful, what you would call, a sandwich or a dinner. Sure enough, it was so easy to put together. I talked to Taz, then I went to see him at a concert. This was all before the pandemic hit.
We got to vibing and I was like, "Man, we should go in the studio." And sure enough, we went to Sweetwater and recorded all of his stuff. And Snoop and myself, we did our parts here at the Bootcave [his home studio]. We got lucky on that song, because got about 60 percent done with the album [before the pandemic] and the rest of it we had to start sending out on WeTransfer, that kind of stuff.
We send them to artists and they send you back what they did and then you get on the phone and talk about what needs to change, what key to go to and this, that and the other. That was a much harder way of recording than being in the studio with the actual person. That's when it's really fun. I got a 50/50 deal on recording this album—recording half live and then the other 50 percent we had to record basically on the internet.
That was something I had to get used to, but at the same time, I don't think I'll ever get used to that. But I learned how to do it, enough to get it done. We started adding horns, all kinds of different stuff, but I had to send the actual file to the person. That particular song, "Jam On," we got that pretty much done in the studio, so that was a blessing because we had fun doing it.
I'm sure so much of creating funk music is being in the studio together riffing off each other and going with the flow. That must have been different to not have that tangible element of it for part of the album.
Yeah, yeah. It's totally different. It's just like you and the guy you're talking to, it's different when you're together than when you talk on the phone. The phone is the next best thing, but being together, there is nothing like that. That's the start of the difference right there. It's like when you can actually touch the guitar, when you actually see what the bass player is playing, you can actually hear what the singer or rapper is singing or rapping. You can actually see them. It's like, wow. This is so cool.
You lose all of that part, so I think it's cool for people that are growing up doing it that way. But if you're not used to doing it like that, it's a different ball game. It is something you have to learn on the job. Like I say, it's good to know the new way of recording and stuff. I think I'll continue to learn, but nothing is going to take the place of actually being in the bed together. It's like, "How are you doing?" "Oh, I'm okay. I'm laying in the bed by myself." I'm like, "Yeah, I wish I was there." [Laughs.]
Related: George Benson Talks Tribute Album To Chuck Berry & Fats Domino: "The Songs are Still Ripe"
What is your favorite part of collaborating and how was it adapting that, like you were saying, during quarantine?
Well, it was really cool for me with the collaborating part because I got a chance to collaborate with people that I hadn't before. Like Branford Marsalis, who's just the greatest. His genre is jazz and he's just an incredible saxophonist and I never got a chance to record with him [before]. We talked about it, we've been to each other's shows and stuff, but we never actually did anything together.
That was a highlight for me to play with him and to play with Christian McBride, who plays the upright bass. He is just incredible and to have him in the studio and watch him play it. That was my first instrument that I was supposed to learn how to play on, but I found out I just couldn't play that big, old upright bass. It was too much work, man. I had to carry it home from school. The girls would look and laugh at me. It was like, "Ah man. I got to get me a new instrument." So, for him to bring that big, old bass to the Bootcave and hook it up and start playing it, it was just a great experience.
And then to have George Benson? Come on, you can't get no bigger than that. He's played with all the jazz greats. To have him want to get on the album—I had no idea that he really wanted to play on the record until I talked to him. We always have done festivals together in passing, but we never got a chance to work together.
I got a chance to work with some of the best, the people that I looked up to, and I got a chance to work with the young ones, like Kingfish, that are the new musicians. Speaking of Taz, he's 17 years old. And Kingfish is 19 now. These guys are just blowing the roof off with the guitar playing. To have this kind of energy around, for me, is the cream of the crop. It don't come no better. Then on "Lips Turn Blue" there's Emmaline. She's like a young, fresh Ella Fitzgerald. The way she sings, her voice takes you back to that time. But she's just out of college. She's just so sharp and professional.
To be around these people, they made the record become what it is because to have the older people with the younger people and everyone in-between, all this going on on the record and just making music together. It's like making love, it's like making friends. In a time like we're in now to do that, what else could you ask for? It's just a great feeling. I can tell you, I know they had the same kind of feeling.
It was just a great way to express yourself in a time where you're supposed to be locked up and locked down. Everybody's got a chance to release that feeling and we got a chance to put it on a record to share it with the world. I wasn't looking at the big picture, I was just looking at whatever song we were doing, putting our whole heart and soul into it. I didn't have to tell nobody to do that because everybody was ready. You didn't have to tell anyone, "Man, I want you to love this song." They just loved it. You could tell they loved it.
I think it's more amazing because of the time that we're living in right now. It affects us much more now because I think before we have taken music and people for granted. We've taken everything for granted. We thought it was always going to be great, we were going to be working all the time. All of a sudden, they pull the gigs away from us. No more festivals, no more club dates, no more Colosseum dates.
All of that stuff, it didn't just happen to the music world. Everybody had to push the reset button, like "Wait a minute, what the heck is going on?" We are still going through that and we have to figure out ways to do things differently. I'm hoping this album, The Power of the One, helps reset people to know that, "Hey, we got to deal with each other. Ain't nobody going nowhere. We're all in this together."
Listen: Unearthing A Lost Ella Fitzgerald Recording, 60 Years Later
You've also worked with a lot of younger musicians over the years on their projects, like Snoop and many others. What does mentorship mean to you and why is it important?
Oh, man. I would say because it gives you what you really need. It's like the energy that you've shared all your life, it comes back to you through the young musicians and artists. When I got with James Brown, I didn't understand about the energy and how it excited him. He was excited by the energy that we brought. I didn't really understand that until I got older and I started realizing, "Okay, this is what he was talking about and this is what he was feeling." Once you get older, you start feeling it, especially when you start having grandkids. Oh my God, those guys have got energy up the wazoo. I never knew that I was like that at one time.
At some point, I was as crazy as they were. That crazy energy can be turned into something and when it is, it can be magical. Some of these kids are able to turn it into something and you'd really be surprised. You just have to be in the mix and that's why I make sure I'm always in the mix, that I'm always learning from the younger people. And hopefully they're learning something from me, but I'm not in it for me.
I'm in it to learn something that I didn't know how to do. Coming from them, that's a beautiful thing. I look forward to that. A lot of older people look at kids like, "Oh, they can't teach me nothing." But I don't agree with that. I would like to continue to learn from them and be around them because they make me younger, they make me feel young. It's a great energy and hopefully I'm as good to them as they are to me.
How Buddy Guy Finally Broke Into The US Top 50 More Than 50 Years Into His Career
Photo: Kristy Sparow/Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for LARAS, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images, Gustavo Garcia Villa
Listen To GRAMMY.com's LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2023 Playlist Featuring Demi Lovato, Sam Smith, Kim Petras, Frank Ocean, Omar Apollo & More
Celebrate LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2023 with a 50-song playlist that spans genres and generations, honoring trailblazing artists and allies including George Michael, Miley Cyrus, Orville Peck, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande and many more.
In the past year, artists in the LGBTQIA+ community have continued to create change and make history — specifically, GRAMMY history. Last November, Liniker became the first trans artist to win a Latin GRAMMY Award when she took home Best MPB Album for Indigo Borboleta Anil; three months later, Sam Smith and Kim Petras became the first nonbinary and trans artists, respectively, to win the GRAMMY Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their sinful collab "Unholy."
Just those two feats alone prove that the LGBTQIA+ community is making more and more of an impact every year. So this Pride Month, GRAMMY.com celebrates those strides with a playlist of hits and timeless classics that are driving conversations around equality and fairness for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Below, take a listen to 50 songs by artists across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum — including "Unholy" and Liniker's "Baby 95" — on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
A History Of Casablanca Records In 10 Songs, From Kiss To Donna Summer To Lindsay Lohan
As the Casablanca Records story hits the big screen with ‘Spinning Gold’ on March 31, revisit some of the hits that have defined the now-reinvented label’s legacy.
Over the past five years, some of the most famous (and infamous) stories of the music industry have hit movie theaters, from Freddie Mercury’s meteoric arrival in Bohemian Rhapsody to Elton John’s breakthrough years in Rocketman, and most recently Whitney Houston’s remarkable rise in Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Now it’s time for the big-screen debut of a name that might not be as familiar: trailblazing record executive Neil Bogart.
Bogart is the outsized personality at the center of a new biopic, Spinning Gold, which hits theaters March 31. The film tracks the monumental first decade of Casablanca Records, the larger-than-life label that Bogart dreamed up in the summer of 1973.
The industry upstart defied the odds to become one of the definitive labels of the 1970s, with a highly eclectic roster that included KISS, Donna Summer, Village People and George Clinton’s Parliament. At the same time, Casablanca Records typified 1970s excess, with infamous stories of drug-fuelled parties, flagrant spending and unchecked egos — all rich material for a big-screen treatment.
Written and directed by Bogart’s eldest son Tim, Spinning Gold stars Jeremy Jordan as Bogart alongside a cast of current music luminaries in key roles, including Wiz Khalifa as George Clinton, Tayla Parx as Donna Summer, Ledisi as Gladys Knight and Jason Derulo as Ron Isley. (The hit-filled soundtrack is just as star-studded.)
After he was pushed out at Casablanca, Bogart went on to found Boardwalk Records (signing a young Joan Jett) before his tragic death in 1982, at the age of 39. In the decades since, Casablanca has had several lives, including its reinvention as a dance music label in 2012.
To celebrate the release of Spinning Gold, we’re taking a trip back through 10 of the label’s hallmark releases from the 1970s to the 2010s.
KISS, "Rock and Roll All Nite" (1975)
Neil Bogart’s first gamble as a label boss was on New York shock rockers KISS. Bogart signed the band to Casablanca Records on the strength of their demo tape, recorded with DIY grit alongside former Jimi Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer. While initially dubious of the group’s garish makeup, he backed their lean and mean 1974 debut album, KISS, even as it failed to ignite the charts.
As detailed in Classic Rock Magazine, KISS played Casablanca’s launch party at Los Angeles’ Century Plaza Hotel, bemusing the glamorous crowd to a flurry of smoke bombs and a levitating drum kit. Bogart stuck by his hard rockers, and in 1975 they released Dressed to Kill, featuring the undeniable anthem "Rock and Roll All Nite," one of KISS’ setlist staples to this day.
As the story goes, Bogart, who is a credited producer on "Rock N Roll All Nite," challenged songwriters Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons to write the definitive KISS song. Later in 1975, the band hit No. 9 on the Billboard 200 with the live album, Alive!, and their fire-breathing, fake-blood-spitting path was set.
Parliament, "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" (1976)
If KISS represented one extreme of Casablanca’s early catalog, George Clinton’s Parliament confirmed there was no rulebook. Bogart recognised Clinton’s shambolic genius early on, signing the bandleader and his funk disciples to Casablanca in 1973. After a pair of slow-burning albums, in 1975 Parliament released Mothership Connection, an outlandish concept record exploring afrofuturism in outer space.
On an album that sounded like nothing else out there, "Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" was a supremely funky standout. It became Parliament’s first certified million-selling single and gave the group the cachet to build their signature stage prop, The Mothership, which landed theatrically mid-show in a swirl of smoke.
Donna Summer, "I Feel Love" (1977)
Bogart’s circle of gifted friends included Giorgio Moroder, the Italian producer behind the hallowed Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany. In 1975, Moroder played Bogart a song he’d produced for an up-and-coming American singer named Donna Summer, who was living as an expat in Munich after appearing in the musical Hair.
That song was "Love To Love You Baby," a slow, slinky disco number that, on Bogart’s insistence, morphed into a 17-minute version. In its extended form, "Love To Love You Baby" seduced dance floors and took disco into a new realm of slow-burning sexuality.
In 1976, Summer returned to Musicland Studios with Moroder and his studio partner Pete Bellotte to record "I Feel Love," released on Casablanca the next year. Still exhilarating and influential to this day, the record’s futuristic synth sound cemented Casablanca as the go-to disco label.
Village People, "Y.M.C.A." (1978)
With Donna Summer now a certified star, Bogart found his next disco hitmakers in Village People. Founded in 1977 by French dance producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, and fronted by vocalist Victor Willis, the group emerged from and celebrated New York’s gay club culture, with each member adopting a "macho man" persona and costume.
Village People’s third album on Casablanca, 1978’s Cruisin’, featured the instant earworm "Y.M.C.A.," which hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979. A winking advertisement for the fraternal pleasures of the Y.M.C.A., the song became a gay anthem and paved the way for future hits "In The Navy,” "Go West" and an actual song called “Macho Man.”
"[Casablanca] was a very trendy label," Belolo recalled to DJHistory in 2004. "Neil Bogart was known as an entrepreneur who had the guts to take risks, and he was a very good promoter."
KISS, "I Was Made For Lovin’ You" (1979)
Released on their 1979 album, Dynasty, "I Was Made for Lovin’ You" proved even KISS weren’t immune to disco fever. Coming two years after the hard rocking Love Gun album, this glam, light-on-its-feet return had some fans reeling.
Co-written by Paul Stanley with pop songwriters Desmond Child and Vini Poncia, the single sold over 1 million copies and remains a favorite sing-along at KISS shows. To this day, its detractors include none other than Gene Simmons, who never liked his pop-tinged vocal part.
Cher, "Take Me Home" (1979)
While Casablanca was founded on new talent, by the late 1970s, the label was courting already established stars. With 14 albums to her name by 1977, Cher met Neil Bogart through her then-boyfriend Gene Simmons. After a run of underperforming releases, Cher came around to trying disco.
"Take Me Home," Cher’s shimmering foray into the still-hot genre, unleashed her inner disco diva, which she explored further on two Casablanca albums, Take Me Home and Prisoner. While the legendary singer later strayed from disco, the lush, Studio 54-soaked sound of "Take Me Home" is testament to Casablanca’s gravitational pull.
Lipps Inc., "Funkytown" (1980)
As the 1970s ticked over into the ‘80s, Casablanca went looking for the next sound. Behind the scenes, the label was in turmoil. With Polygram now overseeing Casablanca, co-founder Larry Harris quit and Bogart was pushed out. Disco’s popularity was also waning in the wake of the infamous Disco Demolition Night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
If times were tough, you couldn’t hear it in "Funkytown," a party-starting track by Minnesotan funk/disco band Lipps, Inc. Featuring Cynthia Johnson’s peppy vocals over a perfect marriage of synths, strings and cowbell, the song was a surprise hit for Casablanca and a gentle clapback to the disco doomsayers.
Irene Cara, "Flashdance…What A Feeling" (1983)
Throughout its first decade, Casablanca was closely aligned with Hollywood — after all, the label took its name from the Golden Age classic starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. In the mid-’70s, the label even merged with a film production company to make Casablanca Record And Filmworks, Inc.
Following Bogart’s exit from Casablanca, the label struck gold with Irene Cara’s "Flashdance…What A Feeling" from the 1983 dance drama Flashdance. Produced by label mainstay Giorgio Moroder, the song is a pure hit of 1980s nostalgia, elevated by Moroder’s synth and Cara’s roof-raising vocals.
"Flashdance…What A Feeling" won the GRAMMY for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and the Academy Award for Best Original Song, giving Casablanca Records one last victory lap before it folded in 1986.
Lindsay Lohan, "Rumors" (2004)
Two decades after Jennifer Beals spun and vaulted through the music video for "Flashdance…What A Feeling," Casablanca was relaunched under Universal by veteran music exec Tommy Mottola.
One of Mottola’s early signings was "it-girl" Lindsay Lohan, who was coming off star-making roles in Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. Lohan’s 2004 debut album, Speak, featured the bonus track "Rumors," a club banger with spiky lyrics aimed at paparazzi and rumor-mongers hounding her every move. A long way from the halcyon days of KISS and Donna Summer, "Rumors" is still a time capsule to a quainter era before Instagram and iPhones.
Mottola’s other mid-aughts signings included singer and actress Brie Larson (long before she was Captain Marvel) and pop artist Mika, whose 2007 album, Life in Cartoon Motion — and particularly its infectious lead single, “Grace Kelly” — was a breakthrough success.
Tiesto, "Red Lights" (2013)
After its brief mid-2000s run, Casablanca Records went quiet again — that is, until its next relaunch in 2012 as a dance/electronic imprint under Republic Records. Capitalizing on the EDM boom at the time, Casablanca snapped up Dutch superstar Tiesto and his label Musical Freedom.
In December 2013, Tiesto dropped "Red Lights," the lead single from his fifth studio album, A Town Called Paradise, released on Casablanca the following year. A surging dance-pop confection built for Tiesto’s then-residency at Hakkasan Las Vegas, "Red Lights" endures today as a three-minute flashback to EDM’s heyday.
While Tiesto is no longer with Casablanca, the label has been a steady home for both veteran and rising dance acts over the past decade, including Martin Solveig, Chase & Status, Nicky Romero, Felix Jaehn and James Hype. Meanwhile, Lindsay Lohan has remained with the label, releasing her club-ready comeback single, "Back to Me,” in 2020.
Bringing the story full circle, a resurgent Giorgio Moroder also landed back on Casablanca Records in 2016. As the story of Casablanca's glory days hits the big screen, the label's latest chapter is still being written.
Listen: 50 Essential Songs By The Beach Boys Ahead Of "A GRAMMY Salute" To America's Band
Photo: Ebru Yildiz
Christian McBride On His New Jawn's 'Prime' And How Parameters Gave Him Creative Freedom
On the new album by his New Jawn project, 'Prime,' eight-time GRAMMY-winning bassist and composer Christian McBride keeps new and old associates on their toes.
Are you familiar with the concept of a chordless ensemble? In jazz, it refers to a group format without a chordal instrument, like a piano or guitar. Without such instruments to underpin the chord changes, the music can become spacious — exuding what one writer characterized as "a devil-may-care freedom."
But for Christian McBride, who just released an album with his chordless quartet, freedom is relative.
"I feel like I almost have more responsibility because it's not my goal to play free without some sort of gravitational pull to it," the eight-time GRAMMY-winning bassist, composer, arranger and bandleader tells GRAMMY.com. "Freedom is much more exciting when there are some sort of parameters, or you have something to break through."
So, in adding another entry to the catalog of revered chordless jazz albums — Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity, Sonny Rollins' Way Out West, Lee Konitz' Motion, numberless Ornette Coleman masterworks, et al — McBride assembled the best men for the job. Those are trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist and bass clarinetist Marcus Strickland, and drummer Nasheet Waits.
Together, they comprise Christian McBride's New Jawn — another vehicle for the mastermind in parallel to his other ensembles, such as Inside Straight and the Christian McBride Big Band.
Their album, Prime, released Feb. 24, marks an intrepid new chapter for McBride and his colleagues. Therein, the quartet utilizes the frameworks of originals (like McBride's "Head Bedlam" and "Lurkers," Strickland's title track, Waits' "Moonchild," and Evans' "Dolphy Dust") alongside compositions by Coleman, Sonny Rollins and Larry Young to challenge and galvanize each other.
"At this point, I just concentrate on making sure that these cats are in the most comfortable situation — or maybe not so comfortable, so they might have to dig a little deeper," McBride said in a statement. "It's a balance."
To hear how that balancing act is executed, just listen to the fantastic Prime — and read on for an in-depth interview with McBride about the past, present and future of the New Jawn, and how freedom often needs guidelines to be truly free.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Tell me how Christian McBride's New Jawn came to be. How did you constellate with these fellow masters?
I started doing a residency at the Village Vanguard back in 2009, I believe it was. Starting around 2012, my residency went from one week to two weeks, and so I always had an opportunity to bring a second band or have some sort of a week where I could experiment with some group that I didn't usually play with.
In December of 2015, I thought I wanted to try a new group — something that was a 180 degree turn from what I had been doing. My trio with [pianist] Christian Sands and [drummer] Ulysses Owens Jr. recorded a live album at the Vanguard the year before, and we had also released an album called Out Here in 2013. I just wanted to do something completely different.
Marcus Strickland is someone that I have worked with many times in the past. Nasheet Waits is someone that I knew for a very long time, but hadn't had a chance to work with very much. I had talked to a few musicians who I respected, and I told them what I had in mind: I wanted to do a pianoless quartet, a group that was kind of on the outskirts — not all the way out, but just kind of walking that fine line.
A lot of people said "For what you are describing, you might want to check out Josh Evans." I knew who Josh was — I hadn't played with him yet — so I kind of YouTube-stalked him. I went and heard him a couple of times at Smalls, and he was the guy. So, that's how the New Jawn first got together in December of 2015.
And that's been my main unit pretty much ever since. I still have Inside Straight; that's been my longest running group. I still have my big band, but the New Jawn has been the group that I've probably played with the most since 2015.
Tell me more about your long relationships with Marcus and Nasheet.
I don't really have a lot of history with Nasheet before this group, because I first met him in the mid '90s when he was playing with my friend Antonio Hart. I just always loved the way he played, and then, of course, he became a member of Jason Moran's Bandwagon trio. That trio has been pushing the limits — the outer limits, so to speak — for quite some time.
I became a bigger fan of Nasheet's after I heard him with Jason, so I just took a shot in the dark. I said, "Hey, man, come play this Vanguard gig with me."
We did one gig together in 2011 or early 2012, with Jason [and saxophonists] James Carter and Hamiet Bluiett. It was a tribute to [pianist] Don Pullen, and that gig was so wonderful, I knew that if we had a chance to play together on the regular, that it would be special. So, that's pretty much my history with Nasheet.
Marcus Strickland, I had done some playing with his twin brother E.J. in the late '90s when he was a student at the New School, and I think I first met Marcus when he was playing with [legendary drummer] Roy Haynes. It was in the early 2000s.
We finally started playing together when we made a few gigs with [drummer] Jeff "Tain" Watts' group, and that must have been around 2004, 2005, somewhere in there. Marcus also started subbing for [saxophonist] Ron Blake in my band, the Christian McBride Band, when Ron got the gig with “SNL.” So, yeah, Marcus and I go back 20-plus years.
Christian McBride's New Jawn. Photo: Ebru Yildiz
Can you talk about the freedom that a chordless ensemble confers?
Well, I always feel like freedom is relative, because it's not so much the band or having chords or no chords. It's the concept of the band, the band leader, just sort of your collective MO.
As a bassist, I feel like I almost have more responsibility because it's not my goal to play free without some sort of gravitational pull to it. Freedom is much more exciting when there are some sort of parameters, or you have something to break through.
If you go on stage and you just simply play free without a landing point or some sort of navigation, then I feel like you're kind of running in a circle, or you're just running with no destination — and when you finally land somewhere, you're kind of like, Now what? Now, that could be fun for the musicians, but I have a feeling it may or may not be that fun for the person that's listening to you.Playing in this particular group, I like the fact that we play songs that have a form, but we don't always follow that form. We break through that form, but we eventually come back to it, which is what... That's why Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet was so special, because they used the form to show what could be done if you break it down and then reconstruct it. So, that's what we try to do in this group.
There are some inspired writing contributions from all members of the group, as far as I understand, and renditions of Larry Young, Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman tunes. How did this particular sequence of songs come to be? I'm sure you four all work on so many things and are inspired by so many things that there were a lot of contenders for the record.
So, we recorded this at the end of 2021, I believe. We were fresh off of the gig at the Vanguard, so a lot of the stuff that we recorded were things that we had worked on that week.
It wasn't really that difficult to figure out what the material was going to be. I think putting a recording together is not that dissimilar to putting a set together. You want to make sure you start off with something exciting — something that's going to lock the people in as best as you think you can, and then you just try to shape it so it's a good listening experience.
I'd love to home in on three of the originals. The title track, written by Marcus, was inspired by a battle in the Transformers movies; you're quoted as calling it "one of the baddest tunes you've ever heard."
Marcus had recorded that on one of his solo albums a few years before [2011's Triumph of the Heavy, Vol. 2, and his version also had no chords. So, he obviously knew that this song would be a perfect fit for this band.
It's got a really great melody; it's got a very interesting bassline. It's a bassline that pretty much stays kind of locked in throughout the solo section, and it just makes for a lot of exciting movement throughout the piece. Marcus composed something really hip there.
"Moonchild", written by Nasheet, has this incredibly potent vibe. Can you talk about how you jointly landed on that kind of crawling, crepuscular feeling?
What I love about Nasheet is that he's known for being this volcanic drummer, but the two prettiest songs that this band plays were both written by Nasheet: "Moonchild" on this new album, and "Kush" on our first album.
So, his creative spectrum is quite broad. And I think the way we recorded it, is we were rehearsing it. That song originally had tempo, but when we were kind of reading it down and kind of learning it, we were reading down the music separately, so we weren't playing it together. And Nasheet said, "Hey, I kind of like it like that; let's play it rubato."
We played it a couple of times, and then Josh and Marcus kind of worked it out where they could still play it in unison, but not quite in time. And again, that's kind of what I mean by having some parameters — having a little bit of a form so you can kind of tug, you could push, you could pull. And that's the way that came about.
Finally, the one I wanted to home in on is "Dolphy Dust" — my personal favorite on the record. What does Dolphy mean to you and collectively, what can you speak to for his presence in all your creative lives?
Well, that's Josh Evans' tune, as you know. Josh is a big time historian.
And it is sort of weird how being a historian in jazz gets interpreted, because some feel that knowing the history of jazz is a necessity, and some people think being a historian puts creative shackles on you. As in, you're not able to create music without always having some sort of conscious historical reference. I feel when Josh wrote this song, he told me that this was something that he just heard in his head.
He kept hearing the melodies slowly over the course of a couple of weeks — like, four bars here, four bars there. And when he finally flushed it out and it became a song, he said, "Yeah, I feel like this has some Dolphy-isms in it."
It's hard because, again, I think with jazz connoisseurs, even if you don't write a song that references somebody like Eric Dolphy, somebody's going to do it anyway. I feel like Eric Dolphy plays as much of a part in our creative and jazz history lives as Max Roach or Booker Little or Jackie McLean or anybody who was a part of their era at that time.
Dolphy, of course, was one of the important figures in jazz in the early '60s. He tragically died young, which always, sadly, adds to a myth of people. It's weird. I hear people now talk about how important Roy Hargrove was. It's like, well, he actually was that important when he was alive. But now that he's not here, we recognize how important he is.
So I think with Eric Dolphy, he is equally as much a part of our intake of jazz history as anyone. But Josh captured that spirit in this piece accidentally. He was not thinking of Eric Dolphy when he wrote that song. He thought of that after he wrote it.
In the press release, you said: "At this point, I just concentrate on making sure that these cats are in the most comfortable situation — or maybe not so comfortable, you know, so they might have to dig a little deeper." How do you bring the musicians out to where their feet might not exactly touch the bottom?
Well, again, when you play a music as creative as jazz or some sort of improvisational music, the fun part — the challenge — is you do know where you're going, but you kind of don't know how you're going to get there.
Or you have a route planned out because you know that's how you need to get to where you have to go, but sometimes a road might be closed, you'll get detoured, there'll be a traffic jam. And sometimes, when you're playing this kind of music, somebody in the band could always divert you to another route.
And that's what the fun part is about playing this music. You want the band to feel like you all can trust each other, because when those detours happen, you know you're not going to get led off the cliff. Or, if you do get pushed off the cliff, there's going to be someone at the bottom to catch you so you don't crash.
So that's what I mean about putting musicians in a situation where they feel comfortable, but not too comfortable.
I look forward to your run at Dizzy's soon. How's the chemistry between you four — or, by extension, you and any accompanists you work with — different on stage versus in the studio?
Well, the audience acts as sort of a fifth band member, which is why it can be difficult sometimes for jazz artists to create when the audience is kind of not interacting. I don't always blame the audience for that, because I know some artists don't want the audience to interact. I need the audience to interact. We're all human beings. We're playing for you. We're not playing at you.
It's never been my MO to play for the audience and say, "Hey, I need you to shut up and pay attention so you can understand how deep and how great we are." I play music, so I can say "Look, I need you to tell me if I'm correct, that these musicians up on stage are as great as I think they are. But in order for you to do that, you have to listen. Right?"
But I don't want you to sit on your hands and be nervous [about] interacting. So I've always been a person of the people. Yes, they do need to concentrate — I need audiences not to be rude — but I do want you to let me know how you're feeling about the music.
That's where things get different live versus in the studio when we just have each other. And frankly, that's enough too; that's fine.
You're each other's audiences.
Exactly. That's right.
Jeff Coffin On His GRAMMY-Nominated Album Between Dreaming And Joy, Constant Education, Playing With Dave Matthews & Béla Fleck
Photo: Amaury Nessaibia
Kali Uchis Essentials: 9 Songs That Flaunt Her Soulful Magnetism
In honor of Kali Uchis' new album 'Red Moon In Venus,' take a listen to these instant classics by the Colombian American singer/songwriter.
Kali Uchis knows how to make her fantasies a reality. Pushing aside others' skepticism early in her career, the singer/songwriter blithely traverses progressive R&B, neo soul, and Latin pop with allure. Following a mixtape and handful of EPs, Uchis' breakthrough debut album Isolation showcased her spectacular dynamism and embrace of risk, charting within the Billboard Top 40 in 2018.
Since, Uchis has continued to connect with her audiences on even grander scales. Her genre-bending music, especially on her 2020 album Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios), champions the importance of staying true to oneself. She's remained refreshingly lucid and intentional with her artistry — and her most recent project takes the shape of divine freedom.
On her recently released Red Moon In Venus, Uchis invites us into her secret garden. Inside, femininity reigns supreme, its potency and power concealed by an irresistible pearly glamor.
In honor of the GRAMMY-winning musician's latest lush record and upcoming tour — which begins in Austin, Texas in April — tune into these nine Kali Uchis essentials, and soak up her divine style and versatility.
"Melting," Por Vida (2015)
Although the song's title refers to ice cream, Uchis laces "Melting" with a sweet, mellow warmth. It paints the honeymoon stages of a relationship in pink shades; you can picture blushing cheeks, fawning eyes, and shared smiles between lovers.
The track comes from Uchis' debut EP, exemplary of the power of the singer's reflective, rosy whimsy at an early point in her career. The EP melds R&B, soul and dream pop, and "Melting" twirls with affection and comfort — encapsulating the soft serenity that Uchis continues to embrace today.
"El Ratico" with Juanes, Mis Planes Son Amarte (2017)
"Se acabó el ratico, aquí está el anillo," Juanes and Uchis sing on "El Ratico," which translates to "Time's up, here's the ring."
The high-profile duet, which was also nominated for a Latin GRAMMY for Record Of The Year, is an ode to the lost time in a relationship. The Colombian singers are in harmony as they detail sleepless nights filled with tossing and turning, blue skies turning gray. The song's use of popular Colombian rhythms serve Uchis well, further showcasing her effortless versatility.
"Your Teeth In My Neck," Isolation (2018)
Based on its title, one might anticipate "Your Teeth In My Neck" to be a twisted love song of sorts. The track, however, sees Uchis aim frustration at wealthy corporations for exploiting immigrants and working class families. From an immigrant family from Pereira, Colombia, Uchis understands the dangers of hustle culture and prioritizing productivity above all else.
"Rich man keeps getting richer, taking from the poor," she sings. "You gotta get right, 'cause you know better…" She repeats the last clause nonchalantly, pleasantly in theme with Isolation's groovy serenity, but its repetition reminds listeners of the song's rightfully accusatory nature.
"After The Storm" feat. Tyler, The Creator and Bootsy Collins, Isolation (2018)
Optimism looks good on Uchis. "Someday we'll find the love, 'cause after the storm's when the flowers bloom," she sings, reminding listeners there's always love to be found. Aided by a clean-cut rap verse from Tyler, the Creator, the track also gets a funky boost from Bootsy Collins' satisfying karma-themed ad libs.
Longing pulses through the song's breezy psychedelia, and its desire-filled serenity will have you listening on repeat. "After The Storm" is exemplary for the way Uchis naturally fuses funk and R&B with her own contemporary twist — a trademark of Isolation's fluidly experimental soundscape.
"10%" with KAYTRANADA, BUBBA (2019)
A year before dropping Sin Miedo, Uchis joined forces with Canadian electronic producer KAYTRANADA on their song "10%," which was released as the lead single off his GRAMMY-winning album BUBBA.
A thematic parallel to "Your Teeth In My Neck," Uchis questions, "You keep on takin' from me, but where's my ten percent?" KAYTRANADA's adventurous beat propels Uchis' voice forward without distracting from her, and the shiny, club-ready collaboration won Best Dance Recording at the 2021 GRAMMYs.
"Dead To Me," Isolation (2018)
With striking trumpeting horns opening this track, Uchis wants all eyes on her for a very important announcement.
"You're dead to me," she drawls, then quickening her flow for a demand: "You're obsessed, just let me go." You can almost imagine her rolling her eyes in someone's face, then turning and clicking away in heels.
One of Uchis' signature tracks, "Dead To Me" is the perfect encapsulation of indifference toward the past. Even though it's from 2018, the song's contemporary sheen and cherished brashness proved that Uchis isn't just ahead of her time — she's timeless.
"Fue Mejor" feat. SZA, Sin Miedo (Deluxe) (2020)
"Fue Mejor" begins with the rev of a car engine, and it's clear that Uchis is in the driver's seat. On this remixed track from her sophomore's deluxe, she hits the gas pedal with steamy, smoke-ring R&B. "Take a little sip, take a little puff," Uchis invites without hesitation.
SZA rides shotgun for the collaboration (well, in the music video, she's on top of a moving car, but beside that). The singer fits into the track like a missing puzzle piece, her vocals brilliantly matching Uchis' soulful, sultry tone.
"telepatía," Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) (2020)
One of Uchis' biggest hits for good reason, "telepatía" is a lucid dream come true. It dissolves into your consciousness like sugar, enamoring with a controlled, intense passion. Singing in Spanish and English, Uchis flutters over a groovy but placid synth with ease — and when Uchis sings "I can read your mind," you believe her without a second thought.
The song comes off of Sin Miedo, which is Uchis' first album predominantly in Spanish and was nominated for Best Música Urbana Album at the 2022 GRAMMYs. The track also made Uchis the first female soloist to hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs Chart in nearly a decade, defeating the 27-week top-spot reign of Bad Bunny and Jhay Cortez’s global hit “Dákiti."
"I Wish you Roses," Red Moon In Venus (2023)
Tapping into an especially bewitching atmosphere, "I Wish you Roses" is one of Uchis' most infatuating songs and the first single from her 2023 release.
While album opener "in My Garden" whispers and whirs, bristling with hopeful suspense, "I Wish you Roses" meets the anticipation with perfect extravagance. Romance flourishes amid sleek instrumentals, crafting a luxurious and beautifully overgrown fantasy.
Uchis wishes an ex-lover roses with earnestness, and you can feel her ecstasy in letting go — though, in true Kali fashion, she reminds them that "You're gonna want me back" casually in the outro.
Kali Uchis On What It Means To Be A Latin "Crossover" Star In The 21st Century