Photo: Clare Gillen
Channel Tres Drops First New Music & Video Of 2020, The Groovy "Weedman"
"The track's nostalgic for a time where weed was inaccessible… I was stressed out over a lot of stuff at that age. The song explains that—me struggling to figure out where to get my weed, but also for the dealer going through hard times too," he told us
Today, March 27, Compton-born rapper/singer/producer/dancer Channel Tres shared "Weedman," the first single from his new label Art For Their Good. The funky track is his first new music of 2020, following 2019's Black Moses EP, and comes paired with a vintage-hued visual.
Behind the song's house party-ready vibes and undulating G-funk beat, the underlying message is an important one: Despite the legalization of marijuana in California and beyond, many people of color are still disproportionately serving time for weed-related charges. According to the ACLU, "in the United States, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person is, despite approximately equal rates of use."
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Over email, Tres shares with us the inspiration behind "Weedman" and how it portrays his younger self and the perspective of his weed dealer.
"The track's nostalgic for a time where weed was inaccessible—and now there's weed shops everywhere. Back then if I couldn't get my weed, it was a big thing for me because I couldn't go to sleep. I was stressed out over a lot of stuff at that age. The song explains that—me struggling to figure out where to get my weed, but also for the dealer going through hard times too," he wrote.
"Every voice on there is me. All the voices and characters in my head. I grew up on a lot of DJ Quik, Parliament, OutKast, dance music. One thing I noticed with DJ Quik is if you take all the vocals off his tracks, they hit like European dance records."
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Tres also spoke to the beautiful video, shot by Henry Grenier on 8mm film by in a house he rented in the Hollywood Hills. It was directed and edited by regular creative collaborator Anthony Sylvester, who also directed the videos for "Topdown" and "Jet Black."
"I wanted the video to represent the different personalities I have, and this is the first song where I did vocals I wouldn't normally do, mixed with sounds I've been inspired by for years. The video's shot with a Super8 camera and I rented out a house that looks like my Grandma's because I wanted it to have that feel. It just happened to come out during this time where it's kinda fitting for everything that's going on—it looks like I'm stuck at home, alone on the couch," he explained.
The "Sexy Black Timberlake" artist will be making his Coachella stage debut this fall and plans to treat us with more of his musical gifts ahead of the fest.
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Photo: M. Caulfield/WireImage for VH-1 Channel - New York
15 Songs That Will Make You Dance And Cry At The Same Time, From "Hey Ya!" To "Dancing On My Own"
Whether it's "Tears of a Clown" or "Tears in the Club," take a listen to some of the most sneakily sad songs by Outkast, TLC, Avicii and more.
In 2003, OutKast scored their second No. 1 hit with "Hey Ya!" The timeless track has an upbeat energy that makes you want to shake it like a polaroid picture — until you happen to catch its rather unhappy lyrics.
"Are we so in denial when we know we're not happy here?" André 3000 sings on the second verse. The line that follows may sum up its contrasting nature: "Y'all don't wanna hear me, you just wanna dance."
The ability to make listeners feel (and physically react) to a wide range of emotions is part of the genius of songwriting. Tunes like "Hey Ya!" — a sad narrative disguised by an infectious melody — is one trick that has been mastered by Outkast, R.E.M., Smokey Robinson, Robyn and many more.
If you've ever happily boogied to a beat before realizing that the lyrics on top are actually a big bummer, you're certainly not alone. BBC and Apple Music both call such tracks Sad Bangers, a fitting name for what's become an unofficial genre over the past half-century.
In light of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, GRAMMY.com compiled a list of 15 songs that will both get you in your feelings and get your body moving.
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles — "The Tears of a Clown" (1967)
The upbeat music on this Motown classic was written by Stevie Wonder, a 25-time GRAMMY winner who is deft at crafting tearjerkers that will tease your body into joyful dancing. The bassoon-bottomed song registers at 128 beats per minute, a tempo that's still favored by modern dance music producers. So when Smokey sings, "The tears of a clown/When there's no one around," you'd be forgiven for also welling up just a little bit while you're in the groove.
Gloria Gaynor — "Never Can Say Goodbye" (1975)
Gloria Gaynor reimagined the Jackson 5's 1971 pop hit "Never Can Say Goodbye" for the disco era. The sweeping string arrangements and trotting beat helped to fill dance floors, and to make the poignant song about holding onto a love of her own. Other cover versions by Isaac Hayes and the Communards also capture the contradictory vibe.
Tears For Fears — "Mad World" (1983)
British duo Tears For Fears became internationally known after outfitting their first danceable hit with a depressing and dramatic chorus that's hard to shake even 40 years after its release: "I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad, the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had." Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith would later release more uplifting fare, such as "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" and "Sowing the Seeds of Love."
Kate Bush — "Running Up That Hill" (1985)
Kate Bush has had three twirls through charts around the world with "Running Up That Hill," beginning with its 1985 release and then as an unlikely Summer Olympics closing ceremony song in 2012.
"And if I only could, I'd make a deal with God/And I'd get him to swap our places/Be running up that road/be running up that hill/With no problems," she sings in the chorus of the racing track, longing to be more worry-free.
More recently, a placement in the Netflix drama Stranger Things in 2022 earned the weepy, minor key-led dance number a whole new generation of fans. The English artist was recently named a 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
Midnight Oil — "Beds Are Burning" (1988)
Midnight Oil lead singer Peter Garrett channeled the rage he felt from early climate change and the lack of Aboriginal land rights in the Australian Outback into "Beds Are Burning." The powerful dance tune flooded airwaves and dance floors around the world in the late '80s, reaching No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
"How can we dance when the Earth is turning?" he sings in the rousing chorus. "How do we sleep while the beds are burning?"
Garrett clearly had a personal connection to the song's yearning message: He later dedicated his life to environmental activism as the leader of the Australian Conservation Foundation, and became an elected Member of Australia's House of Representatives.
Crystal Waters — "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" (1991)
A house music hit about a woman without a home, "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" helped New Jersey singer Crystal Waters achieve international success despite a somewhat somber subject. A subsequent parody on the sketch comedy series "In Living Color" drew attention to the contrast of having happy and upbeat instrumentation with dispiriting lyrics.
"She's just like you and me/But she's homeless, she's homeless," rings the chorus. "As she stands there singing for money/La da dee la dee da…"
R.E.M. — "Shiny Happy People" (1991)
This upbeat collaboration is between rock group R.E.M. and B-52's singer Kate Pierson.The jangly guitar pop makes you want to clap your hands and stomp your feet, but the lyrics make you question if everything is indeed quite so shiny and happy.
The song is rumored to be about the massacre in China's Tiananmen Square, because the phrase "Shiny Happy People" appeared on propaganda posters. Pierson isn't so sure about that, though.
"I can't imagine that R.E.M. was thinking at the time, Oh, we want this song to be about Chinese government propaganda," she said in a 2021 interview with Vulture. "It was supposed to be shiny and happy. It was a positive thing all-around."
TLC — "Waterfalls" (1994)
"Waterfalls" was a worldwide hit for TLC in 1994, thanks to its sing-along chorus and funky bassline. The song's insistent bounce softens a firm lyrical warning that pulls people back from the edge: "Don't go chasing waterfalls/Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to/I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all/But I think you're moving too fast."
"We wanted to make a song with a strong message — about unprotected sex, being promiscuous, and hanging out in the wrong crowd," Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas shared with The Guardian in 2018. "The messages in 'Waterfalls' hit home. I think that's why it's our biggest hit to date."
Outkast — "Hey Ya!" (2003)
André 3000 sings about loveless relationships to a whimsical, time-shifting dance beat on this Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping smash. The seriousness of the song — which André 3000 once explained is about "the state of relationships in the 2000s" — got lost among many listeners.*
Its unhappy lyrics were masked by André's peppy singing, as well as the song's jangly guitar and keyboard-led groove, which infectiously doubles up in speed at the end of every four beats. Even Outkast themselves couldn't help acknowledging the song's juxtaposition in a 2021 tweet.
Robyn — "Dancing On My Own" (2010)
A penultimate example of a sad banger is "Dancing On My Own" by Swedish pop star Robyn. The rueful song — a top 10 hit in multiple countries — commands you to shake your stuff, while also picturing yourself watching your ex move on at the club. Calum Scott's 2016 cover really brings out the sadness that can be obscured by Robyn's uptempo version.
"Said, I'm in the corner, watching you kiss her, oh no/And I'm right over here, why can't you see me?" Robyn sings in the chorus. "And I'm giving it my all/ But I'm not the girl you're taking home."
Fun. — "Some Nights" (2012)
fun. (the trio of Jack Antonoff, Andrew Dost and Nate Ruess) is best known for the zeitgeist-grabbing pop-rock power ballad "We Are Young," which is about the relentlessly positive enthusiasm of youth out on the town. The title track to their 2012 album Some Nights (which contains "We Are Young") is a much dancier, yet sadder song.
"What do I stand for?" Ruess asks as your feet shuffle along to the beat. "Most nights, I don't know anymore."
Avicii — "Wake Me Up" (2013)
Avicii collaborated with soulful pop singer Aloe Blacc for this worldwide chart-topper that is considered one of EDM's peak anthems. The slapping beat masks the track's sad, self-reflective lyrics about being lost.
The Swedish DJ/producer's 2018 death by suicide adds an even heavier air to Blacc's impassioned chorus: "So wake me up when it's all over/When I'm wiser and I'm older/All this time I was finding myself, and I/I didn't know I was lost."
Flume featuring Kai — "Never Be Like You" (2015)
"Never Be Like You" isn't the fastest cut in Australian DJ/producer Flume's bass-heavy discography, but the wispy track still has an irresistible bump to it. Canadian singer Kai begs her lover not to leave her ("How do I make you wanna stay?"), but her lovely tone still manages to keep the song hopeful.
FKA twigs featuring The Weekend — "Tears In The Club" (2022)
Perhaps the most overt selection of this entire list is "Tears In The Club," which finds FKA twigs and The Weeknd taking to the dancefloor to shake off the vestiges of a bad relationship. The singer/dancer has been candid about being in an abusive relationship, and the song is a lowkey bop that's buoyed by despairing chants such as, "I might die on the beat, love."
Everything But The Girl — "Nothing Left to Lose" (2023)
Nearly 30 years after DJ/producer Todd Terry helped introduce Everything But the Girl to the international dance music community with a remix of "Missing," the duo leaned into their electronic side on "Nothing Left to Lose." A single from their first album in 24 years, Fuse, "Nothing Left to Lose" features a squelching electronic bassline that contrasts the song's helpless yearning.
"I need a thicker skin/ This pain keeps getting in/ Tell me what to do/ 'Cause I've always listened to you," the pair's Tracy Thorne sings on the opening verse. Later, she makes a demand that fittingly sums up the conflicts of a quintessential sad banger: "Kiss me while the world decays."
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Photo: Astrida Valigorsky / Getty Images
Channel Tres' Ascension: How The Compton Producer & Rapper Found Himself Through House Music
Channel Tres discusses his new EP, 'Real Cultural S—,' his love of Teddy Pendergrass, and glowing up as you grow up.
It's about damn time Compton-bred singer, rapper, producer, DJ Channel Tres is recognized and celebrated for the superstar he is.
His latest body of work, the Real Cultural S— EP, dropping on Feb. 24, is just the chance to do so. It includes the jubilant lead singles "6am" and "Just Can’t Get Enough," the latter featuring the perfect use of a Teddy Pendergrass sample, plus three new tracks.
But Tres has long demonstrated his star power with confidence, with 2022 being his biggest year yet. He dropped the palate-cleansing refresh, an eclectic mixtape of vibey instrumentals that showcase his skills as a producer and as an artist unwilling to be boxed in. In March, he offered the clubby Acid / Ganzfeld two-tracker, and followed by the sassy "hollaback b*tch" with Mura Masa and Shygirl. The single "No Limit" provided a fitting anthem for the ascending star, and marked Channel Tres' signing to RCA Records.
The "Topdown" artist also brought back his captivating live show, with more dancers, fresh bedazzled 'fits, and a sleek stage design across the country in 2022. He made his Coachella debut and tore up other big festivals like New York's Governors Ball and San Francisco's new Portola Fest. He sold out three nights in a row in his hometown, at Los Angeles' Fonda Theater in December.
An in-demand collaborator, Tres is regularly tapped by a wide range of dance and pop artists including Tove Lo, SG Lewis, Honey Dijon, TOKiMONSTA, Duke Dumont, Polo & Pan, and Flight Facilities to bring his infectious grooves and swagger to their tunes. In 2021, Tres' fire collabs included Polo & Pan’s "Tunnel" and Duke Dumont’s "Alter Ego."
Channel Tres has come a long way since his 2018 debut — the still fresh-as-ever "Controller" — but he's also become more grounded in the process of his glow up. GRAMMY.com first sat down with Channel Tres in 2019 to discuss his Isaac Hayes-nodding Black Moses EP, which he followed up with 2020's "Weedman" and his sunny, timely pandemic mixtape, i can't go outside, featuring Tyler, The Creator and Tinashe.
GRAMMY.com sat down with Channel Tres once again — this time at Bloom & Plume, a Black-owned coffee shop in Los Angeles — diving deep into his new EP and how he found his musical voice.
On the EP opener "Sleep When Dead," you talk about people not vibing with your sound or the beats you're making, and then making the decision to be yourself. Can you speak to finding your musical voice?
I was just referring to my early years of making music. I started off as a producer. My style was always a little left of center…because of not knowing music and not knowing certain things. I think that's sometimes the best creatively, because you're not following form, you're not following any rules, you're just creating from a very, very pure place. And I'm still like that. But now I know more about music, so everything's more in shape and I know how to achieve certain things.
I grew up with a lot of people critiquing me and around a lot of very talented musicians. The era was really rap heavy and there weren't many Black artists exploring different genres; you were kind of taught to just do one thing. But I've always been somebody who just does what I want, instead of doing what people want me to do. So, I would be in rap sessions and be like, "Let me just play this weird beat." There were times I walked into sessions and would be kicked out because I wasn't where I am now.
That gave me the motivation to work harder. Nas says, "Sleep is the cousin of death." It's not a really healthy thing to be on, but at the time, I equated sleep to being lazy or not being able to get things done. In my younger years, I would stay up a lot. Now, I sleep more and I'm pretty healthy. But "Sleep When Dead" is just kind of a figure of speech: work hard until you get to achieve goals.
I was self-taught at first, but then I went to school when I was 21 and I got classically trained.
Did you find a mentor at a certain point, or was it about finding that mentor inside of yourself?
I found all my mentors on YouTube; I'm a product of YouTube university. I would watch beat videos and take classes online. And then once I was in school, I had teachers teaching me things musically. I would study Hit-Boy. I got to tour with Anderson .Paak early on — when I was DJing for Duckwrth we opened for him, and every time I would get [time with Anderson], I would ask him hella questions, and then I would watch him.
I'm a sponge. If I'm around somebody that has something I want or is just really good at things, I watch and I learn. I'm always like that. The world can teach you a lot. Nobody has to be your mentor directly, but if you put yourself around good people, you learn things.
On "Just Can't Get Enough," you sample Teddy Pendergrass — how did that song come together? Did you start with the sample first, or the mood?
It started off as a love story. I was going through something in my love life, and I just imagined this realm of getting married and exploring a life with someone and how that feels. And how when you're in love with somebody, you just can't get enough of them.
The Teddy Pendergrass sample came because I was studying him. He was a ladies' man, and performance-wise, I was studying him a lot. He was a good inspiration. Teddy is just a big inspiration, as far as how he conveyed emotion in his vocals. And with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, he was the lead singer but the group wasn't named after him. I can relate to that; doing all this work and not getting the recognition. But when he stepped out, he stepped out and it was time.
Do you have a favorite Teddy Pendergrass song?
It's not his song, but It's from the Blue Notes; "The Love I Lost" is one of my favorite songs.
"6am" is a super fun song, and the music video directed by Tajana Bunton-Williams is also super fun, with '70s inspired fits and artsy parking garage shots. What was the vision for that video?
The vision for that was simple, to look cool. I grew up with my great grandparents and when it was Easter Sunday, we got to wear suits, everybody got dressed up. I miss that energy. I don't really go to church anymore, and my great grandparents have passed away.
I feel like I stepped away from that for a while and now my style is maturing again. I'm going back to my roots of how my great grandfather dressed, and how people took pride in what they were wearing. I wanted to do that in a music video and get that feeling again of Easter Sunday or something, but also just sexy. I just wanted to get the fellas together and dance and show we're happy. Growing up, it was always a woman thing to be like that and enjoy yourself, but I feel as we're getting better in society [that's changing]. We all have masculine energy and feminine energy and that's what makes us beautiful as people.
As I'm growing up, I'm realizing that none of [those gender expectations] matter; I can make my life the way I want it. I use videos and different things to explore that. Also, I used to think low of myself, to where I didn't want to dress up because I thought I'm not cuter than the next person. You know, that insecurity. So now, it's like, nope, we're gonna make this a big deal.
My grandma loves the song.
"Chucks" with Terrace Martin is such a perfect melding of your sounds and vibes. How did you two link up and how'd the song come together?
I knew about Terrace since 2009, 2010, just from being from L.A. He was one of my inspirations back then. We linked up maybe a couple years ago, he just DMed me and we made a relationship over that. I met up with him to work on his  album Drones. I wrote a song four years before that called "Drones" and I played it for him. I was like, "Bro, you're on the same f—ing frequency." And then we wrote the song "Tapped" for Drones. After that, we were just really cool.
And "Chucks" came from a session I had with Ty Dolla $ign. (Ty is credited as a co-writer and co-producer of the track.) Ty and I made the track and Ty played it for Terrace, and Terrace put horns and his vocoder on it and made it his, and hit me up and asked to put it out.
These dudes are my idols, so it's always trippy for me. I'm like, Damn, I'm just working with these dudes casually now.
Do you usually reach out to people? Or do you wait for people to reach out to you?
I try to read the vibes. Some things come to me, and then some things, if I push for it, it'll come. I just try to follow my intuition on certain things. Some people are really busy….So I'm not a tough person, like, "You got to get back to me." I believe in the universe and connections; things happen when they're supposed to.
I love when connections and collaborations feel like synergy and like they're supposed to come together, rather than me forcing it. My collaborations usually work because it just flows.
How do you foster your relationship with your intuition, especially when you're super busy or there's a lot going on?
I mean, a lot of it is breathing. Not making rash decisions, taking time. If I feel uneasy, I just completely disconnect from it, and go to sleep [before deciding] or I say, "Just give me a second" and think some stuff out. And working out and listening to audiobooks and reading stuff; filling yourself up with things that help you. You are what you eat, you are what you listen to, you are a lot of the things that you put inside yourself.
The more I fuel myself with positive things and different things that can help me, the more I see that my spirit and my mind is able to filter out bulls—, or suss out things. It's just about spending time with yourself, and learning what triggers you or learning what's going on and looking at past things that have happened, and where your intuition has led you and using that as guidance.
It's been really rad to witness your ascension in music; becoming an in-demand collaborator and selling out three nights at The Fonda. How has the glow up felt for you?
It feels like it's confirmation that if you put the work in, you will get the results. Also, all the stuff I went through before in life, a lot of it is starting to make sense. If I didn't have those situations, I don't know if I would have gotten here or even been able to handle the success.
I'm really grateful. I want to use my platform to help people and spread love and spread that energy. I've gotten there because of all the things I've been through. And now I'm like, How can I help the next person in life, give back to my community and help my family? I can really build a business on the mindset I have now. So, everything comes when it's supposed to.
Real Cultural S— was initially going to be an album. Why did you choose to release it as an EP?
I just felt like, conceptually, I wasn't ready. I started playing the songs on tour. It just felt like it was right for this to be the EP before the first album. I use EPs to get ready conceptually, and to get better. To put a body of work together is a lot of work. I just grew past these songs and it was unexpected for the tour to be so good. I was like, "Oh man, I gotta write on this energy now, where I'm at now and prepare for the next stage.
I got signed, and I have more collaborators I can work with; my relationships are getting stronger with other people that I would love to be on my album. Now, I have access to that, so I can make this process a little more special and document the new mindset I have.
Those songs [on Real Cultural S—] were made between COVID and between me finding myself again. That process got me right here, now. So, it's like, let me make a project on this feeling, this vibe.
What does it feel like when you're on stage?
You just blank out. It's like playing a basketball game. You just lay out all the practice and let all the things you've been doing take over. And then you read the crowd and enjoy.
You coined your music Compton house. If you're describing it to someone, what elements are central to it?
It's just music, it's just me. I'm from Compton and I happen to make dance music. I'm not really a genre type person. I don't think anybody cares. If it sounds good, it sounds good.
I've dabbled in house music, and I make a lot of things. House is a genre that allows you to be you. For me, it's not a [specific] BPM, it's [about] being who you are. I like to put Compton on everything because that's where I'm from. It's just me being who I am, over music.
Would you say it's about the mood or the vibe or just if it sounds good, versus claiming that you're house or Compton house?
Yeah, I don't claim any genre. I like to make people dance, and I like to make people feel good. It is what it is.
House music was in a lot of conversations last year, with the Beyoncé and Drake albums. How do you feel about pop music sampling from house?
I didn't think about it, I was just happy. If it becomes accessible to more of a broader crowd because of them, great. I hope more people listen to my music. We own this music, we don't own anything here. It's all open, it's an open playing field.
I'm grateful that people explore and want to do different things and push the needle. I love Beyoncé's album. I love Drake's album a little bit. I didn't really care, it's just music to me. I don't own any genre. I found house music when I was 20 and I just explored it.
After you got into house music, is that when you started finding your sound and style?
No. I think house music just made me want to be myself more, to explore my sexuality, the way I dress, even what type of parties I like to go to. Now I'm like, "Yo, if ain't nobody dancing, I don't want to be there." At first it was about going to the club and looking good, trying to get somebody's number. Now I'm Shazaming songs, listening to what the DJ's playing, like, Oh my god, they mixed this with that record.
House music made me appreciate a party, a good DJ and mixes, and it helped me free myself from the constricting ideas I had about music.
What are your biggest goals or intentions for this year?
My biggest goal is to just become a better human. Learning how to be more of service, more respectful, more loving, and learning how to love myself better in different ways. Also, to get better at music, performing and production.
I was watching a video of Beyoncé yesterday, she was directing her show and telling her team how they need to get this right. [I want to] be more proactive in that way, to allow my ideas to come to life and to let the people around me know what I want. And being okay with that, knowing that I have the power to advocate for myself and my art.
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A College Of Musical Knowledge: 15 Musical Groups That Act As Hubs For Emerging Talent
Some acts have few or no original members because they simply can't keep the band together; others turn over their memberships somewhat by design, and act as bona fide academies for new waves of musicians. Here are 15 diverse examples.
Ever hear of the Ship of Theseus thought experiment? It asks the reader to picture a ship whose components have been replaced — hull, mast, sail, rudder, and every single plank of the deck. Is it still Theseus' craft? Or something else entirely? The question still bedevils philosophers.
Now apply this framing to beloved musical groups of the 20th century. That's what Rolling Stone writer David Browne did in his 2022 feature, "The Future of Classic Rock Tours: One or Two Surviving Members…or None?"
As Browne illuminated, estate-authorized acts like the Allman Brothers Band Presents: Trouble No More are bringing beloved songbooks to audiences thirsting for them — without most or all of the parent band's original members. (Lynyrd Skynyrd is down to one.)
And with the passage of time, Trouble No More could become a model for keeping acts on the road — and, in turn, streaming numbers up, and the brand in people's mouths.
Audiences may feel one way or another about seeing Woodstock-era favorites Canned Heat with one almost-original member: Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra. (Side note: they still cook.) But what if the massive turnover isn't an unfortunate hurdle due to members dying or leaving? What if, to some degree, it's the whole point?
Welcome to the sphere of music where classic ensembles act as hubs for emerging talent; they turn over like college alumni or sports teams. Many of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers became jazz legends; John Mayall's Bluesbreakers gave the world Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor and Peter Green.
And this model applies across the board: to big band, to classical, to cumbia and salsa. Slipknot and Tower of Power arguably qualify. So do Yellowjackets. And so did Miles Davis' and David Bowie's various groups. Doo-wop is full of them. There's one titanically important electronic band, extant since 1967, passed to a new heir.
All ensembles may consist of mortals with shifting priorities, but their music doesn't have to disappear when they do. Here are 15 longstanding acts who replaced most or all of their planks — to borrow a metaphor — and made the most of it.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers aren't only a serious contender for the greatest jazz band of all time, they functioned as an unofficial jazz university, with drummer Blakey as their tempestuous headmaster. The group featured dozens of cats throughout its four-decaderun: Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, Joanne Brackeen, Wynton and Branford Marsalis were all nurtured as Messengers, and that's just scratching the surface. When Blakey died in 1990, saxophonist McLean said just about the only three words you can say: "School is closed."
Count Basie Orchestra
From the Mingus Big Band to the Duke Ellington Orchestra to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (once known as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra), jazz is replete with big bands whose leaders died long ago. Some call them "ghost bands," whether or not their musicians appreciate the tag. Whatever your chosen vocabulary, Count Basie Orchestra is one of the most prestigious ensembles without their fearless leader, who formed the group in the mid-1950s. As for the Basie band's current incarnation, led by the illustrious Scotty Barnhart? They were nominated for a GRAMMY in 2021, for Live at Birdland!.
John Mayall's Bluesbreakers
John Mayall's Bluesbreakers hold the strange distinction of being written and talked about more than listened to. Any biography of the Rolling Stones, Cream and Fleetwood Mac will invariably mention them, but when's the last time you cued them up on Spotify? That shouldn't be the case, necessarily; they made classics like 1966's Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton and fostered guitar gods in all three of those household names. And best of all, they’re still at it.
Juilliard String Quartet
Founded in 1946, the Juilliard String Quartet is critically important to the evolution of chamber music stateside. William Schumann, the then-president of the New York school, founded it; violinists Robert Mann and Robert Koff, violist Raphael Hillyer, and cellist Arthur Winograd formed the OG lineup. Areta Zhulla, Ronald Copes, Molly Carr, and Astrid Schween are currently in their seats; over the decades, they've won four GRAMMYs and been nominated for 16.
La Sonora Dinamita
Since their founding in 1960, Colombian cumbia greats La Sonora Dinamita have played an instrumental role in the form's popular resurgence. Beneath the unchanging banner, their lineup has turned over, and over, and over: original singer and musical director Lucho Argain's passing in 2002 didn't stymy their constant evolution. In the 2020's, with current players at the vanguard of cumbia, they remain absolute dinamita, releasing music with abandon.
Do you typically think of boy bands as being relatively static, membership-wise? Maybe one or two members in and out, but the familiar faces remaining? Feast your eyes on Menudo's Wikipedia page: a whopping 38 past members. Since the brand's formation in 1977, Menudo has provided a launching pad for international stars Ricky Martin and Draco Rosa, and weathered tragedy and legal battles. But they're not ending anytime soon — thanks to Mario Lopez and his global talent search.
Who's the most prolific, dynamic and influential ensemble in funk history? It's borderline axiomatic that the answer is P-Funk. Together or apart, Parliament and Funkadelic haven't just made bona fide classics — press play on 1971's Maggot Brain or 1978's One Nation Under a Groove — they architected their own bizarre, hyper-imaginative, Afrofuturist universe. And it goes even deeper: under the tutelage of George Clinton, members like Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell and Eddie “Maggot Brain” Hazel became stars. The collective is still going today; looking at the astonishing headcount over the years, it seems hard to find someone who wasn’t in P-Funk. To everyone who was, is, and has been — what a feather in your cap.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
New Orleans is Pres Hall is New Orleans: watch the wonderful 2018 documentary A Cuba to Tuba to find out why. These days, countless historical jazz sites in the Big Easy are crumbling and collapsing, but institutions like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band — as well as Dirty Dozen Brass Band, among others — ensure the music is unscathed. Founded in the early 1960s as the house band for the hallowed French Quarter venue, the ensemble has never reneged on its mission: "nurturing and perpetuating the art of New Orleans jazz."
Founded in 1967, the German electronic music pioneers join Guided by Voices and the Grateful Dead with this distinction; you could only listen to Tangerine Dream and be well-stocked with jams for the foreseeable future. As the brainchild of Edgar Froese for decades, they made classics like 1972's Zeit, 1974's Phaedra, 1980's Tangram… the list goes on. The band could have understandably folded when Froese passed in 2015, but his successor, Thorsten Quaeschning, remains the bearer of the flame. And by the sound of their stunning 2022 album Raum, rightfully so.
The Four Seasons
If infectious, pre-Beatlemania tunes like "Sherry" and "Big Girls Don't Cry" have been basically implanted in your skull from birth, thank one man first and foremost: Frankie Valli. His Four Seasons have provided a platform for numberless singers and instrumentalists since then — through the '70s, '80s, '90s, and up to the present day. These days, 88-year-old Valli is the only remaining original member of these Jersey boys — which says much less about the integrity of the original group than his capacity to hand out hat-hanging legacies.
Whether or not the ska revival swept you up or not — and regardless of the volume of checkerboard threads in your closet — the fact remains that the Skatalites are pillars of the form. Like the Four Seasons, the instrumental supergroup began during Beatlemania time, and never stopped mutating and evolving. Decades past their early hits, like "Guns of Navarone," they give younger players like New York saxophonist Anant Pradhan a chance at ska royalty while offering legends the chance to bring Jamaica's freedom sounds to new generations — like 85-year-old percussionist Larry McDonald.
Ah, the Temps: Detroit legends, undersung psychedelic voyagers, the first Motown signees to win a GRAMMY. (That was in 1968, for "Cloud Nine"; how could Membership back then sleep on "My Girl"? We digress.) In 2018, the Broadway show Ain’t Too Proud gave opportunities beyond the purview of the endlessly shapeshifting original band. Come the 2020s, Otis Williams is the only original Temptation; many, many men have been one. Imagine the feeling of learning you're one. A certain jam from '68 might sum it up.
The Wailers Band
We're used to hearing this band name glued to "Bob Marley &"; is their association with Marley the long and short of their importance? Heavens, no, as at least two other members were legends in their own right: Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. After Marley's death in 1981, the band continued under various permutations and spin-offs — including The Original Wailers — with talented members in and out the door. These days, Aston Barrett Jr. and Emilio Estefan Jr. are at the helm of the Wailers Band; Barrett's been nominated for a GRAMMY, Estefan's won two.
Despite being something of a '60s relic, the Yardbirds' whole catalog holds up; they were as psychedelic as anyone, white British boys with a deep command of the blues. In their heyday, they launched the careers of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck; Led Zeppelin originally took flight as the New Yardbirds. And their lineup churn continues; original drummer Jim McCarty remains.
So many members of the Allmans have dropped, but their popularity remains undimmed. (Crank up 1971's At Fillmore East on a good system and you'll see why.) Their estate has tried a unique tack: sending an estate-approved band called Trouble No More on the road, platforming young talent while giving the people the jams they require. Diehards' mileage may vary regarding a completely reconstituted Allmans. But the magnitude of talent from the multiracial, multigender ensemble might make haters eat a peach.
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Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
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