Too Funky 2 Ignore
Over the course of his career -- from his mid ‘70s run with The Brecker Brothers to his various stints as a“hired gun” for everyone from Gil Evans, Carla Bley and David Sanborn to Michael Franks and Miles Davis -- Hiram Bullock earned his reputation as a bona fide guitar hero. But all along, Bullock has also been developing his skills as a songwriter. Too Funky 2 Ignore demonstrates just how accomplished he has become at the craft. “I think I’ve gotten better at it as I’ve been doing it,” says the charismatic Guitar Man.
While the funk quotient on Bullock’s 12th recording as a leader is off the charts and the album is chockfull of blistering, Hendrixian guitar licks, Too Funky 2 Ignore also showcases Hiram’s adeptness at meticulously layering track upon track in the studio in a Steely Dan-ish vein. “I have actually consciously focused on that craft,” says the guitarist-producer. “And part of what allowed me to do that was getting a studio of my own. The technology has increased to the point where now a regular person can have a studio at home. And because of that, I can cut a track and then sit with it for months if I need to -- rework a lyric or work on backing vocals and rhythm guitar parts. So it’s not like it used to be where you go into the studio and sing all the lead vocal stuff in one day and what you get on that day is what you have on the record. Now you can cut it, listen to it, tweak it and work on it after the fact. And it really helps the artistic process if you can live with a track for a while like that. Because the nature of this music that I’m doing is not really a live playing kind of spontaneous thing. It’s songs. And as a song has to be crafted, all the parts have to fit the song. So the production becomes critical.”
Catchy, hook-laden pop tunes like “Hang All Night” and “Gimme The Night” are honed to perfection while ballads like “Shine The Light,” “Missin’ You Tonight” and the Latin-flavored “Quiero El Sol y La Playa” showcase Bullock’s soothing, soulful vocals in a more subdued setting. On the other end of the dynamic spectrum are the all-out blitz of the slamming opener, “Give ‘Em The Rock,” and the autobiographical title track, which stands as Hiram’s undying pledge of allegiance to the power of old school funk. “That is like an old man’s reaction to hip-hop,” says Hiram. “Say what you want but hip-hop is the thing now. But this is just a commentary, really.” Like the song says: “No worries, man, it’s all good, it’s cool, even if U think I’m just an old fool/‘Cause I’m having fun, and when it’s done, this groove is just too funky to ignore.”
On the decidedly Dan-ish “Everything U Do,” co-written with Charley Drayton, Hiram flaunts his soaring r&b vocals along with his laser-sharp rhythm guitar work. “People know me from my fusion work and from playing ripping solos on people’s albums,” he says. “And yet, most of what I’ve made my living from is playing rhythm guitar. Because you don’t get to solo that much as a session guy. So I know how to propel a song through rhythm parts, and I like to do that on my albums. It’s not something that is obvious to the casual listener because people listen to the song, they hear the vocals, they hear the solo and that’s it. But I’ve really, a lot of the craft of this record is in the interior parts.”
“Mr. Brown,” Hiram’s ode to the one and only Godfather of Soul, James Brown, incorporates snippets from such JB classics as “Lickin’ Stick,” “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” “Sex Machine,” “Mother Popcorn” and “Hot Pants.” Bullock says that all of these tunes formed the basic building blocks of his musical upbringing in the ‘60s. “Almost everything I play has at some point had its roots in James Brown. He was the first live act I ever saw when I was 12 years old, so my concept of what a live show was supposed to be -- people dancing and sweating and losing control on stage -- came from him. Also, a lot of the rhythm playing I do and the way that I make two guitars work together came from James Brown tunes like ‘There Was A Time’ and ‘Cold Sweat.’ Growing up in the ‘60s with that as a background, it really had a huge subliminal influence on me. And it became a natural part of my musicianship.”
“If You Don’t Mean It, Don’t Say It,” co-written with keyboardist Dave Delhomme, is a slow, simmering, playfully sexy P-Funk-ish number that highlights soul diva Katreese Barnes and also features a mid-song break by rapper Nat Burn. “That was originally going to be a vehicle for Chaka Khan, but it was a little difficult, as one might expect, with getting her scheduled. So I went with Katreese and she did a great job. Marilyn Kleinburg, who is a jazz singer, wrote the lyrics, which are coming from a different kind of perspective. It’s basically a song where the girl just wants to have sex and doesn’t want to hear a bunch of talk from a guy about how he’s gonna do this and how he loves her, like guys always say to get to where they wanna get to. But the girl in the song says, ‘You don’t need to say all that stuff. Just come on!’ I felt that it was a very refreshing turn of events lyrically.”
On the humorous Delta blues offering “Get In That Kitchen (and make me some chicken),” Hiram dips into a bit of method acting while singing in his best old bluesman voice about his fondness for greasy soul food. “That was a personna,” he explains. “I made the character and I went with it all the way. And when it came to the point of having to sing the line ‘let me ask you,’ I thought, ‘Well, I’ve gotta stay in character and go with it.’ So, of course, it came out ‘let me axe you.’ It was just one of those things that always cracks me up about that dialect.”
Elsewhere, Hiram crosses over to the Latin side of things on the seductive ballad “Quiero El Sol y la Playa,” co-written with bassist Frank Gravis and featuring the great Cuban drummer Horatio “El Negro” Hernandez and percussionist Mark Quinones. And he raises some socially conscious issues on “You’re Not What U Seem,” which was co-written by Gravis.
As on the politically-tinged tune “Greed” (from his previous outing, Try Livin’ It), Bullock indulges in some pointed observations on Too Funky 2 Ignore. As he acknowledges, “I think that I have maybe grown more socially aware. When I was younger I was mostly concerned about sex and drugs. It was all about me. And as I get older, I become more aware of things in a larger sense, like how the current government in America is operating around the world. I believe that what the Bush administration has done in Iraq is really wrong. I don’t think the war in Iraq is a good use of our resources. Furthermore, it gets people killed on all sides and it creates a lot of animosity towards America, which is really unnecessary. So I’m very quick to speak out this and if anybody wants to have an anti-war concert, I’ll be there.”
Born in Osaka, Japan in 1956, Hiram Bullock came to American at the age of two. As a child, he studied piano at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland, playing his first recital at the age of 6. He learned to play the saxophone at age 11, and began playing the bass guitar in junior high school rock bands as a teenager. He switched to guitar at age 16, admittedly “to meet more girls.” Hiram attended the University of Miami music school, where he studied with Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius, and where he met many of the musicians that he would play with throughout his professional career. One of his steady nightclub gigs in Florida was with the singer Phyllis Hyman, who brought Hiram to New York in the mid 1970s.
After arriving in the Big Apple, Bullock began playing with David Sanborn and The Brecker Brothers band before forming the 24th Street Band with drummer Steve Jordan, keyboardist Clifford Carter and bassist Mark Egan, who was later replaced by Will Lee. That group had an avid following in Japan and released two records there, the second of which was co-produced by keyboardist Paul Schaffer. When Schaffer was later putting together a house band for “The David Letterman Show” on NBC television, he recruited Bullock, Jordan and Lee from the 24th Street Band to play on the late night talk show, which premiered in 1981. In the mid ‘80s, Hiram played in the house band of TV’s “Saturday Night Live” and later worked as musical director on David Sanborn’s critically acclaimed “Night Music” TV show. Hiram also had a screen appearance in the movie “Under Siege” (starring Steven Segal) in which he played the part of a musician (he also composed six of the internal songs for the film).
A key connection for Bullock in the ‘70s was producer Phil Ramone, who hired the guitarist to play on a succession of gold and platinum-selling albums by pop stars Billy Joel, Paul Simon and Kenny Loggins. Hiram’s numerous recording credits through the ‘70s and ‘80s include sessions with The Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Jaco Pastorius, Pete Townsend, Bob James, Chaka Khan, James Taylor, Steely Dan, Sting, James Brown, Miles Davis, Barbra Streisand, Burt Bacharach, Roberta Flack, Spyro Gyra, Eric Clapton and Al Green.
In 1985, Bullock released his first recording as a leader, First Class Vagabond, on the Atlantic Jazz label. He followed that up with 1986’s fusiony From All Sides, 1987’s Give It What U Got and 1992’s Way Kool, all on Atlantic Jazz. Two recordings for the Big World Music label with bassist and longtime colleague Will Lee and drummer Clint deGanon -- 1994’s World of Collision and 1996’s live Manny’s Car Wash -- highlighted Hiram’s fretboard flash and wreckless abandon in a high powered rock trio setting. His jazziest offering to date was 1996’s Late Night Talk, a mellow session featuring the great Hammond B-3 organ master Dr. Lonnie Smith, New Orleans drumming legend Idris Muhammad, vibist Joe Locke and bassist Ed Howard. 1997’s Carrasco was Hiram’s homage to Latin music while 2000’s Guitar Man was a return to his rock-fusion roots. With 2001’s Color Me, he began to display his prolific songwriting skills and his penchant for pop hooks, a direction that he continued to explore on 2003’s Try Livin’ It and 2005’s Too Funky 2 Ignore. On this latest throwdown, Bullock ably demonstrates that -- to paraphrase a line from Paul Simon -- he is still funky after all these years.
Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix (feat. Billy Cobham) more >>
Too Funky 2 Ignore more >>