Friday, August 7, 2009

Jimmy Nolen -- Funk Guitar Pioneer

If James Brown was the 'Godfather of Soul', Jimmy Nolen must surely be the 'Father of Funk Guitar'.

Joining James Brown's group in 1965, Nolen's first recording session with the Godfather yielded Papa's Got A Brand New Bag. Nolen's infectious rhythm guitar part, replete with signature 16th note guitar break, propelled the song into the Top 10 on both the R&B and Pop charts.

And for the remainder of the '60s, the hits kept on coming -- I Feel Good (1965), It's A Man's World (1966), There Was A Time, I Can't Stand Myself, Cold Sweat (1967), Say It Loud (1968), Mother Popcorn (1969) -- landmark cuts all featuring Nolen's rhythm stylings.

An integral part of Nolen's style was a scratchy 16th note strum based on a dominant 9th chord, and peppered with single-note syncopated hooks. But the real key to his style was how he developed his guitar parts so that they fit perfectly around the snare and kick drum syncopations of drummer Clyde Stubblefield.

It was the art of enhancing the groove while not getting in the way.

Except for a two year hiatus from 1970 to 1972 when Nolen joined Maceo and All The King's Men -- made up of members of James Brown's band who had left in a defection incited by saxophonist Maceo Parker -- he remained with Brown's group until his death in 1983.

In spite of his pivotal contributions to James Brown's music, he was largely relegated to the role of sideman and often went uncredited on Brown's records. It was only in Nolen's final years that Brown started to introduce him onstage.

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