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Hamilton Bohannon

Reviewed on this page:
Stop & Go - South African Man - Insides Out - Bohannon - Dance Your Ass Off - Gittin' Off - Phase II - On My Way - Summertime Groove - Cut Loose - Too Hot To Hold - Goin' For Another One - Alive - Fever - Make Your Body Move - The Bohannon Drive - Here Comes Bohannon

Born and raised in Georgia, Hamilton Bohannon became Stevie Wonder's road drummer in the mid-60s and worked his way up to arranger and bandleader. He cranked out a bunch of LPs during disco's heyday, but his minimalist approach to dance music is more funk than disco proper, as Bohannon rarely used horns and relied heavily on syncopated guitars for rhythmic interest. Though he rarely cracked the pop or R&B charts, his records were huge in clubs, and a clear influence on Chic. Early on his records were nearly instrumental, but by the late 70s he began to feature huge-voiced diva Carolyn Crawford. As time went on and his signature sound fell out of favor, he made moves to adapt, but he also developed an unfortunate tendency to re-record his old songs, so listening to his later output can be an unrewarding experience.

I haven't been able to find a Hamilton Bohannon fan site or even an official site. (DBW)

Stop & Go (1973)
Right on the opening title track, Bohannon lays out the approach that would define his career: uptempo, bare-bones dance tracks with scratching guitars and a minimum of vocals, or anything else really. The simplest tune, "The Pimp Walk," is the best of the bunch. Side Two, though, pursues a direction Bohannon would never explore again: murky tunes with slow blues licks recalling Funkadelic's first album ("Singing A Song For My Mother"). Some of them also feature female vocals singing positive lyrics in a strikingly negative tone ("Happiness"), reaching for the sort of blunted irony found on There's A Riot Going On. Often it's affecting ("Save Their Souls"), and even when it isn't ("It's Time For Peace") at least it's unusual. "Run It On Down Mr. DJ" (written with Ray Parker Jr.) combines both approaches, with a slow, low-down feel but dance instrumentation and lyrical concept. (DBW)

South African Man (1974)
The best early Bohannon record, not because it's different stylistically - not a bit - but because the quality of the compositions and performances (bass playing in particular) is uniformly high (the atypically political title track, Bohannon's first notable single). "Rap On Mr. DJ" - apparently Bohannon was still trying to butter up disc jockeys - is a clavinet groove with an unusually light touch. "Keep On Dancin'" is the same song that later became "Let's Start The Dance," and though I love that bass line no matter what incarnation, this embryonic version has an understated charm. "Red Bone" goes out to all the cowbell fans, and also features bizarre wah-wah guitar soloing; "Dance With Your Parno" crosses his usual vamping with reggae. "Have A Good Day" represents Bohannon's secret weapon, the piano-led mood piece, and it's a tasty, jazz-influenced one, with a curious showtune-style finale. Later re-released as Keep On Dancin'. (DBW)

Insides Out (1975)
Bohannon's distinctive sound is in place from the opening moments of "Foot-Stompin' Music": two rhythm guitars playing cross rhythms over a steady bass and drum vamp, and not too much else. "East Coast Groove" is similar, but less original, borrowing its groove from the distinctly West Coast "Dance To The Music." Side Two is mostly turned over to near-instrumental slow ballads ("Thoughts And Wishes," "Love Is Fading"), with Bohannon's thin voice piping out the leads, such as they are... it's the sort of piano-led light fusion you might hear on contemporaneous work by, say, Ramsey Lewis, and successful in its small way, though I'd be a lot happier if the tunes averaged three minutes rather than six. The concluding "Happy Feeling" blends both styles, with a midtempo dance beat and a curiously dissonant keyboard line. As with nearly all the records to follow, everything was written, arranged, directed and produced by Bohannon. The band is Fernando Saunders (bass); Leroy Emmanuel (guitar); Mose Davis, Rod Lumpkin, Van Cephus and Harold McKinney (keyboards). (DBW)

Bohannon (1975)
Dedicated to metronomic simplicity, Bohannon tends to walk the line between hypnotic and robotic: the opener "Bohannon's Beat Part I" is a great example of the former, with a simple scratch guitar line that breeds tense excitement, but "Funky Reggae," a one-chord workout with no development or discernable melody - or reggae, for that matter - ends up on the wrong side of the line. Carolyn Crawford - who had also been with Motown in the mid-60s - adds wistful vocals to the bluesy, atypically slow "Can You Feel It." Again, Side Two is ballads, and this time around they're even slower and longer ("Gentle Breeze," with the simple theme stated by sparely used strings), though "The Day To Remember," based on a blues guitar riff, does feature very tasty organ from Lampkin. Several lineup changes: Ted Waterhouse replaces Saunders, Rick Rouse joins Emmanuel on guitar, and Lorenzo Brown adds percussion. (DBW)

Dance Your Ass Off (1976)
As usual for early Bohannon, one-chord, rhythm guitar-led grooves ranging from entrancing ("Bohannon's Theme") to trying ("Spread The Groove Around," with clichéd disco strings). In some ways, it's more bare than ever, with hardly any vocals (apart from the title chant) or variety, though there is an extended sax solo and (eventually) a chord change on "The Groove I Feel." Though most of his 70s albums feature a ballad side, there's dance music on both sides here, with just one change of pace: "Trying To Be Slick," with a laid-back but flavorful flute solo. So the medium-strength cuts like "Zulu," which make up most of the LP, deplete their goodwill through minute after minute of maddening sameness. (DBW)

Gittin' Off (1976)
No straying from the formula here; the title track is a virtual rewrite of "Bohannon's Beat," while "South Africa '76" is an undisguised, if effective, remake of "South African Man." "Feel Good At Midnight" is a standout, though, with a terrific guitar riff. On the slow side, "I'm In Love" is fine mellow jazz, with a bouncy guitar line and a nice vibraphone solo, while "Come Winter" is a standout in the other direction, an atrocious ballad with a smarmy vocal from Bohannon. Some more lineup shuffling, with Rouse, Waterhouse, Brown, Emmanuel and Davis remaining; Herbie Williams and Maurice Davis added trumpets on "Let's Rock The Band." (DBW)

Phase II (1977)
The title either refers to Bohannon's switch from Brunswick to Mercury, or to the birth of his son Hamilton F. Bohannon Jr. In any case, there's finally a change in the approach, as the midtempo opener "Andrea" is relatively complicated and lushly orchestrated (by Johnny Allen, another Motown vet). "Daddy's Little Son" - with "Isn't She Lovely"-style crying from little Hamilton - is similar but less memorable. The funky dance tracks are on Side Two this time, starting with the single "Bohannon's Disco Symphony," and even that features some pseudo-Romantic piano along with the usual guitar scratching. McKinney is the album's featured soloist, playing piano on four of the seven tracks, and he makes good use of the opportunity, finding different approaches each time. The core band is the same; guest guitarists Melvin "Wah Wah" Ragin and Ray Parker Jr. thicken the stew, which is particularly helpful on the less developed numbers ("Just Doing My Thang"). (DBW)

On My Way (1978)
Again, the production is sleek and stylish, but this time the songwriting is thin. "Maybe You Can Dance" has a good groove, but doesn't develop, and at nearly thirteen minutes it becomes an ordeal. The other lengthy track, "I Got To Stay Funky," is not as drawn out but its relentless eighth-note synth line becomes aggravating. On the other hand, the mellow instrumental "I Found My Love On A Saturday" is lovely, the bluesy "On The Weekend" is a nice change of pace, and "Git On Up" is a standout dance track. Mostly the same cast as before; Ragin's distinctive lead guitar is particularly prominent. As usual, written, arranged, directed and produced by Bohannon; Johnny Allen and Herbie Williams contributed one string arrangement each. (DBW)

Summertime Groove (1978)
The place to start with Bohannon, from what I've heard so far. Crawford became part of the band here, and she adds a lot of energy to the proceedings: "Let's Start The Dance" is probably Bohannon's best known tune, and it's one of the few great clavinet-driven tracks not featuring Billy Preston or Wonder. And most of the album is up to the same standard. The title track is one of Bohannon's heaviest, most stripped-down funk numbers. "I Wonder Why" is a wistful instrumental. And "Me And The Gang" is a boisterous dance track that's only partially spoiled by a coda in which the band members introduce themselves in as corny a manner as possible ("My name is Hamilton Bohannon, but you may call me Bo-HAH-nnon"). (DBW)

My Name Is Caroline (Caroline Crawford: 1978)
Except when it's Carolyn. Written and produced by Bohannon. (DBW)

Cut Loose (1979)
Energetic and entertaining like Summertime Groove, though Crawford doesn't sing as much apart from "Mighty Groovy." The title track has a heavy keyboard/bass riff and "The Beat (Part 2)" is similarly engaging. Throughout, Waterhouse plays more prominent, intriguing bass lines than usual, adding an ominous yet danceable touch to "Let Me See How You Do It." Bohannon closes the disc with a couple of boring underwritten grooves, though - "At Night Fall" and "That's The Way It Goes" - and since there are no slow numbers, you don't get the full spectrum of his abilities. (DBW)

Too Hot To Handle (1979)
Sonically much like Summertime Groove - Crawford's still on vocals, and "The Groove Machine" even sounds like "The Street Dance" - only more stripped down, with less prominent strings and next to no keyboards. And he's short of compositions again. Despite Ragin and Crawford's best efforts, "The Boogie Train" isn't a song, it's just a chord and a catchphrase. Two slow numbers ("I'll Be Here For You," "The Time Is Now") don't measure up to previous efforts, and the best numbers are remakes: "Andrea" and "Stop & Go." He does get credit for trying something new with the drumless flute fantasy "Love Floats," though it's ultimately insubstantial. (DBW)

Music Is In The Air (1980)
Elizabeth Lands (another Motown vet) replaced Crawford here. Includes a remake of "Thoughts And Wishes" and a cover of the Originals' "Baby I'm For Real." (DBW)

One Step Ahead (1980)
The first release on his Phase II Records label. Bohannon had his hands full with vocalists by this point: Crawford goes way over the top on "Dance Dance Dance All Night," though she's fine on "Do What Cha Wanna Do." Lands is more bizarre, screeching inappropriately on "April My Love (Part I)" (a mellow tribute to his newborn daughter). Keisa Brown acquits herself best, ranging from tender crooning on the ballad "Is It Real" (strings by Allen) to heavy belting on the dance tune "Throw Down The Groove (Part I)." Otherwise it's mostly standard middle-period Bohannon, with decent but unexceptional boogies and schmaltz. The pleasant exception is the bouncy pop song "Thinking Of You," with a swinging (if uncredited) electric piano solo. (DBW)

Goin' For Another One (1981)
A step up (sorry) from the preceding releases: the title track is positively florid compared to his usual work, with plush keyboards, and even a modulation on the bridge. "Do The Everybody Get Down" - featuring the Originals - is kinetic funk, and "The Symphonic March" is similar apart from the orchestral opening and closing. Only "The Happy Dance" is close to Bohannon's normal speedy disco, and even that's set apart by some unusually prominent rhythm guitar improvisation. "Thank You For Loving Me" is a slow romantic number, as you might imagine, with Hamilton singing lead. In case you don't get the title's implication, the cover photo features Bohannon's two children. (DBW)

Alive (1982)
The songwriting is sketchier than ever: three more remakes of "Start The Dance," and two each of "A Happy Song For You" and the familiar funk jam "Take The Country To New York City" ( featuring Maceo Brown and Fred Wesley regurgitating horn charts originally written for P-Funk). So you'll almost literally not hear anything you haven't heard before, but on those terms it's fairly decent: "Let's Start II Dance Again" is livened up with frantic rhythm guitar, female vocals, and a rap from Dr. Perri Johnson. The instrumental version of the pleasantly dippy "A Happy Song For You" spotlights an endless trumpet solo, and the ballad "You're The One" features unpredictable vocalizing from Lands. (DBW)

Fever (1982)
Shifting to full-on, post-disco dance funk, "The Party Train (Parts I, II, III)" features a full horn section, squiggly synth, and guest vocals from Ray Davis and Gary Shider. It doesn't help, and the similar, catchphrase-heavy "She's A Boogie Woogie Freak" is downright annoying. "I've Got The Dance Fever" - a single - not only sports dated synth and crashing drums, but a rap intro from Rick Alston. Just two slow tunes, and they're both remakes ("Thoughts And Wishes," yes, again; "What Is A Dream (Part II)"). Cynical and mechanical, there's nothing to recommend this one. (DBW)

Make Your Body Move (1983)
Title track (in vocal and instrumental versions) written by Ray Parker Jr., who also co-wrote several of the other tracks with Bohannon. Parker brings the project farther into the pop-funk mainstream, covering the usual bases like gimmicky makeout tunes ("Wrong Number," with an insistent ringing phone), squiggly synth licks (title track), and a lifeless attempt at synth-reggae ("B.T. Is Doing The Raggae"). But none of the compositions are remotely memorable, far inferior to the tunes he gave Diana Ross the same year. Bohannon's own work is more in his usual vein, with a spare funk instrumental ("Funkville") and a yearning, underwritten ballad ("Come Back My Love"). (DBW)

The Bohannon Drive (1983)
Less offensive than Fever, but in a similar style and no more original: there's yet another version of "Let's Start The Dance" (an instrumental with programmed drums that make it sound like a Prince demo) and apparently "Tell Me You'll Wait" and "Enjoy Your Day" are cannibalized from late 70s tracks he produced for Crawford. But "Rock Your Body" is a decent dance track, and "Running From Your Love" is livened up by a lengthy timbales break courtesy of Sheila E. As usual, everything's credited to Bohannon; Ragin gets a co-write on "Wake Up." Crawford, Rouse, Davis, Emmanuel and Lumpkin are on hand, plus Maceo Parker does his thing (and does it well) on "Do It Good." (DBW)

Motions (1984)

Here Comes Bohannon (1989)
Bohannon wasn't going down without a fight: he adapted quickly to house music, with ultramodern synth sounds and drum programming, and chicken-scratch guitar from Rouse ("House Train"). "The Gang's All Here" even has a rap, from Thomas Hearns. The best track, "The House Over The Hill," mixes live bass, live multi-tracked guitars, and the very live Alltrena Graceson on vocals; unfortunately, she totally oversings a cover of "Over The Rainbow," sounding like Patti LaBelle gone mad. The rambunctious "Fun And Play," with enjoyable keyboard and sax interplay, is the runner up. Though it's hard to hear them, Brown and Saunders are around somewhere, as is percussionist Pete Escovedo. (DBW)

It's Time To Jam (1990)

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