The Gap Band
Reviewed on this page:
Magician's Holiday - The Gap Band (1977) -
The Gap Band (1979) - II - III - IV - Strike A Groove - V: Jammin' - VI - VII - 8 - Straight From The Heart - Round Trip - You Turn My Life Around - Testimony - Ain't Nothin' But A Party - Gotta Get Up - Y2K: Funkin' Till 2000 Comz - Love At Your Fingatips - Charlie, Last Name Wilson - Uncle Charlie - Love, Charlie
Robert Wilson died on August 16, 2010, from a massive heart attack. He was 53.
Formed in the early 1970s, the Gap Band was a Tulsa, Oklahoma soul/funk outfit fronted by three Wilson brothers: Charles, Ronnie and Robert.
When I was a kid, I read that they intended to fill in the "gap" between Sly Stone and P-Funk,
but apparently that's a fabrication: they were named for a Tulsa intersection. Anyway, they started out following in Earth, Wind & Fire's footsteps,
and later relied heavily on P-Funk gimmicks like non sequitur voiceovers,
a fictional radio station that played their music (WGAP instead of WEFUNK) and even borrowed catchphrases ("The bigger the headache, the bigger
the pill"). Lead singer Charles had a remarkable ability to imitate other vocalists - George Clinton, Maurice White, Stevie Wonder - and relied on that rather than developing his own style.
But the Wilsons weren't just a glorified cover band: they came up with an edgy
electrofunk production style and a bunch of powerhouse bass vamps, Charles poured his heart into funky songs of tortured love ("Burn Rubber On Me"),
and some of their EWF-like ballads were quite popular. They never had much crossover success, but racked up ten Top Ten hits (four #1's) on the R&B chart.
The group was most successful when working with producer Lonnie Simmons, with four consecutive gold records - after he
split in the mid-80s, the Gap Band's party train soon slowed to a stop. Like so many funk bands, they reformed in the 90s and occasionally tour
or attempt a comeback album.
While I rarely recommend greatest hits compilations, this is one of those bands with some great hit singles and a lot of dull album tracks. Get a greatest hits collection and a "Jam The Motha" 45
and you've got all you need. Unless Mr. Fonkee's fan site returns, the best you'll do is Soul Patrol's Gap Band page.
Charlie Wilson, lead vocals, keyboards; Ronnie Wilson, trumpet, keyboards; Robert Wilson, bass, vocals; James Macon, guitar; Richard "Moon" Calhoun, drums; Tommy Lokey and Chris Clayton, horns.
Macon, Lokey, Calhoun and Clayton left circa 1977. From 1979 to 1983, studio records featured John Black and Greg Phillinganes, keys; Glenn Nightingale, guitar; Raymond Calhoun,
drums; Malvin "Dino" Vice contributed arrangements and occasional trumpet - they were never credited as full band members. Oliver Scott, keyboards, vocals, joined around 1983 - he was never credited as a band member either, but acted like one. By the 1990s,
the Gap Band was back to the three Wilson brothers and whatever studio musicians they scraped together. Robert Wilson died, 2010.
Magician's Holiday (1974)
Their small-label debut, produced by Buddy Jones. He goes for a mellow funk recalling Billy Preston's early
70s hits ("Backbone" sounds uncannily like "Nothing From Nothing") crossed with Tower Of Power's brass-fueled soul
(thanks to horn players Tommy Lokey and Chris Clayton).
"Fontessa Fame," though, is a direct copy of Sly Stone's "The Asphalt Jungle (Africa Talks To You)," right down
to the metronomic percussion - maybe all the critics praising the reissue of Shuggie Otis's similarly unimaginative Information Inspiration will someday rediscover this one too.
Lokey wrote a couple of tunes ("I-Yike-It"); the rest were co-written by Jones
and one Wilson or another.
Wayne Perkins plays the continuous loud guitar solo on "Bad Girl."
Momma's Boys (1974)
I'm not convinced this really exists - there are online references but I can't find anyone who's actually seen or heard it.
Before the next release the band spent some time backing Leon Russell. (DBW)
The Gap Band (1977)
A cross between the loose TOP sound of the debut and the cleaner EWF sound of the following disc.
The one great song is the furious funk rocker "Not Guilty"; other tunes include the gospel tribute "God Is Watching You," the cheese-funk
"Out Of The Blue (Can You Feel It)" and a cover of Free's "Little Bit Of Love."
Weirdest guest is jazz pianist Les McCann on "Thinking Of You," which also features Leon and Mary Russell;
Chaka Khan adds inaudible backing vocals on "Hang On (To Yourself)."
Produced by John Ryan; the last hurrah for Calhoun - who soon joined Rufus - Lokey, Clayton, and guitarist James Macon.
The Gap Band (1979)
On its Mercury debut, the Gap Band was just another horn-driven soul/funk band listening real hard to Earth Wind & Fire
(the single here, "Shake," is a direct ripoff of "Shining Star" - it still went to #4 R&B). They even got EWF cohort Thomas "Tom Tom 84" Washington to arrange most of the horns and strings. But the tunes just aren't as good, with unambitious
love song lyrics ("I'm In Love"), forgettable melodies ("I Can Sing") and overlong arrangements ("Open Up Your Mind (Wide)").
All the songs are by one or more of the Wilson brothers, with just a couple of outside cowriters.
Produced by Lonnie Simmons, as were all the band's records through 1985, and he also sings lead on "Baby Baba Boogie," a knockoff of Chic's disco
"Dance, Dance, Dance."
Enjoyable enough ("Messin' With My Mind"), but uninspired - you might want to keep this around just to remind yourself how much better Maurice White & co. were than their contemporaries.
The EWF borrowings are staggering - everything from the arpeggiating horns to the falsetto backups to Maurice White-style "ye-aah, ye-aah, ye-aah" to the tunes themselves
("Steppin' (Out)," Top Ten R&B, opens with chords from "Yearnin' Learnin'"). Charles Wilson also finds time for an homage to Stevie Wonder circa 1972, complete with portamento
Arp synth lines ("You Are My High"). But the big hit was a P-Funk imitation, "I Don't Believe You Want To Get Up And Dance (Oops)," with endless voiceover catchphrases
and a whole musical section lifted from Brides Of Funkenstein's "Disco To Go." It's irresistable anyway, thanks to its "Say oops upside your head" refrain and spare groove, and it went Top Five R&B. A couple more tunes like that and this would be a classic album, but instead it's padded out with
Adult Contemporary dreck like "The Boys Are Back In Town" (with Graham Nash-style harmonies - not the Thin Lizzy song) and the tossed-off would-be anthem "Party Lights."
The backing band started to stabilize, with John Black and Greg Phillinganes (keys), Glenn Nightingale (guitar), Raymond Calhoun (drums), and Malvin "Dino" Vice arranging horns and strings - this core would remain in place for the next five years or so.
Guests include labelmates Yarbrough and Peoples on backing vocals.
The band's first gold album; note that this is in fact their fifth LP - the pre-Mercury work isn't reflected in the title numbers.
This record signalled a seismic change in the funk landscape: Parliament/Funkadelic, Ohio Players,
Rufus and Tower Of Power had split up; War and even Earth, Wind & Fire were losing
steam; Kool & The Gang had gone pop; James Brown and Sly Stone were approaching self-parody. Disco, often
unduly blamed for the death of funk, was fading away.
The Gappers came up with a new electrofunk approach on the single "Burn Rubber On Me (Why You Wanna Treat Me Bad)": crunching Moog bass line, crashing programmed snare, no horns, and a
tortured, pleading vocal straight out of Stax - it was their first R&B #1. Together with Dazz Band's similar "Let It Whip" and
maybe George Clinton's "Atomic Dog," it's practically a subgenre unto itself -
though in fact a bigger influence on Prince's early 80s sound than the more frequently cited Rick James.
"Humpin'" and "Gash Gash Gash" (Ronnie on lead vocal) are in a similar vein; the only big departure is "The Way," which I swear sounds like the Doobie Brothers with its mannered falsetto vocal
and prominent electric piano.
The other Gap staples - EWF hornfests ("Are You Living") and gentle ballads ("Yearning For Your Love," Top Five R&B) - are also better than usual, making this an easy choice. Also in 1980, Charlie and Ronnie guested on Stevie Wonder's "I Ain't Gonna Stand For It."
The band polished its style, and as a result the album is smoother and more professional than III, but not as exciting.
The band's two Top Forty singles are here: the electrofunk masterpiece "You Dropped A Bomb On Me" (#2 R&B) and
the similar but less inspired "Early In The Morning" (#1 R&B). The midtempo groove "Outstanding" also topped the R&B chart, while "I Can't Get Over You" is the requisite nod to EWF, and "Talkin' Back" is pleasant if predictable dance floor fodder.
Rounding things out are a couple of mediocre ballads: "Stay With Me," which sounds like ABBA's "Dancing Queen" performed by mid-80s Chicago, and "Season's No Reason To Change." Still, a good place to start with the band because it's their least derivative effort if not their best.
Strike A Groove (1983)
Modernized remixes of pre-Total Experience tracks... three are from the 1977 album, "I Can Sing" is from the Mercury debut, and I don't know the origin of the other four but I'm guessing they were shelved demos ("Merry Go Round").
The remixing is a bit heavy-handed but doesn't totally destroy songs like "Not Guilty" and "Knucklehead Funkin'" - there are too many synth squiggles, but they didn't erase the original bass guitar or horn tracks.
The bigger problem is, the material was unremarkable to begin with ("Silly Grin," which reuses the melody of "Everyday People"; "Party Down," borrowing from "You're All I Need To Get By").
I wouldn't recommend buying it but as ripoffs go, it's not the kind that'll have you kicking yourself as soon as you unwrap the cellophane and realize what you got.
V: Jammin' (1983)
The band finally settled into its style, with dense arrangements (verging on lush in the slower numbers) mostly built on synth timbres (aided by
unofficial fourth member Oliver Scott, who added keyboards and trombone, and wrote the instrumental "Where Are We Going?"). The aural consistency can get oppressive, but at least they avoid the
blatant borrowing of past albums.
The singles were the interchangable dance anthem "Party Train" and the nifty funk vamp "Jam The Motha'" - unfortunately, the LP contains the verseless "party mix"; the far superior "munchkin mix,"
with Charles portraying a funk-seeking space alien, was relegated to a non-LP B-side. Again the band's weakness in the melody department makes the slow numbers a chore ("You're My Everything").
Stevie Wonder adds backing vocals and harmonica to the flaccid MLK salute "Someday"; P-Funkers Fred Wesley and Dawn Silva are among the many guests.
Falling into a routine, the single is more uptempo electrofunk (the sly "Beep A Freak," #2 R&B), and most of the rest is flat, synth-funk ("Video Junkie," the
Gappers' answer to Buckner & Garcia's novelty hit "Pac-Man Fever") and ballads ("The Sun Don't Shine Everyday"). But "I Believe" is a lovely midtempo anthem with primitive electronic percussion straight
out of There's A Riot Goin' On, ending with a blues guitar solo - which supports my theory that any artist, given enough time, will eventually record the
blues. And the love song "I Found My Baby" is memorable, with unusually soulful group vocals.
No notable guests.
Also this year, the group contributed three tunes to A Total Experience Christmas.
Another step down, as the Wilsons didn't do much of the writing while labelmates like Jonah Ellis cooked up imitations of the band's trademark sound ("Desire"; "Ooh What A Feeling").
The synth-funk is stale, just lots of unambitious, underdone chants like "Li'l Red Funkin' Hood" and "Bumpin' Gum People." The ballads are a small step up: The Philly Soul-ish ballad "Going In Circles" hit #2 R&B, and "I Need A Real Love" showcases stirring lead vocals from Charlie. The low points aren't very low, but the high points aren't high either, and who wants consistent sub-mediocrity? If you're not a Gap Band completist (and I don't think anyone is, apart from me), there's no reason to pick this up.
Billy And Baby Gap (1985)
This spinoff project features production from Charlie; a curious electro-funk period piece, as it mixes rapping, too-bright DX-7 synth and Linn drums all in the same cauldron. Touring band members Billy Young and Anthony ("Baby Gap") Walker play or program most of the instruments, and Walker sings (Charlie handles the lead on "Just For You"). Unfortunately, the tunes are so unoriginal ("Rock The Nation" and "Cinderella" have especially blatant P-Funk swipes) and the intrusive production is so irritating, the album is essentially the definition of "a crashing bore." I disposed of this LP before the third listen so I can't give it a star rating, but it ain't good.
A sudden shift from Roman to Arabic numerals. As with the previous release, the signature funk doesn't really come off: "Big Fun" is a mechanical bore, while "Get Loose, Get Funky" - the only song co-written by a Wilson brother - is serviceable but nothing you haven't heard before. And again, the slow tunes are better: "I'll Always Love You" features a terrific, dramatic vocal from Charlie, "I Owe It To Myself" is nearly as good, and "Bop D Ba B Da Da (How Music Came About)" is a fun bit of pop kitsch.
The last Lonnie Simmons production.
Straight From The Heart (1988)
Finally, an actual album title! Produced by Ronnie Wilson, with Simmons kicked upstairs to executive producer. It doesn't have much impact on the sound, which ranges from their usual electro-funk ("That's It, I Quit" is a virtual rewrite of "Burn Rubber") to ballads ("I Will Never Leave You"; title track). The Wilsons were more involved in the songwriting this time, but it doesn't make much difference: "Come & Dance" (borrowing a chant from The Time's "Cool") and "Sweeter Than Candy" are the same soft of semi-funky rehashes they'd been putting out for the past few albums. Since there's no key track here, this has less to recommend it than any of the surrounding releases.
Also this year, the group recorded the theme to the movie I'm Gonna Git You Sucka!.
Round Trip (1990)
A move to Capitol records, and Ronnie and Charlie Wilson split production. The backing band is mostly new, apart from Calhoun: Aldyn St. Jon and Roman Johnson on keyboards, and five guitarists including soloist Gregory Wright. The new crew makes a concerted attempt to keep up with pop trends, using much more artificial-sounding percussion and keyboards. The results are mixed:
"All Of My Love" - the band's most recent (not to say last) R&B #1 - is a pretty decent New Jack Swing tune, and the ballad "Wednesday Lover" is a moving hi-tech groove,
along the lines of Àngela Winbush's productions for the Isley Brothers.
"Addicted To Your Love" is a less successful dancefloor attempt, lifting the bass line intact from Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative;" and some of the slow numbers don't come across ("We Can Make It Alright").
You Turn My Life Around (Charlie Wilson: 1992)
On his solo debut, Wilson gets in more love songs than the band usually indulged in ("Confess Your Love"; title track).
Accordingly, his flexible pipes get a lot of exposure... this may be his strongest album as a vocalist.
Sylvia Robinson and Ernie Singleton produced, and they do a credible job of mixing classic elements like horns and vocoder ("Charlie's Jam") with more aggressive drum machine and synth tones ("Sprung On Me"). The songwriting, though, is lacking, with too much forgettable R&B formula ("I Found My Baby"; the sing-song "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me").
Remember when there were "CD-only bonus tracks"? There's one here, the gently soulful "Please Believe Me."
Produced by Morris Rentie Jr., who also wrote most of the generic synth-soul tunes.
Musicians aren't listed, but I'm willing to bet the Wilsons played almost nothing - it's all programmed drums and standard synth settings, with no more than a hint of other instruments. Production
this bland can work if your melodies are terrific, but these never rise above the merely hummable ("Outside Lookin In"). So there's not much to focus on but Charlie Wilson's voice, which here doesn't
display the force or distinctiveness to hold your interest.
The Adult Contemporary monotony is broken up by a couple of rap numbers written by Joey Robinson Jr. and performed by Almighty Gee ("Gap's Jam," "Based on G.A.P.")
- they're based on fat synth riffs recalling the band's glory days, but they're endlessly repetitive and none too catchy.
The bright spots are the playful, aptly titled "Funky Bass Man," and the title track (written by Rentie and Jeff Lorber), a ballad with intriguing
Ain't Nothing But A Party (1995)
And not much of one, even.
The Gapistas starting raiding their back catalog in earnest here, with a remake of "You Dropped A Bomb On Me," and a thinly-disguised cover of "I Don't Believe You Want To Get Up And Dance (Oops)" renamed "First Lover."
As if that's not enough, "Closin' The G.A.P." drops titles from various Gap hits over a generic house beat.
George Clinton guests on "Over The Funkin' Hill," which is a remake of his '93 non-hit "Rhythm & Rhyme" with different lyrics.
The instrumentation relies almost exclusively on drum loops and minimal synth ("Why You Wanna Funk Around?").
Most of the new material is by Charlie Wilson with co-writes from Amanda Rushing,
Paris Turner, D-Low and a few others, but there's not much happening from a melody standpoint ("Love At Your Fingatips" is the best of a weak crop).
Overall, this couldn't be less original or rewarding; I don't know who should be more ashamed: them for releasing it, or me for
buying it. But I'm leaning toward them.
Live & Well (1996)
Gotta Get Up (1997)
Another live disc, mostly made up of big hits ("Oops," "Burn Rubber," etc.) capably and energetically rendered.
But like most live albums, the band plays too fast and without much variety: horns and synth textures mostly get lost, and
as a result, they completely lose the synth-funk power of "Burn Rubber." There were also some poor editing decisions, with the result that
two lesser tunes, "Yearning For Your Love" and "Party Train," run more than seven minutes each, while more exciting songs are trimmed
severely: where the original version of "Wide" was too long, the 50-second excerpt here is too short - maybe in another twenty years they'll
find the happy medium. The slip-shod packaging (no information on when or where the show took place, or who the musicians were) and
bare-bones recording quality make me think this is a "gray market" release, but I don't think EMI/Capitol messes with that stuff.
Y2K: Funkin' Till 2000 Comz (1999)
A cloyingly modern set, with annoying raps ("Scandalous") and formulaic slow jams ("Style And Grace").
A younger generation of Wilsons (Brian, Andre and Casey) produced many of the tracks, but the cuts produced by the original
Wilson brothers aren't any more imaginative or tuneful ("It Otta Be Like This").
Rapper Snoop Dog adds his customary blunted asides to the guitar-based funk "Funkin Till 2000 Comz."
There's a disturbing misogynist trend in the lyrics, from the repeated use of "bitch" in "Scandalous" to the insulting lyrics in the
voice box-assisted "Baby I Remember Your Face (But I Can't Remember Your Name)," which features a rap from Kurupt, and
"Messin With My Flow," a mediocre dance tune that's the best music you'll find here. There are also two cliché-riddled
social conscience numbers, "No Color Lines" and "For The People," co-produced by Blaqthoven. And testing the theory that
you can't have too much of a bad thing, there are remixes of the title track and "Good Old Fashion Lovin'."
Guests include Ira Gilroy and Roman Johnson (keyboards), Steve Grove (keyboards and sax) and the ageless Paulinho Da Costa.
Bridging The Gap (Charlie Wilson: 2000)
Angie Stone wrote and produced "A Wonderful One."
Love At Your Fingatips (2001)
I was wrong: there is something less original and rewarding than Ain't Nothin' But A Party: a repackaging of the same album, with five mixes of "You Dropped A Bomb On Me" - all missing the keyboard hook that made it work - and two versions of "First Lover."
Charlie, Last Name Wilson (Charlie Wilson: 2005)
R. Kelly's at it again: after cheapening the Isley Brothers' legacy with trite, unmelodic (albeit top-selling) mini-melodramas, he's coming for Charlie Wilson (title track). At least Charlie gets a humbler persona than the "Mr. Biggs" aging pimp Ronald Isley's been playing. And
Wilson does redeem Kelly's spare ballad "No Words" with a moving performance that's restrained and emotive by turns.
Elsewhere, the disc is balanced between love songs ("Let's Chill") and dance numbers (the Arabesque "So Hot" with Twista), and there are some unexpected elements like the Spanish guitar groove of
"You Got Nerve" (produced by T-Pain, with a guest rap from Snoop Dog).
For some reason, most of the producers sound like wrestling teams: The Jaw Breakers ("Floatin'" with Will.I.Am and Justin Timberlake), The Platinum Brothers and The Underdogs ("What If I'm The One").
Charlie co-wrote and co-produced one song, and it's a highlight: the stirring gospel "Cry No More."
Uncle Charlie (Charlie Wilson: 2009)
Kelly's not around this time, but the rest of the Last Name crowd is, and the production again leans way too hard on current trends ("Back To Love"): among other things, T-Pain's autotuned vocals are really starting to get on my nerves ("Supa Sexxy").
The Underdogs contribute mostly ballads ("Can't Live Without You," with a sinuous melody), though they're also behind the opener "Musta Heard," cleverly built on a "Jungle Boogie" guitar sample.
Likewise, Gregg Pagani turns in some dance tracks ("Let It Out," with another Snoop Dogg cameo) and the midtempo grind "Shawty Come Back" (based on Player's "Baby Come Back"), and cooked up "There Goes My Baby" with Babyface.
Throughout, the tunes seem designed to squash Wilson's individuality: the heavy synth bass of "Let It Out" is the only clue that the man fronted the Gap Band, and he never really gets to shine on vocals.
Just Charlie (Charlie Wilson: 2010)
Not quite: Fantasia duets on a cover of Roger's "I Wanna Be Your Man."
But everything else is Wilson solo, co-writing and producing with a small core of confederates including Wirlie "Optimas Pryme" Morris, Greg Pagani, Carl M. Days Jr. and Mahin Wilson (surely a relation).
Love, Charlie (Charlie Wilson: 2012)
Nearly every track is co-written and produced by Wilson and Morris, and apart from the aerobicizer "My Baby" they stick to a midtempo smooth soul groove
("I Still Have You," with a sitar sound recalling the Stylistics) that's a good match for Charlie's vocals. At times they overdose on nostalgia (the old-timey, I-vi-IV-V "I Think I'm In Love"), but more often they find real emotion and tunefulness even though thematically they're in very well traveled territory ("Our Anniversary") and the instrumentation seldom strays far from the programmed drums/synth/occasional guitar template ("If I Believe").
My name is David, last name Wilson.