Roy Ayers – King of the Vibes

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Roy Ayers, born September 10 1940, has been and continues to be the master of his craft and a central player in the jazz funk story. Active for over 50 years he rocks a crowd as well as ever and still looks to stretch his sound,  recent work with Pete Rock providing evidence of this. His solo recording history starts back in 1963, commencing with his debut album ‘West Coast Vibes’, as such any summary of his work runs the risk of being little more than a discography such is the volume of output to be covered.  This is even before you consider his production work for others; collaborations and guest appearances are many and varied. Suffice to say an artist who has worked with Guru, Fela Kuti, Masters At Work, The Roots as well as Wayne Henderson, Erykah Badu and many more is someone to be reckoned with.

There is more to his work than just jazz funk however, as is suggested by his collaborators. For one thing, it was news to me until recently that he hosts the fictitious ‘Fusion FM’ radio station in Grand Theft Auto IV. An artist comfortable with jazz, funk, acid jazz, disco, soul, hip hop, afrocentric grooves and even house music, his career deserves an appreciative audience.  He is certainly one of my all time favourite artists, someone I’ll never miss if he is appearing in town.

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Starting out as a post bop jazz artist, he released a series of albums on Atlantic in the early to late 70’s. By the time of his last for that label – ‘Daddy Bug’ – his shift towards a funkier sound was absolutely clear.  Whilst still retaining a clear jazz sound, the vibraphone was riding a fatter groove than ever before. He was ready to move into the 70’s and become a pioneer of the jazz funk sound with album after album of classics on Polydor. As well as being a leading light in the jazz funk scene he later became a key figure in the acid jazz movement, one of the points at which jazz was being incorporated into hip hop. Check his track ‘Proceed’ with The Roots for a superb example of this sound. Indeed Roy Ayers has been sampled by hip hop artists almost as much as James Brown. From A Tribe Called Quest to Madlib, his grooves lend themselves perfectly to the hip hop producer with a taste for jazz and a sampler in his set up.

The Roots-Proceed II(Feat Roy Ayers) “Best Quality”: http://youtu.be/2Ls4czGIPTU

Going back to Roy’s early life, he grew up in a musical family, famously being given his first mallets for the vibraphone by Lionel Hampton at the age of five. Raised in South Park (now known as South Central) LA he was surrounded by music, indeed other alumni of his school Thomas Jefferson High include Dexter Gordon. Starting out as a sideman in the early 60’s he worked with artists such as Herbie Mann (check out the Memphis Underground LP) whilst also recording in his own name. With Virgo Vibes and Stoned Soul Picnic as well as the previously mentioned West Coast Vibes and Daddy Bug released on Atlantic he was establishing himself as a musician to be reckoned with.

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In the 70’s funk became a real influence,  he formed ‘Ubiquity’ as his band as well as recording one of the better blaxploitation soundtracks of the era in ‘Coffy’ – the film starred Pam Grier. Even in this period though, there was variation in his music, albums such as Mystic Voyage explored more cosmic themes as well as other tracks with clear nods to disco (Brother Green) and soul as well as the jazz funk he was primarily known for. Of course his best known track ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ taken from the 1976 album of the same name (and also recorded as RAMP) emerged from this fruitful period.

If there is any pretender to the crown of best known or loved Roy Ayers track it is probably ‘Running Away’. One of his biggest hits, coming from the ‘Lifeline’ album, this is a tune that continues to get played to delighted dancefloors decades after its initial release. As well as being a rare groove, jazz funk and funk or disco favourite it played a part in the development of the house sound being something of a staple for the likes of Frankie Knuckles and Ron Trent at the Warehouse and Music Box respectively.

By 1979 Roy Ayers was achieving (albiet modest) chart success with the likes of ‘Don’t Stop The Feeling’ as well as broadening his sound and global reach by touring Nigeria with Fela Kuti, leading to the recording of ‘Music of Many Colours’ with the afrobeat legend in 1980. By the early 80’s he established the Uno Melodica label, producing albums for the likes of Sylvia Striplin and 80’s Ladies. However, this proved not to be a sign that he was sitting back behind the scenes as his influence would continue to be felt for years to come…

I’ll pick up the story in a further post. For now, I have recorded a selection of some of Roy’s best work. Some big hits, some album tracks – all have the distinctive Ayers sound. By no means intended as definitive,  these 15 tracks are a starter as there are many more great tunes to be found in his lengthy discography.  Tracks are listed with album of origin.

The Best of Roy Ayers Part 1:

Roy Ayers Ubiquity – Mystic Voyage (Mystic Voyage)

Roy Ayers – Daddy Bug (Daddy Bug)

Roy Ayers Ubiquity – Rhythms Of Your Mind (Red, Black & Green)

Roy Ayers Ubiquity – Fikisha (Change Up The Groove)

RAMP – Daylight (Come Into Knowledge)

Roy Ayers – D.C.City (Lots Of Love)

Roy Ayers Ubiquity – Moving, Grooving (Vibrations)

Sylvia Striplin – Toy Box ( Give Me Your Love)

Roy Ayers – Get On Up, Get On Down (You Send Me)

Roy Ayers – Baby Doll (From unreleased Ubiquity sessions)

80’s Ladies – Tell Him (Ladies of the 80’s)

Roy Ayers – Rock Your Roll (Promo 12″)

Roy Ayers Ubiquity – ATouch Of Class (Virgin Ubiquity 2)

Roy Ayers – Don’t Stop The Feeling (No Stranger To Love)

Roy Ayers Ubiquity – Everybody Loves The Sunshine (ELTS LP)

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