Today in 1996, one of the greatest, most influential bassists ever, Bernard Edwards of Disco/Funk group Chic, passed away after contracting pneumonia while on tour in Japan.
My personal favorite bass line is Sly Stone's lick on "If You Want Me to Stay," but it's hard to deny the power of Chic's "Good Times," a Disco-era hit that helped lay the groundwork for Hip Hop. Edwards' bass line from the song is considered one of the most sampled pieces of music ever and it has been mimicked almost as often. Songs that wouldn't exist with Edwards' riff include Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," Hip Hop trailblazers Sugarhill Gang's breakthrough "Rapper's Delight," Blondie's "Rapture," Daft Punk's "Around the World" and Wham!'s "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" (hey, they can't all be winners).
R.I.P Bernard Edwards. And thanks for the groove.
Click on for Born This Day featuring Bez, Skip Spence, Grandmaster Caz and Robert Christgau.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing an April 18 birthday include: Tin Pan Alley lyricist ("Good Morning, Good Evening, Good Night," "Blueberry Hill") Al Lewis (1901); versatile Blues/Roots singer/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown (1924); classic Rock producer Paul Rothchild (1935); guitarist for Moby Grape and cult favorite for his lone solo album Oar, Skip Spence (1946); Hip Hop pioneer Grandmaster Caz (1961); guitar enthusiast (and talk show host) Conan O'Brien (1963); frontman for Chicago Power Pop band Material Issue, Jim Ellison (1964); "dancer" for British band Happy Mondays, Mark Berry, widely known as simply "Bez" (1964); and the "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau (1942).
The now-70-year-old Christgau has been writing about popular music since 1967, when he began doing a music column for Esquire. He went on to become a writer/music editor/music critic for the Village Voice, where he oversaw the "Pazz & Jop" critics' poll, a crucial barometer measuring the best albums of each year. He's done freelance work far and wide and has written and edited several books, including many "Consumer Guides" and anthologies.
He's a critic so he has his haters, but, for the most part, Christgau is one of the most respected voices in the sadly dying field of smart music criticism. For his 60th birthday, several writers contributed to the tribute collection of essays called Don't Stop ’Til You Get Enough: Essays in Honor of Robert Christgau.
Those in the Cincinnati area who pay attention to local music likely also know Christgau as the biggest cheerleader of local band Wussy. Most bands would sacrifice a drummer's arm to get a one-sentence press kit quote from Christgau; his writings on Wussy could already fill a book. Seemingly.
Here's a sampling of Christgau's comments about Chuck Cleaver, Lisa Walker, Mark Messerly and Joe Klug's band:
From 2005 (reviewing Funeral Dress): "11 three-minute songs, all about perfect, one after the other after the other."
From 2007: "I love this Cincinnati quartet."
From 2009 (reviewing Wussy): "As brutal a relationship album as Richard & Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights."
From 2012: "Wussy have been the best band in America since they released the first of their five superb albums in 2005, only nobody knows it except me and my friends."
Every Wussy recording Christgau has reviewed has received a solid "A" grade. For context, Christgau gave Wilco's acclaimed A Ghost Is Born a "B-" and even The Stooges' Fun House warranted an "A-."
(Find more Christgau writing than you could ever possibly read at his exhaustive website.)
Happy birthday, Mr. Christgau. If you're reading, here's a song for you that I know for a fact you like — Wussy's "Waiting Room" from their excellent most recent LP, Strawberry.