2 Busy Saying Yeah 21 - The Mizell Brothers
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Fonce & Larry Mizell are two of my favorite producers ever ever.
In fact, they almost transcend the category because on their signature records they contribute in so many ways -- songwriting, arranging, playing and singing -- that they elide the distinction between producer and artist.
However you want to characterize their role, they made music that's wonderful, completely original and instantly identifiable. Although they produced only two major pop hits, A Taste of Honey's "Boogie Oogie Oogie" and LTD's "Love Ballad", they crafted some of the most successful jazz albums of the 1970s and a body of work that continues to inspire producers in just about every stream of rap, soul and electronic music.
The two began began playing music in their teens, both as trumpeters and singers. After college, Larry got a job in aerospace, while Fonce went to L.A. to make it as a songwriter. He and college friend Freddie Perren landed jobs as staff songwriters at Motown and, working with Deke Richards and Berry Gordy as the Corporation, quickly scored a series of massive hits for the Jackson 5 ("ABC", "I Want You Back", "The Love You Save"). Larry finished a master's degree and moved west to join Fonce, finding work as a session keyboard player.
Fonce's first production after leaving Motown, Donald Byrd's 1973 LP Black Byrd, was a huge hit by jazz standards and became the blueprint for a run of albums the brothers produced for Byrd, Bobbi Humphrey, Johnny Hammond, Gary Bartz and others. All combine electric instrumentation, spacey synths and skittering rhythms with lush, tricky arrangements of soaring horns and the Mizell Brothers' harmony vocals, frequently augmented by strings, sound effects and ghostly whistling. Although like many of their jazz contemporaries, they drew on rock, soul and funk the Mizells took the influence in a different direction, lightening the rhythmic pulse, softening the edges and adding many layer upon layer of harmony and counterpoint. Remarkably, as rich as the arrangements are, they never sound stiff or fussy.
I got inspired to do this mix a few months ago when I heard DJ Platurn close out the radio show that precedes mine on All Day Play with a Bobbi Humphrey song; I think it was "Chicago Damn". There were a couple of guys in the room who make beats pretty seriously and they started flipping out over the record, talking about how easy it would be to turn it into a beat, etc. I was shocked that they weren't familiar with the record or with the Mizell Brothers generally and it got me thinking about how little known the Mizell Brothers are even though their influence is so pervasive. I thought it would be cool to make a mix that highlights some of their greatest songs.
I wrestled a little bit with what fell within the scope of the mix because it's not always clear what is or isn't a Mizell Brothers record. For example, on the soundtrack to Hell Up In Harlem, Fonce and Freddie Perren are credited as producers and writers, while Larry is only credited with playing synthesizer. "Airport Chase", from that album, ended up in the mix because it sounds like a Mizell Brothers track. Similarly, their outings with Bobbi Humphrey credit Larry Mizell and Chuck Davis as producers, rather than Fonce and Larry, but Fonce was prominently featured and the music sounds like the Mizells. (Total digression: does anybody know the story on Chuck Davis? The only non Mizell-related thing he did that I know of was that kinda great crossover 7" by Beloyd.) Other things were easier calls, like the Jackson 5 hits-- great as they are, they didn't involve Larry at all, so they were clearly out.
I tried to include songs from every major project they did but things kinda clumped up around my favorites. Without realizing it, I included all six tracks from Johnny Hammond's Gears LP and not one from Roger Glenn's Reachin. (Total digression #2: if you know me in the real world, ask me to tell you my Roger Glenn story sometime.) I probably should have included more from the Blackbyrds' first album, too. If I were to recommend five records produced by the Mizell Brothers, they'd be: Donald Byrd's Places and Spaces and Street Lady, Johnny Hammond's Gears, and Bobbi Humphrey's Blacks and Blues and Fancy Dancer.
The Mizells' music doesn't really lend itself to DJing-- the tempos fluctuate a lot, the arrangements are dense and the songs tend to be really long-- but I did my best with it. I tried to let some of my favorites breathe, while still trying to make room for as many songs as I could. The mixing isn't airtight but is pretty good considering I did it live or at least sort of live; early in June, I recorded a live version for All Day Play in which I played and talked about the songs. In this version, I took the original mix and replaced the talking portions with music and, in some cases, additional songs. (If you want to hear the talky version, it's here.)
1. Johnny Hammond - Tell Me What to Do
2. Donald Byrd - You and Music
3. L.T.D. - Love to the World
4. Margie Evans - Waterfalls
5. Donald Byrd - Lansana's Priestess
6. Johnny Hammond - Conquistadores Chocolatés
7. Gary Bartz - Music Is My Sanctuary
8. Johnny Hammond - Star Borne
9. Johnny Hammond - Fantasy
10. A Taste of Honey - World Spin
11. The Blackbyrds - Reggins
12. Rance Allen Group - Reason to Survive
13. Donald Byrd - Wind Parade
14. Bobbi Humphrey - New York Times
15. Bobbi Humphrey - Uno Esta
16. Bobbi Humphrey – Jasper Country Man
17. Donald Byrd – Change (Makes You Want to Hustle)
18. Johnny Hammond - Shifting Gears
19. Donald Byrd - (Fallin' Like) Dominoes
20. A Taste of Honey - Do It Good
21. Donald Byrd - Think Twice [Mizell Brothers 2005 Remix]
22. Gary Bartz - Gentle Smiles (Saxy) [DJ Day edit]
23. Donald Byrd - Places and Spaces
24. Bobbi Humphrey - Harlem River Drive
25. Marvin Gaye - Where Are We Going?
26. Bobbi Humphrey - Blacks and Blues
27. Johnny Hammond – Can’t We Smile
28. L.T.D. - Love Ballad
29. Donald Byrd - Stepping Into Tomorrow
30. Donald Byrd - Miss Kane
31. Brenda Lee Eager - When I'm With You
32. Bobbi Humphrey - Please Set Me at Ease
33. Bobbi Humphrey – My Little Girl
34. Donald Byrd - Slop Jar Blues
35. Donald Byrd - Black Byrd
36. Edwin Starr - Airport Chase
37. Bobbi Humphrey - Mestizo Eyes
38. Bobbi Humphrey - Fancy Dancer
39. Johnny Hammond – Lost on 23rd St.
40. Donald Byrd - Rock and Roll Again
Finally, I want to send a big shout to my friend Cosmo Baker, who has been talking about doing a Mizell Brothers mix for years and who I had to check with before I did this. Cosmo is a fantastic DJ and if he gets around to it, I'm sure his mix will be better than mine (especially since he has a secret weapon). Let's hope he does.
In the meantime, you might want to check out his latest mix, which is the penultimate installment in the Rub's mighty history of hip hop series. You can grab all 30 (!) of them here.