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Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns: When In Doubt, Blow!

fred wesley

Spring 1975

Fresh off directing the historic “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match and concert between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, Fred Wesley, musical director for the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown, hides out at the Americana Hotel in NYC.  Mr. Brown and the other members of his band, the JB’s, are completely uninformed of Wesley’s whereabouts. Fred Wesley needed it to be that way. He had reached the end of his rope in terms of his association with Mr. Brown. He could no longer tolerate the Godfather’s dictatorial attitude. At the exact moment Fred thought he had secured absolute solitude, he hears a knock on the door. Looking through the peephole, he sees what he later described as “creatures from outer space.” He would later realize that he wasn’t that far off.

Related: “George Clinton’s ‘The Cinderella Theory'”

The one person he recognized was former JB’s bassist Bootsy Collins. Upon opening the door, in walk Bootsy, George Clinton, guitarist Garry Shider, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, and bassist Cordell Boogie Mosson. All members of the seminal Funk collective known as Parliament-Funkadelic. After exchanging pleasantries, George breaks out numerous cassettes. They stick one of those cassettes in a tape player that Fred happens to have in the room. The sound emanating from that tape tells a story all its own. Rhythmic instrumental tracks communicating a bold, aggressive, overwhelming groove that immediately got Fred’s attention.

The only thing these tracks were missing were horn arrangements. In other words, the Mothership was calling for Fred Wesley to join the movement. Eventually, Fred would embrace the invitation and wouldn’t look back. With Fred on trombone, he recruits JB’s veterans tenor/alto saxophonist Maceo Parker and trumpet player Richard Griffith, as well as trumpet player Rick Gardner. Parliament-Funkadelic now had their own horn section, dubbed The Horny Horns.

The first appearance of The Horny Horns would be on the platinum-selling Mothership Connection album. They would also become an integral part of the most successful P-Funk spin-off act, Bootsy’s Rubber Band. Fresh off the success of Mothership Connection and Bootsy’s 1976 debut, Stretching Out In Bootsy’s Rubber Band, The Horny Horns release their own debut LP on Atlantic Records.

A BLOW FOR ME, A TOOT FOR YOU-March 1977

A Blow For Me features a slick back remake of the 1974 Parliament hit Up For The Down Stroke, defined by horn arrangements even more outrageous than the original version. Vocalists Lynn Mabry, Dawn Silva, and Taka Boom serenade the stroke into inner and outer space.

Related: “On the Verge of the Down Stroke”

The true crown jewel of this project is the instrumental Four Play. Anchored by the rock steady bass of Bootsy Collins (the sole bassist on the entire album) and the unassuming rhythm guitar work of P-Funk’s Glenn Goins, Four Play was intended to be released as a single and was featured as the B-side to promo copies of Up For The Down Stroke. Unfortunately, it was withdrawn due to complaints from radio programmers due to its suggestive title.

SAY BLOW BY BLOW BACKWARDS-August 1979

Two years after their highly impressive debut, The Horny Horns sophomore release, Say Blow By Blow Backwards quietly appeared on the record store racks in the first week of August 1979. The one noticeable difference with this release is that the album features almost 30 instrumentalists and vocalists. While all four horn players appear on the release, Fred Wesley had already left the P-Funk organization to work with Jazz bandleader Count Basie.

We Came To Funk Ya opens the album and stands as the most impressive track. Written solely by Bootsy, the jam features minimal lyrics which gives way to sublime solos from both Fred and Maceo. The Brides of Funkenstein and newly recruited singer Jessica Cleaves (formerly from the Friends of Distinction and Earth, Wind, and Fire) lend exquisite vocal support.

Strangely enough, no singles were ever released from this album until 2004 when We Came To Funk Ya appeared in 12” format backed by the full-length version of Four Play.

Both Horny Horns albums were reissued in 1993 in Japan, the UK, and the US. All CDs featured extra remixes as well commentary from George Clinton and Bootsy Collins. A third album, The Final Blow, was released in 1994 and features previously unreleased tracks as well as new remixes of Four Play and Half A Man. Numerous tracks from the first two albums were heavily sampled by such prominent rappers as Gang Starr, Notorious B.I.G., and Tupac Shakur.

-Tim Kinley

Photo: (L to R) Richard Griffith, Rick Gardner, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker (Press photo)

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