Music

Verse-Chorus-Verse: An Interview with Steve Arrington

Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats.

"Nobody can be you but you."

-- Steve Arrington

It's almost inaccurate to call drummer/songwriter/producer Steve Arrington as plain a term as "singer", as he doesn't so much sing lyrics as much as he throws his whole being into them, disarming listeners with the pure physicality of swooping acrobatic highs, dramatic growls, and unexpected melodic turns. The former vocalist/frontman for funk legends Slave, as well as his own group, Steve Arrington's Hall of Fame, Steve Arrington, along with fellow Ohio natives Sugarfoot and Roger Troutman, has long been considered by funkateers to be one of the most distinctive funk vocalists of all time.

With all due respect to the aforementioned vocalists, as well as Larry Blackmon and other groundbreaking funk vocalists, I would actually go one step further and say Arrington is the most unique vocalist in funk, ever. While it is fairly common for funk vocalists to function as the lead rhythm instrument within an interlocking hyper-syncopated ensemble, Arrington, in my opinion, was the only one to use his voice in the same way other funk bands of the '70s and '80s used squealing, gurgling synths: as an undulating, unpredictable, but still pleasing-to-hear futuristic "sound effect" of sorts. Troutman, whose work I love dearly, of course also deftly and skillfully did things in this vein, but he had the help of his talkbox. Arrington's vocal flights of fancy are organic, and his drumming background gives each of his texturized vocal performances a rhythmic precision that is funky-to-the-core. And to this day, no one sounds like Steve Arrington but Steve Arrington -- nobody can be him but him.

I wasn't surprised at all to see the diverse list of influences on Steve Arrington's Facebook page recently: Cole Porter, Buddy Miles, Aaron Copeland, Gentle Giant (to name a few). The sheer musicality of his approach, which is occasionally almost avant-garde in its insistent dynamism, is clearly rooted in a deep love and healthy knowledge of a wide array of styles, though his records generally stick to a funk, dance, and rock aesthetic. For newcomers to his work, I recommend copping his first solo album, Steve Arrington's Hall of Fame Vol. I, to get a vibe on his style. From there it is easy to work backwards to the four Slave albums on which he appears, or forward to his other solo records, all of which contain gems waiting to be discovered by new listeners.

What was the first song you fell in love with, and what is your current relationship to the piece?

As a child the first song I remember loving was "Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop" by Little Anthony and the Imperials. I have the song today on mp3. It still sounds great! His lead vocal, smokin'.

Who is your favorite "unsung" artist or songwriter, someone who you feel never gets their due? Talk a little bit about him/her.

A vocalist by the name of Billy Stewart was truly one of the greats, in my opinion. Tracks like "Summertime", "I Do Love You", "Sitting in the Park", dude's vocals are killin' it. His style is so original. He doesn't get mentioned when you talk about great R&B vocalists. His career was not as big or as long as some others, but his vocal style is very important, I think.

Is there an artist, genre, author, filmmaker, etc. who/which has had a significant impact/influence on you, but that influence can't be directly heard in your music?

James Taylor would be that for me. Specifically his Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon album. What moves me so much about that record is how honest it sounds. His vocals are so real and believable. My music doesn't sound like his at all, but that honest, real vibe on that Mud Slide Slim... album is very important to me. My desire is that my music sound honest, and from the heart.

Do you view songwriting as a calling, a gig, a hobby, other...?

I view songwriting as a calling, but I could easily see how others could view it differently.

Name one contemporary song that encourages you about the future of songwriting/pop music.

I think Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" was an important record.

In the 1980s, Steve Arrington, like a number of musicians (Little Richard, Al Green) before him, felt a call towards Christian ministry. Though he has devoted the bulk of the last 20 years to his work as a minister, he continues to make music. He recently released a brand new album, Pure Thang, which features a track with the ill-est Steve Arrington song title of all time, "The Devil Can't Sing Amazing Grace". Check out Pure Thang at CDBaby and other online outlets. Visit stevearringtonministries.com for more information on all of Steve Arrington's activities.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.