Graham Central Station: Now Do-U-Wanta Dance / My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me / Star Walk
The ex-Sly & the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham brings the funk on this trio of late '70s albums.
In the world of 1970s funk and soul music, Graham Central Station is generally considered a lesser concern. So just how noteworthy could a reissue of three of their lesser albums be? The short answer is, less than the record company wants you to believe, but probably more than you might guess.
Few bass players have been as influential or as noteworthy as Larry Graham. As part of Sly & the Family Stone, he was involved in creating some of the most diverse, exciting, and vital popular music of the “free love” era from the mid-1960s through the early ‘70s. He also came to invent the “slap” or “finger-pop” style of playing that has since become widespread. Without him, funk music would not sound like it does. The trade-off in the form of Seinfeld music and infinite bass wankery certainly was worth it. After clashing with Sly, Graham was kicked out of the Family Stone in 1972 and quickly formed Graham Central Station. They had some moderate success with their first few albums.
This collection comes in after that. Over two discs, it collects Now Do-U-Wanta Dance (1977), My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me (1978), and Star Walk (1979). The latter title was credited as a Graham solo album, but no matter. The musicians were generally the same, and none of the records sold particularly well, anyway.
In the case of Now Do-U-Wanta Dance and My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me, though, the lack of commercial success seems puzzling. After all, George Clinton’s P-Funk collective was getting lots of attention and platinum sales. Graham’s work during the same time is no less funky or energetic, and only slightly less charismatic. Rave-ups like “Pow”, the talk box-assisted “Now Do-U-Wanta Dance”, and the apocalyptic “Earthquake” bring the funk hard and are given an extra jolt of power by Graham’s inimitably percussive playing. Furthermore, the likes of “Mr. Friend” and the take on Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” are soulful and sincere.
Plus, Graham has brought happy little doo-wop numbers like “Happ-E-2-C-U-A-Ginn”, “Stomped Beat-Up and Whooped”, and “My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me” with him from his Family Stone days. Graham sings it all in his amused baritone, too, creating the same sense of ironic fun that Clinton traded in. For a disc and a half, Graham Central Station delivers like P-Funk without the added novelty of the latter’s occult/sci-fi shtick. Granted, that shtick was part of the fun, and Graham Central Station sounds a bit generic without it.
Throughout the ‘70s, Graham had managed to stay clear of disco. It’s something of a surprise, then, that the title track of Star Walk took the dive just as public opinion was turning against the form. The rest of the six-track album centers on heavy funk, but not even Graham sounds too interested. It’s telling that the most memorable track, “(You’re A) Foxy Lady” steals its title from Hendrix and its rhythm from the Commodores’ “Brick House”. No wonder that after Star Walk Graham remade himself as a soul crooner.
In this age of digital media, it's heartening that well-done, physical reissues such as this are still being produced. The folks at SoulMusic Records and their Cherry Red partners know how to do this right; the collection is nicely-packaged with thorough liner notes and crisp remastering.
Contrary to the text on the cover, these albums are not “classic". But Graham’s influence on at least a generation of musicians should not be overlooked. Not least among those was Prince, who in the late ‘90s signed Graham to his label and toured with him. For Family Stone fans, sample diggers, and vintage funk junkies, this set is close to essential.