Communicators & Black Experience Band - “Has Time Really Changed”/”The Road” (Tri Oak, 1974) & “One Chance/Is it Funky Enough?” (Duplex Records, 1973)

This group – or two groups together – put out some rather strange singles; one side soul and/or politico with the flipside funky. According to the excellent band summary from heavyweightfunk45s.com below, included in its entirety, “Has Time Really Changed” was considered controversial because of its “politics” for much radio play, you can hear this if you listen in, but it’s not that explicit (the bass voice that comes in to ask the rhetorical question is a bit loopy, out-there, to my ears at least, thus diminishing the message of the rest of the lyrics).

The b-side “The Road” seems to be the group’s best-known track, understandably as it’s pretty fantastic:

The other single follows a similar formula, the a-side is a highly expressive soulful, verging on doo wop, lament:

(Have to admit: I like “One Chance” a lot, yes it is extremely corny that is known to me) … then here it is, the  excursion to funky town (a truly great song in itself):

Here’s the info from the heavyweightfunk45s.com site on the group/s:

“The Black Experience Band came together around 1970 to back up the Communicators, a vocal group. The band’s early line-up featured Charles Bailey (trumpet), James “Butch” Barton (trombone), Eli Brown(saxophone), Willis Norman (lead guitar), Roy Hubert (rhythm guitar), Willie Hill (bass guitar) and Linwood Parker (drums). The B-sides of their two 45s with the Communicators released on Durham's, North Carolina, record labels Duplex and TRI OAK, highlight the band’s immersion in funk in the style of Kool & the Gang and Funkadelic. After parting ways with the Communicators, the group backed up the Modulations for a time and then played as a self-contained band before breaking up. Later line-ups included James Brown, a saxophonist who also played with Bite, Chew & Spit out of Asheville, North Carolina, and trombone player Bill Amey.

The five-member harmony group The Communicators showcased the vocal talents of Tommy Clegg, Izell Gooch, Sylvester Howell, James Jenkins, and Cager Perry. Backed up by the Black Experience Band, the Communicators’ debut recording in 1973 was a pleading love ballad called “One Chance" b/w "Is It Funky Enough?". Originally a regional sensation on the local Duplex imprint, the record was later picked up by Sylvia Robinson’s Turbo label out of New Jersey. The group followed up with "Has Time Really Changed” b/w "The Road" in 1974. Disc Jockeys considered the ballad "Has Time Really Changed" too political, and gave it much less airplay than “One Chance.”

“Going Down for the Last Time” parts 1 & 2, plus extended, Ronnie Keaton & Oceanliners (Konduko Records, 1974)

This record is a perfect example of the funk that impresses, in the way it upsets expectations about how the genre should sound; of course, there is zero foundation for this comment, or anything else at all (who am I, of all people, to make any claims?)  but I’ve always disliked the excessive showiness of funk – the solos, the waiting for applause, the glitter, flashy lights and costumes - been suspicious of it, of performers and audience alike. Too often it falls into a kind of bad faith caricature; major exceptions made for a lot of the work of Eddie Hazel. No surprise in any of this, it reflects my temperament and cultural background.

This track is wonderful, though in the way it has all the elements, the sound and essence, keeping it on mute almost. I particularly like the use of the flute, used as if it were a sample on part 1 and the backing vocals – what a smart contrast between the woman’s resolve about leaving a man (who once had a job) with the men singing their parts so gently, “no mo.” Lovely.

Then for “part 2”, this impression is even more pronounced, it’s almost a dub in the way it’s done:

The flute is replaced/supplemented by horns, or they’re made more dominant; the sleepy male backing vocals become the main element.

Here’s something I found on a website in French, funk-o-logy.com, posted by Weego on the section labelled “index funky,” which I’ll translate into English.

 “A hit (une bombe) of sister funk, Florida sauce. The b-side is falsely called “part 2” when in fact it’s the instrumental. Written by singer Ronnie Keaton and King Sporty (owner of the electro-funk/reggae label Konduko in Miami and husband of soul singer Betty Wright). Ronnie Keaton is not known to have put out anything other than this excellent single that came out in 1974. The Oceanliners are credited on the label info (Jerome Smith on guitar, Robert Johnson aka Shotgun on drums and Anthony Turner on bass) who later became the Sunshine Band, of KC & the Sunshine Band fame; “that’s the way han-han han-han I like it …”). They accompanied Betty Wright on stage. There are two variations of the label: one yellow, the other green. This information probably won’t interest anyone else apart from me!”    

And the extended mix :

“Song for you” Popcorn (Prime Choice, Shannell Records, 1983)  

Taken from an almost unlistenable EP, apologies to its makers, especially those commenting below the YouTube videos (the man who played keys, in particular), this song is a little marvel. Perhaps that’s unfair, there might be some interest in the Prime Choice release, some humour perhaps – the song “Handy Man” starting with a phone ringing sfx – but most of it sounds like variations on “Ma Cherie Amour,” without anything remotely Stevie about it, not really.

Here  is the EP in any case:

“Song for you,” though, is pretty much perfect in every way. I love the shy-soul-funk-type vocals, and the sentiment, the way the singer seems to be reaching out to express the feeling, it’s very nice – the way the bassline does its descending thing around 3’30” and its odd atmosphere, something that is atypical for releases of its type. Not unheard of, but less common (ergo: rare).

It turns out that the singer/producer of this Florida funk track is known for his Christian-theme recordings; see his Discogs listing: “James Ward is a composer, performer, and recording artist whose innovative Christian contemporary music has been a widespread influence throughout the Christian church and entertainment community since the early 70's..” The artist k.a. James, Jim and Calvin “Popcorn” Ward.