Sunday, June 25, 2006

Charles Smith passes on (paca)

Kool & the Gang was founded by a crew of 8 guys in Jersey City in the late 60s. They started out as the Jazziacs and then did a bland of R&B, funk, and acid jazz in the 70s. Unfortunately, they've been losing members over the years. First was Woody Sparrow, the second guitarist, who only made it for one album. Later on, they lost keyboardist Ricky West. Robert "Spike" Mickens has also disappeared from sight, but I haven't been able to find out if he just moved on to another career or if he passed away. Sadly, guitarist Claydes Charles Smith has now joined them as of June 20 of this year. He passed away at 59.

It was possible to tell he had been slowing down for some time. Even the 2004/5 Live at the House of Blues DVD I have features a several verse long guitar solo on Summer Madness by Charles, but he is accompanied through-out the concert by a second guitarist, and it looks like Charles is having to sit and take a few songs off. He apparently stopped touring with the band completely in January of this year, and now he has moved on.

All the Kool & the Gang songs are listed as having a primary band member as the author with the whole band as co-authors. Charles was the primary author on Joanna, a #2 tune for them in the 80s, as well as several other numbers in the 70s, which is where my affections mostly lie. Moreover, it's fairly safe to say that he created and laid down the guitar tracks for pretty much all the Kool & the Gang numbers. He won't ever be a famed guitarist in history, but he really was a solid and creative player. He primarily did rhythm and his rhythm was on, again and again. He also brought a jazz guitar sense to even the funk numbers which could increase their complexity. His solo technique was subtle, but I've never seen anything exactly like it anywhere else. I call him the King of the Double Stop, because he seems to use double stops (fingering two fingers at once) throughout a solo, really quite different to me. On perhaps my favorite song, period, called Wild and Peaceful, his guitar solo is so subtle that for a bit you don't realize you are in a guitar solo. He didn't need to thunder when he played; he just played what seemed right for the song.

I will miss his music.

No comments: