Willie Henderson & The Soul Explosions – 1970 – Funky Chicken
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Born in Pensacola, Florida but growing up in Chicago, Willie Henderson ranks as one of soul music’s most important arrangers, producers and writers.
Starting out as the baritone saxman for Blues wizard Otis Rush, and gigging with such Windy City superstars as Syl Johnson, Henderson arrived at Chicago’s branch of Brunswick Records in 1968 and he, along with producer Carl Davis, was most responsible for rejuvenating that label’s fortunes, kicking its sound into decidedly more soulful territory.
A1 Soulful Football 3:47
A2 Oo Wee Baby, I Love You 3:40
A3 Can I Change My Mind 2:47
A4 Funky Chicken (Part 1)2:12
B1 Funky Chicken (Part 2) 2:00
B2 Sugar Sugar 2:37
B3 Off Into a Black Thing 3:10
B4 Is It Something You Got 2:46
Review by Soulmakossa
While more of a ‘behind the scenes’ persona – Henderson’s name can be found on virtually all of Brunswick‘s soul releases post-1968, especially on those by Tyrone Davis – he did release one LP on his own while at the label, the album in question here.
‘Funky Chicken‘ is centred around Willie Henderson & The Soul Explosions’ sole single for Brunswick. The gurgling, intense, drilling funk workout “Funky Chicken (Parts 1 & 2)“, with its stabbin’ horn lines, is a teasing, sweaty floorshaker that, even taken as a whole, is criminally short. The chanting here constitutes for vocals, and Henderson’s super cool late night rasp and crackeling cackelings work brilliantly.
The best track here, however, surely is the indomitable barn burnin’ stomper “Soulful Football“, another anthemic powerhouse instrumental that demonstrates why Henderson’s sound and skill is so loved by Chi-Soul fans. Everything is here, from the crashing drums and loping bass to the ringing guitar licks, plunkin’ piano and tons and tons of brass. This is the epitome of the Chicago Soul Sound.
“Off Into a Black Thing” rides a more menacing groove, and could well have been used in one of those blaxploitation flicks that were then coming up. Heavy distortion on fuzzed guitars and hard, hard percussion throughout. A rock & funk monster. For a more sweet soul sound, check out “Sugar, Sugar” – yes, the Archies’ finest hour – which is given a driven back beat by Brunswick housedrummer Quinton Joseph and is further augmented by some of Willie’s own fierce sax workouts.
The remainder of tunes here, it is safe to estimate, were not specifically recorded for a Henderson solo jam. The super funky “Ooh Wee Baby I Love You” served as the backing track for Brunswick labelmates Fred Hughes’ and Johnny Sayles’ respective renditions, whereas “Can I Change My Mind” and “Is It Something You Got“, naturally, formed the backbone to Tyrone Davis’ hit versions.
A great funk album aptly illustrating the reason why soul fans such as myself can’t help but feel elated whenever we see Mr. Henderson’s name pop up as arranger, producer and/or writer. With Willie, it gets GOOD y’all…