Disco: the weight of the groove
So disco’s back, apparently by courtesy of Daft Punk, although that may have been last week and it could be all over by now. But I have to say I’ve never felt I needed the permission of the fashion police to listen to the extended mix of Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Shame” any time I wanted over the past 30-odd years. (You don’t know it? Go there now! And join me in a prayer to be reincarnated as one of those guitarists!)
While looking for something or other to do with disco on the internet yesterday I came across an old thread containing contributions from Bobby Eli, the great session guitarist who was a member of MFSB — the Philadelphia International house band — and played on records by the O’Jays, Billy Paul, the Spinners, the Stylistics and countless others.
Here’s what Eli (posting as phillysoulman) had to say a couple of years ago in defence of disco: “People had some understandable issues with disco. But it wasn’t all the same. A lot of it was R&B with a four-on-the-floor. Songs like that put a LOT of musicians to work, and also paid for a LOT of studio time.”
Someone else on the thread chose to inform him that the soul and disco records coming out of Philly at the time tended to be characterised, in harmonic terms, by the use of the “phrygian dominant scale”. Eli’s response deserves to be preserved for posterity (and this is how he laid it out, like blank verse):
We never discussed scales.
We just played what we felt.
It’s all about the groove.
We were not technical cats.
We just vibed together and instinctively knew each other’s next move.
Scales are for weighing shit, but our grooves had their own weight.