Here it is, perhaps the most curious anomaly in Soul Brother #1’s vast discography. Strictly speaking, Sho Is Funky Down Here is not so much a James Brown album as it is a chance for the Godfather Of Soul’s musical director at the time, David Matthews, to flex his psychedelic-funk chops and arrangements. The thing is, David Matthews’ name didn’t have marketing potential, although the LP he released in 1970 under the name The Grodeck Whipperjenny became a gold mine of samples nearly 20 years later.
So, King Records slapped James Brown’s name and a photo of him on the cover, even though his contributions were minimal. In the liner notes from the Now-Again label’s 2019 reissue, Matthews said, “[Brown] simply told me to make an underground album… He had nothing to do with the arrangements. James just wanted a piece of the psychedelic movement.” True heads grokked that Sho Is Funky was dope, but most of JB’s fan base ignored it. In Brown’s very busy 1971, this record got lost in the hoopla generated by the release of Super Bad and Hot Pants, and the singles therefrom.
An extraordinary organist, Matthews (not to be confused with Dave Matthews Band’s leader) co-wrote all six tracks on Sho Is Funky Down Here with JB. Brown allegedly plays organ and harpsichord and utters a few words on two tracks, but most of the heavy lifting here was done by the same musicians who animated The Grodeck Whipperjenny. Drummer Jimmy Madison, bassist Michael Moore (not that Michael Moore), guitarist Kenny Poole, and Matthews were essentially jazz cats dabbling in psychedelic funk. For the most part, they slayed.
The album gets off to a slow start with the title track, whose residual mood and tuneage derive from Brown’s 1966 song “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” but it’s snazzed up with extremely crispy guitar riffs and soulful organ whorls. Things ascend with “Don’t Mind,” a swirling, scorching funk cut with Moore’s devastating, strutting bass line, Matthews’ insanely amped keyboard, and a guitar part by Poole that’s so thrillingly distorted it could’ve come from a Brainticket record. “Just Enough Room For Storage” might be the best song not on Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain, powered by Moore’s rugged yet nimble bass riff, Poole’s Eddie Hazel-esque guitar heroics, and slamming, in-the-pocket drums by Madison.
“You Mother You” flaunts complex, Dennis Coffey-like funkadelia that will, against the odds, get asses moving on the dance floor. Yes, I’m planning to spin it in my next DJ gig—thanks for asking. As far as I can tell, “Can Mind” has nothing to do with the amazing German rock band; rather, it’s just yet more filthy funk in the remarkably consistent manner of this album. Stellar hip-hop group Brand Nubian sampled it for “All For One,” which is all the seal of approval you need.
Sho Is Funky Down Here is the red-headed stepchild of James Brown’s catalog, but it’s a low-key mind-blower—a brand new bag that’s gone unloved for unjustified reasons. -Buckley Mayfield
Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.