The music of the 70s mostly falls into the genres of rock, disco and funk. However, before funk took off in the 70s the groundwork was being laid previous decade by a few key players. James Brown was beginning to grow in popularity along with The Meters and another band that would end up laying the template for how funk would sound in coming decade. That band was Dyke & The Blazers, led by Arlester “Dyke” Christian. After Dyke and his bandmate Alvester “Pig” Jacobs moved to Phoenix, Arizona from Buffalo, New York, they formed The Blazers from a few different local bands and musicians and began playing in local clubs. The group picked up on the rhythms, bass and organ innovations of James Brown’s band, and through improvisation developed a riff-based song that became “Funky Broadway”. Though the band’s career was relatively short, they were very influential to the what funk would become. For the first time, Craft Recordings has released a two LP collection of the music of Dyke & The Blazers. Down on Funky Broadway: Phoenix (1966–1967) and I Got a Message: Hollywood (1968–1970) collectively feature 41 newly remastered tracks from the influential group, plus 21 previously unreleased selections.
Down on Funky Broadway: Phoenix (1966–1967) features tracks from the first iteration of the band, from their inception to their break-up only a year later. Their first hit “Funky Broadway” was the first song to feature the word “funk” in the title and ultimately led to being banned from being played on multiple radio stations at the time. It was also the first funk song to feature a short drum solo instead of just a straight beat the entire time which influenced James Brown when he heard it. After a tour in which most of the band found out that they weren’t being paid, the band disintegrated. However, Dyke moved to Los Angeles to record with studio musicians. This is where I Got a Message: Hollywood (1968–1970) starts.
The differences in sound on I Got a Message: Hollywood (1968–1970) is immediately apparent. The LP opens with one of Dyke & The Blazers biggest hits “We Got More Soul”. Recording with studio musicians, Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, the track takes on a more soulful, R&B sound than the early material produced by the band. The first track on side B of the collection is the bands biggest hit, “Let a Woman Be a Woman – Let a Man Be a Man”. The riff from this track will be largely familiar to hip-hop fans as being sampled on “If My Homie Calls” by Tupac and familiar to rock fans as the main riff from English rockers The Heavy on their hit “How Do You Like Me Now?” Just as Dyke & The Blazers were beginning to make it big and preparing for a UK tour with Barry White, Arlester “Dyke” Christian was gunned down in Phoenix at the age of 27.
Both LPs contain booklets with rare imagery of the band as well as oral histories from band member interviews. The tracks on Down on Funky Broadway: Phoenix (1966–1967) are great to hear, but ultimately mostly sound all cut from the same cloth. While the tracks on I Got a Message: Hollywood (1968–1970) are much more polished and exciting. The two albums together give the listener a great journey of the evolution of their sound over their short but impactful career and are a must for any music lover.