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  Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Rhythm Band

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Click below for a Charles Wright sample:

What Can You Bring Me

Charles Wright is a funk pioneer, most famous for "Express Yourself," one of the one of the most popular breakbeats.  His band, the Watts 103rd Rhythm Band, was one of the first West Coast funk bands, along with War, Sly and the Family Stone and Dyke and the Blazers.

The group evolved from the Soul Runners, an outfit that had a hit in 1967 with "Grits N Corn Bread" for the tiny MoSoul label.   They changed their name to reflect their roots in the black community of Watts.

Bill Cosby gave the group its big break by putting them on as the opening act for many of his concerts.  Once they proved their mettle as a live act, Cosby helped arrange a contract with Warner Brothers, his current label.

The faith was repaid with a string of hits that included "Do Your Thing" and "Spreading Honey."  The groove on Wright's music was funky, yet so loose compared to the rigid James Brown formula that it went a long way towards defining California soul, and he set the standard for years to come.  The versatility of the Watts 103rd was showcased on the ballads "Love Land" and "Your Love Means Everything To Me," where Wright was able to dig into his southern roots to power his vocals.  

All of the momentum Wright and the 103rd had developed over the years paid off handsomely when "Express Yourself" exploded onto the radio in 1970.   Arriving at a time when the appeal of individualism was very high, "Express Yourself" could be applied to any number of situations - sexual, political, or social.  In that respect, it was somewhat similiar to the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing," but in my opinion Wright's song has wider appeal.

The Express Yourself LP was the highpoint of Wright's career. Although he continued to create potent material, he only hit the charts once after that.   A label change to Dunhill was thought to be an opportunity to rejuvenate the Watts 103rd's career, but they broke up in 1973.  Key members James Gadson (drums) went on to fame as a session musician and guitarist Al McKay joined Earth, Wind and Fire. Wright continued to make records under his own name for a short time before seemingly retiring from the music industry.

Sampling made his catalog a hot property again, and Warner Brothers put out a long-deserved compilation in the early 90s.  Determined to keep the funk alive, Wright issued a comeback disc in 1998, Going to the Party, that advertised itself as being the product of people and not machines.  

Charles Wright's Deepest Grooves

Together (Warner Brothers, 1968)

In the Jungle Babe (Warner Brothers, 1969)

Express Yourself (Warner Brothers, 1970)

Rhythm and Poetry (Warner Brothers, 1972)

Doing What Comes Naturally (Dunhill, 1973)

Ninety Day Cycle People (Dunhill, 1974)

Best Of (Warner Brothers, 1993)

Going to the Party (Million Dollars, 1998)

Copyright 2001 B.Graff.  All rights reserved.

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