Nov 2, 2011
Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess was one of the first jazz records I listened to with any serious interest. It was a perfect mix of funk, electric jazz, and soul, presented by a longtime keyboard player with serious jazz credentials. Add to it the addition of Maurice White and Earth, Wind & Fire, just then becoming a commercial power, on the ubiquitous title track, and the album was bound to be a hit when it appeared in 1974.
Little did I know that White had been the drummer in Ramsey’s trio from 1966 to 1970, after which he left to form Earth, Wind & Fire, making Sun Goddess in effect a reunion for the pair. It was this sort of connection that drove me deeper into Ramsey’s jazz albums, as I soon grooved on “Wade in the Water” and “Hold It Right There”. From that point forward, jazz was no longer something old and staid to me, but something vibrant and living.
Lewis has just released his 80th album, Ramsey, Taking Another Look, which is a return to electric jazz and the Sun Goddess material for him. Working with a 5 piece electric band (including Henry Johnson, Tim Gant, Joshua Ramos and Charles Heath), Lewis re-recorded four tracks from Sun Goddess and re-arranged the title track recording. This is hardly new ground for Lewis. He re-recorded his smash hit “The In Crowd” almost forty years later on the Time Flies CD, along with “Wade in the Water”.
I spoke with Ramsey about the new CD, recorded for the small independent label Hidden Beach Recordings, and a found him open and enthusiastic to revisit material he found had still held up after 37 years. We talked about the making of the CD, his plans to return to television, and how it feels to hear “The In Crowd” featured on television commercials after all these years. Listen to the interview along with musical selections including:
Ramsey Lewis – “Tambura” from Ramsey, Taking Another Look. Joining Lewis (Fender Rhodes, keyboards) on this new version of a Sun Goddess tune are keyboardist Mike Logan, guitarist Henry Johnson, drummer Charles Heath and percussionist Joshua Ramos.
Ramsey Lewis – “Jungle Strut” from Sun Goddess. After playing mostly acoustic music for over 20 years, Lewis went electric and scored pop, R&B, and jazz charting hits. The core band was Cleveland Eaton on bass, Don Myrick on sax, Lewis on a slew of keyboards and guitars, Maurice White, Maurice Jennings and Derf Reklaw-Raheem on drums and Byron Gregory ad Johnny Graham on guitar.
Ramsey Lewis – “A Hard Day’s Night” from Hang On Sloopy. From the beginning, Ramsey never hesitated to cover the pop tunes of the day. His versions of Beatles songs are available in a compilation called Ramsey Lewis plays the Beatles Songbook, which is well worth picking up.
Ramsey Lewis – Title track from The In Crowd. Yeah, that’s Ramsey’s trio playing on those Nikon television commercials. This may have been Ramsey’s hardest swinging group, as he was backed by drummer Isaac "Redd" Holt and bassist Eldee Young. These two would leave in 1966 to form the jazz-funk band Young-Holt Unlimited.
Ramsey Lewis – “The Glow of Her Charm” from Songs from the Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey. Playing with a trio that included Larry Gray on bass and Leon Joyce on drums, Lewis surprised people who thought he had left straight ahead jazz behind with a strong album of his compositions, many of which were meant for a score for the Joffrey Ballet.