Recently I visited Amsterdam recordstore Fame with a colleague during my lunchbreak. Once every few weeks we go there on a Friday. This time Sun’s double-cd caught my eye. It turned out to be a compilation of three Sun albums. I don’t know why, but it appealed to me, so I bought it. And gladly so! This compilation of the 3 first records was released one year ago, on April 1st 2016. In consequence of the new purchase, in search of Sun.
What’s striking, is that there is not a lot to be found on Sun. Sun is a R&B, soul, disco, and funk band formed in the in (19)70’s who released eight records between 1976 and 1984. The band hailed from funkcapitol Dayton, Ohio, the region that also produced Funkadelic, Parliament, The Gap Band, The Ohio Players, Lakeside, Zapp and Slave. A pretty impressive list of names.
Overnight Low Band
The main composer and founder of Sun is Byron Byrd. His first (important) band was called Overnight Low Band. A number of singles led to nothing and in 1974 the band went on to tour schools and universities. Halfway through the tour three members quit to join a new band: The Ohio Players.
Support act for Mandrill
Luckily something positive was underway for the Overnight Low Band. They were booked to open for funkband Mandrill, at a concert in Ohio. Producer Beau Ray Fleming happened to be present. When he heard the crowds reacting to the support act (before playing one single note), he ran into the hall to witness what it was that enthused the crowd. Beau Ray Fleming was deeply impressed: this was a talented band! Later on in the evening he got to talk to the band and arranged a deal for them.
Another name for the band was deemed necessary. After some time Celestial Sun was proprosed. When trumpet- and trombone-player John Wagner proposed to call the band Sun, the new name was a done deal.
Live On, Dream On
The band signed to Capitol Records and recording for the debut album commenced. The band, consisting of Byron Byrd (also leadsinger), John Wagner, bass-player Hollis Melson, drummer Kym Yancey, guitar-player Shawn Sandridge, percussionist Chris Jones and keyboard-player Dean Hummons, recorded the Sun debut-album Live On, Dream On in 1976.
The debut-single was the title-song Live On, Dream On. The single went nowhere. As a result the album went nowhere too.
Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My Bic) was chosen to be the next single. This song entered the charts. It made it to number 15 in the national Dance chart. The company behind the Bic pens did help, by using the song’s theme in their promotional campaign.
Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My Bic)
The album Live On, Dream On started to gain momentum. Capitol decided to re-release the debut-album under the moniker Wanna Make Love (Flick My Bic).
It worked: the album became a modest hit. Rightfully so. It’s a very good album, which doesn’t sound like a debut-album at all. The music is deeply rooted in funk and soul.
Opener Live On, Dream On is a very funky song (it reminds me of Ian Dury’s Wake Up And Make Love With Me). Second song Tell The People is very funky, followed by My Women: a ballad, that halfway through switches to uptempo (George Michael must have heard this part upon writing Wham!’s Edge Of Heaven). They’re Calling For More is a glorious funk workout like Stevie Wonder’s Superstition. When I heard the song Wanna Make Love (Flick My Bic) for the first time, I immediately noticed, besides the great funky rhythm, the vocoder part. I had always presumed that Zapp introduced the vocoder in (black) music, maybe not as a pioneer, but definitely one of the first. Lo and behold: the liner notes contain that well-known surname : Troutman. And yes, there it is, Roger Troutman guests on this song with his vocoder. Zapp after all! By the way, this song is a definite highlight! Ballads Love Is Never Sure and The Show Is Over are beautiful songs full of melody. It’s Killing Me reminds of Stevie Wonder. Give Your Love To Me is the funky closer.
For a short while things were not that promising, but it all turned out for the best concerning their debut. It’s a very rich and mature record. Sun had a great future ahead of them.
Capitol Records was convinced of this as well, so Sun was set to work to deliver a sequel. With eight songs and three additional band members Sun got to work. After the recordings were done the album was the big priorty (because Sun had the future). The album, released in 1977, titled Sun-Power, was greeted enthusiastically by the critics. The album fared even better than Wanna Make Love. The first single Boogie Bopper was a modest hit. The successors We’re So Hot and Just A Minute of Your Time didn’t chart.
The opener Light Me Up should have been picked more carefully. The song doesn’t really stand out. However, the following Boogie Bopper, delivers completely on the Sun promise (think Ohio Players and Brothers Johnson). We’re So Hot is next, jazzfunk all over: a great instrumental! Conscience is a jazzy funk song. Just like on the debut album, this album has two parts. Funk on side A and soul on side B. Time Is Passing is a slow dramatic song, with convincing strings and vocals. Beautiful song. Just A Minute of Your Time is based around Philly Soul. After two great soul songs Organ Grinder is next, a very funky song. Sun-Power is closed by the beautiful She Lives Alone (reminds me of JJ Cale’s Cocaine).
The sound on the second album is more tight and polished than on the debut. The sound is richer and punchier, particularly due to the horn section. Sun matured as a band and the production is flawless. They were now a part of the Ohio funk-elite and had proved to be more than a one-hit wonder.
And then it was 1978. Some bandmembers were unhappy about their input, meaning lack of it. Producer Beau Ray Fleming fired 6 members of the band. Because Sun wasn’t going to continue as a four-piece, five new musicians were hired. Sun started work on album number three.
Sunburn starts off with the single Sun Is Here, a great funksong. It’s followed by the fantastic single Dance (Do What You Wanna Do), a funky soul song reminiscent of Maze. When You Put Your Hand In Mine is next, a beautiful ballad, sung by Byron Byrd using a falsetto. Jazzy You’re The One is next. A bit too smooth in my opinion, but good nonetheless. The next song Long Drawn Out Thang, sounds great. It could have been an Earth, Wind and Fire song, around the time of All N’ All and I Am. You Don’t Have To Hurry is a fine jazzy ballad. I Had A Choice continues the same theme, lyrically as well as musically. The closing Sun Of A Gun is funky and full of soul: great song.
Sunburn had an even more smooth, polished sound than the first two albums. The songs are still very good, but the album suffers from the lack of a rawer approach. It would turn out to be Sun’s most successful album: Sunburn would turn gold in the US and produce two hitsingles. Given the fact that more than half of the band had been replaced, it’s remarkable that the band turned out to be a success.
Their greatest (single)hit Sun Is Here would never be bettered.
After Sunburn Sun released album Destination Sun in 1979. It turned out to be an even bigger success than Sunburn. After that feat Sun was over. The four next albums, Sun Over the Universe from 1980, Force of Nature from 1981, Let There Be Sun from 1982 and Eclipse from 1984 each had less impact than the albums preceding it. Sun’s many personnel changes didn’t really help: At the time of Eclipse‘s release Byron Byrd was the only original member still standing. Even producer Beau Ray Fleming had left after 1982.
The compilation I recently acquired contains their first three, artistically most satisfying, albums. I have the distinct feeling Sun is frequently listened to by many artists, given the many times their music reminds me of musical pieces released after the Sun records.
Should you be in the mood for delicious funk and soul: Sun is the place to go!
Do you know Sun? What do you think of their music?
Sun – Wanna make Love / Sun-Power / Sunburn image: bgo-records.com
Sun & Sun logo images: soulmusic.info
Sun – Live On Dream On, Wanna Make Love, Sun-Power & Sunburn images: allmusic.com
Sun 1978 image: youtube.com