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Eumir Deodato and the exploration of Post-Disco

Eumir Deodato and the exploration of Post-Disco

by Fintan Walsh, 11 June 2012

The position of a producer in the music industry is a hugely significant one, despite the contemporary media's lack of attribution to their efforts. If you rewind back to the mid-seventies, you will see that music producers were glorified beings in the business. Even record labels were granted prestige via their in-house producers. Phillip Ingram, of Switch, once said that because of the Motown's personnel, it "was one of the best record labels when it came to grooming artists." However, to gain prestige independently, as a producer, was rather complex. One had to create a music phenomenon, like Brazilian producer, Eumir Deodato. Like Motown altering the music culture of Detroit, Deodato manipulated the post-disco sound; a movement heavily ran by reduced instrumentation, increased electronics and simpler vocals. He would accomplish this with one failing band – Kool & The Gang.

The position of a producer in the music industry is a hugely significant one, despite the contemporary media's lack of attribution to their efforts. If you rewind back to the mid-seventies, you will see that music producers were glorified beings in the business. Even record labels were granted prestige via their in-house producers. Phillip Ingram, of Switch, once said that because of the Motown's personnel, it "was one of the best record labels when it came to grooming artists."

Though he made his mainstream mark with the New Jersey jazz-funk band in 1978, the Rio musician had already made a statement in the Brazilian Bossa Nova scene at the age of seventeen. That year, in 1960, he was a multi-instrumental virtuoso and had just conducted his first twenty-eight-piece orchestra. Classically-minded and a major contributor to the jazz scene in Rio, 1967 was the year that saw the young musician head New York, in order to pursue a more successful career in music.

Deodato did not dismiss his musical past when he entered this new inter-cultural music industry. He treated it as an accessory, or souvenir, and showed it off where necessary. Between his arrival in 1967 and his first rendez-vous with Kool & The Gang, Deodato learnt the ins-and-outs of the industry. Why did record labels become prestigious institutions? Why did funk die when disco emerged? What made audiences tick? What forced prominent musicians out of the mainstream sphere? During this era, he answered these intricate questions and learnt that music was becoming decentralised, as music cultures from different US cities were amalgamating harmoniously to attract a more generic, national audience. He, too, like many other innovative musicians, fused what he knew about rapidly evolving trends in the disco scene. Thus, he blended smoothly into the post-disco movement, using Kool & The Gang as his successful experiment in 1978.

From selling five million copies of a classical-jazz album in 1972 to working with the De-Lite Records band, the music community saw it as a definite level-stooping and degrading move. Beginning with their uncharted, eponymous debut in 1969, Kool & The Gang were not to see national attention until their third LP, Good Times. However, recognition did not necessarily mean appreciation, as it was ranked number 133 on the Billboard Charts. Three years into their commercial career, their style mainly encompassed lo-fi, jazz-funk, that was combined with heavy, Ohio Players-like vocals. Though critics regarded their style as having "strong musicianship" (Bush, Allmusic), De-Lite Records was a small, independent label that had tight limitations when it came to marketing campaigns. Fortunately, Kool & The Gang gained more commercial success via their musical merits and were to receive a tremendous increase in radio-play from 1973 until their fiasco in 1977. This intrigued Deodato, as the New Jersey band weakened, album by album because they could not cope with consistently changing their style to suit new audience trends.

When it was established that Eumir Deodato would become the band's producer, the music community was ready to eliminate them from the industry, saying that their 1977 LP, The Force, "never achieve[d] what they were trying to obtain" (Hamilton, Allmusic). The post-disco trend involved fewer instruments and more emphasis on vocals and synthesisers. For a band of 10, with no expertise in pop-vocals, it did seem like a cul-de-sac. Fortunately, Deodato was a pragmatist with music theory and was able to create an instrumentally efficient and marketable band in pop culture.

With lead vocals from the smooth James "JT" Taylor, four different keyboardists in harmonisation, ten vocalists in alignment and a slick usage of the electric guitar, R&B fans immediately agreed with this overnight transformation. Thus, Deodato's first production, Ladies Night shot to number one in 1979. The whole notion of post-disco was to keep the disco vibe strong and trend-worthy, which Deodato accomplished with the band in 1980 with their Celebrate! LP. Though essayist, Robert Christgau, stated that they had lost the funk, Deodato could only achieve his objective of preserving the band's popularity via the disco sound. Despite the odd negative critique, Deodato's vision of the band brought them to the UK, where they would feature on the prestigious Top Of The Pops programme from 1980 onwards. At this time, Great Britain was limited to what they could find from the music industry across the Atlantic, which was why this show was a must-go area for international musicians. With songs like ‘Celebration' now hitting the UK charts, Deodato's Kool & The Gang became a global sensation. It was then the band's former typecast of a retro-maniac, jazz-funk collective had been long lost in the public sphere. With Deodato's prowess, he had fed them with musical redemption.

The world of doubt surrounded Deodato when he began with the group in late 1978, but that doubt altered to hope, as Kool & The Gang reached its third consecutive number one album in 1981 – Something Special . It was at this time the whole post-disco craze moulded around the band's sound, as record labels and musicians demanded Deodato's expertise. Dispersing himself towards other projects, Kool & The Gang gradually diminished in progress, as the likes of Michael Jackson's Thriller was mounting the new pop culture. This was musical proof that Eumir Deodato had held the band together in a compact fashion, gluing their instrumental skill together, via his mindset, to generate one of the most marketable groups in R&B history. His input to the post-disco scene was utterly uncanny, and being alive and still active, could we potentially see the Rio vanguard twisting another pop culture movement?

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