Sunday, December 23, 2012

Beyond "Maggot Brain": Eddie Hazel's Other Greatest Solos

December 23, 2012 marks 20 years since the death of legendary Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel. Many years ago, I wrote this about the still-incendiary "Maggot Brain," an extended guitar solo off Funkadelic's third album that ranks among the best solos ever recorded:

For the ten minutes and eighteen seconds that constitute this track, Eddie Hazel attacks, commands, and distorts one's emotions in a way only few artists can claim to do. Throughout the rest of his recording career, going through his solo album Games, Dames, & Guitar Things (which I recommend if you can get a copy from Rhino), he would contribute uniformly excellent guitar leads, alternately dazzling in their technical ability and emotionally taxing, yet in the end it all comes down to "Maggot Brain." Few artists have been so defined by one book, or one painting, or one movie, let alone one ten-minute electric guitar solo. It is his ultimate triumph and, considering his later output, his tragedy.

While Hazel is still defined mostly as the instrumental powerhouse behind "Maggot Brain" (and to a lesser extent, as a primary songwriter in the early days of Parliament and Funkadelic), this has unfortunately led fans of Hazel, including myself, to ignore his many other accomplishments as a guitarist and recording artist. Hazel is a clear factor on Funkadelic's first three albums Funkadelic, Free Your Mind... and Maggot Brain, and along with his solo work and collaborations with other artists in the P-Funk aegis, he has recorded a body of work that is at least as large as, say, Hendrix's. With this in mind, I wanted to provide any curious Hazel fans with a list of what to check out next, after "Maggot Brain." Here are five of my choices.

Eddie Hazel, "Lampoc Boogie," Jams From the Heart EP
This extended instrumental guitar boogie, originally available on Hazel's 1994 EP Jams From the Heart, clocks in at even longer than "Maggot Brain" (11:55) but the tone of these two solos could not be more different. Though they both pay tribute in different ways to Hendrix, a bottomless well of guitar inspiration for so many, "Lampoc Boogie"  is limber and boisterous where "Maggot Brain" was portentous and elegiacal. Hazel's guitar melodies, played with such dexterity and breathtaking imagination, rumble and roar along to a simple bass-drum gallop that is just as astonishing for its simple, steady nature. In the grand tradition of other Hazel guitar jams, there's a fake fadeout, too.

Axiom Funk, "Pray My Soul," Funkcronomicon
This track, which comes from a compilation of various P-Funk contributions curated by Bill Laswell called Funkcronomicon, shows Hazel at his most reverent and austere. Once again taking his cue over a crisp four-chord rhythm guitar progression ("Maggot Brain" was also four chords), Hazel makes the most of the song's five minutes--he swoops and circles around simple blues chord patterns, bending the strings on his guitar like they represented a gateway to higher expression. "Pray My Soul" is a song that shows Hazel as the type of artist who values emotion and ingenuity over proficiency and skill, always.

Funkadelic, "Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts," Standing On the Verge of Getting It On
By the time George Clinton and co. started recording Standing On the Verge of Getting It On, Hazel's influence on Funkadelic began to lessen. This would continue to be the case later into the 70s, especially as additional P-Funk guitarists Garry Shider and Michael Hampton began to pick up some of the slack for an increasingly-absent Hazel. And yet I ultimately think of this album as ultimately Hazel's, as much as that classic first three LP punch. Part of the reason for this is the album's final track "Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts," a nine-minute slow burner that acts as the ultimate elegy to Funkadelic's early, most brilliant stage. Even with extremely talented instrumentalists like Shider and Hampton demonstrating their ample chops on future records, there was still something about Eddie's playing that could not be improved upon, or duplicated.

Funkadelic, "Miss Lucifer's Love," America Eats Its Young
This song, a tribute to the Beatles' harmonies at their most psychedelic, showcases Hazel's bizarre, unpredictable side, especially beginning at 2:43. Hazel lays down a thick, wah-heavy riff, spitting out bits of amazingly sculpted mini-melodies that distinguish themselves even over backing vocals that take much higher prominence in the mix. Drugs took their toll on Hazel's creativity and health, but it is hard to deny that, when he was on, few could match his escapes into the deepest recesses of guitar psychedelia, and he may not have reached those initial creative heights without drugs to provide the gateway. This is possibly another reason why his talent marked him for tragedy from a young age.

Parliament, "I Call My Baby Pussycat," Osmium
Hazel definitely had less of an influence on the Parliament sound than he would on Funkadelic, but he was definitely at his best on Parliament's forgotten 1970 debut, Osmium. Over one of Clinton's least subtle innuendos ever, Hazel taps on his fretboard like he's playing morse code, churning out a short but memorable solo in between the process of laying out a more standard wah groove. "I Call My Baby Pussycat" also showcases Eddie Hazel's best rhythm guitar playing, a mode for which he was always unappreciated. As he was in so many ways, and probably will continue to be, for a long time to come.

3 comments:

  1. Such an underrated musician.
    Great choices here - thank you :)

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  2. Good list, but I think you forgot California Dreamin', definitely one of his best.

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