Life And Death In G And A
How does a record like this get made?
A record seemingly so out of time, so timeless, so free from the constraints of popular culture; equal parts Sly Stone, Fela Kuti, Jimmy McGriff, Robert Johnson and Miles Davis.
The first time I heard it, thirty years ago, I could make neither head nor tail of it. I knew it was brilliant, I knew it was important, I just couldn’t understand it.
In the intervening years I’ve played it as much, or more, than any record I own.
In 1971 Joe Hicks collaborated with Sly Stone on There’s A Riot Going On, and in 1973 recorded a great blues / funk / soul record for Stax, but surely this 45 is his finest hour.
It came as Sly Stone was declaring musical independence. Nothing was sacred, all was new; sound, structure, lyrics, drugs, clothes, lifestyle. There was definitely a riot going on.
The first time I heard it I was mesmerised. The groove was bigger and stickier than anything I’d ever heard. It seemed to push through my insides, wobbling my spleen, my liver, my kidneys, racing around my lungs.
It starts with the slippery one-two punch of Sly Stone’s drum machine and keyboard. A bass comes thudding. There is, the length of the record, other than Joe Hicks’ voice and a harmonica, no other instrument. A minimal wall of funk.
The record has, on side 1 and 2, two different takes of the same song. It feels improvised, like an old blues song, a breathing, shifting presence. Joe Hicks’ voice rises from the groove, grabs you by the throat and never lets go.
The song, played over two chords, G and A, unfolds like an incantation.
Life and death
In G and A
Up and down
Round the square
Square the round
If it feels good it’s alright
If it feels good it’s alright.
What a record. Like Miles Davis’ On The Corner or Sun Ra’s Space Is The Place, it came out of nowhere and changed the way I listen.