In this ‘Rare Cut’ we take a look back at one of our favourites: The Stone City Band’s 1983 funk jam ‘Ladies Choice’. As Rick James would say, this is truly a song to funk and roll to.
In 1976, Buffalo native James Ambrose Johnson Jr, who would soon be known throughout the world as none other than the King of Punk Funk Rick James, formed a funk band and recorded a song entitled ‘Get Up And Dance’. A year later the group would be signed to Motown Records on their Gordy Records imprint to begin work on their first album release. That group was The Stone City Band, who would become the backing group for Rick James when it was decided the group’s first album release would be a James solo album. James’ first album, the incredible Come Get It! which featured the hit singles ‘You And I’ and ‘Mary Jane’, launched his career; but, loyal to his friends and band, he used the Stone City Band on his albums through his stay at Motown.
Together, James and the Stone City Band recorded hit singles such as ‘Super Freak’, ‘Give It To Me Baby’, ‘Big Time’, and ‘Ghetto Life’. Motown capitalised on James’s talent, and allowed him to produce several of their other artists, most notably Teena Marie. Marie had joined Motown in 1979 signed personally by Berry Gordy, but had struggled to come to a decision about how to use her. Interestingly, this was partially because of the colour of her skin: while Motown and Gordy in particular had made a conscious effort for make music from all races, Motown were nonetheless worried about a white female like Marie releasing a funk/soul album. Indeed, she had recorded some material, including a duet with producer and future Four Top Ronnie McNeir, but nothing that would launch her career (the material Marie recorded in period has since been released on the compilation First Class Love: Rare Tee). James spotted Marie’s talent early on and was given permission to produce her. In the studio, James worked his magic, using both the talent of The Stone City Band and Marie to craft the Wild & Peaceful album which featured the hit duet with James ‘I’m Just A Sucker For Your Love’. The album launched Marie’s career, and Motown’s fear about a backlash from a white artist making typically black music thankfully never came to fruition.
(The Stone City Band and Rick James playing basketball. Photo taken from the Original Stone City Band Facebook page).
By this point James, along with The Stone City Band, were in demand to produce and play on records for others. Most notably, James was given the task of producing the lead single from The Temptations’ Reunion album, which saw former members Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin re-join the group, albeit briefly. Backed by the infectious groove laid down by the Stone City Band, The Temptations’ were given a hit by James in the superb ‘Standing On The Top’.
The Stone City Band then were one of Motown’s most important assets, yet, in a manner similar to that of The Funk Brother’s during Motown’s Detroit days, fairly unknown. As a result, James took the group into the studio in an attempt to launch The Stone City Band in their own right. In total, James collaborated with the group on three Stone City Band albums: 1980’s In ‘n’ Out, 1981’s The Boys Are Back, and the group’s best effort, from 1983, Meet The Stone City Band.
It was on Meet The Stone City Band that the hot track ‘Ladies Choice’ appeared. To say it is one hot piece of funky mess is an understatement. The song itself is a quintessential Rick James punk-funk composition, complete a hard-hitting guitar sound from Tom McDermott, fabulously delightful synths from Levi Ruffin Jr and LaMorris Payne. The group’s vocals work rather well, with the entire group chanting the chorus and backing vocals as you might expect them to do at a football match. And, oddly, it works. What also works even better is the full vibe solo than none other than King of the Vibes Roy Ayers, who appears midway though the song (Ayers also lent his tasty vibes to James’ solo hit ‘Dance Wit’ Me’ a year earlier). All these elements slot together superbly, and as a result we’d argue that ‘Ladies Choice’ stands up to almost anything that Rick James put out as a solo artist.
Sadly for The Stone City Band their solo albums never got the attention of the albums and singles by others that they had a hand in making. Nevertheless, these albums are pretty funky, and although some of the songs clearly are not as good as other Rick James productions, they are still worthwhile checking out. ‘Ladies Choice’ reminds us of the immense talent that Rick James himself possessed, and the talent that he surrounded himself with. Today Tom McDermott, Nat Hughes and Lanise Hughes tour as the ‘Original Stone City Band‘; Levi Ruffin Jr is, meanwhile, rumoured to be producing new music. So, click play below, because it is time to funk and roll.