When people find out that I have a soft spot for a portion of Kenny G's discography, they generally have one of two reactions:
- They think I'm joking.
- They think I'm an idiot.
Well, I'm definitely not joking, and… hopefully I'm not an idiot.
The problem is, when people think of Kenny G, they immediately think "Songbird": you know, "smooth jazz," "elevator music," etc. But a good chunk of his '80s output consisted of some badass funky jams (laid down alongside an impressive roster of session musicians)—many including vocal contributions that made them feel more like "real songs," as opposed to sax-centric instrumentals.
Below are a few of Kenny G's finest funky moments, in chronological order…
"Here We Are," from Kenny G (Arista, 1982)
Written by the mighty Jeff Lorber with Marlon McClain, both of whom perform on the track (keyboards and guitars, respectively), this funky R&B ballad features the silky vocals of Greg Walker. Come on, admit it: when even the guitar licks sound like slap bass, you're in good shape!
"Tell Me," from Kenny G (Arista, 1982)
Once again co-written by Jeff Lorber, if you can get past that Zamfir-sounding intro and a few smidges of schmaltzy keyboards, the core of this piece is slinky as hell. With that confident, head bobbin' groove, what's not to love here, exactly?
- Greg Walker (vocals, "Here We Are") has also performed solo; as well as with Herbie Hancock, Jeff Lorber, and Santana, among others.
- Marlon McClain (guitar) has also performed solo; as well as with the Dazz Band, Pleasure, Side Effect, and more.
- Neil Stubenhaus (bass, "Here We Are") has appeared on over 600 albums, including performances with El DeBarge, Neil Diamond, and plenty of soundtracks (Blade Runner [orchestral adaptation], Code of Silence, Red Heat, etc.).
- Jimmy Haslip (bass, "Tell Me") has also performed solo; as well as with Bruce Hornsby, Kiss, the Yellowjackets, and then some.
- John Robinson (drums), "the most recorded drummer in history," boasts an insane discography that includes performances with Michael Jackson, Richard Marx, Lionel Richie, David Lee Roth, and Steve Winwood, to cite but a very few.
- Jeff Lorber (keyboards) has performed more than once with all of the above musicians; solo; as well as with the likes of Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Nu Shooz, and more.
"G Force," from G Force (Arista, 1983)
Horns merely accent the wonderfully funky backdrop of "G Force." Oh, and this marks three in a row written by Jeff Lorber, by the way. He came up in our list of underrated yacht rock songs, and his early albums are comparably awesome (if you're into this sort of thing). Just sayin'...
"Do Me Right," from G Force (Arista, 1983)
Yep, that's correct. Kenny G has a song called "Do Me Right." That in and of itself is fantastic, as is this funky R&B number—complete with digital handclaps, slappy bass, and jangly dashes of guitar. Written by Barry J. Eastmond, no less. (Who also produced and wrote a bunch of songs for Billy Ocean's Love Zone album. What more do you need?)
- Barry "Sunjohn" Johnson (vocals, "Do Me Right"), a bassist and vocalist, has also performed with Nova and Bernard Wright, among others.
- Marlon McClain (guitar, "G Force") has also performed solo; as well as with the Dazz Band, Pleasure, Side Effect, and more.
- Steve "City" Horton (guitar, "Do Me Right"), thanked in the G Force liner notes for "showing [Kenny] the 'Jamaican Funk'," has also performed with Don Blackman, Kashif, and then some.
- Wayne Brathwaite (bass) has also performed with Deco, Don Johnson, and Kashif, to cite a few.
- Omar Hakim (drums, "G Force") has also performed solo; as well as with David Bowie, Daft Punk, and Sting, among others.
- Leslie Ming (drums, "Do Me Right") has also performed with B.T. Express, George Benson, Kashif, and more.
"One Night Stand," from Gravity (Arista, 1985)
This mid-'80s cut with Andre Montague on vocals is a bit more synth-heavy on the funk tip, occasionally bordering on jams that could've fit right in on the Breakin' soundtrack (which is a compliment of the highest order). It's basically a superb '80s R&B/funk tune with a sax solo.
"Sax Attack," from Gravity (Arista, 1985)
Speaking of jams that could've fit right in on the Breakin' soundtrack...
- Ira Siegel (guitar)* has also performed with Michael Bolton, Debbie Gibson, and Madonna, among others.
- Wayne Brathwaite (bass) has also performed with Deco, Don Johnson, Kashif, and more.
- Yogi Horton (drums)* has also performed with Chew, Debbie Harry, Luther Vandross, and then some. R.I.P.
*I'm not 100% certain who performed guitar or drums on each particular composition.
"Don't Make Me Wait for Love," from Duotones (Arista, 1986)
Come on, if you heard this on the radio, would you think it's a Kenny G song? Hell no! Just a smooth, lush, R&B ballad with some sax flourishes. It's a great song, and was a hit for a reason.
"Champagne," from Duotones (Arista, 1986)
There's a little added shimmer happenin', but still, "Champagne" is a pretty damn funky number with a bit of a soundtrack-esque vibe to it. And this is from the "Songbird" album! I only wish "elevator music" sounded like this!
- Lenny Williams (vocals, "Don't Make Me Wait for Love") has also performed solo; as well as with Tower of Power, among others.
- Corrado Rustici (guitar)* has also performed solo; as well as with Nova, Whitney Houston, and more.
- Randy Jackson (bass)* has also performed with Journey, Jon Bon Jovi, Eddie Money, etc. (And, of course, there was American Idol...)
- Gigi Gonaway (drums)* has also performed with Whitney Houston, Jermaine Stewart, and then some.
*I'm not 100% certain who performed guitar, bass, or drums on each particular composition.
"Against Doctor's Orders," from Silhouette (Arista, 1988)
By 1988, the (Kenny) G-Funk was fadin'—though not so much in "Against Doctor's Orders," even if it did head in a zestier, pop-based direction. And how about that star-studded music video, in which Kenny's encouraged to, "Play that funky music, whiteboy!" If only he had heeded that advice in the years that followed…
- Vail Johnson (bass) has also performed solo; as well as with Stevie Nicks and Young MC, among others.
- Preston Glass (drums, keyboards) has also performed with George Benson, Jermaine Stewart, and more.
"Regulate" (with Warren G), from Jimmy Kimmel Live! (2015)
Deep down, though, the funk is still strong with this one. After all, could it get much better than teaming up with Warren G for a live rendition of his flawless classic, "Regulate"?
Will any of this change your mind about Kenny G? Probably not (though it should), but… a man can dream!