TIR 66: Wading Deep Into Breakwater’s Flow

 

Greg Scott pictured center, with Steve Green shown in the rear with glasses.

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Brought to you by FUNKNSTUFF.NET and hosted by Scott Goldfine — musicologist and author of “Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk” ― “TRUTH IN RHYTHM” is the interview show that gets DEEP into the pocket with contemporary music’s foremost masters of the groove.

Featured in TIR Episode 66 (three segments): Saxophonist-composer-arranger Greg Scott and bassist Steve Green, who were central members of one of Philadelphia’s most beloved homegrown R&B-funk bands — Breakwater. The group, whose other key members included keyboardist Kae Williams, singer Gene Robinson, percussionist John Braddock and James Gee Jones, was formed in 1971 and had cultivated a fervid following in the region as an outstanding live act incorporating an intoxicating blend of R&B, rock, jazz and funk well before being signed to Arista later that decade. Arriving in 1978, Breakwater’s self-titled debut did not do too much to spread the band’s notoriety nationwide, although its provocative close-up cover of a young lady’s lips slurping up streaming water turned some heads.

Nonetheless, the record contained lots of winning tracks. Among them were the flowing, mid-tempo “Work It Out,” the terrific, primarily instrumental “Feel Your Way,” which was in a Blackbyrds’ kind of vein, and the Sly & the Family Stone-influenced slow funker “Free Yourself.” The sound was particularly noteworthy for its variety as well as first-class horns, synth and keyboards, rhythm guitar and jazzy inflections.

Breakwater’s sophomore album, Splashdown, two years later in 1980 was a different story entirely. Although it did not fare much better than the debut in terms of national airplay and sales, it has been widely recognized by insiders as a funk classic. The primary linchpins responsible for that status were the opening “Splashdown Time,” with its special effects start, slick piano and strong group vocals; the faster funk of “You,” with its punchy horns and Con Funk Shun-style flare; the lively pop-R&B of “Let Love In,” with its brassy horns reminiscent of Earth, Wind & Fire’s Beatles remake “Got to Get You Into My Life”: and best of all the band’s all-time hardest jam, “Release the Beast,” with its slinky synth and incendiary scratch guitar rhythm. The latter track later became the basis for a dance hit by Daft Punk called “Robot Rock” that helped bring Breakwater to a new audience.

Unfortunately, just as they seemed to really be hitting their stride, at least creatively, the group lost its record deal and would never release another studio album.

However, having only produced two albums and never attained significant national success has in some respects helped Breakwater achieve a level of cult status. It’s not hard to see why as the group’s high level of musicality is undeniable, but for whatever reasons its full potential was never realized. In the Philly and greater Tri-State region the group was as popular as any R&B-funk bands of the day.

Those loyal fans will rejoice to the stories that unfold in this TRUTH IN RHYTHM episode, with insights on Breakwater’s formation, musical influences, albums and songs, live performances and unforgettable memories. The capper is that several members of that classic lineup are still working together, not only putting on shows that have lost none of the luster, but also recording new music too. It’s time to dive in to the deep end with Breakwater.

Recorded September 2018

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