Randy Jacobs: Champion of the Human Factor

By Gill, Chris | Guitar Player, June 1992 | Go to article overview

Randy Jacobs: Champion of the Human Factor


Gill, Chris, Guitar Player


Hard work and pure talent have made Randy Jacobs one of today's hottest funk guitarists. His down-and-dirty playing can be heard on albums by an unlikely array of artists: Bonnie Raitt, Seal, Paula Abdul, Kris Kristofferson, Ofra Haza, Elton John, Bob Dylan, and Delbert McClinton. He's also a member of Was (Not Was), David and Don Was'awesomely funky aggregation of Motor City musicians. * The spotlight shines on Randy throughout the new Was (Not Was) album, Boo! From the psychedelic funk of "Party Marty" to the hard-rocking "Bulldog" to a soulful, bluesy version of Hendrix' "The Wind Cries Mary," the album captures Jacobs'playing at both its rawest and most refined. You feel the subtlety of his delicate phrasing, groove to his funky attitude, bounce off the walls as he breaks his vibrato bar in a feedback frenzy. * While Jacobs now lives in L.A., his roots run deep in Detroit's post-Motown scene, where musicians freely mixed funk and rock. "Bands like Funkadelic, the Ohio Players, Black Murder, and Black Nasty were rock and funk," Jacobs notes. "A lot of the bands that didn't make it big were even funkier than Funkadelic, if you can believe that. There were some serious guys in those bands, and I watched them emulate Eddie Hazel and Fuzzy Haskins. Everybody wanted to be Eddie Hazel at that time, and Funkadelic's first record was the first album I ever bought with my own money." * Randy decided to play guitar after seeing Chet Atkins making train noises with a slide while playing "Wabash Cannonball" on The Ed Sullivan Show. At first he concentrated more on solos than rhythm, but a performance by a local musician made him change his approach: "I'd see shows where a guitarist would play a solo and people would sit there with their arms crossed. But there was this guy, Bobby Franklin of Bobby Franklin's Insanity, who played guitar, drums, bass, and all these other instruments really well. He would come out and go `doot' on one note while the groove was playing, and the crowd would go wild. I said, `Wait a minute - I'm doing something wrong.' That's when I really decided to play rhythm guitar.

"For me, playing rhythm is the essence of guitar. Great funk playing all comes down to rhythm, whether you're talking about Jimmy Nolen, P-Funk, Freddy Stone, or Bootsy Collins. It's not about solos. It's the holes and anticipations. You play the downbeat, but you lay in anticipations that push the groove."

To generate a genuine funk groove, Jacobs prefers to record live in the studio. "With most of the pristine funk that's made in L.A. studios, everything is in place," notes Randy. "You don't hear many guitar players who vary what they're doing. From start to finish, there's a part that works in the verse and one that works in the bridge or chorus, and you never hear any deviation. But there's a looseness in real funk, a live feel. That's what we've tried to get back to with Was (Not Was). So what if you don't play the part exactly the same way, or you move it a little in the groove? That's what you'd do if you were playing live. There's still some room for improvisation."

Jacobs is modest about his talent, and he feels fortunate to have found steady work. "My style came back in, all of a sudden," he observes. "When I was trying to break into the L.A. scene, I wasn't sure how my style was going to fit in, because I don't sound like Paul Jackson, Jr., Mike Landau, or Steve Lukather." Randy is also thankful that he hasn't been pigeonholed into one type of music. "I get to do diverse stuff because of Don. He'll call and say, "Today we're going to do a heavy metal track' or' We're going to do a funk track.' It's a comfortable feeling. Hard rock, funk, and jazz are my main thing, though I'm not a hardcore jazz player.

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