Guadeloupe born, Italian-based record producer Jacques Fred Petrus was one of the more enigmatic figures in early 80s black music. He was an expert at packaging studio concepts that paired American vocalists and lyricists with Italian musicians and arrangers (notably right-hand man Mauro Malavasi), leading to what some call “spaghetti disco.” He reputedly launched his empire with money from the Italian Mafia. And when he was murdered in 1987, rumors split over whether the shooter was a man turned away at one of his nightclubs, or an underworld mobster carrying out a deadly hit. In the years since, his productions have become treasured by DJs and lovers of boogie music.
Petrus’ most famous project was Change, whose 1980 debut The Glow of Love featured disco masterpieces like the title track, “A Lover’s Holiday,” and the Italo-disco mainstay “The End,” and effectively launched Luther Vandross as a solo superstar. High Fashion (which featured future R&B stars Alyson Williams and Meli’sa Morgan), Zinc, the BB & Q Band (a.k.a. the Brooklyn, Bronx & Queens Band), and the Peter Jacques Band: All were nearly faceless acts created by Petrus’ Goody Music team. The album cover designs featured beautiful models cavorting in a disco fantasia; Change’s covers were abstract images created by Frank Porto. The music itself was heavily influenced by Chic; and then Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis when their sound took over black radio. (In fact, Jam & Lewis produced Change’s Change of Heart.)
Despite, or perhaps because of the assembly-line nature of Petrus’ catalog, he made some of the best club tracks during that strange period in black music between disco’s effective demise and the rise of hip-hop, quiet storm and New Jack. High Fashion’s “Feelin’ Lucky” pulses with spirited, upbeat rhythms; The BB & Q Band’s “Genie” may be the best song Loose Ends never made. From Change’s “Paradise” to Zinc’s “Street Level,” this is some of the most entertaining boogie-funk of its day.
It’s been six years since Dam-Funk’s two-disc epic Toeachizown elevated boogie-funk from obscure dance music cult to a widely enjoyed pastime for 80s babies and other aging hipsters that miss the soundtrack of their childhood. As is often the case with nostalgia-driven fancies, the boogie-funk revival has lasted longer than the first go-round.
But let’s take a step back: What is boogie-funk? It refers to strains of R&B and club music recorded in the early 80s. One touchstone is Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’ work with The S.O.S. Band, noted for its enveloping bass and symphonic mid-tempo pace. Leon Sylvers’ bouncy, post-disco arrangements at Solar Records for acts like Shalamar also stand out, as does the “spaghetti disco” of Jacques Petrus. The style’s peak was somewhere between 1981 and 1984. By 1985 it had largely fallen off the charts in favor of synthesized funk, or “the Minneapolis Sound.” (There are other 80s cross-sections like synth-pop and smooth jazz that we won’t explore here.)
As for the term itself, boogie-funk is an Internet product, the result of our insistence on classifying every nook and cranny of popular music into a sprawling nomenclature. Back in the day, what we now call boogie-funk was simply referred to as disco, disco-funk, boogie, or club music.
Still, the years since Dam-Funk’s official debut – as he demonstrated on his 2010 compilation Adolescent Funk, he worked on tracks that never saw wide release for years – has inspired a thriving underground of boutique labels and musicians. Imprints like Voltaire Records, Omega Supreme Records and others issue vinyl LPs and, yes, cassette tapes in small quantities, and work with acts with names like Turquoise Summers and Midnight Runners. Many like K-Maxx and XL Middleton have lengthy careers that date back to the early 00s, and merely blossomed after boogie-funk became a thing.
2015 has brought fresh excursions. Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One, the latter known in some parts of the Northwest for his AR mixtape series, formed Tuxedo. More surprisingly, Jack Splash, best known for producing R&B singers like Estelle and Alicia Keys, has joined forces with vocalist Bobby Caldwell, whose 1978 hit “What You Won’t Do For Love” and 1980 single “Open Your Eyes” are quiet storm standards. Together, they’re known as Cool Uncle.
Dam-Funk remains the standard bearer. Released in September, his Invite the Light has guests like Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, former P-Funk keyboardist Junie Morrison, and Shalamar’s Jody Watley. He promotes funk as a spiritual calling, and a way to counteract the increasing mechanization of modern life. As the boogie-funk universe continues to grow, it seems like he’s not the only one who believes so.