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Liner Notes from
SUN, THE GREATEST HITS CD
(by A. Scott Galloway)
Picture yourself under a blazing sky in Rio, inside a hushed auditorium in Toyko or floating over a sand-sculpted quad on Jupiter. Nine figures shrouded in mystical haberdasheries mysteriously take their places on stage as you begin to feel a deep, subsonic rumble. Suddenly, a robot - a galactic warrior - rises vertically from beneath the floor. And as the hauntingly familiar strains of Holzt's "The Planets" waft around your ears, this is the message your mechanical host begins to bellow:
"Since the beginning of time, as we know it
There has been a cosmic force so powerful,
A million atomic bombs could never equal,
A light so dazzling and bright,
No one could ever gaze upon it with the naked eye
And see again...
At last, the sounds that call the dawn of a new day
Because it is etched across the heavens
That nothing since human or physical existence
Can come within the torrid parameters of this solar force.
Yes, citizens of the universe,
I bring you the unreachable, incomparable star;
The brightest, most vital life force in our universe.
I bring you SUN!!!!!!!!!!"
A sonic detonation rocks you in your solar plexus as explosions of light and fire signal a frenzy on stage. The dark figures become animated, ripping the robes from their bodies to reveal skin-tight body suits with mirrors reflecting the colours of the rainbow. Their spirits are now liberated to take part in a funkdafied joyride of unity and positivity you will never forget. "We're here! Sun is here," they chant. And for over an hour, they thrill you with jams like "This Is What You Wanted," "Jam Ya'll: Funk It Up," "Radiation Level," "Live On, Dream On", "Boogie Bopper," "We're So Hot" and, of course, the one that started it all, "Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My BIC)." It took a 20-member crew and a semi to bring this show to earthlings, but leader Byron Byrd insists the extra cost was worth it. "Sun is about giving the people what they pay for, which is why 'They're (still) calling for more!'"
This is a heliograph of Sun at its peak.
Sun was a brainstorm of Byron Byrd, a young Ohioan given to stargazing and eventual pursuits of Aerospace engineering and research science. He's the one who developed the use of wireless microphones and guitars for the stage. But music began for him as a hobby. "My first instrument was alto sax," he says, speaking of the horn he played at Dayton's Roosevelt High School. "Then I picked up bass, guitar and keyboards. Ohio was a fertile stomping ground for scores of musicians in jazz, rock and, particularly, soul and funk. The list includes the Isleys Brothers, Slave, Heatwave, Midnight Star, Lakeside and Faze-0, to name only a few."
Byron's first bands were Over Night Low and the Ohio Majestics, which gigged around the area and as support for acts like The O'Jays and The Spinners. The horn section even cut a session for James Brown at King Studios for VP Henry Glover. Members of this band included James "Diamond" Williams, Marvin "Merv" Pierce and Clarence "Chet" Willis, all of whom went on to The Ohio Players. It was in 1974 that Over Night Low, while opening for Mandrill at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus caught the attention of record producer Beau Ray Fleming, who'd worked with Mandrill, Jon Lucien and Zulema up to this point. He heard them on stage and came from the dressing room to peep the scorching band - up close. At the after party, Beau was doubly surprised to see them again. Determined to connect he went backstage, met the players and they exchanged numbers. In under a year, he flew back to Dayton from his New York offices with contracts in his briefcase.
Sensing the need for a stronger band concept, Byron, Beau and the group began searching for a new name, something that would give them a more universal and cosmic vibe. Beau said Celestial Sun, but band member John Wagner suggested they make it less of a mouthful and just call it Sun. "We thought surely somebody already had that name," Byron chuckles, " but they didn't." Thus. Sun was born. "The Sun is a universally accepted symbol of energy," Byron explains. "And as time went on, we brought people of different cultures into the band to show how international it could be." Sun was interracial with black and white American members, as well as members of Island and European descent.
After being signed to Capitol by Larkin Arnold, Sun was faced with an immediate problem: an incomplete band. "I didn't have all my musicians together on the first album," Byron states, "because they didn't believe I was getting a deal with Capitol. A few guys on the back cover of the first album didn't play a note on it!"
The black hole was in the rhythm section, so Byron recruited some local talent, in to Cincinnati's Counterpart Recording Studio that would, a few short years later, become superstars of funk. "I called Roger and Lester Troutman," Byron begins," and paid them to do some sessions so i could get the album finished. We had been on shows together when they were little Roger then Roger and The Human Body, so we knew each other quite well." Lester laid drum tracks with Roger on bass, then Roger overdubbed guitar for four songs on the album, including the rousing "Live On, Dream On" But it was on "Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My BIC)" that history was made when it became the first national funk hit to feature Roger on his trademark talkbox device.
||Rodger Troutman Talkbox & Guitar
Lester Troutman Drums & Percussion
Roger had already recorded with the talkbox on a regional single called "Freedom" by Roger & The Human Body on Troutman Brothers Records), which he and his brothers sold out of the trunks of their cars. But “Wanna Make Love” made the whole country take notice of the novel new sound. Byron states, “I directed Roger to sing the ‘I just want to make love to you’ melody. The way we were doing it at first was we were mimicking it. The talkbox effect really made it happen. Roger was brilliant at it.”
Detailing the experience further, Roger himself relates, “What I remember is Byron telling me and Lester how he wanted the track to go, and Beau Ray making quick , strong suggestions. Nowadays, the voicebox is something people know of and call me to put in a song. But twenty years ago, you can imagine how ridiculous I looked totin’ that thing around trying to advocate it for a record. When I was first trying to make records with it, people were like, ‘I can’t understand a word you’re sayin’. Sounds like you’ve got something’ in yo’ mouth! That ain’t sangin’!’ Once I got it set up and gave them a reasonable facsimile of what it would sound like, they were like, ‘Hey, let’s put this down!’ I’m appreciative to Byron, who has always been very, very cool. He had a wide variety of pickers and drummers to choose from in Dayton back then, and he chose us.” Because they were not official SUN members, Roger and Lester’s contribution were credited vaguely as “rhythm assistance.” But with Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce” four years later in 1980, Roger Troutman went from incognito to indispensible!
As the first single from the debut LP, Live On, Dream On (1976), “Wanna make Love” became SUN first hit, peaking at #31 on Billboard’s R&B chart. It was subtitled “Come Flick My BIC” because of a racy, closing vamp hook which incorporated the catchy slogan used by the BIC Pen Corporation for it’s line of cigarette lighters. “That was a pure gimmick,” Byron confesses. BIC even manufactured some limited edition, promotional gold-plated lighters with the SUN logo that were sent to DJs. Of the song in general, Byron concludes, “When I wrote it, I was trying to prove a point. I knew I could get a song on the charts by taking ingredients from different songs and plotting out the market. The bassline was like something the Ohio Players would do. Other bits were like th Commodores and Kool & The Gang.”
SUN at the BIC Lighter and Pen Corporation
BIC manufactured limited edition, promotional gold-plated lighters
with the SUN logo that were sent to DJs.
"Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My BIC)"
SUN were Half-Time Guest at the Superdome
The Texas A&M Marching Band Played 'Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My BIC)"
on the marching field.
The entire album was eventually renamed after it when the original cover art was changed from a generic sunburst to a literally steaming photo of black Playboy playmate, Azizi Johara. Other standouts from the album were Byron’s uplifting opener “Live On, Dream On” and short-lived member Chris Jones’ sprawling and prophetic crowd-pleaser, “They’re Calling For More.” “There was a lot of positiveness in songs by the band then, “ Byron reflects. “We picked up on those vibes during the early days, like all musicians do, and reflected it in our music as well.”
With a hit on his hands, Byron was forced to let go of the last of his outside musical activities: road manager for the Commodores (under Benny Ashburn). “I’ll never forget it,” Byron said. “Johnnie Taylor’s ‘Disco Lady’ was #2 in L.A. and ‘Wanna Make Love was #1. I was still working at Poinsettia studios, helping the Commodores. They couldn’t believe what was happening with SUN. They’d worked so long (five years) before they got a hit. We got our’s the first time out.”
With the release of their second album, Sun Power (pressed on orange vinyl in 1977), SUN sprang into a ten-piece configuration of multi-instrumentalists and vocalists that consisted of Byron Byrd, John Hampton Wagner, Christopher D. Jones, Hollis Melson, Dean Hummons, Kym Yancey, Shawn Sandridge, Bruce Hastell, Gary King and Ernie Knisley. The album also contained the though-provoking “Conscience,” the dramatic "Time Is Passing,” (with strings arranged by Byron), plus the driving instrumental “We’re So Hot,” which was used in many sports telecasts.
A sizable overhaul in the band occurred before the release of it’s third album, Sunburn (!978), recorded in Cyberteknics Recording Studio in Dayton. Half of the band, unhappy with the musical direction of Sun, were dismissed by Fleming. Led by Shawn Sandridge and Chris Jones (who, together, were initially Magum), those six members resurfaced as the band Dayton, recording three albums. Their highest charting single was a 1982 remake of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Hot Fun In The Summertime.”
Five new members were welcomed aboard the “Sunship”: guitarist Keith Cheatham, keyboardist Sonnie Talbert, bassist Curtis Hooks, and brass men Nigel Boulton and Robert Arnold. This was one of the best units in Sun’s history, particularly with Cheatham who was a strong vocalist, player and writer. On Sunburn, he continued the tight and classy “Dance (Do What You Wanna Do)” and co-wrote the turntable hit love ballad, “I Had a Choice,” a slow dance classic (dig the dreamy sax and keyboards). The smash of the album, however was “Sun Is Here,” the slammin, chant that could revive a party under any circumstance! The Yancey-Byrd concoction was their highest charting single ever, peaking at *18 R&B, helping make this album a RIAA certified gold-seller. It became their official theme and kicked-off most Sun shows with a big bang from this point on. Major tours followed, including dates with label mates Tavares, Peabo Bryson, Maze, The Sylvers and Ms. Natalie Cole.
Aside from the obvious sequel, “Radiation Level,” and the horn section showcase “Pure Fire” the next Lp, Destination: Sun (1979), contained some of the band’s finest artistic moments in Cheatham’s semi-acoustic, Earth, Wind & Fire-esque inspirer “Light Of The Universe,” as well as the smoky, jazzy beg ballad, “Baby I Confess.” The album also found the band taking its concept to loftier levels. Byron explains, “I did some research and found that all the colors in the rainbow represent different frequencies. By finding out your star sign and it’s related color, you can find our your “star tone” and what note it is on the keyboard. So everyone picked a star name (a ‘solar nomen’) which had something to do with their star sign and their personality . Mine was ‘Pax Amantis,’ which means ‘lover of peace.’’’ The intricate album was done by Shusei Nagaoka, who also illustrated the Sun Power Lp as well as Earth, Wind & Fire’s All ‘N All, I Am and Raise. For the stage, Byron came up with the idea of robots. And to design them, they had the Oscar-winning designers (led by Jemy Shourts) that created “R2-D2” and “C3-PO” for Star Wars!
Staying ahead of the pack, Sun had people from NASA do the cover animation for their fifth album, Sun Over The Universe (1980). “We had some of the first pictures if Jupiter incorporated into that moon landing picture,” Byron says. “We put everything we could into our show and art.” This album also marks the entrance of keyboardist Dean Francis and guitarist Sheldon Reynolds, the latter of whom who would go on to join two other supergroups: The Commodores and Earth, Wind & Fire. Prior to Sun, Sheldon was backing jazz guitarist Wilbert Longmire. You can check his chops on Byron’s instrumental, “Quest.” And just after Sheldon joined Sun, Keith Cheatham left, giving Sheldon an opportunity to sing as well.
“The talent in Sun was Incredible,” Sheldon states. But citing behind-the–scenes, he adds, “Unfortunately, we never got a chance to fully express it. But it was great. I was 19 then, traveling the country and a bit of the world. We went out on a package with Heatwave and others which gave me a lot of great experience.” Though Sun had fan bases in countries as diverse as Nigeria, Holland and South Africa, among the most loyal was Brazil. Sun once headlined a show for the provinces of Brazil and South America. On the sixth album, Sun: Force of Nature (1981), they showed their appreciation with the salute “Jammin In Brazil.” featuring the explosive bass playing of new member, Don Taylor. “The rhythms in Brazil are very, very heavy,” Byrd shares. “For the people there to respect us was an honor.”
Brazil was the spot of another memorable anecdote. As Sheldon recalls, “When we got to the airport in Rio, the equipment was coming through for Earth, Wind & Fire and people thought we were them. Hundreds of people were flipping out! I don’t know if that was an omen for me or what, but that was the first time I’d gotten close to anything like that.” Reflecting on the good fortune of having been in the three of the 70’s best soul bands, Sheldon humbly replies, “God has blessed me with a lot and I appreciate it.” Sun treats fans to two more party cuts from this album with the concert staple “Reaction Satisfaction (Jam Ya’ll: Funk It Up)” and the mid tempo groover “This Is What You Wanted,” featuring rhythm guitarist Anthony Thompson and Sheldon.
Sun’s final album for Capitol was Let There Be Sun (1982). The single “Slamm Dunk The Ffunk” charted at #81. A ray of hope was held out for “Super Duper Super Star”.” Byron’s old friend Benjamin Ashburn was on the Olympic committee that year. “We had that song in a position to be used during the games,” Byron laments, ”but America boycotted the Seoul Olympics.” Byron released another single on the Air City label two years later titled “Leggs Bring Out The Wolf In Me.”
- A. Scott Galloway
The force is on its way, we shall see sun shine again, burning bright and hot with a revolving collective of former band members and high profile guests. When the inevitable natural phenomenon comes to pass, just be sure to pull your giant sunglasses out of the closet. The forecast: its gonna be a scorcher.
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