Larry Graham, Jr. is an American baritone singer, musician, songwriter, and record producer. He is best known as both the bass guitar player in the popular and influential psychedelic soul/funk band Sly & the Family Stone, and as the founder and front man of Graham Central Station. He is credited with the invention of the slapping technique, which radically expanded the tonal palette of the bass, although he himself refers to the technique as “Thumpin’ and Pluckin’.”
Larry Graham Jr. was born on August 14, 1946 in Beaumont, Texas, but he was raised in Oakland, California. At the age of five he began preparing for his life course as a performer by learning to tap dance and shortly thereafter began to take piano lessons. In junior high he joined the school band playing drums, which he continued to do all the way through high school. However at the age of eleven his father gave him his own personal guitar since his father decided he wasn’t going to perform anymore. Larry then taught himself to play and that same year he began his professional music career playing in his first band. At thirteen he recorded his first record. By his teens he was playing a number of instruments including the drums, piano, guitar, bass and harmonica. At fifteen he joined his mother’s band – The Dell Graham Trio. His mother played piano, with him on guitar and Ruben Kerr on drums (a member of his first band).
One of the nightclubs where they performed regularly had a house organ available that had bass pedals on it. Larry taught himself to play the bass pedals while playing the guitar & singing, all at the same time. One night the organ broke down leaving the band without the bass sound they had become used to. So Larry rented a St. George bass from Music Unlimited in San Leandro, California until the organ could be repaired.
Larry’s mother decided to change their trio into a duo, just bass and piano. So Larry compensated for not having a bass drum by “thumping” the strings and made up for not having a snare drum by “plucking” them. He wasn’t concerned with playing the so called “correct” over hand-style method of playing the bass, since this was only temporary until the organ could be repaired. As it turned out, it was beyond repair . . . and the rest is history!
In 1968 Larry joined Sly and the Family Stone. Their first album, A Whole New Thing, provided a way for people all over the country to hear Larry’s unique bass playing. Their next album had a number of hit singles, such as “Dance to the Music” and “Everybody is A Star,” both of which allowed his voice as well as his “thumping & plucking” bass style to be heard around the globe. In 1993 Larry was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Sly and the Family Stone.
In the early ‘70s, Larry left Sly and the Family Stone and started to produce a band named Hot Chocolate, which he eventually joined and renamed it Graham Central Station. The group included guitarist David “Dynamite” Vega on guitar, Robert “Butch” Sam on organ, Hershall “Happiness” Kennedy on keyboard, Patrice “Chocolate” Banks vocalist/ percussionist, and Willie “Wild” Sparks on drums. The first album released in early 1974 was named Graham Central Station and it included the hit “Can You Handle It.” The next album, Release Yourself, yielded the hit “Feel the Need.” That same year GCS was nominated for a Grammy for the “Best New Artist of 1974.” In 1975 the third album, Ain’t No Bout-A-Doubt It, which went Gold and gave us the single “Your Love,” landed in the Top 40 and topped the R&B charts. That album also gave us “The Jam.” In 1976 GCS released the album Mirror, which included the hit “Love Covers a Multitude of Sin.”
The title track of the 1977 album, Now Do U Wanta Dance, soared on the R&B charts. The final two albums that GCS released were My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me, which title track by the same name featured Tina Graham on lead vocal, and Star Walk in 1978.
In the 1990s, GCS featured Larry’s former Sly and the Family Stone band members Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini. They regularly performed with Prince in a number of concerts as well as in Prince’s Jam of the Year tour. GCS released a Japanese album, By Popular Demand. Their last album to date , GCS 2000, was released in 1999.
In 1979 Larry launched his solo career and then became known for his soulful ballads. In 1980 he released the album One in a Million You and its title track became not only a Top Ten hit, but one of the most beloved romantic ballads. Larry was also nominated for another Grammy for the “Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male”. The album Just Be My Lady was another hit for Larry from his 1981 album of the same name. Then 1982 saw the release of Sooner or Later, which also enjoyed great popularity. In 1983 Larry released his album Victory and in 1985 he released an album in Japan, Fired Up. In 1987 Larry recorded a duet with Aretha Franklin entitled “If You Need My Love Tonight.” A few years later Larry teamed up with his friend comedian/singer Eddie Murphy to lead Eddie’s band Psychedelic Psoul, which toured the U.S. and Europe.
Larry is continuously writing (which he will always do) and he along with the rest of Sly and the Family Stone received the Rhythm & Blues “Pioneer Award” in 2001. Larry has also performed at international venues both as a solo performer as well as with Graham Central Station and Prince and enjoyed a very successful world tour in 2010. Once again Larry and GCS are again sharing the joy of funk with their 2011 “Funk Around the World” Tour.
Raise Up (2012), the first brand new album from the baritone bass monster Larry Graham in well over a decade (almost fourteen years, is full of his meatiest bass licks, a couple dashes of Prince and a splash of Raphael Saadiq. The end result is one of the newest funkiest albums in a very long time.
The thirteen-track funk opus brings Graham Central Station fans a whole new collection of songs and a couple of great reworks of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” featuring great vocal arrangements and Al Green’s “It Ain’t No Fun to Me.” According to Mr. Larry Graham, the purpose of the album was to compile the songs that got the best reactions from his audiences during his touring. Not to mention that fans of the bass master have been pining for an album for years and we’re pleased to say that this will bring those cries to a silence.
Graham recently told Bass Magazine that most of the album was recorded in the summer of 2011 in France. “We’d been touring for the last couple years before I made my final selection of songs and put this record together. So I got a chance to see what works with live audiences. I got a chance to see what they like and what they want and what they react to. So this CD is a reflection of that - what the people want when we play our live show.”
Larry shares some great new songs with his fans here that are compiled with a lot of thought in structure and delivery starting with the marching band drum-laden “GCS Drumline” and then blow after blow of deep funk tunes that seem to really feel like a tip of the hat to the funk bands he’s served during his lifetime. From the upbeat and very Sly and The Family Stone-ish “It’s Alright,” the ‘80s funk feeling “Throw-N-Down The Funk,” and the funk vocoder Zapp-type styling of “Now Do You Wanta Dance,” you can’t help but notice the homage.
Prince contributes a lot to this album and even though Larry Graham shows as the producer of the three songs Prince appears on, his fingerprints feel very evident on those selections. Prince’s background vocals are out front during the chorus of “Raise Up” and his new distorted guitar styling that he used heavily on LotusFlow3r are all over “Shoulda Coulda Woulda,” which is one of two slow jams offered on the album where Larry swoons the ladies with his deep baritone delivery. Then Prince shares his background and solo guitar work on the upbeat song “Movin’,” which again feels strangely like a heavy Prince production job although his name isn’t present in that capacity.
Raphael Saadiq (of Tony Toni Tone fame and his solo work obviously) lends his guitar and vocals to the albums closing track, “One Day.” The song starts off at a medium paced delivery which diverts into a firm build up of “time to go to church” and also features Larry Graham’s wife who lends her beautiful voice to the track as well.
The album also features nice segues such as the acapella “Welcome 2 Our World” and the aforementioned opening “GCS Drumline,” which sounds just as you’d expect. The messages throughout the album are pretty clear and speak of living your life to the fullest and rising up against adversity before problems weigh you down.
Most all of the songs clock in around five minutes or more, which means a lot of listening pleasure. Easily one of the best funk albums in a while from Graham Central Station that pays a perfect tribute to the various eras of funk music that Larry himself was the master of. This album proves yet again why Larry Graham is one of the best bassists of all time and firmly roots him into the psyche of bass players around the world. His influence on funk music and bass is forever known as the “thump heard round the world”.