Where Have All The R&B Bands Gone?

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[Note: This is a post from a few years ago from my old blog, The Dodson Citizen. I have updated it and reposted it here.]

Can anyone name a current, radio-supported, R&B band out here now?

I consider myself something of a music fan, and the only one I can come up with is Mint Condition-and by radio-supported, I mean by Adult Contemporary R&B stations. You won’t find any band on what passes for “urban contemporary”, mainstream, or what is considered hip-hop/R&B stations today. At least, I don’t think you will. Most of what is played there is what passes for R&B these days-soloists like Trey Songz, Chris Brown, Mary J. Blige and Keyshia Cole-and rap artists and the occasional rap group (I can’t even think of one of those right now).

As for Mint Condition, it has been almost twenty-five years since they arrived on the scene, with the classic ballad “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes).” Back then, you could hear a band like them on contemporary R&B radio, mixed in among the new jack swing cuts (themselves a hybrid of R&B and hip-hop) as well as several traditional R&B singers and groups. They have soldiered on throughout the years, still playing live, and while a record deal with a major label isn’t present, that’s just a function of the current music business. Groups like Mint Condition go independent and while they may not have the reach of the major label, they have control of their product and handle their business as they see fit. I for one am glad to see them still out here, even if they never have another Billboard chart hit.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, when I grew up, there were R&B bands all over the place-Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament/Funkadelic, Bar-Kays, ConFunkShun, Dazz Band and Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly just to name a few. You could count on them showing up on the radio and if you were able, you got tickets to go see them in person. Their songs were all over the singles charts as well. In fact, in those days Earth, Wind & Fire was my favorite band. In the process of dating myself, an Earth, Wind & Fire album was the first one I ever owned; at the tender age of 10, I got the

Spirit album as a Christmas gift (as an 8-track tape), along with a portable Panasonic Dynamite 8 tape player (right). I wore that tape (and the player) out. The band’s “Open Our Eyes,” “That’s The Way Of The World” and “All N’ All” albums were also favorites of mine.

One possible reason for the demise of the R&B band could be seen as far back as the ’80s, when bands that had nine, ten or eleven members downsized as electronic instruments came into vogue. Earth, Wind & Fire went from nine members down to five; Cameo went from ten to three. You didn’t need a guy to play bass guitar when you could recreate a bass sound on a synthesizer. Horn players, too, became extinct in the R&B band concept as once again, synthesizers took their place. Even drummers eventually were given the boot when drum machines became more prevalent. And as hit after hit began to feature almost exclusively electronics, in time you didn’t really need a band, you needed someone to program and sequence and basically create tracks electronically, or now even, by computer. And one by one, bands just faded from the commercial scene. Oh, I imagine many of them still play, and there are still bands that play locally in communities, but I can’t think of a one getting any kind of national shine other than Mint Condition. And as I said earlier, their profile isn’t as high as it once was.

Technology certainly played a role in diminishing the numbers of R&B bands on the national level. For someone my age, or at least for me, it’s looking back on an era in time that doesn’t look to be coming back anytime soon. Mint Condition may be the last of a dying breed, as soloists, rappers and programmers win the day. That’s not a rant against what is going on in music today, I listen to a lot of it and I like quite a bit of it. It’s just that a time and place in music has just about gone away.

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