Dazzle rolled deep. Very deep. In the 1980s, it wasn’t unusual for the Milwaukee-based group to show up at various Midwest night clubs in a caravan of 30-40 cars and vans. Their live following was hard won over a career that spanned 20+ years, many line up changes, and a handful of project names. Friends, family, and fans made the journey with them weekend after weekend, a testimony to both the musical prowess of the group and the tight-knit community that they emerged from.
Donald Smith, band leader, was there the whole time – joined by many of his siblings and friends – first as founder of the Ghetto Players, a early 70’s nine-piece which also included siblings Michael, Ronald, and Charles. They played hard funk in the style of early Kool and the Gang, and although they sadly left no recordings, the strength of their live act managed to catch the eye of local Milwaukee R&B music entrepreneur Cobie Joe Payne. Cobie had made a couple of records locally in the early/mid 70s as a singer, including the impossibly weird and amazing rare afro-blues-funk 45 “Sweet Thing”, but had never enjoyed national success. When the Ghetto Players disbanded in the early-mid 70s, Donald soon put together a new group, C on the Funk (the ‘C’ referring to lead vocalist and sibling Charles), under Payne’s tutelage. Sister Lorrie Smith came in as the drummer, the line-up being fleshed out by brothers David and Melvin Johnson, and friend Robert Mitchell. After a few years as a strictly live attraction, they drove to Chicago and produced a single, “In the Disco” / “A Place” for Payne’s small record label Sweet Thang Records in 1980. Lacking the financial backing needed to supply the local R&B disk jockey’s “promotional fees” , this single sadly languished in obscurity, gathering dust inside the local tavern jukeboxes and manilla promo envelopes that comprised Payne’s DIY distribution network.
C on the Funk were traveling the Mid West extensively at this point, and making some important friends on the road. Ike Wiley Jr. of the Dazz Band/Kinsman Dazz took particular interest and the band was re-christened Dazzle, partially as a tie-in with Dazz, partially to embrace the new sounds that would distinguish the 70s disco scene from what record collectors and DJs would now refer to as the “Boogie” era. There no doubt was a stigma attached to the word “Disco” as the eighties began, and as we see in this collection C On the Funk’s “In the Disco” is remixed and transformed into the psychedelic synth instrumental of Dazzle’s “Disco’s Out”, a title which embodies both the next-step approach Smith and company were pushing for, and humorously comments on the state of black dance music in the early 1980s. The Dazzle recording, done in Chicago in 1982, updated the sound and featured an expanded line up, most notably a second synth player (Charles Washington), and a percussionist/second lead vocalist (Greg McDonald). The added synth textures and deep percussive grooves give the Dazzle recordings an elegant late night vibe that resonate just as well in a good pair of headphones as they do on the dance floor. The trance inducing cough syrup-warble of “Explain” may best exemplify this here. Sadly, a pressing flaw in the 12″ halted production and promotion, and the EP and the songs within were lost to the ages. The group, having done a much better line in the live music business, followed that path instead all the way to the early 90s.