Song of the Day: Dexter Wansel “Life On Mars”
Life On Mars was the 1976 science fiction-themed solo recording debut of Dexter Wansel and it remains a cult hit among boogie and funk fans. Wansel had previously established himself as a talented producer/keyboardist in his native Philadelphia. He had previously worked with such Philly soul heavyweights as the O’Jays, the Stylistics and others. While his dedication to the groove (provided here on the title track to the album by the rhythm section from Instant Funk) Wansel also amps up the dark spaciness and electronics, creating a haunting slice of space funk. The track manages to keep things light while going just dark enough to hint at the unknowable vastness of the cosmos. An instant cult classic!
Dexter Gilman Wansel was born in Philadelphia in 1950. He took an early interest in music, abetted by a step-uncle who worked for a theater in downtown Philly and employed the young Wansel as an occasional errand boy, giving him greater access to many of the acts that came through town. He started his fist band while still in high school with his best friend, the soon-to-be-legendary jazz bassist Stanley Clarke. In 1970, after a stint in the army, Wansel became interested in synthesizers and the musical possibilities that the new technology offered.
Armed with his formidable musical talents and some early synthesizers, Wansel became the in-house producer and arranger for Philadelphia International Records (while also doing work for numerous other labels in the greater Philly-area). While he only recorded a handful of albums himself, Wansel‘s fingerprints can be found on hundreds of albums made by everyone from Instant Funk to Lou Rawls. Much of his music has also taken on a second life, with his work being some of the most heavily sampled by rappers from Ice Cube to Kanye to Wiz Khalifa.