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(Above: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears rip up the Riot Room in Kansas City, Mo. on Valentine’s Day, 2013.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Thursday may be the first time Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears have headlined a show in Kansas City, but it’s far from the bandleader’s first visit.

The soul and roots music front man has lots of family in the area. For several months in the mid-’90s, his family lived with his grandmother off Cleveland Avenue.

“I was only about 15 or 16 at the time,” Lewis said. “I remember hanging out in the neighborhood playing basketball, hearing gunshots, BBQ. We weren’t there long, only about 6 months.”

black_joe_lewis_soundcheckmagazine_03Just a few years later, Lewis was busking on the streets of Austin, Texas. Five years ago, he started assembling the Honeybears, a five-piece horn and rhythm section welded tight after countless shows and miles touring by van.

Lewis has shuffled in and out of town on family visits several times over the years, but his band is in a vastly different place from when it last stopped in the area.

In 2010, when the group played the Bottleneck in Lawrence, it was touring on the back of its first full-length album, “Tell ’Em What Your Name Is!” In the two years since, the Honeybears dropped their sophomore LP and shuffled members. A third album is underway.

“Our set now is mostly new stuff, but we still play the older songs, too,” Lewis said. “It’s a lot of fun for us. We know fans sometimes want to hear stuff off the records, but they get into it. It will be nice when the record comes out and people will know what to expect.”

Right now Lewis’ plan is to get the six-piece combo in the studio once a two-week tour wraps up, then try to set up a distribution deal. Lewis said he hopes to have the album out this summer but doesn’t have a timeline. Regardless of when it’s released, Lewis can’t wait for fans to hear it.

“I feel like with what we’re doing right now, I’m putting out my first record,” Lewis said. “On a lot of it, we sound like a rock and roll power trio with a horn section.”

Sometimes songs start from skeletons worked up by Lewis or bass player Bill Stevenson. Other ideas come out of jams, either during rehearsal, sound check or a show.

“Somebody might record our jam on their phone and we’ll come back to it, but even when we’re playing live, the stuff that sounds cool, I’ll work on lyrics for it,” Lewis said. “For me the structure of the song is the meat of the song, and the lyrics put it over the top.”

Forces that compromised the band’s sound in the past are gone now. The contract is up with label Lost Highway, which commissioned DJs to create a Honeybears mix with an electronic and hip-hop flavor aimed at the dance floor. Band members who pressured Lewis to clean up the band’s sound are gone.

“To me, those first albums sound wimpy,” Lewis said. “Back in the day, different guys wanted to do different stuff, and I went with it because that goes with being in a band. Now that stuff isn’t around. I get to cut loose.”

A fully unleashed Lewis could be dangerous. There’s not a lot of sheen or timidity in the Honeybears’ catalog. Lewis doesn’t have any trouble channeling Wilson Pickett or Howlin’ Wolf. He isn’t as concerned with re-creating a specific sound or era as are contemporaries Sharon Jones, the Daptone family and Raphael Saadiq, but he works in enough similar circles to draw comparisons.

“Honestly, I think we’re doing something completely different,” Lewis said. “I feel like we’re American roots music with our own twist. Once the new record comes out, the differences will be more obvious.”

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(Above: George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars bust out the “Atomic Dog” at Crossroads KC on May 18, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Star’s concerts at Crossroads KC have become a rite of spring. The troupe has performed there almost every year since the venue opened. It was clear from the first song, however, that something was different at Friday night’s concert.

Clad in a white suite and hat and shorn of his trademark rainbow dreadlocks, Clinton was dressed for business. While he was content in the past to shuffle in and out of his stable of nearly two dozen musicians, this time he claimed the stage on the first number and left no doubt who was in charge.Performing without longtime foil Gary “Diaper Man” Shider, who succumbed to cancer in 2010, Clinton sang with an urgency and intensity.
As if reestablishing his legacy, Clinton pulled the first two songs of the night from the first two Funkadelic albums, both released in 1970. The lyrics to the second number, “I Wanna Know If It’s Good To You” set the tone: “Look out, here I come/right back where I started from.” Later in the night Clinton dug unearthed “The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg,” which dated to his pre-funk doo-wop days in the Parliaments in the late 1960s.
Time has not been kind to Clinton’s voice. The musical pioneer’s raspy growl resembled Tom Waits doing James Brown, but it didn’t keep the 70-year-old from commanding the stage, jumping, shouting, directing and passing the mic to his son, granddaughter and grandson. During extended solos he took a seat by the drum kit, surveying the scene and snapping his fingers.
It took nearly 30 minutes before Clinton dropped the first big hit of the evening. A lengthy reading of “Flash Light” went straight into an equally extensive performance of “Freak of the Week,” best known today as the basis for De La Soul’s hit “Me, Myself and I.” Following “Freak,” Clinton turned the stage over to guitarist Michael Hampton for “Maggot Brain,” the “Free Brid” of funk solos.The All-Stars’ nearly annual appearances at Crossroads may have saturated the market. Despite perfect weather, the venue was only half full to start the weekend. The crowd was a diverse mix of races and ages, ranging from under-21 fans possibly seeing Clinton for the first time to longtime listeners who grew up on P-Funk.

The loose arrangements allowed plenty of room for improvisation, solos and sidetracks. “Freak” featured a detour into the standard “Sentimental Journey” while Clinton’s son and grandchildren each got a chance to showcase their rapping skills. At one point Clinton led the band into a bit of “Bustin’ Loose” in tribute to the recently deceased Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown.

Sometimes the arrangements were too free, though. Despite starting strong, the music meandered in the second half, particularly during “Up for the Downstroke” and “Aqua Boogie.”  Just when the band seemed headed off the cliff, however, they caught second wind at the two-hour mark. “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” seemed to invigorate both the crowd and musicians. A fun romp through “Atomic Dog” found many women from the crowd invited onstage to dance with the band and ended the night.

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(Above: Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band bring the bounce to Ziggy’s in Wiston-Salem, N.C.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

There are several different versions of the story how the six-piece, North Carolina funk outfit Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band came up with their name.

Guitarist J.P. Miller’s favorite rendition involves a fortune telling machine in Las Vegas.

“You know those fortune telling machines where you put a couple quarters in and the guy tells you your fortune?” Miller asks. “Well we found one that wasn’t plugged in. After we got it hooked back up, we put our money in, only instead of giving us a fortune the little piece of paper it spit out just said ‘Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band.’ So there you go.”

The Booty Band has seen several changes in the 11 years since, including numerous line-up changes, different front men and cross-state relocation to Asheville, N.C. Early shows were known to feature belly dancers and bring their own dancing pole.

“Back in the day we had a lot of crazy stuff,” Miller said. “I don’t want to say we were a gimmick band, but these days we put all our focus on the music.”

As a guitar player, Miller grew up emulating Jimi Hendrix and Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel. He said each band member brings his own backgrounds and influences to the ensemble. This means at any moment the music could show flavors of reggae, hip hop, jazz or ‘80s pop.

“Funk is always the focus, but we’ll do whatever it takes to keep people having fun and dancing,” Miller said. “We go nonstop from the first song to the last. We don’t give people the chance to stop dancing.”

The band’s current quest to keep booties shaking started with a hometown show in late July. Doin’ It Hard tour stops include dates in Missoula, Mont., Haines, Alaska and New Orleans.

Veterans of two Wakarusa music festivals at Clinton Lake and this year’s festival in Arkansas, the Booty Band drop their infectious funk on the Bottleneck in Lawrence, Kan. next Wednesday.

“A lot of places we don’t know what to expect,” Miller said. “We’ll often go to a club we’ve never played before and the dance floor will be full because people saw us play a festival or city event or cruise or whatever.”

The tour’s final dates in Asheville and Key West, Fla. around Thanksgiving will celebrate the release of the Booty Band’s fourth album.

“Our last album was a live album recorded in 2008, ‘Greatest Hips Live, Vol. II,’” Miller said. “The idea is to alternate between studio and live albums, so this one we recorded in a Miami studio,”

Miller said the group wanted a warmer analog sound for the album so they recorded directly to tape. This process eliminated the possibility of overdubs and meant the band had to put in plenty of practice so they wouldn’t be wasting expensive tape and studio time.

“We’ll be doing these new cuts all summer on the road,” Miller said. “It’s tightened us up a lot as a band, and people can tell.”

Funk fell out of favor for a while, but Miller is glad to see the genre regaining popularity.

“If you look online, a lot of bands use ‘funk’ in their description. It’s become kind of a buzzword,” Miller said. “Funk also makes you feel good, so why not?”

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(Above: Robert Randolph and the Family Band examine the “Man in the Mirror.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kasnas City Star

As the temperature dipped into the low 60s Saturday night at Crossroads, Robert Randolph and his family band mounted a two-front war: against the elements and against early onset hibernation in the crowd.

Pedal steel virtuoso Randolph and his six-piece band immediately conquered the weather. Opening with the buoyant “Good Times (3 Stroke),” Randolph frequently jumped out from behind his instrument to hop around like his own hype man. That proved more than enough to get the blood flowing.

For whatever reason, the band had more trouble winning over the audience. The third-full venue was populated with people who would rather converse and take their pictures on cell phones than dance and listen. The only times the crowd was engaged was when Randolph gave them something to do, like clap or sing. Everything else was background music.

When the night’s first Michael Jackson tribute – “Man in the Mirror,” delivered gospel-style by Randolph’s sister Lenesha Randolph – failed to rouse the crowd, Randolph segued into a John Lee Hooker boogie. Inviting dozens of ladies onstage to shake their hips did the trick during the number, but once the song was over it seemed everyone wanted to talk about what or who they saw onstage.

“Nobody” offered plenty of participation during the chorus and several encouraged call-and-responses.  For a moment it seemed like everything would gel, but mic problems capsized “Gilligan,” scat-vocal number about the Minnow’s castaways played on a square Bo Diddley guitar, and the crowd grew restless with the ensuing jam.

Finally, after 75 minutes onstage, Randolph got the crowd on board. “I Don’t Know What You Come To Do” had plenty of cues to clap and stomp along and the audience joyously obliged. That bled into “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That,” which teased the riff to “Whole Lotta Love” and featured an organ sound straight out of “96 Tears.”

The second Jackson tribute went over better than the first. Sliding into the melody of “Rock With You” after a brief encore break, Randolph, who has been playing MJ songs long before the King of Pop’s passing, gave the crowd a forum to both sing and dance. The night ended with “Roll Up,” an unreleased number similar to what Randolph had been serving all night. This time everyone was up for it.

Randolph’s upbeat music rocks the middle ground between gospel and funk, and his songs are basically vamps and choruses. His band can ride a groove into the sunset, but when the organ player leaned into his B3 with some gospel chords the performance kicked up another level.

Wearing a silk do-rag, pink tie, dress shirt, black vest, plaid shorts and knee-high black nylon socks, Randolph looked like a cross between LL Cool J and a middle infielder.  If he was frustrated by the distracted crowd, Randolph didn’t show it. He grinned from ear to ear all night, dancing in his seat under the pedal steel or two-stepping across the stage behind a six-string.

When the parade of ladies left the stage after “Shake Your Hips” several of them planted a kiss on Randolph’s cheek. Lost in his playing, Randolph never looked up or acknowledged the gesture. He was wise to ignore the adulation from a crowd that gave little more than lip service for most of the night.

Setlist: Good Times (3 Stroke), Deliver Me, Man in the Mirror, Shake Your Hips, Black Betty, Nobody, Das EFX, Gilligan, I Don’t Know What You Come To Do, Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That, (Encore) Rock With You, Roll Up

(Below: Paper setlists are so passe. Photo by Joe Hutchison.)

RR-setlist2009-09-26

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