The Incredible Bongo Band – Sharp Nine

So last weekend I travelled to the B.F.I. in London for the U.K. Premiere of “Sample This” – a film detailing the story of The Incredible Bongo Band. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the film and it pulled together very well the strange collection of events surrounding the coming together of the band as well as those which ultimately brought about the break-up.

Here’s a little taster of what you can expect from the film when it goes on general release:

Before the screening, we were able to catch up with Dan Forrer, the writer/director of “Sample This” to ask him a few questions about the film. Check out what he had to say below:

Dan Forrer

Gazfunk: How/when did you first become aware of The Incredible Bongo Band?

Dan Forrer: I heard “Bongo Rock” on the radio in 1973 and became curious about the “band”. The song was a Top 20 hit in Canada.

G: What was it that excited you about the story of the band that made you want to make a film about them?

DF: I read an article in the New York Times by Will Hermes that connected the story of “The Incredible Bongo Band” to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. I became fascinated by the unlikely chain of events that led to the creation of “The Incredible Bongo Band”.

G: There are many famous musicians in the film, was it hard for you to convince them to take part?

DF: The musicians were happy to tell their story and I was privileged to have many of them appear in the film. There are over 30 different musicians that played on the 19 original tracks!

G: The legendary Gene Simmons of “Kiss” fame is the narrator of the film, which may seem a strange choice to some, what was his connection to the story?

DF: Gene Simmons was a close friend of Michael Viner. He was very generous with his time and agreed to appear in the film to honor his friend.

G: Sadly Michael Viner passed away in 2009, but did you get an opportunity to speak with him about your plans for the movie before his death?

DF: I only had the opportunity to communicate with Michael via email but he was very supportive of the project. He passed away about a month after I started my research.

G: I know that the movie premiered back in October 2012 in Austin, Texas, what was the reaction from those who were lucky enough to see it?

DF: The people who watched the film were surprised by the fact that “The Incredible Bongo Band” would never have happened if it were not for the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

G: With Gazfunk being primarily a music blog, I’m sure our readers will be interested to know a little bit about your own musical background, so what type of sounds do you dig?

DF: I’m a vinyl junkie with a 5,000+ album collection. I love mostly sixties/seventies soul and funky jazz grooves.

G: Where can our viewers go to find out more information about the film, release date, screenings etc?

DF: You can follow us on Facebook or Twitter at samplethismovie. There’s a trailer on youtube as well (Ed – see above)

G: Finally, we normally invite our interviewees to select a song for us to feature but given that the film is about “The Incredible Bongo Band”  (and we’ve yet to feature them on the blog), now seems as good a time as any to showcase their sound. So which track would you like us to play?

DF: Well, you could play “Apache” which is considered the national anthem of hip-hop. However, one of my personal favourites is “Sharp Nine”. The break shows just how incredible King Errison & Jim Gordon are.

G: Thanks for your time and good luck with the film.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – War

Ahead of this Summer’s Mostly Jazz festival in Birmingham, we caught up with John Fell, one of the organisers of the festival for a chat about all things Mostly Jazz. Check out what he had to say below

Gazfunk: How/when did the idea to hold a “Mostly Jazz” festival first come about?

John Fell: Like all of our events it comes from wanting to bring the music we love to the city and what better environment than a festival! At the time of creation there was very little dedicated to the three genres of Jazz, Funk & Soul so we decided to make Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival! We already had the perfect venue and blueprint from our other festival, Moseley Folk Festival, and felt there would be a market for it… It turned out more than we expected!!

G: For those readers who don’t know, when was the first Mostly Jazz and what artists performed?

J F: The first Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul Festival took place in 2010. We were delighted to be able to bring artists like Sun Ra Arkestra, Courtney Pine, Quantic & His Combo Barbaro, Portico Quartet and James Taylor quartet to name a few. It was originally a two-day event on Saturday and Sunday but far more people than we expected attended so we decided to add the Friday the following year! Again, it was well attended and the festival has grown in size ever since! It’s now at its 2000 capacity!

G: To date, what other artists have taken part?

J F: We’ve had a whole host of acts including legendary funk & soul artists, ultra cool DJ’s and the best up & coming bands. They include George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Family Stone, Booker T, Roots Manuva, Cinematic Orchestra, Craig Charles, Mr Scruff, Bad Bad Not Good & Introducing to name a few.

G: The festival seems to be going from strength to strength, has the popularity of the festival surprised you?

J F: Definitely! We run a folk festival too which also sells out every year but we were expecting Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul Festival to take a little longer. It instantly felt like there was a crowd who were really looking for an event like this. We were delighted as we’re all massive fans of Jazz, Funk & Soul.

G: This year’s line-up appears quite exciting too, are there any particular acts we should look out for?

J F: Naturally the headliners are always going to be exciting but to have Chic featuring Nile Rodgers closing the festival is an absolute dream. We’re so excited and the feedback has been great! Although I’m personally excited about seeing Hypnotic Brass Ensemble on Friday who will be bringing their own unique brand of New Orleans style brass to the park. It doesn’t get better than that for me!

G: Finally, can you give us details of where tickets can be bought and where we can find out any other general info about the festival?

J F: All information for this years Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul Festival can be found over at our official website – www.mostlyjazz.co.uk. You can also keep up to date with the latest news by liking our facebook page (www.facebook.com/mostlyjazz) or following us on twitter @mostly_jazz

As with all our guest interviewees, we asked John to select a track for us to feature and he picked the excellent Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s “War” – enjoy!

The Big Interview – Dennis Coffey

So the time has finally arrived for our next big interview and what a great artist we have for you! Former member of the legendary Funk Brothers, guitar legend, producer and all round musical genius – Mr Dennis Coffey! Dennis doesn’t give interviews very often so we are both excited & honoured that he agreed to talk about all things Motown, gold discs & Rodriguez. Check out what he had to say below:

Gazfunk: First off Dennis, thanks for doing the interview – how are you keeping?

Dennis Coffey: I am doing well, thanks. I am playing a lot of local shows and have recently played at the Iridium Jazz Club in NYC with the Les Paul Trio. I’ve also performed in Portland, Oregon and at the Funkfest in Long Beach, California.

G: I want to take you way back – when did you first pick up a guitar and what was your inspiration?

D.C: I always liked music – my mom told me that I could name every song on the radio by the age of two. I first started playing the ukulele at the age of 9 and picked up the guitar shortly after that. Two of my cousins in upper Michigan were playing guitars and singing country songs and I used to spend two weeks every year up North with them and they showed me how to play some country songs and got me started. I did my first record date at the age of 15. You can find the record on Youtube – it’s called I’m Gone by Vic Gallon. That is me playing both guitar solos (you can listen to the track here)

G: You joined Motown in 1967 – how did that come about?

D.C: One day I got a telephone call from James Jamerson, the legendary bassist at Motown. He and I had already worked together on a few sessions and he introduced me to producer Hank Cosby. Hank was Stevie Wonder’s producer and the contractor who hired the musicians at Motown. I had already played on gold records for Del Shannon, Golden World and various Northern Soul artists. Hank told me that Motown was forming a rehearsal band upstairs of Golden World Studios to allow producers to  experiment with new ideas. Jamerson would be the bandleader. He told me Motown would pay me a salary to be a part of this band. I accepted this offer and one day Norman Whitfield came in with an arrangement of a song called Cloud Nine that he wanted to record with The Temptations. At the rehearsal I took out my wah-wah pedal and used it on the intro. Norman told me that, that was exactly what he was looking for. Two weeks later I was at Motown recording Cloud Nine. After that Norman used me on all of his sessions. He had a vision of where Motown needed to go and I helped him get there.

G: During that time you worked with some incredible musicians & artists, but was there anyone in particular that you feel most proud to have worked with?

D.C: I liked working with Norman Whitfield & The Temptations because they allowed me to be creative. I was also proud of working with Michael Jackson & The Jackson Five, Ringo Starr, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, George Clinton and many others.

G: In ’71 you released Scorpio which became a million selling single and you also won a gold disc for it, how did it feel for you to finally step out of the shadow of Motown and receive such recognition under your own name?

D.C: I was never under contract to Motown so I was always recording as an artist and producer alongside my partner, Mike Theodore. The first album I recorded under my own name was called Hair and Thangs and was released on Maverick Records. Scorpio was from my second album Evolution on Sussex. It felt great to have a gold record of my own!

G: Around that time you went on to work with Rodriguez. When did you first come across him and what did you think when you first saw him?

D.C: The first time Mike & I worked with Rodriguez was when we arranged two songs for him to be produced by Harry Balk, the owner of Impact & Twirl Records. Nothing happened with those two songs. Later we went to hear Rodriguez at a club on the Detroit River called The Sewer. When we entered the club we saw Rodriguez singing while facing the wall with his back to the audience. We thought that was a bit strange but it did force you to listen to his lyrics. We liked what we heard so we got him a deal to record the Cold Fact album on Sussex Records.

G: This year saw the release of the docu-film “Searching For Sugarman” which is one of my favourite films of the year, what did you make of the film and do you feel that Rodriguez is finally getting the recognition he deserves?

D.C: I loved the film. When the producer Malik first came to my house with his assistant and told me he was doing a documentary about Rodriguez, I was glad to help. I had no idea how talented Malik was. He did a great job on the film. I feel that the attention that Rodriguez is now receiving is way overdue – Mike and I always believed in his talent.

G: Do you have any new material following on from last year’s self-titled album and are there any other exciting projects that you are working on?

D.C: I am back in the clubs reinventing myself and my music by taking it to the people. The audiences in Detroit are great audiences and keep me on the right track. I have 20 original songs already written and when I am ready I will be looking for a new record label.

G: Thanks for your time Dennis & best of luck for the future.

D.C: Thanks – it’s been a pleasure.

We asked Dennis to select a song from his back catalogue to feature and he chose the mighty Scorpio. Enjoy! 

The Big Interview – The Cactus Channel

We’re always looking to bring you extra features on the blog including our recent guest contributor section from our friends in the soul/funk world. Well this week we’re pleased to announce the first of another new feature – The Big Interview. Every now and then we’ll be bringing you an interview with some of the main players on the funk scene, from new bands to some legendary artists, record label bosses and some of the most influential djs the scene has to offer.

So to kick things off, we start with perhaps the hottest young funk band around at the moment – The Cactus Channel. They were kind enough to take some time out from touring with their debut album to have a chat with us. Check out what they had to say below:

Gazfunk: Firstly, thanks for taking some time out of your hectic schedule to answer some questions. To kick things off, can you take us back to how/when you guys first got together?

Cactus Channel: No problem – thanks for interviewing us.

When we were 14/15 years old we were introduced to a compilation (or rather 2 compilations) called “New Orleans Funk Vol 1 & 2” by our bass player Henry Jenkins. Some of us were already into some reggae & jazz with artists like Toots & Maytals & King Curtis, so that kind of afro/horn-driven sound was sort of already there, but it was tracks like “Check Your Bucket” by Eddie Bo and “Handclapping Song” by The Meters and many, many more on the aforementioned compilations that made us want to get together and figure them out and eventually have a crack at making our own stuff. Initially this was with about six members of the band, but over the course of the next couple of years it had blossomed into the 10 piece you see today…

G: The band is based in Melbourne which has become something of a hotbed for nu-funk bands with the likes of The Bamboos & Deep Street Soul amongst others receiving global recognition. Where bands like those mentioned influential in The Cactus Channel’s sound? What other acts influenced the band?

C.C: Yeah certainly the plethora of Melbourne soul/funk oriented artists like The Bamboos (who we used to go and watch when they were playing free park shows that us 16 year olds were actually allowed to go to!) and Deep Street Soul as well as The Bombay Royale, The Putbacks, Saskwatch, The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra, Papa Chango and Hiatus Kaiyote, to name a few, have all been influential in different ways and I think indeed parts of our own sound and sonic ideas have been formed from seeing all those acts live and being inspired.

Certainly another important influence is the Daptone Records label in Brooklyn, New York (with artists like The Budos Band, The Menahan Street Band, Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings) as well as the Truth & Soul label also in Brooklyn (Lee Fields & El Michels Affair). Of course, not to mention a lot of the early New Orleans funk as mentioned earlier, James Brown & The JB’s, Motown, Stax, the whole shebang…

G: Does the band have any exciting gigs/tours coming up and are there any plans for future collaborations with other soul/funk artists?

C.C: Exciting gigs/tours – yes indeed! We’ve just started our East Coast tour which kicked off in Brisbane on 21 September and will take in Sydney & Canberra until 30 September. A few weeks after that we’ll have some shows in Melbourne & Adelaide. It’s our first tour and a lot of us are going to places we haven’t even been to, let alone played at before so it’s a very exciting time indeed!

In terms of collaborations with other soul/funk artists, there’s no plans past momentary thoughts and wishes really although there may well be a potential reggae remix of one of our tracks so watch this space…

G: Finally, you have just released your debut album “Haptics” how have the critics and wider funk world taken to the album (I understand Craig Charles is a fan)?

C.C: He is indeed apparently! It’s been played on his programme a few times I think, which is nice, it’s got a bit of international airplay actually particularly in places like Japan and more recently Brazil! So maybe some visits to these places should be considered before too long!

The Melbourne scene has also been really positive and supportive of it – a few papers and magazines like The Age, The Australian, Beat, Impress, Rhythms, Monthly and also a bunch of online blogs and interstate radio stations have given us a run and pumped up our tyres a bit, so we’re very grateful! Just like we are of this interview!

The Cactus Channel are currently in the middle of their tour promoting the debut album “Haptics” you can still catch them at the following shows:

BULLI, NSW: Thurs 27th September – The Heritage Hotel

SYDNEY: Fri 28th September – GOODGOD Small Club

CANBERRA: Sat 29th September – Transit Bar

MELBOURNE: Fri 12th October – Ding Dong Lounge

ADELAIDE: Sat 13th October – Rocket Bar

The debut album “Haptics” is out on now Hope Street Recordings – for more information check out the official band site: www.thecactuschannel.com

Here’s a little taster for the album – the single “Emanuel Ciccolini”