Reviews

The Funkmasters Featuring Fred Wesley and Johnny Griggs

Matt C. Rogers
The Funkmasters Featuring Fred Wesley and Johnny Griggs

The Funkmasters Featuring Fred Wesley and Johnny Griggs

City: Montgomery, Alabama
Venue: The Train Shed
Date: 2004-10-04

Clyde Stubblefield
It is no revelation to say nowadays that hip hop dominates the world of commercial music. But where would hip-hop be without the breakbeat? Specifically the breakbeats of one James Brown? The breakbeats, even more specifically, created by his most famous funky drummers: Clyde Stubblefield and John "Jab'o" Starks? Name any major rapper from back in the day and odds are you'll hear a loop popping from something these two funky-footed heavyweights kicked out. But, of course, you already know this. Right? Just in case, go over to your record shelf, dig around a little and put some of these platters on the turntable. You know, just to remind your ass how to shake and jaw how to drop. "Funky Drummer", "Give It Up Or Turnit Loose", "Sex Machine", "Super Bad", "I Got You", "Make It Funky", "Hot Pants", "Papa Don't Take No Mess", "Mother Popcorn", "Cold Sweat", "Get Up Offa That Thang", "The Payback" or just about any other hit Mr. Soul Dynamite vaingloriously birthed between 1967 and 1974. Songs that made Mr. Brown, notorious for his tyrannical approach to publishing rights, a very rich man indeed. But you already know all this. What you may not know is that Mr. Stubblefield (who has played on more #1 JB hits than anyone) and Mr. Starks (who has played on more JB charted hits than anyone) have been playing together for the last several years under the moniker the Funkmasters; have put out a quality studio album and are working on a second; have put out a video demonstrating how a drummer just might make it funky; can both sing; and have just reunited in Alabama with several of their former hit-making JBs for a rare concert that showed once again that, not so long ago, there was a time... River Jam sponsored by the Alabama Jazz and Blues Federation, was responsible for bringing the Funkmasters to town. The event took place at the Train Shed, a rather large wooden, open-air structure that looked like it once housed locomotives. Which made sense, being that the elevated stage was a mere 20 feet from the train tracks, which were a mere hundred feet from the river that snaked parallel. And people came out despite the afternoon predilection for the hot, humid and greasy: perfect for an old-school funk concert. And so the mother (as in popcorn) was indeed turned out. Clyde and Jab'o were joined by trombonist Fred Wesley and percussionist Johnny Griggs themselves integral parts to so many of Mr. JB and the JB's hits. It had been thirty years since all of them had graced a stage together but you wouldn't have known it. Fred Wesley served as the house party's MC, working the crowd to their feet throughout the night. The pocket was established thick and deep from the outset, Mr. Griggs's congas paving the way for Harold Adams's bass, Robert Adams's guitar and Sam Williams's tenor sax. Then of course there were the funky drummers, the embodiments of the breakbeat, the funk. For someone who had never had the pleasure of seeing them years ago with JB as I hadn't, two drumkits on the stage working it out at once, watching Clyde and Jab'o trading tit for tat as if guided by instinct, cogs within the same meaty drum machine, was the special treat. Whether it was rolling through R&B standards such as "Mustang Sally" or "Let's Spend the Night Together", the slow blues of "Stormy Monday", the blistering funk of "I Feel Good (I Got You)", "Breakin' Bread" or that JBs's monster "Pass the Peas", the drum clinic was in full effect. Everything was on the One, and the One was on your ass, moving it the only way true funk can, as undeniable as the locomotive chuggin' down the track during a stretched out medley of "Make It Funky" and "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)". By the end, the crowd was on their feet, sweaty, limber and a little lighter. The Funkmasters had hit them hard for 90 minutes, leaving the headliners, Little Feat (remember them?) with huge shoes to fill indeed (by the way, they couldn't). If you've seen a James Brown show within the last, say, 20 years it's clear he's missing a few of the things he once had in abundance. Go see the Funkmasters to be reminded of just what they were.

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