Last year saw funk-jam band Deep Banana Blackout at what was probably its biggest crossroads since it was founded in 1995. With eight members to pay, money was very tight. Putting out albums on its own label, while doing a lot to maintain creative freedom, was doing absolutely nothing to help promotion or cash flow. And Janis Joplin- esque lead singer Jen "Pipes" Durkin was burning out fast.
The constant life on the road (the group performs in excess of 200 shows every year) had gotten to be too much for Durkin, who finally bowed out of the band late last year and was replaced by Hope Clayburn, formerly of Baaba Seth. The replacement of a lead singer is usually the death knell for any band. Remember when Sammy Hagar took over for David Lee Roth? Bad times. People were ready to take to the streets, burning Sammy in effigy while chanting "Van Halen, not Van Hagar!" But bassist Benj LeFevre asserts that Deep Banana has only gotten stronger with Clayburn at the mic. One must check out the band live to verify that assertion; DBB has yet to put out an album with Clayburn.
Live in the Thousand Islands (1997) and live double-album Rowdy Duty (1999) together sold more than 20,000 copies -- not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but not bad for releases on an independent label with absolutely no promotion except word of mouth and the band's own incessant touring. Still, this level of sales will not buy you a house, a nice car, and a white picket fence in front of a well-trimmed lawn. The trick is finding someone willing to put the album out while keeping his or her dirty hands off it. Luckily Deep Banana Blackout has found such a partner in Flying Frog records, the company started by Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks. The band has signed a one-off deal with Flying Frog, and a new album, Feel the Peel, is expected this summer.
With eight members -- a guitarist, a drummer, a percussionist, a saxophonist, a trombone and tuba player, a keyboardist, LeFevre on bass, and Clayburn doing vocals and the occasional saxophone and flute -- Deep Banana's sound flies from deliciously funky to frighteningly convoluted and all points in between. A sit-down with Rowdy Duty reveals a generally high level of musicianship, with funky blues numbers such as "Memphis" particularly standing out, as a show this weekend in Fort Lauderdale will surely confirm.