Funk music has had a long history flavored by the eccentrics and weirdos who have played it over the years. Before he became a member of the AARP and got himself into heaps of legal trouble, James Brown was the hardest-working man in show business, strutting and sweating across the stage, grunting and incoherently shouting lyrics while his famed horn section (stacked with stars like Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis, and Fred Wesley) blew things up for Mr. Dynamite. And not one of the glam-glitter, big-hair bands of the '70s and '80s could hold a candle to the on-stage spectacle that arose when George Clinton (another not-quite-law-abiding citizen) and Parliament Funkadelic's mothership touched down.
But this is only one branch of the funk family tree. There is another one, with strong, tangled roots arising from a N'awlins seed. While the original purveyors of New Orleans funk may not be as extreme as Bootsy and his cohorts, groups like the Meters and the Neville Brothers and artists like Dr. John, Professor Longhair, and Allen Toussaint are no less prolific. These legends have drawn upon gospel, rock 'n' roll, zydeco, R&B, jazz, and anything else they could wrap their ears around to create a distinctive sound that could have come only from the Crescent City. Musical proficiency is more important than costumes, cartoonish cover art, or drug-influenced lyrics.
Papa Grows Funk is the heir apparent to the rich legacy of New Orleans funk. Each of the band's members is a sought-after addition to any hometown jam session; in fact, the group's first gig was just that. In March, 2000 B-3/electric piano/Wurlitzer wizard John Gros had some downtime from his day job playing in the Runnin' Pardners, a band led by bassist George Porter of the Meters. He concocted a weekly gig and threw together a band, drafting fellow Pardner Russell Batiste as his first recruit. Batiste just happened to be born into one of New Orleans' preeminent musical families, in which he started playing drums before he could walk, and he currently spends time playing with Phish keyboardist Page McConnell's Vida Blue. Japanese guitarist June Yamagishi was next. As ax-man in residence for Wild Magnolia, he upheld the high musical standards that the group has stood for since its self-titled debut album was released in 1974. You can't have a funk band without horns, and Jason Mingledorf, formerly of fellow New Orleans jam-funk group Galactic, was an easy choice. Deciding who would play bass was less obvious, so Marc Pero (Funkhouse, Smilin' Myron) and Peter V (Cyril Neville) alternate on the bandstand. From a weekly residency to a national touring band, Papa Grows Funk has garnered rave reviews and accolades aplenty; the band has been named as Offbeat magazine's Best Funk Band for two years running. The group is fresh off seven (!) appearances at the recently concluded New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Do yourself a favor and check 'em out. -- Scott Medvin