The California Honeydrops on Playing Barn Parties and New Orleans Jazz

The California Honeydrops' lead vocalist and major multi-instrumentalist, Lech Wierzynski, was born in Warsaw, Poland, and drew his appreciation of American music from listening to Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Louis Armstrong.

Like the other members of the band — drummer Ben Malament, sax and clarinet player Johnny Bones, keyboardist Lorenzo Loera, and bassist Beau Bradbury — he became fascinated early on with all varieties of R&B, from funk and Southern soul to Delta blues and the music of New Orleans. It’s little wonder, then, that in the past decade, they’ve become festival favorites, having progressed a long way from their humble beginnings of busking in train stations in their San Francisco home.

"Part of the band's concept is letting the songs sound like the people playing them."

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"We learned a lot from the streets and our Soul Tub, our beloved bucket with a string,” recalls Malament. “But playing bigger stages and festivals always pushes us to try new things with our simple instrumentation and our aversion to fancy lights and ear-piercing volumes. Our show has gotten better and tighter while still remaining loose and fun. And our craft in the studio has gotten way better too.” 

Malament attributes the band’s progress to the chemistry that exists among its members. “We listen to so much music,” he says. “The five of us have different tastes, but you can definitely hear our love for New Orleans music, brass bands and old-school, good-time R&B. I grew up in a flourishing scene of Jamaican-style ska and reggae in L.A. Lech brings a true spirit of Louis Armstrong, gospel, and old country blues. Johnny Bones is a swing master on sax.”

Malament and Wierzynski met at Oberlin College, where they first played together in a variety of bands, veering from jazz to reggae to spontaneous street music in the process. They formed the original incarnation of the California Honeydrops in late 2007, subsequently recruiting Bones a year later. Bradberry and Loera joined the fold more recently.

“We are really a live band,” Malament insists. “But for us, the studio is like another art form. So we just try to pick, write, and arrange songs that would sound good under the microscope and pleasurable for people's ears. We tried to make it a nice album as a whole, especially for those of us who still have the attention span to listen to an entire record!”

Malament is specifically referring to the band’s latest effort, A River’s Invitation, the fifth album the Honeydrops have dropped since they commenced recording in 2008. “Lech is certainly the main writer and musical director,” Malament explains. “At the same time, part of the band's concept is letting the songs sound like the people playing them. We all help with the final arrangements and presentation. I usually just tell people that if they come out to the show, they will like it, no matter what you listen to. It's just a damn good time.”

Apparently, the group’s fans agree. According to Malament, the California Honeydrops’ concerts draw a diverse crowd: “I love our audiences,” he beams. “You can see a lot of people from different walks of life out there on the dance floor. We played a barn party once that had a 3-day-old baby and a 91-year-old lady in the same room.” 

The California Honeydrops
Saturday, October 31,. at the Historic Downtowner Saloon, 10 S. New River Drive E., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $15. Call 954-463-9800.
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Lee Zimmerman