King Johnson ushers in funk-exuberance of Mardi Gras
KEYSTONE – If you missed celebrating Mardi Gras in the colorful streets of New Orleans, Atlanta, or another southern city, take heart. King Johnson is bringing the sounds of the deep south to the mountains.
Atlanta-based King Johnson’s mix of bayou-based rhythm-and-blues, funk-infused jazz, melodic roots rock and soul-shuffling boogie slides into the Goat Wednesday.
King Johnson took its namesake from blues legends with the last name of King (B.B., Albert, Freddie) and Johnson (Robert, Blind Willie, Tommy and several Luthers), and it lives up to its name with a soulful groove.
The outfit began in 1995 as a blues trio with guitarist Oliver Wood (who grew up in Boulder and is the brother of Chris Wood of Medeski, Martin and Wood), bassist Chris Long and drummer Greg Baba. After delving into the depths of traditional blues with its first album, “Cats and Dogs,” the musicians decided they had gone as far as they could as a trio. The addition of sax player Marcus James, trombonist Adam Mewherter and percussionist Chris Uhler opened the band up to more options.
“It evolved out of more traditional blues to a variety of jazz, Latin, funk and wacky noises and different instruments,” Wood said. “But it’s still blues based. You can always hear blues underneath.”
On the band’s latest album, “Hot Fish Laundry Mat,” scheduled for release in April, the instrumentation ranges from a cornet, fife, flute, sousaphone, and African shekere to window weights and a sledgehammer. The sledgehammer was a spontaneous addition – the fifth track, “Mile After Mile,” is a song about working, and one of the musicians had a sledgehammer in the back of his truck, so it seemed only natural to add the clanking sound of labor.
“We try not to have too many boundaries to keep us from playing what we like to play,” Wood said. “New sounds and textures come (from) different ways of playing songs.”
Writing is a group effort, which usually evolves from jamming rather than rehearsing. After recording a series of jams, the players find grooves they like and combine them.
“It’s a blend of personality styles of playing,” he said. “We don’t really have one style that dominates. It’s a combination of instrumentation and blues, jazz and funk influences. Everyone’s open. It’s very balanced in the sense of egos and humor and all the things it takes to get along. That allows us to express ourselves fully as a group. It’s really a band, you know.”
“Hot Fish Laundry Mat” is a full realization of the six members’ solid musicianship. The lyrics stretch from inspirational to philosophical to comical. Whether it’s the jazz instrumental “Goodbye,” the raunchy, James Brown-infused bluegrass concoction “When,” the melodic, horn-tinged “Time Stands Still,” or the funky groove of “Personal Thing,” the album is a testament to the band’s collective power and vision.
King Johnson has performed with the Funky Meters, Government Mule, Jimmie Vaughn, Dr. John, Johnny Winter and Medeski, Martin and Wood, and toured with Merl Saunders as his backup band last year.
Whether gigging at the Lugano Blues to Bop Festival in Europe or playing in Summit County’s small towns, King Johnson delivers an intense, groove-ridden live show with all the funk-exuberance and wild passion of a Mardi Gras parade.
Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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