:: Greyboy Allstars :: co-headline w/ Medeski, Martin & Wood :: Fillmore Auditorium :: April 13 and 14 ::
By Timothy Dwenger
What Happened to TV? is the album that hits the street this month from the reunited Greyboy Allstars, but the better question is, ‘What Happened to The Greyboy Allstars?’ After dominating the jam-jazz scene of the ’90s, the band parted ways in late 1999 to allow its members to take the creative steps necessary to stay musically fresh.
“We just sort of stopped … everyone started getting involved in other things. We just want it to be the right thing, and it wasn’t at that time,” said Allstars Hammond B-3 genius Robert Walter in a recent interview with The Marquee.
“About two years ago we started getting these offers to play these ‘reunion’ gigs,” Walter said. “We got together and it took us about two days to get back to feeling like a band, which is pretty quick. We decided to do some of the gigs and it was fun and we were all like, ‘Wow, we can play together again, it feels good and the music sounds great,’ but it didn’t last long.”
After playing a few festivals and a couple of these ‘reunion’ runs, the band began to feel that they were turning into “some kinda nostalgia thing for the ’90s,” Walter said. “The novelty of it wore off pretty quickly and we all got to the point where we said, ‘We don’t want to do this anymore until we have some new material and we get back in the shed together and start writing and feeling creative together as a band, rather than just playing a gig.’”
In the spring of 2006 all five original members got together with the band’s namesake, DJ Greyboy, to record at guitarist Elgin Park’s home studio. Walter, sax-man Karl Denson, bass player Chris Stillwell and drummer Zak Najor joined Park at his home and got to work putting pen to paper and music to tape.
“All the songs on the record are original Greyboy Allstars compositions,” said Walter. “We wrote them all together in the studio, rather than taking people’s various songs they had from other projects. We just wanted everyone in the band to feel really invested in the music.”
The band made the decision to bring DJ Greyboy back into the mix for the first time as a producer since their 1995 breakthrough, West Coast Boogaloo, to keep them in check. “We worked with Grey [DJ Greyboy] again on this record because we really wanted to stick to the root of what the Allstars music is about. It’s supposed to be danceable and have space in it and not be overly musical. We are all fairly accomplished musicians with an affinity for jazz, and if left to our own devices it is tempting to play a lot of notes and put a lot of fancy stuff in there and Grey really keeps us rooted.”
The resulting collection of 11 tracks showcases the Boogaloo sound that Allstars fans have been jonesing for since the release of A Town Called Earth nearly 10 years ago. Their tasty blend of funk, jazz and soul, dusted with subtle touches of hip-hop, is back with all the passion of their earlier efforts.
“The title track on this record really captures the band in our live mode at its best; it is the kind of track that sounds like it does because of the way we are playing the parts and the feel with which we are playing the parts,” Walter said. “You couldn’t just play the parts note-for-note and have it sound like that. There is just something very elusive about the way that track grooves.”
One critical part to keeping that track grooving the way it did in the studio has unfortunately stepped aside to make way for new blood. As half of the powerhouse rhythm section that reeled in the sound of the Allstars, Zak Najor’s contributions to the sound are undeniable, but the rigors of the road simply aren’t part of his future.
“Zak is not touring with us anymore, he is on the album and he is a big part of the album, but he just doesn’t want to go on the road at all,” Walter revealed. “So we have a new drummer, Eric Kalb, who is quickly becoming a real part of the group and will probably end up being on the next recordings.”
Kalb’s name has been around the scene for years. He was the original drummer for Deep Banana Blackout and he has worked with John Scofield and others, but as Walter mentioned, it isn’t easy to be the new guy. “He is stepping into a situation with 10 years of history and baggage, for lack of a better term, but he is a tremendous talent and we are musically gelling already after only a couple of shows. I think it will get to that bizarre telepathic place real quick once we really get out in a bus,” said Walter.
If What Happened to TV? is any indication of what’s possible if the Allstars can reach those ‘bizarre telepathic’ places even for a few moments on the road this spring, it will be clear that what happened to The Greyboy Allstars was nothing more than what happens to so many of us: They just needed to time to mature before realizing their full potential.
:: Greyboy Allstars ::
:: co-headline w/ Medeski, Martin & Wood ::
:: Fillmore Auditorium ::
:: April 13 and 14 ::
Spectate if you Gravitate:
• The New Mastersounds