Where did funk come from? Perhaps it oozed up with the primordial soup, but only became recognized as an essential element when James Brown and his band summoned it out of the dark, wet ground somewhere near Macon, Ga. Or maybe it was just the inevitable result of rhythm and blues and soul colliding with an undeniable booty-shaking beat.
Brian Quarles, leader of Knoxville instrumental act House of the Rising Funk, says it took a little time for him to really appreciate funk.
"I always liked the stuff I heard on the radio when I was a kid — James Brown, Sugerhill Gang, Ohio Players ... but I didn't really learn what funk was about until I got older," says Brian Quarles.
When House of the Rising Funk plug in for a midnight radio gig on WDVX, it's hard to know what to expect. The four men — Quarles, saxophonist Dave Eckman, bassist Scott Belcher and drummer Lee Gibson — look more like a classic rock group than funkmasters. But when they start playing the groove is immediate. The funk is front and center, but there's a good dose of jazz and a surprising dose of heavy metal and maybe a little Jeff Beck in the guitar. Gibson has only been with the group for a week after founding drummer John Aiken had to leave the band, but he's totally in sync with his fellow players. It's music that has listeners emailing in, asking if the music is indeed live.
The beginnings of the band can be traced to when guitarist Quarles and Aiken played in the metal band Stark Raving. A few years after the band fell apart, Quarles and Aiken decided to reunite and play for fun. After the group had some songs in tow, they put out an ad asking for interested players. John Augustus joined on bass and saxophonist Eckman, who had come from a classical and jazz background, thought the idea for the act sounded intriguing.
"A lot of the things that I do with this band are (considered) wrong," says Eckman between songs, "but that's where the fun is."
"Our sound changed when Dave came along," says Quarles. "The saxophone gave us an extra dimension. Without a vocalist we thought the saxophone would give us that sense of melody that a vocalist does. Really, on sax, he's taken on the role of vocalist."
The band played a handful of gigs at Baker-Peters before Augustus left to spend more time with rising hip-hop/R&B act The Theorizt. Belcher, another metal expatriate, came into the fold.
"John Augustus was more of a traditional funk player," says Quarles. "When Scott came in it added some versatility. It's a good formula ... And Scott is contributing more to the songwriting."
Quarles says the members' metal influence must be pretty obvious.
"After every show we'll have people coming up saying 'Man, you must have played metal!'"
Quarles says he grew up idolizing KISS.
"I got that KISS 'Dynasty' album and it stayed on the record player for a month! The first thing I'd do when I got home from school was put on that album, get out a broomstick and pretend to be Ace Frehley."
But while rock and metal may have been his first love, Quarles wanted to branch out.
He says he recently re-listened to Funkadelic's classic song "Maggot Brain," which blended funk with psychedelic rock. A cover of the song with Buckethead on guitar, he says, might even top the original for him.
"Man, there's so much feeling. That's the music I'm influenced by. When I listen to it, I feel like it's coming from their soul. And that's a lot of what the funk is all about.
Quarles says House of the Rising Funk members have no crazy dreams of stardom.
"We'd like to go wherever it takes us. We'd like to branch out further in the region, just to get our music out there. We're pretty realistic. We have no illusions about being rock stars. We just want to push it a little and find a way economically to make it work. We're doing this for the love of it. It's so everybody can be happy doing what they were born to do. Hopefully, everybody will get into it like we are."
Animal Boosta 2013
With: House of the Rising Funk and Jojax
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19
Where: Relix Variety Theatre, 1208 N. Central St.
Admission: $5, proceeds benefit that Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley
Also: House of the Rising Funk will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, at Preservation Pub
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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