from Home of the Groove Audioblog: February 10, 2008
by Dan Phillips
The Grip, Grab This Thing (Archer Records, 2007) - OK. I’m going outside the concept here to plug an EP that some friends of mine in Memphis are involved in. It’s a side project that has taken on a life of its own. When these guys weren’t playing in their regular bands, they started gigging on a weeknight at a sidestreet club in Midtown Memphis called the Buccaneer Lounge. Calling themselves, The Grip, and using assumed (amused?) names, they began to groovilate on hot instrumental boogaloo music as a fourpiece: organ, drums, tenor sax, and guitar. And they are still at it, as time permits. Last year, they put out this short CD, plus a 45 (!), on Archer Records, Memphis’ best independent label.
Written by keyboardist Al Gamble, “Tutwiler” is a cookin’ funk boogie near to my heart, as that is the name of the street I lived on in Memphis before I moved to Louisiana. It reminds me of the many cool instrumentals Al and saxman Art Edmaiston used to write when they were playing in the Gamble Brothers Band full time. Both Art and Grip drummer, George Sluppick, tour with JJ Grey and MOFRO these days. George is a fine Memphis funk player who has done duty in the past with Albert King and Robert Walter’s 20th Congress. Rounding out the basic ensemble with heat and taste, is guitarist Joe Restivo. They were joined in the studio by Marc Franklin on trumpet and trombone, and Andy Oltremari on congas, who further intensified the sound.
The rest of the tunes on the CD are well-chosen covers, ranging from the Mar-Keys title track to Prince and….Ennio Morricone. You read me right. All of the band’s material has the spirit and feel of the cool organ combo stuff from that time around 40 years back when R&B, funk and jazz were first mixing it up. But The Grip still keep it soundng fresh. I have yet to hear them live, but it’ll happen, believe me. On the back of the CD it says “Volume One”. So, I’m looking forward to the next installment already. Make it soon, fellas.
The Grip not backing off on the boogaloo
Buccaneer favorites play fun songs in a funky old style
from The Commercial Appeal: September 14, 2007
by Bob Mehr
For most people, the term “boogaloo” will either conjure up thoughts of an old Ringo Starr song, or a break-dancing movie sequel. But search among online definitions and you’ll stumble upon this: “Boogaloo: A genre of Latin music and dance that was popular in the United States in the 1960s ... originated in New York City ... a popular fusion of African-American R&B, rock and roll and soul with mambo and son mutono.” Whether you call it boogaloo—or by its other names, like “popcorn music” or “shing-a-ling”—for Memphis group The Grip, it’s more than an obscure subgenre, it’s a calling.
“It’s such a fun style,” explains The Grip’s saxophonist, Art Edmaiston. “We all felt it was particularly valid in the Memphis lineage of music. A lot of boogaloo music is blues based; it’s all groovy, late-night stuff with that ‘60s Booker T. & the MGs vibe.”
Though the band started as something of a lark just months ago, The Grip is set to release its self-titled debut CD this week, and will be marking the occasion during their regular Tuesday night slot at the Buccaneer.
The Grip formed last November when Edmaiston, organist Al Gamble and drummer George Sluppick—all of whom had played together variously in the Gamble Brothers Band and MOFRO—decided to get together and start a loose-knit boogaloo organ trio. “After working on our original music projects for so long and so hard, we all needed something to really enjoy playing again,” says Gamble. “It was kind of therapy for us.”
On the first day the trio were set to rehearse, Gamble got a call from old friend and former band mate guitarist Joe Restivo. “Joe called Al out of the blue and said, ‘I really wish we could get an organ group together,’” recalls Edmaiston. “He was like ‘Man, we’re getting together right now, bring your stuff and let’s play.’ Instantly, there was a good combination of musicians and chemistry among the four of us.”
The band began jamming, drawing inspiration and spinning some of their favorite boogaloo and R&B groove records from Lonnie Smith to Grant Green, Big John Patton to the Mar-Keys.
For the band members, playing music without the pressures of career concerns was the most appealing aspect of the project initially. “It was just a great release. Let’s play these tunes that we dig in this funky old style,” says Edmaiston. “And let’s do this with almost a kitschy lounge feel.”
The Grip began what would become its weekly residency at the Buccaneer last winter. The nautically themed bar’s dark atmosphere offered just the right environment for the sound coming from the bandstand. “This music doesn’t really work in the broad daylight,” says Edmaiston laughing. “And our approach to it tends to blend really well with the Buccaneer. It’s off the beaten path, a certain crowd goes and hangs out there. So we play a certain kind of music on a weird night. It just all fits together like a little puzzle.”
Each of the band member has also adopted an on stage alter-ego—Gamble is “Johnny Roulette,” Edmaiston is “Paper Bag Brown,” Restivo is “Natural Jay” and Sluppick is “Jasco Parks.”
“With assumed names, we don’t have to be the same people. We can change our onstage mannerisms, play differently, we’re not obligated to do songs that people expect from the Gamble Brothers or MOFRO.”
The Grip never intended to go beyond the stage with the project, but while the band was rehearsing at producer Ward Archer’s studio complex, Archer heard the band and insisted they record.
The result of those sessions is The Grip’s new self-titled five-track EP. The disc combines an original tune (“Tutwiler”) with a quartet of covers including ones from Italian film composer Ennio Morricone (“Farewell to Cheyenne”) and Prince’s future funk classic “Controversy” which are completely reworked in the band’s signature boogaloo style.
Occasionally, The Grip’s versions are so dramatically different that it’s hard to place even the most familiar songs. “It’s funny,” says Gamble. “When we play the Prince tune, a lot of people will ask ‘What is that song? I’ve never heard that.’”
The Grip’s Tuesday night shows have evolved into a kind of event. Guitarist David Cousar opens most gigs with a solo acoustic turn. Then the Grip members will eventually come on and join him and transition into their own set, which often features guest appearances by horn players like trumpeter Mark Franklin and Gamble’s percussion playing brother, Chad.
With the EP coming out this week, there has been talk of following up with a Grip full-length. “But, mainly, we’re focusing on keeping the Buccaneer thing going and letting it build on its own,” Edmaiston says. “We’re not as worried about recording or touring. We want to keep it fun and keep the pressure off.”