With grinding organ, pounding drums and soulful grooves, the Grip has asserted itself as Memphis’ true boogaloo band.
It’s just past midnight in Memphis as Tuesday bleeds into Wednesday. Clubs and restaurants are tallying the day’s business and locking the doors to end another day. Nightlife has wound down in the Home of the Blues, except for a poorly-lit stretch of road in an otherwise nondescript part of Midtown. The muffled sounds of laughter, clanking bottles, and music rise from a small building illuminated by the dingy yellow glow of a street sign that reads, “Buccaneer Lounge.” Here is where you will find the tightest, yet most spontaneous band in town - The Grip. With grinding organ, pounding drums and soulful grooves, the Grip has asserted itself as Memphis’ true boogaloo band.
Boogaloo is the sound of the streets. From its northern origins in Spanish Harlem to the refined southern sound of Memphis’s Stax Studio, boogaloo digs deep into the heart while keeping the feet and hips moving. This gumbo of soul/r&b/funk swept across the country in the 60’s and 70’s, schooling new generations in the American music tradition of fusing eclectic genres. While that smooth sound never vanished, it became a fetish find in hip record stores in every town…until now.
The GRIP has stepped into the footprints created by legendary masters such as Lonnie Smith, Big John Patton and The Mar-Keys putting the focus on funky rhythms that move the masses and keep heads bobbing. Dedicated to revamping the hottest tracks of yesteryear while mixing in original compositions and new looks at popular tunes from across the spectrum, The GRIP are blending genres and breaking stereotypes to push a fresh sound on their debut EP, Grab This Thing (Archer Records). The release ranges from the smooth stylings of Prince’s classic “Controversy” to a smoking take on Ennio Morricone’s “Farewell to Cheyenne” from the famed Once Upon A Time In The West film score. The album also sports high-bouncing boogie with the original composition “Tutwiler,” and rounds out with funky, riff-filled versions of the soul classics “Jan Jan” and “Grab This Thing.”
Maybe the best kept secret in an underground Memphis music scene bursting with talent, the GRIP bring together a group as divergent as the sounds they produce. The band features “Paper Bag Brown” (Art Edmaiston - MOFRO/Gamble Bros. Band), who handles emcee duties and plays a blistering sax; the silky smooth tone of “Natural Jay” (Joe Restivo - Charlie Wood/J3C Quartet) on electric guitar; Hammond organist extraordinaire “Johnny Roulette” (Al Gamble - Gamble Bros. Band); and virtuoso drummer “Jasco Parks” (George Sluppick - MOFRO/ Robert Walter’s 20th Congress). While each member regularly plays with other groups, something special happens every time the GRIP find themselves together again. “Paper Bag Brown” explains, “When George and I perform with MOFRO, we’ve got our roles and a style that we stick to. But in the GRIP, we try to evoke something different. The alter-egos allow us to focus on certain aspects of our playing that we might not normally adhere to in our regular gigs”. “Jasco” readily agrees, “Everyone’s got really big ears in this band. ‘Johnny Roulette’ has always got something new that excites us.” Playing under performance names allows the members of the GRIP to fully embrace the freedom and originality that exists in that special forum. While the musical selections they play come from a bevy of sources, the feeling invoked is definite. “We prefer recreating the mood of a neighborhood barbecue joint in the late 60’s rather than the hipster clubs of today,” maintains “Paper Bag Brown.” This preference relates directly to the deep roots that the GRIP have based in music aimed for the soul. “Johnny Roulette” recalls, “My dad had The Genius of Ray Charles and Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music, along with some Jimmy Smith albums and I wore them out.” Similarly “Paper Bag Brown” grew up listening to the 45s that his mom would spin by the stack including, “…lots of Motown hits as well as Stax Tunes and Atlantic tunes recorded in Memphis and Muscle Shoals. These sounds were crucial to my development as a musician and in the way I hear and feel music today!”.
Once they began playing together as a unit, the GRIP quickly noticed a special chemistry beginning to develop. Though they each logged time in various other touring bands, the bond that formed kept the group fresh every time they found the opportunity to get together. With “Paper Bag Brown” and “Johnny Roulette” already acquainted with local Memphis label Archer Records, the foursome went into Archer’s studio to put together a record. What came from those sessions reflected the traditions from which each member draws as well as the original vibe produced when they play together. Grab This Thing provides listeners with that deep bowl of home-stewed funk complete with tight grooves as well as proficient individual displays from each of the bands’ four members. While the Grip’s repertoire will always contain songs from the cannon of Sixtie’s Soul titles, the band looks to tackle new genres and become more experimental. “There could be GRIP albums doing our take on movie soundtracks, individual artists, rock bands… most anything that catches our ear. But it will all be explored within the parameters of the boogaloo combo,” figures “Paper Bag Brown.”