Monday, 27 May 2024

CyberSoulMan: The Return of Graham Central Station

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Larry Graham at the San Francisco Regency Ballroom on Friday, April 2, 2010. Photo courtesy of www.larrygraham.com.

 


 

It was another Good Friday for the Funk. I remember in about 1970 when Larry Graham premiered the original version of Graham Central Station at the long-gone Keystone Berkeley. It was an Easter weekend then as well. Mr. Graham must feel his element ‘round this time of year.

 

The main floor of the Regency Ballroom is near capacity at three minutes before show time on April 2. The balcony is sparse but starting to fill rapidly also. An exciting buzz fills the crowd.

 

The DJ is spinning mad R&B, the Isley Bros., Esquires, Teddy P., Rick James, etc.

 

It’s 9 p.m. The lights dim. There’s a band up there tuning up. Must be Slave. They look too young to be Slave. The lead singer is Mr. Donny P. The rhythm section is male. A woman on keys. Two women background singers.

 

The original version of Slave recorded a large catalog of music for the Cotillion, Atlantic and Ichiban labels from 1977 through 1995.

 

The band kicks of a slew of hits and riffs that tantalize the funky nostalgia cortex in the brain. Pleasure central of the auditory realm. “Watching You.” “Just A Touch Of Love.”

 

The band performs a medley of hits, some originally by Slave, some not, culminating with the monster hit “Slide.” People are up dancing. The bass player is really bringing it, knowing that the King of the Funky Bass is up next.

 

Just before 10:30 p.m. the lights again dim, eliciting a roar of approval from the assembled.

 

Suddenly a marching tempo of snare, tom and bass drum is heard from the rear of the room. Led and punctuated by new GCS member and seeming Drillmaster Ashley Cole, the new Graham Central Station marches toward the stage in cadenced precision, chanting the GCS cheer, “Gee, cess ess, the baddest band from east to west ...”

 

As the crowd gradually becomes aware of what’s really happening, the roar of approval transcends into a deafening, sonic, out-of-many one voice.

 

When they reached the stage, the group reprised the anthemic a capella “Entrow,” from their first self-titled album:

 

“We been waiting for so long, waiting to play for you some of our songs

cuz we been waiting …”

 

The band launches into the frenetic crowd pleasers “Ain’t No Fun To Me” followed by “It’s Alright.”

 

At the end of the opening two-song medley – which really had the folks dancin’, sangin’ and swayin’ – Larry attempted to address the crowd. They would not let him. They were already overcome.

 

The crowd’s out-of-many one voice returned in pure, uncut, unadulterated adulation. The true original sound of San Francisco Bay Area Funk had returned. It was truly a magic, emotional moment.

 

The King of the Funky Bass pounds his chest and points to the crowd, silently speaking volumes over the seismic ovation. It goes on for a good five minutes, a grateful crowd, thankful for being itself again and unspoken, heartfelt, telepathic ebb and flow of love from the Bass master.

 

And so it went. Song after song. Much of the Graham Central catalog as well as the baritone hits of Larry Graham as vocalist. An arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” lifted the whole room.

 

They graced the staged fully for two and a half hours, proving fully that they are not only fit to tour Europe, but fully poised to introduce the Funk to the legions some three generations later.

 

For those of you who weren’t born when it happened, Larry Graham, before Gee Cee Ess, was the original bass player for the much-heralded co-creators of Funk, Sly & The Family Stone. Graham invented the slapping or thump and pluck method of bass playing which has influenced legions of bass players in his wake.

 

This group broke so much new ground with its hybrid mix of Church of God In Christ Holy Ghost rhythms, psychedelic rock, Stax/Motown altered offerings that, not only made Sly a favorite musician of Jazzster Miles Davis, the group heavily influenced Herbie Hancock as well.

 

The testimony to that is the Funk friendly fusion period of the 70’s that pointed toward the Family Stone as the source of inspiration.

 

In 1969, at the mother of all Rock Festivals, Woodstock, was held in upstate New York in front of more that a quarter of a million folks. Carlos Santana, whose band also played wonderfully at Woodstock, is quoted as saying “Sly & The Family Stone outplayed them all.”

 

Since the dissolutions of the original incarnations of Sly & The Family Stone and Graham Central Station, Larry has stayed busy. He reinvented himself as a soulful balladeer in 1979 with the album and single “One In A Million You” which was nominated for Best R&B Performance, Male.

 

Throughout the 80s he released a string of successful albums as well as a duet with Lady Soul Aretha Franklin.

 

In the 90s he collaborated musically with Eddie Murphy followed by an evolved unit of Gee Cee Ess featuring former Sly band mates Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini.

 

Incidentally Larry was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 as a member of Sly & The Family Stone and received a Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer award in 2001 as well. He has also become affiliated with Prince and remains in constant collaboration with him musically.

 

Currently, in April of 2010, Larry Graham & Graham Central Station are touring Europe since the aforementioned April 2 debut in San Francisco. Early press reports indicated that Gee Cee Ess is killing them with the Funk.

 

New U.S. dates have are being added to their itinerary for the month of June including New York, D.C. and Minneapolis. Additionally, a new CD is in the works.

 

For more information on Larry Graham including an audio interview done on April 12 go to www.larrygraham.com. There will be rebroadcast on In The Free Zone at KPFZ 88.1 FM on April 23 at 3 p.m.

Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts!

 

T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. 

 

Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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