Soul, funk and R&B are alive in Northeast Ohio and it’s not just veteran musicians who remember the “good ol’ days” of the ’60s and ’70s playing for mature fans who boogied and woogied during the afro and bell-bottoms era.
Local bands such as retro-soul outfit Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites and local DJ collectives such as the Mighty Soul Tornados and the Secret Soul Club who spin old funk and Northern Soul tunes are all finding young, hip and hip-shaking audiences that appreciate the classic sound.
Tonight at the Uncorked wine bar in Akron, the relatively new band the Admirables will unleash its take on the lat ’60s, early ’70s funk and soul sound.
The band, an instrumental sextet of friends and former University of Akron music students, features drummer Holbrook Riles, guitarist Dave Hammer, bassist Matt DeRubertis, keyboardist Steven A. Miller and duel sax men, Chris Coles and Nathan-Paul Davis.
The Admirables have a host of original songs along with a few choice cover tunes featuring the basic soul blueprint of “a consistent groove that is overwhelmingly danceable, singable melodies, supportive bass lines, guitars and sax riffs in unison or harmony.”
But while some soul bands, such as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Tones hew closely to the rules of their chosen era and strive to re-create the specific look and sound, the Admirables insist that being a funky museum piece is not the band’s goal.
“We are not trying to re-create anything, rather just play in the style, said Davis. “The goal is to capture a vibe, an essence. All the originals are very rhythmic and groove oriented, catchy melodies and hard driving beats people will love and can dance to.”
As with many bands in this area, the members of the Admirables split time in other bands. Davis is a member of Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites and the spoken-word jazz/hip-hop group Flow Spontaneous of which Miller is also a member. Hammer and DeRubertis comprise two-thirds of the spacey, blues-rock trio Dave Hammer’s Power Supply.
They came together initially as a pickup band to perform at a birthday party for Wesley Bright, but quickly realized they had something.
“We didn't necessarily plan on making this a regular thing or even recording, but once originals started getting written and we started playing, we realized we had something special and as professional career musicians it would be a crime to jump ship,” Davis said.
For tonight's gig at Uncorked, the Admirables will split their set between their own funky originals and some choice, mostly obscure, but undeniably funky cover tunes such as Psycho, Pts. 1 from the Texas funk outfit the Fabulous Mark III and Things Got to Get Better from former James Brown ingénue Marva Whitney.
Being in the Hi-Lites requires the discipline to re-create the short punchy horn lines of the Northern Soul era and Dave Hammer's Power Supply doesn’t do much improvisational jamming on stage so having the Admirables play and write instrumentals allows all of the players a chance to cut loose and display their chops.
“I am a part of many different projects and I love soul music, but I don't really get to stretch over this kind of music very often and this group is the perfect context for that,” Davis said.
As the group performs instrumentals, Davis has taken on the role of frontman, playing the part of the classic soul emcee, hyping and engaging both the crowd and the band, a talent he’s learned in part from standing onstage watching Wesley Bright.
“Mr. Wesley Bright has been a very constant influence on me in terms of my stage presence and being able to engage the audience and do what a good ‘soul’ frontman does,” Davis said.
“Wesley Bright, aka Mr. Get It Right, is one of the leading soul singers around and I’m blessed to be in that band. Who better to draw from than him? It’s very fun, very much like [saxophonist] Junior Walker [of Shotgun fame]. I am coming out of that, except I don’t really sing, but it’s just as exciting.”
As most of the band’s members have gigs in other bands, and to truly catch the vibe of the band would require all six members in the studio at once, The Admirables have no immediate plans to record. But with the classic sound and the soul scene quietly growing among area music lovers, the band should have no problem finding an audience that wants to have a funky good time.