T For Two, and Heavy on the One:
Elliott Bronson Intends to Reinvent Funk
For These New Bad Days
Elliott Bronson is about to start a funk band called the O-Kays. He called me, I was interested, and so we met at a coffee shop on 17th and Race. I drank coffee, he drank tea. In the course of the conversation, he explained why he thinks the time is ripe for a 70's funk revival among black musicians, why most funk bands are embarrassingly terrible, and why he's convinced he's going to have a very special drummer.
Strapping Danforth: Why does Denver need another 70's funk cover band?
Elliott Bronson: First, the O-Kays won't simply be a cover band. We'll pay tribute to a great, neglected, age of music. Betty Davis, Marvin Gaye, Bobby Womack, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, and obscure groups like the Sandmen and Ronald Pepper's Pound Cake. We'll do it with class. You won't see us wearing rainbow afro wigs and glass platform shoes. That's stupid. We're going to play music, not act like clowns in some William Crain movie. So, in that respect we're going to be unique to Denver
SD : Sounds to me like you're just the latest in a progression of revival movements. Rockabilly, swing, surf. I even heard there's a band called Wyld Fyre that plays seventies wuss rock covers. What's going to set you apart from all these other impersonators?
EB: Lots of things. First, we'll do it out of love, not poseurism. Second—and most significantly—most of the members of the band will be African American.
SD: What's so significant about that?
EB: This town has never seen any kind of black music revival as played by black musicians. I feel the time is ripe. I mean, the seventies are hip again and this is the first retro fad that doesn't make me, as an African American, want to puke.
SD: Why do other retro movements make you want to puke?
EB: While it may be easy for you to look back on those whitewashed eras as great times, they weren't; especially if your eyes weren't blue. Jim Crow was alive and well in the fifties. There ain't no black “Happy Days”.
SD: Granted. But didn't the music transcend those repressive times? Don't the songs have the right to be remembered?
EB: Not by me. The music was good and all but playing that fifties stuff would just remind me of how Fat Domino got screwed because the world wanted the King of Rock and Roll to be white, not fat and black.
SD: What about the sixties?
EB: Things were still pretty sorry. We had marches and movements but Martin and Malcolm were assassinated, not to mention all the brothers who died in Viet Nam . The music scene was good but it was neutered. While Bob Dylan and all those guys were singing about social justice, the soul groups were acting like there was no struggle going on at all.
SD: Hold on there, buddy. James Brown was making social commentary all over the place.
EB: The guy was great. But I'm not going to start a JB cover band. It'd be like covering the Beatles. You just don't do that. His work is sacred.
SD: Sly Stone?
EB: He's too positive—with the exception of Riot and nobody could reproduce that record. Forget him. I don't have any use for him or Memphis or Muscle Shoals, either, with all those got'ta, got'tas. And I have no use for that Motown business. Good music, I guess, but it was women in wigs, dancing choreography, guys singing about nothing. A hit machine. A money-making monster. It wasn't until Marvin sang “What's Going On” that the black voice was heard like a trumpet in anger. Things got better for a while. Now things are getting worse again and I want to bring forth the spirit of the positivo.
SD: Why is anyone going to like your group more than they'd like any other Denver funk band?
EB: We'll be better. We will show people what a difference it makes when your drummer and bassist actually play the beat. There's no mystery. “Soul” is not a genetic thing, no matter what anyone says. It's just paying very, very close attention to the micro beats. I don't think a lot of modern funk bands get it, be they black or white. Funk is every instrument playing a part. Rhythm is what happens when those parts lock up together. Dancing is what you can't help but do when you hear a good rhythm.
SD: So funk is a science?
EB: No, it's a feeling…You have to practice the same thing over and over until it becomes part of you. That level of dedication requires love. That's it. That's all it is. But our love of the music and our willingness to work to play it well is going to make us a million times better than the other bands out there. We're not going to appeal to the pot-head crowd. We're going to make the best funkiest, tightest music this town has ever seen. We're going to make it impossible for any band to even talk about funk without getting compared to the O-Kays and our sweet beats.
SD: That's a pretty high expectation to put on a band, especially the drummer.
EB: Oh, our drummer will be able to handle it.
EB: Because. First of all, we have a great line-up. Me on bass. Gerry Mason on guitar. You might know him from the Down Towners. Then we have the Vetted Interest Horns, who are three great, young kids from East High. Singing is the Mothman, who can evoke just about any emotion you want with his little damn pinky. We're still looking for a keyboardist. But our drummer…Man, we have a good one.
SD: I'm on the edge of my seat.
EB: This is going to make you shit your pants.
SD: I'm shitting as we speak.
EB: Our drummer is…none other than.........................................Mr. T.
SD: I just shit my pants again. Mr. T?
EB: You heard right. Clubber Lang himself.
SD: I thought he was dead.
EB: No. He got cancer and fought it off. He made one of those long distance commercials recently. Mr. T, Baby. Raised in Chicago ; body guard to Leon Spinks and Michael Jackson; lived in Hollywood but never got corrupt. He's pure. He's true. Know what he says? “Be somebody or be somebody's fool.” He's back and badder than ever. We're going to bring him once we hammer out all the details with his manager. He wants to call the band Mr. T's O-Kays. We're thinking about it. He also wants to do three Jesus songs per set. I guess he's Christian or something. Anyway, I'm sure we can work it out.
SD: Does he even play drums?
EB: Does he? Hell, yes! He played drums with the Beach Boys once. It was a long time ago but I have a bootleg of the show and he's hot. H-o-t.
SD: I wonder if he ever got married.
EB: That's not something I'm concerned with right now. I have to figure out a way to get Mr. T to Denver .
-Strapping Danforth, May, 2004