Gig Seeker Pro


Brooklyn, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2015

Brooklyn, New York, United States
Established on Jan, 2015
Band Rock Funk




"NY Times 1982"


The New York Times
February 5, 1982, Friday, Late City Final Edition
Section C; Page 29, Column 1; Weekend Desk


JOE BOWIE has been around and back again, playing his trombone behind blues musicians in his native St. Louis, blowing avant-garde jazz in Europe, working as musical director for a popular Chicago soul singer, then plunging into the distinct but sometimes overlapping punk and funk scenes in downtown Manhattan. His band, Defunkt, reflects the diversity of its leader's background and the varied stops he has made along the way. It's as funky as James Brown, and as creatively fractured and extreme as the music of Mr. Bowie's former employer, James Chance, the leader of the Contortions.

Strutting in front of a wickedly tight rhythm section that's playing a mixture of Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix and mid-70's Miles Davis, Mr. Bowie blows whooping solos on his trombone and sings sharp, cutting lyrics about drug addiction and car accidents and nuclear war. Most of the lyrics were written by his friend Janos Gat, a member of the dissident Hungarian theatrical troupe that runs the Squat Theater. Defunkt recently returned from its third trip to Britain, where the six-piece band has exerted considerable influence on the emerg ingBritish funk scene. Tomorrow night it will perform at the Peppermi nt Lounge, 128 West 45th Street (719-3140), and on Sunday night it wi ll be at the West Bank Cafe, 407 West 42d Street (695-6909). At rehearsal, Joe Bowie took time out to talk about his and Defunkt's odyssey. He made it sound like the most natural thing in the world .

Family of Musicians

The first thing one has to realize about Joseph Bowie is that he is the youngest of three musician brothers, the oldest of whom is Lester Bowie, the celebrated jazz trumpet player and founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The middle brother, Byron, is a saxophonist who sometimes performs with Defunkt. Growing up in that competitive environment, and being the youngest, Joseph Bowie had to take his music seriously.

''I started playing with blues and soul bands when I was around 15,'' he recalled , ''working in and around St. Louis in those afterhours joints. '' Pretty soon he was working with the big wheels on the circuit, nationally recognized blues men like Albert King and Little Milton. But jazz was in his blood, and in the late 1960's he was a founding member of a St. Louis musicians' collective called the Black Artists' Group . Among the men who worked with that organization were a number of players who would later become leading lights on New York's new jazz scene - among them the saxophonists Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill, and the drummer Charles (Bobo) Shaw.

The nucleus of the Black Artists' Group went to Paris in the early 70's, but in 1973 Bobo Shaw and Joe Bowie decided to settle in New York City, where they founded a group called the Human Arts Ensemble that played a mixture of free jazz, funk and blues. The La Mama Theater let the group use a small performance space on East Third Street, in the heart of the Lower East Side, and despite the unpromising location, they turned it into one of the hot spots of the emerging loft jazz movement, offering early New York performances by such St. Louis stalwarts as Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett. These concerts attracted a number of musicians and fans, including a young white saxophonist from the Midwest, James Seigfried, who sometimes stayed to jam with Mr. Bowie and Mr. Shaw.

During the next few years, while Joe Bowie kept busy playing the trombone with the Human Arts Ensemble and a number of other jazz bands, Mr. Seigfried veered from free-form improvising to leading a crazed, intense noise-funk band called the Contortions, which did its own versions of a number of James Brown funk hits as well as songs that Mr. Seigfried had written, wih? such titles as ''Contort Yourself'' and ''Almost Black.'' The Contortions, with Mr. Seigfried performing either as James Chance or James White, became one of the most controversial and talked-about bands on the downtown ''no wave'' scene. In 1978, the British record producer Brian Eno recorded them, along with three other downtown bands , for a groundbreaking album called ''No New York.''

Fronting an All-Black Band

Soon after, Mr. Seigfried decided he wanted to add a horn section to the Contor tions and asked Joe Bowie to put it together. Then Mr. Seigfried let his original Contortions go, and Mr. Bowie began recommending rhythm players he had worked with in St. Louis or met around 1976, when he spent a year and a half in Chicago as musical director for the soul singer Tyrone Davis. Before long, Mr. Seigfriedwas fronting an all-black band, with Mr. Bowie as its leader. In the fall of 1979, the band began opening Mr. Seigfried's performances with its own sets, and coming up with its own material. That was the beginning of Defunkt.

Since then, Defunkt has developed a cult following in New York and a somewhat broader audience in Europe, especially in Britain, where the leading music weekly, New Musical Express, recently put Mr. Bowie on its cover. During Defunkt's early residency at the Squat Thater on 23d Street, Joe Bowie became friendly with Janos Gat, who furnished mordant lyrics for some of Mr. Bowie's tunes. The band made an album for Hannibal Records, followed by a single. ''We're going to keep doing singles,'' Mr. Bowie said, ''because the last one had reasonable success. Who knows ? We might get a hit.''

Defunkt employs a shifting galaxy of horn players, including noted jazz musicians like the saxophonist Frank Lowe and Joe Bowie's brother Lester. ''But there isn't as much freedom in the rhythm section as there is for the horns,'' Mr. Bowie emphasized. ''I like to keep the rhythms tight to give the people something to latch onto. If you listen, you can hear things straight off the jukebox in our music. I've always been an admirer of Ornette Coleman and I like the electric music he's making now. But it's still very intellectual to me. Defunkt is more commercial, I think.''

But Defunkt isn't just another new-funk party band, he stressed. Defunkt has a message. ''We want our songs to be very realistic,'' Mr. Bowie said. ''Defunkt's music isn't some 'hey baby' kind of thing; you can see just by looking around you, at what's happening on t he streets and in the world, that these are not the good times, everything is not all right. We're trying to be messengers, or newscasters broad casting the honest news, te lling everybody to wake up.''

GRAPHIC: Illustrations: Photo of Joe Bowie

Copyright New York Times, 1981 - Ny Times

"Soul Patrol"

Rickey Vincent: On Defunkt

# DEFUNKT is most definitely an EXPERIENCE!
Do NOT sleep on these mugs, especially if you're a musician.
(this is long, just a warning to those who ain't into this)

# The shit they did in 1980-83, ripping apart jazz and funk boundaries was a TOTAL transformation toward what REAL JAZZ could have been in the 80's, in my strung out opinion.
I REALLY thought Defunkt WAS the next stage in street-smart jazz from the 70's to the 80's: a rugged, ragged, musically intense, energetic, propulsive and ferociously funky set...
A big band horn section, ripping electric guitar, driving, high speed drums & rhythm guitars, and sly and slick blues drenched vocals...yum yum
If you listen to that early 80's Miles Davis, where he tries to get into some spastic funk/jazz with a nasty edge, and basically leaves you unsatisfied...DEFUNKT gets you all the way there...
What Miles was trying to do, Defunkt was doing...What Kelvynator was trying to do, Defunkt had it down...I have an Ornette Coleman album from around 1980, with a stanky electric bass guitarist underneath Ornette's horn...seriously trippy funk...for my money, even Ornette was working toward what Defunkt had mastered...

# Anyone bug on James Blood Ulmer's hysterical early 80's speed-metal-jazz-funk tracks? Well, Defunkt does that, and it actually sounds good! Featuring Vernon Reid on their second lp "Thermonuclear Sweat", they had an edge no one was in their league with, IMO
I remember about this time Weather Report came out with this album around 1983 called "Domino Theory" with a *singer* laying out a song called "Can it Be Done?" That was actually a cool song, but it kind of reflected the demise of so much of the creative jazz-fusion era...

# the lyrics went something like this:

Can it be done
Is there one, melody
that's never been played
How does it sound, can it be found
that new song
That's never been in the air...

# This also came out around the time Prince was getting heat for his line on "Lady Cab Driver" where he says "It's Time for jazz to die..."
# And young hip hoppers by 1985 were dropping science that hip hop has more relevance to the street than jazz...
# To me Defunkt WAS that missing music, that living jazz, that street smart sheet that took skiiiilzz to play and cooked...
# So even though they were unknown, unnoticed and morphed into a hollow shell of their original selves, I was a true and TOTAL Defunkt fan...all by myself out here in Cali, it seemed.

# The Defunkt that totally took me over was their first lp, self-titled "DEFUNKT", on Hannibal, and available on CD from last I checked. This has the original version of "Strangling Me With Your Love" and their twisted version of Chic's "In the Good Times" and some way out other shit, like the song "Defunkt" with these lyrics:

I want to scream, but I gotta keep quiet
to get close enough to tell you that
the way you look at me
is what's keeping me silent
I live for you, but you wan't me to drop dead...

# The anthology also cooks, because it just takes from the first 2 lp's, adds some live cuts, and a very ill 12" single they did.
# But if you can get your hands on their first 2 albums, "Defunkt" and/or "Thermonuclear Sweat" then you're in for the real deal.
# Any FUNK musician who's moved past the 'greatest hits' of funk stage needs to sniff these cats....
Dont trip off of their shit after 1988...they just flipped their lineup like the cast of New York Undercover and went under...
# Word is their live act gets BUSY, and you should't miss what the founder (Joe Bowie I think) has reinvented the band into ... if I was in NY I'd be at their shows and telling you how they sounded...

- Soul

"NY Times 1986"

DEFUNKT, the hard-nosed New York band that emerged at the turn of the 1980's, then disappeared, has made a comeback - and Thursday at the Lone Star it was as tough, eccentric and danceable as ever.

Defunkt begins with slightly sped-up James Brown-style funk - economical drumming below scratchy, interlocking rhythm-guitar chords and percussive vocals - and then frees the bass lines and explodes the harmonies a la Ornette Coleman.

The band uses an old-fashioned lineup, with guitars and horns rather than synthesizers, but its music is up-to-date: propulsive and edgy, precise yet improvisatory.

Defunkt's leader, Joseph Bowie, steers the band between funk workouts and hints of blues and jazz. He puts some heat into chantlike vocal lines, adds extra rhythmic lift playing conga drums, dances during instrumental passages and occasionally picks up his trombone for a wry solo, sliding through the riffs of Defunkt's two complementary guitarists and of a trumpeter who uses a wah -wah pedal like late-1970's Miles Davis. Between songs, Mr. Bowie had an unusual, 1980's-style line of patter - advice on investments. Rarely has a bandleader revealed so much affection for mutual funds.

John Pareles - NY Times Sept. 28 1986 (John Pareles)

"Boston Phoenix 1990"

Riding into town on his golden charger, bearing his trombone like a sword, comes Joseph Bowie and his battle-scarred avant-funk band Defunkt. Actually, he'll probably arrive in a deceptively normal fashion to take the stage at Johnny D's next Saturday. But he'll bring material from the new Defunkt album Heroes (DIW), which was recently released in Japan and is imminent in America, featuring his ruminations on "heroes both fictional and non-fictional." Anyway, presiding over a dance floor, Defunkt often loom larger than life.

"The Japanese record company gave- me a couple of pieces of music," said Bowie, "the Batman and James Bond themes, to see what I would do for arrangements." They were remarkably good suggestions. Bowie's muscular trombone and John Mulkerin's trumpet in unison carry the authority of an entire marching band, especially on these brassy themes. The stepwise motions of the Batman riff form a counterpoint to a hard funk rhythm. The blowing on "Mr. Bond" is more tongue·in-cheek, and so is the rap lyric, with Bowie asking the colorful master spy to save the world from evils ranging from economic decline to AIDS.

From these ideas, Bowie pursued the topic of heroism to it's logical conclusion: His notion of a real-world hero is Jimi Hendrix, so Defunkt selected two of his songs to cover. "Foxy Lady" is
pretty straight-ahead, with a tasty blare of brass. But "Manic Depression" is something else again, weird and witchy, its 6/8 rhythm mutated into a relentless hip-hop backbeat.

Reminded of the song called "I Want Your Girlfriend," Bowie chuckled, "It wasn't always the good guys that were the comic book heroes," and mentioned a childhood admiration for Doctor Doom. "Heroes don't have to be necessarily sweethearts. I wanted to portray a realistic-type hero, basically the image of the superstar
on stage." I won't dwell on the plot of the song, but I do suggest guys keep a firm grip on their dates as they leave Johnny D's.

Heroes was produced by Bowie's big brother Lester, and his band, the Art Ensemble of Chicago - who have heroically championed what they call "Great Black Music" for 25 years now. It's also the first Defunkt recording to feature the band's new keyboard player, Marcus Persiani, of whom Bowie explains that "he really anchors the sound and gives us more options."

As a result, this record offers a greater stylistic breadth than ever before, from primordial doo-wop to abstract jazz spiraling around the earthy rhythms. But Bowie insists these musical diversions aren't that strange to him. "We were born out.of that avant-funk scene," he says of Defunkt's 12-year run. "In my eyes it's calmed down, the concept is not that bizarre to me. But I've been playing it all these years. I don't know how it sounds to someone else."

Defunkt play at Johnny Ds on July 28; call 776-9667.

- Michael Bloom - Boston Phoenix


* Defunkt (1980)
* Strangling me with your Love (1981)
* Thermonuclear Sweat (1982)
* The Razor’s Edge (12"-Maxi-Single, 1982)
* In America (1988)
* Avoid the Funk: a Defunkt Anthology (Compilation, 1988)
* Heroes (1990)
* Live at the Knitting Factory (Live, 1991)
* Crisis (1992)
* Cum Funky (1993)
* Live and Reunified (Live, 1993)
* A Blues Tribute to Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix (1994)
* One World (1995)
* Defunkt live in Stuttgart (Live, 1996)
* The Legend of Defunkt, Volume 1 (Compilation, 2001)
* Defunkt – The Legend Continues (2001)
* Defunkt Live in Europe (Live-Doppelalbum, 2002)
* Journey (2004)
* Defunkt + Thermonuclear Sweat ( 2005)
Defunkt Soul feat. Kelli Sae (2009)



Before the Chili Peppers, before Primus or Living Color, before Soulive, Galactic, and all the funk inspired jam bands that came after, there was the grandaddy of them all: Defunkt.
Music blogger Rickey Vincent wrote: "The shit they did in 1980-83, ripping apart jazz and funk boundaries was a TOTAL transformation toward what REAL JAZZ could have been in the 80's, in my strung out opinion.
I REALLY thought Defunkt WAS the next stage in street-smart jazz from the 70's to the 80's: a rugged, ragged, musically intense, energetic, propulsive and ferociously funky set...
A big band horn section, ripping electric guitar, driving, high speed drums & rhythm guitars, and sly and slick blues drenched vocals...yum yum
If you listen to that early 80's Miles Davis, where he tries to get into some spastic funk/jazz with a nasty edge, and basically leaves you unsatisfied...DEFUNKT gets you all the way there..."
Started in 1979 on NYC's lower east side, Defunkt synthesized all the music of the previous generation into a unified funky sound that lit the NYC underground and the international scene on fire.
Joseph Bowie, the trombone playing brother of legendary jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie, built the band from a new generation of musicians, a generation that grew up on Coltrane, James Brown, Miles Davis, Sly Stone, Ornette Coleman, Jimi Hendrix, the MC5, P-Funk, etc. In other words, musicians who understood that it was all music, and disregarded the artificial stylistic barriers erected by purists of all stripes.
With darkly poetic lyrics and irresistible dance grooves laced with wildly inventive improvisations, the band pointed a new direction in both jazz and pop. Living Color's Vernon Reid is a Defunkt alumni, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers have cited Defunkt as a major influence:

Defunkt put out several critically acclaimed albums in the 1980's and toured Europe, Japan, and North America frequently, opening shows for The Talking Heads, The Clash, Prince, Jimmy Cliff, King Sunny Ade, Steel Pulse, The Neville Brothers, Living Color, and others. Defunkt became a mainstay on the Summer festival circuit in Europe. In the early '90s the lineup changed, and the band has had continued underground success, releasing several more well received albums.
In 2007, Joseph Bowie reunited the classic 1980's era lineup for a festival tour in Europe under the name "Defunkt: Downtown in the '80s."
In May 2013 The group will return to Europe for a hotly anticipated club tour.
The lineup is: Joseph Bowie: trombone, lead vocals, percussion.
Joseph is a veteran musician who has worked in many styles with many artists, ranging from Albert King, Tyrone Davis, and Dr. John, to Lester Bowie, Anthony Braxton, and Cecil Taylor.
Bill Bickford: guitar, vocals: Bill has worked with Mose Allison, the JB's, Billy Cobham, Liquid Hips and Jack McDuff
Kim Clarke: bass, vocals: Kim has worked with: Joe Henderson, Lester Bowie, Robert Palmer, James Blood Ulmer, Steve Coleman, Oliver Lake, Yusef Lateef, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Cassandra Wilson, Queen Latifah, Candido, and Cindy Blackman.
Ronny Drayton: guitar, vocals: Ronny has worked with: Nonah Hendryx, LaBelle, The Chambers Brothers, James Blood Ulmer, The Family Stand, Roy Ayers, Wilson Pickett, Todd Rundgren, Bill Laswell, Bernie Worrel, David Bowie, Mary J. Blige, and many more...
Kenny Martin drums, vocals Kenny has worked with: Lester Bowie, Jean Paul Bourelly, Otis Blackwell, Liquid Hips, Bob Cunningham, Wolfgang Schmid, DJ Spooky, Monty Alexander, and others.
John Mulkerin: trumpet, vocals: John has worked with: James Chance and the Contortions, Konk, Luther Thomas, Liquid Hips, Pee Wee Ellis, William Parker, Murphy's Law and others.

Band Members