The Grip
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The Grip

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For most people, the term "boogaloo" will either conjure up thoughts of an old Ringo Starr song, or a break-dancing movie sequel. But search among online definitions and you'll stumble upon this: "Boogaloo: A genre of Latin music and dance that was popular in the United States in the 1960s ... originated in New York City ... a popular fusion of African-American R&B, rock and roll and soul with mambo and son mutono." Whether you call it boogaloo -- or by its other names, like "popcorn music" or "shing-a-ling" -- for Memphis group The Grip, it's more than an obscure subgenre, it's a calling.

"It's such a fun style," explains The Grip's saxophonist, Art Edmaiston. "We all felt it was particularly valid in the Memphis lineage of music. A lot of boogaloo music is blues based; it's all groovy, late-night stuff with that '60s Booker T. & the MGs vibe."

Though the band started as something of a lark just months ago, The Grip is set to release its self-titled debut CD this week, and will be marking the occasion during their regular Tuesday night slot at the Buccaneer.

The Grip formed last November when Edmaiston, organist Al Gamble and drummer George Sluppick -- all of whom had played together variously in the Gamble Brothers Band and MOFRO -- decided to get together and start a loose-knit boogaloo organ trio. "After working on our original music projects for so long and so hard, we all needed something to really enjoy playing again," says Gamble. "It was kind of therapy for us."

On the first day the trio were set to rehearse, Gamble got a call from old friend and former band mate guitarist Joe Restivo. "Joe called Al out of the blue and said, 'I really wish we could get an organ group together,'" recalls Edmaiston. "He was like 'Man, we're getting together right now, bring your stuff and let's play.' Instantly, there was a good combination of musicians and chemistry among the four of us."

The band began jamming, drawing inspiration and spinning some of their favorite boogaloo and R&B groove records from Lonnie Smith to Grant Green, Big John Patton to the Mar-Keys.

For the band members, playing music without the pressures of career concerns was the most appealing aspect of the project initially. "It was just a great release. Let's play these tunes that we dig in this funky old style," says Edmaiston. "And let's do this with almost a kitschy lounge feel."

The Grip began what would become its weekly residency at the Buccaneer last winter. The nautically themed bar's dark atmosphere offered just the right environment for the sound coming from the bandstand. "This music doesn't really work in the broad daylight," says Edmaiston laughing. "And our approach to it tends to blend really well with the Buccaneer. It's off the beaten path, a certain crowd goes and hangs out there. So we play a certain kind of music on a weird night. It just all fits together like a little puzzle."

Each of the band member has also adopted an on stage alter-ego -- Gamble is "Johnny Roulette," Edmaiston is "Paper Bag Brown," Restivo is "Natural Jay" and Sluppick is "Jasco Parks."

"With assumed names, we don't have to be the same people. We can change our onstage mannerisms, play differently, we're not obligated to do songs that people expect from the Gamble Brothers or MOFRO."

The Grip never intended to go beyond the stage with the project, but while the band was rehearsing at producer Ward Archer's studio complex, Archer heard the band and insisted they record.

The result of those sessions is The Grip's new self-titled five-track EP. The disc combines an original tune ("Tutwiler") with a quartet of covers including ones from Italian film composer Ennio Morricone ("Farewell to Cheyenne") and Prince's future funk classic "Controversy" which are completely reworked in the band's signature boogaloo style.

Occasionally, The Grip's versions are so dramatically different that it's hard to place even the most familiar songs. "It's funny," says Gamble. "When we play the Prince tune, a lot of people will ask 'What is that song? I've never heard that.'"

The Grip's Tuesday night shows have evolved into a kind of event. Guitarist David Cousar opens most gigs with a solo acoustic turn. Then the Grip members will eventually come on and join him and transition into their own set, which often features guest appearances by horn players like trumpeter Mark Franklin and Gamble's percussion playing brother, Chad.

With the EP coming out this week, there has been talk of following up with a Grip full-length. "But, mainly, we're focusing on keeping the Buccaneer thing going and letting it build on its own," Edmaiston says. "We're not as worried about recording or touring. We want to keep it fun and keep the pressure off." - The Commerical Appeal


Discography

"Grab This Thing" - debut EP released November 11, 2007. Vinyl single also available. Receiving air play on XM station 72: Jamming Jazz.

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Bio

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'