Weasel And The Pimps: An Old Dude Gets His Funk On

 

When I was a young high school hoodlum, I had an older friend I thought was just about as cool as it was possible to be. His street name was Weasel, and he never made a move that wasn’t smooth. He was hip to just about everything, and his taste in stuff like music and rebellious posturing epitomized all I was trying to be.

That was a long time ago, and I hadn’t thought about Weasel for decades. But when Brian J. and The Pimps of Joytime took the stage at the High Sierra Music Festival last summer, I was immediately reminded of my old hoodlum hero from high school days. Brian J. looks a little like that guy, and he is, onstage, a master of moves so un-self-consciously cool that even a superannuated music fan like me can still recognize how cool they are.

I ain’t much of a funk fan. When I was young, I had the normal person’s appreciation for James Brown, and there were few ensembles funkier than the band Ike Turner fronted, but I just never got down with Kool and the Gang, or the Average White Band. Even the Temptations, as good as they were, just weren’t my bag. (Does anyone on the planet still use that outmoded slang term?)

But my younger daughter loves funk, and she was already a huge fan of The Pimps of Joytime when she talked me into traipsing all the way across the fairgrounds at the High Sierra Music Festival to see this band known to play musical echoes of a genre that was never my fave. There are few things fathers won’t do for daughters, even when those daughters are all growed up.

But I was surprised to find myself really diggin’ the Pimps, from the first song to the last. Perhaps that was because the band shouldn’t have been so narrowly labeled in the first place. This is way more than a funk band. As Brian J. told me in a recent interview: “What I wanted to do was to create the equivalent of a dance party, and now that’s what we’re doing every time we play—creating a party where people just want to dance.”

Because I hear so much good guitar work, it’s hard to impress me with a guitar solo, but Brian J. did just that when I heard him take his first solo.

“Well,” he told me in response to my compliment, “guitar is the instrument I’m most fluent in. The least thought goes into the guitar because when I take a solo, that’s when I kick into natural instinct mode. I started young, and it just flows now. The Pimps get into all different styles, but at base we’re blues.”

The Pimps of Joytime is a distinctly urban band, and Brian J. traces its sound to time spent in the nightclub scene of his native Brooklyn.

“Back in 2006, when I was just starting the band, I was much more into the night life,” he told me. “I was going out and hearing the Brooklyn DJs at the clubs. I really liked how they could go so seamlessly from one style to another, and I wanted to see if I could recreate live music that was like some of the experiences I’d get in the clubs, where a set might morph from salsa into hip hop, then into Afro beat, and then maybe into Electronica. I was really digging that, the way they would mix it up. It was kind of an insight, that you don’t have to do just one thing; that you can go from ‘50s rock-n-roll to reggae to Cajun, and make it all of a piece. I’m a fan of all that music, and we just make our own gumbo out of all of it. You can hear these traditional elements, but it’s all tied together, and modern.”

When he said he wasn’t spending as much time in the clubs anymore, I wondered if he’d gotten married.

“No,” he said. “I just got a lot more busy. When I started the band, we’d play once a week in Brooklyn, then go to play in San Francisco once a month, then down to New Orleans once or twice a year. Now I’m busy touring, and working on other projects, and there’s just not enough time for partying. Besides, when we’re out making music, we’re always part of the party, so in that sense I’m probably clubbin’ more than ever.”

I mentioned how impressed I’d been by the band’s drummer, John Staten, who’d worked the High Sierra crowd into a froth. That gave Brian J. an opportunity to say how pleased he is to have the band in its current configuration. “We’ve had a lot of shakeups in personnel since we started, but for the last year we’ve had the band I was trying to assemble from the beginning.”

I asked him if he’d gotten to meet any of his musical heroes as the band’s fame has spread.

“I got to do a gig with Family Man, Bob Marley’s bass player,” he said. “That was a thrill. And I played with George Porter, the bass player with the Meters. I’ve worked with most of the Neville brothers. I always wanted to play with Ali Farka Toure, but that never happened. I was so sad when he passed last year. He was an amazing guitar player.”

And what about this life he’d chosen for himself—the touring, the interviews, the nights in strange places?

“I feel like I’m blessed,” he said, without hesitation. “When I meet people who don’t know what they want to do with their life, I feel lucky because I always knew I wanted to make music. I still feel I’m at the beginning of where I want to go, but I really like what I do. And the traveling gets better as we get more successful. I hope that what I do with this band can lead to other projects. A little success gets your foot in the door, and I’m looking forward to doing things like soundtrack work.”

I ended the interview by asking him if there was anything he’d like to see in the piece. “You could direct readers to find us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And you could mention we’re working on new material, and we’ve just finished a bunch of songs for a new album.”

The Pimps of Joytime will be making their first ever Chico appearance at the Sierra Nevada Big Room this coming Sunday, November 10. Bob Littell, the Big Room impresario, told me he booked the band on the basis of an email I sent him in which I raved about their performance up in Quincy last summer. He might have just been trying to make me feel good, but if I was in any way responsible for getting the band here, that makes me happy. And it would probably make Weasel happy, too, wherever he may be.

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Comments

  1. Bill Ockama says:

    This writer really SUCKS.

  2. Howard Rumph says:

    Says he used to be a hoodlum in his youth? More likely the school sissy boy.