Thursday, July 25, 2013

Leroy Burgess Turns It Out for the Sweater Funk Five-Year

A little background before we begin...
I started writing a blog post to share our incredible experience with Leroy Burgess last month and as I was compiling elements for the piece the article took on a life of it's own...  Not entirely surprising that the flow would become extravagant with the LB opus touch!  Currently working with a new 6-piece band for the forthcoming Black Ivory show in Brooklyn, I'd like to personally thank Leroy for taking time out of his schedule to provide me with a few quotes last week. Cheers my man.
I'd also like to thank the Sweater Funk deejays who offered up nice personal reflections about Leroy's influence and his long standing impact on the Boogie community. Top stuff, thank you.
Our weekend with Leroy was one we will talk about forever. And don't just take our word for it, be sure to follow this blog to the end for 'MY ADVENTURE IN SAN FRANCISCO by Leroy Burgess', his personal account of his trip to SF.

Alright then. Let's get this party started... Here's a little Leroy Burgess soundcloud mixtape event teaser compiled from all-vinyl to promote the show by Sweater Funk's Guillermo, have a click and read on...

I got the call on Friday June 28th around noon just as planned. It was my old mate Kirk Harper on the horn.... "You ready bro? We'll be at your place in a couple of hours".  Hell yes I was ready, this was something I had been looking forward to for a couple of months now. I quickly finished up what I was working on, hopped in the shower, threw on some clothes and jammed down the street to snag a sandwich and a Red Bull for the trip. Just as I arrived back at my place Kirk pulled up across the street with Jon 'Sweaterfunk' Blunck riding shotgun. The Leroy Burgess airport shuttle was ready for takeoff and as the official unofficial Sweater Funk photographer I was honored to be a part of this adventure. It was ON.

For the uninitiated, Mr. Leroy Burgess is considered the King of the Boogie scene. His body of work is overwhelming... all solid and all groovy. His sound is recognizable and distinctive and his prolific contributions to the Boogie community are vast and wide. Somewhat of a soul rennaisance man, Leroy Burgess is well regarded in the music scene as an ubiquitous performer and producer, equally comfortable behind the mic on stage or tweaking knobs on the soundboard. It's his brains and heart flowing through the iconic groups Black Ivory, Aleem, Universal Robot Band, Logg and countless others that have made you smile and sweat over the years. Leroy is one of the major reasons that the Sweater Funk nights started in the first place and continue to thrive, his massive influence on the popular San Francisco deejay collective is readily apparent and his colorful energetic vibe is always spiritually present when the Sweater Funk crew is shuffling platters... both among the doctors flipping vinyl and the patients going ballistic on the dance floor. 
It made perfect sense then that Leroy Burgess himself was flying into town from NYC to throw down an exclusive live set for the Sweater Funk Five Year Anniversary Party scheduled for the following night at the Elbo Room. The proteges and their mentor hosting a wild celebration in the name of friendship and unity and all things funky. The universe was aligning so we all could get our groove on...almost too good to be true. This was the stuff that dancefloor dreams are made of, a mad case of Boogie Logic.

We pulled into SFO airport right on schedule, parked the car and headed across to the Virgin America baggage claim to meet the man responsible for so many groovy times in our lives. Kirk and Jon were restless with anticipation and a "dude is this really happening" excitement, and just as I was about to step outside for a cigarette Kirk spotted Leroy, already out there with the same idea. We greeted him out front, brotherly welcome hugs were exchanged, a couple of pics snapped and we hustled his luggage into the car and made tracks for Highway 101... destination downtown SF to get Leroy checked into his hotel.

People Take Pictures Of Each Other... The Leroy Burgess SF Welcoming Committee.   June 28th 2013

The car motored away from the airport with Kirk at the helm and Leroy on navigation... Jon and I were in the backseat like a couple of grade school bullies en route to Disneyland sitting behind Walt Disney. As we began chatting, Jon shot me the greatest wide-mouthed look and hit me on the leg. Yes dude, this was really happening. These moments in transit were quite special, the type you wish you could record with an imaginary optical implant so you can access them later and freeze the best quips & expressions at your leisure. Leroy was as we expected, a total dude and kindred spirit.... Funny, personable, humble, generous, and eager to share his life and experiences with us. It's maybe the only time I've ever been pleased that the traffic into downtown SF was bumper to bumper... allowing us to fully absorb Leroy's laid back vibe and tap into his brain for souvenirs we were anxious to collect. He fielded our inquiries with enthusiastic humor and insight while the lilt of the Booker T album 'The Best Of You' floated on the car stereo underneath his voice. This was also an opportunity for us to share more of the Sweater Funk history with Leroy and tell him a bit more about his host city for the weekend. Leroy had only been to SF one time before, many years ago and for just one day with Aleem so he was curious to know more about the City. It was a fun exchange of knowledge and laughter, such a comfortable clicking environment of love and respect and the simple joy of life and music.
He told us the story behind Black Ivory's wicked dancefloor smash 'Mainline' :


"My friendship / brotherhood / partnership with Russell Patterson and Stuart Bascombe currently spans 44 years and is up to 7 albums so far. After the "how we got together' origin story, this is the one I'm asked about most.... the creation of "Mainline".
By 1977, the group was four albums in. And, while music was then in a serious transition to more up-tempo forms, we continued to be typecast as a 'slow-jams' group. I could feel the faster tempo calling me.. and felt that I could not accomplish anything realistic to that end while remaining in Black Ivory. So, I left the group to begin my journey into dance music (and eventually boogie).
Stuart and Russell remained together and were working on the fifth album, "Hangin' Heavy".. when I got a call from  Leonard Adams, their manager at the time.. looking for song submissions. I had already composed "Mainline" in early 1978.. but it was basically sitting on the shelf... unassigned. They liked the song a lot. I saw it as an opportunity to reunite with my partners to again create something special. I insisted on Patrick Adams (our original arranger/producer) to do the strings and horns... and of course, James Calloway to rock the bass guitar (as usual). The other rhythm duties were split between members of the current Black Ivory band and members of MFSB.. including the incomparable Earl Young on drums and Bobby Eli on guitar.
Recording in New York City's famed Hit Factory Studios over five to seven days, we all united to create what is considered to be one of the hottest dance tracks ever.. something I will always be immensely proud of"  -LB

Traffic thinned out and before we were ready, the Leroy airporter express spilled onto 3rd Street and passed AT&T Park only a few blocks from Leroy's hotel. We pulled up and instinctually hit the virtual pause button on our chatter and exchanged our temporary goodbyes... in only a few short hours we would meet again for dinner with the rest of the Sweater Funk family in full force. Kirk sped up California Street to drop me off, and after a quick disco nap I was a fresh new man walking down Taylor Street in the evening sun with a cigarette hanging out of my sideways grin which was momentarily appeasing my empty stomach. That emptiness would change soon enough for sure, Kirk had arranged a special dinner for everyone tonight at his signature haunt-- the R & G Lounge on Kearny. I arrived at the restaurant and was greeted out front by half of the crew... exchanging energetic hugs and high fives not unlike a pack of giddy Bad News Bears. In a heartbeat Kirk pulled up with Leroy and son Andrew with fiancee Melissa on his arm... a brief introduction and we were led to our private dining room upstairs. We were joined in minutes by the rest of the Sweater Funkateers who must have smelled the freshly cracked bottle of Jamesons wafting out the door, likely their limp bodies uncontrollably following the scent like the wolf in the Merrie Melodies cartoons. 

Boogie Nights Of The Round Table.  Sweater Funk anniversary dinner with Leroy Burgess   June 28th 2013

What followed was an indescribable imbibing session of the highest order, a ten-course meal livened-up with some of the most stimulating and hilarious conversation that little room has ever seen. The gigantic lazy-susan in the center of the setting appropriately spun back and forth like God's Turntable to distribute the savory goods to we self-appointed Boogie Knights of the Round Table, all of us taking turns 'scratching' the food towards each other as if mixing a hot slab of vinyl. Leroy's stories only punctuated the natural flow of our culinary remix, waxing nostalgia about his multi-faceted career with all ears bending... even the abalone, duck, crab, trout, shrimp and chicken were all listening with tempura-battered ears.

Below are couple highlights from Leroy's impromptu dinner science class, he speaks about his relationship with Stevie Wonder and also about his collaboration with one of my favorite French groups Cassius:

"In 1972, Stuart, Russell & I were invited to attend a performance at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater by the one and only Stevie Wonder, who'd just released his "Talking Book" album. This was an absolute dream come true for me.. as I'd been seriously enamored and connected to his work since "Fingertips". I was out of my mind with joy.
This was in the days when 3 shows a night was the norm for the Apollo, We were there for the very first afternoon show and were warmly welcomed by the Maestro himself. It goes without saying that the performance exceeded all expectations.. Stevie pulled out all the stops (as he always does) and I was completely floored. 
After the show, we returned backstage to congratulate him. I couldn't resist asking him if I could stick around for the remaining performances that day. He said sure. Thus began the mentoring relationship between he and I.. which would prove invaluable to my musical development, even to this day.
He taught me how to develop perfect pitch, how to play piano without having to look at it, song construction and arrangement, lyrical development and many other things. 
Among his most impressive lessons was the importance of humility. Suffice it to say, upon meeting him, I was literally 'gushing'... almost to the degree of a crazed fan. He began by insisting that I 'de-pedestal-ize' him... that, despite his fame and success, he was just a human being.. no different from me or anyone else.. and that, with the right training and mindset, I could accomplish many of the things he'd accomplished. I carried this most important lesson into my entire way of thinking.. all throughout my life.
I was at the Apollo every day... for the next 7 days, each one containing a new pearl of wisdom from the young genius. And I emerged to become the musician I am today.
The Icing On The Cake: I composed (with James Calloway) a song for flutist, Bobbi Humphrey called "No Way" and was treated to the awesome surprise of Stevie coming in to perform a brilliant harmonica solo on our composition. It doesn't get much better than THAT!!!!"  -LB


"In late 1999, recovering from serious surgery from a dangerous pneumonia infection in my left lung, I was contacted by my friend Jason Thain of London, informing me that a pair of famous Dance producers called CASSIUS were looking for me.. to compose a melody and lyrics for a couple of songs they would be including on their forthcoming album. Jason forwarded me the MP3s.. I listened to the songs.. and liked them very much. With the aid of my friend and assistant, Roy Parham, I constructed a couple of melodic themes and sketch lyrics.. did a quick, croaky vocal demo and sent it to Jason to forward to them. About a month later, the pair, Philippe Zdar and Hubert Blanc-Francarte showed up in New York at my doorstep.
They really liked my ideas and we began discussing how to move forward. They would fly me to Paris to complete work on the lyrics and record the lead vocals. Roy accompanied me, as I was still in a recuperative and frail state from the operation on my lung. Working in one of the studios used by the Beatles, we began the arduous task of constructing the lyrics. Philippe had very specific ideas about what each line would say and it was my job to create them. "Under Influence" took two days to create... and "Til We Got You & Me" took a third. Then, we took a day off, before beginning to record the lead and background vocals.. which took a further four days. In the end, we were all very happy with what we created. The entire process took 10 days"  -LB

With a contented mind and belly I hit the pillow hard. Tomorrow was a brand new day and it already felt like a legend in the making. I spent the main part of the afternoon locking down things with work which went by smooth and tight, thanks to my soundtrack of all things Burgess smoothing out the edges of my workload. I was scheduled to meet Leroy, Andrew and Melissa at the hotel to accompany them to the Elbo Room at 10pm and after a short walk to downtown in the balmy night air we met out front right on time. We jumped in a cab and I could tell that Leroy was getting in the 'zone' like a shamen during the short ride to the Mission District. We filed upstairs and the dance floor was already bouncing, the Sweater Funk deejays were greasing up the dance floor for Leroy's impending Boogie fest. A few cocktails later and catch-ups with some old friends and it was time.
Leroy hit the stage with a fever and the joint lit up frantically like a spliff after a job interview. The next hour solid was exactly that. SO-LID. Leroy blessed us with a carefully selected set of floor shakers that brought the house down. The years have been very kind to Mr. Burgess, he sounded impeccable and this man can move. At times one had to wonder if the ghost of James Brown was living in his shoes... his energy and groove were supremely infectious, funking that stage apart in his silver suit. And most of all, Leroy was having a blast... completely in his element and owning the club. It was slightly difficult to remember that I was working, I had to switch gears back and forth between rallying with the party people and snapping some photos of the action... more pics here

Despite the crowd being worked into a tailspin and clamoring for more, it was time for Leroy to wrap it up...He exited the stage and instantly emerged in the back room with a satisfied grin, freshened up with a towel and a Tamla tee shirt... Kirk rallied the troops and the Sweater Funk family convened around him to pop open a victory bottle of Hennessy. The final hour of the Leroy Burgess SF experience was spent in that small room with spirits larger than life, guests brought back stacks of vinyl for him to sign and Leroy gave everyone a special intimate little piece of himself to take home along with his signature. Then as quickly as it erupted to life, the night was coming to a close, the overhead bright bar lights meant it was time for last minute embraces and email exchanges.
The extended Sweater Funk posse took to the stage for the big group photo with the man of the hour front and center and I climbed on top of the audio cart to capture the moment. We grabbed our gear and proceeded down the stairs for the bittersweet scene out front of the club... it was time for me to say goodbye to Leroy. But I know this wasn't 'goodbye', it was merely 'see you soon brother'.
Many thanks to Leroy for the incomparable time together & the unforgettable memories, and special thanks to Andrew and Melissa.... beauty obviously runs in the family, inside and out. And big love to the Sweater Funk heads for all you do. This connection was something special for everyone...the positive vibes surround you like Dolby and it is a complete pleasure to be a part of (y)our super cool family.
Happy Fifth Anniversary mates, here's to a zillion more. 

The SweaterFunk crew weighs in on a heavyweight:
The Leroy Burgess Influence and preferred jams of the man...


Jon 'Sweaterfunk' Blunck: "Leroy Burgess has been my favorite artist ever since I first heard 'barely breaking even' by the Universal Robot Band about 20 years ago on a rare groove compilation and realized there was one guy behind so many amazing tracks recorded under so many names. Everything he's recorded is completely permeated with a joyous tension that feels like it's about to explode. Hard to explain but it's the kind of beautiful aspirational music that brought us together as a crew from such varied backgrounds and compels us to throw a party for free every single sunday."

Christina Chungtech: "I remember my very first Sweater Funk DJ set like it was yesterday: sweaty palms, expectant energy in the air (no one really knew who I was so I felt like I had something to prove, and I was yet to know that it would be my crew audition/initiation/hazing set), my intro to Lipo Lounge mai tais, and a bag full of records that had me shaking in nervous and excited in anticipation. What would I end up playing? I myself wasn’t actually sure but came with two specific goals in mind: that I would start with Kwick’s Nightlife and peak my set with (tempo wise, at least!) Universal Robot Band’s Barely Breaking Even. That song is my anthem, my karaoke jam, my pep in my step, the kaya to my toast, the apex to my nadir, and the Ren to my Min - you know what I’m saying? It’s the jam of all jams that takes me to church every time I hear it and still to this day I think of that magical feeling of euphoria I had the very first time I played it during my very first set at Sweater Funk every time I hear it played. This is just one story of one Leroy essential classic!"


Jacob Guillermo Peña: "Probably my favorite Logg jam! That's why I made it the first song on the 5 year mix. I didn't want to mix the intro so you could hear those chords as you ascend into the song! That and his vocals are the thing that always make me turn my head and pay attention 'it must be a Leroy Burgess tune' "


Megan 'Mama Bear' Pattison: "For me 'over like a fat rat' was like Sweaterfunk 101 when I first started coming to the Li Po...over the years we all have played the same record enough times for me to associate that song with a particular crew member, I could name off a record for each of y'alls! For me, that song will always remind me of Sheels and the excitement you feel when you first hear the piano intro, knowing that the song just gets more layered and sassy with each bar that passes."

Ken K Maxx: "Leroy's music is uplifting and supremely soulful. It is not possible to not be moved by his music. A goal every musician/artist might aspire to"

freditor's note:
( the newest K Maxx release carries a formidable torch of dancefloor boogiefire & analog sexytime, check it: K Maxx EP )

Kirk 'The Selecter' Harper: "For me it’s listening to KDIA circa 1972 during the vocal group falsetto era of The Stylistics, Manhattans and Blue Magic and hearing Black Ivory’s “Don’t Turn Around” for the first time. It quickly became one of my favorites and my mom took me to the Record Factory on Irving St. to pick up the picture sleeve 45 single. At the time, I had no idea who Leroy Burgess was but over the years he became one of my biggest music heroes. Fast forward to 2013…after we finalized Leroy for our anniversary, I scoured mom’s storage to see if my single was still around. Bam, there it was…crispy, clean, sleeved and in great shape...my mod godfathers taught me well...mint minus, ya feel me. I immediately called Jon, “Guess what Jon, I found my old Black Ivory single from mom’s, Leroy ‘s gonna sign it this summer.” Jon and I both freaked for a bit, we knew this show would be special, we couldn’t wait for the anniversary weekend to arrive. When I finally shared this story with Leroy, both of us got a little choked up. We both realized, stuff like this doesn’t happen very often and we were so grateful that everything came together…it was pure soul magic…Sweater Funk Style!"

July 3, 2013 at 3:30pm
After coming off the over-the-top rush of performing with my boys (BI) and many of my classic Soul heroes in Atlantic City Saturday past (6/22/13).. my thoughts and energies began to focus on the SWEATER FUNK 5th Anniversary gig in San Francisco, coming up the following Saturday. I'd been hoping to get back to SanFran.. a single day in '86 with the Aleems did not do it justice. So, I was anxious to get back and really check it out. It was extremely cool being accompanied by my nephew/stepson Andrew (Mr. Two-Oh) Jackson and his fiance, Melissa Torres... making it a family thing too.
KIRK HARPER and the amazing Sweater Funk crew pulled out all the stops.. to make this 4 day trip permanently memorable. I really can't say enough about how these brothers and sisters showed me love.. and made me feel welcome, blessed and honored. More on that later.
I took a window seat to see the city as I flew in. It did not disappoint. From the air, you could really glimpse the awesome majesty of it.. and I didn't want to miss that. After being met by Kirk personally at the airport, we headed to the Westin Hotel in midtown and I checked in.
Around 7pm, after being joined by Drew & Melissa.. Kirk pulled up to take us all to dinner.. to meet the Sweater Funk crew. 10 courses, private room. Amazing. And although we called it an early night, the electricity was fully buzzing in everybody of what was to come.
The sound check wasn't until 5pm.. giving me the day to chill and get my SanFran on. Drew & Melissa joined me around 1pm.. and we were treated to a fantastic outdoor Circus performance in the park across the street from the hotel. I was struck by how friendly, open & genuine people seemed here.. very laid-back, polite & cool-with-everything. I'm really feelin' this vibe. I also considered it a great honor to share in this historic moment with the people of San Francisco.. after the landmark  Supreme Court decision and the subsequent Pride parade which followed. People are people.. love is love.. and fair is fair. It's about time somebody really GOT that.
I decided to do things a little differently for the show and asked for a live keyboard to play.. along with the music tracks. It gave me the opportunity to jam and create segments into the songs. It was pretty cool. By show time, the Elbo Room was packed to the hilt. I decided to wear my silver & black gear.. got dressed, waited to hear my name and the intro bars of "Get Loose". Then, I surrendered myself to the lights on the stage and energy of the audience. One of the coolest things about performing for me is connecting with the audience.. getting close and interacting. Hearing them sing along to the songs I am blessed to be a part of really does it for me. Again, the Sweater Funk crew and their peeps did not disappoint... but became as much a part of the show as I was. It really lifted my heart and touched my spirit. Thank you all so much to all those in attendance.
On Sunday, after a good breakfast, I step out of the hotel and smack-dab into SanFran's annual G&L Pride Parade... and happily joined in as the entire city got it's party on. The music, the colorful costumes and floats, and the conspicuous absence of judgmental mentalities... made for a wonderfully festive afternoon. I even ran into my friend, actor Idris Elba, who was also enjoying the festivities. Again, I got the sense of sharing in an historic moment with the people of SanFran.
In the evening, I rejoined Kirk and the Sweater Funk crew as they did their regular thing at a cool little club called The Knockout.. over drinks and the best of boogie. The vibe was so cool, I couldn't resist hamming it up on the open mic a couple of times. I know... it's shameful... but I couldn't help it. 
Finally, on Monday, Kirk came through to take Andrew, Melissa & I on a tour of SanFran.. where we marveled at the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island (just as the fog rolled beautifully in), the Masonic Hall, Steve McQueen's routes for the film, Bullit.. and too many awesome sights to mention here. We had a great dinner to close the weekend and headed to the airport for our RedEye flights home.
I want to thank: Kirk Michael Harper, Jon Sweaterfunk, Lou Sweaterfunk, Fred Eagle, Christina Chungtech (for the amazing Inspiration), Ken Maxx, Freddy Anzures, Mamabear, Jacob Guillermo, Eric Boss, Damon Funk and the entire SWEATER FUNK CREW for a weekend I will never forget!!!!
Peace and GOD'S blessings to you all!

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