There’s not much about Missoula that screams “funk.” We’re a mostly white-bread crowd, far from the urban centers and hectic lifestyles that serve as the breeding ground for the truly primal groove of funk music. With appearances from bands like the Porterhouse Quintet, Robert Walter’s 20th Congress and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, though, our little burg has in recent weeks been a veritable hotbed of swirling, bone-shaking licks. And as next week’s Deep Banana Blackout show at the Blue Heron indicates, our ride on the get-down funky train appears far from over.
Deep Banana Blackout has been around since 1995, but the members of the Connecticut-based octet had been ripping up the East Coast jam scene in various incarnations since the ’80s. A relentless touring band that released two well-received live albums before their inaugural studio effort in 2001, Feel the Peel, DBB logged more than 150 dates in 2000 and are well on their way to a similar output this year.
Led by frontman and guitarist James “Fuzz” San Giovanni, DBB boasts a lineup that covers just about any groove you can think of: drums, percussion, bass, flute, sax, keyboards and trombone. Woodwind diva Hope Clayburn handles most of the lead vocals, with three other members kicking in supporting and background voices.
“The music we play is, for me, a relief from straight-up rock ’n’ roll,” says Fuzz. “I can get pretty bored with rock, especially the standard three-chord progressions.” Fuzz says that his career nearly bottomed out in the early ‘90s when the band he was playing in felt like a three-chord prison. “But then I went down to jam with a band that a cousin of mine was in, and it was sort of a blues-based band,” recalls Fuzz. “I remember this one moment when the band was locked into a solid groove–the bass player and drummer were right in sync–and I thought, ‘I could do this all night long.’”
With the foundations of his musical freedom firmly in place, Fuzz formed DBB and hit the open road, where literal freedom is often tempered by the grumpies that accompany extended road trips consisting of big groups. “There’s definitely been moments in the past when I thought the whole thing was going to implode,” says Fuzz, “but you’ve got to be a real diehard to deal with it at times.” This incarnation of DBB—two members are new as of last year—has learned to work well together in the face of traveling vagaries, according to Fuzz.
The Missoula date (DBB’s first and only scheduled Montana show) comes in the first week of a six-week tour that features a luxury heretofore unknown to the band members: a fully-equipped tour bus. That’s the kind of benefit that comes with a record-company contract (Feel the Peel was released on Flying Frog Records, founded by drummer Butch Trucks of the Allman Brothers, with whom DBB has recently toured). Among the most anticipated boons of bus living is the absence of a large jug—“we called it the chubby bubbler,” says Fuzz—that accompanied previous trips to accommodate those with small bladders.
When asked about the origin of his band’s name, Fuzz hems and haws a bit. “Well, our standard line is that it came to us in a dream,” he says. C’mon, Fuzz, this is the Independent you’re talking to. “Well, OK, it actually comes from a really bad porno movie that one of the guys kept bringing around,” he admits, chuckling, “and there was one scene where the phrase ‘deep banana blackout’ was used to describe, well …” Okay then, glad we got that cleared up.
Still, Fuzz is not hesitant to solidify the link between funk and sex previously explored in these pages. “Oh yes,” he says, “funk is without a doubt the greasiest, sexiest music around.”
DBB is fresh off a series of fundraising shows in New York City, where Fuzz grew up. The band made a conscious decision to play their regularly scheduled shows (the first was in Michigan two days after the terrorist attacks) in spite of the disaster. “Our job is to get people whipped up and feeling good,” says Fuzz, “and we felt that it would be a defeat if we allowed [the tragedy] to stop us. Besides, if it really is the end of the world, wouldn’t you rather go out having a good time?”