San Lorenzo Valley High School’s Performing Arts Center celebrated its grand opening one year ago this month. The theater, a spanking, high-tech showcase for the cathartic arts, was made possible by Measure O, an $18.9 million bond measure approved in 2008 that authorized the school district to construct, improve, and acquire facilities.
In just a few weeks, San Lorenzo Valley High School Drama presents Gershwin’s Tony Award winning Crazy for You in six performances March 4 through March 12 in this sleek, accommodating performance space.
On a decadently bright and warm mid-winter afternoon, I let myself into the cool dark backstage where rehearsal was just getting underway and was met by Crazy for You romantic lead, 16-year old Quinn Becker. We’d met before. He and his family and local Boulder Creek potters, Dan and Laurie Hennig, were featured in the indie movie, Play Faire, by LA’s Teo Guardino, and the community had come out last summer to pack the house for the screening at Park Hall in Ben Lomond.
Guitar in hand, Quinn escorted me to the stage to meet director, Will Guilford, who then introduced me to members of the production team. Set building had just begun: Framework for the Saloon was in place stage right, blue tape marked the places where the limo would pull up stage left. I was invited to imagine a stocked bar and other trappings you’d find in a properly well-heeled early 20th Century landscape.
Set in the 1930s, New York banker and aspiring dancer Bobby Child is sent to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a theater. Instead, he falls in love with the owner’s daughter, Polly, and puts on a show in their failing theater to pay the mortgage and win her heart. Quinn plays Bobby, and the part of Polly is played by Miranda Robinson, also 16.
Packed with nonstop hits written by George and Ira Gershwin, the show explodes with spectacular production numbers, including “Slap That Bass,” “I Can’t Be Bothered Now,” “I Got Rhythm,” and the romantic favorite, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” An ensemble of over 30 singers and dancers is supported by a six-piece band featuring four SLVHS students directed by Dan Lingenfelter.
After being introduced to a few of the teen actors, some as young as 14; vocal director, Nicki Kerns; student choreographer, Robert Jeffrey; and lighting designer, David Halper, we dispersed, actors to the wings, me to my seat in the auditorium. I was sole observer delighting in an exclusive first glimpse of what promises to be a lush, technically challenging production featuring a very talented cast and production team, awesome sets, great singing and choreography.
A chorus of young voices drifted in harmony from another room, and the Follies Girls with tap shoes on were queued, awaiting their entrance. Director Guilford said, “The beauty of this show to me is introducing tap dancing to these kids – it’s a lost art form.” There will be three big tap numbers for the Follies Girls.
“Five, six, seven, eight, shuffle, hop-step, brush-circle step step,” called 16-year old junior, Robert Jeffry, tap dance choreographer, demonstrating the moves slowly at first and then up to speed, the girls in a line behind him following his every nuance, mostly already memorized. With acting and dancing cred from performing in All About Theater at Louden Nelson Center, Robert lead 12 girls and one guy (our romantic lead, Quinn) through all the razzmatazz they could muster.
After a few run-throughs, Robert had the chorus line run through the routine on their own to Gershwin on the laptop. Dazzling in shorts, leggings and jeans, tapping and twirling in unison, the routine ended on beat and Robert said, “I feel like you guys sounded really happy!” In a final once-more before taking ten, Quinn joined in, performing his role in stride with the chorus girls, singing along with the voice on the recording with confidence, suave to a fault. “Dancing makes my problems all seem tiny,” he sang with a handsome grin and a knowing swagger.
“There’s something about stage, Will said.” He did his thesis on adolescent self-esteem. Kids in his program learn through the art of drama to collaborate, plan, and support each other, building a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. “I get to witness it all the time, from 6th grade on.” He pointed out that most of the cast in Crazy for You have been under his tutelage since middle school.
And there is enough support for the dramatic arts from the district and the community to allow Will the opportunity to direct several productions a year between the middle and high schools. A former varsity baseball coach and girl’s JV soccer, he’s been working for the spiffy new Performing Arts Center for 28 years, he says. He remembers getting on the phone, “Support Measure O!”
In addition to his theater work with SLVUSD, Will runs Hooked on Theater, children’s theater for the San Lorenzo Valley & Santa Cruz County – a real community, tri-campus endeavor for elementary, middle, and high school students that operates year-round. Whether for the high school or for his private company, he tries to keep the teaching “organic,” engaging current and former students to contribute their skills, and all production work is done in-house along with parent volunteers.
Crazy for You features romance, comedy, fist fights, gun fights, dancing, singing, kissing, slapping, and mistaken identity and has its share of awkward moments for teen actors still working through the embarrassing stuff. “They feel uncomfortable kissing someone if it’s not their own girlfriend,” Will said. “I got a quick peck from them last week,” referring to rehearsal with the romantic leads, Quinn and Miranda. Quinn’s real girlfriend is one of the Follies Girls.
Miranda thinks Quinn is great, and agrees that there are moments that “definitely have their challenges.” She’s pretty sure that the show is probably going to be one of her favorites, but she won’t really know until opening night when she’s in it all the way. She, too, is active in All About Theater, and has performed with Children’s Musical Theater San Jose and Cabrillo Stage. “This production is modeled on the Ziegfeld Follies. I want costumes! I want sets! I want beauty! If you’re going to see a show, this is the show,” Will claims enthusiastically. “The cool thing is that the kids are learning to tap, learning about Gershwin. It’s got everything – from 6 to 96, you’re going to dig the show!”
Crazy for You, The New Gershwin Musical at SLVHS PAC
7105 Hwy 9, Felton CA.
March 4, 5, 10, 11, and 12 at 7:00 pm, March 6 at 2:00 pm
Tickets and more information: tinyurl.com/SLVDramaInfo
Notes From the Director
By Will Guilford
I just wanted to get a shout out to the SLVHS Drama Boosters group for all their support for all of our HS Productions. One particular member, Susan McKay, is our Costume Mentor who guides a student or two in the Costume Design aspect of the show. The first semester show, MASH she worked closely with Abby Halper who was or Student Costumer and for CFY she has taken Phoebe Cole under her wings. Students Kassidy Gambelin will be in charge of Hair and Jodan Beiden-Charles is our make-up person.
We have over 40 HS Students involved in the production with students learning the ropes backstage and in all technical arenas, as well…sound, lights, stage manage., stage crew, props, spotlights, mics, poster design etc.
As a teacher, director, and producer, I could not be more proud of our kids, the Drama boosters, and the community as this really is a true collaboration. The SLV community is tight and extremely supportive. I am so fortunate to have former and current students so involved in this production.
Again, this production is organic…HS students, parents, local merchants supportive by purchasing ads in the program, Robert & Shannon with choreography, Dan as the Band/Choir teacher conducting, Kylan, a legend in local theater as our set designer, technical director, and master carpenter, Nicki as our vocal director (accompanist for Dan’s Choir class), Jacob, our student Poster Designer, and Mollie Whisler and Kylan guiding our Stage MGR. in learning her responsibilities with their extensive background in tech and stage management.
Indeed, it takes a village to put up a show!
Notes From the Author
Hooked on Theater is a privately operated for-profit community project headed by Will Guilford and is not in any way associated with San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District or San Lorenzo Valley High School.
Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California and performed on stage with Children’s Musical Theater San Jose (formerly SJCMT) in the 1970s. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | http://www.slvpost.com
It was an hour before sunrise and absolutely still outside. Not a breath of wind, not a sound. So quiet even the dog was spooked. Then a lone killdeer started its plaintive cry. Last year most of the lakes in Montana still had ice on them in April and the snow hung around well into the month. According to the local groundhog, Montana Murray, spring is coming early this year.
Vann Slatter and Christine Carter Slatter, winemakers at Hunter Hill Vineyard and Winery, are selling the family estate and moving to Montana soon. Or at least that’s the plan. “We are selling everything, hopefully: Home, winery, vineyard and all the equipment for farming and winemaking. We are hoping for the best and a new adventure!”
In the meantime, they have their cabin in Gustine, CA where they spend winters duck hunting, and they plan to go back and forth to Soquel until they sell.
“When we first started the winery we didn’t have a business plan.” They thought, “We’re just growing grapes, making a little wine,” Christine said.
Located in the Santa Cruz mountains northeast of Soquel, Christine and Vann first started growing grapes on the family’s fruit ranch in 1990. Soon the self-taught winemakers were winning awards. “Little by little we’ve put in grapes where the apple farm was…it was supposed to be a hobby. My husband – I call him a visionary – said we were going to grow a few grapes and sell a little wine here and there…”
Now known best for their Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, Hunter Hill Winery makes rich red wines grown on lands formerly thick with redwood forest. “Clay, loam, redwood…wine is a product of the soil,” Christine told me.
Christine’s grandparents bought the acreage in 1906 for a $50 gold piece. The property was logged of its redwood trees, the stumps dynamited away, and the original house, still family occupied, was one of the first built on Glen Haven Road. Her grandfather would haul the harvest by horse and wagon to sell as far away as Boulder Creek. Married just a few years, Vann and Christine took over the property from Christine’s mother in 1968.
Vann grew up in Capitola, “a beach boy,” Christine says, and graduated from Soquel High. He served his country as a Navy Seal, completing three tours of duty. He started Slatter Construction in 1984. In that kind of business, she says, “You become involved in the community.”
Christine grew up in Pasatiempo and considers herself more of a “hill person.” “I’ve always loved the mountains, there are so many fun places you can go to: Forest Pool, the Trout Farm, Pasatiempo Pool, Hollins House…”
“Mountain folk usually stay to themselves. The winery has brought the neighborhood together.”
She tries to be at the tasting room every weekend when they open in spring, greeting everyone she can at the door with a hug. She likes to keep things small, preferring intimate pourings for wine club members and locals who stop in for a sip and a sit in the sun by the pond. The grounds teem serenely with life on a relaxing summer day – dogs, kids, a babbling water feature flitting with wild birds, and occasional live acoustic music.
Long a member of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, Hunter Hill has poured at area festivals such as The Scotts Valley Art Wine and Beer Festival, Boulder Creek’s Santa Cruz Mountain Art and Wine Festival, and Capitola Art and Wine Festival, to name a few. For many groups, including Santa Cruz Cancer Benefit’s Gourmet Grazing on the Green in Aptos; Valley Churches United Missions, Tasting Under the Redwoods; and Congregational Church of Soquel, Taste of Soquel, Hunter Hill has graciously donated their wine. “This is still one of the most important things that makes money for all these people – wine is the big sell, it’s all local”
Locally you’ll find Hunter Hill wines at Boulder Creek Pizza and Pub and Redwood Keg Liquor and Deli, and other shops around the valley.
As they prepare for the eventual sale of the land and winery and for leaving the rural California coastal mountain lifestyle they’ve known all their lives, Christine said her favorite moments have been those spent with visitors and friends “sharing this piece of property that we feel is fairly sacred – it’s family property.” And there is the resounding satisfaction of knowing that they’ve done something wonderful with the land.
Hunter Hill Vineyard and Winery
7099 Glen Haven Road, Soquel, CA 95073
An interview by Julie Horner with Tim Welch of Funkranomicon
When taking nighttime strolls in downtown Boulder Creek, I find it tough to resist pressing a wet nose to the window as I walk past Joe’s to see what’s on inside. On warmer evenings the doors are flung open and the sounds of live music entice. I almost always follow the urge to pull up a stool and check the beats.
One of the regular outfits, Funk and Soul powerhouse, Funkranomicon, is known for their dynamic, high energy, hip, contemporary originals and time-tested old school get-down dance beats – steamin’ local music that one fan called “groovy as hell.”
Band members include Joe “Junior” Neto on vocals, Scott “The Shredder” Polland slingin’ the six string, Warren “WaddyP” Paradise on keys, Anthony “AC” Cannon holding down the bottom end, and Tim “TDub” Welch on the tubs.
I was fortunate to pin down “TDub” for a few questions.
JH: You’ve been around for quite a while and have developed a following. What do people rave about your sound?
TW: The compliments we get are usually about the tightness of the band and the songs we write. They are pretty catchy and have a very funky groove. Our lead singer, Joe Neto, is a great entertainer.
When it comes to songwriting, Joe will usually have a basic melody line and some lyrics and we will start jamming on that and develop it into a song. It usually happens pretty quickly. If it doesn’t we will shelve it and maybe revisit it another time. The best songs usually come together the quickest.
JH: I love your band name.
TW: The band gets its name from “The Necronomicon,” a book featured in the stories by horror novelist H. P. Lovecraft and his followers. If you can’t pronounce the name, don’t worry. Most can’t but, we have a song to help you with that called “Book of Funk.” You will find yourself randomly chanting our name and people will think you are crazy. The only people I have met who can pronounce it are Lovecraft fans. Somebody will say, oh yeah, Funkranomicon, I know you guys and I immediately say, you must be a Lovecraft fan!
JH: Have you gone through a lot of personnel changes or are you pretty much the same guys from the start?
TW: We have had some changes over the years. We started in the late 1990’s and the band went their separate ways in 2001. We reformed in 2009 with original singer Joe Neto and me, the original drummer. There was one other drummer in the very early days but, he only played one show before I joined.
JH: Why Funk? It’s super danceable. What does it for you when you’re playing for a room full of dancers?
TW: Funk had it’s heyday in the late 60’s and 70’s with bands like James Brown (who is also the Godfather of Funk not just Soul), Sly and Family Stone, Tower of Power, The Meters, P-Funk, etc. Artists like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Prince have incorporated a lot of Funk into their music. Funk has had some resurgences over the years like Bruno Mars Uptown Funk but commercially, it’s usually just a song here and there.
Today’s Funk is mostly on the jam band touring circuit where it remains very strong. Bands like Dumpstaphunk, Galactic, The New Mastersounds, The Greyboy Allstars have all had good success and those groups have spawned other groups from their members. Bands like Jamiroquai have really given Funk a more modern sound in recent years.
In the early days in the late 90’s, our singer, Joe Neto, and Nate Mueller, our bassist and producer at the time, were heavily influenced by Stevie Wonder, Al Green, James Brown, Prince, Michael Jackson, Jamiroquai, etc. After playing together as a heavy metal band for a short time, they decided they wanted to switch gears and go into Funk and Soul and they had the talent to pull it off.
Writing some great songs and getting the ladies to dance certainly solidified the Funk and Soul direction of the band. It’s one thing to play to a crowd who is enjoying your music but, it’s a whole other thing to have them bumpin’ and grindin’ to your grooves in a hot sweaty club and everyone is just having a complete blast. It’s pretty addicting.
JH: Are there any OMG moments of wacky crowd behavior or when one of the band members fell off the stage? What are some really great times when you guys were totally locked with the audience?
TW: Well, fortunately, nobody has been hurt, at least not seriously. Back in the early days we played at club where there were a bunch of tweakers who just wanted to hear heavy metal and they were yelling “You suck!” from the pool room between songs. I remember the room being pretty empty since we were playing out of town as a new band and nobody knew us. It was definitely not a Funk friendly venue, that’s for sure.
There was another time back then when our guitarist broke his string and didn’t have another one in the club, so the band continued to improvise while he ran down the street to his car, got a string, ran back to the club, put the string on, tuned it up and finished the song. That was pretty funny because we knew we could not start the next tune without the guitarist and we didn’t want sit around waiting for him so, we did what any good band would do and kept playing for what seemed like an eternity!
In 2011, we won a Facebook contest to open for the legendary Ohio Players at the Jazz Summer Fest in downtown San Jose on the main stage. Michael Buble played before us, so we joke that he opened for us. I don’t know how many hundreds of people were in Cesar Chavez park that evening but, we were pumped! We played a flawless set and recorded it with 5 cameras which is on Youtube. That was an absolute blast!
Some of the best gigs that come to mind where we were really locked in would be a couple of nights at Joe’s Bar when it was packed and everyone was dancing and having a great time. It’s always a great night at Joe’s but, some nights are just magical. A lot of people don’t realize the extent that a band or any entertainer feeds off of the energy of the crowd. It’s a two way exchange of energy all night. The more energy the crowd puts out, the better the band plays and the better the band plays, the more the crowd gets into it. We have had epic gigs at Zelda’s for sure. There’s nothing like the summertime partiers at the beach! We have had some great crowds at Moe’s Alley, Don Quixote’s, Hop N’ Barley Fest, and others.
JH: What are your favorite places to play?
TW: The festivals can be fun but, our favorite regular spots are Zelda’s, Joe’s Bar and we recently started playing at the Quarter Note in Sunnyvale which we all really enjoy. Zelda’s is on the beach in Capitola and we always get a great crowd that loves to dance. Joe’s Bar is like home base for us. The crowd is always appreciative. The bands set up along the wall about 3 feet from the bar so, it’s a captive audience and very intimate. People dance right in front of my drum set which doesn’t happen anywhere else.
The Quarter Note is a nice room with a stage, drum riser, full sound system, sound engineer, easy load in and we can play till 1:00 am. What’s even better is people stay and dance till 1:00 am too. It’s really fun. The staff and owners at these venues are great folks as well. We also play San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose which is always fun. We really like the Trout Farm too. They are huge supporters of local music. We have had successful shows at Don Quixote’s as well. Another great venue.
JH: You’ve also played valley festivals like Redwood Mountain Faire and Santa Cruz Mountain Art and Wine. What’s coming up for you this summer?
TW: We had a great set at Redwood Mountain Faire. We were the first band on the main stage so, people were just starting to trickle in, but we had fun. The crowd there is always great. I think it wasn’t even noon yet and people were dancing. We have applied to play Redwood Mountain Faire this year. We would love to play there again. They will be announcing the bands soon. There are a lot of local bands who want to play so, they have some tough decisions to make. We hope to be invited back again for a slot a little later in the day. It’s been awhile since we played there.
We played the Santa Cruz Mountains Art and Wine Festival at least once. It’s always a great time. It’s always fun to play with a bunch of other bands we know and the crowd is always appreciative.
JH: You list a few of your fave influences on your website, who do you most resonate with and why?
TW: Some of our songs sound like P-Funk and others sound like Maroon 5 so, it’s really hard to pinpoint one artist or band as a main influence. Funkranomicon’s rhythm section is really pulling from a pretty large palette of rhythmic influences from the ones mentioned previously to Afro-Cuban, Afrobeat, Brazilian, and Boogaloo. Joe is heavily influenced by singers like Prince, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. He sounds a lot like Al Green, in my opinion.
I think the reason these artists resonate so much with us is because we grew up listening to them and it’s some of the most innovative music in history. They were the soundtracks to our childhood and coming of age years. Many of the songs we write or cover get the dance floor moving but, the melodies reach people on an emotional level. It’s hard to not move your body and sing along. It’s always fun to see people dancing and singing along especially, to songs that we created.
JH: What’s your dynamic together on stage?
TW: Our live shows always remind me of a James Brown gig. They are very spontaneous. We all follow Joe our singer and we never know what he will do next. James Brown would direct the band on the fly and the band had to respond instantly. It kept things fresh and exciting.
When you come to a Funkranomicon show, you never know what will happen. It’s never the same show twice. We might actually create a new song right in front of the audience. It’s happened before. One of our best known songs, Book of Funk, where we chant our name “FUNK-RA-NOMICON!” was created impromptu at one of our first gigs in Santa Cruz. Joe started singing it and we all just came in with something. It was really cool. We recorded that on the EP “Book of Funk.” Joe is really good at making up lyrics on the fly. It’s really helpful when he forgets lyrics too. If it’s a cover tune, people just figure he’s putting his own spin on the tune which, he is! I often like his lyrics better than the original.
JH: You’ve recorded two albums, one at Barry Tanner’s PASS Studio in Boulder Creek.
TW: We recorded our first EP, “Blood to Groove,” at Future Rhythm in Campbell in 2001 with Don Budd who now runs Tone Freaq Studio. The “Book of Funk” EP was recorded at Barry Tanner’s studio which, is the old post office in Boulder Creek. Milton Davis produced and engineered it. Milton played bass for John Mellencamp and has produced tons of great artists including Brandi, Aaron Neville and The New Mastersounds just to name a few. His brother is Eric Davis who played with the 49ers. They are both from Alabama and they both ended up in the Bay Area.
Milton is a great producer and he really got the band to gel. He showed us our weak spots and told us how to improve them. He had a very specific sound in mind that he achieved for that EP which, was very different from the first one. We then spent some time reproducing some of that sound for our live shows.
JH: You guys are busy with work and family, how does that influence your ability to perform and practice. You must be pretty selective with the type and frequency of the gigs you choose to do.
TW: Yeah, Joe has three kids, Pete our bassist has two kids, Scott our guitarist has two kids, and I have one. It definitely limits the practice time. We really only get together for a rehearsal three or four times per year, so we have to make the most of it. We still add new cover songs but it has prohibited us from writing new material. We try to keep the gigs to once a month, sometimes twice a month.
Most of us play in other bands too so, we stay pretty busy. Scott plays with a bunch of different people and we host the jams at Joe’s Bar every first Thursday with Whisker Biscuit. Warren, our keyboardist, sometimes joins us. Jackie Turner, our second vocalist has her own band that stays busy – Scott and Warren also play in that band. Pete, our bassist, plays with the local Moroccan band, Aza, and I think two or three other Jazz bands.
I play with a few different bands. In addition to Whisker Biscuit, I am a backup drummer for Shotgun Suitor as well as The Stingrays, and I occasionally do gigs with The Jackie Turner Band and Badenov, another Boulder Creek band and one of the many to form out of Barry Tanner’s studio. In fact, Barry is in the band.
JH: Is it hard getting gigs in general? Are you guys in major demand or do you have to sort of beat the bushes a little?
TW: It depends on the venue. Between Santa Cruz and the South Bay, there are a TON of good bands. We have to stalk the booking agents in the beginning but, once we get in and they hear us, they invite us back. We just played The Quarter Note in Sunnyvale and they booked us for the next three available months, April, May, and June, so that makes it easier than always scrambling to find the next gig. We are on a regular rotation now that keeps us as busy as we can be, given our availability. We would still love to hear about interesting parties, festivals, and clubs, and we will do what we can to make it happen.
The Santa Cruz Mountains, and Boulder Creek in particular, have really fostered music and the arts. People are very appreciative. We consider Boulder Creek our home town as a band because we reformed there in 2009 at Barry Tanner’s studio, and Barry has created a music scene where there wasn’t one before. Barry books the bands at Joe’s Bar that play every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and I don’t even know how many dozens of bands were spawned from that.
Since about 2008, bands have been jamming together first at the studio and then at Joe’s Bar on Thursday nights. I have probably met and jammed with a couple of hundred or more musicians because of Barry. I can’t even guess how many hundreds of musicians he has brought together by creating a scene here in Boulder Creek, and the town shows their appreciation every time they come to one of his events around town. It’s been the most fun I have ever had in music, and my playing has improved 10-fold because of it. We all are grateful to have Barry Tanner in town and for his studio and music venue at Joe’s Bar.
JH: So you host the Thursday night Pro Jam at Joe’s…in fact you invited little ol’ Crooked Road Ceili Band to come jam a few Irish tunes, thanks, that was a blast! How are the Pro Jams going in general, what’s the energy around town? Does the jam bring in a lot of players and fans? Do any of your other band members play the jam?
TW: The jams at Joe’s have been a blast. I host every first Thursday with Whisker Biscuit. Some nights it’s completely packed. Some nights it’s not, but it’s still a good crowd. We have had a real mix of players from Boulder Creek and the Central Coast mostly. It’s a little harder to get musicians out to Joe’s because Boulder Creek is pretty far for musicians on the coast on a Thursday night when they have to work on Friday morning. I tend to do a lot of personal invitations like I did with Crooked Road and that was a lot of fun! We need to do that again.
We have been doing theme nights. We had a really successful Reggae night and Jam Band night. We are planning a Funk night for March or April. We get musicians of all levels. We welcome everybody. I only host first Thursdays, but there is a jam every Thursday with a different host. Just ask the band to sit in. It’s best if guitarists and bassists bring their own axe. There’s usually a drum set and sometimes a keyboard to sit in on, depending on the night. People really love it and we always have fun. You never know what will happen next!
JH: You also helped kick-start KBCZ, Boulder Creek’s new radio station. How’s that going?
TW: The station is on the air and streaming on the Internet at kbcz.org. Check it out. Support them any way you can. It’s a small town and people have busy lives. This is the perfect opportunity for kids in school, retired folks, etc. I have been super busy with music but I hope to put together an interview show soon. KBCZ is very supportive of local music. I have heard quite a lot of it and I’m sure they are spinning Funkranomicon,but it doesn’t hurt to call and ask…hint, hint!
JH: So many really great music icons have passed recently…were there any in particular who influenced you growing up?
TW: Joe just posted about how much Maurice White of Earth Wind and Fire inspired him. He said they were best show he has ever seen. Nobody makes music like that anymore. When David Bowie died, we decided to do Let’s Dance as a tribute to him. It’s not really a Funk song but it’s definitely funky and easier to pull off than Fame which is definitely a Funk song! We didn’t have time to rehearse it either so we played it for the first time together in front of the live audience at the Quarter Note and it was as if David was guiding us. We pulled it off perfectly and it will now be a part of our shows. It was really cool but it’s really sad to lose such a great talent.
I am a big fan of Scott Weiland, Allen Toussaint’s writing and producing, and of course BB King. We also lost the lead singer for the Ohio Players recently, Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner, who we opened for at Jazz Summer Fest. It’s strange how we are losing so many great artists so quickly. That generation of music innovators are all in their late 60’s and early 70’s now and I’m sure they did their share of partying!
JH: What advice would you have, given the fleeting time we have on the planet, for anyone playing live music or who aspire to play live music?
TW: I think what made the biggest difference for me was playing live in front of an audience with as many different musicians as possible and not being afraid to play a lot of different styles and practice, practice, practice of course! And always use a metronome. Once you play live with lots of musicians over and over again, you get really comfortable and confident and your playing improves dramatically. That’s probably why we all play as often as we can. It’s pretty addicting. In Funkranomicon, we all have interests outside of Funk so, we do a lot of other things and it keeps us sharp.
JH: What’s next for the band? You’ve got a cool gig coming up at the Quarter Note…what do you want to tell potential audience members about what’s not-to-miss about the experience you provide?
TW: Well, like I said earlier, we improvise a lot. You will never see the same Funkranomicon show twice. It’s always fresh and we always give it everything we have no matter how tired we might be from the kids, work, life! Joe is one of the most energetic frontmen I have ever seen. You really have to see him in action.He is truly inspired. He is on fire!
Scott is well known in the area for his incredible lead guitar playing. He has been playing for well over 30 years and it shows. Every guitarist I know at every level is impressed with him. Pete November is just an absolute Funk monster on bass. It is such a pleasure to groove with him as he lays down the sickest, fattest Funk lines. I seriously think he knows every Funk line ever played. It’s amazing.
Warren, like Scott, is schooled in music and he is a great musician. He really knows his theory as does Scott. Warren went to Berklee and Scott studied at UCLA, I believe. These guys really know their music and help us navigate tricky parts and string things together our own way. Warren covers the big chords, all the horns and the funky clavinet type stuff that is a huge part of the Funk sound. He even does some cool vocal stuff on the vocoder. The audience loves it!
Our most recent addition is Jackie Turner on vocals. She does all the harmony stuff and sings some lead too. She is a lead singer in her own band and brings such a soulful sound to the band and gives Joe something to work off of. She is a real talent and we are lucky to have her. One of the bartenders told me she is the best singer they have ever heard in that bar. I would say that would go for just about any bar. Come see us. You won’t be able to sit still! We post our gigs on Facebook and our website www.bookoffunk.com We also have a mailing list you can join on our website.
JH: Would you consider yourselves to be really focused and serious or more laid back and fun loving?
TW: We are always having fun, cracking jokes and generally goofing around and I think it comes across to our audience that we are having a great time, although we can probably look pretty serious at times with our Funk faces on. Funk can be serious business. You can’t fake the Funk, baby! Come see us.You won’t be able to sit still!
Funkranomicon plays The Quarter Note in Sunnyvale April 1st at 9:00 pm and Joe’s Bar April 29th at 9:00 pm.
A solo classical guitar breathed seductively into the winter chill as I let myself into the Hill Guitar Company showroom in Ben Lomond, CA. Gentleman luthier, Kenny Hill, sat just inside, momentarily absorbed in music making, hands wrapped purposefully sensuous around one of his own instruments. The music was written by someone he knew, “It’s a lovely piece, full of tucks and folds.”
Master builder of contemporary nylon strung classical guitars in San Lorenzo Valley since the 1970s, Kenny Hill enjoys a personal and well-rounded relationship with guitar making. He started out as a guitarist – an aspiring classical player – who began making guitars as a hobby “to get a more complete feel for the instrument as an extension of the music, to understand the instrument more biologically.”
He played professionally for a few years then dropped out of the scene briefly in the 80s. He got back into it after the earthquake. “I got really shaken up…I was on 17 and wrecked my car.” He came back to guitar making with a more businesslike approach. “I got organized, more realistic about running a business. It was a second beginning.”
Now with worldwide renown, the secret ingredient for him is his lifelong immersion in the instrument as a player, a composer, and a builder. “It gives me a certain insight,” he says. He developed his own uniquely personal guitar building style based on classic Spanish traditions and global influences, pulling from a number of different inspirations to “produce something very full of life for players and for audiences…capable of playing adventurous new music” while still holding true to rigor. “It makes for a great feel.”
Admitting to having a certain creative arrogance from youth, “I wanted to keep my artistic purity pure, so I ignored the past.” Part of his second beginning included realizing that he was a fool for not learning from the ones who came before. “I was a presumptuous schmuck.”
“We tend to be lone wolves, very opinionated and stubborn, which can make for a lot of boondoggles and blind alleys” in making a fine instrument.
The instinct to break barriers remains; to be “tilting the gravity a bit.”
“Innovation is finding a need that no one knew they had. And it helps to be right about it and persistent. I find what pleases me, that’s the best way.” He gets flashes of insight which compel him to straddle different aesthetics. “I love finding something completely new and unexpected. I revere the work of the future.”
Quality is “under the hood” in the engineering that makes his guitars excel. “Playing a guitar, you’re embracing it, caressing it with both hands – that’s one of the things that’s so magical about it.” He explained that nylon strings are softer, more embraceable, and the tension is lower for a more relaxed instrument. “It’s more dynamic, you can shape the sound. I want the player to be able to coax whatever they want out of the guitar. It’s a matter of flavor and style, the guitar will give you back whatever you can put in.”
“Some guitar makers are trying to find an engineered formula, trying to predict outcomes.” Kenny creates things that suit his fancy. Most of the time he doesn’t know what he’s doing going in, he says. “I’m making strokes, seeing patterns emerging.”
He notes that custom guitar makers, especially in the US, enjoy three kinds of prestige: Which famous artists buy your instruments, how much you charge, and how long you have to wait for the instrument to be made. “I don’t like that. I’m a musician.” But of course he’s flattered when a big time artist picks up one of his instruments. “Great musicians inspire me. I become inspired as a maker, a player, as a person.”
Top classical guitarists from around the world revere Kenny Hill guitars. “We have a very good reputation,” Hill says. “And I answer the phone.”
He’s swamped with custom orders right now. When asked how long it takes to build a custom guitar, Kenny says he “puts it together like a meal. Any guitar is made out of 4 or 5 kinds of wood from all over the world. It’s a little bit like selecting ingredients, you want good quality ingredients. I get them from the source.” A Hill guitar takes a few months to build once an order is placed.
“I want to see the instruments getting into people’s hands. I love it when young, upcoming players get one. My most satisfying client base is young kids taking up the instrument and taking it seriously. It becomes part of their growth, part of their musical evolution,” he says.
For Kenny the joy of guitar making is everything from “the wood, the tools, the satisfaction of the craftsmanship, the cross-cultural relationships, an opening of the world – it’s got the whole thing.”
“And it’s very cool to be here in the valley – an ideal, marvelous place to be based.” For his family, the village atmosphere, plus the cultural stimulation from Santa Cruz. “It’s a great springboard.”
“We’re trying to make the world a better place, it’s pretty simple, through affection for the guitar. We’re not destroying resources, not taking away from more important things in life, we’re not bad for your health. It’s low impact in a global sense but high impact on the quality of the person’s life.”
“The intensity of thought, the hope in every living soul. Making guitars has vitality and impact and gives me a great deal of pleasure.”