When you’ve worked with James Brown, Ray Charles, Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis, as well as playing in the famed Count Basie Orchestra, the world can become a little more ordinary and a little less exciting. However when you’re Fred Wesley nothing could be further from the truth.
Having already sold out his first show at The Basement on Sunday Aug 9th and with the tickets for the Aug 10th (TONIGHT!) show selling fast, Fred Welsey took some time off from the Trombone to catch up and tell us all about the world of Wesley.
Oh and just so you know klezmer is a form of Jewish folk music.
Music Feeds: Are you excited about playing in Australia, have you been here before?
Fred Wesley: Yes, I’m very excited about playing in Australia. I’ve been to Australia before, with James Brown in 1987, but this will be the first time I’ll be coming with my own band.
MF: It will be a great thrill to see you perform at The Basement on Sunday August 9, can you give us a glimpse of what we should be expected to see at the gig?
FW: You will see the Fred Wesley band known as the NEW JBs. Bruce Cox on drums, Michael Mondesir on bass, Reggie Ward on guitar, Gary Winters on trumpet and Barney McAll, who just happens to be an Australian (from Melbourne), on piano. These are very fine jazz musicians who have embraced the funk and play it magnificently. So you’ll hear songs by The JBs and some of my originals and some classics by other jazz and funk artists.
MF: What are we going to see at your show that we won’t see anywhere else?
FW: You’ll see and hear me do some vocals like “Breaking Bread,” “House Party” and “Bop To The Boogie.” You’ll hear some great solo work by Gary Winters, Bruce Cox, Reggie Ward, Barney McAll and Michael Mondesir. And you’ll see some dancing. Very little dancing.
MF: Firstly I must ask, just because myself and I’m positive countless others out there are such huge fans of his work, what was it like working with James Brown and being his music director?
FW: I had to first adjust my temperament to his style of leadership. In fact I was so out of adjustment to his style of leadership that I quit for a year. I just couldn’t take his humiliations and his belittlements and him wanting to be in control all of the time. But after a year I came back with a new attitude. I submitted to his will and realized that he was the boss and did everything he said. I was lucky the job was still there after spending a year in Los Angeles trying to get into what was a closed clique in the Hollywood studio scene. I found that James Brown was a very creative person who needed a musician like me to put all of his grunts and beats into musical language and turn them into musical masterpieces. We worked really well together creating songs like “Hot Pants,” “Good Foot”, “Big Payback” and all those great albums.
MF: Do you have one particular anecdote involving James that you are fond of that you could share with us?
FW: Once Mr. Brown got mad with a guitar player I had been training for a long time and said that he was going to fire him. I told him that if he fired him I would quit. He said, “Look son, if you love that guitar so much, send him some of your money every week. Don’t both of you be broke.”
MF: Growing up you were the son of a big band leader and I imagine that may have been your greatest influence, but what were some other important influences, be it people/albums/tracks/events that shaped the way you learnt to play the trombone?
FW: I learned to play the trombone by listening to other instruments. I not only played in my father’s band but in a lot of other bands around town. I played in bands that needed guitar, so I played the guitar part and same with sax, I played the sax part. I replaced the baritone sax played in the Ike and Tina band. I even played the vocal part on such tunes as “Stop In The Name Of Love.” So I never played the trombone as a trombone but to imitate other instruments. That’s why my style is so unique.
MF: Was Jack Teagarden’s and J. C. Higginbotham’s playing of particular importance to you?
FW: Not really. They are both very fine trombone players but really I studied be bop trombone players like J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller and Frank Rosilino when I decided to really play jazz trombone.
MF: Are there any particular people/albums/tracks that continue to influence the way you play today?
FW: I would love to play with the wild abandon of Maceo Parker or the complete knowledge of the instrument like Pee Wee Ellis. These two guys continue to amaze and influence me.
MF: Obviously you’re a well known Funk-great appearing in such great bands such as Parliament Funkadelic and the Maceo Parker Band, but you are also an accomplished Jazz musician, joining the famed Count Basie Orchestra in 1978. How did you have to change your playing technique in order to accomplish the change in musical style?
FW: I didn’t have to change my technique; I just had to use other aspects of my technique. I had to play softer and sometimes louder and faster and slower with the Basie band. I would have to use all of my techniques all the time in the Basie band. In the funk bands I would have to use only one or two techniques most of the time, usually loud as you can as long as you can, but not always.
MF: What artists/musicians do you listen to most today? Much modern funk/jazz? Or do you remain loyal and exclusive to the older music?
FW: It’s hard to find an artist today who is not trying to imitate what the older musicians have created. I listen to gospel a lot although a lot of it also imitates the older stuff. But they do it a different way, a more elaborate way. Over arranged. Layers and layers of vocals, horns, guitars. But I like it. And the rappers use bits and pieces of old stuff and put it together into a track. My son does that.
MF: Speaking of modern music, you’ve worked with rappers such as De La Soul for instance, what motivated you to do that?
FW: We were reaching out to what was happening then. Trying to stay current. I helped a little but I thought it best to stay in my own lane and keep trying to move the music forward my own way.
MF: I’ve always felt that hip hop was to funk what punk was to rock in that it was a stripped reinterpretation where lyrics, vocal timbre and attitude replaced traditional singing and instrumentation, in a sense reconceptualizing the music into a modern setting, would you agree?
FW: Err … yeah.
MF: Are there any genre forms you haven’t experimented with yet that you would like to?
FW: Funny you ask. On the way to Australia I’ll go to upstate New York to experiment with a country artist. He has an idea about “Country Funk.” We’ll see how it comes out. I have high hopes. There is also a klezmer-funk-hip hip album that I have done with clarinet player David Krakauer and Socalled, a Jewish rapper, that will be out in the fall. The project is called “ABRAHAM INC.”
MF: Can we expect to see any new recordings from you anytime soon?
FW: Always thinking of new things to do by myself. I’m working on an album with my granddaughter who is quite the little lyricist. I’ll try to do some tracks and help with some ideas. It’ll be out as soon as we finish it.
MF: Finally, any secret hints that you could possibly give to young aspiring jazz/funk musicians?
FW: Learn your instrument. Keep it honest. Be sure it’s inspired or crafted from something real. It will be good.
If you haven’t bought tickets to see him tonight at The Basement go do it now, I saw the show last night and my god it’s awesome.