Funk: A Music Revolution

Funk: A Music Revolution


When it comes to defining the first record in any given genre, there's usually heated debate. But when it comes to pin-pointing the very first funk release, many consider James Brown's Cold Sweat, released in 1967, as ground zero.

The co-writer of that track was brass-player and James Brown's band leader, Pee Wee Ellis, who also co-wrote the era defining Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud with Brown.

An accomplished jazz musician, Pee Wee was mentored by sax legend Sonny Rollins before forming his own band. But a call from a friend who was already playing with Brown took his career in an unexpected direction.

His stint with the established Brown transformed The Godfather Of Soul, bringing a distinct jazz influence into his gospel, soul, R&B mix.

Recalling the period, Pee Wee says: "It was a very exciting time, a real pleasure and watching Mr. Brown work every night was a constant lesson in the art of live entertainment.

"It was hard work and a gruelling schedule, criss-crossing the USA on a tour bus, recording, rehearsing every day, playing constantly, even travelling overseas.

"I had my own seat at the back of the bus where I wrote a lot of music and arrangements. I would rehearse the band on the way to the next gig so they had the next tune ready for Mr Brown when we got to the venue.

"A lot of iconic songs came out of those times."

Pee Wee went on to work with such artists as Van Morrison, Ginger Baker, George Benson, Ali Farka TourĂ©, members of the Buena Vista Social Club, Boy George, George Clinton, and Del La Soul, and continues to play and tour today.

His latest project is Funk: A Music Revolution, a live show that sees him, and various well-known guests, tell the story of funk - from Brown, into the 1970s and 1980s, then into the sampling era, up to the present day.

Among those joining Pee Wee, when he brings the show to Warwick Art Centre in March, are vocalists Omar and China Moses, Brum rapper Lady Sanity, horn players Camilla George and Dennis Rollins, Jack White's drummer Daru Jones, and dance company The Locksmiths.

Meanwhile, the set-list sees the crack musicians aim to work their way through classics by The Meters, Sly & The Family Stone, Rick James, Stevie Wonder, Cameo, and Mark Ronson.

"From 1967 when Mr. Brown and I wrote Cold Sweat until today, funk has been woven into the DNA of popular music," Pee Wee says. "We want to tell that story.

"[Funk] was a music that heralded a new attitude; a new and distinctive black culture, of street culture finding confidence and popularity outside and alongside the establishment.

"Sweeping into mainstream consciousness during the Civil Rights movement [funk] was unlike anything people had heard and its positive energy united a new generation making them proud of their musical, fashion and political tastes."

Funk: A Music Revolution is at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, on Monday 2 March 2020 as part of a brief UK tour. For tickets and more information, see:



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