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Greg Adams In Conversation

Much of the early buzz surrounding the release of 'East Bay Soul 2.0' was about how a sensational campaign to raise the $25,000 necessary to record the album hit its target.  However, now it's all about the music.  Make no mistake; this is a collection of the highest order and everything (plus a little bit more) that one would expect from the artistic genius of its creator Greg Adams.  Of course Adams was the founding member of Tower of Power where his signature sound as performer and arranger made the TOP horn section a sought out entity all it's own.  When recently I talked with Greg via Skype from his office in LA I was eager to discover why he had used Kickstarter as the vehicle for funding the project. 

"The initial motivation was substantially financial" Greg explained "but as the venture gathered momentum it evolved into something more.  My two previous albums, 'Cool To The Touch' and 'East Bay Soul', had been self-financed but this approach was becoming ever more difficult to maintain.  Then we saw an article in New York Magazine about Kickstarter, how it had been named among the top 50 new businesses in the USA and how the initiative had helped inventors, filmmakers and musicians bring their ideas to audiences who appreciated them.  The one thing they all had in common was their independence so we thought, why not us." 

I speculated that the process must have been an emotional rollercoaster and I asked Greg if that had been the case. 

"Certainly" Greg said, "As the amounts pledged climbed toward the required total we went through all sort of emotions.  Up early each day to check the latest statistics, making calculations on how much was still required, counting down toward the figure we needed.  But the pledges just kept on coming.  From $5 to $5000 and everything in between.  As we got closer it became a true collaborative effort.  People upped their pledges and that's when the game started to change.  In the end we exceeded our initial target of $25,000 by over $9000 and we now refer to those who played a part as 'true funk soldiers'.  It has become like a family and even better, these guys are still very much around.  They have taken on the role of 'recruiters' and wherever we play live they are bringing their friends, anywhere between five and twenty people each time.  The word is spreading and that's great." 

'East Bay Soul 2.0'comprises ten fabulous tracks with the majority being written or co-written by Adams.  I questioned him on what his motivation had been to create it. 

"This is an album that takes me back to my roots" he told me.  "When I left Tower of Power I kind of took my sound with me and this is what I'm getting back to now.  But this isn't 1970 when I wrote that sound, its 2012 so although the vibe is the same, the approach is much more up to date.  There is also more variety.  When all these pieces are fitted together that is the real definition of East Bay Soul." 

Much of the power of 'East Bay Soul 2.0' comes from the stellar line-up of musicians involved, ten in all.  From the outside looking in the impression is of a group of good friends coming together and having fun.  I wondered what Greg's history with the band was. 

"Mostly we go way back," Greg revealed.  "For instance I have worked with (guitarist) James Wirrick since the time of my 'Hidden Agenda' CD.  He co-produced several albums with me and we write together often.  Johnnie Bamont (who on the CD plays tenor and baritone saxes) and I were in the same Bay Area high school jazz band.  Michael Paulo and I have worked together often and I have been collaborating with  Joey Navarro and Johnny Sandoval for over ten years.  Of course, on trombone, Lee Thornburg is another of the Tower of Power alumni and as for Herman Matthews on drums, no one grooves harder.  Bass player Dwayne 'Smitty' Smith has played with everyone including Boney James and I have brought in a young trumpeter named Sean Billings who is a real firecracker.  Then there is Darryl Walker on vocals.  Simply the best." 

I had been aware of Walker's input especially to some of the big soulful ballads that Adams has woven into the tapestry of 'East Bay Soul 2.0' and I was curious as how he got involved. 

"While I was still defining what East Bay Soul should really be" Greg proffered, "I knew I wanted a strong vocal presence.  On the previous album I had used four different vocalists including Darryl.  As soon as he came in to record the last vocal, 'I Hope', on the East Bay Soul CD, he was warming up in the booth and right after the first notes it was like Wow, where have you been?  The chemistry was just right." 

One track where Walkerreally excels is 'I'm Coming Home' and I was interested to know more about it. 

"That's a song" Greg revealed "that was brought to me by one of the pledgers, George Grund.  George sent me the tune.  At the time it was an instrumental and around two minutes in length.  I talked to him and suggested it needed a lyric.  George readily agreed.  Andrea and I wrote the lyrics and Darryl's vocals fitted them to perfection.  George was previously in the military and the whole song brings to mind a veteran returning home from Afghanistan or Iraq to his loved ones.  Whatever your political persuasion, that's a very positive image." 

Amongst the soulful ballads, other riches abound and one such gem is the first single to be serviced to radio 'To Catch A Thief' which was inspired by the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name. 

"Yes", confirmed Adams, "It's a track with obvious radio appeal.  Instead of the complete horn section we have simply gone with flugelhorn, Hammond B3 and a string arrangement of mine that on the recording is performed on keyboard by Joey Navarro.  In the movie Cary Grant plays the role of reformed jewel thief John Robie who is known as "The Cat".  I see the flugelhorn as Grant and the strings as his leading lady Grace Kelly.  That's the interplay I was going for.  I'm really pleased it's doing so well." 

Albums from Greg Adams don't often include cover versions but for 'East Bay Soul 2.0' he finds space for a sublime take on Marvin Gaye's seminal 'What's Going On'.  I probed Greg about its inclusion. 

"Both 'What's Going On' and the Al Green number 'Lets Stay Together' are both big favorites in our live shows" he offered.  "The audiences really love them.  We wanted to include one of them on the CD and, with everything that is going on in the world right now; 'What's Going On' seemed the automatic choice.  When playing live, the opening notes were coming from Michael Paulo on alto sax.  For the album I changed it around and start things off with muted trumpet.  Darryl's voice was the icing on the cake." 

Given the way 'East Bay Soul 2.0' was conceived and funded, the project has united music fans from around the world.  I wanted to know if Greg had a closing message for them. 

"You know" Greg expanded, "I have been so thrilled to have been given this opportunity.  I wanted to give something back musically and I know I couldn't have done any of this without the help of the ranks of true funk soldiers who rallied to the cause.  In the coming months we really want to get out and play more gigs and to meet our fans from around the country.  Dates are being added all the time but one highlight will be New Years Eve at Scullers in Boston.  The last time we played there, on a Wednesday evening, we packed the place out and then some.  We played non-stop for almost 150 minutes and had a complete blast." 

Check the link to Greg's site for where you can see the fantastic East Bay Soul.

We are indebted to Bettie Grace Milner, circa 2012, for the photograph used in this article.

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