"The way this whole thing started was really just for fun," says Bill Elder (a.k.a. Leo Black), composer, guitarist, and producer for Nashville funk group The Dynamites. "With all the musicians I worked with, on a production basis and recording basis, we all had similar influences ... stuff very much rooted in the funk and soul origins. It wasn't about the money. It was about getting together and doing a strong soul revue."
Only two years into action, The Dynamites already sound like a road-tested veteran band. Elder spent years working as a record producer in Nashville beforehand. Singer Charles Walker, bassist Jackson Eppley, percussionist Chris Patterson, organist Tyrone Dickerson, drummer Derrek Phillips, trumpeter Jon-Paul Frappier, and sax players Chris West and Jonathan Jackson popped up in Elder's circle in recent years. His experience came in handy when assembling the lineup, writing the songs, and arranging the complex horn and vocal parts.
"It's a dream team out of Nashville, man," says Elder. "It's a humbling thing, the degree of these cats who are dedicated to this thing. Charles was actually part of an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame called 'Night Train to Nashville' a few years ago (the soundtrack was recently released on Lost Highway Records). They did a show to commemorate the release of an album. He was the highlight of the thing. I met up with him and explained the musical direction we were trying to go, played him a few of the deep funk tunes we were trying out, and he was totally into it.
"I can't say enough about the horn section," he adds. "They're some of the hottest players in Nashville, which is one of the most competitive musical areas imaginable. They all have really dug deep and sunk their teeth into the Dynamites."
Walker, 64, the band's lead singer, got his start as a performer at the Apollo club in Harlem. When the revolutionary 'new bag' now known as funk first made the scene, Walker was there, sharing stages with the likes of James Brown, Etta James, and Wilson Pickett. He recorded numerous sides for the soul labels of the era — Champion, Chess and Decca. In the early '60s, his group Little Charles & The Sidewinders became one of the hottest acts on the New York club scene.
"The show is really all about Charles, though," says Elder. "We're there to provide a dynamic and energetic backdrop for him to do his thing."
In Elder, Walker has found a skilled songwriter that writes for his voice. "Before, I didn't have the songs that I felt were right for me," the singer says. "Now, I can pick and choose the songs I want to do. When I was with Chess and Decca I did what they wanted me to do. I feel so confident now. I can remember being under so much pressure to try and get a hit record. Now I'm just in there doing what I like to do."
Elder spent two years composing and fine tuning arrangements before the band ever hit the stage. "The music is put together in a very calculated way, though it doesn't necessarily give that impression," he says. "Every piece has to be looked at from a spatial standpoint, a rhythmic standpoint. It's about every instrument having its own space to do its thing."
The band's debut, Kaboom!, was recently released on Elder's own label, Outta Sight Records. The kick-off tune, "Body Snatcher," is basically their theme song, jumping high and demonstrating the band's technical virtuosity and energetic style. The funky groove is easy to catch in "Can You Feel It?" and "Come On In." The fast-paced shuffle and percussive horn work of "Every Time" is full of the James Brown spirit. The straight-from-the-heart, slow-burning ballad "Dig Deeper" pulls from way down in the soul.
"We normally start our shows like the album starts out, with that instrumental 'Body Snatcher,' and it has the big, huge boom there on the top," says Elder. "It's pretty relentless. Then we do a few more instrumental numbers, in true, old-school soul band fashion. When Charles gets up there, people realize it's the real thing. He's an incredibly dynamic performer and knows how to grab a crowd and bring them into his thing."