Interview by Scott Preston
Soul music is here to stay, and it’s still evolving. The Dynamites Featuring Charles Walker are living proof. Lead singer Charles Walker doesn’t imitate, emulate or try to resuscitate a bygone nostalgic era. He is soul, the real deal, still carrying the flaming torch of funk and soul lit back in the late 60’s at the Apollo Theater where he opened up for icons like James Brown and Wilson Pickett.
Just as Ry Cooder thrust the nearly-forgotten Cuban heroes of son and bolero into international fame on the album Buena Vista Social Club, so have The Dynamites proven that national treasures of soul and funk like Charles Walker still walk amongst us. What’s more, the fresh songwriting approach of Bill Elder, a.k.a. Leo Black, continues to push the deep funk envelope, propelling Walker to sound equally at home singing a scorching hot, up-tempo rocker as he does on a heart wrenching 60’s-style soul ballad.
The Dynamites aren’t alone. The burgeoning wave of the deep funk and soul movement is turning heads. A 2008 article in USA Today included The Dynamites in the short list of “acts that are wowing live audiences coast to coast with fresh songs and slamming performances.” The article also got it right in asserting the relevancy and freshness of the deep funk movement: “These critically lauded acts aren’t cover bands, paying homage to old heroes. They’re creating their own legacies in a genre that the industry seemingly shelved long ago.”
Apropos to being timely, The Dynamites second album, Burn It Down (out September 15, 2009),has something to say about life in 2009. From its raw opening notes, it wastes no time getting to the gritty heart of the matter: complacency has ruled the roost for too long and the old ways have got to go. Punctuated by staccato horn section bursts and Walker’s intense proclamation that “it’s been a long time coming,” the vibe evokes the ominous flames of incendiary times. But this isn’t about mere destruction, and vandals didn’t light this fire. It’s a song about moving on, and above all about clearing space for a new day and new possibilities.
Cincy Groove: How long have The Dynamites been together?
Bill Elder: Almost 4 years. We started rehearsing 4 years ago and I really kind of think of the real start of the band the following spring. That’s when we had our first release and started touring.
Cincy Groove: How did you hook up with Charles Walker?
Bill Elder: Well I kind of put the whole group together for fun for this 2 night Soul Revue. I wasn’t in a huge hurry to really get it going full time because we all had other things going on at the same time. Charles (Walker) was actually part of an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame of all places. The exhibit was called The Night Train to Nashville, which highlighted the golden era of soul in Nashville. The guy who curated the exhibit also put together a concert and rounded up everybody who was still around from that time. Charles ended up being a center focus of the event. The promoter was a friend of my now partner who then told him about Charles and my partner told me about Charles.
Cincy Groove: I see that your new cd “Burn It Down” just came out last week. What was the inspiration behind the music?
Bill Elder: It goes to a lot of different places. We are continuing to try to hit all the various elements of the soul canon. At the same time we also are trying to put a new twist on the music and talk about whats going on today. There’s quite a bit more social consciousness on this record which is also a big tenant of soul music. I would say the overall message is one of regeneration. When you look at the cover of the Burn It Down album, its very evocative in the imagery it portrays. Sometime things have to burn down to be built back up again. Kind of like the way a forest regenerates itself. There’s just been so much change, especially with the election of Barack Obama and also a lot of unrest in the last 7 or 8 years. The record was really inspired by a lot of those events.
Cincy Groove: With so many musicians in The Dynamites, whats the creative process like in the studio?
Bill Elder: I do most of the writing but there’s actually a couple tunes on the new record that I didn’t have any hand in writing at all and they turned out incredible. As time goes on everybody will become more involved in the writing process.
Cincy Groove: I see that you have an European tour coming up in October. How many times have The Dynamites performed overseas?
Bill Elder: This will be our 6th trip over to Europe since 2007. The greatest thing we have going for us over in Europe is the booking agency / label that brings us over. They just do a hell of a job. They have a well thought out and well executed long term strategy. They do whatever it takes to get people in the room and really build everything up the old fashioned way. I really haven’t seen a successful independent model of that in America.
Cincy Groove: Who do you consider some of your influences?
Bill Elder: Obviously the biggest one is James Brown, that’s the bug that bit me really early on. It made me wonder why everyone doesn’t listen to this kind of music all the time. Hank Ballard, Lee Dorsey are a couple more and that’s before I even scratch the surface of all the great New Orleans musicians that led me to where I am today. I’m from New Orleans, so growing up there gave me the chance to be exposed to some great music.
Cincy Groove: Are there any upcoming gigs your excited about?
Bill Elder: Friday the 25th at The Southgate House in Newport, KY. I tell people this and I promise it’s not something that I tell all the girls (laughing), but the Southgate House is one of our favorite places to play in the world. Definitely in our top 5. With it being Midpoint we are looking to having a big night over there. We try to come up the to the N KY/Cincinnati area 2-3 times a year. Of course with King Records and all the soul music history, makes playing in the area all that more special.
The Dynamites are: Charles Walker (vocals), Bill Elder, a.k.a. Leo Black (guitar), Chris West (saxophones and flute), Jon-Paul Frappier (trumpet), Charles Treadway and Tyrone Dickerson (organ), Chris Patterson (percussion), Derrek Phillips (drums), Jonathan Jackson (saxophone) and Rich Brinsfield (bass).
The Dynamites with Charles Walker will be performing at the Midpoint Music Festival on 9/25 11:00 pm at The Southgate House, 24 East Third St, Newport, KY
Sep 24 2009 Luna Records In-store Indianapolis, Indiana
Sep 24 2009 Radio Radio Indianapolis, Indiana
Sep 25 2009 Southgate House Newport (Cincinnati, OH), Kentucky
Sep 26 2009 Skully’s Music Diner Columbus, Ohio
Oct 1 2009 Live On The Green Nashville, Tennessee
Oct 2 2009 Tipitina’s Uptown New Orleans, Louisiana
Oct 7 2009 Trix — Antwerp, BELGIUM Antwerp
Oct 8 2009 Paradiso — Amsterdam, THE NETHERLANDS
Oct 9 2009 Nancy Jazz Pulsation — Nancy, FRANCE
Oct 10 2009 La Poudrière — Belfort, FRANCE
Oct 11 2009 Studio 672 — Köln, GERMANY
Oct 15 2009 La Clef — St. Germain-en-Laye, FRANCE
Oct 16 2009 Cerdanyola Blues Festival — Cerdanyola, SPAIN
Oct 17 2009 Durango Club — Valencia, SPAIN
Oct 21 2009 Doka Antzokia — San Sebastian, SPAIN
Oct 22 2009 Rocktambule Festival — Grenoble, FRANCE
Oct 23 2009 Stall 6 — Zürich, SWITZERLAND
Oct 24 2009 Victoire 2 — Montpellier, FRANCE