Reverend Barry & Funktastic Soul featuring the Hellacious Horns are an 8-pc funk band from Sarasota, Florida. The band was formed in 2013 by “Reverend” Barry Nicholson (bass and lead vocals), along with Chet Gass (guitar) and Paul Evers (drums).
“Chet, Paul and I were in a cover band that played weddings every Saturday. It was eating our souls alive. After 3 years of playing brainless pop songs with 2 chords, something had to give. We decided to start a second band on the side to play the kind of music we wanted to play. All of us are huge fans of funky horn-centered bands like Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power, so the decision to start a funk band with a horn section was an easy one”. says Nicholson.
The decision may have been easy, but the execution was anything but. For starters, the only horn player they knew was the sax player in the wedding band, and it turns out he didn’t read music. “We played our first gig, and the other horn players told me the sax guy was improvising all night because he couldn’t read the charts” laughs Nicholson.
It turns out, with a 4-pc horn section (trumpet, trombone, baritone sax & alto/tenor sax), reading charts is critical to keep the horn section tight. The only problem is, horn charts are expensive, and they’re hard to find. “When I finally found a resource for charts, I was paying $15 per song, and we needed over 40 charts to start off with”. The three of them decided to pool their money, not just for charts, but for all the equipment they would need. “We didn’t have any of our own stuff. We needed microphones, PA system, cables, everything”. says Nicholson. “It was definitely a leap of faith. Before our very first gig, the band was already in a lot of debt”. With local nightclubs notoriously paying very little, even for 3-pc and 4-pc bands, the idea of an 8-person band seemed crazy. “I really had no idea if we would make any money, or if we would even find a place with a stage big enough for us”.
But it turns out Nicholson’s concerns proved unfounded. “Our very first gig in Sarasota, we had 175 people show up and they all paid a cover charge. Still to this day, I have no idea where they all came from”. Nicholson muses. Since then, the numbers have just went up. “We seemed to have struck a chord with the folks around here. We play songs by Earth, Wind & Fire, Commodores, Kool & the Gang, James Brown and other great funk & soul groups from the 60s-80’s, but we play them in the way that they were originally recorded, with a live horn section. The audience loves it.” Last year the band held their own New Year’s Party, rented a ballroom and ran their own ads, mainly on Facebook. They sold 550 tickets and sold out the venue 10 days in advance. They’ve gained a reputation all over southwest Florida as a great live act.
A few years have went by, and the band has honed it’s sound, and it’s lineup. Chet Gass, “The Boy Wonder”, is the band’s 24-year old musical genius. Not only does Gass play guitar, keyboards, Roger Troutman-style talk box, bass, & drums, he also recorded, engineered & mixed the band’s first album. “Chet one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever played with, and he’s also one of the hardest-working. He spent countless hours recording and mixing this record, and it sounds amazing” says Nicholson.
The band now includes Grammy winning artist Jayar Mack (keyboards, lead and backing vocals) formerly with Latin Jazz group CINTRON, as well as Grammy-nominated lead vocalist Yaya Diamond. Also included on the recording are Grammy-winning saxophonist Kenny Anderson, formerly with Miami Sound Machine and jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.
The horn section is comprised of Chris Chiodo (trumpet) and Don Parker on trombone, a 15-year veteran of the circus. “Sarasota is the home of Ringling Brothers Circus, so it’s not uncommon to find horn players around here who have traveled the world, playing under the big top in large horn sections, so that definitely helps” says Nicholson.
After 3 years of playing covers, the band started to get the itch to write their own material. “We love funk, especially from the 70’s & 80’s: Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, Average White Band, Prince, Parliament Funkadelic, The Bar-Kays, The Isley Brothers, Commodores, Lakeside, Kool & The Gang, Zapp, Dazz Band, The Gap Band, James Brown, The Time, Rick James, etc. But we’ve noticed that when we play the more obscure funk covers, the audience doesn’t know the songs. So we figured if we’re going to play funk songs that nobody knows, they might as well be our own” laughs Nicholson. “Actually, the truth is, we feel like there’s an audience for this type of material worldwide. Bands like Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power are still touring, playing to packed houses in Europe & Japan. And the music festival market in the U.S. is growing like crazy, and modern funk bands like Dumpstaphunk, Lettuce and Vulfpeck are the headliners.”
Even pop music is getting funkier. “One of the biggest hits of the last few years was Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars – a funk song with a horn section. Imagine that! Now with 24K Magic, with the talk box intro, and the Moog bass, Bruno is venturing into 80’s funk territory. Heck, we all know Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” was a Marvin Gaye knockoff, and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” had Chic’s Nile Rogers’ funky guitar. I see pop music with a funky edge as definitely a positive thing.”
Not that Nicholson cares for most pop music. “My teenage daughter listens to pop radio in the car, and what I hear in today’s pop music, is some person singing, with sounds generated from someone’s laptop. None of the sounds are actually made by humans. As a result, the vocals are usually non-stop. No instrumental breaks. No interesting chord changes, nothing. Just some catchy hook, repeated ad nauseam”.
But Nicholson doesn’t pigeonhole an entire generation because of bad pop music. “I grew up in the 80’s. We had our share of horrible pop music, too. Just because you’re in your 20’s, it doesn’t mean you have bad taste in music, far from it. When we play in St. Pete especially, we play for a lot of younger people, and they are very receptive to our original material. They don’t care if it sounds ‘old school’, they just like the songs, and that’s what it’s all about”.
Nicholson has strong feelings about the importance of a well-crafted song. “It’s not enough just to have a funky groove. Any band can do that. Listen to old forgotten funk stuff from the 70’s, and it’s usually some instrumental groove that goes on for 10 minutes. We’re not interested in funk for funk’s sake. We still want to write songs that have structure – verses, choruses, bridges, harmonies, tight instrumentation, etc. And yes, every song should have a memorable hook. That’s why we love Earth, Wind & Fire so much. While some funk bands in the 70’s were essentially jamming on tape, EWF was being nominated for 20 Grammys, not for their “funkiness”, but because of the greatness of their songs”.
It’s for this reason that the band’s debut CD contains just 8 songs. “We wanted every track to be quality. There’s no sense in releasing material that you don’t feel strongly about. We feel that every song on this recording stands on its own.”
The band continues to play covers and originals at it shows, and drawing big crowds, but they’re looking beyond the nightclubs into the festival scene and opening slots for national acts. “The festival scene is huge, especially here in Florida, where people come from all over the world to go on vacation and enjoy themselves. Our goal is to play in front of large audiences of music lovers – people of all ages, from all over the world. People who love funky, well-written, catchy songs. I believe there will always be an audience for that.”