Still Gandhis — the funk-soul-rock tribe formerly known as Boxing Gandhis — stake out a residency at WitZend

By Bliss Bowen

The Still Gandhis specialize in hip-grinding grooves Photo by Doug McNamee

The Still Gandhis specialize in hip-grinding grooves
Photo by Doug McNamee

Veteran bands often reunite for money rather than for love, but more organic forces propelled one local band’s re-emergence on the club scene.

Boxing Gandhis, who started rocking Los Angeles clubs in 1991, made their name with funky live shows and a pair of albums: a self-titled 1994 debut on Mesa Blue Moon, which spawned a #5 hit on Billboard’s Adult Album Alternative chart, “If You Love Me (Why Am I Dyin’)”; and 1996’s “Howard” on Atlantic.

Their soul-affirming, environmentally conscious message and hip-grinding grooves spiced corporate radio’s bland menu as they opened tours for Dave Matthews Band and Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

At the end of that decade, they took “a little break.” Over the intervening years they’ve periodically reteamed to play community events and record.

“We’d do benefits and some gigs, fall in love again and do it for a while,” saxophonist/vocalist Ernie Perez recalls. “At one point we realized that our music took on a life of its own.”

What brought them together again last year, he says, was a prospective Boxing Gandhis documentary. Said project never took wing, but friends at WitZend got wind of it and invited the Gandhis to play a show. The monthly residency into which that Song Night has evolved represents completion of a circle.

“We [invite] an artist or two to join us, learn three or four of their songs, and we back them up and add our own Gandhi flavor to it,” guitarist Eric Fowler explains. “Saturday, we’re going to have [blues guitarist] Joey Delgado and Rebecca Carlish, who [WitZend owner John Nau] and I worked with years ago. …

“Ernie and I have been playing music together since ’91, ’92. John Nau, he’s played keys with us, I’ve known him since ’99 and our kids play together. We go to Christmas dinners together. It is a total community. Remember when Jon Brion would do nights at Café Largo? We want to create a similar night at WitZend, where you never know who’s gonna jump onstage.”

“A lot of people in the band have other projects, back up other people on tour, so there are a lot of interchanging parts,” Perez says. “But it’s awesome. People always talk to us, they’re emotional, they come up and they’re like, ‘Wow, we felt that.’ When we play the music that’s only half the story; it’s also the people who give you the time and the love. … We’re blessed to be in that position. How many bands would love to have a place where they can say, ‘Hey, man, this is our camp first Saturday of the month’?”

Not all the original members are present at every show; some, like percussionist Brie Darling and bassist/guitarist David Darling (an in-demand producer who wrote most of the band’s early material), guest when other commitments allow. The core band now includes Fowler, Perez, keyboardist Ted Andreadis, saxophonist Alfredo Ballesteros, drummer Gary Pavlica and bassist Yukihide Takiyama.

They’ve tweaked their name to Still Gandhis, but what hasn’t changed is their earthy, jammy vibe. At one recent show, as audience members pushed aside tables and danced, players grooved so deep in the moment they lost track of the hour and started composing a song onstage.

Another constant is their uplifting message of brotherhood and peace. The industry may have radically transformed, radio may sentence band heroes like Curtis Mayfield and George Clinton to oldies purgatory, but the Gandhis believe music still fills a vital role in contemporary culture.

“Absolutely,” Perez says. “We’re going to be the ones to record our history. Look anywhere in the world, people want the same thing: Everybody wants to feel happy, wants to be safe, wants to know their kids are growing up in good environments and there’s love everywhere. Our music has always been that positive thing. It’s all about that love thing. It sounds kind of corny, but that is who we are.”

“The world we live in today is much more complex with all the different issues that are out there,” Fowler observes. “Things are so politically divided. You’re seeing people afraid to come out and say what they feel because they don’t want to be ostracized. You really have to have the courage of your convictions. …

“It’s not to say there aren’t artists coming out with strong messages,” he adds, singling out “amazing songwriters” Fink, Mike Farris and John Fullbright for praise. “But artists realize they have to be careful what they say, more so than in the past.”

“When I wake up in the morning and I can speak and I can sing and I have a voice, it’s
a good day,” Perez says. “I’m blessed to be in a band that I love and play music for people. Being the Gandhis, you know it’s going to be soulful and you know it’s going to be funky.”

Still Gandhis and special guests Joey Delgado and Rebecca Carlish play at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at WitZend, 1717 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. $12. Call (310) 305-4792 or visit stillgandhis.com.

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