I’m the kind of guy who won’t go into a mall after Thanksgiving for fear of being bombarded with stultifying holiday music. However, deep down, there are one or two carols which always seem to get me a little emotional. (“Little Drummer Boy,” by Bing Crosby and David Bowie comes to mind.)
After speaking with Jon McBride, a founding member of the Venice-based New Orleans-style funk band, The Gumbo Brothers, I realized he felt similarly about holiday music.
“I don’t particularly like Christmas music,” says McBride. Which isn’t so abnormal. However, I’m not the one who just poured my heart and soul into creating an outstanding holiday album.
So how does someone who’s not inclined to a certain genre end up transcending that genre? For McBride, it was partly the product of necessity.
“Every year we get hired to play several holiday parties and we always found ourselves throwing together songs at the last minute,” he says. “We would always regret leaving it to the last minute, because there is great potential to re-work holiday songs in a funky style.”
McBride and family certainly live up to that potential on The Gumbo Family Holiday Album.
From the very first song on, it’s readily apparent this is genre busting stuff. The “Sugar Plum Fairy” kicks off the album, which itself is a bit more than bold, as how many rockers really cover Tchaikovsky? But when they add that New Orleans Second Line of drumming, “like that New Orleans street beat marching parade,” as McBride puts it, that’s when it becomes the kind of carol I’d go shopping on Black Friday to hear.
Fortunately though, braving a mall won’t be necessary, as the Brothers and Family are putting on a free show at the Santa Monica Pier at 1 p.m. Saturday, December 6th, to ring in the Christmas season with a proper amount of funk.
The whole Gumbo Family won’t be performing, but there will be enough of them to have a darn good reunion. The show begins with a set by Sugarlick, including the Stevie Wonder tune “What Christmas Means To Me,” which they recorded for the album.
After that, The Kristen Toedtman Band gets its groove on. Toedtman sings “Christmas In New Orleans” and “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” and she also arranged “Silent Night” on the album.
Vinnie Caggiano and several other guests from the album (including some horn players from Critical Brass) will then join the headlining Gumbo Brothers to close out the show with a yuletide bang.
McBride will be playing with all three bands, “just to make sure I don’t get complacent.”
As the holidays are not just a time to get together with family and friends, but also a time to give back to those less fortunate, all the proceeds from the album go to the charity Students Run LA (SRLA, a nonprofit organization that challenges at-risk students to experience the benefits of goal-setting, character development, adult mentoring and improved health by providng them with support to train for and complete the City of Los Angeles Marathon.)
The concert is a pep rally of sorts for the students who are running in the City of Angels Half Marathon the following day.
“The choice of Students Run LA as the charity we planned to benefit was easy,” says McBride. “Eric Spears has been a dear friend of mine and a tremendous fan and supporter of The Gumbo Brothers since our very first days.”
Spears, another Venetian, helped found Students Run LA almost 20 years ago and has watched the group grow from 17 runners at two schools to more than 4,700 students in 160 schools.
Asked about the connection between Students Run LA and The Gumbo Brothers, Spears says, “Its upbeat style, mixed with blues, quick rhythm, and strong electronic instrumentals is appealing to a broad base. The Gumbo’s music is especially good for keeping a running pace.”
Pacing was one thing McBride forgot about while recording the album. He arranged, recorded, edited, mixed and mastered the album in just six weeks. “Jon McBride was the backbone for the whole project. He ate, slept and breathed the album.” Says Kimberly Romano, a member of The Family.
While there would be no album without the vision and tenacity of McBride, there is a reason it’s called The Gumbo Family Album.
“We have been very fortunate to have met and worked with some tremendously talented musicians and singers in Los Angeles and I was anxious to have them involved. There are 25 different musicians and singers on this CD,” says McBride, proudly.
The end result certainly sounds like one big, happy family. It even rocks a version of “Little Drummer Boy.”
Information, (310) 913-5155 of www.thegumbobrothers.com/.