KINGS BEACH — A 400-pound cinnamon-hued black bear sauntered up the middle of Coon Street, forcing an oncoming motorist to brake and steer clear. Perhaps the ambling bruin was attracted to the funk emanating from a nearby house.
“It’s greasy; greasy and sticky,” observed guitarist Barry Slayton who was safe inside a back room with a band working out a song in preparation for the next night’s show.
“Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again” is a Sly & the Family Stone standard so funky it will make any two- or four-legged creature want to move its feet.
Lake Tahoe’s north shore-based Groove Foundry is a horn-driven, eight-piece group with a penchant for R&B style sounds, sometimes misinterpreted as fusion and more appropriately identified as acid jazz; however, the latter term, a band-member pointed out, can have a negative connotation.
“Because,” bassist Barney Drake quipped, “sometimes people don’t take the right kind of acid.”
The mood at the rehearsal is lighthearted, not irreverent. This band is comprised of adults with serious day jobs. A jammed van logging hundreds of miles a day is not part of this jam. Groove Foundry plays close enough to home for its players to sleep in their own beds. Like a band of Buddhas with a horn section, there is a single-minded focus: “Danceable, joyous music; that’s what we concentrate on,” said trombonist Brian “Nak” Nakagawa.
After 13 years in L.A.’s music spotlight touring with Tom Jones and Private Life, Steve Kershisnik, who plays four instruments, in 1995 chose a Tahoe lifestyle, one where he teaches music, tunes pianos and performs as a “weekend warrior.”
“The road isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Kershisnik said. “I didn’t want to be the dad who was never there. … The vibe of the people who I play with in Groove Foundry is what does it for me. It’s fun and joyous.”
When trumpeter Jen Campbell in 2002 moved upstairs at her Tahoe City restaurant, The Dam Café, she fulfilled her dream of having a place where people could meet and play. An F-sharp open jam lasted 15 months and it led to the formation of the Flow, made up future Groove Foundry players.
“Every day I feel grateful for the opportunity to play funky music in Tahoe City with these beautiful people,” Campbell said, paraphrasing the verse from the song of the evening.
“Thank you for letting me be myself again,” Jen’s husband and the band’s lead singer, Glenn, repeated into a microphone, chanting mantras rather than reciting lyrics. “I want to take you higher,” he improvised with another Sly Stone refrain from a different song. “I want to light your fire.”
“To me, it’s like Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison and Tina Turner thrown together with a Tahoe laidback style and you’ve got Glenn,” said saxophonist Todd Mather, a Tahoe City architect who built the band.
“We started as the house band at Bar of America,” Mather said. “It was Barney, Steve, Brian (Silverman, the keyboard player) and me.”
Groove Foundry doesn’t seek growth beyond Tahoe, but it continues to gain popularity.