FunkDaddies keeps the funk alive


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Many '60s trends have faded in the last 50 years, from bell-bottoms and beehive haircuts to such words such as "groovy."

But at least one 60s-originating trend has remained relevant today, and that's funk, according to the Iowa City-based band FunkDaddies. Despite the pressures of the modern mainstream music industry, FunkDaddies strives to remind people of the tradition of funk and soul.

The five members of FunkDaddies, which will perform for the Friday Night Concert series at 7 p.m. Friday on the Pedestrian Mall fountain stage, have been playing funk, soul and R&B since the band's formation in 2003.

The band's members — Ken Duncan, percussionist and vocals, Billy Davis, saxophonist and vocals, Craig Erickson, guitarist and vocals, Denny Ketelsen, organ, keyboards and vocals, Ken Fullard, bass guitarist and vocals — share a deep passion for funk.

Duncan, a cofounder of the group with Larry Weldon, who passed away in 2007, said his love for funk, soul and R&B music runs back more than 40 years.

"I was drawn to the genre from the very first recordings that I got of Temptations and the Four Tops [as a kid]," he said. "I've been a funk man ever since."

Duncan said much of his and his bandmates early careers had been spent covering the tunes of famous mid-century funk and soul players such as Tower of Power, Earth Wind and Fire, Chicago, Ruby Hancock, and Motown bands.

"We've always been inspired by the great horn bands of the '60s and '70s," Duncan said. "Funk is kind of an outgrowth of blues, soul, and R&B that really can be anything."

Self-proclaimed the "Midwest's hippest band," the FunkDaddies members said they took to the upbeat genre naturally.

"Funk is infectiously rhythmic and makes people want to dance," Duncan said. "The groove is probably the biggest thing that makes funk music what it is."

It is not only the music of the funk and soul age that the FunkDaddies hope to embody but the groovy style and persona that come along with it. Performing with fedoras, colored shades, and a relaxed attitude, the band members said they hope to achieve funk-era flair.

"We channel a lot of retro, high-energy, fun funk-era style," said Erickson, who is an internationally acclaimed guitarist. "It's a really positive vibe, bringing people out of their daily lives into something where it's all about the groove, where you can dance. It's a happy, high-energy, fun thing."

In an age in which hip-hop, rap, and pop dominate the airwaves, it is easy to dismiss '60s and '70s genres as passé. However, Duncan said, he believes the funk sound is still incredibly relevant today.

"It has always been mainstream," he said. "Just look at the music they put in the movies: It's all '60s, '70s, '80s music, whether it's classic rock, funk, soul, R&B, country — whatever."

Not only are classic songs still played in movies and by bands such as FunkDaddies, Duncan said, but today's most popular artists have been inspired by the funk musicians of the past.

"Modern hip-hop and rap built their entire genres on stealing licks from funk, soul, and R&B," Duncan said. "The most famous sample music of rap and R&B of modern artists comes directly from '60s, '70s, and '80s artists that actually wrote them and recorded them."

Duncan and Erickson cited specific modern-day artists who take full advantage of funk influences, from John Legend and Joss Stone to Alicia Keys and Adele and such bands as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Beastie Boys.

"Funk has a good mix of rock, blues, gospel, and a little more jazz sophistication in the horn arrangements and solos," Erickson said. "Bands sample a lot of ['70s artists] because it sounds so good, from the bass lines to the grooves."

Duncan said he agreed.

"I don't think there's any less popularity in it today," he said.

Because FunkDaddies is one of the most booked Midwest bands with experience playing in front of audiences as small as 10 and as large as 15,000, booking the band for the Friday Night Concert series was an easy choice, said Lisa Barnes, the executive director of the Summer of the Arts Program.

"The FunkDaddies has a really good following in this area, and its style of music really gets the crowd going," she said. "It is an exciting band to watch."

The program strives to book groups and artists who have unique performances to offer.

"We like to promote the styles and originality that the local bands provide," she said. "The music they play is very well-known, so that makes it fun for the audience."

Erickson said he is just as excited as his audience to play in the band's hometown.

"I'm definitely looking forward to performing in Iowa City," he said. "I think there are people from baby boomers who were growing up with the original funk of the '70s to a lot of good musicians and a sophisticated musical crowd who really digs that kind of stuff."

Not only do the FunkDaddie members hope to remind older audiences of classic funk and soul bands, they work to introduce the style to audiences of all ages and perform it in a "highly musical, entertaining way," Duncan said.

"We are a very rehearsed band," he said. "We strive to not only be entertaining but to be of a musical quality that pleases the most discriminating audience."

Although the group has had success playing and recording classic funk songs, the members said they hope to expand their itinerary of original songs and record an all-original album in the future.

Duncan said recording both original and cover tracks and performing them in the spirit of their funky predecessors is a major goal of the band.

"The music that we play has longevity compared with most of the new music you hear today," he said. "You bring up artists such as Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder or Earth Wind and Fire. Their music lasts today — it's some of the most popular music you'll ever hear. You go to a party, a wedding, or a dance, and you'll hear that music being played even today."

Despite growing pressure from today's music industry to adopt more contemporary tunes, the FunkDaddies people have resolved to emulate the funk, soul and R&B sounds that have inspired them since youth and to stay true to themselves as artists.

"FunkDaddies is FunkDaddies," Duncan said. "We are who we are."

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