Everybody in this band has played music as a full-time source of income. Doing that in this hungry city, it makes you play every note like your life depends on it.
story by Jay Gentile
Yes, they are a jam band. No, they do not wear Birkenstocks, toss around Frisbees, or sell “fatty kind” veggie burritos at shows. Lubriphonic could be more accurately described as a head-on collision between the seemingly dissonant worlds of Jerry Garcia and B.B. King, producing results that are fresh, funky, bluesy and soulful – packaged with stunning live improvisational performances guaranteed to cure what ails you.
The story of this Chicago jam band did not start out in the liberal North Shore or suburban Evanston as you may have suspected, but amongst the grit and workaday toil that is Chicago’s South Side. It was at the legendary blues clubs dotting this blighted urban landscape that the four diverse musical spirits that form Lubriphonic coalesced.
Drummer and onetime street performer Rick King was plucked off the street and brought into the clubs where he would later hone his craft backing blues legends like Koko Taylor, Junior Wells, and Bo Diddley. Lead singer/guitarist Giles Corey has been a member of Otis Rush’s touring band for the past three years. Keyboardist Marty Sammon has played with Phil Guy, Chico Banks and Lurrie Bell, and will be touring with Buddy Guy this summer. Rounding out the band is bassist JR Fuller, who has played with Albert King, Ziggy Marley, Peter Frampton and Branford Marsalis.
While pulled over on the side of the Eisenhower Expressway on Chicago’s West Side, King told Chicago Innerview that he and Corey met through the “beautiful Chicago blues family” and booked a Wednesday night residency at Chicago’s legendary Checkerboard Lounge – where the Stones once played with Muddy Waters. King and Corey were on the lookout for members of a new band, an original rock project dedicated to live improvisation.
“We wanted to take all the stuff we learned by playing in Chicago blues bands and expand on it and come up with our own original music,” said King. “We were lucky enough to play with some of the most legendary people in the field, but for us to keep that going doesn’t make sense because that’s not our voice.”
King says that Corey grew up listening to Otis Rush as a teenager and is now touring Japan with him, a phenomenon not uncommon for the members of Lubriphonic. “All the people we grew up listening to we’re now playing with,” King said, adding that the band has now graduated from the days at the Checkerboard, a.k.a. “Vance Kelly University,” and is branching out on its own.
And while Lubriphonic may classify their sound as predominately jam rock, this is a band that, with its heavy R&B and soul flavors, could never be mistaken for hippie favorites Phish or String Cheese Incident. “We take that element of jazz, the improvisation, and warm it up with soul, R&B and blues, and serve up a new dish for jam-band audiences.”
Yet King does not fear the inherent risk of being pigeonholed as yet another of those repetitive jam bands too stoned to know when to put down the guitar. “I like putting this band in a jam band category because the people who like jam bands are a listening audience,” King said. “They appreciate good energy, good musicianship and good improvisation. There is improvisation in blues, but we wanted to stretch it out further.”
King said that as a whole, the Chicago music scene is very diverse and “very healthy because it presents a ton of opportunities.” On the other hand it is ultra-competitive, King said, particularly in the blues world.
“Everybody in this band has played music as a full-time source of income,” King said. “Doing that in this hungry city, it makes you play every note like your life depends on it, because you know that someone else wants your gig. It changes your approach to music. When you hear Lubriphonic, you hear four hungry players.”
King says the band’s gigs at local clubs and schools (where they do a “Blues in the School” educational program) are all a part of the Lubriphonic mission of spreading good vibes and good music. He said that after Sammon returns from Buddy Guy tour this fall, the band will regroup and continue working on material for its second CD (their self-titled debut, recorded at R. Kelly’s Chicago Tracks and released in 2003, is available on cdbaby.com.) But the big goal, according to King, is to grow the fan base through the band’s trademark live performances.
“I want to get it in front of bigger and bigger audiences,” King said. “I think we can capture the jam band audience and appeal to a lot of other audiences: jazz, funk, blues, soul and R&B, rock, even radio pop. I see radio play possible.”
And King said that this crossover multi-genre audience has all identified with the same aspect of the unique Lubriphonic sound: its uncanny capacity to make people feel better.
“The best compliment I ever got was from a guy who’d never seen us before. He said, ‘I usually go see hard rock live acts, but this music makes me feel like chicken soup.’ That’s what we want to do. A key element in soul, blues and R&B is compassion. It helps heal people.” After a Lubriphonic show, King says, “you will definitely feel better.”
Lubriphonic will play at the Elbo Room June 18 and at Puffer’s June 19.