PAPA GROWS FUNK ANY PLAYER WITH BIG EASY EXPERIENCE knows a visit to New Orleans is incomplete until you drop in on Papa Grows Funk’s venerable residency at the Maple Leaf on Monday night. At the root is Marc Pero, whose projectile slap & pop and ferocious fingerstyle rumble resonates all around Uptown. Luminaries from all eras and genres appear onstage and in the audience. R&B icon Allen Toussaint and bassist Tom Drummond from alt rockers Better Than Ezra each produced approximately half of PGF’s relentless new booty breaker, Needle in the Groove.
Who was your greatest teacher?
Vinyl. I got my groove from Verdine White. When my uncle gave my dad Rocks, Pebbles and Sand by Stanley Clarke, and I heard Louis Johnson’s guest appearance on “We Supply”— that was it. Johnson’s sound was so wicked that I could not believe it was a bass. I had no idea that the tone was coming from a Music Man, but it became my goal to sound like him. The title track from the Reddings’ album “The Awakening” is just bass and drums, but it’s the most incredible thing you’ll ever hear. Dexter Redding is Otis’ son. I had to learn his bass part. It was literally an awakening for me.
Did you hear a lot of George Porter Jr.’s NOLA-style funk on Meters tunes growing up in Baton Rouge?
Strangely, I was never ever exposed to that. It was just far enough away. Heck, Randy Jackson is from Baton Rouge, but he was never an influence till much later.
You slap with a flick of the wrist. The motion is almost like a “hang loose” gesture, and the rapid-fire result can sound like a machine gun. Who inspired that?
My slap style comes from Louis Johnson and— believe it or not—Mark King. I hold my right hand over the fingerboard where it meets the body and use that as a springboard for my thumb. If you slap further down, it’s not as percussive.
You achieve extra percussiveness from your fretting hand. Where did you pick that up, and how do you execute?
I kind of hammer-slap with fingers 2 through 4 while my 1st finger is barred wherever. I picked that up from Prince’s playing on “Let’s Work” and “Lady Cab Driver.” He’s constantly working in percussive additions with his fretting hand.
What are a couple of your favorite lines from Needle in the Groove?
“Planet of Love & Hate” is a good example of my slap style. “Rollo” is another. Lots of my songs have Sanford and Son connotations and inferences. “Rollo” is pretty much an easy E groove that would make you imagine Lamont and Rollo driving down the road bobbing their heads to it [laughs]. I wrote another called “Fish-Eyed Fool,” which is something Esther used to say. It’s on PGF’s second studio release as well as Live at the Leaf.
Papa Grows Funk, Needle in the Groove [Funky Krewe, 2012]; Func Haus, 11/27/11 (DVD) [Indpt/2012]
Basses F Bass BN5, ’77 Fender Jazz Bass Reissue modiﬁ ed with AGC/East EQ-02 Preamp
Rig Phil Jones M-500 head and 8T & 16B cabinets (24x5), EBS MicroBass preamp
Strings Dunlop (.040–.095 and .040–.125)