Soulful blues outfit Tweed Funk is still a baby, formed just 18 months ago.
But in that time, the quartet – singer Smokey Holman (formerly of Love's Children), guitarist J.D. Optekar, bassist Donnie Mac (who is Howlin' Wolf's grandson) and drummer Marcus Gibbons (Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds) – has become a household name in the Midwestern blues scene.
When Tweed Funk released its debut disc, "Bringin' It," last year, I called it, "a sultry and soulful blues record -- constructed out of nine originals and a drumtastic cover of Sly Stone's "Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" -- that recalls the classic soul/blues crossover records of the '60s and '70s by the likes of Little Milton and Albert King."
Believe it or not, the group's already got a second disc ready to launch at a release party this Friday at Shank Hall. "Love Is" was co-produced by local guitar giant Greg Koch and adds a horn section and some guest backing vocalists, adding even more dimension to the band's electric sound.
We caught up with Optekar to hit him with five questions about Tweed Funk:
OnMilwaukee.com: Tweed Funk hasn't even really been around for two years quite yet, how do you guys have a second CD already?
J.D. Optekar: The first CD was cut after playing three public shows together and was recorded and mixed in a basement studio, so we felt that we could step-up our game after having played 60-plus shows in the past year. While the first CD, "Bringin It," was well received for its blend of styles and old-school feel, some of the professional critics wanted to see our live energy reflected on the CD and better production values. Also, suggestions from writers of adding a horn-section spurred us on to write new material and include a horn-section on the CD and in our live shows.
OMC: Greg Koch co-produced the record. What did he bring to the process?
JDO: It was great having Greg on board for the CD. Greg was the outside voice for the band directing us to try different things and providing suggestions for parts on songs. His ears and experience in music helped us in tracking and mixing. I must admit I was a little intimidated by his presence – not just because he stands almost a foot taller than me – but he was really great to work with on the CD. In the studio he kept you loose with his crazy, zany comments and was a cheerleader for our success. It was also cool to have him jump in and play on a couple of tracks on the CD. Very much a cult-of-personality and down-to-earth guy at the same time.
OMC: Are you guys aiming for a record a year, in that grand old tradition that seems to have long since died?
JDO: We are really hoping that this CD moves us forward on the national/international level, that we have created a great product that reflects the band's energy, musicianship, vocals and songwriting. Many of the musicians in our genre tour constantly, our goal is to see if through radio airplay and catching some buzz we might be able to skip that step. I don't know if that is possible, but that is what we hope to find out with this CD. So from a financial standpoint we would like to ride this CD for a couple of years. The expense in putting out a CD is not so much the recording and manufacturing of the CD, but the marketing of it on a national and international level.
OMC: How was last year's "Bringin' It" received – both locally and nationally?
JDO: The CD was well received with global airplay and Roots Music Report Chart success. Great feedback from critics on blending together different musical styles and having an old-school Memphis sound to the CD. I think it was most embraced by DJs and critics that were looking for something different than another great shuffle, rhumba, or slow-blues. There are so many great blues bands out there playing killer stuff. Our stuff heads in a bit of different direction just because of our musical backgrounds.
OMC: What's next? Is Tweed Funk hittin' the road?
Our CD Release Party is at Shank Hall on May 11th. We will be doing video and possibly do a live DVD. Also, the lovely ladies from The WhiskeyBelles will be joining us at Shank Hall. Tweed Funk has some great regional blues festivals this summer, a funk festival in Madison, and some top Milwaukee festivals slots. We hope to put a small Midwest tour together for later this summer. With 3 kids and being a stay-at-home dad, who is involved with the community, touring like Reverend Raven is not an option for me. The goal would be to have some success like Kings Go Forth who have been able to do select 7 to 10 day tours on both coasts and in Europe. At the end of the day I have to make enough money to cover child-care :)
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.