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Published: 2000/08/15
by Bob Makin

Deep Banana Blackout’s Jen Durkin and Eric Kalb: Different Colors in the Painting

Deep Banana Blackout singer Jen Durkin and drummer Eric Kalb were married in Centerport, N.Y., on Sunday, Aug. 6. However they had to postpone their honeymoon when a gig at the prestigious JVC Jazz Festival in Newport, R.I. (formerly known The Newport Jazz Festival) came through at the last-minute for Aug. 12.
Ironically, that was one of Durkin’s last gigs with the Fairfield, Conn.-based Deep Banana Blackout. She no longer wants to maintain the grassroots band’s hectic touring pace on a full-time basis. So she’ll form a new soul-blues band that will feature members of Deep Banana and work often with that group, with whom she’ll also perform and record as a guest.

The newest Banana is Hope Clayburn, formerly of Baaba Seth, a jam band from Charlottesville, Va. Both Durkin and Kalb think Clayburn’s smoother vocals and multi-instrumental talent on sax, flute, keyboards, bass and drums will bring a new dynamic to the endlessly energetic band.

I spoke with the couple a few days before the wedding about new beginnings and a whirlwind of recent activity.

What was the best part about playing the Jammys?

Kalb: For me, playing in the Jammy Orchestra with (The Slip bassist) Marc Friedman and Merl Saunders and John Scofield. It was kind of last minute that we finally came together. It just worked out great. The energy was great and we all played some great music.

It was a lot of fun. How ‘bout for you, Jen?

Durkin: I loved all the musicians that were there. We got to hang out with them and have a party with all the people that we’ve met over the years at festivals and stuff.

Then I got to meet Susan Tedeschi who, it turns out, I know. She sat in with Frogwings. I went to Berklee (School of Music) with her in Boston. I didn’t even realize that I knew her because I had never gotten a chance to see her live so it was really great.

Both Eric and I went to school with her. So we got to hang out with her and Derek (Trucks) backstage.

Is that where the two of you met, at Berklee?

Kalb: Actually, we didn’t know each other at Berklee.

Durkin: It was a pass-in-the-hallway kind of thing.

Kalb: We knew each by face down the road when we met up in Connecticut, like ‘Oh, didn’t you got to Berklee?’ ‘Oh yeah, I remember you.’ But we didn’t really know each other there.

Jen, I know you played in Tongue ‘N Groove, the funk cover band that evolved into Deep Banana Blackout. Did you play in Tongue ‘N Groove Eric?

Kalb: Yeah, that’s where we met. I was playing in Tongue ‘N Groove and Jen used to come down to the gigs and hang out. Eventually Jen became a backup singer in Tongue ‘N Groove. And then when the lead singer left, she became the lead singer. Then Tongue ‘N Groove fell apart and Deep Banana was born out of that.

Was Fuzz in Tongue ‘N Groove?

Kalb: No, Fuzz was down on Long Island. Fuzz and I go way back. We went to high school together. We’ve been playing together for years.

What is your perspective on playing at the Newport Jazz Festival?

Durkin: We’re pretty amazed that we were invited. That was the reason we moved the honeymoon. We were supposed to go on the honeymoon that week, but we found out after we booked the wedding we got this incredible offer to play at the Newport Jazz Festival. It’s kind of an offer that you can’t refuse. I was pretty amazed by that because that’s one of the most prestigious jazz festivals in the country.

You think of the people who’ve played it, like Duke Ellington in 1956.

Durkin: All the recordings that we have from the Newport Jazz Festival, I just can’t believe we’re going to play that. That’s going to be the most exciting thing. But I am looking forward to the Berkfest because that’s our scene. They’re the people that we’ve played with on this national scene. But the Newport Jazz, that’s another level for us.

P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell will be jamming with Gov’t Mule at the Waterloo Music Festival. Since P-Funk is such a big influence on the band and you’ve toured with Gov’t Mule, do you hope to get in on that?

Kalb: Oh yeah. We’d love to play with Bernie. And Warren’s sat in with us before. We did a little tour with Gov’t Mule last year on the West Coast and in the Southwest. It was really great. They’re great guys.

They represent a great combination of our influences between Warren and Bernie because Warren has the strong blues and R&B influence and Bernie is one of the forefathers of the funk movement. That’s really where it’s all at for us, between blues and the funk music.

Throw a little Zappa in there and you’re all set.

Kalb: Speaking of the blues, that Waterloo Festival in Stanhope should be good because there’s this place (in Stanhope) called The Stanhope House. It’s a little blues club, but a lot of great blues players have played there over the years.

Durkin: It’s a real deal blues club. They have pictures of blues legends on the wall who’ve played there. It’s a wooden room with great sound. And the owner is this excellent dude. A real blues aficionado. He’s always got some rippin’ Elmore James playing.

Rob Ortiz (actually Stanhope House’s talent buyer)?

Durkin: Yeah! Yeah! He’s a good guy. They treat us so good there. We have a little Jersey mob that comes to the Connecticut and New York shows. They were so pleased when we were finally playing in New Jersey. They’re a great crowd.

You mentioned how at festivals you get to hang out a little bit with bands that you’re always out on the road with in a little calmer setting than one-night stands. How else are festivals good for the bands and their fans apart from club gigs?

Kalb: There’s going to be wider exposure at festival, depending on what kind of club you play. Plus, just the vibe is great. There’s people who are checking out all the different acts that are there.

For a fan it’s great. I’m a big fan so I love going to the festivals and being able to play and also check out all these great bands. From that standpoint, you can’t beat it. And being able to jam with all the different musicians and meet new musicians, that’s been one of the best things about all this.

Jen, you’re last show is going to be the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival on Aug. 13. Now are you leaving the band on a permanent basis or is it a break for you?

Durkin: It’s multi-faceted. I really want to have more time to work on developing new music and making that a priority for me. It’s been tough because Deep Banana is a large group and in order to stay afloat and keep working and make sure that everybody’s taken care of, we have to tour quite frequently and extensively for long periods of time. I just decided that as much as I enjoy being on the road, I think we’re out a little too much. It’s a little too intense for me. I don’t want to force my decision upon the group so the group is going to continue to do what they want to do and I’m going to break off and do more stuff that I would like to do in my time and schedule. The door is open for me …

Kalb: Yeah, definitely …

Durkin: ... to sit in and do other recording projects in the future. I might be a special guest from time to time. But Deep Banana is going to go through a big change. I think it’s going to be more exciting for people to come and see us because we’re going to be going through this change. I’m going to get to do a side project and some other little projects that are music-related but not music performance- or writing-oriented. I’ve had this longtime dream of doing a radio show. I’m going to bring that to life in the fall. I’m going to be pursuing it in Connecticut in the fall.

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