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Published: 2001/09/19
by Dewey Hammond

Vinyl’s Rootsy, Retro Flea Market

Six years ago, Vinyl drummer Alexis Razon had never heard of the jamband genre. But six years ago, no one had heard of Vinyl either. Maybe that is because they were just a handful of friends playing music in a basement in Mill Valley, California. However, this eight-person funk machine possesses the poise, precision and flavor of a band that has been around much longer. “It slowly became just a collective of players together. It wasn’t even necessarily the band yet, it was just people coming in and jamming,” describes Razon.

In early 1995, the then sextet began to gig but soon concluded something was missing. So Razon, along with brothers Tony and Sean Onorato (percussion), Geoff Vaughan (bass), Billy Frates (guitar) and Jonathan Korty (keys) teamed up with trumpet player Danny Cao, who was playing in the cha-cha band El Camino. Shortly thereafter followed Doug Thomas on the saxophone and flute to solidify the eight-piece latin funk lineup.

Vinyl draws from “a wide range [of influences], a lot of guys like reggae jazz, rock, hip hop,” says Thomas. It does not stop there. One listen to these guys and you will hear blues, head bobbing bebop, and even a little ska. Korty, who not only plays the Hammond organ and keys with precision, but the harp as well, describes Vinyl’s sound as “instrumental, organic, rootsy and retro” while recalling the band’s appreciation of old LP’s, providing the inspiration for the band’s old school name.

Vinyl recently released its third album, Flea Market, on its independent label, Fog Shack Records. Flea Market, the band’s second studio release, follows 1998’s “Live at Sweetwater” and its self-titled 1997 debut. Flea Market accurately portrays the eclectic and passionate mix of percussion, horns, keys, bass and guitar that is Vinyl.

While Vinyl was essentially recorded live in the studio, Frates notes that the band made a deliberate effort during the recording of Flea Market to focus more of a concentration on the mix and the flow of the songs, the result being a 70+ minute compilation of jams that segue beautifully in and out of one another while remaining true to the band’s bread and butter. “A lot of that material and that CD was done completely improvisational, in the studio,” says T. Onorato. Hence the live feel.

Guest appearances by Les Claypool (Primus, Oysterhead, Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade) and Bernie Worrell (Parliament Funkadelic) provide icing on the cake, albeit without Claypool’s signature slap happy funk. The common ground between Vinyl and the former Primus frontman? Flea Market sound engineer Ron Rigler also graces the liner notes of Primus’ Fizzle Fry, Sailing the Seas of Cheese and Pork Soda. Claypool’s proximity to The Pocket Studio in Northern California didn’t hurt either, paving the way for a late night 45 55 minute jam that resulted in Bottom Feeder, the eleventh track on Flea Market.

Asked what it was like to share the studio with Claypool, Vaughan jokes, “He played my bass so I think that probably had a lot to do with how he sounded. For me, it was the same as it was for the rest of us, which is just [having] fun listening to him play his feeling on top of a groove that we created at the moment.”

Since 1995, the band has played over 800 shows, selling out the legendary Fillmore in San Francisco and appearing at the less heralded, but maybe more impressive, Great American Music Hall. Vinyl has also performed at the High Sierra Music Festival, the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival, Mountain Aire Music Festival, Reggae on the River and the Newport Jazz Festival. Not to be forgotten is the granddaddy of all festivals the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival where Vinyl fondly recalls playing sunrise sets for three years running at the Maple Leaf bar. Perhaps topping the list is last year’s February appearance at a sold-out Petaluma, California show, providing back up music and vocals for none other than the legendary Grateful Dead bassist, Phil Lesh. Vaughan describes the experience as “totally fun” and describes Lesh as “so full of life” and “very inclusive” when it came to the music.

The band keeps things fresh on stage and avoids recycling set lists from night to night, but admits that there are only a certain number of songs they can play, given the limited repertoire. “We haven’t in the last year or two been able to write songs as much as we’d like. You’ve got touring and personal lives and rehearsing and all this different stuff. It’s hard to get everything you want. Lately, it’s been a real concerted effort to write,” says Vaughan. As difficult as it can be to balance touring and songwriting, the band points out that many of its tunes result from sound check jams, “especially when you’ve got a real nice sound system,” adds Razon.

Although the band attributes much of its success to its lifelong friendships and preserving the same lineup for five years, they are not opposed to adding additional members. “None of us are against vocals,” says T. Onorato. An interest in a trombone player was mentioned with frequency as well. The band members stress that they would need to find a comfortable match and Cao quips with a smile, “we’d need a bigger vehicle.”

Also not out of the question is signing with a record label. “We’re not in a rush to get signed but if a really good situation comes along, that’s a possibility,” says T. Onorato. We would need “the right fit,” adds Vaughan. “Our eyes and ears are very open. We’re just looking for a good fit. We need to be able to see eye to eye with the label.”

The band embarks on its fifth east coast tour in November and in the future would like to tour both Europe and Japan. Currently, they are touring throughout the west and midwest. Log on to www.vinylgroove.com for tour dates, band info or to purchase the highly recommended Flea Market.

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