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Published: 2003/01/23
by Bob Kennedy

Deep Banana Blackout: An Insider’s Retrospective

{Editor's Note: This essay was written by Deep Banana Blackout's former
manager Bob Kennedy on the occasion of the band’s recent announcement
that it would embark on an extended hiatus]

I’ve been spending my days in reflection as of late. Unfortunately, I was
unable to attend the final Deep Banana Blackout shows (at least the last
shows in the foreseeable future), and I’ve been looking back on the many
years that I’ve known everybody, both as friends and business associates. I
served as Manager of the band from ’97 until the end of 2000, but worked
(and lived) with them in a somewhat less-official capacity for a year or so
before that. Putting this piece together brought back a lot of great
memories and stories, and I’m glad to be able to share them.

I moved back to Connecticut after a short stint in Eugene, OR. in August of
’95. One of the reasons that I came back east was that I knew that my
calling was in the music industry and that being close to New York would be
beneficial in achieving that dream. Just after I arrived home, Jerry died.
Having been a huge Deadhead, that came as a huge blow and we all sort of
wondered what would happen next.

In the years preceding, the hottest band on the local scene was Tongue &
Groove, which featured a rotating cast of characters, but in their prime,
Eric Kalb, Rob Somerville, Bryan Smith, Benj LeFevre (then known as Ben
Carr) and Jennifer Durkin rounded out the rest of the lineup of Andrew
Gromiller, Tom Stonaha and Eddie Beardsworth. Tongue & Groove had gone their
separate ways and Jen & Ben found themselves wanting to continue the path
that TnG had started. They contacted Eric, who brought along his friend
Fuzz, and after a few gigs with a sax player named Pete Baionne, Rob
Somerville showed up with his friend Volo. 15 Year old Johnny Durkin would
sit in when it wasn’t a school night and John Freund (‘96 – ’97) and finally
my friend from California, Cyrus Madan (‘98 -) handled the keyboards.

At the same time, I began booking shows at a relatively large theater in
Norwalk, CT called The Globe. Back to Funk (as they were called then) had
begun gigging around CT and Long Island and having known Tongue & Groove, I
contacted Jen to see if they would be interested in doing a show. Sometime
between booking the show and it actually happening, they decided to change
their name to Deep Banana Blackout. If my memory serves me, Deep Banana
Blackout might not have even been the permanent name until I took out ads in
the paper and made flyers advertising as such. I still have the flyer from
that show, and it says "Deep Banana Blackout: Tongue & Groovers are Back To
Funk" in an effort to make sure everyone knew who the band was.

That spring, everyone loaded into Volo’s parents’ minivan and took what
would become our annual pilgrimage to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. In
hindsight, this is (to me at least) when the band became a "band" in the
truest sense. The bonding and learning and absorption of music on that trip
had a profound effect on all of the musicians.

At the same time, Dupree’s Diamond News, Ken Hays & I were planning a
Grateful Dead Convention, which would feature artists, music and memorabilia
from the 30 years of the Band. At some point, this turned into a camping and
music festival, and Deadhead Heaven was born. Many don’t know this, but Jen,
Johnny and Benj all performed at that show as part of "Georgia Louis’s
Voices of Joy", a Gospel group.

That same summer, the band opened for the Greyboy Allstars with Fred Wesley
at the Globe, and later Maceo Parker, who liked the band so much he led the
crowd in a chant of the bands name "DEEP Ba-na-na BLACKout DEEP Ba-na-na
BLACKout DEEP Ba-na-na BLACKout…) a chant that still stands today (betcha
didn’t know that Maceo came up with that…)

Flash a year ahead – The newly renamed Gathering of the Vibes is taking
place in Westchester County. After pleading with Ken (he’ll deny it, but
it’s true) to let my friends’ funk band play, he finally allowed me to book
them a spot on the Sunday afternoon. In the meantime, in an effort to
alleviate traffic, we decided to let everyone in on Friday. About a week
before the show, We decided to let DBB play up in the campground by the
bonfire. I still meet people who saw DBB for the first time during that set.

We didn’t have the foresight (or was it experience?) to hire a stage manager
for the bonfire set, so the band was left on its own up there. I listened
for a bit, then made off for much needed sleep. Having ingested various
things, they played for hours without anyone telling them they had to stop.
The next day, I found out that they had played until 4 AM…and due to late
night sound complaints, it may have been why we never went back.

The following week, the phones at Terrapin rang off the hook, many of the
people asking how to find Deep Banana Blackout’s tour dates and website
(they had none). At that point, I knew that DBB needed a manager (and who
better but me? :) ), so I volunteered. That first year, the band paid me
$100 a week (sometimes more than they got) and I worked out of the basement
of the new home that Jen, Eric, Jen’s sister and nephew and I had rented
with our friend Hans, affectionately known as the Funk House.

DBB released its first CD Live in the Thousand Islands a few weeks later,
featuring Fuzz’s dad on the cover in a tux, drenched in Thousand Island
dressing. In between the songs, there is a lot of funny business. This was
recorded on a day that we all went up to the studio, found ourselves once
again entering another dimension of time and space and letting the tapes
roll all day. There are hours of hilarious stuff, and what’s on the disc is
just a small taste. I hope someday more of that surfaces – people would love

From the get-go, there were people who believed in this band, the main one
being E!, who started showing up and just doing things for the band – getting them drinks, helping load their gear and later on when they finally
got some, selling merchandise. That July, E! quit his job and devoted
himself full-time to the band as tour manager. To this day, E! has
tirelessly been there for DBB and having worked with many different bands, I
know that that E! is one of the best tour managers in the biz.

That Fall, DBB was offered its first college show, which involved a road
trip to Virginia to play at Washington & Lee University. I remember that the
band was so psyched about getting paid $1000 for a show that they didn’t
mind doing a late gig in Long Island and then driving all night to Virginia
for another show the next afternoon.

In late ’97, we landed DBB its first real NYC gig at the Wetlands, opening
for Moon Boot Lover and headliner Ominous Seapods. In the poll at the door,
DBB drew over 250 people (very impressive when the club only expected them
to be worth 50) and they were invited back in December for a gig with
Fatbag. Somewhere in between, the band played at Shenanigans in Norwalk,
where, again in a somewhat altered state of reality (Somerville says not
him, but I think he’s fibbing), the band improvised a little segment during
"Message from the Meters" that was a very primitive version of ‘The Boot".
The version as you know it made it’s debut at the Wetlands that December
night, and the Boot was officially down.

A few nights later the band wrapped up a highly productive year with a NYE
show at the Globe that featured a giant horn section (Bryan Smith on tuba,
Fred Fiedler on trumpet, Mike Volo on Alto in addition to Rob Somerville &
Rob Volo), two Keyboards (outgoing keys man John Freund and incoming Cyrus
Madan), and Hans and Johnny on percussion. It was a great night, although
the band was not at its best, partially because of all the added musicians,
partially because of the party backstage :).

Somewhere around that time, we did our only show at the Lion’s Den in NYC.
The Wetlands didn’t think we were ready for a headliner, and we thought we
were, so the Lion’s Den gave us a shot. That night, we met some of the
people that would become known as the New Jersey Funk Mob. The NJFM were the
first group to hit the road with the band…and it was another milestone for
us, realizing that people actually cared about the band and the music. Soon,
They were followed by the CT Funk Mob, the LI Funk Mob and the NY Funk Mob
and we had ourselves a real little scene. Oh – and the Lion’s Den show
nearly sold out!

Early ’98 found the band doing its first ‘real’ tour, going to Virginia, and
North Carolina, then returning for the first Boston show, at Mama Kin, with
old friend Andrew Gromiller opening. It also featured our first Snow Barn
(MT. Snow) shows, which would become an annual tradition and still creates
great memories of late night hot tubs, Dr. Dancepill and some real serious
partying. I also remember the band thinking it would be cool if there was a
bass solo in the middle of Getchall in the Mood. And when it happened at Mt.
Snow, I can still vividly remember E! & I looking at each other, mouths wide
open and speechless. That was a true transcendent moment, and everybody
there felt it.

We also hit Burlington, Northampton and Portland, Me. for the first time.
There was an amazing thing happening, and we could all feel it. We sold out
the Wetlands as a headliner. We were selling tickets, we were selling CD’s
and clubs WANTED to book us. Life was good. I even got a raise to $150 a
week ;)!

The Gathering of the Vibes in Plattsburgh, New York was, as usual, another
launching pad for the band and they rose to the occasion, playing two great
sets and being joined for the first time by Michael Ray for amazing versions
of Getchall in the Mood, El Sol and Kool & The Gang’s Funky Stuff.

July, 4, 1998. I had a great idea – Let’s rent the pool bar at the Marriott
Hotel in Stamford, CT and have a show for Fourth of July. I went down a few
weeks before and told the manager that we wanted to have a party out by the
pool, and that there would be a band, that they could sell food and drinks
and I would pay the band. She was ok with the idea, so we rented a stage and
some sound & lights and did the show.

Lots of things went wrong. 400 people showed up. And they all decided that
it would be cool to smoke pot out by the pool. I was told be the hotel
manager to deal with this immediately. I went around to each person and told
them to be cool. Then (stupidly) I went into the band’s dressing room
(actually a hotel room) where they were on break, and having their own
session. It was at that time that hotel security, along with the manager
burst into the room, the band mid-puff. There was only one thing that saved
that show from being cancelled at that point: I told her that if she called
the police, the Marriott would get bad press and if she made the band stop,
people would get out of control. She believed me. I got a not-very-nice
letter from the Marriott after that weekend.

One thing that stands out from that show, however, is that it was pouring
rain and everyone kept on dancing…I realized how truly devoted the fans
were. It was the first time I remember knowing that people really cared!

A few weeks later, the band captured (IMHO) perhaps one of the finest shows
they had ever played, at 7 Willow Street in Port Chester, NY, which would be
released the following February as Rowdy Duty.

In September, we packed up and moved to the new DBB office/living space,
"The White Castle". Myself, Benj, E!, Johnny, Hans and Scottay Blackout (a
member of the road crew) inhabited a beautiful old 6 bedroom Victorian in
Bridgeport that would become the office, living quarters, rehearsal space
and party central for the rest of the band’s existence.

That October, we did a 3-show run with Galactic – They opened for us in Port
Chester and we opened for them in Northampton & Boston, the latter featuring
a free-for-all funk jam featuring all of the members of both bands. And we
all talked backstage about how Funk was catching on and congratulated each
other on helping to make that happen.

In November, we were asked to open for moe. at the Hammerstein Ballroom in
NYC. This was the first really big show we had done, and the band stepped up
and played a tight, fat and amazingly good set of music. They won the crowd
in a big way and the industry-types were sniffing around. We were asked to
play The Wetlands on NYE, a huge honor and one that we took as a huge
compliment. Our new friend, Michael Ray, who we had met at the Vibes that
year would sit in for the whole night.

That night held some of the most amazing magic for me – partially because E!
came up to me and said "Bob – I HAVE to work tonight – you don’t, so you can
just be a fan". And I took his advice. I was right up front dancing like I
was the biggest DBB fan on the planet. And I was!

Also, we captured the attendance record at the Wetlands (some may argue
that, but that’s what they told me that night ;) that, since the
closing of the Wetlands, will stand for eternity.

Michael Ray also joined the band for the Northeast run of shows that year,
and educated and entertained all of us with his stories of his days with Sun
Ra and Kool & The Gang. And during the off days, he stayed with us at the
White Castle and he & I would share what he called a "New York Breakfast" of
coffee, cigarettes and jazz.

That Spring, after the Snow Barn run, the band took its first ever trip to
Colorado, where they played some ski mountains and at Boulder’s Fox Theater
with the Greyboy Allstars. On that same trip, the band first met the folks
from Partners in Music, who would become their booking agency from that
point on, a blessing to me since I could now focus on management duties,
which was requiring more attention.

When the band returned, we did an experiment that I had brainstormed with
Chris Zahn at the Wetlands (and hoped would work out) – Boot Camp, in which
we would play once every week at the Wetlands, hosting different special
guests each night. In theory, it sounded like a great idea, but with no
rehearsals and no commitments from other bands, it was a nail-biting
experience. One by one musicians got on board, starting with our CT friends
Max Creek, then Peter Prince, then DJ Logic, Michael Ray and then some true
heroes of ours: Clyde Stubblefield and Fred Wesley of James Brown’s band.
This was an honor and a privilege and the band was more excited than I had
ever seen them.

The night Clyde played, Michael Ray invited his friend Marshall Allen from
Sun Ra’s group to join us. Bryan Smith rounded out the horns on Tuba. To me,
this was one of the most unique opportunities, since we had Clyde, the
funkiest, most in-the-pocket drummer in the world, and Marshall, quite
possibly one of the most ‘out there’ sax players alive. The two of them kept
each other entertained all night, never quite having heard anything quite
like each other, and after the show, hugged and laughed like they were old
friends. Clyde remarked to Marshall "Hey man, you just told an old dog some
new tricks".

That same night, Butch Trucks from the Allman Brothers showed up, expressing
an interest in signing the band to his new label. When asked if he wanted to
sit in, the band showed his a list of covers that they knew so he could pick
one to play on. Butch said "Screw that – I wanna play ‘Tug’ and ‘Hear My Song’."
Again, another amazing feeling knowing that this Rock & Roll Hall of Famer
had learned THEIR tunes, without us even asking.

Meeting DJ Logic for the first time during Boot Camp was another great
experience, and he would join DBB on the road and at festivals whenever he
could for some time after that, eventually recording an album with Fuzz
later that summer.

The next month, a series of events cast a shadow over the tour – the first
being a show at the Trocadero in Philly that ended four songs into the show
because the sprinkler system went off, dousing the band and the crowd in
dirty, rust colored water and trashing some of the gear. A few nights later,
during a set at the All Good Festival, complete disaster was only narrowly
averted as the entire lighting truss fell onto the band as they performed
Getchall in the Mood. Having seen the video many times and watched it occur
in person, I can say two things: first, this is singularly the scariest
thing I have ever seen, and second, the fact that no one was hurt is truly a
miracle. Although the whole band was seriously (and rightfully) affected,
Jen seemed the hardest hit, and she was noticeably less comfortable on stage
for quite a while after that.

Gathering of the Vibes ’99 was held a mile from the White Castle in
Bridgeport. Another great performance, including Michael Ray and DJ Logic.
At that Vibes, we met John Scofield for the first time and invited him to
sit in for a song during Sunday’s set. Sco sat in on a new tune, Ascension,
and this may have been one of the highest points we had experienced thus
far. We had religiously listened to Sco’s earlier albums with Larry Goldings
and Bill Stewart and when he sat in, it was like having royalty on stage.
Down the road, he would ask Eric & Johnny to record on his new album, and
even wrote a song based on the Deep Banana Blackout Chant, calling it
"Blackout". In my book, it didn’t get much better than that.

The band left for their first appearance at the High Sierra Music Festival
immediately after their set at the Vibes, and followed that up with a
Northwest tour and a sold out show at the Great American Music Hall.

Upon arriving back, we started a small tour of the Northeast with the Disco
Biscuits, another band that was seeing amazing growth. Three shows into the
tour, Jen experienced horrific back problems and was unable to get off the
floor, never mind perform at the Palladium in Worcester. The band went on
without her, got through the night, and cancelled the rest of the tour (for
the first time ever). We crossed our fingers that Jen would be able to do
our first ever (and SOLD OUT!) Irving Plaza show, and just before the lights
dimmed, she hobbled in and delivered a kick-ass show. It did cause her to
miss the following week of shows, but the band went out and did them anyway,
and did a fine job at that, all things considered.

That fall, the band set out on possibly the hardest tour it would do,
opening a whole run of shows in the southeast for Govt. Mule. The drives
were really long and the sets were really short, but luckily, it ended on
Halloween in New Orleans, where DBB did 2 shows. The first would become the
annual Howlin’ Wolf Halloween show, the second was a show with the The Mule
at House of Blues that featured the members of DBB sitting in on Dr.
Feelgood and AfroBlue. Great Stuff.

But the road was really taking its toll, especially on Jen who was still
having health issues on top of her dislike of smoky clubs and road-food.
That November, Jen had just had enough. She had really not been happy on the
road in a long time and it all came to a head in Atlanta, where I was asked
to fly down for a band meeting. Jen was leaving the band. In the back of our
minds, we all sort of knew that this was a likelihood, but hearing it for
real was tough. There was never any question of the band continuing on, and
I flew home and immediately began the search. We took out anonymous ads in
New York, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco and other cities, and the
tapes came pouring in. To this day, we still get some great laughs abut some
of the more outrageous audition tapes we got, but none really fit the bill
in any way.

It was still a secret that Jen was leaving, so we were selective in how we
could audition people. And we just couldn’t find the "one".

That New Years Eve, we did a 3 show run at the Wetlands, including guests
like Michael Ray, Fro, and Dean Bowman. The middle night featured an
"acoustic’ set, the Deep Banana Brass Band, with Fuzz on banjo, complete
with Getchall "1896". New Years Eve was a weird one since we all knew that
Jen was leaving, but nobody else did. There was definitely a pall hanging
over the band that night, and I cant even remember if it was a good show or
not. Things were changing, and we didn’t know what they were changing into.

The first thing I did that January was book some shows with Moon Boot Lover,
in the hopes that Peter Prince would decide he wanted to be the new singer.
It wasn’t really discussed with the band, it was just some manipulative idea
on my part, and for a variety of reasons, it just wasn’t in the cards. But
that run of shows was like a circus, with Peter as the ringleader.

In the early spring, the band set out for a run to Colorado and back.
Sometime during that run, Jen posted on the website that she would be
leaving the band. In a way, it was a relief since we had all known for a few
months. We advertised our search more freely now, and the band had already
decided that they wanted someone completely different. They definitely did
NOT want to ‘replace’ Jen, they wanted to turn a corner and do something new
and different.

At one point, The band decided on a guy named Babi Floyd as the new singer.
This guy was great, and had sung on tour with Billy Joel, Keith Richards and
was a regular with Paul Schaeffer’s CBS Orchestra. At the last minute, he
decided that he couldn’t do it, mainly since he and his wife had just had a
baby. The search continued.

Sometime that same month I got an email from Hope Clayburn, saying that her
band Baaba Seth, who we had shared the stage with before, was parting ways,
Hope’s name had come up in the past, since we were all impressed with her
talents, but we we knew she had a great band, so we let it go. But when she
contacted us, we all knew that she could be a perfect fit – she was a great
sax player, a great singer and COMPLETELY different than Jen on a musical
level, which was exactly what we wanted. Hope came up in August and
auditioned, and the band liked it a lot. She went home, packed up her stuff
and moved to CT.

In the mean time, Volo, who had an equally tough time on the road, had
decided that it was time for him to move on as well. This was another tough
loss, as Volo’s trombone playing was definitely another of the many defining
sounds of DBB. He had planned on finishing out the tour, but it was a rough
ride and emotions were running a bit high as all the changes were happening
at once. The weekend of Jen’s last show, Volo decided that it was a good of
a time as any, and let us know that his reign was done. A flurry of phone
calls and meetings followed and then we called old friend and honorary
Banana Bryan Smith to sub for Volo that weekend. Bryan’s first gig was at
Newport Jazz festival, not exactly a low-profile gig. Before the show, Bryan
confided to me in a joking manner that he had envisioned his debut at
Newport Jazz Fest many times, but he always thought that he’d be a bit more
prepared. But being the professional that he is, he played a great show,
with no rehearsals at all. And he played every show from that point on.

Jen’s last show was emotional on many levels. It was at Berkfest, and
everyone was nervous about what was to happen next. But again, the band used
that emotion to it’s benefit and played an outstanding show. Given the
circumstances, the band was given The only encore of the weekend. Groove is
Here was the perfect choice. They rode out the ending like no other, neither
crowd nor band wanting it to end. But it did, and Jen went on to other
things, mainly rest, the opportunity to be at home and be creative and to
perform with Bernie Worrell and The Bomb Squad in a much less demanding gig
than DBB was. And now she’s also a great mom.

Three weeks later, Hope made her debut at Jazz Aspen Snowmass in Aspen,
Colorado. Talk about pressure: DBB shared the bill with Joe Cocker, Bela
Fleck, Lyle Lovett and The Allman Brothers. But Hope, despite her
nervousness, played an outstanding set of music and proved herself to have
been a wonderful choice. That night, the band played 2 more sets at the
Double Diamond and Hope was officially a Banana.

That Fall, we did a three night run at Irving Plaza one of which we had
asked Bernie Worrell and the Woo Warriors to appear with us. Jen was in
Bernie’s band, and we were a little worried about the reaction and the
potential weirdness of having Jen open for DBB so soon. However, The vibe
was good, and Jen even got up to sing a few numbers with Hope, something she
would do again in New Orleans that Halloween and again on New Years Eve.

Hope was assimilating very nicely to the road and the band, and as she got
more comfortable, the band got to work on writing and looking for their
first record deal. Two songs in particular, Raspberry (which was written
about a homeless gentleman who lived in our backyard in Bridgeport) and "The
Hassle" (written about an old landlord of Fuzz, Benj and Rob), were
particularly catchy and meaningful due to their subject matter.

Still, things were in flux, and there was a lot of concern about the
direction of the band and the homegrown business model that had been so
taxing on everyone. They were growing road weary and ready for the money to
start rolling in.

That December, I moved on as manager of DBB, a situation that was highly
emotional, yet appropriate from all points of view.

In the New Year, Partners in Music took on the added role of manager and DBB
continued their constant touring after spending the month of January
recording Feel The Peel for Butch Trucks’ label and working with the late,
esteemed record producer Tom Dowd.

I went on to do my own thing, still working on the Gathering of the Vibes
and with the added extra time, helping to produce a second and third
festival, The Summit and Camp Creek and work on the Jammys. And I still got
to see my old friends here & there, at festivals and whenever they were in
town. Hell, Fuzz & I lived just a few doors down from each other and Volo
lived just upstairs.

In the meantime, I always kept tabs on the band, and felt a tinge of envy at
their trips to Japan and during their annual New Orleans shows, which meant
a lot to me. I was glad that they were still out there working hard and
making music, and good music at that.

In 2002, I began working with Fuzz on a project he was doing with Stephen
Kellogg, and mid-year, Fuzz confided in me that things seemed to be winding
down for the band. Eric had decided to move on, and the energy and passion
for the band had just become harder and harder to embrace.

In September, knowing that it might be the last chance, I hopped in the van
and went out on one last road trip with my old partners in crime. I enjoyed
being on the road with them, especially NOT as their manager, because I
could take part in the trouble-making and the shenanigans and not have to
worry about keeping everyone in line (sorry, E!). I even got on stage in
Ithaca and sang a couple of songs with the band!

I’m glad that I went, as it was a chance to renew some old friendships and
to spend a lot of time with the people that had made the previous 5 years of
my life as spectacular as anyone could ever hope for. I’m proud to know that
I had been a part of such a wonderful opportunity, something that made
people laugh, that made people dance and that made people feel good. And in
the end, these people were more than business associates, more than
spectacular musicians, and more than just friends. They are my family, and I
feel honored to be a part of it.

Here’s to hoping that somewhere down the road, the ride continues!

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