Finding the Funk with Galactic’s Jeff Raines
Photo by Dino Perrucci
In the early-to-mid-‘90s, guitarist Jeff Raines and bassist Robert Mercurio, childhood friends from outside Washington, DC, were attending different schools in New Orleans and creating what would become one of the city’s staple acts, the funk-forward collective Galactic, which has grown from its New Orleans funk roots into a fusion of traditional and modern styles, collaborating with a wide array of vocalists, R&B artists and pretty much anyone who they feel can help them make great music.
While aboard this year’s Jam Cruise, Raines, decked out in a 9:30 Club t-shirt that showed his DC roots, reflected on seeing some of his idols, The Meters, reunite with their original lineup on the boat, while discussing his initial discovering of funk music through Red Hot Chili Peppers, the development of Galactic in the rich New Orleans music sphere, what the future holds for the band and more.
You guys have been on the Jam Cruise every year so far. Can you talk about how the cruise has changed or stayed the same, what you’ve experienced all those years?
It’s always been kind of wild out here, but I think originally—if I had to just say how it evolved—in terms of the audience, originally it was a little crazier. The younger kids were coming. There was a Phish concert one year in Miami, and the boat filled up with Phish kids who were quite wild. And over the years, it seems like the crowd has gotten a little older. It’s people who don’t want to go, like, sleep in a field in Tennessee in July or something. You don’t have to drive, you don’t have money or responsibilities, and all the food is taken care of. So it makes a lot of sense. Were I getting on [in age], and still doing rock festivals, this would be perfect. You can see the logic. But people are still out here having a good time; it’s not like a sedate event by any means.
And the music? Has it always been so New Orleans-centric?
It kind of has. New Orleans seems like it’s always very well-represented on this boat. I know so many people in town that have been on it, or are on it right now, and it’s certainly cool that they have kept to a New Orleans vibe. It sort of fits the spirit of the whole thing. I keep hoping they would take the ship out of New Orleans.
So you guys are pretty synonymous with New Orleans, but you’re not from there.
That’s true! I grew up outside of D.C.
Can you talk about discovering New Orleans funk music, funk music in general and how you got into that music and it became part of your life? Along with moving to New Orleans and hooking up with Stanton Moore and things like that.
When the bass player, Robert [Mercurio], and I grew up in D.C., we were really into the punk-rock scene. In the ‘80s, you could go see shows at community centers and stuff, so it was awesome because we could actually go see these punk-rock bands playing on a Sunday afternoon. So we got interested in starting a band by way of that. We’re in 8th grade, we started trying to be a band—you know, played our talent show. We were playing, like, surf music. We were called The Schizomatics, and we were playing “Wipeout,” Agent Orange and bands like that, playing surf music that Robert’s sister thought was cool, but kind of edgy. We were playing in the band for years, and then I got a Mothership Connection tape, and that kind of set me off on this funk tangent. Robert and I just became interested in that music, and we started buying records, Funkadelic records and James Brown records. And the punk-rock scene’s very aggressive—the slam dancing, the stage diving, the fighting, skinheads and shit—and I remember it was kind of refreshing. This music was fun and imaginative and interesting and just badass, musicianship-wise, much more so than the punk rock scene, which was bar chords and aggression.
And that was when the Chili Peppers were really making very compelling, cool records; they were super creative and interesting, at least to my adolescent mind. Then we started to go see them, and they kind of bridged the gap between punk rock and funk in a lot of ways. So they were an important band in my memory from that time, before I was 18. So we sort of randomly both went to college in New Orleans; I had worked in New Orleans when I was 16 at a presidential convention running for a newspaper, and loved the city and had the best time—never went to work, went out every night, drinking bars, I couldn’t believe it. So I just became totally, like, “When I go to college, that’s exactly where I’m going!” And [Robert] had gotten into Tulane and NYU and he ended up going to Tulane, and I ended up going to Loyola—and eventually failing out of music school, or dropping out—where Stanton and Rich [Vogel] both were.
So once we hit New Orleans, The Meters were playing—we knew who The Meters were by way of the Chili Peppers because of “Africa” and “Hollywood,” and we knew George Porter was this legendary bass player. So we started to go see The Meters all the time, and by way of that, we started to go see the Ohio Players—a lot of classic ‘70s funk bands were still touring at that time, Average White Band, Slave, Brick. The Ohio Players shows were always just fucking kickass. I particularly remember those. Then just all the New Orleans dudes: Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Rebirth [Brass Band]—there was just so much going on in the scene. We had mountain bikes, and we would go to nightclubs at night on mountain bikes all the time; we sort of became known as these two dorks that would show up and lock our bikes up out in front of these little clubs. So by our sophomore year, we started playing in frat houses, covering Meters tunes—very badly, you know. And over time, we had some success. We started getting some club shows and getting shows opening up for other bands.
Then we got Stanton in the band, and then things started to happen for us, because he was just a really good drummer, even then. He was playing on the heavy-metal scene in New Orleans, in this band called Oxenthrust, and was interested in James Brown and The Meters and heard that we trying to play that sort of music and just approached us. Once we got Stanton, things started to happen—we got a horn section, through Loyola’s jazz department, essentially. And Rich was trying to get in the band—everyone wanted to get Rich, so we got Rich. Then the core kind of fell into place, and we never looked back, really. I mean, we started making a record maybe two years after that, and started packing clubs locally, and the rest is history I guess.