Written by Johnny Ray Huston for San Francisco Bay Guardian, published February 16, 2011. Cover photo by Mathew Scott.
It's the midnight hour on Valentine's Day in Portugal when I reach Dâm Funk, a.k.a. Damon Riddick, on the phone. He's just outside of Lisbon, his surroundings are "phenomenal," and he's ready to wax enthusiastic about his longtime partner in funk Peanut Butter Wolf. "Me and Chris [Manak, a.k.a. Peanut Butter Wolf] connect on that sound because we remember and we revere," he says, when I ask about their shared love of soul, hip-hop, and funk. "We knew what it was like before cable television and the Internet existed, we remember everything from those early VHS tapes to the way the sun set."
As the sun is still rising on Valentine's Day, in L.A., the man Dâm Funk calls "Wolf" for short shows similar brotherly love. "When Däm met me, we had a mutual respect," says Manak. "He saw my record collection and vice-versa. When we discover songs, we'll say, 'Check this out.'" In turn, this shared enthusiasm, and the positive response to Dâm Funk's albums Toeachizown and Adolescent Funk — both released on Manak's label, Stones Throw – has recharged funk sounds in Los Angeles and SF, and led to new discoveries of soulful and funky treasures from the recent past.
One such gem is Jeff Phelps' 1985 Magnetic Eyes, a Tascam Portastudio 244 bedroom recording with sensational vocals by Antoinette Marie Pugh, who stars in a terrific no-budget video for the album's "Hear My Heart" currently up on YouTube. "That album is something I've known about for a long time," Dâm Funk says, when I mention Magnetic Eyes and its hand-drawn yet futuristic cover art. "It's a great project."
Another great project is Tony Cook's Back to Reality (Stones Throw), a collection of mid-1980s recordings by a musician who got his start as James Brown's drummer. Taking on the role of executive producer, Manak has added some extra pop to the already formidable strut of Cook songs such as "Heartbreaker," even drafting in Dâm Funk to contribute new vocals to one track, "What's On Your Mind." "You'd think they were 24-track recordings, but he [Cook] only worked on an 8-track," marvels Manak. "He was a good musician and producer – when you're bouncing tracks, you have to know what you're doing. In those days it was hard to achieve a full sound like that."
These days, both Dâm Funk and Peanut Butter Wolf know what they're doing — and that's a damn lot. Reflecting his Gemini nature, Dâm is planning to explore the dark side on an EP with that title before venturing into the light on his next LP. He's also remixed Nite Jewel and is collaborating with her on a project, Nite Funk. He's producing music by Steve Arrington for Stones Throw, and he wants to put out another chapter of his archival venture Adolescent Funk, with him choosing the tracks instead of Manak. As for the man Dâm calls "Wolf," he's got Stones Throw's 15th anniversary on his hands, including a 7-inch box set, and a series of live-to-vinyl performances by the label's artists in L.A. These guys are busy, but — fortunately for Noise Pop, and for SF — that doesn't mean they don't have time to throw a 45 party.
Peanut Butter Wolf & Dam Funk
Sat. Feb 26, 9 p.m., $15 (21+)
161 Erie, SF
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