I collect old records. Specifically funk records. I've spent a lot of time over the past four years traveling throughout America's Southern and Midwestern states searching for seemingly insignificant pieces of vinyl and I've heard stories that you wouldn't believe.
I know this much – if you go to a city and take the time to hunt down a bonfire funk musician, you'll find the hole-in-the-wall with the best fried catfish steaks. You'll find that little out-of-the-way bar to indulge in a drink with some old school legend that will delightfully inform about the underbelly of the city that you'd never discover on your own.
Since this past April, fellow enthusiast Peanut Butter Wolf and I had a plan. We'd drive the length of this country, from New York to Los Angeles. No direct route, no waxing nostalgic on Route 66. Rather, our plan involved traveling through cities where the funk tradition lay deep. Cities in which we'd meet those artists that released limited quantities of a 45 or LP that, due to progressive musicianship and economic inability, never made it onto the Billboard R&B charts. And, at Wolf's request, we'd bowl in each city. I'd never bowled, Wolf had never chatted it up with a slept-on 55-year-old pioneer. What fun!
August 2, 2000
We finally get on the road. What lies below is a recap of a ten-day, 4100-mile journey. And the top bowling/funk capitals of the United States- according to Wolf and I of course.
August 3, 2000
Columbus, OH. At 12 Noon we roll off I-70 and into the Capri Lanes parking lot. As I look up local drummer Dean Francis in the phone book, Wolf signs us up for a quick game. In quick order I bowl my first strike, and Wolf strikes me down, 146 to a piddling 67. Dean calls Wolf's cel phone and suggests lunch at his favorite Chinese restaurant, Yin Yue. We troop down a couple miles and exit on Hudson Street. We enter the parking lot of a lemon yellow tenement that reeks of fish but surprisingly the eats are among the best of the trip. Over his trademark tuna fish egg foo young (prepared especially for him), Dean breaks down Columbus' late 60s funk scene and the story behind his classic Hillside 7-inch, "Funky Disposition."
Then we're back on 70 headed west towards Indianapolis. Our first stop is Herb Miller's forensic investigation company. Herb, owner of the now defunct LAMP label, released incredible funk 45s by The Diplomatics and Ebony Rhythm Band before being blacklisted for declining mafia "assistance" in establishing a Nap Town recording studio. Though he won't bowl with us, he suggests the pricey but classy Jubilee Lane.
We bowl until saxophonist Clifford Palmer returns home from his phone company day job. Once at Cliff's house, we chat about the brief but prolific career of The Highlighters over a couple Heinekens. Wolf, who'd never heard The Highlighters' monster "Poppin' Popcorn" 45, marvels over the outfit's intensity and one of the rawest drum breaks he's ever heard. We leave Indi at 11PM and roll down I-65, wearily entering Nashville, Tennessee at 3 AM.
August 4, 2000
Nashville, TN. No funk musicians here, just drunken drama with Count Bass-D and lax bowling at Melrose Lanes.
August 5, 2000
Memphis, TN. Two days of nigh 100% humidity have fatigued us, but a hearty meal at Ellen's Soul Kitchen does us right. Should you venture there, don't sleep on the yams – they're perfect. But stay away from the sweet tea – instant diabetes. A game of glow-in-the-dark bowling at Billy Harwick's All Star Lanes leads to my breaking the 100 mark for the first time. We roll to Walgreens to pick up some fresh dipped gear, before heading out in search of a rumored Elvis vigil. Alas, the vigil occurred the previous night so at midnight we jump on I-40 towards Little Rock.
August 6, 2000
Little Rock, AR. We awake to find that Lee Anthony, owner of the True Soul label and Soul Brother's Record Shop, and our funk connection of the day, has jetted to Chicago for a wedding. All of our other funk connections fail us, so we pick up a game at Professor Bowl before making the decision that we'll travel west to Texas, home of Roger Boykin and his label Soultex Records.
Seven hours later we arrive in Dallas, and are greeted at our cockroach-infested Motel 6 by the elegant Roger Boykin. Roger invites us to his pad, where we remain until 4 AM, listening to a slew of 60s/70s funk releases on Soultex. We pull records from every inch of the house, including the cupboards in the kitchen! I try to get Roger to play the late-60s gems by his Texas Soul Trio and Soul Seven, while Wolf falls under the spell of Roger's mid-80s project "Savoir Flair." We awake late the next morning, and forego bowling in order to reach Austin at a reasonable hour.
August 7, 2000
Austin, TX. At Roger Boykin's request, we look up the creator of the gems "Just Plain Funk" and "Power Struggle," organist James Polk.
Unfortunately, we just miss him as he leaves for his job at the University, so we set our sights on Houston.
August 8, 2000
Houston, TX. In the 1970s, Houston was the black stage band capital of the nation. Due to the prolific career of the big band leader, Conrad O. Johnson (whose high school students, as the Kashmere Stage Band, won 42 out of 46 competitions they entered) nearly every music supervisor in the city recorded his students' take on funk music. We get an early start, collecting pictures and tales at Conrad's ("June 3, 1973 was declared Kashmere Stage Band Day in sunny ol' Houston") before heading over to drummer Bubbha Thomas' day gig. There we grab one of the only known copies of the "Jazz O.D." 45 by Bubbha's Summer Program For Youthful Musicians. Night falls and we link up with K-otix producer Russell Gonzalez to swap old records before meeting middle school band director Perry Kaye for some strong-ass glasses of Cognac and videos of his kids covering Conrad's tunes. Before the night ends, we bowl at Palace Lanes. Russell comes with a wicked initial roll but lacks a thorough follow up. Thus, Wolf wins the match; I bowl my worst game ever.
August 9, 2000
San Antonio, TX. I awake in a Howard Johnson in Houston to find that I'm sharing my bed with two half-dollar size cockroaches (sorry, no photos available). We plastic-bag one of the beasts and fling it at the bureaucratic front desk clerk. She screams, and a manager appears. We get a complimentary stay. Then it's off to San Antonio, home of the almighty Mickey and The Soul Generation. While at the home of The Alamo, we pick up a game at University Bowl. I beat Wolf for the first time with 133 to 126, but Wolf eventually bowls his best game to date, a solid 180. We drive through the night and break in a one-horse town called Ozona.
August 10, 2000
El Paso, TX. Traveling West of Ozona, we find mesas, tumbleweeds and a complete lack of funk musicians. But a routine stop at Freeway Lanes in El Paso leads to Wolf's best game of the trip – an astounding 204!
August 11, 2000
Tucson, AZ. We wake at 7:30 AM to scope out DJ Z Trip's recommendation, PDQ Records. Four hours later we leave the city with some relatively deep finds – Canyon Del Oro's Stage Band Project and "Mary Mary" on a cardboard 45 from the back of a cereal box! The mercury climbs as we drive to Phoenix, breaking 110 Fahrenheit by mid-day. We hit Z-Trip for a game at Frontier Lanes but bust out at 8 PM – we must reach LA! We're too broke to buy batteries for the boom box, so we're forced to listen to god-awful Christian rap stations (pun intended) on the final stretch of I-10. When the radio finally picks up Power 106's Friday Night Flavors we hear J-Rocc kill a classic tribute to Big Daddy Kane. We've made it. At 2:30 AM Captain Funkaho greets us as we pull into Stones Throw Headquarters.
BOWLING ALLEY RATINGS
Capri Lanes. Columbus, OH
Jubilee Lanes. Indianapolis, IN
Melrose Lanes. Nashville, TN
Old Velcro shoes in the ugliest color combo; No air blowers for fingers! Rating: C+
Billy Harwick's All Star Lanes. Memphis, TN
Many good-looking older women and young girls present. Rating: B
Professor Bowl South. Little Rock, AR
Funky shoe design. Rating: B-
Palace Bowling Lanes. Houston, TX
Ball selection very poor, but no smell in the shoes and an easy-to-use computer. Floor was lousy, and bathroom was raunchy. Rating: C
University Bowl. San Antonio, TX
Freeway Lanes. El Paso, TX
Frontier Lanes. Phoenix, AZ
The only alley that sported a Numark mixer flush mounted into the counter. Rating: B+
Hollywood Starlight Lanes. Los Angeles, CA
A midget would have been pleased with the ball selection, but we were not. Poor computer system, but good shoes and good floors. Plastic bags covering mirrors in the bathroom, and there was no soap. Staffed by Hollywood Nazi assholes. Price: $2.50 for shoes, $4.00 per game. Comments: Cut Chemist has frequented this alley since he was 6; "The Great Lebowsky" filmed here.