December 19th, 2007 16:18 EST
Judyth Piazza chats with Sonny Cool from the P Funk All-Stars
I point the Five-O half-track into the blazing light of the golden H-bomb glowing over the Pacific Ocean and drive to West L.A.
Destination? The Circle - it`s a small oasis where Sonny Cool and Steve Wolf have pitched base camp. The Circle - a fashion studio near Marina Del Rey where designer Sanni Diesner (call her "Sunny") puts her Euro-pop spin on African tribal and American Western motifs, all through a massively powerful blaxploitation zoom lens. It`s great stuff - the orange robes worn by George on Page One are Sanni`s work, just for starters.
Chicago operator Sonny Cool is in town to host a showcase at the Century Club by a dynamic multi- talent named Titus, the Cameroon-born singer, tribal dancer, ballet dancer, modern dancer, soccer star and actor ("Amistad"). George is flying in later from Detroit to perform with Titus, just the latest demonstration of how, to quote Secret Agent Bill`s management partner Steve Wolf, "George is committed to keeping ties to young people."
And so I locate Sanni`s Buddhist garden and design studio, hidden away in a working class neighborhood behind a bamboo fence. Over tea and saltines, Sonny Cool begins to reveal the active ingredients of the UFO event I saw at Dragonfly and the 1650 Club on Schrader at the beginning of 2002.
First things first. Sonny plugs in some music, "13 Hours" by Secret Agent Bill. "There`s no free lunch!" - out of the boom box comes the attack of singer Ben Stupid.
Sonny Cool: You hear that? You know there ain`t no free lunch. You gotta earn it. And that`s what we been doing. Gotta make this happen and happen fast. Keep this thing together. It`s basically two years. Secret Agent Bill been together since they was 14 years old. I had `em in my camp for two years now.
I look at bands like Disturbed and all those guys and I figure my kids got the same juice. We keep trying. They call it punk but it`s got a different kind of edge to it. That`s what makes it so good. We added the funk to it, know what I mean? Blackbyrd McKnight. What he did for this band was uplift them. He came to town and stayed two weeks. Worked with Secret Age.
Bill, did shows. It was a great scene, man. But it was so much to deal with at the time. And I got my business partner, Mr. Wolf, he had to take care of a lot of that stuff. My original business partner took sick. Hadn`t been for Mr. Wolf we would have had to shut it all down. But we still in the game! Comin` 2004, you better watch me!
Steve Wolf: 2003?
Sonny: We gonna own it in 2004, that`s what I`m saying. We gonna get our feet wet in 2003. Real time. But I figure 2004 we`ll be where we want to be.
See, really it`s three acts in one. I got the punk thing, Secret Agent Bill only. Bu has her own thing, then we got the thing that merge, what we call the punk-funk, with Kei-Key "Bu" AND Secret Agent Bill. And each side is gonna have an album. A Secret Agent Bill song will come out on Bu`s album and a Bu song will be featured on their album. It`s a total concept. You work it.
Right now I`m here in The Circle fixin` to blow Titus up. I want to blow into Hollywood on a real good note. Titus works over at the Dance Academy with Debbie Allen. And I`m here in the Circle with Sanni the designer. Come to find out both our names are "Sonny." When I got back to Chicago I got a call, she says, you wanna come work for me? I said, no, I can`t work FOR you. We could work together. Know what I mean? So here I am in The Circle.
We were talking about the George Clinton Showcase of New Stars - you also have bands like Ism, which is Eric McFadden in San Francisco. You got Drugs, which is Clifford Payne - he`s from P-Funk for years and years. He`s out of Woodstock, NY. So be on the look out for Drugs, be on the look out for Eric McFadden, be on the look out for Blackbyrd, Lige Curry and Frankie "Kash" Waddy, those three got a group together called Nu Phound Nation. You got Mr. Sean Healy booking the shows in L.A., one of the best in the business, and you got Downtown Melissa Brown holding it down in Chicago. We all comin` with it.
(Suddenly) Be on the look out for Sonny Cool fuh SHOW! I`m comin` to get you, baby! I`m gonna getcha! Wait `til you see this - you ain`t seen nothing `til you seen the RAW Funk - the RAW Funk is the extended version of the P-Funk. There ain`t nothing like the RAW Funk. Back in the day when they shut the funk down, the RAW Funk was on the verge of climbing up the ladder. But things happen for a reason. I`m still here to tell the story. A lot of my friends can`t tell the story. (Points to sky) This is for you guys (laughs).
But this guy, Mr. Wolf, he documented all the information. He`s been with my daughter since she was 14, he`s been her personal photographer.
Steve: Bu`s always had all this great energy about her. It just comes across on the camera. It`s always been so easy to capture.
Sonny: This being my daughter, I didn`t want to wish this game upon her. This is something she had to make up her own mind up she wanted to do. My other daughter Leticia, she graduated from college last year, she`s going for her master`s right now. With Bu, I said hey, either you go to school or you do this and do it for real.
(Agent drummer) Stefan B. brought it to the table. He told me things we could do in the `hood and make it successful. He showed me how to work the punk scene and the hip hop scene at the same time. Adding Bu to a punk band made a big difference on everything. We would book these shows and we would put the hip hop and the punkers on the act. It was a great idea - all you gotta worry about is the punkers breaking all your windows and the hip hoppers writing on everything. They gonna tag your place up.
Anyway, when we were starting, I put the kids in a rehearsal hall, three days a week, 12 hours a day. They was mad at me. They was MAD at me. I remember they said I had no respect for the game of football. But it paid off. We started playing underground punk parties, keggers, $10 gets you in. Pretty soon we got a buzz going in Chicago and we`re selling out shows with 600 people. Meanwhile they`re rehearsing and one day I pull up outside the rehearsal hall and I can hear the band. I listen for a minute and I go in and tell them, "Y`all got it. Y`all got it." And I cut rehearsal down to four hours a day.
I was heading down to Cincinnati to do the Tom Joyner show with George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars. We end up in Nashville at the NAMM show (National Association of Music Merchandisers) and that`s where me and Mister Fogerty start collaborating on it. A year went by then we show up in Nashville again. This time I bring it back to Chicago.
Funkadelic was in Chicago for four months - more like a year, you know what I mean? I produced it, took all the rough edges off, now it sounds like music. Now I need someone to fine tune it and send it in a direction. I`m a funketeer. Jeff, he`s a funketeer, but he`s a rock head, rock and roll straight up. That was a big help to me. He could get in the studio with these guys and really show these guys how to really pull this off. He knows music.
Steve: We finally play "Smoke That Dope" for George and he says, "That`s what I said! That`s what Bu needs! She needs to be a rock and roller!"
Sonny: Once me and Blackbyrd got everything happening and I put the Fogerty on it, once Jeff got it tightened up, me and George was riding around his farm in Michigan. I put the CD in, we just driving, he was listening. And George said, "Yeah.
They ready now." And I been funky fresh ever since.
He loved it. We showed up here in L.A. and did the Schrader and Dragonfly gigs and we been living off that energy ever since. If we can keep on making that kind of noise, I know we gonna be successful.
The only group I remember did a father and daughter type thing onstage was Pops Staples and the Staples Singers back in the day. Me and Kei-Key "Bu", we gonna take you to another level, Pops! I understand what you was doing! I got another daughter! She`s bad too! I got a grandson. He`s bad! We comin`, Pops. So be on the look out for Kei-Key "Bu" and her dad Sonny Cool! We comin` for you!
THIS IS SO MUCH ENERGY, MAN
Sonny: The punk-funk, so much energy. I mean, Ben Stupid and Kei-Key take to the stage, it`s on. You got Dan Agent, Stefan B. You know they`re for real, playing together since they were 14. None of this would be happening if weren`t for Stefan B. Every day he would come and sit on my couch for two weeks: what are we gonna do? Are we gonna do this?
When we started to do it, it`s been nothing but goods things. Bad things too, but that comes with the territory. Trying to keep these young kids focused - they don`t know how to take the good with the bad. So we have to keep flowing. When they fall off, I have to keep going. Because if I fall off, that`s it.
When me and George started talking about doing projects, first thing he told me, he says, hey: I give you a vehicle, but you gotta drive your own thing. I gotta drive mine. I gotta keep my thing happening.
A lot of people don`t understand. Even though someone like George is in a position to do certain things for you, you have to really help yourself. I`ve been blessed in that way. I can always help myself. Once he gave me my driver`s license, I been driving ever since. I`m driving in the right direction. It`s been rough. But I do this for the love of the art, the music and the people around me, the energy. That`s what I feed off, good energy. Secret Agent Bill, they have so much energy, we gotta share it with the world.
I went to a partner`s show recently and he`s awesome, don`t get me wrong, but for some reason, I`m looking around and I`m bored. I been in the mosh pit for a year. With kids. They took me back to being 21 years old.
THE CIRCLE OF LIFE
Sonny: This is Sanni. And we`re in the Circle. And she calls this the rhythm of life. I enjoy myself while I`m here. We just run around here all the time. I call that my mothership. I sleep in the treehouse. This I call the foxhole. You gotta check this out. There`s a house down in there, you can really live there. Could you imagine havin` a girl down there with you? Nobody could get to you. But she kicks me out from time to time. Because you know what time that is. Time for the rhythm of life to keep moving (laughs).
And then we take a walk into the twilight zone is what I call it. You got all Sanni`s designs. She`s quite an artist. My favorite place is right here. When they be lookin` for me and can`t find me, I`ll be hidin` out right here. This is beautiful. This is my girl. She`s the one that brought me to L.A. I`m an East Coast guy, you know. I like being out at the East Coast, but the West Coast stole my heart.I lost my shoe! (laughter)
(Falls in the goldfish pond.)
Good Sh*t 2003: Be on the look out for Titus, Secret Agent
Bill, Sonny Cool and Kei-Key "Bu," Father & Daughter. You can`t beat it. I got one shoe.
BU`S DEBUT & NEW STARS ON THE RISE
Sonny: Actually when Bu got her start, it was a Raw Funk project, working with Garry Shider, the Diaperman. My cousin, Farris Yelder, is the bass player. Me and him write all the stuff for the RAW Funkers and Kei-Key "Bu," we write a lot of the tracks. At that time we were recording and we needed someone to come out and lay a rap down. And the Diaperman said, (raspy) "We ain`t hirin` nobody, we gonna get Bu to do it."
And Bu come in off the streets, one take and out. She was through. We knew then that we were onto something good.Garry was supposed to go home, but we stayed in Chicago two months recording the project. We recorded a couple nice songs, "Why Can`t We Talk About It?", "It`s Time To Make A Stand," all the positive side of the Funk that people sometimes leave out of the picture because of the image they see - behind the scenes it`s a lot of hard work.
Shider helped jumpstart Bu`s career along with me and George, Blackbyrd, Miss Belita Woods, Frankie "Kash" Waddy, Lige Curry, Miss Sheila Brody.We also have George`s grand-daughter Shonda, she`s real good. Be on the look out for the New Stars. I`m sure George is coming with the whole thing. Really what`s happening with George and the P-Funk - people don`t realize that he gives a lot back. He`s helped so many new artists like the Chili Peppers, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube. Like George say, he been bit on so many times, he feels like he needs a tetanus shot.
I just like doing the Showcase of the New Stars. It`s totally different from what people are used to seeing. So be on the look out for Kei-Key "Bu," Secret Agent Bill, Kendra Foster, Kim Manning, RonKat, Gina Hall in San Francisco with Eric McFadden - tune into Gina Hall and Atomicdawg.com. And if you want any more information you contact Nate Nichols at
Hollywood Five-O, because he is the man with the plan.
Like George say, (cartoon G. Clinton impression) "Ooh, Sonny, what we gonna do??"