Monday, March 11, 2002

Locals join Brothers Johnson for funk reunion




By Chris Varias
Enquirer contributor

        A low-key funk reunion show at Bogart's Saturday finished with a Cincinnati-flavored bang.

        George and Louis Johnson, '70s session musicians turned funk hit-making act the Brothers Johnson, are together again and touring after an 18-year hiatus. Backed by a six-piece band, the pair revisited a mix of a half-dozen of their most popular tunes, a couple proto-smooth-jazz instrumentals and a whole bunch of snippets of covers.

        But in the end, the night was all about an encore starring two local friends of the band.

        Catfish Collins, guitarist for the JBs, and Huby Heard each took a turn in the spotlight. Mr. Collins merely sang in the chorus to a version of Funkadelic's “Cosmic Slop,” but he lit up the crowd. Los Angeles has the Brothers Johnson; Cincinnati has Catfish and Bootsy, the brothers Collins, and Catfish, decked out in a red suit with matching hat, was stage presence personified.

        Mr. Heard grew up in Cincinnati, and after 30 years in L.A. returned to town in November. The keyboardist was a member of the Leon Russell band that went on to become the Gap Band, and his connection to the Johnsons goes back to playing with them in Billy Preston's God Squad.

        Guitarist George Johnson summoned Mr. Heard to a keyboard and told him they were playing in the key of E. With the band laying back, Mr. Heard went to work, alternating between heavy riffs and pretty descending scales. When the jam ended, Mr. Heard called out A-flat, and George knew what song his old bandmate wanted: Mr. Preston's chart-topper “Will It Go Round in Circles.” George sang the words. The crowd loved it.

        Then came Mr. Heard's turn to sing, and he picked the Gap Band ballad “Yearning for Your Love.” By that point, the show was officially stolen.

        As for the Brothers Johnson portion of the program, crowd members called for the songs they wanted to hear from the start of the show — “Get the Funk Out Ma Face,” “Stomp!,” “Strawberry Letter 23” — and by the end they heard them all and a few more.

        George told the crowd he and his bass-playing brother are planning to record new material after the tour. Judging by the number of covers they busted out (four by Sly and the Family Stone, a Michael Jackson song as well as one by the Jackson 5, a song each by the Ohio Players, Cameo, Jimi Hendrix, and Smokey Robinson) they have a future as a wedding band if the reunion doesn't pan out. All they need to do is switch out “Cosmic Slop” for “The Electric Slide,” and they'll be ready to go.

       



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