Initially formed as the backup band for DJ Greyboy, The Greyboy Allstars are comprised of some of the most talented players on the scene today. After recording the groundbreaking 1994 album Freestylin for the famed DJ, saxophonist Karl Denson, guitarist Elgin Park, keyboardist Robert Walter, bassist Chris Stillwell and drummer Aaron Redfield didn’t want the project to end, so decided to turn it into something long term. Well, that was almost 25 years ago and the band is still playing and going stronger than ever.
In fact, they have a new studio album in the works and a handful of high profile tour dates including a two-night stint at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco next week on Thursday, March 15 and Friday, March 16. We reached out to Robert Walter to find out what it’s like to be in a band for 25 years, how they manage to balance all of their busy schedules, and what the craziest thing is that’s happened to them at a show.
Firstly, How does it feel to be celebrating 25 years together?
The band feels really well bonded after all this time. We have a shared history and an easy shorthand with each other. We get along better than ever actually, I think the fact that we all have creative projects outside the band has helped to focus us when we get together as a group.
Tell us a little about the new studio album you’re working on?
The new album was conceived and recorded very quickly. It’s really more documentary than authored. We wanted to capture the vibe of us playing together in a room without anything too fancy added.
What’s your creative process like in the studio?
We write the tunes in advance but work on arrangements as we are recording typically. We try to get complete performances as much as possible. This time we recorded to tape with very few overdubs.
Was there anything different about the writing process on this album than on previous ones?
This time we decided to have writing sessions as a group as opposed to each of us bringing in finished tunes.
How would you describe the music?
The new stuff is kind of a return to form for us. Raw and funky instrumentals mostly. Influenced by funk 45s and soul jazz.
You all have plenty of other projects. Is it hard to coordinate schedules to work on Greyboy stuff, and do you need some time to get solid as a band? Or does it just come naturally?
It’s definitely tricky to get everyone available at the same time, but once we get together it comes back quickly. There is a natural chemistry there.
And what about DJ Greyboy? Is he still working with you guys?
Not on this album, but we stay in contact.
What can we expect from these two shows coming up in San Francisco?
We will play a mix of music from all our previous albums and new songs. Also, we always play covers of tunes that have influenced us.
What do you guys like to do when you’re in town?
I love the food in SF and several of us collect records.
How much of your show is song based and how much is straight improv?
We improvise on almost all of our tunes but always based on the song. I like that the songs give us a jumping off point and set up a mood. We seldom do anything that is purely improvised, but there are definitely places that can stretch pretty far.
After all these years of touring, what’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you at a show?
No one show stands out like that, but it has really been an honor to get to meet and play with some of our idols. Fred Wesley, Gary Bartz, Melvin Sparks etc. you can learn so much from actually working with your influences as opposed to just listening to the records.
Greyboy Allstars play the Great American Music Hall on Thursday, March 15 & Friday, March 16 // Doors 7:00 pm – Show 8:00 pm // 859 O’Farrell St San Francisco, CA 94109 // Tickets: $31 // $56 Dinner
Photos courtesy of Calabro Music Media