Elements of Funk

Showmanship, Finding the Groove & Shaping a Distinct Sound

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 792   By: Robert E Martin

19th June, 2014     0

Selected by readers & fans as the Best Funk Band at the 28th Annual Review Music Awards back in April of this year, the 4-piece group known as Elements of Funk has built a solid reputation as one of Michigan’s premier Top-40 cover bands, largely due to their ability to perform a wide latitude of material spanning divergent musical genres, yet focus upon arrangements of these songs that are distinctly unique to the musical strengths of the band.

Consisting of DeShawn Gholston (Shawn G) on drums, Deshawn Witherspoon on bass, Eric Middlebrooks on lead vocals, and Germarius ‘Gmajor’ on keyboards and synth, according to group founder Middlebrooks, the current incarnation of the group is their fourth configuration in the line-up.  “We started as a trio, only that didn’t work out,” he explains. “Shawn G was my workmate at Guitar Center and started playing drums, only we had issues with our keyboard player, so GMajor came into the fold.  We were doing fine as a trio, but decided to add a guitar player to bring more groove into the shows, only he had problems and had to leave. That’s when we picked up the other Deshawn, who fits right in. Finally, all the pieces fit together right”

Eric says that he has been singing since he could hold a microphone and cites his main influences as centering on Motown based groups such as The Temptations and Marvin Gaye. “In terms of newer voice men, I like Usher and Boyz II Men, but even when I’m listening to music that I don’t particularly care of, I always try to same something away from it – whether it’s the way a certain fill is made, or a certain performance value, there is always something to learn. That way when I play the song I can make it my own.”

Witherspoon adds that he started playing music in church and notes that DeShawn always looked out for him. “Once he told me about this band I wanted to join, so I came to a rehearsal and fit right it. I loved it and have kept at it. And because we all grew up playing Gospel music as church musicians, I feel this brings a solid bedrock to our sound.”

Shawn G is an experienced drummer who has been playing since he was 5 years old and is known as a chameleon in genres willing to share his talent on many stages within the Mid-Michigan area. A local of the Detroit area, he points out how he also started playing in church groups and met Eric through a co-worker at Guitar Center. “It’s been cool ever since.”

When asked what they feel distinguishes the sound of the band, Eric explains how “the live arrangements we’re doing have more of a concert feel to them. Even though we might be covering a song some other band is doing, I guarantee you they will not be doing the song the way we are.  Our goal was to perform music that everybody would enjoy – young and old, black and white – you will definitely enjoy whatever particular song we perform.”

“Being in church together as musicians was formative,” continues Eric, “because all three of them are used to taking direction. Whether it’s through a hand gesture or some other motion, they just instinctively know where to go with the song. DeShawn will do a fill on the drums and everybody knows what to do after that. Basically I have jammers instead of classically trained musicians, so it’s very easy to go into whatever direction we want with a song, depending upon how the night is going. If I feel like hanging in the crowd for a minute or two to go interactive, the guys know how to hold down the tone and keep the groove going.”

When approaching new material everybody is free to introduce fresh songs into the mix. “I generally make the final call, but everyone gets involved,” notes Eric. “What we look at when selecting material is not just the songs we want to do, but how popular the song is and how people will take to the song.  We always ask what we can do to make the song better.”

“Eric might bring in a song,” interjects Deshawn; and everyone might not agree with it, but collectively we come together and it ends up sounding totally different than the recording and turns into a song we might end up really liking. That’s the great thing that I enjoy about what we do.”

When asked how often they perform out the groups collectively answers with a chuckle: “Not often enough”. But usually you can catch them one or two weekends each month at Soaring Eagle Casino, Turtle Creek and Saganing; as well as at area clubs such as Diamond Jim’s in Midland and Rainmakers in Saginaw.

“We enjoy playing at the clubs more because whenever you do the casinos you realize you’re not the main attraction when you’re on the floor – gambling is the main attraction,” laughs Eric. “But we always have a real good time at the clubs because it’s much more intimate. Our best crowd is at Diamond Jim’s and we haven’t had a bad night there, even if the show starts slow, an hour or two later it picks right up.”

“One of the first gigs we did was at the Encore in Flint,” remembers DeShawn, “and we did really well but they ended up paying us like $75.00 all together because we didn’t have a following.  Things have come a long way since then and we do have loyal fans. Every time we play somewhere we will see familiar faces in the crowd, and that trend seems to be growing.”

“With the music we are doing we can play for any crowd, no problem,” concludes Eric. “What’s the point of learning a song if we can’t play it everywhere, so we are very conscious about the quality of a song.

As for their name, Eric says Elements of Funk works perfectly for the band because they are not locked into a specific genre of music…”so it’s an element of this genre all pulled together to make up the funk.”

As for what the group feels the key elements of funk consist of, they collectively point to ‘showmanship. “I would say showmanship is the number one element, followed by a great bass line and groove, which makes it. “The groove changes the whole feeling of the song and everything has to be in the pocket and tight.”

To find out more about Elements of Funk and to check their schedule or for booking information you can contact them on facebook or go to www.eofmusic.com


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