Interview with Rickey Vincent

DJ Lady Funkalicious did an interview with Rickey Vincent, a San Francisco-based author, historian and radio host. Check it out below!

When were you introduced to funk music – what about the music made you a life-time fan?

Listening to “KDIA Lucky 13” the AM radio 1310 out of Oakland was my first exposure to black music around 1970 or so. Then the FM stereo in the house gave us great sound, and FM stations KSOL 107.7 (soul, R&B), KRE 103.7 (fusion jazz) and KSFX 102.9 (soul & funk) gave a great backdrop.

Then my brother started coming home with 45’s. I remember looking at that red label with Jive Turkey part 1 by the Ohio Players, and then he had “Heaven Must Be Like This” on 45, also by the Ohio Players. The black “De-Lite” label was around the house a lot, the Kool & the Gang singles like “Funky Stuff” and “Hollywood Swinging.” One of the first singles I heard was “You Can Call Me Rover” by the Main Ingredient, which is an uncharacteristically funky track from the soul group from 73 or so, on the RCA label, which was orange.

I wanted that beat. Didn’t bother with blues, and a lot of soul didn’t hit me that hard, and I was too young to truly dig the love songs. Back then if it was grooving, hitting, I wanted it. When I heard “Up For the Down Stroke” on the radion in 1974 it was over. I had a path for life to follow!

What was the name of the first funk group you went to see live?  Where did you see them perform?  Was it what you expected? Yes? No? Why?

Our dad took my brother and I to see Earth Wind & Fire around 1975 at the Oakland Coliseum Arena. It was incredible. The spectacle, the joy, the musicality, the size and scope of it all had me hooked. Dad was cheap so we had ‘behind the stage’ seats way up high in the Oakland Coliseum Arena (now called the Oracle where the Golden State Warriors still play). But it didn’t matter, the electricity was unforgettable.

In your opinion who were the first bands that paved the way towards the mainstream acceptance of Funk as a music format? What was it about what they were doing that caught everyone’s attention?

Easily it was Earth Wind & Fire that crashed the model and made musical, soulful, joyfully African music a popular mainstream thing. Shining Star and the entire That’s the Way of the World album put the world on notice that EWF was bringing black folks back home, and elevating everyone in the process.

There were a couple of pioneers of course. James Brown had so many cuts his impact could be seen as more of a wave, but it went ‘underground’ after “Say It Loud.” I remember Joe Tex doing “I Gotcha” in 1972, the same year as Jimmy Castor hit with a ‘novelty’ hit “Troglodyte” which was hella funky and made pop top 10 radio; Billy Preston’s “Outa Space” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” both hit big in 72 and paved the way for a new clavinet driven 70s sound that would color The Funk for another 5 years or so.

I was too young and missed the breakout of Sly’s “Thank You Falletinme Be Micelf Agin” in 1970… I just caught up to it from the greatest hits album, and regular airplay, and all the imitators of course.

Why was it important for you to write Funk: The Music, The People, and The Rhythm of The One?  Will there be a follow-up?

At the time (mid 1990s) there was no printed discussion of The Funk from a music history or scholarly perspective. Hundreds of artists made songs talking about “the funk” but nobody had written anything comprehensive. Also, I was tired of being that guy that always had to answer ‘where did that sample track come from?’ There was a funk history being delivered in plain sight on the radio in the mid to late 80s and still nobody was breaking it down. I was at Cal taking classes that gave some sense of music history but – like the books – their timelines ended around 1970. So I was in a hurry to get it done because I figured some outsider to the scene would be trying to write something and get paid without really being there. That is happening now, 20 years later. Not sure how I feel bout it.

As for a follow up, I’ve dabbled with later chapters, but the original book is still in print, so there would have to be a big investment by a publisher or a person before a new edition could get made. I’m happy with the funked up tone of the book, I couldn’t sustain it today, but it is a fun way to think and write and be….

It’s time for a new edition, that’s for sure, but it was a sequence of random events that seem about as rare as winning the lottery five times in a row that got the book into print. A young editor fresh out of college picked my proposal out of the slush heap at St Martin’s and offered me a contract. (easily one out of thousands); I had gone thru a couple dozen rejections already… the editor was open minded and pliable with some unconventional approaches – also a major rarity – the P-Funk people, the James Brown reps, Curtis Mayfield’s folks and a dozen other entities allowed me to quote from their copywritten works at zero or minimal fees, another miracle; same for the photos, which came together very quickly – with a lot of paper cutting and glue, way before photoshop… (the publisher did it professionally obviously, but the at-home mock up was grade school arts & crafts!)

Anyway, I’m totally open to the idea of a new edition, I just have ZERO institutional interest or support at the moment. I know a lot of editors now, and with our current political climate all funky and dirty right now, I might be able to get some interest once again. But then someone would have to wrestle the rights away from St. Martin’s Press… from a book still in print, or I would have to approach them about ‘updating’ “their” book. My original editor is long long gone, and does not answer my emails to her at Penguin… so I would be starting from scratch, even though I have 20+ years of book sales through them. hmm…

What inspired you to host your radio show on KALX Radio? How long have you been producing the show?  What famous names have been guests?

After doing an internship in Astronomy in 1980 I realized it was too much work, and I was looking for a new thing… and I began doing some deejay work around school at Cal Berkeley. I walked into KALX radio, where they said I could be on the air by the end of the week, doing news stories. So in the summer of 1983 I did news & public affairs bits and started their “training” process to become a deejay. It was really a weed-out process, to see how long someone could take the b.s. At the time there were some “lifers” there with all the good time slots (in their 30s… which is ancient if u are still an undergrad)… a number of us wound up instigating a huge fight to “democratize” KALX and went to the student senate, made demands and the whole 9 and got the process changed, so every trainee had a path to the air. Eventually I got a Sunday afternoon shift in 1985 and immediately started doing funk specials, the annual All Bootsy Show and all kinds of craziness on “The Uhuru Maggot’s Wild World of Funk.”

In 2003 George Clinton came to the show! Garry Shider and Cordel “Boogie” Mosson came one night; Bernie Worrell and Blackbyrd McNight came thru and played in studio together; Larry Graham did a live set in studio, MeShell NdegeOcello, Goapele, Dawn Silva, Patrice Rushen, Pee Wee Ellis, Shock G of Digital Underground, Dolemite (Rudy Ray Moore) came thru one time; 5 original members of the Family Stone came to the show one night: Freddie, Rose, Cynthia, Jerry and Greg, and Rustee Allen so that’s six. A whole lot of interesting phoners: Steve Arrington, Bill Withers, James Brown, Junie Morrison, Bootsy many times, Larry Blackmon of Cameo, Richie Havens, Juma Sultan, Chuck Brown, Cornel West, it’s a crazy list.

Your alter-ego funk name is The Uhuru Maggot – that’s an interesting name how did you come up with that?  What is the meaning behind it.  

At KALX we were all encouraged to take on outlandish handles, names nobody would copy or mistake for someone else. The hip hop folks always had this problem. Out here Davey D is the #1 hip hop journalist, but there was also a Davy D in the east that made things confusing. Since I was known for playing those off the wall P-Funk b-side tracks, I wanted to identify as a subterranean funkateer in some way. To be a “Maggot” is in fact a term of endearment for funkateers. A “Maggot Brain”. It was also used often in P-Funk songs so it signified one’s groove-allegiance to The P.

It was not hard to pick up “Uhuru” from all the black nationalist talk I had grown up around, so one day Uhuru Maggot just dropped out of the sky and bam. Actually I was working as a party deejay with a friend who was way more into the cool, hip party sounds of Morris Day & the Time & groups like that. We were thinking of a name for our DJ team partnership and I think his choice was “Spank Incorporated” which was cool, but I came up with “Uhuru Maggots” just out of the blue. haha we went with Spank Incorporated, but I kept the name in my head for later use…

You also produced an album. Tell us a bit about your album and the message you wanted to get across to listeners.

Phool 4 the Funk was so much fun! It is still a whole lot of fun, and it is in rotation at p-funkradio.com! So cool to hear the tracks up against my Super Funky Heroes! check out www.rickeyvincentmusic.com

So there’s a small crew of ‘hardcore’ P-Funkers here in the east bay, and since the 80s we have circulated and gotten to know one another. One of the very few cats with True Funkativity AND a real job and ability to produce music was and is Phil The Funky Instrumentalist “P-T-F-I” Jones. Phil had been working with an extremely funky & rowdy vocalist named Zootzilla since the 90s (his songs include “Hot Spank, Pimp Stew & Monkey Woo,” “Woof Whistles and Cat Calls” and “Flamoneous Skunk…”) Zoot’s voice sounds like a lot like a hoarse George Clinton, and they got George to do a couple of tracks with them around 2010.

Phil started producing albums with a number of us, as well as doing sides with Ronkat Spearman’s Katdelic. In 2011 Ronkat did a song and album called “D.O.T.M.S (Dance On The Mothership)” and Phil produced a number of the tracks on it. Shortly after the Ronkat album dropped, Phil came up to me and said “You’re next, Rick” and that was it.

I went to his place and he played me a gang of instrumental tracks – fully formed arrangments, with hooks, bridges & breakdowns, so they could become R&B, rap tracks, whatever was needed. Listening to his beats I developed ideas to drop some of my radio interviews onto strong funk beats and be able to teach funk lessons and be thunderously funky about it.. so that’s what we did!
We took my 2004 interview with Junie Morrison and made it into “Tripping With Junie” – took some of my work with Cornel West and made it into “West World” and on & on. I had already taken my 1993 phone interview with James Brown and made it into a 3 minute funk lesson, and Phil upgraded it. Then I went about the business of acting a phool on some tracks, just to have some fun and be serious as well.
I got some heavy rappers involved, and some great singers too, and a few guest musicians so the entire thing just never gets boring. I also paid $$$ and got it mastered state-of-the-art so it can play loud as f**k for years to come! I’m VERY happy about all of it, and still working on a video project for one song “Thumpasorus Galacticus.” And I’m already digging into RV CD #2 as well.
I wanted to get out there with some for-real Fonk for folks, hopefully as a gateway to their own Funk Hunt, that could get them deeper into that thang…

Funk is making it’s way back into the mainstream with artists like Bruno Mars. Do you think there’ll be more mainstream representation in the future? 

That is a tricky proposition. Mainstream appeal. Sure I’d love for George & Bootsy and all the remaining funk Legends to get their due, but to see them on Good Morning America schmoozing it up with Robin Roberts… maybe not. Bruno is already catching flack for his lack of originality – getting constantly harped on for imitating & borrowing & copying old school jams. Showing respect for the roots is great, but as Pedro Bell says: “obviousness is a sin and you will pay” and Bruno needs to come with something – anything – that shows an original take of his, otherwise his great vision for funky history will get lost.

I believe there are as many or more Funk Bands playing now worldwide than ever before. But they are all scattered, not connected except for their Love of The One. The “industry” has no interest in giving black BANDS a new look. A rock band with soulful black folks in it, sure, punk band, no problem, reggae, easy, but Funk? Like hiring Colin Kaepernick to play quarterback at this point, just too much potential for Revolution there.

I would like to see for example, Beyonce’s band to hit some grooves of their own, JB’s style, to open their show, and do some mean musical breaks with a high profile. If just one or two established black acts presented themselves with a Funk Band, an entire new scene would be given the spotlight once again. The level of black awareness & consciousness is lingering there, but not fully formed because the MUSIC is so backwards right now. So yes it is about comic book characters, and any other means of black expression that can be filled up with black badass-ness…. but the music is on Lock Down right now… and its deep.

Maybe the rumored collaboration between Bootsy and Dr. Dre will change a few minds. Hopefully Dre will follow Bootsy’s lead and make music nutritious for the soul, not just more of the same gangsta posing…

What is the importance of the Funk Museum that has opened in Dayton, Ohio?

It is definitely a necessary step in the re-educational process for Black folks as well as all Americans. I have not seen it, so I can’t speak on how essential each exhibit is, but the effort it has taken, and its very presence is a revelation on the face of it. My homie Prof. Scot Brown at UCLA is finishing his book on Dayton Funk, which should hopefully continue the process of giving national recognition to a cultural moment in American history!

Also, I do think the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. – right in the shadow of the Washington Monument – is very important because it houses “all” of black history, from the slave ships in the basement, to a replica of George Clintons MOTHERSHIP on the top floor! Now that’s a beautiful way to tell our story!

Have you written any other books?  If yes, what is the name of the book and what is it about?

My second book is called PARTY MUSIC: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music. (Chicago Review Press 2013) And it is exactly that. I discovered that the Black Panther Party out here in Oakland had its own R&B band in 1970 that did some mean soul & funk covers, but flipped the lyrics to speak to the Party’s brand of revolutionary politics. From that groups’ story I expanded into the ways soul music was providing a soundtrack to the Movement in 1968-71 and beyond.

There is good info on the book at www.rickeyvincent.com

Where can people purchase your books and album?

Both books are available at amazon.com, and the album is on itunes, all the major streaming platforms, and hard CD’s are at CDbaby.com and a few other places. www.rickeyvincentmusic.com

Just look up Phool 4 The Funk by Rickey Vincent

https://www.amazon.com/Phool-4-Funk-Rickey-Vincent/dp/B01M69IAVR/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1523345109&sr=1-1&keywords=rickey+vincent

+ the books:

You’ve written books, host a radio show, what other funk inspired movements have you been involved in?

Out here in the Bay, a young music producer named Lyz Luke has been putting on shows that are tributes to legendary music albums, peformed by local artists. I got to know her when she asked me to co-host a big celebration of Sly & the Family Stone’s STAND! album, performed by a huge collaboration of local stars! The finale actually had Freddie, Cynthia, Jerry and Gregg performing with us!

Through that experience I got to know a new generation of artists – some of whom wound up on my RV CD, and I now support them on my radio show. Lyz has gone on to do tributes to Bob Marley’s Exodus, Green Day, Sgt. Pepper, and maybe her best production was a local rendering of Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album! If there is one exploding sound out here in the bay, it is righteous Sistas doing their own brand of hip hop!

Where can they follow you on social media?

I’m still on facebook as Rickey Vincent, and I’m on many funkateers lists, and have my own: The History of Funk With Rickey Vincent on KPFA
That’s where I drop most of my threads and announcements.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Thank you for this opportunity Paula! Keep The Funk Alive!