Truth! Stone Raiders at Leimert Park

Last week, I had the privilege of sitting down and speaking with Stone Raiders, a group that defies classification.  The interview took place in the cultural, still-beating heart of one of Los Angeles’ best-loved African-American communities: Liemert Park.  If you’ve never been there, it’s a very special place, not at all a place “that time forgot.” It still bears the scars, thoughts, hopes and dreams that are quintessentially African-American.  Babe’s and Ricky’s used to be there, Barbara Morrison’s place is still there, and there is The World Stage, an intimate little venue on Degnan Ave.

When you walk the streets there, it’s alive and vibrant with the sounds of music.  There are street musicians playing saxophones, African beats drifting out of stores, the once-monthly open blues jam at Barbara Morrison’s, and a great drum-off in the central area.  The main drag, Degnan Blvd, brings me back to a time long-gone.  It’s a very wide avenue, where the cars park at an angle and there are people with carts selling ice cream, African-inspired clothing, and many other delights.  In essence, it’s one of the best and least-known areas in Los Angeles, unless of course you happen to be a musician.  Degnan Blvd. was and is the home of the blues in L.A. and I’m a frequent visitor to the area.

I was there last week to meet up with one of the ultimate supergroups, a trio that goes by the name of Stone Raiders.  The Stone Raiders are Jean-Paul Bourelly on guitar, Will Calhoun on drums, and Darryl Jones on bass.  I know the term “supergroup” gets bandied about a lot, but this trio is seriously deserving of the title, and serious they are.  These guys don’t play their instruments; they are the instruments.  It’s hard to tell where the instrument starts and the musician ends, because these men seem so melded with their music and each other, they function almost as a single mind, and the effects are staggering, but not at all surprising.

To attempt to describe the music, I will say that they have this current resume: Jean-Paul is widely considered to be at the level of Jimi Hendrix on the guitar, but he doesn’t sound like he’s trying to be Hendrix.  He definitely has the spirit of Hendrix as part of his internal engine; he’s doing things with his guitar and vocals that have not been seen since Jimi was around. He’s worked with Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, and McCoy Tyner (to name a few).  At points during his performance, I was reminded slightly of George Benson and the way he would scat in lockstep with his guitar.

Will Calhoun on drums is a wonderful mix of funk, soul and rock.  Do you remember the impact that Living Colour made back in the 1980’s?  That impact was partially due to the rhythmic stylings of Will Calhoun.  I won’t compare him with any rock drummer, because all the great drummers aren’t rock drummers; they’re jazz drummers.  Think Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Roy Hanes, and Buddy Rich.  Will has not only taken a great deal of influence from not just his musical icons, but from cultural ones as well, and this in itself is something that stopped me right in my tracks listening to him school me.

“I was influenced by a great many people, not just musicians.  Muhammad Ali, Dr. King, and Malcolm X have definitely influenced my playing.” You can hear it in his playing – it’s not a sound, it’s a feel.  Calhoun has been voted “best drummer” by Modern Drummer, has been named one of the world’s best drummers by Rolling Stone, and has worked with such luminaries as BB King, Herb Alpert, Dr. John, Ronnie Wood, and Jaco Pastorius.  If you’ve worked with Jaco, end of discussion.

On bass guitar is Darryl Jones, who has been one of the world’s greatest bass players for decades.  His career started out by playing with Miles Davis.  Stop and think about that for a second.  How good do you think you need to be at age twenty-one to get a gig with Miles Davis? Since then, he’s also played with Sting, Madonna, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Peter Gabriel, and has been a member of The Rolling Stones for twenty-five years.  In 2014 he founded his own line of bass guitars, Jones Musical Instruments.

No matter how I write this article, I don’t think I can perfectly encapsulate the sound of the band, their conviction, or the importance of the music.  It’s not a casual thing, and there is meaning and depth to what they do.  To the audience, they’re hearing some top-notch jazz/fusion.  No, the band isn’t a household name, and that’s probably a good thing.

“Without the standard model of a record company telling you what to do, we have the freedom to do our own music the way we want to,” says Jean-Paul Bourelly.  Sitting talking with them, I was immediately struck by their deep insights into a multitude of topics. Blogging for instance.  Most people I run into put “blogging” at the “end of the trough” because it’s not print nor does it have as big of a footprint.  As Jean-Paul put it, “It is very much like our music.  Because it is free form and not indebted to a publication, it’s more honest.”

Honest indeed.  The band chose to play two nights on Degnan in Leimert Park, because they perfectly understood the cultural signifigance of the neighborhood, and much respect to them for picking this great street to play on.  I’m going to continue this interview in a follow-up article, because I went in there filled with questions for them with a half-hour alotted me, and ended up asking two or three questions and sitting with them for ninety-minutes.  And they all had some very poignant things to say.  So yes, The Stone Raiders are a supergroup, in a genre that defies classification, and that is exactly what makes music great at times – something that defies description.  And if you’re lucky, it comes along once or twice in a lifetime.  If you have the chance, I strongly suggest you go check them out!  In the meantime, I’ll be putting together the actual interview, because these cats have something poignant to say, and I don’t want to miss a word.

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