Burning It Down with Charles Walker and The Dynamites: The Bill Elder Interview

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With a new album having just been released, The Dynamites Featuring Charles Walker have sprung to the scene in a manner that even they may not have suspected. Deep funk and hard-driven soul course through the veins of this project in a fashion that is raw and nostalgic but somehow keep relevancy all the while.

It does not hurt that the front-man is Charles Walker who could literally write an autobiographic piece that in and of itself would summarize the last four decades of soul music. We sat down with the band’s founder, Bill Elder (AKA Leo Black) to get his perspective on this puzzle.

 

Honest Tune: Could you briefly give us a background on this project?

Bill Elder: I put together The Dynamites …we are going on our fourth year. Our first gig was November 18, 2005. Prior to that, I had an idea to put on a soul review. That mainly was inspired by my career as a producer in a studio here in Nashville. I had put this idea together in my head drawing inspiration from all of these musicians that I was working with. So at first it was really a thing that was just for fun. I thought of the name The Dynamites.

Then I met some guys who are now my good friends from Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings. They really helped me a lot in regards to how to put it all together, do the set lists, and get everything going. There was no Dynamites before that and it was put together to really high light the Golden Era of Soul in a three or four night soul review which at the time was the entire extent of the entire project or idea. Then things really blasted off really from the beginning…mainly because we found Charles (Walker) and as far as press goes, having him in front of it made for a reasonably big story to talk about with Charles being one of the last Nashville R & B Soul greats still around.

HT: It has blasted off and rightfully so. It brings forth a unique sound yet still has a nostalgic effect on the listener. However nostalgic does not translate into irrelevance in this case. This particularly comes through in the lyrical content. What I am wondering is if that is a natural consequence or something that you actually aim for when going through the creative process?

BE: I would say it is both. When you take a look at the genre that we are in- some call it retro-soul, some call it beat-funk, super-soul…I just call it Soul Music; there is a strict lyrical thing that one should try and stick to and that is not a bad thing. You are either talking about sex or funk. Talking about getting down, doing your thing, or about some lady. We have the representations of that in our stuff, but you hit the nail on the head there because when we realized that this was a legitimate project and that we need to go on and make a record, and I set about writing the tunes, at every turn has been the motif of having one foot firmly planted in the Golden Era but also a conscious attempt has been made to make the content new so that it does have a chance to move forward and bring people in from a modern standpoint.

Obviously one of the main ways to do this is through lyrical content. So when you listen to our albums you will get some songs that are strictly textbook sick and nasty ‘65 era pure funk from top to bottom. Then there are other tunes that dig deeper with lyrical content, instrumentation, and song structure. If there was not an intentional effort towards this, I suppose people would listen to the music, hear the nostalgia in it, and simply leave it there. 

Dynamites3.JPGHT: Mentioning things such as textbook and song structure leads me to believe that you have a background in some type of formal music study. Is that a correct assumption?

BE: Yeah. I was a Music Theory major at Baylor and then played in bands periodically after that. Then I moved to Nashville and somehow got suckered into going back to college. I only did it for one more year but in the end I am glad that I did because there is a music business at Belmont and that is where I met a lot of these guys and that is also where I learned all of the production stuff.

HT: There is an undercurrent tone of urgency in Burn it Down… is this a reflection to the current day and time in which we live? 

BE: Absolutely. That is the reason it was chosen to make the final cut. The original title was “Black President.” It was written shortly after Barack Obama declared that he would be running for President. The whole point of that song which is a theme that pops up here and there throughout the record is that you burn things down so that you can build them back up. So it is more about regeneration than destruction which could be gleaned through the title alone. It is about getting rid of old dogmatic narrow minded ways of thinking and becoming open to a new approach to things. I will admit that it is a fairly politically slanted statement that we make, but I tried to be as graceful with it as I could in putting out the message that things are totally messed up but not messed up to the point that they cannot be restored.

HT: The new album seems to tell a story of sorts…almost like a melodrama if you will… would you care to lend any insight into this?

BE: I totally agree with you, but the way that happens is that art comes from what is happening at that time and these songs were all written at a certain time and I guess I kind of got lucky with there being a general cohesiveness. The world, politically, and otherwise was in an upheaval during the time that the album was being written. At no point in any part of the creative part of the Dynamites has anybody asked “Who is going to buy this?” My opinion is that anyone who is writing music are being true to what going on with them then whatever comes out should be a reflection of what is happening now.

Over the last couple of years as all of this has been going down, the things that are written about are what is going on in my mind. On this record it all comes to a head in Sunny Day. At every turn from writing to recording to mixing, I was not sure that the track would make it to the finished album. After it was all said and done, the groove was so happening, the lyrics said exactly what they needed to say, the mix came out great, and a lot of people that I talk to think that it is the highlight of the record. That just says that with all the talk of doomsday you got to listen to what I say and step outside into a sunny day. It is a message of positivity and I don’t mean to go off on a tangent here, but this is where the album comes full circle in my opinion.

Dynamites4.JPGHT: Growing up in a house that was filled with James Brown, The Four Tops, and the like, my appreciation runs deep. Who or what inspires you?

BE: It all started with James Brown. When I got to college, I was driven towards Blues and Jazz. As soon as I started listening to James Brown, everything changed. I often wondered to myself why everyone in the whole world is not listening to this music (laughs). To me, that is the relationship that I wanted to have with music. I wanted to make music that at every juncture makes you want to get down. 

HT: What has it been like for you personally to work with Charles?  

BE: It has been a huge honor to stand on the stage with a guy who literally came straight from the Golden Era of Soul. He has been singing professionally since 1961. He ended up in the House Band at Small’s Paradise while Miles Davis and people like Thelonious Monk were filtering through there day in and day out. Just having a guy right there who was steeped in it all during its hay-day is just amazing. I think he is really glad to be in a band who pays attention to the Golden Era.

HT: What is in store in the future?

BE: We are going where it takes us. That is where it started and that is what is I think it will continue.

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