By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
The members of Epperley on Sunday are returning from the
South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas.
They've been there before — once playing a packed official
showcase, once playing to the sound man at a "pirate" gig --
but this year's self-promotion rings of self-confidence and
No longer does this Tulsa rock band fit the mold of
green, mildly desperate newcomers. An acclaimed new album,
some miles on the odometer and a sense of professionalism
instilled by four years in the running have fermented the
Epperley sound into something finer, full-bodied and
"Like wine, right?" smirked Epperley guitarist Matt Nader
during a recent conversation. "Jeez, I hope we've grown by
now. We're playing some great shows, and I think we're all
excited about the record and what people will think of it."
He should be. Epperley's new album, "Sophomore Slump," is
likely to raise most of the brows furrowed by the
self-titled debut. Recorded and mixed in a whirlwind few
days in New York City, the disc is a wallop of fat guitars,
roaring production and some solid songs. That it's finally
on record store shelves is a bit of a relief, too — the
release was delayed for a year — but Nader said he thinks
the timing will be just right. "Somehow we haven't let
people forget our name, and I think some people are
actually waiting for this," he said.
The waiting has been the hardest part.
Better late than never
Exactly one year ago I caught up with Epperley to talk
about the new album, finished early in '97. When I asked
when the record would be released, all four guys — Nader,
singer David Terry, bassist David Bynum and drummer John
Truskett — laughed. The responses, though, showed they
weren't amused: "Maybe late May?" "This century?" "Hell's frozen
The band's record label, Los Angeles-based Triple X
Records, held onto the disc while working out a deal to
distribute it properly. Nader said the delay, while
frustrating, will be worth the wait. "The last record
(also on Triple X) was hard to find even here in Tulsa, but
a friend of mine saw copies in a Tower Records in Germany
and Indonesia, and I found it in Paris," Nader said. The new
deal should make "Sophomore Slump" readily available in most
music shops on this continent.
Last year's meeting took place during a rehearsal at
Nader's posh south Tulsa house. An upstairs bedroom was the
band's studio, littered with chunky sound equipment and
videodiscs of cult films. Truskett, the band's manic Neal
Cassidy, was sniffling and wheezing behind his kit; the
night before, his symptoms had landed him in the emergency
room. Before launching into the first song of the
afternoon, he beat on his chest, chanting to himself, "Who's
not sick? Who's not sick?"
"Hey, the drummer for Def Leppard only had one arm," Nader
said, attempting consolation. No dice.
"Yeah," Truskett said, "but he didn't have bronchitis."
As the sun faded, they plowed through several of the
songs they're still playing today — the martial beats of
"Static," the reinvented boredom lament "Jenks, America," a
great song that didn't make the new album, "Casio Man" --
randomly selecting them from a lengthy three-column list on
a bulletin board.
"Triple X wanted to put out an EP, but we thought that
would be a bad idea," Bynum said. "We've got so many songs,
though, and we haven't put out a record in so long."
Said Nader: "We're the most prolific band in the
Indeed, since the appearance of "Epperley" in 1996, Nader
and his mates have churned out scores of songs. Every few
months, I'd see them brandishing another 90-minute cassette
of new songs. In addition to producing their own Christmas
CD twice, Nader even formed a band on the side, Secret
Agent Teenager, to ease some of the songwriting pressure.
In the interim, the band also landed a publishing contract
with Windswept Pacific.
"The publishing deal is actually the best part," Bynum
said. "That gets our material in front of a lot of people
who otherwise probably wouldn't play one of our records on
sight. That has helped us to slowly, very slowly, get
Epperley spent the beginning of 1999 plying the West
Coast with this sweeter sound. After four years together,
this is the first serious touring the band has done. Nader
said the advantages of honing a live show far outweighed
the soul-deadening experience of driving for hours on end.
"We got to play a lot — a lot more than if we had stayed
here in Tulsa," he said. "It was a drag sometimes, pulling
eight- to 12-hour drives every day and knowing exactly what
records each person would listen to when it was his turn to
drive. But we had some really good shows, especially toward
the end of the tour."
Not only did a San Diego club, the Casbah ("I finally got
to rock the Casbah," Nader said), bring Epperley back for a
second show, but the band's final gig was an opening slot
for Imperial Teen, the latest band featuring Roddy Bottom
(Faith No More), at L.A.'s noted Troubadour club.
They plan to hit the road again next month, if for no
other reason than to see Tina Yothers again.
"Remember Tina Yothers, from 'Family Ties'? She's in a
band called The Jaded," Terry said. "It's awful. It's like
Cinemax after-dark kind of stuff. Really bad."
It's gonna happen
Meanwhile, Epperley now is concentrating on promoting
the new album through all the right channels. The reviews
are starting to come in, and most are positive. The band is
now listed in the online version of the All-Music Guide,
and both albums score three out of five stars.
"The first album got reviewed in all these punk
magazines," Bynum said. "That's bad."
"We got a bad review in one of those that said we sucked
because we didn't use distortion in every song," Nader
"Guitar World said, `This band makes Blind Melon look
like Pantera,' " Bynum recalled. "What else was there?"
"Remember the shortest one?" Terry asked his mates. "It was
just one sentence: 'Isn't Kurt Cobain dead?' "
Everyone laughs, and it's a healthy laughter. The
Epperley guys usually join detractors of their first
record. Most of it was recorded when Epperley still
operated under the names Bug and, briefly, Superfuzz, with
some extra tracks added from initial, hasty L.A. sessions.
"We don't even really like the first record," Nader said.
"We can't blame Triple X for not promoting it. It was
recorded without any idea that someone would say, `Hey, we
want to put this out.' " But that, Epperley likes to
remind itself, was a long time ago. "One day," Terry
said, "whether it's on Triple X and takes forever or whether
we're shoved into the limelight, it's going to happen for
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Back-to-back Grammy award-winner Roberta Flack was on
the phone with us a few hours before the annual Grammys
ceremony last month. She wasn't attending — the call came
from her home in Barbados — and she wasn't even sure she
would watch the show.
"I'm not sure I can get it down here," Flack said, "and I
couldn't sit down that long even when I was going to those
Grammys may be old hat for Flack; however, even
when she doesn't attend, her presence often still permeates
the glittering music halls. This year, for instance, the
golden child of the evening was hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill --
once leader of the Fugees, a band that just two years ago
launched its formidable career by covering one of Flack's
signature early '70s hits, "Killing Me Softly With His
Flack herself has a unique place in Grammy history. In
1972, she took home trophies for Record of the Year and
Song of the Year for her recording of Ewan MacColl's "The
First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." She also shared a trophy
for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group that year with
Donny Hathaway for the duet "Where Is the Love." That alone
was a nice haul, but the very next year Flack returned to
collect three more statuettes for "Killing Me Softly" — an
unheard-of one-two punch.
Then what happened? Well, therein lies the rub, as well
as what makes a musical artist distinct. The pop scene
changed — the fans' love of story songs in the early '70s
gave way to mindless disco beats — and Flack refused to blow
with the prevailing winds. She remains an unmistakable
talent at this point in her three-decade career precisely
because she didn't try to become a disco queen (a la Patti
Labelle) or a private dancer (a la Tina Turner). Flack was,
is and forever will be a balladeer.
That's not to say she hasn't dabbled. Her last album,
1995's "Roberta," opened with a kind of rap, and she's
tinkered with jazz singing, but Flack endures as a vocalist
who lures the simple, shining joy out of a ballad, from
those first two smash hits to her chart-topping duet with
Peabo Bryson, "Tonight I Celebrate My Love." She sings songs
that tell tales — timeless ones.
"I got started at the time people were really into songs
that told stories," Flack said in our conversation. "That was
a really good time, the early '70s. Even rock 'n' roll
artists, country and R&B artists — and this is when those
divisions were really clear — they were all trying to do
music that told stories. It wasn't necessarily a
once-upon-a-time story, but something people could connect
to, some personal experience they'd been through. The
exciting part about being a musician is recognizing that
when you're on stage, when someone connects with what
you're singing about, and you just watch them change.
"But everything has its season, and things changed.
Except me. The disco thing was next, and I'm not stupid
enough to hang in with that. I'm perfectly satisfied to
sing a beautiful ballad." The process of choosing
ballads sometimes is subject to whim or instinct. Flack
said she looks for ineffable concepts like "gorgeousness,
effect, meaning" in a song before she tackles it, with an
emphasis on that last one: meaning.
"I have to think that somebody other than me is going to
understand it," she said. "I don't want to sing and entertain
myself, or provide just therapy for myself. I want to be
sharing my feelings. I make sure I'm picking a song that
speaks to experiences and attitudes and moments in all of
Still, the meaning Flack may find in a song can be,
well, unique. "Killing Me Softly" is a lyric written about
the songs of Don McLean (telescope that notion through the
Fugees' version and see what you get!), but Flack said she
sung it because it reminded her of someone close. Plus, the
face she had in mind when recording "The First Time" in 1969
was small and, well, furry.
"At the moment I recorded that, I was singing to a little
cat," Flack said. "It sounds cornball, but it's true. I'd
never had a cat before, and my manager had just given me
one. I named it Sancho. About the time I got him was when I
got the chance to go to New York and record demos for that
first album ... In those two days, I recorded between 35
and 40 songs live. (Not long after) I got back, Sancho
died. Then, three or four weeks later, when I recorded the
album, I was thinking about little Sancho, that cute little
funny-looking, scrawny cat."
In concert, Flack said she tries to gauge the
temperament of her audience and chooses songs to fit that
perceived mood. Set lists vary from night to night when
she's on the road (the Tulsa shows are special
engagements). She's been known to nix "The First Time" in
favor of, say, John Lennon's "Imagine," because "the young
kids today" might identify with Lennon more readily than her
own signature work.
Those same young kids are still driving record sales,
and Flack's perceived distance from them is why she thinks
she's without a record deal at the moment. Not that it
troubles her greatly — she's looking, but she's got time and
options, she said — but she recognizes that she's not
"A lot of us don't have deals now — those of us who sing
those story songs well. There's just not a place for us in
the scheme of things. "We're not doing hip-hop, and if
you're not doing what sells," Flack said, "you're not going
to be doing."
With the Tulsa Philharmonic
When 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Third Street and Cincinnati Ave.
Tickets $14-$58; PAC, 596-7111 and Carson Attractions, 584-2000
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Larry Graham is sometimes referred to as The Man Who
Invented Funk. "Well, I don't know about that, but I did
invent my style of playing the bass," Graham said in an
interview this week.
Indeed, a great number of influential musicians formed
the foundations of funk, but the music never would have
been the same without Graham's particular style of playing
the bass. That contribution gave the music its signature
sound: the slap bass.
Slap bass is just what it sounds like: the bass player
slaps the low strings with his or her thumb, keeping rhythm
while plucking the other strings with the fingers. Graham
"invented" this method of playing before he had his own funk
band, Graham Central Station, and before he joined the
legendary '60s soul-funk collective Sly and the Family
And that sound? Well, it was all a mistake, really.
"Bass players usually play overhand, with their fingers.
That's a carry-over from upright bass playing. My style is
different because I came to the bass from the guitar,"
Graham explained. "My mom and I were working together, and
this one club had an organ with bass pedals that went half
way across. I learned how to play those pedals while
playing my guitar, and I got used to that.
"But one day the organ broke down. We sounded empty
without that bottom sound. I rented a bass to hold down
that bottom until the organ could be repaired. I wasn't
trying to learn the correct overhand style, because I
wasn't planning to play bass any longer than I had to. I
was playing it like a guitar. But the organ couldn't be
repaired, so I got stuck on the bass. That rental turned
into a purchase."
After a while, the jazzy combo with Graham and his
mother became just a duo of the two. Again, Graham
improvised to fill in their sound. Lacking a drummer,
Graham began thumping his bass strings to make up for not
having the backbeat of a snare drum.
The innovation paid off in a big way. Sometimes it only
takes one person to be impressed.
"There was one lady in a club we played regularly who was
also a fan of Sly Stone on the radio at the time," Graham
said. "She used to call him up on the phone and say, `You
gotta go hear this bass player.' Eventually, she was
persistent to the point that he came down to hear me.
That's how I got the gig with Sly, and that's how this
style of playing got popular — through the records we made.
If you were a musician playing our tunes, you had to play
the bass like me for the song to sound right. Then, when
these people started writing their own music, the bass
players kept using that style. I never thought it would be
"And, you know, I never did see that lady again to thank
But with Sly and the Family Stone, he did help write
sweat-dripping classics like "Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice
Elf)." A lyric from the band's classic "Everyday People" (now
used to hawk Toyotas) sums up the group's musical
philosophy as well as its timeless appeal: "Different
strokes for different folks."
At least, that's what Graham said made the group so
popular in the early '70s — much more so than his unique
"We were different. We were a rainbow," he said. "The music
was a combination of all types of music. You could hear
R&B, jazz, rock, even country. Plus, it was a
self-contained band. We played the instruments as well as
singing all the parts. There was male and female, black and
white, mixed up every kind of way you could think of."
That was 30 years ago. After the Family Stone split up
in '74, Graham immediately formed his own funky collective,
Graham Central Station, which thwacked its way through the
'70s before Graham went solo in 1980.
In all that time, Graham has watched funk music grow
into its own, fade slightly, then come back indirectly
through samples in hip-hop songs.
"A lot of the old-school stuff is hot again because it's
been sampled so much. Us, Parliament-Funkadelic, Rick James
— they're all back on the scene because the kids, after they
hear whoever's rapping on top of that song, are smart
enough to know that's M.C. Hammer rapping but Rick James
making the music. So they go dig up his old records or my
old records," Graham said.
One such second-generation fan has turned out to be
Graham's latest R&B benefactor. Last year, Graham was in
Nashville to play a show, and he got a call during
soundcheck from another artist in town at the same time:
Prince (The Artist, or whatever you call him).
"He heard I was in town, and he called me and told me
he'd be jamming after his concert at an after-party, would
I like to come down and jam? That was the first time we
played together, and we had an instant lock," Graham said.
"Growing up he listened to a lot of my music, and he said I
was one band who influenced him the most. I hadn't played
with anybody who knew my music so well. I started doing
tour dates with him, then a few more and a few more, pretty
soon a year had passed. We knew we had something going
together, so I moved to Minneapolis to be closer to him."
The relationship has resulted in millennium-marking
projects for both artists. Graham worked with Prince on the
new single versions of Prince's 1982 hit "1999," and Prince
collaborated with Graham on a new Graham Central Station
record, "GCS 2000." Both discs were released on the same day
early this month on Prince's NPG Records.
Graham is still adjusting to life in Minneapolis after
seven years living in Jamaica. When we caught him on the
phone this week, it was snowing in Minnesota.
"Been a while since I've seen snow, let me tell you,"
Graham said. "It has a pretty thing about it. Of course, I'm
saying that from inside the house."
But the climate shock is worth the artistic freedom he
enjoys working outside the traditional record label system
with Prince at his Paisley Park Studios.
"It's great working up here. You have total freedom to
record whatever you want to record. Nobody's standing
around saying, `You can't do that.' There's no time crunch,
no budget to worry about. As long as the bill gets paid for
the electricity, the tape will be rolling. When you're
finished with a song is when you're actually finished with
it, not because you ran out of time or money to pay the
label or the studio. And to have the greatest producer in
the world working with you — well, it all went into creating
what I think is a great album for me," Graham said.
"And it's good to have a new lease on life. Funk is back,
so this is where I belong."
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.