Big Sam celebrates album, birthday with funky fireworks
Last week, Big Sam’s Funky Nation played multiple events for the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend. This week, the band celebrates its trombone-playing founder’s 33rd birthday Friday at Tipitina’s with Big Sam’s Funky Birthday Bash.
“A lot of musicians are coming out,” band leader Sam Williams said last week during a break from preparations for the NBA gigs. “We’re going to do one big jam session.”
Big Sam’s Funky Nation is often on the road. When the band is home in New Orleans, it usually plays Frenchmen Street music venue the Blue Nile.
“But for the birthday bash,” Williams said, “I was like, ‘Let’s make it a little bit of a bigger show. Let’s go to Tip’s and get a bunch of my musician friends involved.’ ”
In addition to the night’s guest stars, Funky Nation fans will get a preview of the group’s upcoming album, “Evolution.” Williams and the band have been playing some of the album’s songs on stage for months, but four previously unheard selections get their world premiere Friday.
So far, reaction to Funky Nation’s new music has been enthusiastic.
“Before we’re done with a chorus,” Williams said, “the people are singing along with us, even though they have never heard the song before. We’re like, ‘Damn!’ That’s a great feeling.”
Big Sam’s Funky Nation spent most of the past few months in New Orleans, something rare for the group.
“We needed those months to focus on finishing the album,” Williams explained.
He’s planning to release “Evolution” by late March. Following 2012’s five-song EP, “Funky Donkey,” and 2010’s “King of the Party,” the new album represents musical and personal growth, Williams said.
“It’s no longer a jazz-funk-style band,” he said. “Now it’s more funk and rock oriented. It’s definitely hard-hitting.”
With only one instrumental on the album, the songs’ lyrics also have an evolutionary theme. Events from the recently divorced musician’s own life inspired them.
“It’s a story of love and pain, heartbreaks, relationships,” Williams said.
The first four letters of evolution spelled backwards, he added, spell love.
“Everything’s not always perfect,” Williams said, “but, at the end of the day, I’m like, ‘You know what? I’m going to write some music and we’re going to dance to it.’ ”
Williams formed Big Sam’s Funky Nation two years into his four years as a member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. He joined the busy, internationally touring Dirty Dozen when he was 19. Realizing he couldn’t be in the Dirty Dozen and simultaneously maintain his own group, he left the Dozen to do Big Sam’s Funky Nation full time.
After Hurricane Katrina and the flood scattered Williams’ band members throughout the country, even the world, he had to rebuild the group from scratch.
Touring with Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello following the release of their 2006 duo album, “The River in Reverse,” was great, he said, but it also put Funky Nation on hold.
Finding simpatico musicians who can help fulfill his vision for Big Sam’s Funky Nation was another challenge.
“I had to go back and forth, changing members, switching members out to get that right formula,” he said. “The band I have now, it’s definitely the sound that I’m looking for.”