Sunday, November 17, 2013

RonKat Spearman’s Katdelic Ignites a New Funk Revolution Across the Bay Area

Photo by BabyDre Photography
Over the last few years, P-Funk Allstar RonKat Spearman has been shaking up the San Francisco music scene with his unique and potent brand of funk. The Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and vocalist has been busy writing tracks, recording, and fronting his ten-piece band Katdelic. RonKat and Katdelic have been electrifying audiences across the Bay Area with their super-funky, high-energy shows and have built a devoted following. And the band plays regularly at San Francisco’s world-famous Boom Boom Room where they never fail to tear the roof off. Also, in addition to being a gifted musician and songwriter, RonKat is a charismatic showman who knows how to connect with an audience. And he gets strong support from Katdelic, a crew of some of the baddest players in the Bay Area.

The lineup for Katdelic is the following: RonKat (guitar, bass, keyboards, lead vocals); Adam Lipsky (Drums); Kirk Peterson (bass); Patrick Sims (rhythm guitar); Alan Williams (trombone); Lela Caro (vocals); PTFI (gadgets and background vocals); Rob Poole (bass and background vocals); Genevieve (background singer); and Rasa Vitalia  (dancer and Pussy Kat).

Katdelic’s core sound and jumping off point is funk, and from there they mix it up with other genres, such as rock, hip hop, gospel, soul and jazz. The band achieves its unique and dynamic sound through the melding of these different styles, while still maintaining a solid funk foundation.

RonKat describes his sound as a “new fusion of funk."

“It’s a fusion of old and new beats,” he explains. “And I don’t want to discredit The Funk.  I’m just mixin’ it up and keepin’ it fresh.”

RonKat says one of the things that he enjoys most about being an artist/performer is seeing audience members having a blast during his shows.

“If you’re making people happy, and they’re dancing and singing along with you, you’re doin’ it right,” he says. “That’s what I do it for. I want people to have a good time, and that’s what I think funk brings.”

RonKat says that touring with George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic for 10 years (2000-2010) was an invaluable learning experience and helped him grow as both an artist and performer.

“Man, I learned so much from them about live performing and recording,” he says. “It’s like I really graduated from that school. Things will come back to me that they did or said, and that diploma is in effect. All those guys are seasoned professionals, and there’s a reason why they got all those accolades.”

With George Clinton’s blessings, RonKat took a hiatus from P-Funk in 2010 to focus on recording and performing with his band Katdelic, which had been an off-the-road project while he was still touring with the legendary funk outfit. However, he makes it clear that he’s still very much a part of the P-Funk family.

“Man, you don’t leave P-Funk. It’s like the mob,” he laughs. “Yes, I’m doin’ my own thing, but if they call me to do something, I gotta go. I strap up, put the guitar on, and they plug me up.”

RonKat formed a close friendship with George Clinton even before he began touring with P-Funk.

“Me and George were always friends,” RonKat says. “I call him dad; he’s like my dad, anyway. And the rest of them were like brothers. They were real encouraging. And me and Garry Shider [aka Starchild or Diaper Man] became really cool. He became a really good friend of mine as well.”

Additionally, RonKat says being a part of P-Funk opened up many opportunities for him to travel to different parts of the world and share the stage with some of music’s biggest names.

“It’s truly been an honor and a blessing,” he says.  “I mean, I’ve been on the stage with some of the greatest [artists] in the world.”

In addition to George Clinton and P-Funk, some of the other notable artists with whom RonKat has recorded, co-written songs, or shared the stage include Billy Preston, Smokey Robinson, Prince, Bobby Womack, Chaka Khan, Henry Rollins, Rick James, Bootsy Collins, El DeBarge, Lenny Kravitz, Shock G and Tommy Lee.

RonKat even had the opportunity to work with rap superstar Kanye West. Around 2008, he worked on a musical Kanye was producing.  For this project, RonKat spent some time in the studio with Kanye, Lamont Dozier (of legendary Motown songwriting and production team Holland-Dozier-Holland) and Tony Williams, who’s Kanye’s first cousin and was a singer in his band. No music has surfaced from those sessions as of yet; nonetheless, RonKat says it was a great experience to have worked with the acclaimed hip-hop artist, as well as Dozier and Williams.

Katdelic funking things up at the Boom Boom Room
As a kid growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, RonKat caught the music bug early and began playing at the age of five. His father was a musician, and he instilled his love for music in his young son.

“My dad had all these records, and he would call me in to listen to them,” RonKat says. “I was just kind of soakin’ it all up.”

RonKat adds that his father’s eclectic taste made him appreciate many different music styles.

“Man, he played everything, from like the hardest core jazz –like Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery—to  some Isley Brothers to some Earth, Wind & Fire,” says RonKat.

And even before RonKat had a real instrument, he’d create beats on whatever was available around the house.

 “Yeah, I could make music out of anything,” he says.  “Man, I’d beat on a TV with no tube in it, anything.”

RonKat says his first real instrument was the drums. He really took to them and would play along with his father’s records for hours.  RonKat was eventually proficient on several instruments, including guitar, bass, drums, percussion and keyboards. He had no formal music training and was completely self-taught.  And he says that there was never any question that music would be his path, stating, “It was something that just took its own place in my life.”

He says his parents’ constant encouragement was instrumental to his growth as a musician and performer.

“They allowed me the freedom to just kind of create,” he says.

When RonKat was seven, his father began taking him around to clubs to sit in with some of the “hot musicians who came to town.” At first, the seasoned professionals were skeptical of the grade schooler’s playing abilities and would give his father a hard time.

“They’d be like, ‘Ah man, you need to get on and take him home. It’s past his bedtime,’” RonKat laughs.

But his father eventually convinced the incredulous musicians to let his son play the congas for a couple of songs with them, and everyone was blown away by the gifted young musician’s chops and wanted him to stay.

“They’d be like, ‘Hey, where you goin’ man?  Let him play some more!’” says RonKat.

And in addition to improving his playing abilities, RonKat was also developing his songwriting skills.  He says from an early age, music ideas would constantly come to him.

“I’ve always had melodies and lyrics and things in my head all the time,” says RonKat.  “It’s kind of crazy.”

RonKat says he formed his first band when he was in the fifth grade and continued to hone his skills as a musician, songwriter, singer and performer throughout his adolescence. Finally, encouraged by stories of big record deals from his musician friends, RonKat moved to Los Angeles when he was around 20, hoping to get a foothold in the music business. However, once he arrived in L.A., the reality was much different from the glamorous picture his friends had painted.

“I thought everybody was makin’ it,” says RonKat. “I was like, dang, my boys just got signed, so let me go out there and see if I can make it.  Man, when I get in the door, the electricity’s off. It’s like roaches everywhere. I didn’t know they had gotten dropped from the label. And I asked, ‘What’s up, you don’t have a record deal anymore?’ And they were like, ‘Nah man, we’re still tryin’ to get a deal.’”

It was rough going for awhile for the young musician, but he resolved to tough it out.

“All them cats ended up going back home, but I stayed,” he says. “I was kind of roughin’ it for awhile, sleepin’ on the floor and stuff. And, man, I worked every kind of job you can imagine. Name a job, and I bet you I worked it.”

Things began to turn around for RonKat when he was introduced to composer/producer and multi-instrumentalist Vassal Benford. Benford had already had some success in the music business by the time RonKat met him.

“He was already touring and had played with people like the Jacksons and Earl Klugh,” says RonKat. “And he had gone to the Conservatory of Music.”

He says the two really hit it off and began writing songs together. They landed their first hit with the song “Good Love,” which they wrote for the popular all-female R&B/funk band Klymaxx. The track climbed all the way to #4 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart in 1990. The two had an even bigger hit with the 1993 smash “Don’t Walk Away,” a track they wrote for R&B trio Jade. The song peaked at #2 on the Billboard R&B singles chart and reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.

Additionally, the songwriting team earned a Grammy nomination for penning Toni Braxton’s 1994 hit “I Belong to You,” which was a single from her self-titled debut album. The song also earned them the BMI “Songwriter of the Year” Award. And the two even scored a soundtrack together. It was for the comedy Class Act (1992), which starred hip-hop duo Kid ‘n Play.  RonKat and Benford remained songwriting partners until 1997.

RonKat’s life and music career took a major turn when he met P-Funk mastermind George Clinton.

“It was just an instant friendship,” says RonKat. “George, when he met me, I think he saw all the things that I had gone through before I could even say a word.”

RonKat would let Clinton use his L.A. studio free of charge. And in 1999, Clinton took RonKat to meet Prince for his birthday. Also, the two collaborated on a song for the film comedy The Breaks (1999).

Clinton would always ask RonKat to go out on the road with P-Funk. Initially, RonKat was hesitant to tour with the influential funk band, because he had his own thing going and was doing well. Clinton eventually convinced RonKat to tour with them. When RonKat looks back now, he says he’s really thankful that he made that decision. However, they didn’t make it easy for the new recruit to Uncle Jam’s army at first.

“Man, I went through the hazing period of my life with those brothers,” RonKat laughs. “Yeah man, I’m gonna write a book about that shit some day. It was crazy.  But after awhile, the hazing stopped.”

So equipped with the performance chops and life lessons acquired through a decade of touring with P-Funk coupled with the songwriting and production knowledge gained through his partnership with Vassal  Benford, RonKat was ready to set the world on fire with his own thing, and he hasn’t disappointed.

RonKat released his latest CD, D.O.T.M.S. (Dance On the Mothership), on October 11, 2012. He wrote, produced, arranged, performed, engineered and mixed all 16 tracks on the collection, which is a brilliant mélange of funk, rock and new pop, with a little hip hop sprinkled in the mix for some extra flavor.  The album features guest appearances from George Clinton and various P-Funk members.

RonKat says that he learned how to do everything in the studio out of necessity.

“Yeah, I had to, because, you know, as a musician, if you’re tryin’ to be in entertainment, you wanna be able to know how to do more than one thing,”  he explains. “You gotta be able to multitask, because like say, for instance, someone asks you to come out and sing backup for them for six months, or, you know, ‘Why don’t you come out and play bass for me, man, or come play guitar for me.’ You see what I’m saying? It’s like in any situation if you know how to play all of the positions, sometimes you won’t be out of a job.”

RonKat is a prolific songwriter and has recorded tons of great music over the years, which covers a wide range of styles and moods. In addition to D.O.T.M.S., some of his other CD releases include Funky Nation, Cheddar, Joy to the Funk and Little Monsters (CDr, EP). And a couple of months ago, he dropped the single “Give Me Back My Funky Music,” which he co-wrote and sang with George Clinton. The track has an irresistible, smooth funk groove that will have you bobbin’ your head.  There’s also a remix of the track done by DJ Spankalicious, which has a cool club vibe going on.

RonKat describes his songwriting process:

“You know, it varies,” he says. “Sometimes I might get the whole song all at once. I might get the lyrics, the beat, the guitar, the bass, the whole thing all at once. You know that happens a lot,” he continues. “Or I might just get a phrase, and the phrase might linger in my head, from anywhere to a year to weeks to a day. Or I might just get the guitar part, or I might just get all the music.”

And his songs cover a myriad of topics, such as bigotry, the economy, love, politics, the environment, etc.

He says some of his biggest musical influences include Prince, Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, Metallica, Kanye West, Nirvana and Jay-Z.

And as far as more recent artists on the music scene, he says he really enjoys the work of Janelle Monáe, Erykah Badu, Miguel and Adele.

RonKat talks about some of the things he’d like to accomplish with his music and future projects:

“I would like to score, and I’m working on a musical,” he says. “I’ve been working on it for at least four or five years, trying to get that up on its legs. And I would like to continue to tour and just continue to make great music that touches people and inspires them to do some cool things.”

So there’s a lot more to come from this multi-talented artist. Get ready for the next chapter of RonKat’s funky journey.

Katdelic performing "Give Me Back My Funky Music" at Jan Warner Plaza in San Francisco

Music video for Katdelic track "The One"

Give Me Back My Funky Music at Amazon