The Black Honkeys: Breathing new life into old-school soul
(All this week, we’re spotlighting tbt*’s 2012 Ultimate Local Artists on Soundcheck. Today: The Black Honkeys.)
Feeling a little past your prime on the club scene but still not ready to hang up your rock 'n’ roll shoes? The Black Honkeys want you.
The first Friday of every month, The Black Honkeys bring their R&B/soul revue to the Local 662 on St. Pete’s Central Avenue.
“This demographic of people ages 30-50, they are so ready to go out and see this kind of show,” says Black Honkeys frontman “Brother Phil” Espositio.
This crowd may not feel comfortable in the trendy new clubs, but they are “too young to go hang out at the Elks Club,” Esposito says.
“When they go out they want to see a band becasue that’s what they grew up on,” Esposito says. “They’re loving what we’re doing. They come out and dance and they know the songs. “
With the focus on ’70s grooves, it may not be the latest and hippest, but depending on your tastes, it might be the greatest. “The best R&B ever was coming out,” claims Esposito.
His opinion is reflected in the band’s choice of material, which reflects the sounds he heard growing up in a predominantly-black neighborhood in Clearwater during the 1970s: Hits by Al Green, The Spinners and Kool & the Gang and similar artists predominate.
“Growing up, I was just having a blast because the music was so much fun,” Esposito says. “You put on a Spinners record or an O’Jays record, it was feel-good music.”
As one of the few white kids in his crowd, Esposito says, his black friends dubbed him a “black honkey.”
Musically, Phil made his way through punk, glam metal and grunge, but his R&B roots remained strong.
“I always had this affinity toward this music,” Esposito says, although suggestions that his “Motley Crue-style” ’80s band do an Ohio Players cover generally didn’t go over well.
Esposito credits seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers at Tampa’s now-defunct London Victory Club with showing him a bridge from rock to R&B.
Still, it would be more than a decade before the Black Honkeys as we know them would come together.
With Joe Sanders, Esposito began playing “boogie woogie rock” in the style of The J. Geils Band and the early Rolling Stones. Sanders and Esposito parted amicably, and the core of the band — Esposito, bassist Will “The Thrill” Harris and guitarist Greg Czinke and drummer Steven Tanner from The Hazies — carried on.
The addition of a horn section and singer Nicole Coleyfield Davids — aka Ms. Groovalicious — and the Honkeys as we know them were born.
-- Curtis Ross, tbt*. Photo/video: Chris Zuppa, tbt*