Tuesday, May 22, 2018
News Roundup

Con Funk Shun bringing the funk to Tampa

The realization Con Funk Shun singer songwriter Michael Cooper experienced in 1976 remains one of his most treasured memories.

Traveling down Shelby Drive in Memphis, Tenn., in his burnt orange Toyota Celica, Cooper heard a song come on the radio that resonated like no other. The heavy thump of the bass guitar and the familiar horn line enveloped his senses.

Why? Because it was his song. Ffun, the party anthem that would become Con Funk Shun's signature hit, boomed from the speakers. To top it off, the DJ proclaimed it would soon sit at No. 1.

"I had to pull the car over," Cooper said last week during a telephone interview. "I remember I was completely in tears. I was putting my hands over my face and bawling and laughing.

"The day you realize you have arrived, the day you realize you've joined the ranks of all the people you've been admiring so much — it's a fantastic feeling. It's almost like the birth of your children."

Cooper says he and his bandmates will bring that same passion when Con Funk Shun takes the stage at Saturday's Tampa Bay Black Heritage Streetfest at Curtis Hixon Park.

Ffun and Con Funk Shun might not hold a spot on your mental playlist, but if you could listen to me hum Ffun's infectious horn line for 10 seconds, even with my off-key voice, it would register immediately. If you haven't heard it on the radio, you probably have heard it at a high school or college football game.

Cooper sat on a tour bus after a performance at a historically black college hoping to pen a song that would mirror the brassy sound of the marching band. He nailed it.

The song helped launch a 10-year run for the group. Originally from Vallejo, Calif., they moved to Memphis to be the backup band for the Soul Children, an act on the famed Stax label. Once there, they soaked up knowledge from the likes of Isaac Hayes, Johnnie Taylor and the Bar-Kays, another funk band legend.

The brassy horn sections and thumping bass highlighted my formative years and defined a genre. Earth, Wind & Fire, Heatwave, Kool & the Gang, Cameo and the aforementioned Bar-Kays all delivered that super '70s funk.

Hear the memories dancing in my mind? I thought so.

Con Funk Shun was right there with the other groups, borrowing from the "California funk" influences of Sly & the Family Stone. Along with Ffun, the group scored hits with Shake and Dance With Me, Chase Me and Too Tight, to name a few. Like its funk brethren, its hits continue to be sampled by today's hip-hop artists.

The group also had its fair share of ballads, none bigger than Love's Train, a 1980s hit amazingly spawned from a real-life love triangle. Cooper went to see a girl at an Oakland high-rise and asked to be buzzed up.

But the girl declined, explaining someone else was already visiting. Cooper discovered that someone else was Felton Pilate, his longtime friend and the band's other singer/songwriter.

Love's Train describes almost word for word what happened in the time frame she was discovered," Cooper said. "The pain was so great."

Cooper, however, says nothing could come between him and Pilate, who wrote the music for Love's Train. Both will be onstage Saturday as Con Funk Shun re-creates its magical run.

Old school fans surely will revel in the sounds, but today's generation would do well to give a listen.

That's all I'm saying.

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