Eons of explorers have sought out the fountain of youth — but perhaps they should have sought the funk of youth? I am not talking of the wellspring of fragrant emissions from pubescent sweat glands, mind you, but the somehow everlasting elixir of life that emanates from that genre known as funk. Look to the enduring examples of Funkadelic or Earth Wind & Fire, two many decades-old funky families that groove on stages worldwide to this day; or how the use of such beats and basslines can boost any song from staid to stomping, from old to new.
And it’s the funk, it seems, that has kept S.B.’s Raw Silk going after all these years. Formed in 1986, the always funky, sometimes jazzy ensemble continues to get groove-things shaking from their regular roost at SohO and at other venues across Southern California. “It’s intoxicating… people go into a state when they dance to our music,” says singer and UCSB grad Leslie Lembo. When they play SohO this upcoming Wednesday, Feb. 10, the night’s set will straddle both sides of the Raw Silk coin, with a dinnertime set of jazzy numbers followed by a second act of funk jams.
Whereas other Santa Barbara bands come and go as rapidly and ardently as the Santa Anas, Raw Silk’s original lineup still stokes a steady blaze of flaming hot funk. The band traces its origins back to the Harbor Restaurant, when keyboardist George Friedenthal fatefully met Lembo, who offered to sing a few tunes with Friedenthal’s jazz quartet. Soon, the band accumulated other members: Donzell Davis on drums, Mychal Lomas on bass, Ray Pannell on guitar, and Del Franklin on sax. “We are family. We have tremendous humor, and we know each other tremendously well,” Lembo says. “It’s like a collective soul coming out of each person.”
So long have they played together as Raw Silk that they are “physically attuned” musically, so that even after time away from one another, “we don’t miss a beat, we just go back to riding the bike.” As vocalist, Lembo finds particular foundation in the bass-drum unit of Davis-Lomas. “They’re almost one person for playing together for so long, and there’s a way in which they play that’s so unique and percolating… it just keeps going and I get on their bandwagon,” she said.
That’s not to say the group hasn’t had its moments of separation, or is not without its allowance of independence. A few of the Raw Silk members have been known to tour with Mary Wilson of The Supremes, and Lomas has recently played gigs in China. Lembo, meanwhile, has been able to cultivate her solo career as a jazz singer on the side, with regular performances at the Bacara as well as vocal and career coaching for other singers. Lembo also recently had to take a hiatus when her mother passed away in 2012, prompting her to move back to the Bay Area. “I was heartbroken,” she says.
True to form, the funk revived her; and where in her biological family Lembo encountered sadness, in her musical family she found again the spirit to live anew. “My mom would definitely be behind me in continuing doing what I came here on earth to do,” she said. Coming back to S.B. and playing with Raw Silk has renewed her spark, and the band continues to attract crowds old and new. “We’re getting 20 somethings, 30 somethings, and 60-70 somethings at our shows. We’re getting the same people we used to entertain with, and now their kids,” she said. “It’s the universal funk.”
Leslie Lembo & Raw Silk play SohO (1221 State St.) on Wednesday, February 10 ,at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 805-962-7776 or visit sohosb.com.