In October 2000, I remember the leaves were gold and the weather was unusually warm. I wonder if that uncharacteristic heat helped unite the flame under Mama's Cookin' because these guys are hot. Born in Gunnison by six, bright Western State College students, Mama's Cookin' has performed its unique style of world funk to audiences that can't seem to get enough.
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The original five members of Mama's Cookin' first met during music tryouts for the jazz program at Western State College in 2000. They Include Zeb Early (lead vocals, guitar, and harmonica), Todd Holway (keys), Jeff Rady (lead guitar), Steve LaBella (electric and double bass), and Mike Adamo drums). Shane Whitener (lead percussion) joined the band later that year. All of them also play percussion during performances. They were all in their early twenties, with the exception of Jeff Rady, who was a youthful 18.
Zeb Early, who is also the smooth voice on KBUT's Five Gallon Bucket 0' blues on Monday nights, told me that "all of us really wanted to start a band" and held a "crazy band tryout in this trailer I was living in." Musicians were invited to rap by and play. From that trailer session, Mama's Cookin' was born. "Our first gig was at an apartment complex, at an outdoor keg party. There were about ten people there. Then we started playing house parties. Then we finally played at The Alamo for eighty bucks." I certainly hope the band gets paid more than that these days as they put on one of the tightest shows I've ever seen.
Mama's Cookin' plays "hip hopped disco, jazzed up soul, delta blues and rock mixed with traditional West African and Afro-Cuban beats" and is incredibly original. I don't remember the first time I saw Mama's Cookin' perform (it might have been their first gig at The Alamo in Gunnison), but I remember clearly being blown away by their style, musicianship, original tunes, and youth. And as much as some folks say that Fishbone couldn’t be black, there’s almost no way that the members of Mamas Cookin' should be white, because no white boys could ever play that kind of funk and soul. I spent most of the show drop jawed and speechless.
What makes this band exceptional to watch and listen to can only be described as a universal energy that demanded they play music together. That's my take on the band's ability to deliver a tight show. Zeb believes it can be accredited to each member's previous experience and technical ability. Although he wouldn't boast about it himself, Zeb's voice drips like honey, infused with a southern charm that makes some women swoon. He was born in Memphis, raised in the Delta, and you can hear that influence in both his voice and guitar. Todd Holway has studied jazz and classical piano since the age of eight and has won numerous awards in the process. Jeff Rady is a "dude from the suburbs of Littleton, trained in soul," having studied with the great Billy Ryan and attending the Berklee School of Music. LaBella's bass holds the rhythm, and he's played with numerous jazz bands on the east coast. Adamo's drum roots began with big band jazz in New Jersey, and he has since performed solo at the Greeley Jazz Festival. Finally, Whitener, the percussionist, studied African rhythms with world-famous djembe player Mamady Keita in Guinea, West Africa.
In a day when so many bands sound the same, play the same riffs, break out into long jams that seem to exist merely to fill a void in the set, Mama's Cookin' turns out an array of original sounds that are unique to this band. They're coming out with a new CD, and we'll get to hear some of those tracks at The Eldo on Saturday as part of their winter tour. You can find out more about the band at their website, www.mamascookinmusic.com. But be sure to check out Mama's Cookin' live...guaranteed to satisfy your appetite for rockin' rhythm and blues and funk!
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