John Heintz didn't set out to be a funk wrangler, herding a gaggle of funkateers into the studio and across the country on tour. But a jam session at a Colorado festival in 2007 — with sacred steel funksters The Lee Boys, Galactic, Papa Grows Funk and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band — inspired him to assemble a floating cast of funksters from an array of bands to come together in the studio and recreate that live jam funky feel.
He ended up herding an all-star gaggle of jamming funkateers that now tops the 150 member mark, recording two albums, a cast of 35 from 17 bands for the first Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown volume, with more than 50 musicians involved in the second volume, and now taking the show out on the road.
“I found myself with a really unique opportunity back in 2007 where I kinda took a leap of faith and just walked away from everything to try music,” Heintz said by phone from his L.A. homebase.
Lee Boys bandleader Alvin Lee offered Heintz the opportunity to go out on the road with them to hone his playing skills, learn the business side of things and figure out what he wanted to do in the music industry. Heinz, 30 at the time, was at the Colorado festival when he got the Big 'Ol Nasty idea.
“There was a super jam the last night of the festival," Heintz said, "and members of Galactic and Papa Gros Funk, The Lee Boys, a couple from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, I think Keller Williams, and me all up there just going for it, just jammin', and the thought kinda sparked in my mind as I watched the audience interaction, saw the interaction onstage amongst the players, felt the energy and thought maybe something like this could be recreated in a studio environment.”
But the studio that Heintz used for the first Getdown was a 14-bedroom house in New Orleans' French Quarter. Over eight days, funksters including P Funk guitarist Garry “Starchild” Shider threw down an unrehearsed free-form room-to-room roaming jam that jelled into an hour-long, 11-cut release that came out in 2011. Volume 2 came out in 2017.
The star power Heintz was able to corral for the projects is eye-popping. The short list includes Living Colour's Vernon Reid, Speech from Arrested Development, Fred Wesley from James Brown, the Jbs, and the Horny Horns; Norwood Fisher, Angelo Moore, and Dirty Walt from Fishbone; and Dumpstaphunk and The Funky Meters' Ivan Neville.
Some participants he got through networking with artists he already had on his side, but he did a good amount of cold calling as well, with mixed results.
“I've had some of the most unbelievable phone calls where I walk away just smiling from ear to ear wondering how that was even possible, how that just happened,” Heintz says. “Then I've had other calls where (afterwards) I'm going through my music and destroying CDs, like I'm never listening to that band again. Forget it.”
Fred Wesley was one of the ear-to-ear smile-inducing ones. “Fred's such a sweet man. He and his daughter Joya came out and we did three songs with him. So far, two of them are out, and we've got one under the construction phase.”
Heintz also got a pleasant surprise guest through P-Funk's Shider. “Garry was my mentor, and he really was an important part of the beginning of the project,” Heintz says. "Garry brought George Clinton into the project. I'll never forget that night. Garry called up and he's like, 'Hey, man, you want George to do this?' And I was just sitting there like, 'Are you kidding me?' 'cause it hadn't really crossed our minds to ask George. We didn't know George. We had some access to some of the P-Funk players, including Garry, but the idea of George was beyond our scope at that point.”
Even after his passing in 2011, Shider's mentorship continues with wife Linda, who sang background on several P-Funk tunes as well as co-writing some. She will be performing with the group on this outing.
“Linda being out on the road with us is really special, to be able to carry his legacy," Heintz said. "She's been part of the project from our very first live show on. We always had them out as husband and wife team.”
With a varying cast of 150 to 170 players from active touring bands, booking shows presents a raft of problems. “A lot of these clubs want to know who's in the lineup, and they might ask six months in advance when we're starting to put things together. It's one of those things like, 'Jeez, I'm not sure because I don't know when this band or that band is really gonna announce any kinda major tour thing.'"
But with Heintz as their shepherd, the funkster herding gets done. “Because its a rotating lineup, we pull from the alumni based on location, availability and experience, based on who's jelled well together in the studio in the past, some of the live shows. Once it starts, it happens pretty quick.”
Even though the future of the band depends to a great deal on the success and availability of its shared members, Heintz says he hopes it has enough momentum to continue as a separate entity.
“I would like the band to just continue on, be an opportunity for a lot of up-and-coming musicians to be able to jump in and hone their skills with some of the living legends, and for it to remain a creatively free process.”