I hope this doesn’t come across wrong, but I actually had a New Year’s resolution last year that worked.
One of my resolutions for 2021 was to join a rock or R&B band, which seemed like a big goal since I hadn’t really played the sax for about 25 years. Back then a boss I really admired had told me it wasn’t appropriate for a professor to play saxophone in a rock band because it “sent the wrong message to students.” Although I didn’t agree, I subconsciously found myself dutifully playing less and less until three months later I had stopped altogether.
Since I didn’t have any students to send wrong messages to last year, I figured it was safe to again take the rock 'n soul plunge. Although I enthusiastically suck as a musician, I figured if any band gave me a shot to play, they would never fire me for not obsessively practicing and trying hard enough. And they also wouldn’t fire me for smoking all of their weed, or throwing a TV out of hotel window, or ODing on heroin in the back of a tour bus. They might fire me for enthusiastically sucking but not for the other stuff. A Motown-like band called the X’Plozionz gave me a shot.
This is Spinal Tap is a hilarious rockumentary spoof about a fictional rock band (Spinal Tap) where everything goes wrong. My first gig was the remake of the Spinal Tap movie. It was July’s Cortland County Fair. We played on a flatbed trailer, and our opening act was the 4-H Animal Judging competition. That’s where you win a Blue Ribbon if you raise the county’s fattest turkey. Since barnyard animals can’t tell time, everything ran late. And since barnyard animals don’t ask where the nearest restroom is, they conveniently used the dance floor as their bathroom. Some people were dancing and trying to wipe off their feet at the same time. Others were doing the Gangnam Style horsey dance in honor of the opening act.
News of our animal-friendly show got around. We blinked and we had recorded a Live at Budokan album. We blinked again and we were the first American band to perform at Eurovison.
Actually neither of those happened, but this month we did get named as the What’s Hot in Syracuse band of January 2022 (and also What’s Hot in the Finger Lakes). The magazine is on newsstands and an earlier draft of the story is posted below.
It’s another New Year for us. I hope you have incredibly great fortune in making your New Year’s Resolutions and goals come true this year.
See you at Eurovision!
The X'Plozionz!!! The Rock and Soul Party Band of the Finger Lakes
(Story from What's Hot (Syracuse Edition) January 2022 pp. 10-15)
When the lead singer of a band looks like a defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills, three things happen. People stop, look, and listen.
First, they STOP talking. Second, they LOOK and see his firecracker red suit and matching red glasses, Fedora, and shoes. Then, they LISTEN to this “All Pro” performer when he snatches his microphone and begins channeling the singing voices of everyone from Wilson Picket and the Temptations to Rick James and Bruno Mars.
Mr. E Hunner is the dedicated front-man singer of one of the funkiest, eclectic Rock & Soul show bands in the Finger Lakes. “The X’Plozionz!!! have been around for about 10 years,” said Hunner, “We went dormant because of COVID. Now we’re back, and we’re bigger and badder.”
When the band’s beloved drummer passed away during COVID, the band wanted to honor his aspiration to move from being a fun party band to being "the Rock and Soul show band of the Finger Lakes." “To put on that kind of show we needed the right mix of people, songs, and places to play,” said Hunner.
The Right People
Along with Hunner, The X’Plozionz!!! are anchored with long-time bassist, John Busch, widely known in Central New York as an owner of the original Third Rail in Cortland and former bass player for the eclectic “Eddy’s Basement” band back in the 80’s. Caine Davenport – the youngest band member at 25 – was brought on as the lead guitarist because of his versatility. He elaborates, “Motown songs have a dance kick and need to be note-for-note like they sound on the record. But then the next minute you need to be able to play a crazy rock solo for Sharp-dressed Man or Radar Love. Then I'll need to do another change-up and play a jazzy-type solo for something like Crystal Blue Persuasion or I Can't Go For That.” Busch added, “A lot of guitarists can rock out, but to find someone like Caine who can also play with discipline, precision, and finesse was key . . . plus he sings.”
Next came the return of singer-keyboardist-guitarist, Steve Giocondo, who had left the band years before to write music and perform as a solo act. “His keyboard work give us that big sound. It fills out some songs and gives other songs a real rocking rhythm,” said Busch.
The two rookies in the band are drummer, Drew Martin, who was previously with Holy Smoke, and saxophone player, Brian Wansink, a recently retired Cornell professor. “Drums and horns were really the two things that helped the Motown Sound really pop,” said Busch. “They put the icing on the cake.”
The Right Songs
Martin’s big drum bang opened The X’Plozionz!!! recent lounge show at the Tioga Downs Casino and Resort. Martin and Busch kicked off the song Boogie Shoes and then settled into it’s toe-tapping, head-nodding groove while the microphone stand stood empty. After two minutes of grooving, it was time for the crowd to stop, look and listen.
From the side of the stage, Mr. E. Hunner appeared, gyrating and finger-snapping. His red Boogie Shoes dance-stepped to the beat as he funkily dance-stepped to the microphone. When he cooly arrived, he snapped his head to the audience, snatched the mic, and shot his finger high in the air until the downbeat. Then, at the very instant he belted out the opening line of the song, he dropped his finger to point at the audience, as if he insisted they put on their Boogie Shoes and dance. And dance they did.
Hunner’s a show unto himself. His spins, his moves, and his gestures all echo the classic stage showmanship of Motown charisma. He continued grooving and spinning with funky, fun versions of Knock on Wood, Play that Funky Music, and Come and Get Your Love before handing off his magic microphone to Giocondo and then Davenport who changed the pace with Brown Eyed Girl and Jenny Jenny (8675-309).
Giocondo said, “Because we have three singers, a keyboard, and a sax, we can play a lot of dancing fun songs that other bands can’t play. One minute we'll be playing some 80s stuff like Baker Street or Maneater, and the next minute we'll light it up with Kung Fu Fighting or Uptown Funk.”
The Right Places
“We’re having a blast, and they're having a blast, Giocondo continued. "It doesn’t matter where we are – casinos, county fairs, dance clubs, weddings, or company parties – we’re going to do everything we can to make sure people have a legendary good time.”
“I love to see a table of people laughing and pointing at each other as they're singing along to Super Freak. I love seeing strangers all of a sudden spontaneously start a Congo line to Love Train, or a seeing a wedding party of grandkids and grandmas line-dance to Uptown Funk. And I really crack up seeing people in suits or tuxedos doing Karate moves when we play Kung Fu Fighting.
"They’re spending time and money to be here with us. We're going to make darn sure they look back and say, “I had a great weekend.”
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