EXCLUSIVE: Turkuaz’s Craig Brodhead On Jazz Fest Super Jams, Honoring Fallen Heroes, WuChon, & More (B.Getz on L4LM)

The mighty nine-piece funk extravaganza Turkuaz needs no introduction around these parts, but their longtime guitarist Craig Brodhead deserves some recognition that is long overdue. On the far right, the man in white is a key contributor to Turkuaz’s kaleidoscopic brew, bringing tasty licks and a certain restraint—always serving the song on his axe or a synth, no matter how large or small his part might be. As such, his humbleness onstage makes it somewhat easy to overlook just how much this guy brings to the table. In speaking with him for a few minutes, it’s abundantly clear that Craig Brodhead is one deep cat.

After a tour stop in Chico, California, towards the end of yet another mammoth, coast-to-coast Turkuaz sojourn, Brodhead and Live For Live Music’s B.Getz began a lengthy discussion, starting with a tour update. During their conversation, Craig touched on the topic of WuChon, his burgeoning electronic project that’s beginning to turn heads and snap necks with some extremely funky beats, and discussed the upcoming F*ck 2017 late-night jamboree in NOLA.

For the second straight year, the guitarist/keyboardist is congregating a veritable armada of homies who will pay tribute to several fallen musical heroes of this most recent ring around the sun. Judging from Brodhead’s thoughtful answers and righteous, ambitious intention, Jazz Festers are primed, locked, and loaded for an all-time threauxdown in the Quarter. From there, Craig spoke about his own personal history in the Crescent City as well as some can’t-miss players and late-night engagements during Jazz Fest.

Live For Live Music: Turkuaz is one of the hardest working bands in showbiz, but you had a spell of extended downtime before this recent tour. How did you fill your days and nights between lengthy runs? 

Craig Brodhead: For us, a month is a long time off, and it was well needed, as we basically went from September until early February, with some minor breaks. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think we all like to spend time with our loved ones that we can’t see as much as we’d like to, as well as just find general ways to decompress and reflect.

For me, a lot of open time is a little scary too, so I generally try to keep busy with other work and book other regional gigs. I did some shows with my somewhat new project Headband, which has a rotating cast depending on the location. We did our first Colorado show with Jeremy Salken (Big Gigantic),Chuck Jones (Dopapod), and Nick Gerlach (Michal Menert), and it was a blast!

L4LM: A band like Turkuaz is built for a city like New Orleans. Shed some light on the band’s history and relationship with the Crescent City. What are some memories you have of Jazz Fests past or classic ‘Kuaz hits in the city? When was the first time you personally visited NOLA? 

CB: Well, first I’d like to say that I consider that a huge compliment to hear that you would associate Turkuaz with NOLA. I first realized my love for New Orleans really before I ever went there. I was at Berklee in 2005 when Katrina happened, and they did this benefit show in the cafeteria. All these incredible New Orleans musicians showed up to play—Khris Royal came in the same year as me and that was the first time I heard him—and it just hit me like a ton of bricks, the kind of history and musicianship that comes out of there.

I went there for my first time after Turkuaz played Bear Creek in 2011, and I loved it instantly. When we started working with a booking agency, we made it clear from day one that we wanted to be at Jazz Fest every year. I’m very happy that we stressed that as much as we did, because it takes a long time to earn your stripes and work your way up in the community—down there you really have to earn it.

Turkuaz featuring Freekbass – “Everyone’s A Winner” – Bear Creek 2011

[Video: galaxysmith]

Craig Brodhead: As far as Jazz Fest memories go, there are so many, and they all kind of blend together after awhile. That first year, Dave [Brandwein] had this freak accident where he bruised his radial nerve, and his right hand basically stopped working. We still got through the show; he just sang the songs and Danny Mayer came up halfway through the set and helped fill in. That was terrifying, but his hand healed fine so it’s sort of a good story now.

Another year my grandmother had just died, and the shows were obviously very important, so I made the extremely difficult choice to miss the funeral. I kinda felt like she was looking out for me the whole time. All these amazing things just kinda started to happen, and I ended up playing music with people that I had looked up to for a long, long time. It goes without saying that there are just countless incredible sets that I have been lucky enough to see: Garage A Trois at Tipitina’sEarth Wind & Powerat Howlin’ WolfDr. Lonnie Smith and Wil Blades at Blue Nile—all of them just incredible experiences that I hold onto.

I was also at Jazz Fest when Prince died in 2016 and Col. Bruce [Hampton] in 2017. Both times the city celebrated in amazing ways. I ended up at the giant purple second-line funeral parade, which was huge and just unforgettable and beautiful. And for Col. Bruce, so many of his close friends and collaborators were in town that night when he died. Since I did not have the honor of knowing him very well, I just heard these unbelievable stories, one after another, and I feel very lucky that I was able to learn about him from that kind of outpouring.

Turkuaz – “Up On Cripple Creek” – Howlin’ Wolf – 4/26/2016

[Video: Kendall Deflin]

L4LM: This is the second year of an unfortunately necessary concert series in New Orleans, the appropriately-monikered F*ck 2017. You have stepped up to captain the ship once again, and you’ve put together quite a team to honor fallen heroes of music. Why is that important, to celebrate the art and legacy of those who have passed away?

Craig Brodhead: There is a lot of value to this kind of celebration I think. One obvious aspect is that there are many people who have a strong connection with this music and they want to experience it again. A less obvious aspect is there are giants who maybe don’t have the notoriety that they should have, and this is a way of paying the proper respect. Leon Ware, for instance, was an incredibly prolific writer and producer, particularly with Marvin Gaye, so we thought it was important to play music he was a part of. Col. Bruce as—a lot of people know his name but aren’t necessarily familiar with his music. Or Clyde Stubblefield—musicians definitely know him, but he doesn’t have nearly the kind of credit he deserves.

I see New Orleans, and by extension Jazz Fest, as being essentially about tradition. An unbroken tradition of music and musicians, even down to a lot of the same family names over generations, is what gives New Orleans an authenticity that exists in no other American city and perhaps only in a few places in the world. So we’re just trying to do our own version of that in a respectful way.

Fu*k 2016: A Funky Tribute To Musicians We Lost – Howlin’ Wolf – New Orleans, LA – 4/30/17

[Video: ConcertCasters]

L4LM: What artists that passed away this year rocked you the most, personally? Whose death would you say impacted the culture most in the past year? 

Craig Brodhead: Personally, Col. Bruce was the biggest loss just because I feel like he has this amazing, supernatural touch and deep philosophical influence that was an absolutely essential element of what our whole community now values and in some ways takes for granted. I don’t know if any of the biggest artists we treasure now would be what they are without him. And that’s all of PhishOteil [Burbridge]Derek TrucksJimmy Herring, all the way to Nikki Glaspie and Taz [Brandon “Taz” Niederauer], just to name a few. I’m sad that I didn’t get to learn from him in a direct way, but I really try to pay attention to what his close friends continue to pass down. For the culture at large? I think it’s clear, if a bit surprising, how closely we all held the music of Tom Petty. He had this amazing and rare ability to be incredibly simple and direct but also poetic and free of cliché. It is timeless and truly resilient music.

L4LM: So how do you go about putting this type of band together. For such a unique, special, and emotional hit, I imagine it’s carefully curated.

CB: As far as this band goes, I just called the best musicians I could! No really, I think for any band—and particularly these kinds of one-off shows that involve music of significant complexity with zero rehearsal time—you need to call people that you feel like you can go ‘into war’ with. By that I mean, they obviously need to be consummate professionals, but they also need to be friends and have your back.

Everyone that I asked to be part of it has worked together, and we have an established a level of trust that, even if the degree of difficulty is a little scary, I know that every person will be prepared enough and most importantly care enough to execute. Garrett Sayers in particular. If you talk to anyone that works with him, they say the same thing—he’s both the most talented and the most prepared person on every gig. It’s an understatement to say he’s incredible.

And you’ll hear essentially the same thing about Joey [Porter] and Lyle Divinsky. Really good bands have a good culture and similar values regarding work and preparedness. And obviously, I have a built-in trust with my Turkuaz bandmates. We really don’t like letting each other down. I have a similar relationship with Nate WerthDJ WilliamsCris Jacobs. They are all just super dependable people.

L4LM: You’ve been developing your electronic project, WuChon, over time. Tell the people about this art you are making outside of the guitar and what it’s all about. I’m particularly curious as to any influences or inspirations on the electronic side of things. I feel like there’s a synergy between the live bands and electronic arts that is not recognized enough. 

Craig Brodhead: Okay, I’ll totally bite on this one! It’s a big part of the way I’ve always felt compelled to express myself creatively. As much as I generally identify as a guitar player and definitely heavily relate to that tradition, electronic music of many streams has always been fascinating to me. My dad played a lot of Stevie Wonder in the house, and I’d listen to all the synths on Songs in the Key of Life and just wonder “What is that sound?!” Same thing with Pink Floyd. Just obsessed with all those sounds.

A friend of my Dad’s brought over an original Minimoog which stayed at our house for awhile, and I didn’t realize how lucky I was to learn a lot of my initial programming on that. I went to go see the Disco Biscuits with my brother when I was in 8th grade, and watching Aron Magner play these evolving phrases and subtly tweaking the sound—I was hooked. He’s a really great sound designer. They also had a lot of great DJs play with them over the years, especially some of the minimalist and dub-techno stuff that my friends and I latched onto.

Then, over the years playing with Turkuaz, I started to see the continuity of soul, funk, and disco with all the other streams of dance music. Disco specifically, I used to deride as this vapid 1970s fad and fast forward, and I’m totally obsessed with it now. Two DJs completely flipped me out in the last several years. DJ Soul Sister, out of New Orleans who plays all funk, disco, go-go, and a lot of early hip-hop kinda stuff, and DJ Taka, who is a Japanese DJ who has a residency every weekend at the Light Club in Burlington, Vermont. He’s legitimately a genius. He does funk and disco as well but mixes it seamlessly with early Chicago house, and then a lot of things you’d just never in a million years think would work together. Best dance party in the world, hands down.

L4LM: So, I’ve been steadily spinning your phenomenal Space Disco Mixtape, Vol. 1. Such a fun and funky journey. Tell us how did you finally bring WuChon to fruition?

CB: So basically after many years of absorbing all this music and understanding more history, I decided to try my hands at DJing myself. I go by the moniker WuChon, which is an odd nickname I acquired many years ago. The cornerstone of my sets is funk and disco, but I’ve gravitated towards some of the nu-disco house stuff. When it gets fast and late, I try to mix in some of my favorite Detroit techno like Moodymann, Richie Hawtin, etc. I do make my own music in that vein but I don’t spin any of it at sets—just do some minor remixes here and there. Someday, I’ll start to work in some of my original stuff though. I just like for people to dance and enjoy themselves.

L4LM: In the spirit of people dancing and enjoying themselves, let’s turn around and finish up in New Orleans. What else are you up while you’re in NOLA? Any other Craig Brodhead gigs or hangs we should get hip to? 

Craig Brodhead: I’m hanging for about a week and doing a handful of gigs and sitting in on a few other sets. Turkuaz is doing two nights at Tipitina’s—the second night, we’re doing a Paul McCartney and Wings set featuring original Wings member Denny Laine, which is pretty cool, I think. I’m guessing people who don’t think they know that music very well will be surprised by how much they do know and will enjoy the stuff they don’t. I’ll be playing a bit on Joey Porter’s Herbie Hancock set as well, and that’s got Sput [Robert “Sput” Searight] on drums. I respect him tremendously so I am extremely excited about that.

As far as seeing stuff, Robert Walter has an amazing schedule of shows so I’m gonna try to catch one of his sets. I love seeing [John] Medeski in situations that are outside the norm for him, so I’ll just keep an eye out for that. I’ll never miss Eric Bloom’s sets if I can help it—his commitment to New Orleans music is just extremely deep at this point. Marco Benevento Trio is playing after us at Tipitina’s, and I love seeing Karina Rykman play in his band. I’ll watch Charlie Hunter do anything, and then wherever else the Jazz Fest grids lead me!

L4LM: Last question, one I’m asking all my interviews: What does “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” mean to you? 

CB: I mean, it’s a very cliché answer but obviously the food. I have my spots that I hit every year, but there’s just nothing like waking up with an absolutely hellacious hangover and being nursed back to life by a big bowl of perfect gumbo and a bloody mary, which you can get just about anywhere. But yeah, more of that cliché stuff: watching the sunrise in the backyard at the Maple Leaf, being covered in confectioner sugar after a stop at Café Du Monde, feeling good walking in the sun seeing Royal Way in the tiles on the sidewalk, rushing through Bourbon street as fast as you can, losing your whole group of friends and running into another. All that stuff.