Review: Larry Graham and Graham Central Station funnels the funky at Strathmore
He’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member of Sly & the Family Stone, he was a mentor and “best friend” of Prince, he is one of the baddest bassists and band leaders ever to grace a stage; his name is Larry Graham and he and his band, Graham Central Station played with a full symphony orchestra in a concert benefiting Concerts for Causes Inc., (aka C4C, which provides musical instruments to children in underserved communities), on December 1, 2016, at The Music Center at Strathmore.
Born in Beaumont, Texas and raised in Oakland, California, funk legend Graham has worked with legendary groups such as Tower of Power and the Pointer Sisters. The band dates from 1972, after he left Sly & the Family Stone. Graham is credited with the invention of electric slap bass. After releasing its first album, 1974’s Graham Central Station, the band went on to release 9 more albums, the latest being 2012’s Raise Up. Graham, who some call the Jimi Hendrix of bass, put on a concert that was a funkified, furious trip back to the jams of the 70s.
The night featured the spirit of the late and very great Prince, aka Prince Rogers Nelson. Graham played on tours with Prince for many years. Close friends since the 1990s, Graham helped convert Prince into a Jehovah’s Witness. Larry’s grandchildren called him “Uncle Prince.”
After rousing intros from Mr. C, aka Carroll Hynson, a radio personality at Washington, D.C.’s WHUR (and host of The Time Tunnel) and Brett Murray of C4C, Graham triumphantly funk-stepped his way to the stage through the house-right audience, dressed all in white and wearing his trademark, floppy, feathered fedora and coat, strumming his bass on the way.
With vocals that were Don Cornelius smooth, and backed up by the C4C Orchestra (conducted by John Devlin) and his band, Graham opened the concert with “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”, from his Sly & the Family Stone days. When Graham hit the stage, his entrance turned to hot fire as he cut into a series of furious James Brown steps and hip shimmies.
From there, “We’ve Been Waiting” featured the vocals of the lovely Ashling “Biscuit” Cole. Graham was vocal during the concert. “We are going to rock Strathmore like it has never been rocked before.” Graham was supported by Wilton “Fab” Rabb on guitar, Jimi “Joy” McKinney on keyboards\horns, Dave “City” Council on organ\keyboards, Brian “Rio” Braziel on drums, his wife, backup vocalist Tina Graham, and Washington, D.C., born trombonist Greg Boyer.
After Graham and company played the churchy, “I Can’t Stand the Rain”, he took time to reflect. “I lost my best friend Prince…I can’t even begin to tell you. We met in Nashville (Tennessee); we were playing with Earth, Wind and Fire and Tina Marie. He invited me to his after show jam. When I got on stage, everywhere I went with my bass, he was right there with me [note for note]. He was raised on Graham Central Station. He knew my music better than I did.”
“One of the things Prince did,” Graham continued, “was mix one of his songs, ‘Alphabet St.’ and one of my songs, ‘Hey Mr. Writer’ and played it together. It sounded like this…” and from there Graham and his band launched into an amazing amalgam of anarchistic funk.
Graham changed the tone of the concert by picking up an acoustic guitar, taking a seat next to guitarist Rabb and launching into the folksy, bluesy “Ole Smokey”. Then, the band went back in time to the late 60s and early 70s with Sly & the Family Stone’s “Family Affair”, “Hot Fun in the Summertime”, “Everyday People”, “Dance to the Music”, and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”—songs that created a groovy, sixties rhapsody.
After a brief respite, Graham reemerged wearing a purple, Prince-like, coat and rocked the house with his signature tune, the appropriately-named, dairy-cows-on-a-fiber-diet-funky “The Jam”. Graham then took time to call out long-time-married members of his audience. Graham has been married to Tina for 41 years. The longest married couple there, at 61 years, stressed not going to bed angry and not “taking each other for granted.” Appropriately, Graham then sang his signature ballad, “One in a Million You” a song he said music executives didn’t want him to make due to his jamming, high-energy image.
Prince’s aura reemerged when Graham performed a song from his “spiritual brother”, “Purple Rain”, accompanied beautifully by the C4C Orchestra. Graham closed the concert with Prince’s “1999” and a jump-to-the-ceiling-inducing “I Want to Take You Higher” by Sly & The Family Stone. Like a funky chef who got down with the cooking, Graham led his band and the audience to a feast of musical rhapsody. This is a concert you should definitely catch on tour.
Note: You can become a sponsor of Concerts for Causes by calling (301) 332-8318.
Running Time: Three hours with a 10-minute intermission.
Larry Graham and Graham Central Station performed for one night only, November 29, 2016, at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 North Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For future events, go to the Strathmore’s calendar of events.