With their first new album in seven years, The Greyboy Allstars join forces once again to get you moving this holiday weekend. I spoke with the Allstars' guitarist, singer and songwriter Elgin Park about their latest release, their eventual return to touring, and reclaiming the boogaloo.
Como de Allstars reunites the group formed in 1993 for their fifth studio album, and first since 2013's Inland Emperor. Over the years the busy musicians works on their own projects, Park told me they've been able to play a dozen or so Allstars shows each year. Seeing as all five of these musicians are based between Los Angeles and San Diego, that's not as much as they'd like.
"We'd all plan to get something done, then The Rolling Stones would cancel their tour and move it right into the middle of our tour," Park said. (Allstars saxophonist, flute player and sometime singer Karl Denson is the Stones' regular touring saxophonist.)
Those scheduling obstacles were gradually overcome. A canceled Allstars show in Dallas three years ago led to some of the earliest composing work for Como de Allstars, and ensuing concerts slowly kept up the measured progress.
Elgin Park explained, "Since (previous album) Inland Emperor, we would try to start making a record, and we had a few false starts. After we realized we weren't getting done what we wanted to do, we finally decided to get a space, write some tunes, and stay there for... what ended up being three days."
Actually, the recording session was planned for 10 days, he says. "We thought we'd spend five days at Studio 64 (recording studio in L.A.), then do another five at my home studio... and then we just got it done!" Well, it wasn't quite so simply as that. Park clarified, "we layed it down and literally the tape machine broke after the final take.... we said, 'I guess we're done!' and everybody went home."
Longtime friends, Park, Denson, keyboardist Robert Walter, bassist Chris Stillwell and drummer Aaron Redfield found the creative process to be as relaxed as a late summer afternoon. "This band is everybody's 'fun time' project," Park told me. "We just express ourselves, stretch out and improvise. There's no pressure, there's no business..... we're probably the least business-minded band ever!" he said, laughing.
When the skies do finally break through the pandemic clouds and The Greyboy Allstars get to play these songs live, they will naturally change and evolve over time. The album is "really just a starting place for the songs," Park said. "There's only a limited amount of time you have on a vinyl record or a CD."
The songs were a mixed bag of previous ideas from the musicians, some needing to be fleshed out by the band, and some spontaneous moments as well. Park told me, "the funky tunes I wrote for the record, I wrote those on the spot, or while people were in the bathroom at the studio."
Lead single, the title song "Como de Allstars," was written by Park in free time after recording from a group jam. "There's always been, in the history of funk and soul music, political or inspiring anthems. We thought it would be cool to make something like that," Park said.
The song is a natural for the live setting, with lyrics that a crowd can learn quickly, about raising your voice in a divided country and looking forward to a brighter day. A Latin rhythm sets a tropical scene, Denson's flute takes center stage until the vocal section. Park told me, "I kind of embedded the lyrical part of the song inside the instrumental song. We're primarily an instrumental band, adding some vocals is kind of a treat."
The band's second single, the even-more-tropical instrumental "Catalina", was just released this week.
These are frustrating times, and The Greyboy Allstars are a band built to bring people together. Park has always felt the band's diverse audience gives him hope for the future. "We all know the power of music, it's bridged the divide of people forever," he said.
Unfortunately, recent months have seen the word "boogaloo" re-purposed by a group of extremists who long for another American civil war. The term was born to describe the crossover of Latin music and R&B in late '60s New York, and often comes up in relation to the music of The Greyboy Allstars.
"It's another example of how upside down the world is right now," Park lamented. "It's temporary, this is not something anybody can take from us. They'll be gone long before boogaloo music is gone!"
As for when the COVID-19 pandemic is gone, Park says the band is looking cautiously to the future. "My studio's a great place to broadcast from, so we'll get in as soon as we can, masking up and livestreaming. We're trying to get out there, and we will as soon as we can, but we're not in any hurry to put people's lives at risk."
So we make do with records for now.
As a special Allstar bonus, shortly after the new Como de Allstars release Friday (vinyl edition is planned for release later this summer), Seattle's Light in the Attic Records will re-release the Allstars' 1994 debut album West Coast Boogaloo Aug. 7.
Park says he and the band are proud to get the record back in circulation again. "It's interesting that this band that was kind of started on a whim became something that's been such a big part of our lives. That record was made in a day....what a difference a day makes!"
Light in the Attic's remastered pressing includes "awesome packaging, they're doing it right." The vinyl edition of Como de Allstars also looks "really awesome," Park said. "It's orange and yellow swirly vinyl, it's really cool."
I'll be eagerly awaiting both of these tasty slabs of wax from The Greyboy Allstars, jamming the digital version of the new record with my July 4th barbecue in the backyard, and spinning the title song on KNKX Saturday afternoon.
Maybe I'll even take up Elgin Park's suggestion, "the idea is to blast the music, put your headphones on, and do a Zoom dance party or whatever you wanna do." Count on The New Cool to do our part!
The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.