Saturday, December 13, 2014

Exclusive Interview with ConFunkShun’s Michael Cooper Still Having Fun…

Michael Cooper 
Still Having Fun…

by Vin Taylor for Who’s That Lady Entertainment (WTLE)

ConFunkShun was one of the most successful bands in the 70’s and 80’s, with a chart busting 25 hits from 1976 and 1987, including a Billboard Magazine number one hit “Ffun,” and without skipping a beat, they are back on the scene just as if they never left. For co-founder and lead singer Michael Cooper, it’s More Than Love that keeps them going…

WTLE: “Hey Michael, please tell me, how did the group get started?”                                            

MC: “Wow! That’s a huge question… The band known as Project Soul, throughout the Vallejo, California area started basically in high school back in 1969 – 70… We went on from there to gain local notoriety and we got picked up as a back up band by the Soul Children recording group out of Memphis, Tennessee in… 1971. We moved to Memphis, Tennessee where we met a guy who owned a studio and convinced us to change our name. We picked the name ConFunkShun in 1973… We did a lot of local touring, a lot of night clubs and colleges, until about 1977 where we finalized our name and legalized it by signing with Polygram in ’77. Shortly thereafter we had our first hit Fun, Fun, Fun (Ffun).”

WTLE: “Where did the name come from?”

MC: “The name itself, derived from a title of a song that was a B side from a group called The Nite-Liters. The Nite-Liters were RCA recording artists. They were also a back up band for a group called New Birth… We saw them play it live in Sacramento, at a Unity Festival, and the name of the song… was called Con-Funk-Shun… They spelled it out exactly as we use it today. We were so impressed by the fact that it contained horns and real funky saxophones and a real funny chant that we remembered it when it came time to change our name in Memphis, Tennessee. So we chose the name ConFunkShun.”

WTLE: “You guys have an unbelievable clothing style from day one. Who developed that style? Where did you get your clothing from?”

MC: “We began to dress very flamboyantly as a non recording band in Memphis, Tennessee in order to attract bookings and raise eyebrows. We had a bus driver who was also moonlighting as a tailor, and he would sew whatever came out of our minds… From yellow jump suits to… orange jump suits… you name it, he would sew it up, we would wear it. And it just kind of stuck as a trademark as we flowed down the road to professional recording artists… We decided that we would always gonna hit the stage dressed. As we had our first couple of hits and began to go on our first tours, we met up with a guy who was making cloths for Earth, Wind & Fire and LTD. And his name was Bill Whitten and Bill Whitten was making outfits for about $2000 a piece and if you were making that kind of money and having the hits that we were doing, you were able to buy up a few of them… and boy did we dress after that.”

WTLE: “Who was your first record deal with?”

MC: “Our very first record deal was so unknown to anyone… was with an outfit called Fretone Records, out of Memphis, Tennessee... It was headed up by a lady named Estelle Axton, she is the “Ax” in the record company Stax… Her and Jimmy Stewart started Stax Records, then she sold her [share] in the company and started her own little label and we were one of the first artists to be signed… We had a little local hit called Hey Mr. Tambourine Man, which of course is written by Bob Dylan. We put a little funky twist on it and got it on the radio and drew the attention of a man named Jud Phillips (Judd Records)… Who was connected with Mercury Records, and had already signed the Bar-Kays. So Jud came down and told us ‘you got a little record going on, why don’t you go ahead and break away from this company… and let me put you with Polygram / Mercury Records, and lets make some hit records.’ So that’s what we did.”

WTLE: “You say you have this funky sound. What is the ConFunkShun sound?”

MC: “Well, I would say, Emotional Funk, Happy Rhythms and Loves Songs. What we try to do is make you dance, make you love, make you cry and make you sing, all at the same time and that is our motto. You’ve got to be doing one of those things if you are listening to ConFunkShun.”

WTLE: “I know I cried when you guys stopped in the late 80’s was it? Why did ConFunkShun stop?”

MC: “The first reason was I went solo. There was a reason I went solo… Like with all the bands who are bands, there are individual ideas… individual problems… We had differences of opinion… and of course music drastically changed in the early 80’s… Right in the early to mid 80’s music went into a… Jack Swing as you would call it… a new twist on it… and in order to answer that bell, and answer that call, I teamed up with a group called Club Nouveau. A gentleman by the name of Jay King, and another gentleman by the name of Benny Medina… And Benny decided it was best to just sign the lead singer of ConFunkShun and get out there and fight that battle with those Hip Hoppers and we did just that, and wound up walking away with five top ten hits and just about the time the contract ran out on the solo career with the five top ten hits, radio stations started to re-program… going back to the 70’s and they started again asking for ConFunkShun… I was coaxed by my manager Michael Gardner to put together a version of ConFunkShun for just one show on New Years Eve 1993… and that one show has been going ever since.”

WTLE: “While you guys took your break, other than your solo career, did you do anything else at that time?”

MC: “No, it was pretty much a roller coaster ride. Once I dropped (released) the song To Prove My Love on Warner Brothers, we went non-stop to 1992. Hit after hit after hit, ending with a hit called Shoop Shoop and of course getting the call to restart ConFunkShun was like falling off a log. All I had to do was contact Felton Pilate, who was very busy with MC Hammer… I contacted Reverend Karl Fuller… another horn player that I needed and I contacted Paul Harrell, another horn player that I needed. Those were the lead singers, all the horns… That’s all I needed. I had my band members who stood ready to go. They were younger guys, they were ready and willing to re-create the sound under me… and off we went.”

WTLE: “Now that you’re back out there, how does it feel?”

MC: “Well, you know, it’s funny… A lot of times people ask that question how does it feel to be back out there… and what they don’t seem to realize is really ConFunkShun never quit. We took a break, we pushed Mike Cooper out there for a minute to keep the sound alive… then we re-started up after a 6 year vacation… picked up where we left off in 1993… So we almost never missed a beat… We just shot a torpedo out there to combat and hold Hip Hop and the New Jack Swing era… We won the fight with five top tens, then… we got back in the saddle and continued with our old school, plus those five top tens.

WTLE: “Wow. So now here we are in present day. Tell me about your new album ‘More Than Love’ and the first single ‘Your Night’ which I just watched the video, HOT! You guys haven’t missed a step! This is ConFunkShun’s first new album in 2 decades?”

MC: “This is our first new album… We decided since our demand was based on our old music, all these years, since 1993 till 2013. We have been rolling with Love’s Train, Too Tight. All the big hits Fun, Fun, Fun (Ffun) … We decided that since God blessed us with health, and the ability to write, record and take advantage of the internet, that we were going to get together and do a new piece of music… Simply because we could, no other reason… Something I learned from Simon Cowell… No matter how old you are, there is always someone out there that will buy your new music… That’s what we did… It took a lot longer than I thought it would, not so much because it took time to record… there was so much material and so many ways to record… you can record on the internet, you can interact with this person and that person… it took quite a while to put this album together… We only needed 12 songs, we wound up with 32! So we’ve got enough material to release at least 3 more albums… When you can take a laptop and sit on a plane… and record … with a 14 inch keyboard in your lap… and have it be high quality… the skies the limit…. People will say… Hey, you guys are still recording new music… I’ll add this to my library and welcome it and play it for my kids.”

WTLE: “Do you still play Chase Me, Electric Lady, Too Tight, and Baby I’m Hooked and all those things?”

MC: “Well, we don’t play Electric Lady… But we do play Baby I’m Hooked, we do play Chase Me, we do play anything that was a top ten… One of the reasons we don’t play Electric Lady is because it’s a rap record… it’s very trendy… We got a hit out of it, sold some records and then we moved on.”

WTLE: “Speaking of Rap, what do you think about young groups today sampling your music?”

MC: “It’s been going on for so long… First of all, it’s finally great to get paid for it… you might get a 15 dollar check… you might get a 1,500 dollar check… it’s good to finally have some things in place… the bottom line is it feels great. It’s a large, large, large branch of flattery. We appreciate it… Some of it is very cleverly done… It’s a good feeling.” 

WTLE: “Where is your tour taking you?”

MC: “Our tour… took us to quite a few of the newer areas we hadn’t been in a long time… we visited New Orleans… now that we have a new record out… we’ll be going to the Chicago’s… we’ll go back to St. Louis… we’ll get up into Canada again… and finally we have our chance to get into New York, a very hard market for ConFunkShun to break… Connecticut… where they’re playing the record, we hope to get into those areas… home base is pretty much the San Francisco Bay Area… It’s always good to be home during the holidays… We are going to play at Yoshi’s for New Years Eve… Four shows… Thunder Valley Casino two nights before that… We’re going to be quite busy for the holidays.”

WTLE: “Did you ever think you would be even more popular now as you were back then?”

MC: “I never would have dreamed it in a million years, but you gotta remember… God blessed us with three careers in one life span. ConFunkShun 1, Michael Cooper and ConFunkShun 2. I have road this roller coaster… I’ll be 62… it ain’t slowed down… its just taken on a new life… taking on the internet… put a saddle on this horse called the internet, now you can just keep riding, keep riding, keep riding… As long as you can throw some wood into the boiler on that train, the Love Train keeps on rollin’.”

WTLE: “One last question. What is the key to your success?”

MC: “Oh man… Prayer and family. My wife is exquisite. I met her in Germany in 1997… She is Afro-German and she is exquisite! Her, along with my children and grand children, keep my fires burning hot! God is a funny dude… He watches over us… slaps us on the wrist… slaps us upside the head when we need it… Believe me, I’ve been popped upside the head… To be given the ability to stand upright, and sing, and have people enjoy you at this age is a blessing that no one should take lightly… and we do not take it lightly, therefore we are able to go out there and do what we do.”

WTLE: “Any last words for your fans?”

MC: “First of all I would like to say THANK YOU from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head for sticking with us, buying the records, listening to the records, downloading the records and keeping the funk alive with ConFunkShun… and the next thing is… There is more to come... There’s More Than Love… there’s more music to come… go out and grab it, download it, love it because we got it all and we’re coming at you as long as we can… and all love to all people…

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1 comment:

  1. What a marvelous interview! I have loved Michael Cooper, Felt on and the gang; for over 30 years! I still play their music because, it makes my Soul feel good!
    God Bless you and keep the music coming! Cmarie