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Play That Funky Music: Groove 8 On Being Broken Up By Prince, Reunited By Quincy Jones And Calling Charlotte Home

Kerri Garrison 4.jpg
Kerri Garrison
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Groove 8 is a funk-jazz staple in the Charlotte music scene.

Charlotte has a rich history of funk music. Back in 1965, the "Grandmaster of Funk" himself Mr. James Brown recorded his single “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” right here in the Queen City. As one of Charlotte’s longest-running jazz-funk collectives, Groove 8 has its own Charlotte soul story to share.

"I think our music is a melting pot not of different genres, but of the different influences of the eight musicians in the band. … We’re a reflection of the Charlotte music scene."
– Groove 8's Antonio Diaz

Interview Highlights:

On the start of Groove 8:

Keith Whatley (guitar player): I remember when Antonio (Diaz) was with another band, and I would just go over there and hang out with them. He didn’t even know that I played guitar. So one day, there was a guitar there, and I picked it up and played it, and he was like, “I didn’t know you played guitar!”

So we started playing, and our whole focus was that we weren’t going to play anybody else’s stuff; it was going to be original material. And that’s what I fell in love with: the ability to create. And then we play out and see someone tapping their foot or snapping their fingers, that’s what I love to see, because the music is magic and it gets to you.

Antonio Diaz (percussionist): October 2004 was the first rehearsal that we had, and we weren’t even Groove 8 then. We were (called) Audioform. We were all from different bands that for one reason or another were broken up or on hiatus. And we just got together, and it sounded really good.

On the band’s name and the concept of “grooves":

Diaz: I always tell people we’re jazz musicians trying to play funk. I think our music is a melting pot not of different genres, but of the different influences of the eight musicians in the band. And that’s why we came up with the name Groove 8.

Suffice it to say, everybody in this band has played different types of music, and that goes to my point about the Charlotte music that I love so much and the fact that you have musicians on one night that are playing in a punk band and then play in an R&B band the next night. And that is who we are: we’re a reflection of the Charlotte music scene.

Whatley: I always feel that the word “groove” is a very important part of our music because that is what we do: we make grooves. With grooves, you may not be able to dance to it, but you’ll shake your head up and down. It’s head-bobbing music. That means the music is working … it’s working.

On the band's six-year hiatus (and the artist who brought them back together):

Whatley: One reason why we had a six-year break was because of Prince. He noticed a couple of guys who played with Groove 8, and Prince decided that he wanted them to play with him. Which was a blessing, in a way, but it kept us in check because it was really hard to find people that we felt comfortable with to take the place of the two gentlemen that were in the band. Still to this day, I am so fortunate that I got to see their first live performance with Prince in 2012.

Diaz: The six years were really rough on the people who weren’t playing with stars. But what you have to do is keep writing. … When a local band like us that is playing and then all of sudden stops, it can be suicide because people will forget who you are if you’re not doing anything. And we have a very rabid following; if we’re not doing something, the fans will call us out.

Whatley: Because having a fan is a blessing. Having somebody sit or stand and listen to you … that’s a blessing. We would not have the contacts that we’ve been able to have if it weren’t for somebody taking the time to listen to us. Like when a fan named David bought a CD from us and wanted his friend to listen to it, and David told us that his friend liked it and that we could give him a call. Well, his friend’s name was Quincy Jones.

On Groove 8’s 2018 release RPM:

Whatley: RPM can mean whatever you label it as. It can mean “Real People Music,” because it’s a real band playing. It can be “Real Pure Music.” It can be “Really Pleasurable Movement.” Whatever you want it to mean, that’s what it means.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Groove 8 - “Toast N Jam”
Groove 8 - “Groove Brew”
Groove 8 - “Bourbon Street”
Groove 8 - “Curious Poses”
Groove 8 - “RPM”
Groove 8 - “Pulse”
Groove 8 - “Time for the Rhythm”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier.