Roosevelt Collier Throws Hendrix Funk Party at Pearl Street Warehouse [Photos/Interview]

Sacred steel virtuoso, Roosevelt Collier, brought his trio back to Pearl Street Warehouse at The Wharf DC on Saturday, June 16 for another round of "Jimi Meets Funk." (Our coverage of the band's previous jaunt to DC can found here.) The power trio displayed their cohesiveness on Hendrix cuts including 'The Wind Cries Mary,' 'Hey Joe,' 'Who Knows,' and 'Power of Soul.'

Collier's musical connection with Matt Lapham (bass) and Anthony Cole (drums, vocals) could not be more visible than it was on Saturday night . Their unique takes on Hendrix classics at times defied genres, at one time going into a rendition of Sly and the Family Stone's 'Sing a Simple Song.' The band transformed the (sometimes) sitting venue into a massive dance party, wowing the crowd with their sound and energy.

Our very own, Karin McLaughlin, was able to sit down with Collier for an extensive interview before the show and touched upon a range of topics including his recent album release (our review can be found here), growing up in church, Bill Withers, and the time he jammed with Bob Weir (without even knowing he was at the time!) Check it out.

Karin McLaughlin: Sitting down with Roosevelt Collier right before the Pearl Street Warehouse show. So, you’ve been to D.C. before – played at Gypsy Sally’s and...

Roosevelt Collier: Yes, so I’ve played Gypsy Sally’s a few times and love that place.  They’ve got some great people over there.  I’ve also played at, there’s another spot, forgive me, I can’t think of the name of it, it’s more downtown.

KM: Hmm, 9:30U Street Music Hall?

RC: No, I can’t remember the name of it.

KM: Well, you’re familiar with D.C.

RC: Oh yeah, yeah, I’m familiar with D.C., yes.

KM: Well, I don’t know if you’re familiar with this area.

RC: This is the Wharf, right?

KM: Yeah and it’s pretty brand-spankin new!

RC: Right, right.

KM: This used to be the fish market area.

RC: Yeah because the last time that I had played here in, I think, December, they had just opened this up.  I mean the paint was brand new, you could still smell it.

KM: Still get high off it (laughs).

RC: Right, right (laughs).

KM: And you played here at Pearl Street?  Because there’s also Union Stage right across the street.

RC: No, yeah it was here.

KM: I’ve never been here so I’m excited to see you here.  Ok, so you’re real familiar with the area.

RC: Yeah, love it here, just the traffic is crazy!

KM: Funny you say that, I was going to text you because I was in traffic and thought I might be late for this interview.  It’s bananas.  You came from Philly?

RC: Yeah, we drove from Philly this morning.  The GPS said 157 miles but it said 3 and a half hours.

KM: That’s because you have to drive through Maryland and they are the worst drivers in the whole world (laughs)

RC: Yeah (laughs).

KM: So I am really excited to talk to you because you’ve played with so many people, my one question that I always ask is what’s on your music bucket list and usually, it’s about who someone wants to play with.  You’ve already pretty much done it all though, is there anyone left on that list?

RC: You know what, that question is starting to become, for me, like ‘what’s your favorite food?’  For me, I’ve been able to play with so many phenomenal players, I mean, in so many genres, from punk rock to country to bluegrass to funk.  So I’ve been blessed to play with so many people and there’s so many amazing artists out there that my bucket list would be endless just because of the fact that you always find somebody that’s amazing.  I mean if you go overseas, there’s gonna be a whole nother bucket list.  I try not to have a bucket list no more just because I’m gonna always be inspired by something new.

KM: What about a venue?  Is there somewhere you want to be able to play?

RC: Yeah, of course – Red Rocks

Roosevelt Collier playing his sacred steel guitar 

Karin McLaughlin and Roosevelt Collier

KM: I knew it!  Or rather I had a feeling.

RC: Well, as far as with my band.  Red Rocks I would definitely love to play.

KM: You’re going out to Denver soon aren’t you?

RC: I’m going out to Denver in August.

KM: Where are you playing?

RC: I’m playing at Cervantes

KM: Cervantes is a good venue!

RC: Yeah, I’m playing at Cervantes and Boulder Theater too.  I mean, of course, listen, there’s so many amazing spots.  Oh wait, there’s this cave that everybody’s been playing at.

KM: A cave?!

RC: Yeah a cave, it’s really a cave, but it’s a venue, you know?

KM: Where’s it at? It’s in the U.S?

RC: I’m gonna look it up because of the fact that ummm

KM: Hm, I wonder what the acoustics are like in there.

RC: Yeah all the bands are playing there now.  I’m just not sure the name of it.

KM: Well, I’ll look it up and it will go on my bucket list (laughs).

RC: Yeah, an actual cave.  Crazy, right?

KM: So when you do something like you’re doing tonight, where you’re paying tribute to Jimi Hendrix, how do you prepare for something like that?

RC: I’m engulfed in Jimi.  I mean I’m a fan of the music and of him period but that’s just any music that I’m playing that isn’t mine, I’m engulfed in it to the point where it’s a part of me for that time frame.  It makes it easier to just play.

KM: You feel it.

RC: Oh yeah!

KM: How do you pick who you’re going to do?  Didn’t you do a Bill Withers one a while ago?  Obviously, they’re both amazing artists.

RC: Bill Withers was actually put together by a guy named Jerry Stone but that was an amazing tribute you know, I mean it’s Bill Withers.  But again, the same thing, if I’m doing another show like that, I’m engulfed in it.  The whole goal is to try to be able to think like they were thinking back when they were playing the song and know the background of it.  Then it makes it a lot easier.

KM: So you grew up in the church?

RC: I was born and raised in the church, I could not get away from it if I wanted to.   It’s just a part of me.

KM: How did the transition go?  I know that the instrument you play was born in the church but changing over to playing music by mostly jam bands, what was that like?  Were they like, ‘What?’

RC: No, no, no. You know what, when we started touring, the jam band family and people in it were the ones that embraced us and welcomed us the fastest.  I come from a church that basically is a jam band because we just rock out.  So playing out here wasn’t no different except for being out here on the stage and playing in clubs.  Our church was basically 70% music and 30% everything else.

KM: I feel like that’s typical for most African American churches, my Catholic church was boring.  We’re singing psalms, not somewhere you wanna hang.

RC: Yeah, totally.  A basic church may hold service, 45 minutes or an hour.  Great, you come in, sing a hymm, listen to the preacher.  Then they sing another hymn then you’re gone.

KM: Yeah, gospel church you’re in there all day!

RC: Yeah, our church start at 11:30, we didn’t get out til 2:30 or later.

KM: Yeah, I remember going to church with some friends growing up and was like ‘How long are we gonna be here?’ But it was fun!

RC: You couldn’t even tell how much time was passing.  Sunday night, Wednesday night.  But that was my up bringing and that’s where I got all my stage stuff was church.  It’s a performance, every Sunday and you know, if you can move the church crowd, you can move anybody because they’re the hardest (laughs).

KM: Is it ever hard for you to stay seated for a whole performance?  Aren’t you just like ‘I gotta get up and dance for this one!’?

RC: Maaaaaan that’s a good question.  Let me say it correctly.  You know what, it’s very hard.  Even if I’m not standing, I’m not seated either because I’m so deep in the music, you know what I’m saying?  It’s as if I’m out there jamming with the people and I’m so gone already.  I’m deeply gone.  So, yeah, physically I may be seated but spiritually, I’m somewhere up there flying and dancing.  I mean, yeah, I’m here and you can see me but I’m up there getting down.

KM: (laughs) That’s funny.

RC: Yeah picture that (laughs).

KM: Feel the spirit.

RC: Yeah, that’s what it is - feelin it. 

KM: I tried to find the meaning, what is Exit 16?

RC: (laughs) Ohhhh, we talking about my record now huh?  I’m so proud of this album.  It came out in March.  500K Spotify streamers almost.

KM: Nice, I was one of em.

RC: Oh were you?  Nice, yeah we’re close, we’re at about four hundred thousand something.

KM: Well we’ll spread the word, we’ll get you there.

RC: Once we hit that 500K we’re gonna do a big post about it.  I mean that’s amazing.  That’s people that have viewed and listened to your album.  Exit 16 is simple, that’s the exit where I’m from born and raised.  So, Exit 16 is basically where it all started, it’s where I’m from, that’s my home.  If you take the turnpike down south towards Miami and get off at exit 16, that’s home. 

KM: You’re giving it away, people are gonna come find you now.

RC: Yeah, but they don’t know what house (laughs).  So that’s the record, basically showing you who I am and where I’m from.  You know what, exit 16 can mean whatever.  For some people it can be the exit of hope or the exit of love.

KM: Or where the party’s at (laughs).

RC: (laughs) Well, that too.

KM: So how long did this album take to come together?

RC: Oh man, we’ve talked about it for a while, with Mike Lee, he did it at his studio in Brooklyn.  Bobby and JT Thomas, took about a weekend.

KM: I think you did an interview about your first exposure and playing it but 'Sugaree' is your jam, right?

RC: Oh, the Dead music?  Yeah, my first exposure was before I even knew the Dead really.  I mean, I just knew the song.

KM: One of my personal favorites too.  You’re familiar with LOCKN' Festival right?

RC: Yeah yeah, LOCKN'.

KM: I was there a couple years ago and Susan (Tedeschi) got up on stage with Phil Lesh and did a version of Sugaree that’ll make you cry.  You gotta check it out!

RC: Oh, for real?

KM: But I also read somewhere that you were playing a festival and a certain someone got on stage with you and started playing and you had no idea who it was and it turned out to be…?

RC: Bob Weir.  That was Merle Fest.  Had to be back in 2006 I wanna say, maybe 2005.  This is us still fresh out of the church scene, so I mean, we were green.  We were playing the festival and it was a nice timeslot - it was daytime.  I still have the pictures from it. We were playing, we were jamming hard.  There was probably about 600 people scattered, everybody’s up dancing, we were the new kids on the block, and maybe mid song – we literally look up and over this little hill, we see 4 or 500 people coming over this hill like ants like ‘Yeah yeah yea!!’.  SWOOOSH.  Here they come and we don’t pay them no mind, we’re like ‘Oh, let’s bring it!’  They are at the stage and they are going BANANAS!  I happen to look back and see my uncle in the back and we see this guy bringing up an amp on stage and this other guy plugging in.  We have no idea, haven’t got the foggiest idea who it is.  Us being the guys that we are, we were like ‘Come on, bring it on, let’s get it!’  This dude came and stood right next to me and was jamming. When I say the crowd lost their mind, I mean they lost their mind!  Then we went up even further and he was wailing, just jamming with us.  After that, I remember the guy left the stage and once we were done, our manager goes, “Hey do you know who that guy was?”  We were like, “No, but this guy was just jamming with us but it must’ve been somebody huge because a whole slew of people just came running.”  He was like, “Yeah that was Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead.”  And I said, “Grateful Dead, like 'Sugaree' Grateful Dead?”

KM: (laughs) Like the THE Grateful Dead?!

RC: (laughs) Yeah, that was the only thing I knew.  Then I was like, ‘Holy crap!’ and then, I mean, after that, we all met him and talked to him.

KM: That’s so cool!

RC: Yeah, he was just the coolest man.  I think that Rat Dog was playing.  Yeah, that’s my first real experience with The Grateful Dead was with Bob Weir.

KM: Pretty cool first experience.

RC: Yeah, yeah.  My ego, that day whoa, we were jamming with Bob Weir.

KM: I have to ask, because you have played with so many people and done so many festivals and shows, do you have a favorite?

RC: Oh why you gonna do that?  How you gonna do that (laughs).  That is just asking for trouble…

KM: (laughs) Ok, how about the wildest?

RC: Now, see, that’s different.  The wildest, hmmm, the wildest show or – what’s the question again (laughs)?

KM: Ok, we’ll say wildest collaboration.

RC: Oh man

KM: It’s a hard one I’m sure.

RC: Yeah, you’re killing me (laughs).  I’d say for sure, this one that I’m in right now - BoKante.  That’s an amazing group of people.  It’s like afro beats meets like French singing meets…

KM: Like Creole?

RC: Yeah like West African meets Led Zeppelin.

KM: Ohhhh, where they do that at?  (laughs)

RC: (laughs) Yeah, yeah, exactly!  By far a very, very, very cool thing.  So as far a wild and different, I do so many get downs, those are always good but this is by far, this is the kind of the most out there kinda thing I’ve been doing.

KM: Ok, last question.

RC: Bring it on, I’m ready.

KM: You have a playlist, it’s a ‘Get Hype’ play list.

RC: I do? On Spotify?

KM: (laughs) This is a hypothetical.

RC: Ohhh, ok, ok, let’s do it! Oh, we’re fittin to go there?  Are we doin 3 songs or 5 songs, artists, I mean artists?

KM: 5

RC: 5 artists – this is my ‘Get Hype’?

KM: Yeah, this is ‘Bands that Make Her Dance’ (laughs).

RC: Now wait, wait, see that’s different because I’m from Miami so you can’t say that or I’m gonna go a whole nother route.

KM: Say, you’ve got a show and you’re dragging a little bit.  This is what you put on to be like, ‘I’m ready!’

RC: Ok, this is my…

KM: This is before you come out of the tunnel at the Super Bowl.

RC: Ok, I’m going Jimi Hendrix all day long.  I’m gonna go Robert Randolph. I’m going Derek Trucks.  I’m also going Snarky Puppy.  Then I’m gonna have to go with Lettuce.   You know, that’s not fair, though!

KM: I know – my friend did that Facebook challenge recently where it’s ten albums that you listened to back in the day that you still do from start to finish and it was impossible.  I went Otis Redding, Third Eye Blind, Wyclef, Wu Tang, I was all over the place.

RC: No but that stuff will get me hype quick.

KM: Well, I appreciate the time and I’m excited to see you live.

RC: Yeah, that was a good time, thank you.

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Enjoy photos by our photographer Josh Brick  of Josh Brick Graphics.

About the author
Karin McLaughlin

Karin McLaughlin

Karin has been a live music junkie all her life, however is a fairly new fan in the world of jam bands and bluegrass. She grew up on hip hop, classic soul, motown and classic rock but has found a new home in the festival world and that is what, in part, had brought her to DC Music Review. Karin produces and hosts a weekly radio show in the area called Karin's Calendar, where she talks all about 'Where to be in the DMV'. She is very excited to be starting down a semi-new road with us and hopes to use her interview skills and write ups of shows to contribute even more to DC Music Review.