Jazz, R&B Group Chad & Al Gamble
Lived in Tuscumbia, AL
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
The Gamble Brothers
Band with Alabama ties
riding mix of styles to success
By Kate Klepper
DAILY Staff Writer
What do you get when you cross rhythm and blues, gospel and soul with jam, pop and even skat? The Gamble Brothers Band, a popular Memphis-based group with North Alabama ties and multiple styles.
While its variety of sounds may suggest members suffer from attention deficit disorder, its mix of styles grabs a crowd's attention and doesn't let go.
I caught up with the foursome at Big Ed's. a restaurant and bar in Florence, during the recent W.C. Handy Festival.
Surrounded by exposed brick, flourescent beer signs and cigarette smoke, I learned about the band's musical inspirations, new album "Continuator" and plans to take Decatur by storm.
The Gamble Brothers Band formed in January 2001.
Tuscumbia-born lead vocalist and organist Al Gamble and his drumming younger brother Chad decided to build upon years of rocking and rolling in their family rec room and formed the band. Tenor and soprano saxophonist Art Edmaiston and bassist Blake Rhea round out the group.
Noticeably absent from stage is a guitarist.
"Originally, we had a guitarist," said Chad, 32. "But when he left the band, we tried playing without one and it worked out just fine."
"I think it makes us free to be creative and exploit the sonic qualities of the instruments we play to provide a different sound from other bands," added Edmaiston, 34.
All four members began experimenting with music as children.
Chad received his first drum set at 4 or 5 yearsold, and Al, 37, began playing the keyboard by ear in third or forth grade. Their grandfather played the organ and was a major source of inspiration, the brothers said.
At 11, Edmaiston was inspired to play the saxophone after hearing Boots Randolph's version of "Yakety Sax" on The Benny Hill Show.
Memphis-style music, as well as John Medeski, Galactic, Led Zeppelin and even Ron Howard serve as other band inspirations.
"I am not making this up," said Edmaiston. "Richie Cunningham from 'Happy Days' was my other inspiration."
Rhea favors a mix of Latin and metal music.
February marked the release of "Continuator."
"On its third album, brothers Al and Chad Gamble's quartet mixes a jam-band sensibility with the old-school sound of Memphis — not Elvis' Memphis, but the warm, gritty tones of the city's R&B scene," reported The Wall Street Journal.
The album's press release announces its songs' themes are "yanked from everyday life" and "interact wondrously with the smoky feel the GBB carried forward from the 1960s and '70s R&B records on which they've based their sound."
Not interested in simply repeating the past, Edmaiston says The Gamble Brothers' musical goal is to "further the heritage."
Although the group sarcastically said its interview with me was their biggest success to date, it also considers releasing three albums and working on a forth, monumental.
Winning the 2003 Billboard-sponsored "Independent Musicians World Series" for its sophomore album "10 Lbs. of Hum" isn't too shabby either.
"'Continuator' is in my CD player right now," said Ryan Walsh, of Decatur. "Their music is different and fresh. I can't wait to hear them live."
The band will set up shop at The Brick Deli in Decatur on Oct. 20. Besides a taste of its three albums, what can fans expect?
"To quote the godfather of soul, James Brown," said Edmaiston, " 'a funky good time.' "
When you grow up within spitting distance of Muscle Shoals and spending many years gigging in Memphis, you can’t help but get a good groove on. And what keyboardist Al Gamble may lack in formal musical training, he makes up for with an unofficial diploma from “LP University.” “I tried piano lessons,” says Al. “My parents signed me up in seventh grade. I took for six months or longer, but I think it was the tunes that turned me off. I was always playing, messin’ around on the piano, but never practicing what I was supposed to. For me the records were the teachers.”
It’s a good thing the Gambles’ house had some cool vinyl side-ing: “My dad had some great Jimmy Smith records. I remember listening to those a lot on Saturday afternoons. He also had some Ray Charles records. I wanted to emulate those guys.”
Let’s not forget the school of the streets, too; Al’s pro experience backing up such artists as Irma Thomas, The Barkays, and Bo Didley didn’t hurt either. His brother Chad seems to have merged the diverse roots style of Meters drummer Zigaboo Modeliste with the studio sheen and laid-back edge of Bernard Purdie. These guys are naturals.
Live, the band plays music that’s focused, arranged, precisely organized . . . at least until they start to jam out. “That’s what we love, having it open up like that, being able to feel what needs to be or what needs not to be,” says Gamble. “I have to be aware if I’m doing too much.” Throughout the new record the keyboard parts and the musical textures evolve: A funky Clav and driving piano part will morph into a sustained organ section with the Clav doubling Blake Rhea’s bass. Many times Al does lay out, but even when he plays a lot, the rhythm section sounds clear. One tends to forget how much sonic real estate a guitar takes up, until it’s not there.
The organ is the centerpiece of Al Gamble’s live rig. “I’ve had a chopped [Hammond] A-100 for thirteen years now, and I also have a Korg CX-3 for backup and smaller situations. The Leslie speaker is chopped as well. An ugly rig, but it gets the job done!” On top of the organ is a real Clavinet. “It’s an E7, and I take the top off and I leave it open so the strings are exposed on the right side so every now and then I can do a little strumming, I guess it’s the guitar wanna-be coming out. I found a great little amp, a Vox Valvtronix (www.voxamps.co.uk), and I’ve taken the amp out of it so I can separate it from the speaker, and I made a nice little box for it.” On his right and Al’s got another vintage beauty, a Wurlitzer electric piano.
The History and the Brotherhood
Says Al of playing music with his brother: “We grew up playing in our basement together, but never really played in a band together until we started this band. But there is a chemistry that came about pretty early. Vocally I think there’s something special about siblings singing together. There’s a certain something that makes harmony feel more natural, so that is very special and I love playing and singing with him. He got his first drum kit when he was four, he started early, and we were really very interested in playing, the singing came much later.”
This vocal intimacy is obvious when you hear them live. Al’s well-developed and intense Lowell George-influenced bluesy lead vocals blend perfectly with brother Chad and saxophonist Art Edmonston’s backgrounds. But the groove remains the foundation of the sound. Where’s the guitar? It seems like it might turn out to be the most important aspect of the sound of the band — the guitar’s biggest contribution is it’s conspicuous absence.
“It was right after 9/11, and it seemed like we’d play a club, book another date, and a month later it had closed down. This would happen a lot. It was tough. But that early struggle was really hard for our guitar player. He had three kids and he took a well deserved, steady gig. Initially we thought, ‘Okay, who could we get?’ and I said, ‘Let’s just wait for the right person to come along. Let’s not just grab a guitar player — ’cause there are plenty out there, but we wanted the right one. So we started playing as a quartet, and just decided that we don’t really need another guy in the van! Besides from it being a bit different from the norm for this type of the music, we liked the freedom that it gave us to all be able listen to each other. It really opens up the sound.”
There also seems to be an evolving pop sensibility in the new music. Al and the band’s writing merges many different styles into their soul and R&B framework. One tune has kind of Ska feel, perhaps a bit of The Police in there? “ I don’t we think we said, ‘Let’s write a Police tune,’ but when you’re in the van for eight hours, you listen to a lot of different music. Art always brings out the Police record out and, having grown up in the eighties, I appreciate the music maybe even more now than I did then.” How about Little Feat? “They expanded the harmonies and the range of Southern Rock and R&B. They were a lot more guitar-heavy obviously, and Bill Payne had more of an accompaniment role.” Al’s got all that — the off-meter stuff, different chord changes with a rootsy feel, yet he can funk for days, and he’s the frontman! Al: “Little Feat, definitely, another influence.” Steely Dan? They have dense content yet room for soloing and openness. “Yep, another one!” Randy Newman with a southern R&B twang, plus a bit of his special Americana? “That’s another one. On our second record we covered ‘Little Criminals.’ I love that sound.” And Brian Wilson? Some of that heavy piano-driven vibe also sounds like it there could be a bit of Beach Boys in there too. “Yeah, I can’t deny that either. Guilty as charged!”