Flagpole Magazine

September 1998

Funky Miracles

Galactic pushes toward a new Crescent City funk

by Richard Fausset

When Galactic's Stanton Moore talks about his job behind the drum set, he can sound a little Puritan: "It kind of feels like a calling," the musician says convincingly. "It's what I'm here to do." What puts Moore miles ahead of this decade's young drummers who profess to play funk, however, is his lifelong musical apprenticeship in New Orleans, that most Catholic of American metro areas. Like many of the Crescent City's great timekeepers, the thundering street drums of Mardi Gras offered this product of the local Catholic school system his first indelible exposure to music. "Going to parades and stuff, I just kinda knew I wanted to play early," he says, adding that when he first saw a drum set over at a friend's house, "it was like the Holy Grail."

It's little surprise that the two factors that most define Moore's drumming are a reverential attitude and a feel for the rhythm of the street. For all the hothouse musical pleasures Galactic offers on their impressive second album, Crazyhorse Mongoose (Capricorn), it's Moore's mastery of New Orleans' deep drumming tradition that make the LP a minor funky miracle.

It didn't happen by accident. Moore studied drums with esteemed New Orleans drummers like Russell Batiste and Johnny Vidacovich. He eventually began sitting in with bands at the legendary (and now defunct) Benny's Bar, a classic Uptown dive haunted by the ghost of the city's most important contribution to funk, The Meters, and their original drummer Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste. Galactic founders Robert Mercurio (bass) and Jeff Raines (guitar) were also hanging around Benny's about the same time; a mutual friend introduced them to Moore. At first, the drummer says, "We were a college funk band learning how to play, influenced by Meters and stuff." Finally, after logging in untold late-night jams and lineup changes, the band seems to be pushing the boundaries of what New Orleans music is. That's no easy task; the Meters are to New Orleans R&B what Faulkner was to Southern writing: an unavoidable stylistic freight train whose legacy is difficult to get around.

For his part, Moore doesn't feel the pressure. The band has pared down to using one horn player the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars' Ben Ellman which Moore says is "a lot more like driving a sports car; before it was an 18-wheeler." The current six-piece lineup has a leanness of style that, while displaying a mastery of the Meters' early instrumental work, is starting to move out into uncharted territory. When Ellman's lazy, farting horn track locks in with Moore's slow, herky-jerk groove on Crazyhorse's opening track, "Hamp's Hump," it's like nothing you ever heard before or at least the old stuff stretched out so slow, slanky and strange that it's almost unrecognizable.

Well, not too unrecognizable. "In my mind, what we're doing is just going back to where the Meters left off," Moore says. "In the mid-'70s things started to take a turn for the worse. And through the '80s, music got pretty bad. We feel like we're going back and digesting what the good music was. But we're also coming out of that digestive stage and take the music in a direction that we feel is true to that tradition."

Check out Galactic's website at http://www.fogworld.com/galactic for more info on the band and their nonstop tour schedule. You can also listen to their albums online, in stereo and for free!

Article copyright © 1998 Flagpole Magazine.
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