Photo by Photograph by Alex Varsa
“Brings forth a new vitality to classic funk.” That say-nothing dash of corporate-speak was lifted from the Lettuce band’s own bio. Try this instead: Lettuce the band sets classic funk on fire, and from the glowing embers of that respected classroom pounds out a modern kind of funk music that is old enough to sound familiar but fresh enough to be relevant. Yes, Lettuce. Weird name, and about 20 years together as a band, give or take a few membership changes. This is a standard soul-band horn outfit with organ, bass, drums, guitar, sax, and trumpet. Lettuce is in effect six side-men who have day jobs performing with celebrities like Dave Matthews and Lady Gaga. In Lettuce, they get to show off their astronomical chops.
Boston, home to the distinguished Berklee College of Music, is where the members met up as teens. Later, their student jams led to the start-up of an actual band, which, in the way of all start-up bands, had zero following. The band’s bio claims they hit up all the clubs in Boston, asking the owners to “let us play.” The words “let” and “us” got shortened over time into one word: lettuce. They are touring now in support of their latest release: Witches Stew, which is their funky re-worked tribute to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.
America has had a long romance with funk music in all of its phases, from James Brown and Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone to funk historians like the Dap Kings and Sharon Jones, or re-constructionists such as Amy Winehouse and bigger units with funny names like Turkuaz and Soulive, Dumpstaphunk, and Lettuce. Maybe psych-funkster George Clinton was on point back in 1975 when he and his band Parliament wrote the anthem “Tear the Roof off the Sucker,” and first sang these words over and over to any and every audience that would listen: “We want the funk.”