Spread the word that it’s funk that you heard

“We just feel it natural”: The musicians in the Free Flow Band have been singing and playing music since they were young. Photo by Ami Worthen

“Our mission is to get people on the dance floor,” the members of the Free Flow Band proclaimed during a recent interview, almost in unison. And if you’ve seen them perform, you know that they meet that mission, night after night.

“We love to see people having a good time. Especially right now, with everything going on with the economy and all — we just want to bring a little joy,” said vocalist/percussionist, Roger “Lil’ Rog” Ware.

Free Flow was formed six years ago by Ware and bandmates Kevin “Kazual” Collins (vocals, keyboards) and Darrell “B Note” Griffin (vocals, bass), who all grew up in Asheville. “Kevin’s grandmother used to babysit my sister and I. And Roger and I were in junior high together,” explained Griffin.

All of the members of Free Flow have been playing music since they were young. “My mother told me that when I was in the crib, I was banging a bottle in rhythm,” says Collins. “After that, they got me a set of bongos when I was about 6 years old, and when I was 7 I got my first drum set.” Griffin played piano and sax in elementary school, and then moved on to bass and drums. “This is actually my first band, but I’ve been singing gospel since I was 3 years old,” Ware says. “When I was younger I traveled around with a group called the Gospel Wheels.”

Back in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, Collins explained, “when the Orange Peel was owned by Dickie Plemmons, he used to bring in James Brown, the Commodores, the Barcades, all the old groups.” Though they were underage, Ware admits, “All of us done snuck in there at least once or twice. I know I got to see Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding. That was the spot.” These stolen moments of inspiration had a major influence on Free Flow. Today, they are carrying on the R&B, soul and funk music of these masters.

“We do cover songs, but we put our own original twist to them. That’s why you’ll hear the songs sounding a lot different than what’s on the record,” explained Collins. The material they draw from includes Rick James, J. Giles, George Clinton, Michael Jackson, Al Green, the Rolling Stones and Prince. An interesting twist to the band’s instrumentation is its drum machine, with samples from the original recordings that the band is bringing back to life.

But the most notable thing about Free Flow’s sound is their rich harmonies. All three members of the band are active in their church choirs, to which they attribute their abilities to harmonize.

“We just feel it natural,” Griffin says. “Two people can sing harmony, and the other will automatically hear the third part. It just gels between the three of us.”

You can find Free Flow playing private parties, weddings, festivals and local clubs such as Tressa’s, where they will be on Dec. 16. Tressa’s was the first place they performed as a band, and the band is quick to point out that they will never forget getting that break. A highlight of the band’s career was opening up for Cameo at Goombay three years ago — the hometown support they got that day was uplifting.

Recently, the original members of the band have been joined on stage by Pete “Texas Pete” Small on guitar and Derek “D Rock” Sandlin on vocals and bass. And when an even bigger band is appropriate, Free Flow recruits various local musicians, including Ruby Mayfield on sax.

In addition to Free Flow, Ware has a gospel quartet group called The Brothers of Faith. Collins is currently in the process of recording his second solo album. Griffin owns B Note Productions, and produces Just Keepin’ It Real, a show with features interviews with musicians.

The band’s slogan, which is shouted out to the crowd at the end of every show, is “Spread the word that it’s funk that you heard!” The enthusiastic dancers moved by the band’s music are certain to do just that.

Free Flow at Havana

When not booked elsewhere, Free Flow plays at Havana Restaurant (located on the ground floor of the Battery Park Hotel building) on Fridays from 8 to 10 p.m.. These early shows have developed quite a reputation, and they draw what is arguably one of the most diverse crowds in Asheville. Owned by longtime Asheville business owner Hector Contreras, Havana’s flavorful Cuban food and potent mojitos add to the festive atmosphere created by Free Flow. “When we first started there, Hector didn’t expect people to be dancing, but by the time we finish our second set, there is a Congo line all the way around the restaurant,” Griffin reports with a grin. “It’s become a tradition.” As Contreras puts it, “When Free Flow plays here, it’s always party.” Watch the band’s website for Havana dates.

— Ami Worthen can be contacted at amiwhoa@gmail.com.

what: Free Flow
where: Tressa’s Downtown Jazz & Blues
when: Friday, Dec.16 (10 p.m. tressas.com freeflowband.info)

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