Noladelic PowerFunk. That’s the sound Big Sam’s Funky Nation have been whipping up for more than a decade. It’s high-energy music that mixes funk, rock & roll, hip-hop, and jazz into the same pot, glueing everything together with the brassy influence — and heavy grooves — of New Orleans.
From national performances at Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits to hometown appearances Voodoo Fest and Jazz Fest, Big Sam’s Funky Nation have built their reputation onstage. The band’s live performance are legendary, filled with blasts of brass, bursts of electric guitar, and the charisma of Big Sam, a frontman who sings, plays, dances, and involves the audience in everything he does. You don’t just watch a Funky Nation show. You become part of the show, singing along with Big Sam whenever he demands a call-and-response.
A native of New Orleans, Big Sam first rose to fame as a member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, whose touring schedule kept the young trombonist on the road for 300 days a year. The group performed with bands from all genres, backing up Widespread Panic one minute before sharing the stage with Dave Matthews Band the next. A fan of diverse bands like Parliament Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Living Colour, and Prince, Big Sam loved the variety that Dirty Dozen Brass Band offered. He wanted to front his own group, though. He needed to sing, to engage the crowd, to write his own songs. Inspired to chase down that dream, he formed Big Sam’s Funky Nation, reaching out to some of his favorite players from around the Big Easy — including Joshua Connelly, Chocolate Milk, Jerry “J Blakk” Henderson, and Drew “Da Phessah” Baham — to create his own supergroup.
Big Sam isn’t the only member of the Funky Nation to sport some serious credentials. J Blakk kicked off his career as a trumpet player, even performing with Southern University’s marching band — Human Jukebox — before finding his love for bass. Horn player Da Phessah established himself around town as an in-demand producer and multi-instrumentalist. Guitar player Connelly grew up on rock & roll, eventually growing into a world-class musician whose style dips into rock, funk and jazz. Chocolate Milk began drumming in church. Together, those five musicians make up Big Sam’s Funky Nation, a group that knows no boundaries, no limits, no restrictions — only the thrill that comes from playing music inspired by the thrills of their New Orleans hometown.
“We don’t cater to one demographic,” says Big Sam, rattling off a list of jam band festivals, jazz shows, rock clubs, and funk gigs that his band has played since 2007. “We play music for everybody. It’s not just funk; that’s the foundation, but the music goes from funk to rock to wild jazz. It’s music about love and partying. Everyone can get down with that.”