October 4, 2010

Sound Unseen 11: Wheedle's Groove

Screening as part of Sound Unseen 11 - Thu., Oct. 8, @ 8:45 PM @ the Trylon

When people talk about "discovering" music, I think they typically mean hearing a song they like in a commercial or at a bar and tracking it down, or reading about an up-and-coming artist and checking out their MySpace page for a free listen. Rarely is the case, I would imagine, when one actually physically discovers the music - as in, buried in a record store after years of neglect. Wheedle's Groove, winner of the Jury Award at Sound Unseen Duluth last summer, is the story of what happens when that music is found, and what it can mean to the people who lost it.

If I were to ask you to list the most influential cities for the emergence of soul and funk music during the 1960's and 70's, I would bet with some confidence that a few places would go unmentioned: Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle. But ah, how wrong you would be to omit the Emerald City: Seattle was, shockingly, home to some of the funkiest bands of the era, and involved musical giants like Quincy Jones and Kenny G (yes, that Kenny G). Few people remember this, of course, which makes Wheedle's Groove both extremely depressing and extremely important to the historical records of the city and the genre.

It all started when Seattle DJ "Mr. Supreme" stumbled upon some dusty 45 records in the early 2000's. He heard the drum lead-in on a song called "Bold Soul Sister", and, as he tells it, "went crazy". Like a musical bloodhound, Supreme scoured the city's thrift stores for more 60's-era records and amassed a veritable library of locally-produced albums by bands with names like Black on White Affair, and Cold, Bold & Together. As he and the rest of the city's musically hip would soon discover, Seattle was once as much of a hotbed for soul and funk music as any city in the country.

The relative isolation of the place encouraged innovation (see: Microsoft) but also prevented any of the talent aside from Kenny G from achieving national success. To make matters worse, racism and housing segregation in the city kept the hottest gigs underground and out of the mainstream. Most of the bands achieved only regional popularity, and when disco arrived it killed the city's soul and funk scenes for good.

But where that sad story ends is where Wheedle's Groove begins, and the city's new appreciation for the old music provides one of the best redemption stories of the year. Director Jennifer Maas achieves just the right balance of interviews and images to demonstrate the richness of not only the music we hear, but also of the people who made it. They are not bitter and broken, but confident in character and proud of their achievements, despite the fact that, like art or wine, it would take decades for them to be truly appreciated.


  1. I saw this film during CIMMfest here in Chicago and loved the hell out of it. I even bought the two albums associated with the film. The big revelation for me was Patrinell Staten. I loved her voice and really dug that Chris Connell (?)loved her version of Jesus Christ Pose.

  2. Didn't the CD release show look like a blast? I would have paid a whole bunch to experience that musical reunion. Maybe I should check out the albums in the meantime anyway. Also, I really dug the Staten/gospel version of that song, too.


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