Sometime early last week I was coming into town from St. Petersburg, and took the opportunity to stop by the Wild Root band’s practice-space in Palmetto. It was early afternoon, and I wanted to see what was happening. Things are usually happening there—all day long and sometimes all night: music and writing and talk, art in general. With a bit of luck you can catch Paul Fournier there. And when you do, there’s a good chance you’ll find him jamming with some of the best musicians in town.
You’ll trudge through Palmetto at near stagnant 30mph, your knees feeling on fire under radiation windshield and anxiety builds as you pass Texas Chainsaw Massacre gas station and some weird meat store, and every stop sign in Manatee County; and then you finally make that quick turn off 10th St., and you see the driveway full of cars, and on most days, anyone who takes the time to notice will find those cars belong to musicians, and good ones at that.
From the road you can hear them playing, inside, and on good days there will also be cars parked along the curb and in the front yard. It is a big yard, so there is always room to park—And this is the way it was that afternoon, early last week, with all the cars in the drive and along the curb and in the yard. Paul’s big blue truck snug somewhere in the middle, which was good, because it meant Alberto wasn’t up to something sinister. Alberto is a good bass player, and I like him, but his plans tend to make me uncomfortable. Nonetheless, he is a good chap, and he keeps the fridge stocked at all times with fine ale, and the appropriate accompanying fruits—when such is appropriate—and he isn’t happy unless I am, and when I’m there he always is.
Still, on days when Paul’s blue truck isn’t there, I keep driving, which is probably how Alberto would want it anyway, so fine.
The musicians are always good because those are the ones Fournier invites over. He’s made a lot of connections over the years, and if he had a “little black book” it would be full of the names of every player who anybody would want in their band—to fill in for a gig, or to get something new going. And at the moment, Fournier’s Wild Root project demands both—so his little black book is getting a lot of good use. In fact, the corners of the pages, and the crease of the spine, are folding and warping—adapting—to fit nicely in the back-pocket of Paul’s hip dark cuffed-once-at-the-hem Lucky Brand jeans. He calls it the “Wild Root Call List,” and he spends many hours flipping through the thing, calling various musicians to get lineups set up for upcoming gigs. Once The Band is all set&secured—or the closest thing to it—with members for a show, band practice begins. The goal is always to have things set&secured as early as possibility, which is the kind of standard that allows for things to come down to The Wire, and they frequently do.
But Paul likes it that way. He says it keeps things fresh.
Now, do not misunderstand: This is not the “Paul Fournier Wild Root Music Fun Time Variety Hour Surprise Band”—This is no Open Mic—There is a strong glue of consistency to the thing, and it is more like a television show with recurring characters, starring a dependable ensemble cast.
Wild Root evolved into this form, and they say it feels much more natural than the old band formula—the tried&true, All for One, One for All (in the rock and roll band) formula, where it’s “Him on bass & Him on drums, You on keys & Me on vocals/guitar”—
The Dead Routine, where whoever can sing sings backups, and there’s a merch-girl, and buttons, and you all pull all your money together and go on tour and go nowhere fast in this speedy year of Our Lord, two thousand and fourteen. But more on that later. The thing to keep in mind now is, when you pull up to Wild Root HQ and the place is all full of cars, and the blue truck’s there, you know you’re in for a good show, no matter how goddamn hot it is outside.
Today I walked in and found Paul playing drums. Justin Green, the saxophonist, was behind a keyboard, thumping along with some bassy thing while Alberto crawled all over the neck of a hot fretless electric bass guitar, and some dude I recognized was behind a powerful proudstanding DayGlo paint splattered synthesizer, and he was also playing guitar, and some other dude was also playing guitar, and I grabbed a beer from the fridge and twisted the cap off and kicked back to dig an improv Alberto bass guitar solo that sounded like Ray Manzarek Doors electric organ.
A few days later it was Thursday night. Wild Root was playing downtown, at McCabe’s. And Thursday night is a good one for going downtown, in Bradenton. Many have yet to realize this, but those who have and embrace it tend to roll with a champion’s attitude, that is largely lacking among the Friday Saturday everyone else crowd. And so Thursday night I bopped around Old Main Street with a few people I know.
We hit Pub-88 for the 10 p.m. - 11 p.m. $2 wells'n’drafts happy hour and then went up to McCabe’s and the band was reeling high—Wild Root was, I mean. Paul was behind the drums, and this would’ve surprised anybody who hadn’t seen the new Wild Root thing, but had seen the band play before, possibly many times and perhaps even in this very bar. That’s how new this new groove thing is. This new groovy groove thing that has about all the spine of a jellyfish and the balls of a Bull Ox on speed—total focus, ultimate clarity and reckless gung-Ho! off the high-dive, eyes closed and perfect vision, feeling through the darkness faststepping talented movements in the black—
and it is only black because Paul Fournier turned the lights off.
Justin Green, with the golden sax, perched out front illuminating, blowing madly, looking like a mad prince clad in Levi’s and the perfect purple paisley print shirt—Green pulls the strings when he wants to. He’s been with Wild Root since the beginning, and he knows where the music should go. He could probably take over the reins if he felt like it, in fact, during any Wild Root set. And so could anyone else in the band, for that matter—they all know where the music should go; which is how this whole thing works.
And so the night went on and up and down Old Main Street, in and out all the bars, except for O’Bricks, where I was once refused service because of a story I wrote for this newspaper. And every time we went back into McCabe’s the crowd was bigger and the music livelier. It got to the point where I couldn’t get more than one foot in the door at McCabe’s, and was forced to hang onto the door frame to hold myself up and maintain a good vantage point to properly view the group. And it was quite a thing to see: my memory of the gig is like flashing visions of Luhrmann’s Gatsby, sooted with ash and jazz and jeans cuffed at the hem, loud speakers and KEEZ and electric Hendrix voodoo guitars, keyboards and crooning, men—And all the prettiest girls out Thursday night ended up in McCabe’s, digging Wild Root and dancing and looking like summer.
Some days I cruise by Wild Root HQ and find only the blue truck is there, parked in the short old cement drive looking all lonely and stout, shining substantially. I make a definite point of it to stop in on these days—and these are the best days—because all-work-and-no-play made Jack a dull boy, so God only knows what it would do to Paul Fournier. And especially when you factor in the heat. It’s been so hot lately—and Jack Nicholson cracked in the cold, yet we know the Heat is far worse; Heat removes all empathy, like bath salts, and when coupled with the humidity, and air of general lawlessness in Florida, well,
[ . . . ]
The point is, when Jack Nicholson was trying to kill his family with that axe, I remember sensing that he knew they were his family, which seems better, I think, than what would happen here, with Paul, if I didn’t drop in on him from time to time and force him to put down his guitar for a few hours, to help figure things out.
In any case, this was the way I found the driveway Friday morning after the show—with Paul's blue truck parked there all by itself, and no sign of Alberto at all. Paul and Justin were inside, just the two of them, kicked back watching a documentary called The Art of Rap.
It’s been 8-months since I started covering Paul’s movements with Wild Root, and the group’s evolution has been a groovy thing to dig. And no doubt it will be, for as long as it goes ... The guy’s a good revolutionary intellectual of the new renaissance, and really I can’t speak highly enough of him—because if I did, he would be furious with me, and we can’t have that. Not now, just when we’ve finally gotten respectable [ . . . ]—but my MacBook Air is full of countless gems, thanks to GarageBand App, and on slow nights, when the moon is right, I tend to indulge a habit of perusing old files, and who knows what the future of my career will hold? Not me—that’s for sure. Either way, I will say that Paul Fournier always has something good to say, which tends to be the way with good artists, and those are the only ones worth talking to.
As for the future of this new Wild Root thing, Paul and Justin say options are limitless—
From here on out, it's manifest destiny.
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