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One of the premiere funk bands of the 70s and 80s, ConFunkShun developed a huge following with a string of memorable funky cuts and slow jams that are still receiving airplay twenty-plus years after they were originally released.
Formed in the early 70s by a number of Vallejo California high school friends, the group, consisting of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Felton Pilate, singer Michael Cooper, drummer Louis McCall, saxman Paul Harrell, bassist Cedric Martin, keyboardist Danny Thomas and trumpeter Karl Fuller, followed the burgeoning self-contained funk band movement that was being led by the Isley Brothers, Earth Wind & Fire and the Commodores. Originally called Project Soul, the group received its first break backing Stax Records act Soul Children. This led to a move to Memphis and regular jobs working with that town's biggest acts.
After a few years, Project Soul became "ConFunkShun," named after the title of the old Harvey Fuqua and the Nite Liters song. The band's work with Soul Children as well as some minor releases on a small label resulted in being signed by Mercury Records and the release of ConFunkShun's 1976 eponymous major label debut. It provided a moderate hit single with "Sho Feels Good To Me," but major acclaim arrived a year later with the first single from the next album. "Ffun" became an out of the box dance smash, hitting #1 on the Soul charts and leading the album Secrets to gold status.
The prolific group produced a solid string of hits that continued for nearly a decade. Their funky dance numbers such as "Ms. Got the Body," "Chase Me" and the Earth Wind & Fire-influenced "Too Tight" were complimented by great slow jams such as "Love's Train" (recently remade by Dru Hill) and their smooth crossover hit, "Baby I'm Hooked."
By 1986, the group was past its peak and, after an altercation with McCall resulting from an argument about song royalties, Pilate left for a successful career as a producer, most notably working with M.C. Hammer. Cooper split a year later and began a solo career, scoring with the singles "To Prove My Love" and "Should Have Been You." After three solo albums, Cooper was ready to join a group again, and invited Pilate, Fuller and Martin to reunite as a new version of ConFunkShun. The exclusion of the other three original members, especially McCall, led to hard feelings, and McCall remained bitter until his tragic murder at his Georgia home in 1997.
The group's rebirth led to a well received live album for Intersound Records in 1996 and the beginning of a strong second touring life. The current version of ConFunkShun continues to perform in multi-act funk shows (the group still sounds terrific) and regularly leads a musical cruise for fans. The current line-up consists of Michael Cooper (lead vocals, guitar), Felton Pilate (lead vocals, trombone, keyboards), Karl Fuller (trumpet), Eric Young (bass), Ron Moton (sax), Kurt Clayton (keyboards) and Darwin Tillary (drums). There have been a number of very good compilations of ConFunkShun's biggest hits, the best of which are the Mercury Records "Funk Essentials" collection The Best of ConFunkShun and the 1998 Ballads Collection. Cooper and Pilate also continued to some extent with their solo careers, with Cooper recently Are We Cool and Pilate putting out Nothing But Love Spoken Here during the past few years. And as we travel through the second decade of the 21st Century, ConFunkShun is still going strong.
By Chris Rizik
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