SoulTracks Tribute: ConFunkShun turns 50!

[Publisher's Note: After we posted this story, ConFunkShun member Michael Cooper contacted us and let us know that, despite contrary information on the internet, ConFunkShun actually formed in 1973, and they have some big plans brewing. So we'll wish them Happy Anniversary a little early and will look forward to celebrating again in 2023!]

1969 was a great year for music, and was the year that some legendary acts began. One of the premiere funk bands of the 70s and 80s, ConFunkShun joined together 50 years ago, starting a run that has made the band one of the most loved of their generation, developing a huge following with a string of memorable funky cuts and slow jams that are still receiving airplay three decades or more after they were originally released.

[Publisher's Note: After we posted this story, ConFunkShun member Michael Cooper contacted us and let us know that, despite contrary information on the internet, ConFunkShun actually formed in 1973, and they have some big plans brewing. So we'll wish them Happy Anniversary a little early and will look forward to celebrating again in 2023!]

1969 was a great year for music, and was the year that some legendary acts began. One of the premiere funk bands of the 70s and 80s, ConFunkShun joined together 50 years ago, starting a run that has made the band one of the most loved of their generation, developing a huge following with a string of memorable funky cuts and slow jams that are still receiving airplay three decades or more after they were originally released.

Formed in 1969 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. 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, but have kept returning to the mothership. The band scored a 2015 hit and a SoulTracks Readers’ Choice Award for the excellent album More Than Love

The current lineup of ConFunkShun  -- 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) - continues to perform regularly, and sounds great. And as approach the third decade of the 21st Century, ConFunkShun is still going strong. Let’s take a moment to celebrate 50 fantastic years!

By Chris Rizik

 
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