City Champs (The) Biography

Memphis soul/jazz organ trio The City Champs return to Memphis’ Electraphonic Recording studio for the follow up to their acclaimed debut album, The Safecracker. The Set-Up finds the group stretching out, adding Latin jazz, psychedelia and 60’s film score influences to their established Booker T. and the MGs meets Blue Note/Prestige Records sound.

The City Champs are comprised of three of Memphis’ top musicians: Guitarist Joe Restivo, organist Al Gamble and drummer George Sluppick. Their resumes include studio recordings and live dates with artists such as Rufus Thomas, Alex Chilton, JJ Grey and MOFRO, William Bell, Syl Johnson and the Memphis Horns.

Augmenting the City Champs trio sound on The Set-Up is renowned Motown Funk Brother Jack Ashford on tambourine (who was featured in the award winning documentary, Standing in the Shadows of Motown), The Bo-Keys horn men (Marc Franklin, Jim Spake and Kirk Smothers), Latin percussionist Felix Hernandez and Bo-Keys bassist and The Set-Up’s producer, Scott Bomar, who most recently produced Cyndi Laupers’ “Memphis Blues.”

The album’s highlights include the title track, “The Set-Up” which features nice call and response musical interplay between guitarist Restivo, organist Gamble and the propulsive solid, funky drumming which is drummer Sluppick’s trademark. The overall result encapsulates the Champs sound: Think The Meters and Booker T. playing a 60s film theme on a session at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio for a Blue Note or Prestige Records release.

“Ricky’s Rant” features a strong, haunting melodic theme and a razor sharp performance from the group, best demonstrating how the group has evolvedin the instrumental idiom, building upon classic influences and creating music which is contemporary, modern and fresh.

The tracks “Crump St.” and “Local Jones” play like classic Stax/Hi Records/American Studios sides and showcase their Memphis roots, adding a tasteful dash of horns arranged by The Bo-Keys horn section leader, Marc Franklin.

The Champs take on RJD2’s track “A Beautiful Mine”, (well known as the theme song to the popular AMC show Mad Men), bringing a 60s Latin Jazz/Boogaloo arrangement to the tune that represents its most dance floor worthy interpretation yet.

“Drippy”, “Rigamarole” and “Break It Up” are snapshots of the group’s early career, playing after hours in the Memphis nautical-themed nightclub, The Buccaneer. These tracks come from a 60s Soul/Jazz, Jack McDuff, Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson, Jimmy McGriff bag and will feel very familiar with fans of their first album, The Safecracker.

Since the release of their first album, the group has toured the US with The North Mississippi Allstars and performed shows with bassist Robert Mecurio from Galactic. The group has also had their music prominently featured in the Emmy Award winning documentary, I Am a Man: From Memphis a Lesson in Life and the MTV series, $5 Cover.
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