RAPHAEL WRESSNIG & IGOR PRADO
Groove & Good Times
(Pepper Cake Records)

 

The world may be in state of unrest but don’t tell that to Austria-based organ master Raphael Wressnig. Together with Brazilian guitarist Igor Prado, the duo have released one of the coolest-sounding feelgood albums of 2021. The CD release of Groove & Good Times spotlights Raphael and Igor, joined by the solid drumming of Igor’s brother Yuri Prado, laying down nine way-cool instrumentals with a vocal track featuring vocals by Igor and Jenni Rocha, blending a mix of funky instrumental R&B, jazz and soul blues that will bring your mood way up.

The magical sounding Hammond organ as the centerpiece in soul and funk music is legendary. Booker T & The MGs and The Meters did wonders for the instrumental R&B genre back in the mid to late 1960s and ‘70s. Carrying forth that soulful, funky Hammond sound into the early-mid 2020s, Raphael Wressnig and Igor Prado have crafted something of a modern-day classic of the genre. Groove & Good Times is totally original sounding in its own right, while another interesting aspect is that the 10-track, 44 minute album features a fun selection of covers from the pens of The Isley Brothers, Jr. Wells & Buddy Guy, Bill Withers, James Brown, Bob Marley, The Meters and more, topped off by a Wressnig original entitled “Shrimp Daddy”.

In a side note to 2021's Groove & Good Times, Raphael’s organ-heavy, funky soul jams extends to other genres of contemporary instrumental music and to that you can include his fresh spin on holiday music. In time to celebrate Christmas 2021, Raphael joined forces with NYC-based electric guitarist Alex Schultz for a 3-track CD EP called Bayou Christkind: A Soulful Christmas With A Funky Twist. Putting a new spin on Christmas music, this EP includes funky instrumental versions of “Little Drummer Boy”, “Silent Night” and the ever-popular “Winter Wonderland”. With Raphael’s swampy-sounding Hammond organ paired with guitarist Alex Schultz, Bayou Christkind is a fun-filled pairing of Southern funk and groove holiday music.

Echoing the upbeat, groove-based sounds of the great Hammond organ players years gone by, Raphael Wressnig has a number of albums in his catalog and, with its high likability factor, Groove & Good Times may very well be the album to bring him even more well-deserved global recognition and appreciation. www.raphaelwressnig.com

 


 

mwe3.com presents an interview with
RAPHAEL WRESSNIG

mwe3: Tell us where you’re from originally. Were you born in the 1970s? What is your date of birth?

Raphael Wressnig: I was born on October 14, 1979 in Graz, Austria and grew up in a small town in the Southeast of Austria.

mwe3: What was your early musical training like and what instruments did you study first when you were young? Were you always a piano person and tell us how you came to study and master the Hammond B-3. What B-3 players influenced you? I mentioned Booker T & the MGs and The Meters in my album review. Another writer mentioned Jimmy McGriff who is truly amazing! In what order were they influences on you writing and recording and what B-3 players stand out in your mind the strongest?

Raphael Wressnig: When I was a child I played a little piano but it all really started when I was around 16 years old. I’m basically self-thought and always loved soul, jazz and rhythm & blues. I started out on the piano but soon figured that the organ sound is my vehicle. The power of the Hammond organ, the tones, the colors and the dynamics is what I always loved. I discovered Jimmy Smith very soon and his R&B type licks blew my mind. Soon I discovered Jimmy McGriff.

I like organ-laden music in general. There is a lot of beautiful stuff out there. Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff were virtuoso players, but there are a lot of obscure organ players that released great music. I’m into that stuff too. Jackie Mittoo from Jamaica for example. I love his tracks. Not only his rock steady recordings, but his funk and R&B tracks also. Musicians like Billy Preston, Booker T. Jones or Art Neville. ‘Popa Funk’, that’s what they call him in New Orleans. I love Willie Tee, a great keyboard player from the Crescent city as well.

mwe3: Tell us how you met Igor Prado and got together with his brother for Groove & Good Times. Igor reminds me sometimes of a young Stevie Ray Vaughan. What’s the musical chemistry with you and the Prado brothers and have you recorded with Igor before? Yuri’s drumming is also excellent and well-recorded.

Raphael Wressnig: Of course Stevie Ray Vaughan is an important influence on a lot of guitar players and it is true that some tones might remind you of Stevie Ray, but it’s more the Otis Rush and Albert King influence that Igor and Stevie Ray channel so beautifully. Igor plays his guitar “lefty upside down”. Just like Otis Rush, Albert King and Jimi Hendrix. Igor is channeling a lot of cool, lowdown influences like “Gatemouth” Brown, Jimmy Nolan, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and an early Buddy Guy. We could mention Jimmie Vaughan rather than Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Igor’s style is incredible: merging a lot of cool old-school influences into something that is funky, up-to-date and fresh. Yuri Prado is a fantastic drummer. His pocket, taste, feel and style and the tones and colors he creates are wonderful. To me he is one of the best New Orleans-type funk drummers outside of New Orleans. Actually there are a lot of things that New Orleans funk and Brazilian music have in common. It’s great to hear and feel what a skilled rhythm concept Igor and Yuri have.

The pulse, the groove and the feel are so important to the type of music we try to come up with. I met Igor and Yuri through R&B saxophonist Gordon Beadle. Gordon put together an all-star ensemble for Poretta Soul Festival in Italy in 2013. One year later Igor invited me to play with him in Brazil. We collaborated ever since. We recorded the album The Soul Connection together and now we released Groove & Good Times.

mwe3: Tell us about the Hammond and other keyboard instruments you play on your albums? Do you play any other instruments and also, do you write all your music and arrangements on keyboards?

Raphael Wressnig: I mostly play Hammond organ. I’m really an organ player. Wurlitzer pianos are on my recordings but I never play acoustic piano or digital pianos. I like vintage electric pianos like the Wurlitzer piano or the Fender Rhodes. I mostly use the Wurly though. Maybe the Hohner D-6 clavinet every now and then, adding some percussions if needed. Some tambourine, cowbells or playing a pandeiro/tambourine the way they use it in New Orleans or in church. This adds some nice flavors to the groove.

Adding some spice, texture even though I’m working with some very skillful drummers. Over the years I got to record or tour with legendary R&B and funk drummer James Gadson, New Orleans drummers Johnny Vidacovich and Stanton Moore, Horacio Hernandez, Pete York (ex-Spencer Davis Group) and many more. The groove aspect and feel and taste are crucial for this type of music. It is great to use some additional keyboards on recordings but the organ and the drums always “carry” the music and the groove. I kick bass pedals on the Hammond. Once you lock in with the drummer, the Hammond and the drums wing the whole thing. The beautiful thing is that I can add tasty leads as well. The Hammond B-3 organ is such a wonderful instrument.

mwe3: How many albums have you released so far and how many others are you playing on by other artists? Are you planning a video collection in the future and which of your albums stand out in your mind as being favorites? Do they all feature different musicians as I see you made some with other artists such as Igor and Alex Schultz like on the new Christmas music EP.

Raphael Wressnig: Honestly, I don’t know exactly. It might be 20-25 or even 30 under my name. Some of them are collaborations, some are solo albums and there are about 50 to 60 albums that I played on. I’ve been doing this for quite a while even though I’m only 42 years old. This type of music takes a lifetime to master. I would consider my last albums the most important ones: Soul Gift, Soul Gumbo, The Soul Connection, Chicken Burrito and Groove & Good Times. Soul Gumbo was recorded in New Orleans and features some great, great players: Grammy-winner Jon Cleary, R&B legend Walter “Wolfman” Washington, George Porter, Jr. (the Meters). I’ve been working a lot with guitarist Alex Schultz. Alex was born in NYC and later moved to Los Angeles. He is an incredibly tasteful guitarist. Bayou Christkind is our latest release.

mwe3: Tell us about Bayou Christkind, which is your new Christmas EP. Was it recorded after Groove & Good Times? You and Igor did all the production, mixing, mastering and recording on Groove & Good Times, so you had it totally under your control at all times! Is that the way you record and produce it all yourself?

Raphael Wressnig: We started to record Groove & Good Times in December 2019 during our tour through Brazil and Argentina. We recorded a lot of tracks including most of the tracks for the album and the 2020 Christmas release, Santa Likes to Boogaloo. I produced all my albums or at least co-produced. This time we did everything on our own: recording, mixing, mastering and producing. It was a process that we started. I have the feeling that you can add the last touches on cool tracks and achieve a better result and add more depth to the music!

Most of the tracks for Bayou Christkind were recorded around Christmas last year and we finished this summer. I like that release a lot. I love groovy Holiday music and think this is a cool and unique example. “Winter Wonderland” is a nice swamp-blues. I’m thinking of Earl King, Snooks Eaglin and a southern BBQ or a crawfish boil with Professor Longhair and James Booker. Having played with a lot of great drummers from New Orleans, it was natural for me to put “Little Drummer Boy” into a New Orleans-type funk outfit and take it to the street. “Stille Nacht (Silent Night)” is one of the most famous Christmas songs and was written over here close to Salzburg, Austria. We took this alpine Christmas song to Louisiana and turned it into a gospel-blues.

mwe3: What was pre-production like on Groove & Good Times? Is there where you decide on the tracks to appear? How did you put the track lineup together and choose the tracks to record and did you do a lot of research into picking specific tracks to cover on the Groove CD? Almost any song can be Hammond-ized, maybe even a Beatles funk instro album!

Raphael Wressnig: We wanted to record the best or coolest organ trio record that we are capable of. We wanted to update the organ-guitar thing but we also wanted to dig deep and show our roots: the blues, a lowdown-touch, yet we wanted to sound fresh and up-to-date. We thought about sound and sound-design quite a bit. We had the image of an updated “Electric Funk”-type thing. Electric Funk is a cool ‘70s funk album by organist Jimmy McGriff. We wanted to record a groove album. Not necessarily a funk album, or a soul album. We had a groove album in mind that includes soul and funk and has a blues appeal. It is NOT a blues album, but there is a lot of lowdown blues infused.

I don’t really want to answer the second half of the question. I’m not a big Beatles fan and actually what you describe, Booker T. & the MGs did it already. I think Booker T. & the MGs are just way more interesting and soulful than the Beatles. I want to stop right here, before Beatles fans really get upset now, ha-ha! Then again: it was a good move to hire Billy Preston. What in the world can go wrong if you have Billy Preston on organ, Fender Rhodes and keys?

It is true that the Hammond organ is a cool vehicle for any song and there is a huge tradition in doing organ-laden instrumental versions of cool songs.

mwe3: I was totally blown away by your Bob Marley cover of “Soul Shakedown Party”. How did you end up choosing that Marley cover for the Groove album and tell us about your original track “Shrimp Daddy”. It really has a great groove. What other tracks stand out on the album in your estimation? It’s such an unusual musical artform in that there aren’t a lot of other bands playing in that style.

Raphael Wressnig: Why not? Ha-ha! First of all to my concept of groovy roots music I would include a lot of the cool recordings being made at Studio One. I love Jackie Mittoo, Ernest Ranglin and a lot of those rocksteady recordings. All those styles of music have one thing in common: it’s about “having a good time”. That’s why we chose that title and that is the reason why we wanted to have some island vibes on the album too. We chose that song, but we gave it more of a rocksteady and vintage treatment. It is a little tribute to Jackie Mittoo, keyboard king of Jamaica.

A lot of great boogaloo tunes were recorded in the late 1960’s. The main concept of Groove & Good Times was more an updated ‘70s feel. As an organ trio touching on a boogaloo is always fun. We added this snappy original of mine and gave it a ‘70s funk spin. It is great when Igor starts with some Boogaloo Joe Jones-type licks and then changes to wah-wah guitar fills to add more of a gritty ‘70s vibe. My favorite tracks on the album are “Kissing My Love”, “I Know Who You’ve Been Socking It To” and “No More Okie Doke”.

mwe3: The one vocal track is great with Igor singing with Jenni Rocha. How did “You Bring Love” come together? I had forgotten Johnny Guitar Watson did that one thank you for covering it.

Raphael Wressnig: They sound wonderful doing it. That whole Johnny Watson album is killer. We wanted to add one ballad. For a groove album it needed to be something groovy though. I think “You Bring Love” was a great choice. Igor is a great vocalist. “Blues & Pants” features some vocals too, but it is more a “spoken word”-type thing. I like to do that one live.

mwe3: Also the CD artwork by Bryn Barklam and production of the CD pressing is first rate. How did you come up with that album art/artist? I saw you’re also working with ZYX Records in Germany. Does ZYX handle your catalog? The art is very noir but effective.

Raphael Wressnig: Bryn started to follow me on social media at some point last year. He is a great organist himself and does illustrations. He seemed to dig my stuff and I saw his illustrations and at some point I knew that I wanted him doing a comic or illustration of Igor and myself. I think Igor almost looks like a cartoon figure sometimes. I mean that in a positive way. He plays a mean guitar and sometimes puts that mean and ice-cold look. The illustration of Bryn enhances that even more. ZYX Music and their branch for blues and soul, Pepper Cake Records have been handling my catalog for a long time now.

mwe3: It’s certainly been a struggle, recently, for many in the music performing arts. Now even as you promote these two new releases what are you looking forward to and planning for 2022?

Raphael Wressnig: We have two tours coming up with Groove & Good Times and Igor and Yuri. We plan to tour Europe and beyond in the summer and in October and November. If all goes well we might have a few shows on the West Coast in the US in 2022. I will be working on some recordings, but it would be great to take the music on the road now!

 

 




 

 
   
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