The California Honeydrops just get you high. That soul-bubblin’, belly-fizzin’, tingle-in-your-toes, good-good high that makes you want to sing as loud as you can while dancin’ your ass off.
It’s a whole-body experience that is one part soul and one part rhythm, a simple formula with magnificent results.
The soul comes from the insatiable falsetto party-croon of singer and multi-instrumentalist Lech Wierzynski as it wraps around the colorful melodies of saxophonist Johnny Bones and keyboardist Lorenzo Loera like a Mardi Gras maypole. The rhythm comes from the intangible duo of bassist Beau Bradbury and drummer Ben Malament, who can always put the dip in your hip with the slightest of effort. Together they’ve made some of the sweetest R&B this side of the Mississippi, enriched by the blues, funk and jazz of the Bay Area. Their music has attracted a gregarious group of fans full of life and spirit that has been growing steadily and mightily since the band members’ busking days in a BART station in Oakland.
The Honeydrops are now earning themselves a reputation as one of the most joyful musical parties going around the country. Taking it one show at a time, the West Coast mainstays have been able to venture out to the East Coast and Gulf region, to the Caribbean and back on Jam Cruise and even all the way to Australia. Someone who has been influential in bringing The California Honeydrops to more audiences has been Bonnie Raitt. The singer and guitarist first saw the band play one of its small, local gigs in the Bay Area a couple years ago and became an instant fan. The group has opened for her on a number of tours, giving the Honeydrops some of their first tastes of playing theaters after mainly doing clubs, bars and festivals. There’s no doubt they’ll be filling those theaters by themselves one day.
It’s easy to understand how The California Honeydrops are a singing and dancing smile machine. For one, the music is a celebration of all things that move your body in the right ways. The band’s most vivid album “A River’s Invitation” is beautifully crafted and touches upon Delta-inspired jazz, blues, folk and R&B as it smoothly moves from juke-joint jams to moonlit saunters along the river, all with the musical humidity of a summer night in Savannah.
As drummer Malament recently revealed to Tahoe Onstage, the band is recording the follow up to “A River’s Invitation.” The musicians decided this next album would be recorded to tape in a professional studio in order to capture the Honeydrops’ live sound. Wanting to be efficient with the expensive studio time the band worked out most of the arrangements beforehand and came into the studio ready to record. The drummer said the band was looking to do different things with its music, while still working within a familiar framework.
“We have a ton of new songs and original material, some more in an R&B flavor and some songs going back to our roots with a blues flavor. The tub-bass Soul Tub is making an appearance, the washboard is making an appearance. There are a lot of tracks live with piano, drums, bass, horns in the same room. It’s going to be a great record and we’re really excited about it. It’s gonna have a different feel for sure, and you’ll hear it. We’re really doing some different stuff on some tracks. It’s great, “ Malament said.
While the band records its next release, it continues to go out on the road and bring soul-affirming energy to each person who catches a show. This genuine connection to the audience is the other thing that makes The California Honeydrops so irresistible. It’s hard to find a band that looks as fun and relaxed on stage as the Honeydrops, playing to an audience floating on a cloud of good vibes. For many, those concerts represent a safe space, a happy place, where they can commune with the people and music they find most sacred.
The opportunity to do that night in and night out is not lost on Malament. He was appreciative of the small team that keeps The California Honeydrops growing in its career and bringing its music to people across the country. Malament was especially grateful of the band’s manager and its booking agency. Their collaboration and guidance has kept the music first and allowed the musicians to do things their way.
“We’re blessed with the greatest manager on Earth, her name is Heather Newman. She never managed a band before the Honeydrops and she came up with us because we don’t like to do things the way the business likes to do it. We have a great manager who makes sure we have a budget to make everything happen, to keep the band living well.”
“Our booker Jerry Lima of Monterey (International) booking is a wonderful person. These are two people who are very atypical in the business of music. Music is a beautiful thing and it’s something as important as water and dirt on this planet, but this business is not a beautiful thing. These people have really allowed the Honeydrops to do what we want to do the way we want to do it,” Malament said.
The band is gearing up for different kind of year in 2017, one that will find the road warriors scaling back their touring to allow more time off the road. The move is somewhat reluctant as Malament and company are always eager to jump on a good opportunity when it presents itself. But the drummer acknowledged the necessity to take a step back and spend time away from the band, a move that he believes is better for everyone involved.
“We love to play but I think our own creativity, our own well-being, our own expansion of our ideas within the art and different mediums will come to fruition if we give ourselves some space off the road, because it is as grueling as it is fun. We really put ourselves out there and I think we’ve earned our space. It’s not very exciting for the fans to hear, but trust me fans, you’ll benefit as much as we will from any time that we can take for ourselves,” Malament said.
The longer you wait for the honey, the sweeter it’s gonna taste.
Click to see all of Larry Sabo’s photos from the March 3 show.
Album review: California Honeydrops’ “A River’s Invitation”