“You know what, man? It’s time to do something for ourselves.” These are the words of Les Carter, who is part of Reno’s new super soul group, the Soul Persuaders.
The quartet includes three veteran musicians who were part of Detroit’s musical heyday in the 1960s and ‘70s. They’ve been friends since childhood and now, after raising families, have reunited in Reno and are resuming their musical careers.
“It was just like the old Blues Brothers — we put the band back together,” said Carter, who plays drums and sings. “The new Funk Brothers are here in Reno. We were all trained by the Funk Brothers. They were our high school teachers. We were trained in Motown, R&B and rock and roll, and we are old school to the bone.”
The Funk Brothers were the session band in Detroit for most of Motown’s records.
Carter is joined by guitarist Phil Weaver, bassist Fred Williams and singer Dr. Lee A Davis Jr., aka Dmanlee1.
“I’m the red-headed stepchild from the West Coast,” said Davis, a retired Los Angeles policeman who moved to Reno to be near his son. The Soul Persuaders discovered Davis at a karaoke bar. “I was very fortunate to have fallen in the hands of these guys. They are true professionals, and I bring that same attitude to the table.”
On Saturday, the Soul Persuaders will headline the Rockbar Theater’s first big show. The Rockbar is the site of the former Knitting Factory in downtown Reno. It has been totally renovated.
“They have an awesome sound system,” Carter said. “Everything is laid out top notch and it’s beautiful. There are tables and chairs. It’s a cabaret-like showroom with a VIP section up in the balcony and one off the side of the stage. Almost like a ‘David Letterman Late Night’ type of deal.”
The Soul Persuaders, named after a Detroit band from the 1960s, has been in the making for several years.
“We saved our money, me and (Williams) at first, got a brand new vehicle, loaded it up and headed West,” Carter said. “We came out to do a tribute show to Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.”
They tried Sacramento, Reno and Las Vegas before electing to make Reno their permanent home. Along the way, Weaver joined them.
“When I was a kid, my parents used to take us to the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit to see the Motown revue, which had everybody who was on the roster at that time,” Weaver recalled. “They would come back from tours and did revue shows, like what we are doing (on a larger scale). I saw Little Stevie Wonder, Temptations, the Contours, Martha Reeves, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.”
Weaver began playing guitar at age 3. After earning a college degree in music theory and composition, he became a high school teacher. However, he picked up so much work as a studio session player that he became one full time.
In 1972, Motown was part of Detroit’s mass exodus, relocating to Los Angeles. As the auto industry struggled, Detroit dropped 75 percent of its population. It had been the third largest metropolitan area in the country. Weaver lost his session job and moved to Atlanta. After he returned to music, he joined one of the bands he had seen as a child, the Contours, with which he played from 1995 to 2007 as part of doo-wap reunion tours.
Williams, who toured more than a decade with the Contours, also played with the Supersonics, Carl Carlton and the Robert Penn Blues Band. He is the elder statesman and perhaps most philosophical member of the Soul Persuaders.
“Have respect for yourself, have respect for others and have respect for all the things around you,” Williams said. “You need to learn every day, to better our lives because it’s a lot of fun doing it. And like the old saying, there’s never been a dull moment, ever.
“We did everything under the sun and we traveled the whole entire world but we learned a whole lot from different cultures,” he said. “I learned a whole lot. It changed me completely: The way I think, my well being, my playing ability — I played with all the big stars, and I learned a whole lot from them. It’s the best job on the planet and, hey, you have to work hard for it, but it’s the best job on the planet.”
While Motown is best known, Detroit was once the home for several record labels, including Atlantic Records, made famous by Aretha Franklin, and MCA, where Carter produced six albums. Carter also played with Carl Carlton, the Contours, the Dramatics and toured with Rick James and Patti LaBelle.
“I am still well connected with all of those people,” said Carter, who plans to bring them to Reno to perform revues with the Soul Persuaders.
Each member is enthusiastic about the band’s future.
“We don’t sample any music or anything artificial or prerecorded,” Weaver said. “What we do is completely live. We are career musicians. We’ve played every song known to man. The three of us in this room probably have 200 years of experience in this industry.”
“We’ve got good people and I love to be around people who’ve got the knowledge, and got the experience,” he said. “We can work together as a whole entire team and make things happen.”
- Soul Persuaders
Special guests: Margret Wrights, Barbara Woodard and Haaswan DePrince
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 25; doors open at 6 p.m.
Where: Rockbar Theater, 211 N. Virginia Street, Reno
Tickets: $18 and $36 (VIP)
Band website: http://www.soulpersuaders.com/
Editor’s note: Here’s a message from the Soul Persuader’s manager, Michael Meuser.
I was blessed to have been a young man in Oakland, California, during the ‘60s. At that time blues and R&B artists from all over appeared at small clubs on 7th Street in West Oakland. I frequented places like Slim Jenkin’s Supper Club, the Blue Room, Esther’s Orbit Room and many other clubs along 7th Street. Some called it Western Harlem, others, the end of the Chittlin Circuit. I enjoyed the likes of B.B. King, Ike & Tina turner, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, Bobby Blue Bland, Ray Charles and more, up-close and personal — wonderful and amazing experiences and memories. Then I saw many of the same performers across the bay in many of the Bill Graham productions.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for the last 40 years – trucking, salvage and many other businesses. I always tried to catch R&B show wherever I landed. About 12 years ago I managed a Jimi Hendrix tribute band that did quite well and it helped me learn the ropes. But as with many bands, drugs, alcohol, personality conflicts take their toll. In semi-retirement, I moved to Plumas County California. I was really missing R&B and soul music so I decided to spend a night in Reno and see what I could find.
I happened into the Atlantis Casino and saw the Soul Persuaders show. I’ve missed the sounds and the feelings I experienced back then in the ‘60s and when I saw the Soul Persuaders perform it brought it all back – goose bumps and all. I was “home.” I knew I had to work with the band and help bring their talent to a larger audience and it’s been a wonderful experience working with such talented, wonderful people. The Soul Persuaders are solid!
The extraordinary talents of Phil, Fred and Les just totally mesmerized me. Soon after I got together with the band, we let the lead singer go and spent several months auditioning new singers. We finally found THE man in Lee A. Davis. The band is now better than ever. The Soul Persuaders is a 4 piece band for smaller venues and grows with ease to seven or eight pieces for larger concerts. Band members have many connections with the professional headliners that they have played with and we plan on doing special shows featuring some of these folks in the near future.