Bride of Dr. Funkenstein
Homegirl Dawn Silva launches a serious funk revival from right here in the River City
Good evening. Do not attempt to adjust your compact-disc player. Dawn Silva is taking control.
Say that the Mothership has a Sacramento connection. Silva, McClatchy High graduate of ’75, left town right out of high school to sing backup with the seminal funk-rock band Sly and the Family Stone. Sly Stone’s problems—the kind Hollywood publicists euphemistically call “nervous exhaustion” when they befall errant movie stars—were notorious, but nevertheless the experience was of value to Silva. “Coming from church and high school into Sly and the Family Stone,” she says, “I didn’t even know how to hold a microphone. He taught me a lot.”
Not long after, Silva was recruited by head funkateer George Clinton to join his wandering tribe of bop-gun-toting rhythm aliens, Parliament/Funkadelic. She put out two albums of P-Funk as a member of Clinton funk-mob offshoot the Brides of Funkenstein: Funk or Walk (Atlantic, 1978) and Never Buy Texas From a Cowboy (1979). A third, Shadow on the Wall Shaped Like the Hat That You Wore, was never released, because Clinton had overextended himself with too many side projects. “Toward the end,” Silva recalls, “it was like everyone was in the studio recording; they didn’t know who was for who or what songs were for what. It just became … “ Silva stalls, searching for the right word, “uh, crazy.”
How crazy? “Just imagine being at a party for seven years, six days a week, five hours a day” she says. “That’s exactly what it was like working with George. No matter where you’d go or what you did with P-Funk, it was a continuous, ongoing party.
“I got paid, very well, just to party every day,” she adds, laughing.
Silva left the Mothership after backing Clinton on “Atomic Dog,” around 1984. She sang with the Gap Band for seven years, then worked on other projects—Coolio, Ice Cube, Eurythmics, B.B. King, Crystal Waters. She even toured Brazil with the Platters.
Five years ago, Silva returned to Sacramento to take care of her ailing mother. Later, after settling into the stereotypical suburban tract home on a quiet, tree-lined street, this one south of Florin Road, she teamed up with D’LaVance, a multi-instrumental musician from Los Angeles who had toured with the Isley Brothers, Johnny Gill and others. He loaded a back room of her house with banks of keyboards and other gear, and the two started recording.
All My Funky Friends is the result. Released last July on Silva’s own Silva Sound label, then in December in Europe by the French company Musisoft, the 12-jam disc has all the main ingredients—that essential sliiide/thwack!/sliiide/thwack! beat, those stop-start bass lines and those Bernie Worrell-style, 78-rpm, Martian synth squiggles that mark the true, irresistible, on-the-one funk groove. Over the top of it all rides Silva’s voice, an elegant vehicle that hasn’t lost the churchiness she picked up singing in local A.M.E. and Catholic choirs.
But these days, as funk is a religious experience only understood by multinational record companies in the context of samples used to flavor hip-hop records, said labels are not beating a path to Silva’s door. Fortunately, she found a way around the gatekeeper: the Internet. The head of Silva’s American distributor JDC knew her from the P-Funk years; back in that day he was a songwriter in the Clinton orbit. He downloaded some samples from Silva’s Web page (www.dawnsilva.com), bought her CD, then asked her if he could distribute it.
As she puts it: “Yes, the Internet is doing wonders for me.”
Sure, but having a monster funk record to sell helps, too. And Silva has cut a non-stop, groovalistic throwdown, professionally calibrated to pull even the most calcified Sir Nose D’Voidofunk-types out of whatever placebo syndrome bedevils them, straight into full-tilt funkentelechy. Which is to say that this mutha pumps, and right now is booty call. True funk has returned.