Midtown soul stew
The Pleasure Seekers are an R&B cover band with an appetite for obscure morsels of distinction
“Soul,” as a musical quality, is somewhat of an intangible. There are many definitions, but you know it when you hear it. And the Pleasure Seekers, a party band made up of five veterans of the local band wars, has it.
The band came together after last year’s Old Ironsides anniversary party, when singer Kizzy Miller, a longtime Midtown presence who recently relocated to Alameda, performed in a band put together for the occasion. Around the same time, Miller—whose résumé includes such bands as Otter Pops, Dutch Falconi & His Twisted Orchestra, Soul Pussy, the Lucky 13s and the Rhythm Kings—had hooked up with Grub Dog and some other local musicians to record a demo that would help her recruit a new band. Soundman Evan Drath, upon hearing it, told Miller he knew two people who might be interested—bassist Danny Grady and drummer Paul Wells, both longtime fixtures on the local scene in such bands as Sex 66 and both of them fans of New Orleans funk and old-school R&B. After Miller played her demo for Grady, he contacted guitarist Ned Hammad, himself briefly a member of Sex 66, along with 58 Fury, Soul Motor and Sweet Vine. Davis-based organist Jeremy Springer was brought in to add some Hammond B-3 flavor, an essential ingredient of soul done properly.
The new band got to work learning obscure soul cuts and B-sides, with a few original tunes added for good measure. “You know, most of the stuff that we’re doing is so obscure that I don’t even know the names of the artists,” Miller said, pushing a CD compilation of Syl Johnson—a Memphis soul singer active since the late 1960s—across the coffee table. “Danny has been the king of finding really great tunes,” she added.
So, what the Pleasure Seekers are doing is not that much different from such local cover ensembles as Mercy Me!, except their source material is much less familiar. But the idea is the same: Get people in a room where the drinks are flowing and hit them with a nonstop blast of tautly strung rhythm and blues. But Miller insisted on drawing a distinction: “Even though we’re doing a lot of other people’s material,” she explained, “we don’t sound like a”—she shifted to a chirpy announcer voice—“cover band! Doing popular songs from the 1960s!”
Still, she’ll admit that the Mercy Me! bands have a good deal going. “Those are the kind of gigs we’d like to get,” she said. “Three hours a night, having a good time playing the music that we really like. I was born in 1967, and this is all stuff straight out of my dad’s record collection. So, it’s kinda funny.” Currently, the band’s near-two-hour set includes 17 or 18 songs.
And the Pleasure Seekers certainly have their target aesthetic dialed: A Grady original titled “Don’t Mess With It” has a Memphis-schooled rhythmic drive, with Wells’ drums meshing nicely with Grady’s slippery bass lines, and Hammad’s Steve Cropper-styled guitar parts and Springer’s spare organ fills dancing in and out of the mix. “We’ve really got that pared down to the perfect sound,” Miller enthused. Another song, an Etta James gospel-like cover called “Take It,” features the band members chiming in, Soul Stirrers-like, behind Miller’s vocals. And a Johnson cover, “I Lied,” is also sufficiently funky.
This will be the Pleasure Seekers’ first headline gig. The band opened for the Broun Fellinis at Old Ironsides in February and, between the two bands’ followings, the place was so packed that people were turned away. Before that, the Seekers had played a couple of parties—on Halloween and New Year’s—at the Gallery Horse Cow. Eventually, a CD will be released, and the band is working on a new Web site that will reflect its aesthetic sensibilities.
So, Miller is pleased that she’s finally found a group that captures the sound in her head. “I’ve worked with other talented musicians and friends of mine,” she said, “but never quite a group that has that much of a grasp of, technically, how to get that sound.”