Sugarman 3

Agent: Chris Colbourn
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For soul aficionados, The Sugarman 3 have long held a coveted place among the greats of instrumental soul music.   Their story begins back in the balmy summer of 1996 when a young Gabriel Roth and his then label partner Phillip Lehman were passed a cassette tape of the local boogaloo soul jazz outfit led by saxophonist Neal Sugarman.  Originally only a trio (hence the often questioned name), Sugarman was accompanied by long time Jack McDuff drummer, Rudy Albin, and local Hammond organ phenom Adam Scone.  Soulful organ jazz was enjoying some resurgence in those days, driven by the blossoming “Acid Jazz” scene and the emergence of several Blue Note reissues, and there were other bands around dipping their toes into the “boogaloo” waters.  However, The Sugarman 3 quickly defined its sound as a break from the academics of typical soul-jazz by focusing on the soulful funk element of organ music, while avoiding the affectations and clichés, which too often alienate jazz musicians from the dance floor crowd.  Roth and Lehman were immediately struck by the rawness of the trio’s sound and signed them to their upstart company Desco Records, which had already begun carving its own reputation as the home of the toughest funk records.

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Soon after the signing to Desco Records, the band went into the studio to record and release in 1998 their first full length LP, the aptly titled, Sugar’s Boogaloo.  With its pounding breaks, screaming organ, and deft guitar twangs courtesy of the late great Coleman Mellet, the record became a SMASH hit in the burgeoning UK Funk scene.  Their classic sound and immaculate execution gave even the most diehard soul connoisseur a run for their money when trying to determine whether or not the band was new, or from decades past.  Heavy touring followed the release, which secured The Sugarman 3’s position as the hardest hitting instrumental soul group on the scene.

Sugarman’s second full-length effort, Soul Donkey (1999), illustrated the beginning of their move towards more traditional funk, stripping down arrangements and relying less on solos and more on the strength of Scone’s percolating basslines.  Sugarman’s version of Lou Donaldson’s “Turtle Walk” from this LP was one of Desco Records’ best received 45s, which ultimately led to Soul Donkey becoming the best selling Desco album.  Sadly, Desco records shut it’s doors for good in 2000.

In 2001, The Sugarman 3 toured extensively throughout the US and Europe. Upon the bands return to Brooklyn in October of that year, Sugarman had the opportunity to reunite with his old pal Gabriel Roth. With a shared love for top notch classic funk and soul and a desire to share that love with the world, the two formed what was to become the platform for the next chapter of The Sugarman 3 story, as well as one of the finest Soul imprints to ever occupy this planet – Daptone Records.

With their new label firmly in place the group bid their final adieu to the old boogaloo sound and returned to the studio to record what would be their roughest and funkiest album yet, Pure Cane Sugar.  Expanding on their signature sound, The Sugarman 3 & Co. employed the talents of trumpet player Todd Simon, conga player Ernesto Abreu, and guitarist Al Street.  Guest vocals include funk scene favorites and future Daptone stars, Lee Fields (whom the band went out on tour with in support of this record), Naomi Shelton, and Charles Bradley.  Bradley’s scorching performance on “Take It As It Comes” would be his RECORDING DEBUT and the beginning of a long relationship with the organization. Drum legend Bernard Purdy even made a cameo, performing on one of his original tunes, “Modern Jive”.  Pure Cane Sugar was a classic even before it hit the shelves of the local record shops.

With the addition of Street, Guy, and Fields, the 3 toured heavily behind the release of Pure Cane Sugar.  However, the next few years found the band touring far less.  Sugarman, now a full time member of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, was on the road most of the year in one of the hottest horn sections in the biz and when he wasn’t on the road, he was running Daptone Records. Consequently as both the company and The Dap-Kings grew more successful, booking The Sugarman 3 tours became all but impossible.  Fortunately The Sugarman 3’s brand of heavy funk and Sugarman’s greasy sax stylings remained in high demand in the music community at large. This kept session work for the musicians plentiful. You can hear Sugarman’s sax work on albums by Al Green, Mark Ronson, Eric Clapton, Steve Cropper, The New Pornographers, as well as Amy Winehouse’s grammy winning, album of the year for 2007, Back To Black.

By the summer of 2011 Sugarman began tossing around the idea of releasing a new Sugarman 3 record.  It had been almost 10 years since the boys had been in the studio, but after several conversations with Adam and Rudy, an older and wiser Sugarman 3 scheduled 5 days in the studio.    Dave Guy and Fernando Velez were brought back in for the session, and with the addition of Joe Crispiano on guitar, and Bosco “Bass” Mann on Bass, all members of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, tracking began in late August.  With no songs written and only a few loose ideas, the boys started the record from scratch. As Sugarman puts it “let’s have fun and see what happens” was the shared vibe of the session.  To the delight of the band, and the Daptone family at large, what made it onto tape is the most exciting material the band has ever recorded. The result is What the World Needs Now and will be released on Daptone Records on May 15th, 2012.

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