washington dc funk

Osiris Marsh

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Osiris Marsh poses for a portrait in the auditorium at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, DC.

Consistency – Osiris

Reginald Marsh began singing bass in junior high school when he joined a vocal group called The Romantics. At Eastern Senior High School, which was a Freedom School at the time, Marsh hooked up with Alonzo Hart, Wardell Everett, John Graham, Clyde Burr, Charles Blagmon, and Bernard Ford, forming the vocal group, The Stridells. It was at Eastern that Marsh adopted the name “Osiris,” the Egyptian god of the afterlife.

After the release of two singles, “Mix It Up” in 1968—produced by Max Kidd—and “The Power To Dream” in 1969, The Stridells began to diverge musically and soon split up. Marsh transitioned to lead singer when he briefly joined another Eastern Senior High School vocal group, The Deacons.

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In 1975 Marsh teamed up with George Parker—later of Special Delivery—Ronnie Martin, and Willa Peters, and formed Destiny. They recorded one single, Faith Hope & Charity’s “So Much Love,” on RCA Records, produced by Van McCoy.

The Family was Marsh’s next project, with Tyrone Brunson, William Eugene Jackson, Reginald Walter McNair, and Maceo Bond. The Family put out one LP, “Music-Let It Thru,” in 1977 on Little City Records. The Family’s sound was pure funk, with Marsh’s raspy, bass vocals on lead.

Marsh left The Family to form his eponymous funk band, Osiris, bringing in Bond and Brunson, and other members including Tony Jones, Jimmy “Sha-Sha” Stapleton, Ron Holloway, Kevin Nelson, Jills Wells, Brent Mingle, Andy Neman, Kenny Jones, Jerome Bailey, Keith Stucky, and Waymen McCoy. Osiris released their debut LP, “Since Before Our Time,” in 1978 on TomDog Records in 1978. Warner Bros. Records, redistributed the album and released the single “Consistency,” which reached #77 on the Billboard Hot 100 R&B charts.

Osiris released a follow-up, “O-Zone” on Marlin Records in 1979, recorded with the Horny Horns’ Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Richard “Kush” Griffith, and Rick Gardner. The LP’s song, “Grit On It” received significant airplay in Washington, DC. In 1981 the band released their self-titled third LP on TomDog Records. They issued one more, “War On The Bullshit,” in 1986 before separating.

Marsh himself has never left music. He still records periodically, but spends more producing music, especially for R&B vocal groups Nu-Era and Trilogy III, which are comprised of his eight sons. The two groups have recorded together as Strait 8 with Layzie Bone of Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony.

Marsh’s commitment to music may derive from coming of age in an era when Washington, DC was full of bands, singers, and vocal groups.

“It was really an inspiring vehicle to a lot of young people,” says Marsh. “It moved a lot of people and made people feel good…it was a way for people to move forward with their lives.”

You can purchase Osiris‘ music here, here, and here.

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Thanks to Grover Massenburg for the assist.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Curtis Pope

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Curtis Pope, trumpeter for the Midnight Movers, poses for a portrait in 2014 at Union Station in Washington, DC.

Follow The Wind – Midnight Movers Unltd.

Wilson Pickett, The Isley Brothers, Sam & Dave, and Gene Chandler share three things in common, they are some of the biggest names in soul music, they all had number one hits on the Billboard R&B singles chart, and at one time they have all featured Curtis Pope on trumpet.

The horn player from North Carolina joined “The Duke of Earl” Gene Chandler’s band in 1965, where he met DC musicians Charles “Skip” Pitts (guitar), bass player Ernest Xavier Smith (bass), Elbert “Woody” Woodson (drums), and Chicago saxophone player and bandleader George Paco Patterson. He soon relocated to Washington, DC because it was a convenient base for traveling to gigs.

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Pope helped arrange Chandler’s hit, “I Fooled You This Time,” in 1966 and shortly after the band left Chandler for the late Stax/Atlantic recording artist Wilson Pickett. The band eventually renamed themselves the Midnight Movers after Pickett’s 1968 hit “I’m A Midnight Mover.”

“Wilson was halfway out of church,” says Pope. “He did the gospel thing very well. You know, the scream…We stayed with Pickett for a long time.”

The Midnight Movers were the touring band for Pickett from 1966 through 1969. During that time members of the band recorded a 45, “Pickin’ and Chippin’/Sweet Darlin’,” on Chicago’s Bunky label as Skip & Ernest. The Midnight Movers left Pickett in 1969 when they had a falling out with the legendary singer.

The band re-emerged as in demand studio musicians in New York City, recording with The Isley Brothers and Sam and Dave. The Midnight Movers were the musicians on the former’s enduring 1969 smash hit, “It’s Your Thing,” and “Freedom.”

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In 1970 the Midnight Movers released their debut LP, “Do It In The Road,” on Elephant V Ltd. Guitarist Pitts left in 1971 to join Isaac Hayes’s band. Pitts’ work can be heard as the signature opening wah-wah guitar on Haye’s #1 hit “Theme From ‘Shaft’.” The guitarist passed away in 2012.

The band released a few singles after their debut album, including 1972’s “Put Your Mind In Your Pocket” on Renee Records.

In 1974, the Midnight Movers, Unltd. released their sophomore LP, “Follow The Wind,” on Buddah Records with new members Bernard Wills, and Raymond Patterson on guitar and Blake Hinds on bass. The title track received a small amount of airplay but the LP went largely unnoticed and the Midnight Movers went on hiatus shortly after. The song “Lost For Words” has since been sampled by John Legend, Wiz Khalifa, and Talib Kweli.

While things were quiet with the Midnight Movers, Pope briefly joined Washington DC’s arguably biggest act, The Soul Searchers, and in 1979 he toured with The Blackbyrds.

In 1982 Pope reconnected with Pickett and the Midnight Movers became the star’s touring band once again, this time with all new members except for Pope. Every now and again other original members would return to tour with the band. The later generation of Midnight Movers stayed with Pickett for more than 15 years.

Pope continues to perform corporate events and weddings with a new crop of Midnight Movers and is currently recording new music.

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Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Elvans Road LTD.

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Mike Dean, Tyrone Thomas, Elliot Adams, Michael Jones, Claude Hodges, Freddie Ross, Keith Holmes, and Buddy Green (l-r) on Elvans Rd. SE.
Can I – Elvans Road LTD.

Marshall Hall was an amusement park in Charles County, Maryland that Washingtonians traveled to by ship every summer from the early 1900s through 1980. The ship, later known as the Wilson Line, featured live performances including Elvis Presley’s only show in the District. In the 1970s the Wilson Line was a venue for national acts such as Funkadelic and local bands including The Matadors.

The Matadors were a band from Southeast DC, primarily from Anacostia High School and Ballou High School. They played popular music at churches, military bases, and non-commissioned officer clubs, and later the Wilson Line, The Panorama Room, and the Washington Coliseum with groups including The Young Senators, EU, Distance, Trouble Funk, and Leadhead. The Matadors played a variety of genres including songs by Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and James Brown.

Unfortunately for group there was already a funk band from St. Louis, IL called Bull & The Matadors so they changed their name to Elvans Road LTD. after the location of their band house. In 1976 Elvans Road LTD.—Michael Zakee Jones, Tyrone Thomas, Roosevelt Smith, Mike Dean, Paul Wilkerson, and Vernon Cooper—recorded two tracks at American Star Recording Studios in Merrifield, VA: the instrumental “Summer-Free-Fo-All” and “Can I,” written by keyboardist Smith with vocals by Thomas. The record was produced by future go-go icon Maxx Kidd on his Cherry Blossom Records Inc. and arranged by Al Johnson.

“Summer-Free-Fo-All” received minor airplay on WOL but it wasn’t enough for Elvans Road LTD. to gain traction. Ultimately the group split up after several members left to perform with Leadhead.

Michael Zakee Jones continued in music, eventually joining Symba, which scored a Billboard Hot R&B charts hit with “Hey You” in 1981, written by the former Elvans Road LTD. member. Currently Jones performs with Jimi Smooth & Hit Time, which also features Jimi Smoot from The El Corols Band & Show and George “Jackie” Lee from Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Erik Johnson

Erik Johnson

The World Today – 95th Congress

On Maine Avenue SW past the hustle and bustle of the Maine Avenue Fish Market, the Channel Inn Hotel’s Engine Room hosts a weekly Open Mic. The evening has attracted such Washington, DC icons as Marion Barry, The Young Senators’ Jimi Dougans, and the late soul singer Terry Huff. Erik Johnson, former drummer for the band 95th Congress, originated Open Mic.

Johnson started playing the drums when he was 11 years old. He met two Federal City College students when he was in junior high school who brought them into their band Flavors of Soul. Producer Van McCoy became interested in Flavors of Soul and changed their name to 95th Congress, adding them to a small selection of groups with political names under his wing. 95th Congress performed in clubs and cabarets around DC alongside groups like The Young Senators, The Soul Searchers, One Hundred Years Time, and Brute and in the Virginia and West Virginia Chitlin’ Circuit. In 1971 95th Congress—Brothers Erik and Rudy Johnson, Ron Galvez, Rocknell Swilling, Gary Corum, Dan Adams, and Victor Green—recorded McCoy’s “Fiddle De De,” and Rudy Johnson’s “The World Today,” at Rodel Studio in Georgetown. Swilling sang lead on “Fiddle De De” and the group and McCoy performed vocals on “The World Today.”

Sussex Records released the recordings to little fanfare and then 95th Congress ran into some bad luck. First they fell out of favor with McCoy after they showed up late to an important gig with Isaac Hayes and then they had all of their equipment stolen. Together the incidents caused the band to break up.

Johnson remained in music after the dissolution of 95th Congress. He played with The Orioles and the Heavy Weather Jazz Orchestra and in the late 1980s started Open Mic at the Channel Inn Hotel with his band Natural Selection. In 2001 Johnson released “Dancin’ Shoes,” his first solo album. Johnson eventually had to depart Natural Selection due to health issues but he still writes music and teaches piano lessons at the Bladensburg Community Center.

“It’s a God given talent,” says Johnson. “And once you get in you never give it up. And that’s my plan, never give it up.”

Mmm, mmm, mmm.
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