It's after midnight on a Tuesday at Will's Pub, and the distilled hops aren't the only things that are flowing freely. From the seemingly timeless fountain of the Stax/Volt soul library, or the sweat from the winced brow of a Sam Cooke or an Al Green, The Joint Chiefs are taking their musical communion and splashing it out all over a willing crowd.
There's hardly a more interesting -- or historied -- band to write about in this town, even though The Chiefs are still a brand-new phenomenon, merely two months old. In addition to the historical attributes that buoy their sound, each of the band's members has a story all his own. But unlike most Orlando supergroup incarnations, The Chiefs aren't riding a temporary high. Like the music they subscribe to, they're looking like forever.
The idea of The Joint Chiefs originated with vocalist Eugene Snowden (the high priest of tribal percussive stalwarts Umöja) and guitarist Brian Chodorcoff (expert noodler of Riverbottom Nightmare Band and Jason Grace and the Filthy Rich), who were already tapping similarly tributary nerves in their respective outfits.
Enter Jeff Nolan, whose guitar-playing past includes a record contract with Geffen act I Love You in the early '90s, studio work with Screaming Trees and Scott Weiland, a "Tank Girl" soundtrack appearance with The Magnificent Bastards (a Weiland side project), as well as still-brewing collaboration with Chodorcoff in the Filthy Rich. Nolan's gig as sound engineer for Dante's threw him squarely into the mix of Chodorcoff and Snowden's experimental and respected musical vision.
Fortunately, the rhythm section for yet-to-break Atlantic Records act virginwool -- drummer Brett Crook (formerly of Big Shirley) and bassist Adam Loewy -- made the perfect fit to catalyze their deep soul ambitions.
"I had a cool electric piano -- I just decided that I play that now," remembers Nolan. Perhaps conveniently, the band was able to execute cover versions early on due to the nature of the music, although the intention was never to be a cover band. "We jammed. It clicked. It just felt like a band right off the bat. This is definitely one of ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts' kind of bands."
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Chiefs' evolving live shows, recalling (once again) the spirit and the immediacy of a scream-laden Motown revue. Snowden, already revered as a sort of musical spiritualist, is cast as a fire-and-brimstone soul sensationalist, at once recalling James Brown (he does do splits, after all) while channeling the grace of Sam Cooke.
"Eugene's a fucking genius. He's a special guy," says Nolan, deservedly. "You don't get guys like that coming around every day."
Add to the charismatic front guy a band that seems to play off each other's every move, and the experience comes to have a life of its own. At a recent Sapphire gig, the interplay got so hot that Nolan set his electric piano on fire, while Sapphire mogul Jim Faherty stood atop his own bar, arms in the air, screaming. In every aspect, this is not your ordinary band.
"Whatever we want to happen with it, really, the sky's the limit," supposes Cook. "It keeps getting deeper and deeper into this pocket. It gets more and more comfortable."