I had a friend’s request on MySpace a couple weeks ago, a group named Bull City Syndicate. I’d never heard of them, so I went to their profile. What a great sound! Funky, soulful, strong vocals … tremendous horns. Not long after that, I get an email from JD Cash; they’re coming to Razzie’s at 2001 in Myrtle Beach. I’m stoked. This is a band I want to see.
I head to the nightclub for the Friday night show on April 3 and I wasn’t disappointed. First and foremost, this is a horn band.
Clarke Egerton is on trombone and vocals. He also serves as the group’s musical director. Vhondy Strickland plays tenor, alto and soprano sax as well as the flute. If a soulful sax solo grabs you, chance are it’s Vhondy. Louisiana boy Steve Baker, who handles most of the MySpace contact, plays trumpet and flugel and handles some lead vocals. His singing voice is as smooth as his horn. According to the band’s website, Steve was also a founding member of the Raleigh Jazz Orchestra. Completing the horn section is Rodney Ogden, who also plays both trumpet and flugelhorn. Simply put, he’s a powerhouse.
With a line of horns like this, you can’t get by with a wimpy rhythm section. Bull City Syndicate’s tight four-piece rhythm section drives the group easily from R&B to funk. Matt Kanon’s dynamic guitar work is solid, and the band credits him with keeping the dance floor full. Larry Woodard from Raleigh is one of the most sought after drummers of North Carolina. Bassist Jeff Nelson lays down some of the funkiest basslines I’ve heard. Rounding out the rhythm section is soulful Charlie D’Agostino playing keyboard. Bull City Syndicate is a band with chops and soul. Lead singer Dan Lantier brings on da funk in a big way. His vocal range must be off the scale. Covering Earth Wind & Fire, his falsetto is right up there with Philip Bailey. The group recently added Charlotte Renee Gregory to their front line, sharing shares lead vocal chores with Dan. Charlotte has performed with nationally known acts such as Rhett Akins, Trisha Yearwood, Ricochet, Ken Mellons and Charlie Monk. In the Carolinas, you may have seen her with Raleigh-based jazz/funk group Café Mars; Myrtle Beach’s Rockin’ Country; Heart’s Desire, reincarnated last year as Mark Roberts and Breeze; Sugardaddies; and the Flabbergasters.
Bull City Syndicate came into this world in 1993 – as a blues band called Soul Kitchen playing clubs in the Raleigh/Durham area. After adding Clarke Egerton and Vhondy Strickland, the Bull City Horns were born, and now it was Soul Kitchen & the Bull City Horns playing around the Triangle of N.C. The next addition was Steve Baker in 2001, who the band credits with bringing lead trumpet chops on board along with another lead vocal. The band was now able to perform more sophisticated horn arrangements, Now they were a horn band. Trumpet player Rodney Ogden joined the group three years ago, making this top drawer horn section even tighter. The addition of lead singer Dan Lantier in 2007 was the next big change for the group. He brought a vocal range equal to the breadth of the horns. Grappling with trademark infringement issues arising from another Soul Kitchen band, the group finally evolved into the Bull City Syndicate, giving a nod to their hometown of Durham, N.C., even as the band continues to build its fan base and reputation throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Bull City Syndicate released their first CD, You Make Me Feel (2007 SMB Music Group), which is a tribute to composers either born in or living in North Carolina. The 13-track disc includes originals by John Custer, who produced the album and is responsible for the horn arrangements. It also includes “(I Wanna) Testify,” written by George Clinton and Deron Taylor; “Go Up Moses,” written by Roberta Flack, Jesse Jackson and Joel Dorn and “Supernatural Thing, Part 2” by Ben E. King, Patrick Grant and Gwen Guthrie. Today, this funk rock horn band plays special events, corporate gigs, weddings, clubs and festivals. They cover Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, Chicago, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and many others. In addition, they’re also committed to developing their own original work, and their fans support it. This is one group you’ll want to experience for yourself. Visit their website at www.bullcitysyndicate.com or one of their two MySpace pages: www.myspace.com/bullcitysyndicate or www.myspace.com/bcshornbandtribute.
A version of this post will be published in Beach Newz in Coast Magazine and Alternatives NewsMagazine, issue April 9 – 23, 2009, p. 24.