The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown is about as aptly-named a band as you’re going to find. First off, they’re a big ensemble; their Pour House show will feature 12 people onstage. They play down-in-the-groove, nasty funk-rock that recalls everyone from Funkadelic to Fishbone. And when it comes to the “get down” part, it’s impossible to stand still when the band gets going.
The membership of the Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown is about as fluid as it gets. By co-founder, bassist, and musical director John Heintz’s estimate, about 180 different musicians are involved with the project, who essentially come and go as their schedules permit.
At any given moment, the collective features members of Parliament-Funkadelic (including, occasionally, the legendary George Clinton himself), Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band (guitarist JP Miller, trombone player Derrick Johnson), Ween (drummer Claude Coleman, Jr.), April Bennett (April B. & The Cool) and many more. It’s essentially a travelling (and occasionally recording) party of skilled, funk-loving musicians who can jam all night.
The project is essentially John Heintz’s brain-child, and it came together in 2007 with the help of Asheville dance-funksters in Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band.
Heintz grew up playing bass, but abandoned it for a more sensible vocation until he couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Somewhere around the time I was 30, I kind of realized my life was bullshit,” Heintz says. “I owned an insurance brokerage, but my passion was always music. So I decided to walk away from everything and see what was possible. Which was almost like saying, ‘I want to be an Olympic gymnast,’ because there was a lot to learn.”
Through a complicated series of events, Heintz became the bass player for the Lee Boys, a Miami band that played “Sacred Steel” music, a blend of gospel, R&B, rock and funk. The Lee Boys were popular on the festival circuit and, in 2007, Heintz found himself at one of those festivals as part of a jam-session with members of Galactic, Papa Grows Funk, and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
The experience was so much fun that Heintz began to wonder if it was possible to form a large-scale, loose-limbed jam-funk hybrid group that he could take into the studio.
“I asked a lot of people if they’d be interested in doing it,” Heintz says, “and a lot of people said, ‘yes,’ but they also said that it probably couldn’t happen logistically. So I had to figure out how to do it.”
That’s where Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band enters the story.
“We were at a festival in the midwest,” says JP Miller, “and John had spoken with our bass player about sitting in with us. But our bass player forgot to mention it to us, so we’re on stage in front of thousands of people and this guy who we didn’t even know is suddenly standing onstage holding a bass. But we ended up becoming friends.”
In their 15-plus year history, the Booty Band had jammed with just about everyone they possibly could, and so when Heintz told Miller about his big-band-of-funksters concept, Miller and company started making some calls.
By December of 2007, a group of 35 players from 17 different bands had gathered in a friend’s father’s New Orleans mansion, and they got down to business fast.
“I was still unpacking my suitcases and they already had a jam session going on in the living room,” Miller says with a laugh. “Within 48 hours we’d come up with the first eight tracks for the first album.”
The first Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown album, titled Volume 1, ultimately came out in 2011, and featured members of P-Funk, The Meters, Galactic, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Derek Trucks Band, and many more.
“The vibe was high, the camaraderie was top notch, and the fun we were having amongst ourselves reflects in the music,” Heintz says.
That album was the launching pad for a massive touring supergroup that members could slip in to and out of when they weren’t working their day jobs.
“It evolved into a studio project with occasional live performances,” Miller says. “The band is always changing, and that’s exciting because you never know who you’re going to be playing with.”
It might be fun, but leading (and booking) a huge band with fluid membership can also have its share of headaches.
“The thing I run into a lot as the coordinator and bandleader of the project is that it’s kind of an interesting conversation with the club,” Heintz says. “They want to know, rightfully so, who’s going to be in the lineup. And a lot of times, the most sensible way of booking things is months and months in advance. But you’re dealing with players who come from different bands, and you can’t say when that person’s going to get a call to go on a world tour. And I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘Hey, man, you told me you were going to do these two shows, you can’t do that world tour.’ Luckily, we’ve got so many people in this project that I can just call one of the other folks and see what they’re up to.”
And when you have people from some of the best live bands on the planet, you don’t have to worry too much about not having adequate rehearsal time.
“Everyone involved in the project has experience playing with different bands,” Miller says. “There are no amateurs in this band. We’ve all been doing this, touring hard, for years. Everyone knows what to do.”
“Because of the skill level of the players, it comes together pretty quick,” Heintz adds. “The players like to explore when we’re up there, get into jams, and make shit up on the fly. That’s the real fun of it. It showcases the musicianship of the players up there.”
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