The CodeTalkers: A Language of Funk and Fun The CodeTalkers don't look like your everyday jam band. But don't let the dark suits they wear in concert fool you. The Atlanta-based trio doesn't take itself too seriously, despite the formal attire.
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The CodeTalkers: A Language of Funk and Fun

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The CodeTalkers: A Language of Funk and Fun

The CodeTalkers: A Language of Funk and Fun

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Every now and then, a band comes along that sounds like it's having just a little too much of a good time.

(Soundbite of song, Niagra Falls)

The CODETALKERS (Rock Band): (Singing) I saw your picture sifting through a magazine. Said, oh, my God, I think I'll give you a call.

MONTAGNE: The CodeTalkers is a group from Atlanta. They're well known for their live concerts, but now they've released a new CD that captures their combination of funk and fun.

The CODETALKERS: (Singing) ...so then I ran and pushed his ass down in Niagara Falls. Look out, mister. Could you fall down?

MONTAGNE: The band's latest album is called Now. Music journalist Ashley Kahn spoke to the leader of The CodeTalkers, Bobby Lee Rodgers.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BOBBY LEE RODGERS (Singer, Musician): CodeTalkers is kind of a combination of old-school rock and roll with jazz influence, and we do a lot of improvisation and a lot of original material.

ASHLEY KAHN reporting:

Bobby Lee Rodgers is the lead singer and guitarist of the trio. His band can urge you onto the dance floor with a funky beat...

(Soundbite of song, Million Dollars)

The CODETALKERS: (Singing) I put a million dollars on my hip pocket...

KAHN: Or they can nudge you in the ribs with some offbeat image in a song's lyric.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RODGERS: (Singing) ...was that you making faces at the monkeys in the county zoo?

I always admired Duke Ellington, because he said I play music so I can do hijinks. And I just thought about that, and I was like, man, the humor in music is where it's at.

KAHN: It's true-to-life tunes like Ike Stubblefield that carry the humor on The CodeTalkers second album.

Mr. RODGERS: Ike Stubblefield is an organ master that lives here in Atlanta, Georgia. Stubblefield has a bird that sits on his shoulder and looks over while he's playing the organ, and everything in that song is true.

(Soundbite of organ music)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RODGERS: Every time I play this tune I start cracking up.

(Soundbite of song, Ike Stubblefield)

Mr. RODGERS: (Singing) He learned his tunes from the Bible, and his Momma told him what he could eat. So he jumped on top of his organ and he drove it down Peachtree Street. He's got a bird named Stanley that stands on his shoulder and screams. I got to learn to play like Ike Stubblefield. I got to learn to play like Ike Stubblefield.

(Soundbite of organ)

Mr. RODGERS: How was that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KAHN: The CodeTalkers first came together seven years ago. Rodgers on guitar, Ted Pecchio on bass, Tyler Greenwell on drums, and guidance from legendary Colonel Bruce Hampton - a veteran band leader and guru-like figure in the southern jam band scene.

Mr. RODGERS: People like to say he's the Frank Zappa of the South, and he saw my songwriting and he was, like, you know, we need to put you a group together. Let's get it going.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RODGERS: We got our butts kicked for seven years, and here we are. We're still standing and going strong.

(Soundbite of Tumblin' Down by The CodeTalkers)

The CODETALKERS: (Singing) You better run for cover and get out of the way, when the world comes tumbling down. When the world comes tumbling, everybody's bumming when the world comes tumbling down.

KAHN: The CodeTalkers may be considered part of Atlanta's jam band scene, but according to Rodgers, the group doesn't just improvise over a loose structure.

Mr. RODGERS: On the good side, it allows for stretching and for experimental types of music. On the bad hand, it kind of categorizes you as maybe a band with not a lot of songs and more of a noodling kind of outfit.

KAHN: The fact is that there is a noodling aspect to the group. Their live shows attest to that. But they're much more than just jams. What helps The CodeTalkers stand out is a wide variety of styles and moods in their music, and their songs are neatly arranged and sculpted.

(Soundbite of song, Broken Home)

The CODETALKERS: (Singing) Sometimes you have to rock to your own destiny and take sides with the life you know. Spirits try to make their way into your mind. Sometimes you have to tell them no.

KAHN: Another distinguishing feature of their sound is Rodgers' guitar.

(Soundbite of guitar music)

KAHN: That rich, tremolo affect comes from playing his guitar through an unusual piece of equipment that's a bit retro.

Mr. RODGERS: This guy Don Leslie invented the spinning organ cabinet, and it was - mine's from the ‘60s. And what it does is, you have two speeds. You have this fast speed where...

(Soundbite of guitar)

Mr. RODGERS: There's the note spinning. And then you have the slow speed where it goes…

(Soundbite of guitar)

Mr. RODGERS: …it's slower.

(Soundbite of guitar)

Mr. RODGERS: Of course, it's a really old thing. So you get all the noise and crackle with it, which is what I love, you know. I love that this stuff…

(Soundbite of guitar)

Mr. RODGERS: That's the slow speed, so you get more of the...

(Soundbite of guitar)

Mr. RODGERS: So this is tune based off that.

(Singing) You're so starry-eyed at the sounds that he was making. You were so hypnotized at the way his heart was aching. But be careful what you can't erase from your Sagittarius face - Sagittarius face.

KAHN: There's one more thing you need to know about The CodeTalkers.

(Soundbite of music)

KAHN: They got their name from a book written by jazz bandleader Sun Ra who claimed to be from Saturn. But the band looks like they just got off a nine-to-five shift at the local bank. They wear three-piece suits when they perform. Just don't take that too seriously.

The CODETALKERS: (Singing) I got to learn to play like Ike Stubblefield. I got to learn to play like Ike Stubblefield.

MONTAGNE: Ashley Kahn is the author of the book, The House that Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. To hear more of Ike Stubblefield and other songs from The CodeTalkers' new album, Now, visit npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The CODETALKERS: (Singing) I got to learn to play like Ike Stubblefield. I got to learn to play like Ike Stubblefield. I got to learn to play like Ike Stubblefield. So if you go outside in the evening, you might hear the Stubblefield B. And if you need a new driver's license, you can catch him at the DMV.

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