Philly's George Hrab Funks It Up

By Craig D. Lindsey
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Apr. 13, 2011

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Photo by Hawk krall

If you’re a diehard funk fan, chances are you’ll be attending one of two shows this week headlined by the perennially funkalicious, ’70s soul collectives Tower of Power and Average White Band.

There’s another funk fan who would like to check out those bands live, but he’ll be too busy spreading some funk of his own. Bethlehem resident George Hrab, 39, has been the drummer for local party octet the Philadelphia Funk Authority for 11 years—that is, when he’s not doing other projects, like composing his solo work or hosting his very own podcast, the Geologic. PW wanted to get a fan’s perspective, so we talked to Hrab about his love for TOP and AWB and funk music in general.

We didn’t know if you’d be a huge fan of Tower of Power and/or Average White Band. So, we were glad to find out that you love them both.

Yeah. Actually, the Philadelphia Funk Authority does a number of TOP songs, as well as Average White Band songs.

What are the TOP and Average White Band songs that you guys perform?

For Tower of Power, we do “What Is Hip?” We do “You’re Still a Young Man.” I used to be in a group that played “Down to the Nightclub”—another great one. We do a song called “Souled Out.” Yeah, it’s kind of the main ones that are in our main rotation. And, with Average White Band, we do “Cut the Cake” and we do “Pick Up the Pieces,” their two big hits.

Wait, no “A Love of Your Own”? That’s a favorite.

No. Oh, and “So Very Hard to Go.” That’s another Tower of Power song. We just put that in our rotation.

Is it because the Philadelphia Funk Authority is a band that plays popular funk covers that you include Average White Band and Tower of Power in your repertoire, or is it because you guys have a genuine love for those groups that makes you perform their songs?

It’s kind of both. I mean, if you have a horn-based band, if you have an ensemble that has horn players in it and you’re playing primarily funk, R&B and soul, I think it’s almost a constitutional amendment that you have to include something by Tower of Power. It’s just kind of the rule. They are one of the most influential, horn-based, sort-of soul bands ever. So, yeah, the tunes are great and they’re very popular, but they are such a joy to play. They’re really fun. I’ve played “What Is Hip?” probably, I don’t know, 300 times easily. And every single time, you try to do it a little bit better and you make it a little bit more accurate in your reproduction of what the song is. And it’s just such a brilliantly written and composed tune, which is just so much fun to play and the response is always positive. Same thing with something like “Cut the Cake” or “Pick Up the Pieces” or something like that. They are such well-written songs and their influence in the style that is funk, soul, R&B is so ubiquitous, that you just try to represent it as best as you can. So, it’s like a challenge, but it’s also fun and the crowd response, almost always, is really positive.

What drew you to funk music and bands like TOP and AWB, in particular?

Well, I grew up kind of being a prog-head. So, for me, as a drummer, it was all about Rush and Yes and Genesis and things like that. Bands like that were very influential to me. I also really enjoyed Talking Heads. Talking Heads seemed to have this weird, kind of dance quality to it. So, I always appreciated the capacity to express a dance rhythm, a dance copasetic rhythm within the context of a song.

At the end of my college term—I went to Moravian College right here in Bethlehem—my senior year, I had a drum instructor that was a big TOP fan. And he started telling me about the drummer, David Garibaldi, who was this amazing player. And his intricately simple and simply intricate approach towards playing these drum patterns, I was just sort of fascinated by it. It was almost like discovering these weird, rhythmic crossword puzzles to a certain degree. And I always liked the kind of puzzle nature of some—the intricacy of prog music, of a Yes tune, I kind of found that same intricacy in the simplicity of a funk beat. And that’s when I slowly got into artists like James Brown and then discovered Motown. I had always known Motown, but I never really studied Motown. And it wasn’t until I kind of got into the Funk Authority that I just really started immersing myself and just becoming fascinated with the power that these rhythms and how well it was executed by this group of musicians from Detroit.

Tower and AWB will be performing at the Keswick on Friday and Saturday night, while Philadelphia Funk Authority will be performing on Friday and Saturday night at other venues. (Check for details.) Is it kind of kicking you in the ass that you can’t see them perform? Have you seen them perform in the past?

I have. I actually saw them at the Keswick about five years ago, which was a tremendous show. It was great. Being a professional musician, you realize that you don’t get to see a lot of shows, and that’s just kind of the price. I’m very lucky that I get to do something that I really, really enjoy doing a lot. I get to do it for a living. The price of that is, you know, it’s usually at the time that other cool stuff is going on. I have friends that are musicians that I just have never seen them perform because we’re all performing at the same time. So, that’s just the way it is. I have seen TOP three times, just because they were mid-week shows or whatever. So, whenever I can, I go check them out.

Fri., April 15 and Sat., April 16, 8pm. $41.50-$49.50. Keswick Theatre, 291 Keswick Ave., Glenside.

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