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Bring Back Da Funk

Bumping the Past: Nicklebag's Bernard Fowler (left) and Steve Salas rock the old-fashioned way on "12 Hits and a Bump."

Nicklebag keeps the black-rock guitar alive

By Nicky Baxter

IN ANOTHER AGE, Funkadelic's 1971 black-rock blitzkrieg, "Hit It and Quit It," would have rated anthem status. Instead, the song fell victim to de facto radio apartheid: too "African" for white radio and too "European" for black programmers. But a good song refuses to die, and in the hands of hard rockers Nicklebag, it's back louder, fiercer and funkier than ever. In fact, 12 Hits and a Bump (Iguana Records), Nickelbag's noisy debut, contains several such rescue jobs.

Vocalist Bernard Fowler and guitarist Steve Salas' brainchild has been accurately described as Funkadelic squaring off with Soundgarden. That 12 Hits and a Bump harnesses '70s rock and funk to the modern era's technically pristine sonics is hardly news; it wasn't so long ago that acts like Faith No More and Red Hot Chili Peppers were rummaging around in similar territory. What makes Nickelbag's take so compelling is its unforced, organic nature; Salas and Fowler have obviously absorbed this music by playing it. Consummate sidemen, they have recorded and toured with rock and funk's most illustrious acts, including Bootsy, Iggy and Clinton.

With Salas busy putting the finishing touches on a solo project and Fowler on the road with the Rolling Stones, recording the album was a catch-as-catch-can endeavor. Complicating matters further, auxiliary Nicklebaggers--including bassists Doug Wimbash (Tackhead, Living Colour) and Darryl Jones, and ex­Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbruzzese--didn't exactly have wide-open calendars. Scheduling headaches aside, 12 Hits and a Bump was well worth the effort. Any fan of Funkadelia can trace the genealogy of black-rock guitar from Jimi Hendrix to Eddie Hazel. Salas understands that lineage better than most. His performance on the introductory "Love Song (All Up in My World)" will pin your ears back. Fowler plays the perfect foil; his vocals fall somewhere between the gritty soul of an Otis Redding and a less mannered Corey Glover. Nicklebag's range is impressive. If the full-bore rock of "Hit It and Quit It" and Led Zeppelin's "Hots for Nowhere" tattoo you black and blue, Stevie Wonder's "I Don't Know Why I Love You" leaves you blue. Wonder's tune gathers momentum with the inexorable force of a storm on the horizon.

Nicklebag performs Thursday (Oct. 31) with the Deftones and the Hunger at 9pm at the Edge, 260 California Ave., Palo Alto. Tickets are $10 adv. (415/324-EDGE)

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From the October 31-November 6, 1996 issue of Metro

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