As the “Funk Box” player and female vocalist in Graham Central Station, Patryce “Choc’Let” Banks helped define funkology for generations to come. Led by Sly Stone’s former bassist, Larry Graham, GCS brought new meaning to the live experience of “fonk” with classic tunes like “Can You Handle It,” “The Jam,” and “Feel the Need.” Its biggest hit, though, was a ballad entitled “Your Love,” fronted by Banks — who helped propel the group to #1 on the R&B charts in 1975.
VH1’s Behind the Music series has proven that it can take a lot of madness to generate musical marvels. But many important figures don’t get a chance to tell their stories there. Thus, it’s fitting that Banks has utilized another personal gift — writing — to get hers out. The result is a spellbinding, 300-page biopic, Deja View: Memoirs of a Funk Diva, which vividly details the personal sacrifices, shady dealings, abuse, and life-threatening escapades which so often go unseen behind the stage curtain.
[Sung] Oh happy day…when Choc’Let walked, and brought the “fonk” our way!
That’s not bad!
So, how’s it goin’, girl?
You know me! I’m always trying to funk some stuff up—whatever it takes to be funky…
Well, this book tells your story of fulfilling your musical dreams, and how your destined meeting with Sly & the Family Stone’s bass player, Larry Graham, changed your life. How would you describe the sequence of events that led to that fateful meeting?
I would describe it as a flower blossoming, just one level at a time. I was in a group, the Doodletown Pipers, which I joined right after leaving high school. It was a rival group to another, all-American-type group called the Young Americans. It was my first professional gig, and we were based a lot in Vegas.
While we were there, Dick Griffey of S.O.L.A.R. Records fame saw the group. I stuck out to him for some reason, and he approached me. He told me if I ever left the group to give him a call. Not only was Dick a manager; he was also a concert promoter. So, when I left the group, I called him.
Eventually, he was promoting a concert by the Young Rascals, with Sly & the Family Stone as special guests. I was a Sly & the Family Stone freak from the moment I heard them on the radio. I had reformed my high school band, The New Perspectives, and we opened on that concert. Dick introduced me to Larry, and the rest is history. That’s how I met Larry Graham.
In Deja View, you talk about Sly & the Family Stone’s big impact on your musical development as a teen and young adult. One of the distinguishing factors you describe is the “stanky” quality of “F-O-N-K.” Could you explain the “stank” factor and the difference between funk and “fonk”?[Laughs] Well, first of all, I knew nothing about funk—the F-U-N-K—until I heard Sly & the Family Stone on the radio, and the DJ described the music as such. That’s when I decided I had to be a part of this funk, whatever it was!
The first time I saw Sly & the Family Stone in concert was when I was in Las Vegas with the Doodletown Pipers. They played at the Flamingo. I remember, Sly said, “The fonk will do you no harm.” And he said it, “F-O-N-K.” The whole sound of it was so much better than spelled with “u,” that I said, “Okay, this is really what it is. Sly has defined it for me: it is fonk.” To me, it’s kind of indescribable.
It’s really not anything you can describe with words. It’s more like something you feel. The music invokes this feeling in you. But the closest way you can come to understanding what fonk is, is by the look on a musician’s face when he’s playing the music. That look like something is stinking to high heaven! I kind of compare it to the smell of Magic Shave, because that was some of the stinkiest stuff in creation.
So, you were whisked away with the fonk as soon as it came into your life. You attended L.A. City College for awhile. Was that kind of a lost cause because the music was so instilled in you?
I was doing it because I had no choice; because I was still at home with my mother, and it was like, “Okay, either go to school, or get a job.” The job hadn’t come along yet, ’cause I didn’t plan on doing any kind of work that didn’t involve music. So, I had to go ahead and enroll in school to keep my mom happy. And that’s what I did, just trying to keep the peace.
What made you decide to tell your story and write Deja View?
I’ve always been that little girl who kept diaries and journals, wrote songs and poetry. For most of my life, I have chronicled major things that have happened. In a sense, I’d been writing this book ever since I left Graham Central Station in ’76. I was going to hurry up and write this book; but then life happens to you. My life took another direction.
In order to write a book, you have to find time to be still, at least a little while, to get started. Two years ago, there was something inside of me that would not let me rest until I finally got the words down on the pages.
What inspired the title?
After the book was completely written it was like, okay, what is this book doing? And for me, what I wanted the book to do, at least, was to take the reader by the hand and have them come with me. Not just read the words, but actually share the experience with me. And déjà vu, as we know, is defined as a feeling you’re experiencing now that you felt like you’ve experienced in the past: it’s something you are reliving. So “deja view” is just a play on that. I want the reader to have a visual sense of what was going on, as well as to touch, see, and taste it. I wanted the experience to be as real as possible.
What I find so enthralling about the book is that it chronicles what it was like for a black band — especially a funk one — prolifically working and touring throughout the ’70s—something we don’t get an in-depth look at very often. Some of your experiences on the road were quite eye-opening. One of the first stories you relate happened right before you connected with Larry. You were touring over in Japan, and ended up having to stay there for an extended period of time. So what light can you shed on that experience?
To read the whole experience is in my first book, A Choc’let State of Mind. But briefly, I was in a group called Magic, Faith & Soul. We were performing at army bases overseas. We had two more gigs before we were finally going back home: one in Thailand; the other in Japan.
Back then, Thailand was famous for having the best marijuana in the world. There were three guys in the group with me. They were trying to bring, seemingly, all the marijuana back from Thailand to the United States that they could. From Thailand to Japan going through customs one of the guys got busted. And I forgot that I had maybe one joint on me. So when he was getting busted, I wasn’t worried. I was like, “Okay, this fool. I don’t know what’s about to happen to him, but they need to hurry up.” In the meantime, they searched all of us; I got busted; and I had to spend an extra three months over in Japan, incarcerated.
Wow, I can’t think of a much scarier experience.
It was very scary, because I was a minor—which saved me, because I didn’t have to go to the actual jail.
You then discuss moving straight out of your childhood home in Los Angeles to Oakland, where you really wanted to be. Your dream started coming together. Those first couple of years that you spent with Larry Graham, you were around music constantly, but weren’t actually playing with the band. What was that time of transition like for you?
Everything was surreal, because I could not believe that I was with Larry Graham. Things moved so fast it was like they weren’t really happening; it was like the ultimate fantasy coming true. Larry was still with Sly & the Family Stone. I started to travel on the road with him, which was unreal—just being surrounded by and living with and partying with… to me, they were like gods and goddesses. When we came home off the road, Larry put a group together for me as a vehicle for my own solo career called Hot Choc’Let. He was producing the group; and we were doing gigs in the Bay area in-between road gigs with Sly. We were building up a following. So, when Larry ultimately left the Family Stone and joined Hot Choc’Let, it became Graham Central Station.
You describe your beginnings on the road with Sly as being like “a sponge absorbing the essence of the adventure.” What was it like being around Sly on the road? There were certainly a lot of interesting characters around.
Well, for the most part, it was magical. Just to be able to witness, firsthand, the impact that Sly & the Family Stone and their music had on the world—it was worldwide; their music was universal. That was the first time I had ever experienced energy from people on that large of a scale. When they would sing “I Want to Take You Higher,” it really did seem as if the thousands of people would levitate: they really were going higher. But behind the scenes, there was a lot of drugs; more drugs than I had ever seen in my life. And drugs provoke a darker side — a paranoid side of reality sets in and a negative thing starts happening. And a couple of times, Sly had to escape. Like in Italy, one time I remember, we had to leave in the middle of the night because Sly couldn’t come to an agreement with whoever the promoters were. It dealt with drugs and money. So, we had to escape from Italy in the middle of the night… which was kind of fun, though.
[Laughs] It’s not something you get to do every day, I guess.
I have to admit, it was kind of fun. The only thing I regret is that I did not have a camera and I wasn’t constantly taking pictures. But life was going so fast and I was so happy to be there, that I didn’t want to bug anybody. But that’s the only thing I regret, because boy, I could have had…
Evidence of a lot of things?
Tons of it, yeah.
Well, you’re painting a lot of pictures with your words in Deja View. In the midst of those wild experiences, you ended up singing on a classic Sly recording, “Love and Haight,” from There’s a Riot Going On. Was that your first big studio session?
Yes it was. And also the events surrounding it. Larry and I did the backgrounds to that song at four o’clock in the morning. When you were recording with Sly, you had to do it on his schedule. No matter what time of the day or night, it had to be when Sly was ready. That particular morning, Larry and I were the only ones in Sly’s home in Bel Air. Everybody else was gone. So it was our turn. I was just too thrilled!
A true piece of history. What were your thoughts about the importance of the music you were making?
It was just unreal. Sly was actually giving me my note to sing. And then, on top of that, I was actually singing with Larry. I am still, today, thrilled that I am actually on a Sly & the Family Stone recording.
And no less than the flip side of “Family Affair”! Although a lot of what you talk about in the first half of your book happened in a relatively short period of time, it seems like more than enough to fill a lifetime. Between the stuff that went down in the “music room”; the recording sessions with Family Stone which you detail in the book; and even things happening on the streets of Oakland… it’s just unbelievable. You talk about the end of Larry’s association with Sly as quite a scary one. How difficult was it, coming out of that chapter with Sly, going into Hot Choc’Let and eventually, Graham Central Station?
By the time Larry left Sly & the Family Stone, drugs had completely taken over Sly’s life. And when drugs take over, delusion sets in. So when Larry finally did leave—’cause he really didn’t want to leave, he was more or less forced to leave—it was ugly. But it was a chance to go ahead and start all over again. He had no idea of what he was going to do next. Hot Choc’Let had been rehearsing very hard. Larry had us tight, and when he finally stepped in, it was just meant to be and we just blasted off. Although for him, going from doing all the major arenas, all over the world like Woodstock, to going, once again, to playing proms and little festivals… he had to start all over again.
In addition to singing with Graham Central Station, you became known for playing a special drum machine called the “Funk Box.” What exactly is it, and how is it played?
Well, I believe that the Funk Box was one of the first drum machines made. Sly used it a lot on his recordings, too. But when it was incorporated in Graham Central Station, I didn’t want to be just a chick singer, standing up there singing and hitting a tambourine every once in awhile. I wanted to be a part of the music. I could do that was by playing the Funk Box, which was made by Rhythm King. It could be set to play automatically; but I played the buttons manually — creating my own rhythms. It had all the different sounds of percussions and drums on it, so it allowed me to play with the rest of the guys on the songs. I was a part of the beat; I was a part of the sound.
So you were pressing a different button for each beat you played; or would you press one allowing it to go for awhile?
Each button was a different sound, and there were about fifteen buttons. There’s a cymbal, a bass, and a snare. Then you’d have percussion buttons, like the conga.
Let’s talk about the line-up of Graham Central Station, as it came to be known.
The original line-up of Graham Central Station, when Larry first joined the group, included Gregg Erico and Neil Schon, who later went on to join Journey. That was really a blast, but it didn’t last long, between Neil and Larry and Gregg’s egos. [laughs] But while it did last—and I have recordings of that— it was surreal. To be able to play with Gregg and then Neil Schon! He was a young boy, but he was in there playing with veterans like he had been playing with them all of his life. So it was Larry, Neil Schon, Gregg, Hershall “Happiness” Kennedy, Robert “Butch” Sam, and myself. That was the first version of it.
After Neil and Gregg left, Willie “Wild” Sparks and David “Dynamite” Vega came into the picture. The chemistry was undeniable when we all got together and played those first couple of rehearsals. What made it so different was the fact that a bass player—the fonkiest bass player in the world—was the leading force of the group. And I don’t think that had ever happened before. That put a whole other twist on the band’s direction, because the thunder was out in front. We had to adjust to what Larry was doing, on top of being able to insert ourselves, like perfectly into… let me see, I know I’m getting ready to get deep, here… Like a puzzle! The pieces of the puzzle had to fit together just right, so that we could understand what we needed to do to support Larry. And so that’s what happened.
Graham Central Station had a gig that really started the ball rolling — resulting in signing to Warner Bros. Records.
We were playing regularly at this club called The Orphanage in San Francisco, and we had a huge following there. It was the perfect venue for Warner Brothers to come and check us out. We invited them to a showcase. By the time the representatives from Warner Bros. left, I think Larry had probably signed something — because it was a done deal. We were ready-made: there was nothing that they really had to do. We had our look together, which was heavily influenced by Sly & the Family Stone. We already had a brand and a following.
You commenced recording the first GCS album, which was produced by Larry with Russ Titelman. What reflections do you have on the production of that album? What was the atmosphere like at Warner Bros.?
It was great, because we were the first band of our kind that they ever had signed, so they were excited and flexible. As far as recording, all of our material we had been doing for about a year already. My major concern was how we were going to get all that energy onto vinyl. I thought we would have a hard time doing it; but I was pleasantly surprised. Although it didn’t quite capture all of the electricity, it came as close as we could get. In those days, everybody played live together: we were all in the room at the same time, playing. The first album was my favorite.
You had two notable lead vocal performances on that album: “We Be’s Gettin’ Down” and “Why.” What was it about that album, specifically, that made it your favorite?
It was like having a first child. Blood, sweat and tears went into it. We had come from such a long way, to finally be able to have this album come out and hold it was just surreal. A lot of my experiences in those days were like that. Everything was going so quickly, it was almost like an out-of-body experience. To be on that record with Larry Graham, who was like a hero and a god to me, it was like, “Here I am. Not only am I in Graham Central Station, but for all times I can prove it because I have this record here.” And then, Tower of Power collaborated with us. There were so many great musicians from that era that helped us out to make this record what it was. We all jammed together, all the time: Tower of Power, Santana, Doobie Brothers…whoever was in the studio at the time. We all went to one another’s houses and jammed all the time. It was like one big family. There was no competition; no negativity. Everybody was helping one another on each other’s projects.
GCS hit big with “Can You Handle It” landing in the top ten. You went from doing smaller clubs to doing Madison Square Garden, before long. Describe the band’s live shows. I know there was a lot of crowd participation involved. What made the concerts stand out from others of that time?
I don’t think that a bass player had been put out front like that before. Larry was bass personified. He had that deep bass voice, and he had revolutionized the technique of playing the bass. Then, the energy that we brought to the stage and provoked from the audience — it was something that had never been done before. It came really close with Sly, but he had had other variables. With Larry, every song was motivated by that thunder. Between the bass and the drums, that’s what kept the pulse going. It was relentless. When we first started, we opened for a lot of acts. It was hard to follow us. Sometimes the headliners appreciated that; sometimes they didn’t. But it was what it was.
One part that I found really exciting to read about was audience members bringing pots and pans to the shows. That sounds like a real party!
Right! That was in D.C. and Philly. That’s how they partied back then: whatever made noise. Whistles, tambourines, pots and pans—they became a part of the whole experience. They weren’t satisfied to just stand there and party; they wanted to be a part of it. And that’s what they did.
GCS went on to put out more fonk-defining LP’s like Release Yourself and Ain’t No Bout-A-Doubt It and appeared on “Soul Train.” You sang lead on the group’s #1 hit, “Your Love,” written by Larry. When that song hit, what was it like for you?
It took me totally by surprise! It was cute, I liked it—but I just did not anticipate the popularity of it at all. It came from Larry being big into that doo-wop-era sound. Shortly after that came out, I left the group. So I didn’t really get to experience the full impact of its success.
I know there were a number of reasons for your leaving. One that you talk about in Deja View is the group turning into a “fonky religious band.” How did that affect the group and the audiences, in your eyes?
The emotions were torn between the members of the group, because Larry had become a Jehovah’s Witness. Upon that, the whole direction of the group went completely opposite from where we were. A lot of the lyrical content of the group turned religious. I was not a Jehovah’s Witness; David was not. So, that wasn’t a personal reflection of all of us. But by Larry being the force, it was going the way he wanted it to go, regardless. That caused dissension. That was the beginning of the change and the demise of the band.
There was a lot happening on the other side of the music. You discuss some issues with getting credited and paid throughout those years. How did that play into your decision to move on?
Well, Larry and I were together for quite awhile. And while we worked together, I didn’t even think about the business aspect of it, because Larry was taking care of that. But later, when I was about to leave the group, I had matured in all kinds of ways. I was a child when I got with Larry; but by the time I left, I was a young woman. The whole group collaborated on the melodies and lyrics of the songs from the very beginning, but Larry never gave us any credit. As we grew and saw what was going on around us, it was apparent that Larry was living well. His lifestyle was indicative of the fame that we reached. But it seemed like Larry was the only one profiting. The rest of us were on weekly salaries. It became totally out of balance, so we started asking questions. When your questions cannot be answered, there’s only one answer: you’re being ripped off. So one thing leads to another; people get fed up and leave.
On the personal side, you talk about the drugs being many and plentiful and the abuse very scary and frequent. In one instance, you write, “Ten minutes earlier, you all would have seen it on the news, details at eleven.” What exactly was going on there?
In the ’70s, drugs were prevalent — all kinds of drugs. Cocaine was the drug of choice for Larry and the rest of the members of the group who could afford it, which were few. It had taken over for Larry, and so our relationship went downhill. Physical, verbal, and emotional abuse were all introduced into our relationship. Of course, the first couple of years when I was traveling with Sly & the Family Stone with him, it was nice. But as his future started being questioned — because he didn’t know what he was going to do after leaving Sly, the drugs really started to take over. And that’s when the physical abuse was addressed. It was very hard for me, being a young girl, and being plunged into a situation that I felt I had no control over. What saved me was the music, because I was determined to be successful. I was determined to realize my dream. Also, my knowledge of God. I always had my faith to hold onto, and that’s what got me though the darkest part of my relationship with Larry.
You write about dismissing certain signs that things were moving in a bad direction. At one point, you felt you had become what you were fighting against. When did you realize that? How did it unfold?
When you’re young, you only know how to do things as young people do them. When your self-esteem is being attacked, what you want to do is fight fire with fire. But that does not work; you end up becoming what you are trying to fight against. With the drugs, infidelity, and all that, the only way I knew how to handle it was, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” But in the end, it just brought me down to the level that I was trying to climb up out of. When I looked up and saw that I had hit rock bottom, I realized that all I could do was look up. I wasn’t trying to wallow in the mire. That’s when my life took a change for the positive.
You talk about the drugs being all around. What drove you to become a part of that scene? Initially, it was something you were very resistant to.
I finally gave in to it, to a certain extent, because everybody else around me was high. I was blessed, because I did not like cocaine. That’s what saved me. I didn’t like the feeling, or anything about it. Had I liked it, I would have been thrown into the abyss with the rest of them. But when you are in an environment and everybody is operating on a certain level—and you’re not doing it—then you feel left out. How can you relate? You can’t relate to people who are all high and you aren’t. So what you have to do is figure out, “Okay, how can I get in to fit in?” And so, that’s what I did—not because I enjoyed it, but only because I didn’t want to feel so left out. Even the music takes a different turn when everybody’s high and you aren’t.
Whether the drugs, some of the violent events that occurred, or just different people that came into the mix from outside, you reveal in your book that you had several brushes with death. During that time, were you constantly fearing for your life, or were you so caught up in things so much that it didn’t hit you till later?
There’s a saying that God takes care of babies and fools. That was exactly what was going on with me. It was just through God’s grace that I made it through the darkest period of my life. So many times my life was in danger; but I was on a mission to be successful. It was like, “I’m going to go with this until the wheels fall off.” It was ride or die. I had come too far to just give up. Whatever I had to go through, I was going to go through it. If I had to go down, I would go down fighting for what I want to accomplish in my lifetime. I couldn’t go through all of this for nothing. Through all that, the impact of it didn’t even really faze me, because I was seeing the big picture. I was not going to have everything that I had gone through snatched away from me for any reason. So it was sheer determination and will — and craziness.
There were a lot of extremes.
A lot! And you can’t give in to those extremes. You have to keep your goal in mind, no matter how extreme, how foggy, cloudy, or dark.
When you struck out on your own from the relationship, and ultimately, from the group, what obstacles did you face?
Self-esteem issues were the biggest thing — trying to regroup, and find the person that I had lost. All through my life, it was my goal to be a star. At this point I had a child, so I had to really figure it out, because I had to support her. It made me a stronger person, because I didn’t have a lot of time to figure it out. I had wonderful experiences through that. I was able to have my own record deal and work with so many people in the industry. What gave me a slight advantage was that I had made a name for myself. People knew who I was. I was Choc’let from Graham Central Station; so I didn’t have to start from scratch, per se.
What was it like when you started working as a background vocalist for the likes of Stephanie Mills, Chaka Khan, and B.B. King?
It was a lot of fun. They were all characters, and each experience was totally individual. But going from Choc’let of Graham Central Station to background vocal support was a blow. I had to start all over again. It was a blessing that I could work with people on those levels. And they all knew who I was, respected me, and were glad to have me in their camp.
You mentioned having your own record deal — which, as you know, was my introduction to you.
I think that is so awesome [laughs].
You had a solo album out in the early 80’s called She’s Back and Ready… on the short-lived T-Electric label, distributed by MCA. What caused them to go under and not be able to see your album all the way through?
I’m not exactly sure what happened; but I was told the company was going bankrupt. Nobody went into any details with me; but that whole experience was, like you said, a long time coming. This was what I had lived my whole life for: to be a solo artist and do my own thing. And life can be so ironic sometimes, because the whole experience was delightful. T-Electric Records was brand new: Jim Tyrrell and his daughter, Cheryl, were so kind to me. They believed in me. I couldn’t ask for anything more. The only thing that I really wasn’t in agreement with was the musical direction that they wanted me to go in. I wanted to continue to infuse my fonk style, because that’s what I was all about; but they were trying to change my image. And so I went along with that, not necessarily wanting to, but not wanting to cause any waves. I figured I’d do the first album the way they wanted, and then the second album my way. But I was satisfied with the outcome, because they had me doing things that I didn’t realize I could do — sounding ways that I really didn’t know I could sound. I had written several songs on the album, which I was thrilled about. When the album finally came out, I heard “I Wanna Get Close to You,” which I picked to be the first single, on the radio. Words cannot express. It was so ironic for this to finally happen, and then for the record company to go bankrupt. It was hard for me to regroup; but I had to. I couldn’t stop. Sometimes there’s a bigger plan.
“Sunshine Love” is the song that always stands out to me as my favorite, just something about the mood of that song really captivates me. Another song on there that I used to listen to during college, is “Questions,” which you co-wrote and produced.
Thank you! It’s so interesting when people tell me that they are even aware of my album, and they search deep enough even to know when I did the later release for Pulse Records. You just figure that stuff goes to the wayside: nobody cares, nobody knows. But then, to run across a person like you, who has dug that far, to dig these things out… it makes you feel like, “You know what? It really is all worthwhile.”
Well, I’m glad you feel that way. There’s another song that, until recently, I didn’t realize you wrote: “Hire Love,” recorded by Ren Woods. That was my favorite tune from her Azz Izz album.
Wow. Really? I think I might have to do that one over again myself. If I remember correctly, I wrote four songs on that album.
So, after the difficulty of the T-Electric situation, you discovered another interesting side of the industry in performing at “casuals.” So can you explain what those are?
Casuals are corporate gigs, weddings, and private parties. There are a thousand talent agencies here in Los Angeles, with five major ones that book a lot of casuals. One of the more memorable ones I did was a surprise birthday party for Berry Gordy. That was a very interesting part of my life. I got to meet every musician and singer in Los Angeles. Even musicians that were touring with major bands would work for these agencies when they came back home from the road. It’s really good networking. Most of the gigs were anywhere from three to four hours. So, that helped me to step up my game, as far as my chops were concerned.
You also established yourself as a demo singer around the same time.
Yes. A lot of the songwriters that I ended up doing the demos for were people I had met as a result of being in that whole casual clique. L.A. is just full of one clique after another. That was a very lucrative aspect of my career also for about four or five years. And recording sessions are great to get, if you can get them—you can’t get them anymore these days.
A few years after that, you encountered someone who would come to be a very integral figure in hip-hop shortly after. What was that like?
This was when I joined Rose Royce. Each musical opportunity I got was something that I had never done before, and it all made me step up my game. With Rose Royce, it was an experience that was priceless, because now here I was, finally, the lead female singer. Everything hinged upon me and what I could bring to the table. So, when I joined Rose Royce, Dr. Dre had the same manager as the group. Kenny Copeland, the leader of Rose Royce, was doing everything he could to get Rose Royce produced by Dr. Dre.
But, I have to go back a little. Before that, I was doing a project that Dre was producing. While I was in the studio, Rose Royce came in to meet with Dre, and saw me singing. So, they knew that Dre was already impressed with me. After they approached me, they were like, “Okay, since Dre is already impressed with you, we can shoot you right on in there.” It didn’t quite work out that way, but Dre and I did write a song together.
Wasn’t there was a song you sang on that he rapped on with Jimmy Z?
That was pretty cool for that time; it wasn’t typical of what was happening. On the subject of Rose Royce, how did the experience compare to your days with Graham Central Station?
No comparison whatsoever; apples and oranges — but still priceless. Graham Central Station was fonk. Rose Royce had a couple of uptempos, like “Car Wash,” but they were mainly famous for their ballads. And I love singing ballads.
Interestingly, around that same time, you ended up briefly reuniting with Graham Central Station.
From what I gather, it was an experience you really enjoyed; but perhaps some things on the business end hadn’t changed too much?
No. The fonk was still the same. We all got back together, and it was like thirty years hadn’t passed. That first rehearsal, the magic was right there, immediately, and we didn’t even have to rehearse that much. We just did it because it was fun. But once we got out there, the business aspect of it was still the same. Larry was still the same person: he was still strictly for Larry — strictly, monetarily, trying to gain everything; trying to keep us on salary and controlled in that way. It was way too late for that, because we were way too grown, and it was not happening again. So it was fun while it lasted.
Coming back around full circle to being an author, you mentioned that you had a book of poetry and stories out before. Do you consider being an author your full-time gig now?
I’m really enjoying being an author. I’ve been working on that for so long. I consider my work so far—Choc’let State of Mind and Deja View— fonk music history books. So many times, young musicians who are so intent upon keeping the fonk alive come to me with questions about what it was really like. They’ve got all these titles that they give to me; but I was actually just somebody who was there at the right time in the right place. So I’m able, through my books, to give them some insight; encourage them; be proud that they are willing to continue. For a long time. I was kind of upset and scared about what direction music — real music — was going to take. But I have learned that there are enough soldiers out there intent on keeping the fonk alive, and keeping the legacy alive. My book is helping them do that. So I’m going to continue to write. I’m also going to continue to sing; but now I’m more choosy about what I put my energy into. On August 7, there is a gig that I’m doing called the Long Beach Funk Fest. It’s going to be all day long.
Is that the one with Dawn Silva and Sue Ann Carwell?
Right. Anything that has to do with perpetuating the fonk, I am there. I just did a gig in Folsom, California. It was a tribute to Robert “Butch” Sam from Graham Central Sation. He recently passed away. So, I turned that gig into a tribute to him and David “Dynamite” Vega. Some of the funkiest musicians are still up in the Bay Area. It was on a whole other level.
How was the turnout and energy for that?
The energy felt like we were back in the ’70s. We were doing Sly & the Family Stone stuff. Jerry Martini came through and played with us. We were at that little club and tore the roof off the sucker. For years now, people have been trying to talk me into getting back out there as Choc’let. I’ve been kind of wary of it; because if I do it, it has to be done right. After that last gig, I thought, “Okay. I can do this.” I have decided that yes, I am going to go ahead and get back out there and do it.
What can you tell me about your upcoming book, Secret Sacrifice?
It’s not going to be centered around my experiences in music. This one is going to be more about my experiences as a child, being able to relate to so many other female children. I have found that very woman that I talk to has a story of being physically abused or sexually molested by somebody. Family, most of the time. It’s still going on and there’s a big unspoken club out there. Every time somebody steps out and publicly shares their experiences, it gives the female, once again, the courage and the motivation and inspiration to know that they are not alone. It lets them know that they have someone that they can talk to and they are not alone — there’s a support group.
I’m really happy that we got to talk, and I thank you for giving so generously of your time. I really enjoyed reading Deja View. It painted a whole new picture of the music, and makes me appreciate it even more.
Well, I really appreciate that, because it was positively my goal and motive to keep the fonk alive and keep that history out there, while giving some little inside tidbits here and there — and to prove that, whatever you’re going through, you can make it to the other side. And I just want to say to you, please keep doing what you’re doing, because you are so important in this whole movement of keeping the real music alive. People like you, who study, research and learn, and are determined to keep it out there on the forefront—we need more people like you. Thank you so much.
To purchase Deja View, please visit Patryce Choc’Let Banks’ official website.