Good timing is often the catalyst for interesting, if not fruitful collaborations in the roller-coaster music world.Such is the case with Skip Jennings and Hartford, Conn.-based instrumentalists The Thang.

During a tour stop in North Carolina two months ago, Jennings and his band mates in Soulwork decided enough was enough and headed their separate ways. The shock decision came after five years of hard work for the band that had garnered a dedicated following on the East Coast, especially in the New England states. It also occurred as the soul/funk outfit was on the verge of breaking out.

“It’s kind of like the end of any relationship,” said Jennings who served as Soulwork’s front man and constant source of energy on stage. “You're either shaking hands or flipping each other off. We were in the middle of the two.”

Whether or not Soulwork -- which released the live Soulwork Squares Off with The Super Villian earlier this year as a follow-up to its studio debut, Connect -- ever opts to give it another go, remains to be seen, but right now, Jennings is focused on teaming up with The Thang for a pair of up-coming gigs.

Despite traditionally eschewing vocals, Thang guitarist Mike Bradley said if an exception were ever going to be made, it would be for Skip Jennings. “I feel like we’ve finally found a vocalist that can match the intensity of our instrumental show,” said Bradley who mentioned that there was a mutual respect between his band and Jennings.

The question of if and when they would play together was answered last month when Jennings, through a mutual friend, learned that The Thang was playing in Hartford and promptly drove down from Boston to take in the show. Bradley good-naturedly recounts the experience and how Jennings decided the time was right for him to “sit in”.

“Skip kind of crashed the stage,” Bradley said. “He did an impromptu scat solo and finished the set out with us. It was fantastic and his energy was incredible.”

From there, Bradley and Jennings corresponded, sent tapes back and forth and have already rehearsed in preparation for shows in Hartford on Friday, October 25th at Sully's Pub and October 31st at Trinity College.

The Thang, currently playing as a four-piece with drummer Marc Balling, bassist David Shuman and organist Barry Seelan, released Groove Jazz Vol. 1, its debut disc, last year. Horn players often augment the band, but Jennings’ vocal talents might be enough, according to Bradley.

“He (Jennings) is a band unto himself,” Bradley said. “He can improvise and he really approaches vocals like an instrument. There’s a captured energy and the spirit of improvisation with Skip, like during a rehearsal this weekend, he was doing this vocal that sounded like a trombone solo. It was amazing.”

Jennings and The Thang have never written together and not much is being said about future projects. They have worked up a handful of covers from the likes of James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Al Green, “singer-driven stuff,” says Jennings who lists Prince, Sting, Wonder and Sam Cooke as some of his favorite singers.

While he remains proud of Soulwork’s legacy, Jennings is looking forward to new challenges. "It’s time to go on now, to a new set of rules and new relations,” he said. “I’m excited about hooking up with The Thang and they’ve said that they are looking forward to playing with me, so we’re going to have some fun, do a bunch of covers and some freeform stuff. It should be really cool and very interesting.”

From there, who knows, but stay tuned to this work-in-progress.

Chris Cowles
JamBase | Connecticut
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[Published on: 10/22/02]

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