West Coast Sounds is more than simply a band name for soul jazz guitar maestro Eddie Roberts' new endeavor-it's literally a statement about where he's at in his extraordinary life. It's about the Welsh native and longtime Leeds, U.K. resident realizing his dream of thriving and writing songs in his favorite city-San Francisco. The globetrotting founder of the New Mastersounds had visited many a metropolis, but he couldn't get the City by the Bay or its hip music fans out of his head.
"The fourth show I ever played in the States was at the Boom Boom Room with the New Mastersounds," recalls Roberts, "and we fit right in. We played the High Sierra Music Festival afterwards, and the reaction was heartwarming. We arrived as nobody, and left with a Bay Area fan club."
Two years ago, Roberts packed his gear and headed west for good. He reconnected with Hammond B3 virtuoso and Boom Boom Room stalwart Wil Blades. He found drummer Jermal Watson (Dirty Dozen Brass Band) on this year's Jam Cruise. When Jazz Mafia horn players Joe Cohen (tenor sax) and Mike Olmos (trumpet) guested on the New Masterounds' album Out on the Faultline, Roberts had an epiphany.
"I realized how amazing they were, and it set an idea off," says Roberts. "The addition of horns automatically changes the sound, although I would say that the grooves and the overall style of the West Coast Sounds is more similar to the New Mastersounds than my solo material, which has usually gone in more of a club jazz direction."
Regardless of the group or the setting, Roberts' guitar playing is always visceral and funky. Shades of influence from Grant Green and the Meters' Leo Nocentelli show up rough and ready to rip. In fact, the word "Roughneck" is a common theme throughout Roberts' career.
"The name 'Roughneck' came about from a friend and mentor with whom I used to run club nights and a record label," explains Roberts. "'This isn't smooth jazz, this is roughneck jazz,' he would always say to people. When my first solo album was ready, Roughneck seemed the obvious title choice."
Roberts noticed a lot of time references in the track names and accordingly titled his new record with the West Coast Sounds It's About Time. The theme appears in originals such as "A Day, a Week, a Month, a Year," and "The Long Drive Home," which originated with Roberts singing and beatboxing melodies and grooves into his phone on an actual long drive home. Time is also the essence of covers such as Sisters Love's "Now Is the Time," Bobby Williams & His Mar Kings' "All The Time," and Gotye's "Somebody I Used to Know."
"'Somebody' is a cheeky one we threw in there to turn a few heads," says Roberts. "When I first heard the original, I immediately imagined it with an Afrobeat groove, which is unusual for a group that uses a Hammond organ to produce bass lines rather than a bass guitar. In fact, I couldn't think of a similar example, so I really wanted to give it a go."
Roberts produced It's About Time at Sharkbite Studios in Oakland using house engineers live to tape in just three days with the main band, and a few more dedicated to horn overdubs. Eddie mixed the record himself and mastering is credited to engineer John Cuniberti, who has worked with The Neville Brothers and the Grateful Dead. The result is a rich, vibrant recording with a palpable sense of immediacy that will be released on Bay Area indie, Tallest Man Records.
American audiences can expect to see Eddie Roberts' West Coast Sounds on tour a lot over the coming months and years. "It's an especially welcome development for groove jazz lovers frustrated at the decreasing number of Stateside New Mastersounds dates. That leaves me considerable time to develop the West Coast Sounds much further. When I came up with the title, It's About Time, I realized its huge significance to my journey and changes over the last couple of years. I'm finally here doing what I love in the city that I love...It's About Time!"