The Art Of The Sit-In | Nikki Glaspie
Welcome to another edition of The Art of the Sit-In, where we mix it up with the scene’s most adventurous players and hear some stories from the road. Be sure to check out our recent discussions with Roosevelt Collier, Luther Dickinson and Matt Butler – you’ll be glad you did!
What a fascinating road traveled by drummer, singer and all-around badass Nikki Glaspie. She came up in New England jam, funk and R&B circles, mixing with the likes of the Sam Kininger Band, John Brown’s Body, Eric Krasno, Adam Deitch, the crowd at legendary Boston jazz nook Wally’s Cafe and plenty of others.
A wing-and-a-prayer move to New York left her nearly broke. But right about near wit’s end, she landed a gig with the type of visibility few players in our scene ever get to achieve, being invited to perform with Beyonce on tours all over the world.
Glaspie left Beyonce’s employ in 2011, ready to keep expanding her horizons. These days, she’s all over the place and plenty busy, but focuses most of her energy on Dumpstaphunk, which she joined as a full-time member more than two years ago, and The Nth Power, which combines her with Nigel Hall, Weedie Braimah, Nick Cassarino and Nate Edgar, and is well on its way to being the scene’s next marquee supergroup.
Glaspie has some good stories. Naturally, we asked her to share a few just ahead of her many planned appearances at this weekend’s Bear Creek Festival.
JAMBASE: You’ve got a lot going on – what’s on the frontburner right now?
NIKKI GLASPIE: Right now, it’s Bear Creek, and that’s really as far as I can see because I have so much happening there. We have Dumpstaphunk and we’re also doing a Dumpsta-Lettuce jam with people like Bootsy and Questlove, and that’s going to be awesome. And the Nth Power, we landed the greatest slot in the world: Saturday night, in the Music Hall, after everything’s done. It’s the 2 a.m. til whenever slot.
JAMBASE: Right, right, everyone’s amped, wants to keep the party going…
NG: …Yep, they just take it inside. It gets cold at night, come on in, we’ll keep you warm. I’m also going to be playing with the Jen Hartswick Band, we have two slots. So yeah, I’ll be super busy at Bear Creek. I’m also doing a gospel set with Nigel and Roosevelt [Collier] and I’m playing with Lettuce too.
JAMBASE: All over the place, as usual. So it seems like you’ve settled into a nice balance, prioritizing Dumpstaphunk and the Nth Power and mixing that with other appearances. How do you pick your spots?
NG: Dumpstaphunk is in the main gig, but really, the spots pick me. When we’re not doing Dumpstaphunk I’m playing with the Nth Power. That’s definitely my baby right now, we’re trying to cultivate it and make it grow and get it to where we want it to be. We want to be playing more gigs, but everyone else is working, too, and has stuff which is the hardest part. Nate plays with John Brown’s Body and they work as much as Dumpstaphunk does. Nigel, he’s doing Warren Haynes, and John Scofield, and Lettuce, and has his own band, too. Nick’s out with Big Daddy Kane and he’s traveling a bunch.
But when we can do it, we are doing it. It’s our band, not like someone else’s band that a few of us are a part of. Everyone has an equal stake. We all love playing and writing together and it just feels right.
JAMBASE: How did the Nth Power lineup come together?
NG: In part with Jen Hartswick. Me and Nick, we’re regulars in her band, and I brought Nate in when Jen’s regular bassist at the time couldn’t make it to a gig. Jen says to me, I need a bass player, do you know any good ones, and I’m like, do I know a bass player? Of course I know a bass player – I know the sickest bass players on the planet!
So I called up my good friend Nate Edgar. We met in Boston, he’s been in John Brown’s Body forever and is a really good friend of mine. All those guys, we all used to be roommates, I’ve known them forever. But I knew he wanted to get down to New Orleans more and kind of get into the scene, so I had him come down and we did an all-star band with folsk like Nigel and Marcie Chapa and Dela from Slightly Stoopid and Dave Bayliss from the Pimps of Joytime.
I knew all this guys forever, and long story short, when I got the Beyonce gig, I kind of disappeared from that time in our lives when we’d all play music together all the time. But I figured we’d all just kind of collide again. I called Nate, and he came and said I’ll definitely do something.
Jen called Nigel. I’ve known Nigel for 10 or more years, I knew him up in Portland, Maine, when I was with the Sam Kininger Band and he was up there doing gigs. Nigel and I had kind of been waiting to find something we can work on together, but then he was going out with Warren Haynes so it was like, I guess we’ll try again another time.
But eventually we got to try it. It was the last gig of Jazz Fest, the Sunday morning 3 a.m. set at the Maple Leaf, and I remember we had soundcheck and we were all like, oh my god, this is a band. We just kind of looked at each other, and everyone knew instantly it was something we had to do. We played that show and we could do no wrong, everything I played was gold, and it was only because of what everyone else was playing.
JAMBASE: Amazing how that happens. How soon after were you able to focus on new dates and actually recording new music?
NG: We finally got back together in November of last year, played a gig and started to record. Then we got back together again in February, finished some of the recording, and released an EP at Jazzfest. We did like five gigs at Jazzfest, which was pretty cool. It started out as two gigs and then became five gigs.
JAMBASE: As it always tends to go at Jazzfest, right?
NG: [laughs] Yeah, yeah, like it always does. I mean, wow I had 22 gigs at Jazzfest this year.
JAMBASE: I think that beats Roosevelt.
NG: Yeah, I think it does. I think Stanton played 22 gigs, too. George Porter Jr. played like 26 or 27 though, he had us all beat.
JAMBASE: He doesn’t count; that’s what George does!
NG: Yeah, I’m just trying to be George. We’re all just trying to be George Porter Jr.
JAMBASE: Right on. So you have some more Nth Power dates coming up I gather?
NG: We’re doing a run of shows in December – like a two week run basically on the East Coast. We’ll be doing D.C., we’re doing Asheville, Charleston, Atlanta, I know that. We’re doing New York and Chicago and I think we’re going to do Boston and New Hampshire, too.
JAMBASE: Well Nikki, just switching gears, it’s been more than two years since you joined Dumpstaphunk, right?
NG: Yeah, two years and a few months.
JAMBASE: What convinced you this was the right move? You had just come off the Beyonce gig and it sounds like you didn’t necessarily want to be locked down.
NG: Honestly, it’s just funk. Those guys are the epitome of it. I’m a funkateer. It’s my life’s mission to have funk recognized as a real genre of music, both in the sense of the fans and also in the sense of…well, you know there’s not even a funk category for the Grammys, and there’s not a funk category when you register your songs with BMI or ASCAP. Where are the funk XM radio stations? We’ve got tons of different Latin stations, we’ve got a Johnny Cash station and a Grateful Dead station? Where’s my funk at?
If there’s no funk, there’s no hip-hop, and there are no many other things, too. Dumpstaphunk waves that flag. So I saw the opportunity and I jumped right on it. Right on it!
JAMBASE: You’d known Ivan and those guys for a while, right?
NG: Yeah, I knew them for a while. Those dudes are amazing.
JAMBASE: What’s the goal for Dumpstaphunk?
NG: To keep hitting it hard. That’s the mindset. We tour and play music. That’s all we do. We work extremely hard at it.
JAMBASE: You strike me as someone who believes in being the collection of experiences. What did you take away from all your years with Beyonce?
NG: I learned so much from that gig about how to be professional. It was such an important part of my career, and it was five years, from 2006 to 2011. Beyonce, well, the professional thing, it’s apparent because of who she is. She didn’t get there from being passive. She didn’t get there not being a perfectionist.
People can say what they want about her and Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift and that they were just given things or whatever. But they work extremely hard, and that’s why they’re at the level they’re at. It’s not all about talent, either. Our scene has a lot of talented players that will never do big gigs, and sometimes they think it’s all about talent. It’s not. Some of it’s luck, but it’s more about being the first person up – getting going at 4 a.m., and going to the gym even when you don’t want to, and reading books and taking the time, and being the early bird catching the worm. It’s jumping on opportunities and putting yourself out there.
That’s hard because that’s not really how a musician thinks. There are a bunch of talented cats out there that will never have any big gigs and it’s not because of talent. But that’s my view of it. I quit that gig. Beyonce, they were trying to sign me on for another two years and I was like, I’m good.
So that’s the other way to look at it. I did everything I could with her. I played on two world tours, went all around the world, to some places like three and four times. I played on an album and I realized, this is far as I’m going to go with this. There’s nothing else for me to do with this. She wanted me to stay there, but that’s not quite what I wanted.
I was sick of playing pop music, and that’s one advantage of being in a scene like this one. In the jam scene, you can play what you really want to play, and not only that, but the fans will allow you to play what you want to play. They want you to play what you want to play. For a musician, there’s nothing greater than that. I’m so grateful the jam scene exists. If it weren’t for this, I’d have no idea what I’d be doing or what I could enjoy.
JAMBASE: You made an interesting comment earlier about how when you took the Beyonce gig, you disappeared for a while from the scene you’d been a part of. What compelled you to do that at all?
NG: It was a crazy time. I quit everything in Boston and I left Boston – I was going to school there and I quit that. I was playing with the Sam Kininger Band and I was also in a cover band and playing wedding gigs and making good money. But I don’t want to play weddings and play for drunk people who don’t give a shit. I was hired help. You play a bunch of stuff and you get two little fingerling potatoes and a rare steak and a slice of carrot and it’s ‘you can go now.’
I decided I didn’t need that. I don’t like to be treated less than what I know I am, so the wedding gigs led to the moment where I was like, OK, it’s over, no more weddings. I told the band that and they were pissed and all like, ‘Why you leaving?’ I said I gotta go. I packed all my shit up within a week and I didn’t have anything. I had $600 bucks to pay rent with, and I sat in my room when I got to New York and I was like, OK, what am I going to do now?
I went out and tried to find some gigs. I took some chances. It was hard. Six months later, I got the Beyonce gig.
JAMBASE: You got to make moves, right?
NG: I believe in high risk, high reward, yes.
JAMBASE: Can you tell me a favorite Beyonce tour story?
NG: Yeah, and this is a long story but I’ll try to make it short. We were in Dubai for Halloween one year. I was with the trumpet player and Beyonce was like, I’m throwing a party, a Halloween party. We had like a 100-person entourage – that’s how many people traveled with this thing, we had carpenters, we had lighting guys, we had all this stuff, riggers, TV screens, all kinds of shit.
Me and the trumpet player went to this mall in Dubai. I’m not a Halloween person at all, I didn’t have a costume. I found this Iron Man suit, it was awesome. I put a sock in my crotch and put on the Iron Man shit. I showed up to the party and go up to Beyonce and she’s like, who is this? She couldn’t figure out who I was and finally she did and she was like, you’re crazy.
So later, there was a portion of the show where the dancers are all wearing these gold suits and they looked kind of like the Iron Man suit I had been wearing. We’re in the cab on the way from getting the suit and the trumpet player had said to me, dude, wouldn’t it be so awesome if you jumped onstage with your Iron Man suit and did some choreography with that’s suit on?
And I was like, yeah, but I’d probably get fired. Beyonce has a big show. You can’t just change the program like that and expect it to turn out OK. But fast forward five months, and it’s the end of the tour – the last show. I’m talking to the bass player, and the bass player’s like dude, it’s the last night. You should go out in your suit and you should dance, and don’t think about it, just go do it.
So against my and everyone’s better judgment – they’re all [egging me] on – I start the song out, and then I run down the stairs from the riser and I put the suit on. This all happens in like 30 seconds. I run up on stage and I’m up there doing it and somehow with where everyone is at that point in the choreography, I stop like dead in front of [Beyonce]. I run back around and took the costume off and I was back on the drums to play my part just in time.
She turns around during the show and gives me this look [laughs]…this look like, “You are fucking crazy! I can’t believe you just did that!” Later, I talked to her about it and she said it was the funniest thing that’s ever happened to her on tour. And I have to say it was pretty awesome. There’s a video of it on YouTube, and you can see her face in the video, and her face is like oh my god, what the fuck is going on? She actually had to walk around me to dance and what not.
JAMBASE: That’s amazing – no question ballsy! Are you still in touch with Beyonce and the band?
NG: I still talk to the band members that are there, yet. But I never, like, talk to Beyonce on the phone or anything, it never was like that. Maybe once we talked on the phone, she’d wanted me to do something.
JAMBASE: Before I let you go, tell me a sit-in story. You with Dumpstaphunk, or another band, what jumps to mind?
NG: We played a private gig at the Highline Ballroom [in New York]. I’m really good friends with [producer] Ira Schickman. He had been engaged with Chaka Khan for years and he brought her to this gig, and she came on stage and sang with us. That was sick. It was Chaka Khan singing with Dumpstaphunk, and it was great.
We also had Harry Connick sit in with us a few months ago. He’s a really nice dude. That was totally unexpected; we had no idea he was coming to the gig. We played Big Chief and stuff. And then we got to play with John Oates at Outside Lands. We did a few songs with him and I was like, shit, when I was a kid, I used to listen to Hall & Oates all the time.
I told my Dad about that and that we’d met him and played together and he’s like, no you didn’t! Yes we did, Dad. It’s really cool to call my parents and tell them all about all these people we play with. My Dad is a huge music fan – a fanatic. He introduced me to Van Halen, and Rage Against the Machine, and the O’Jays, and the Gap Band, so I’m always like, I call him and I say, you won’t believe who I just met. I’ve met some amazing people.
2: The number of drummers in Beyonce’s all-female backing band, the Sugarmamas, of which Glaspie was one
22: The number of performances Glaspie had at Jazzfest this year, including a handful with Dumpstaphunk, main stage with the Neville Brothers, a handful with the Nth Power, a few fill-ins for Adam Deitch who had to leave Jazzfest early on a personal matter, and many more sit-ins with Ian Neville and the Dastardly Bastards, the New Mastersounds and others
Numerous: The legends Glaspie’s performed or recorded with, from Beyonce, Chaka Khan and Jay-Z to Destiny’s Child, Maceo Parker and Living Colour’s Vernon Reid
AXS-TV interview with Nikki, Ivan Neville and Nick Daniels about the formation of Dumpstaphunk:
The drum solo “heard round the world” from Bear Creek 2012:
Yes, it did happen: Beyonce getting pranked by Glaspie in Belfast:
Watch the Nikki Glaspie & Friends’ set from 2012:
Leave a comment below and let us know who you’d like to see in a future installment of Art of the Sit-In!