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Bass guitar is at the core of The Bad Apples sound

By John Benson

Thursday, July 16, 2009

By John Benson

The Philadelphia-based jazz-funk act returns to the area this weekend.

In terms of cool or hip bands cited as an influence, Steely Dan doesn’t get much love in the new millennium.

Then there’s Philadelphia-based jazz-funk act The Bad Apples, whose members extol the virtues of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s work as it relates to their trio’s sound and mind-set.

“I don’t know, I just think the way we write our songs is a little bit on the jazz side, still a little funky rock music,” said The Bad Apples singer-bassist BJ Felsted, calling from his City of Brotherly Love home.

“Ours is a little more listenable than Steely Dan, but it’s not as smooth. It’s a more modern sound. We’re a funk band like Tower of Power and James Brown.”

Over the past few years, this unique threesome has expanded its fan base with a rigorous touring schedule that keeps them on the road for more than 100 dates annually.

The act returns to Northeast Ohio for a show Friday at Mojo’s Pub and Grille.

The band recently released its sophomore album, “Today Begins at Night,” which acts as the follow-up to its 2007 debut, “Home.” The new album, which includes band favorites “Lucky Day” and “New Age Prophecy,” features the addition of a six-piece horn section.

At the center of The Bad Apples’ sound is Felsted’s bass, which is the only guitar in the outfit.

“We’re all about the groove, basically, and I also sing lead, too,” Felsted said. “I’m the guy up front. We have a piano player instead of a guitar player, so I kind of play the lead guitar basically, and he plays the chords. So it’s completely different. We really haven’t found an act that’s drums, bass and keyboards with three-part harmonies. No one is really singing the way we are, playing the way we are.”

He added, “It seems like we’re kind of hard to ignore if you’re in the room with us. People hear a million bands playing guitar, so it seems to catch on to everyone. Baby boomers love it because it reminds them of the ’70s, and people now like it because it’s modern funk stuff. It’s not like we’re old guys.”

This brings to mind the current jam-band scene, which under one umbrella holds everyone from the Dead-esque Phish to the jazz stylings of Medeski, Martin & Wood.

So does Felsted feel The Bad Apples are part of the jam-band movement?

“I’d have to say we are, just because there’s no funk-band scene,” Felsted said.

“There’s no like jazz-band scene. It’s kind of where every band that is trying to do something different, and bands that aren’t doing anything different, get lumped into. That’s why they call it a jam-band scene. We’re doing like hard-driving funk, not doing Grateful Dead covers. That seems more like the hippie realm. Also, we don’t usually stretch our songs out that much.”

So with that in mind, is funk still alive in 2009?

“Everyone will always love to dance,” Felsted laughed.

“It’s music that moves you. That’s what people are always striving for. That’s why people go to dance clubs, and while we’re not necessarily a dance-club kind of music, when you’re in a bar and you have a ripping funk band, that’s always a good time. So anyone who wants to dance, anyone who wants to have a good time, we keep the energy up all night.”