Pot luck melody

With the occasional exception of guys like Kanye West, artists shouldn’t hype themselves. There’s a certain amount of self-deprecating humor that must play into it, otherwise you risk looking like a complete self-fellating windbag. And not everyone can poke fun of themselves. Self-promotion isn’t easy and only works if you are either naive, or funny.

HotSauce — a promising eight-man R&B band with a wildly energetic stage show — gives it the old college try. File under naive. For example: Dyrel Johnson, the group’s lead singer, saxophonist and flutist, calls their live show “an experience.” Trombonist-guitarist-singer Otis “Big O” Shelton says, “You never know what you’re gonna see.” Drummer-vocalist Marquis Johnson says HotSauce offers a “great level of energy and excellence.”

No dis intended, fellas, but please ...

Maybe it’s best to describe a multifaceted band like HotSauce by letting an “expert” weigh in.

John Mason has been a Detroit radio personality since Michael Jackson was still a black dude. He’s KISS 105.9-FM’s afternoon-drive man and a Detroit Pistons announcer. Mason saw HotSauce three years ago at a Hart Plaza festival and has this to say: “These guys blew me away.”

Unsolicited advice: HotSauce should let guys like Mason speak, and then let their music do the talking.

And the music can talk. HotSauce is part of a growing Detroit movement that sees bands blending genres and creating live shows with the kind of energy that recalls Motown’s days of song and stage glory. Live, HotSauce’s R&B, hip-hop, rock, gospel and soul mash-up is, in a word, explosive.

Their performances are choreographed to a T, but vary from show to show. A dull moment is rare. The band’s members — all of whom are multi-instrumentalists — may switch-up at any point. For instance, they’ll leave the drummer to carry the rhythm while the remaining seven congregate at stage front for a dance move, or to hype the crowd. Big O — he’s called “Big” for a reason — regularly gets audience kudos by keeping his hefty, wrestler-sized frame in step with his skinniest bandmate.

“Myself, I like to move,” O says. “People be like, ‘That’s a big dude!’”

Much of HotSauce’s show consists of cover tunes; outright homages to their influences. (But don’t let that sway you — they write too, and well.) The range of reprises — a normal set might bounce between Prince, MC Hammer, the Temptations, Earth, Wind & Fire and Outkast — is a stirring show of musical awareness.

They call the cumulative presentation “L.I.F.E.” music.

“Love, Inspiration, Freedom and Entertainment,” Marquis says. “Elements of life. We sing songs of encouragement.”

Encouragement is a good word: HotSauce enjoys a healthy buzz in metro Detroit, earned by unremitting gigging on any off-the-beaten-path stage that’ll have them. It’s the band’s proficiency, youth and energy that’s won it a legion of fans. The members have also written and produced their debut CD, Just a Taste, to be unveiled Aug. 27, at FUNKcanROCK ’05.

The LP is an introduction to HotSauce’s oeuvre, and, of course, they want it to have the same impact as their live show.

The five-year road getting to the CD release has been steady. Putting the group together was easy; four of its members are brothers.

The Johnson four, Dyrel, Marquis, Gary (percussion, bass) and Eric (music director), all attended the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, where their father, Charles Johnson, was a music instructor (he now teaches at Redford High School).

It was there that they met Big O and sax-key-vocalist Jeffery Ponders II. Later, they met Lawrence Washington (bass, drums and keys) and Andrew “Drew” Hicks (talkbox, keys, bass, guitar, background vocals). All of them had grown up listening to their parents’ music, and all had been exposed to instruments as children.

“Marquis started bangin’ on drums before he could walk,” O says. “He’s got the video footage to prove that.”

They decided to pool their talents, and formed HotSauce as a jazz band. And that was cool — they worked with Marcus Belgrave and Rodney Whitaker and others — but jazz wasn’t what they wanted to do. They wanted contemporary flash and youth.

“We wanted to make music for people who are more in our age bracket,” Dyrel says. “We can do jazz gigs all day and meet great older people. But people our age would never know who we are. We can reach them if we get their ears.”

Once they made the switch, and met Nina Payne, whose Foundation Management company took them on as a project, word spread.

The challenge now is to keep it together. Being multi-instrumentalists effectively makes HotSauce a pack of backward-glancing analog cats living in a digital world. But that doesn’t concern them. They claim the formula will keep the unit healthy.

“The problem is staying together,” Dyrel says, in a way that’s more of an admission. “Not ’cause it’s a problem, you know what I’m saying? But in the history of music, for most great bands, that’s always a challenge.”

A band with eight varied and artistic personalities requires work. Their approach — their formula — is all about keeping open lines of communication. They write songs together and allow each member an outlet for his voice. Most of all, Dyrel says, with no trace of irony, “We all love each other. We connect with each other.”

This is where they lean on certain clichés that are, nonetheless, key: Communication, respect, agreeing, at times, to disagree, and in the end, things “should” work out.

At the FUNKcanROCK show, things should work out alongside friends. On the bill also celebrating a CD release is another Foundation band, My Machine — a rock outfit from both Detroit and Wales, England. HotSauce and My Machine became friends at an Emerald Theater show, when the former was impressed with the latter’s rock version of “And If I Ever Fall in Love,” a sappy ’90s hit recorded by R&B quartet Shai.

Other guests on the bill include Motor City faves Natives of the New Dawn and Critical Bill. At minimum, it’ll be a musical potluck, a microcosm of Detroit’s emerging cross-genre movement.


The HotSauce-My Machine joint album release party is Saturday, Aug. 27, at the Masonic Temple (500 Temple St., Detroit; 313-832-7100).

Khary Kimani Turner is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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