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MUSIC : Raw Silk Insists It's R&B Despite the Jazz Image : The group, composed of veteran musicians, also does pop, funk and fusion. Regardless, they draw regular crowds.

January 27, 1994|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Raw Silk has fans, not just the girlfriend, the boyfriend and the roadie, either. Long before the Cowboys were finished making the Niners look like the Rams, people began filling the Bombay Bar & Grill in Ventura, waiting for Raw Silk's Sunday afternoon gig. In no time, the dance floor was packed, just like the Niners' bags.

Raw Silk has been around since 1986 when George met Leslie. George is George Friedenthal, who is the keyboard player. Leslie is Leslie Lembo, the vocalist. The lineup fluctuates like the lunch shift at McDonald's, but for now, it's Ray Pannell on guitar, Mychal Lomas on bass, Del Franklin on sax and Donzell Davis on drums. For the moment, blues belter Barbara Wood has been standing in for Lembo who will return from vacation for the Wednesday gig.

Everyone in the band is a veteran musician, so they're tighter than the stomach muscles of a 45-year-old man at a Spencer the Gardener gig. As the last eight minutes of the game became 20 minutes, Raw Silk kicked into a 10-minute funky instrumental. Between sets, Friedenthal discussed his favorite band.

It seems like every year Raw Silk gets voted "Best Jazz Band" in the Santa Barbara entertainment papers. Are you guys a jazz band?

We do pop and funk and some jazz and some fusion stuff, but hey, we're an R&B band. Since we have a sax player and we do some instrumentals--you know how Santa Barbara is--they think we're a jazz band. We have a lot of R&B and funk influences, and I hear a lot of James Brown, Tower of Power and '70s funk bands in our music.

How did Raw Silk get going?

In 1986 I was playing at the Harbor Restaurant on the pier in Santa Barbara with a jazz quartet, and one night this gorgeous blond walks in and wants to do a song. I wasn't about to say no. That was Leslie Lembo. Soon after, we started playing there as a duo and it just took off right from the very beginning. We just packed 'em in. Leslie sounds like a black blues singer with all kinds of soul, plus she blows the harmonica like crazy. Then people started sitting in with us. Del was first, then Stevie Ray Davis, this Texas blues guitar guy. Those guys also started to develop their own following and the whole thing just kept building. We stayed there for a year and a half when the Red Lion Inn opened.

Didn't Fess Parker ever show up and do some Davy Crockett songs?

Thankfully, not. We were up to a seven-piece by this time and we played five days a week, from Tuesday through Saturday. I think Stevie's wife or girlfriend made him quit the band, and we got Ray a few years after he left. I just got a CD from Stevie not long ago. He's living in Alabama now.

Five nights a week is serious. So the band must have a zillion songs?

We've got a lot--maybe 200 or so. We also have a lot of originals, maybe 40 or so. We don't do 'em all, usually 10 or 15 originals a night. What we play depends on where we play. On Thursdays, Del and I play the Acapulco Restaurant. On Fridays, as a four-piece, The Grill in Montecito is always packed; we'll have to wait and see about the Pierce Street Annex. It just opened--it used to be the old 1129 Club. We do well every other Sunday at the Bombay in Ventura, and the Whale's Tail in Oxnard on Wednesdays is working out.

Is the Santa Barbara scene happening?

It's changed a lot, I think. There's still a pretty big scene on lower State Street for all the young rock dudes, but I think it's pretty tough for musicians right now. There's only a few bands that make any money now--Spencer the Gardener, Zack & A Modern View, maybe Tao Jonz.

When did you know you were going to be a musician?

It was kind of late for me. I really didn't think I'd be a musician until after college. I have a B.A. degree in Asian studies from the University of Pennsylvania. It's just a piece of paper--I don't even know where it is. This is it for me now.

Is Raw Silk trying to get signed?

Sure, it would be nice to get signed but we're not actually pushing it right now. We have a live tape that's a few years old and we're working on a CD, but everyone in the band is doing a lot of other things. Three of the guys go on the road with Mary Wilson of the Supremes once a month. I used to do that too, but I got tired of it. If we tried to get signed, getting a manager helps. You have to beat on doors and do the showcases. You'd have to spend a lot of time in L.A. because that's where all the record companies are. They're not going to come to Santa Barbara because the scene is down there.

And record deals aren't always as good a thing as they seem to be.

That's right. We've been around long enough to be a bit cynical about the whole thing. Ugly Kid Joe got signed from here, had Top Ten singles but they still don't have any money. All the tour support money and studio money is just a loan, and you end up incurring all these debts. You have to hang around for three or four albums to pay off your debts. It's not all it's cracked up to be. For us, I think songwriting and publishing is a more lucrative deal.

Details

* WHAT: Raw Silk.

* WHERE: Tonight at Acapulco Restaurant in Santa Barbara, Friday at The Grill in Montecito, Saturday at Pierce Street Annex in S.B. and Wednesday at Whale's Tale in Oxnard.

* WHEN: 9-ish.

* FYI: 963-3469 (tonight) 565-3272 (Friday) 963-7500 (Saturday) 985-2511 (Wednesday).

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