U.S. Pipe gets funkier than an old batch of collard greens

Chris Sauthoff has learned a thing or two from George Clinton.

Working alongside the legendary godfather of funk, first in the studio and then on the road, the U.S. Pipe leader, who goes by the name Citrus, picked up a few studio tricks that he used on his band's self-titled full-length. Brushing off leaves from the stairs of Fat City, the same East Colfax studio in which he laid down guitar tracks for a Clinton tune called "Sloppy Seconds" nearly a decade ago, Sauthoff recounts the experience. During the sessions, Belita Woods was evidently having a hard time singing, so Gary Shider told Gary Cooper to go in the room and "ghost" her.

The funk brothers (and sister): Ryan Chrys (from left), Missy Gutreuter , Chris Murphy, Azma Holiday, Chris Sauthoff, Michael Chiesa, Jimmy Chiesa and Kurt Rosebecker are U.S. Pipe.
The funk brothers (and sister): Ryan Chrys (from left), Missy Gutreuter , Chris Murphy, Azma Holiday, Chris Sauthoff, Michael Chiesa, Jimmy Chiesa and Kurt Rosebecker are U.S. Pipe.

"I was like, 'What is he talking about?'" Sauthoff recalls. "But that's just what he did. He went and got in the corner, and he just whispered lyrics. And then she's like, 'I just need somebody to be with me.' It just added energy instead of notes, and just the spirit of being together made it cooler."

Sauthoff did the same thing when Missy Gutreuter was recording vocal tracks for the new record. "All I did was go in the room and sat on the floor," he explains, "and I just whispered the lyrics with her. I wasn't singing, but just that energy to be in there. And then she got it pretty quick after that."

Sauthoff began working with Clinton in the mid-'90s, when the latter was in town for a show at the Ogden. During his stay, Clinton stopped by Fat City. After adding his guitar parts in the studio, Sauthoff spent a decade touring with Clinton, handling everything from running lights, tuning and repairing guitars to stage and production managing to working the merch table. And he wasn't just behind the scenes; he frequently performed with Clinton on stage, as well.

Now, ten years later, Sauthoff is poised to be at the helm of the studio where he first worked with the funk icon. After sitting vacant for a number of years, the studio is about to be operational again thanks to owner Darnel Studemeyer, who offered Sauthoff the chance to run the basement recording facility. Sauthoff is just now settling in over at Fat City; before that, he and the other members of U.S. Pipe were holed up in Evergreen working on United Sound Pipe with Chris Cardone at his Area Five Point One studio. While all the rhythm tracks, including bass and guitar, were cut in two days, it took an additional eight months to record vocals and horns and then to mix and master the album. Boulder-based David Glasser, who's mastered more than sixty Grammy-nominated albums, made the album pop and sound a lot bigger.

Glasser had plenty to work with. Taking a few cues from the way Clinton works, the band thickened things up a lot by doubling or tripling parts. Gutreuter sang three different parts on some of the songs. But they didn't just cut and paste parts in ProTools, Sauthoff points out; they fattened up the tunes by actually recording additional tracks.

Although the record marks Sauthoff's recorded debut, the guitarist is a longtime veteran of the scene. Before he began touring with Clinton, he lent his fretwork to Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass. It was the Lord himself, in fact, who coined his nickname.

"He said, 'Man, you play so juicy, I'm gonna call you Citrus!'" Sauthoff recalls. Fittingly, United Sound Pipe is soaked through with Sauthoff's juicy riffage. As he recorded his parts, he constantly thought about what different P-Funk players, like Blackbyrd McKnight or Gary "Mudbone" Cooper or Cardell "Boogie" Mosson, might do. One of the album's standout cuts, "Writa Man," has a part inspired by Mosson.

"I was nodding to all them," Sauthoff reveals, "and to Zappa and Hendrix. I was definitely trying to play like a lot of people, 'cause they all influenced me. I wasn't trying to copy anybody, but I was definitely trying to give some nods out to different people that I love. But those tricks, everything we did, was partially some stuff I learned from P-Funk, like doing the bunch of tracks and not letting vocals just sit there."

Considering Sauthoff's love for Clinton's music, it's not surprising that U.S. Pipe covers his songs live. Just the same, the tunes the band plays are ones that Clinton and P-Funk don't typically perform, such as "Super Stupid," from Maggot Brain, Funkadelic's classic 1971 album. A killer take of the cut appears on Pipe. Sauthoff says the track, which was added at the last minute, is also a nod to Maggot Brain guitarist Eddie Hazel, who passed away in 1992.

"I love Eddie Hazel," Sauthoff declares. "On one of my last tours, I went out to his gravesite and dropped off some chicken, some vodka, some cocaine, some weed and some various things that he liked. Everyone was telling me that I would really like him, and we always had fun together. We just wanted to nod to him."

Clinton's influence also crept into the song "Smokescreen," which rapper Azma wrote, and which Sauthoff said the band went crazy-weird with. "The meaning of the song, to me, reminded me of 'March to the Witch's Castle,' from Parliament Funkadelic's Cosmic Slop," he notes. "It has that feel, so we try to go musically in that direction some.

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