Jive Church and the Rebirth of the Pamlico Sound

This weekend, the Pamlico Sound is releasing its latest full-length album, Jive Church, which represents a good deal of work, re-work and rebirth for the band over the course of the past year and a half. Horn player and vocalist Will Baumgartner put the current iteration of the outfit together in June 2015, after a year's hiatus following the original band's dramatic dissolution in May 2014, when Baumgartner's alcohol abuse sabotaged his creative efforts and his ability to perform.

But the music ultimately mattered more to Baumgartner, and along with guitarist Jimmy G, he assembled a new band of ace players to reignite the Pamlico Sound. Beginning with recruiting charismatic new singer LaSha Afarko, who performs as Ghana Queen, Baumgartner and company also brought in bassist Mark Dabrowski, keyboard player Greg Leistikow, drummer Curtis Collazo, trombonist Mark Wikolak and tenor sax player John Kelly. Though that version of the band has been the core in 2016, Jive Church includes former tenor saxophonist Paul Stadler, percussionist Scott Parker Mast and Thom Hollum adding trombone to two tracks. Baumgartner, as the de facto bandleader, wanted to make sure the recording was captured properly, so the group went to Scanhope Sound to record with Josh Airman and subsequently hired Grammy-winning engineer David Glasser at Airshow in Boulder to do the mastering.

Inspired directly by the high energy and social consciousness of Sly and the Family Stone, the Pamlico Sound is a shared vision between the bandmembers — and also exactly the kind of music that Baumgartner has wanted to make his whole life. When he was eleven years old, he was able to attend Woodstock, due to the good graces of a student of his father's, a professor of English literature. However, the spectacle of the festival was too much for Baumgartner's father, and Will only got to see Joan Baez, John Sebastian, Richie Havens and — though Baumgartner's memory is hazy — Sly and the Family Stone at a 2 a.m. set.

Some in Denver may know Baumgartner from projects like Sentimental Hitmen, Action Figure 8 and Distance Engine, but he first got involved in the New York music scene of the early ’80s. With his Elvis Costello-inspired band Sharp Children, he witnessed some of the no-wave movement, which included heckling experimental composer Arto Lindsay at a DNA show — something he regrets these days. Also among Baumgartner's regrets is getting into hard drugs after moving to Los Angeles in the mid-’80s and, as a result, not playing music from 1989 to 1998. In 1998, through the help of friends and family, he moved to Boulder and cleaned up. Through his struggles, music has been Baumgartner's anchor.

Westword: You chose the name the Pamlico Sound [the name of the famous lagoon off North Carolina's Outer Banks] for deeply personal reasons.

Will Baumgartner: Across the street from [my mother's house in Nags Head, on the Outer Banks] was a place called the Casino. When I was a kid, it was the only place in Nags Head where people went to hear live music. Downstairs it was pinball and pool and a bar/soda fountain. Upstairs was where the music was played, in a converted bowling alley. Louis Armstrong once played at the Casino.

At the time, I was getting this longing to be in the music world, right around ten years old to thirteen years old, in 1968 to 1971, [but] you had to be sixteen to go upstairs in the Casino. What I heard was all I knew of what was going on upstairs there. Because the Casino was across the street and my bedroom was on the back side of the cottage, the road side, I would hear this music coming from across the street, and what it mostly was was funk, soul and psychedelic. That's what sold down there. The music that the Pamlico Sound does is exactly in that order. Primarily a funk band, secondly a soul band, and throw in some psychedelic stuff for the hippies — the latter not in a token way, because I like that stuff too. So the meaning to me is connected to me still being a kid and getting this influx of something that's stirring me and creating longings in me. I will be totally happy doing this kind of music the rest of my life. It's the stuff that makes me the happiest.

The Pamlico Sound performs with DJ Mike Moses on Thursday, October 13, 9 p.m., at Ophelia's Electric Soapbox, 303-993-8023.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.