Music News

The High Life

Chris Sauthoff sounds like a stoner. Explaining how his new band, U.S. Pipe and the Balls Johnson Dance Machine, got its name, he punctuates the anecdote with laconic bursts of laughter.

"I was on the way to a gig with P-Funk," recalls Sauthoff, who's worked as that act's stage manager for many years. "And we just saw this huge industrial building -- with smokestacks and all this shit -- and it said 'U.S. Pipe' on it. And everybody was just like, 'What a fucking cool logo and band name or whatever.' And it kind of stuck in my head. And plus, you know, we were thinking of acronyms like 'Party in Pussy Every Day,' and 'Pussy Is Power Eternal.' Also, Gary Scheider had a band called United Sound. So we thought, 'United Sound Pipe: Put it in your pipe and smoke it.'"

Sauthoff continues to redline the reefometer as he relates how he coined the latter part of the act's handle after taking a plane ride with John Witherspoon, whose role in Friday proved inspirational. "The day that I got to my house and the movie was on," he says, "it was playing the scene where he was kicking Ice Cube out of the house, talking about how he wanted to run around the house naked and have his balls swinging one way and his johnson the other. We were all high, and it was like, 'Yeah, U.S. Pipe and the Balls Johnson Dance Machine!'"

Suspicions confirmed. This kid's on drugs, folks.

But after spending nearly a decade on the road with George Clinton and company, how could Sauthoff not be? The guitarist -- he goes by "Citrus," a nickname he acquired playing in Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass -- joined Clinton's crew as a guitar tech after the Lord parted ways with his Disciples in 1998. Eventually Sauthoff worked his way up to stage manager of the Mothership, a place where the clocks never quite make it to five o'clock. "It was always 4:20," he says, with a laugh.

Sauthoff's proclivity for the hippie lettuce is prominently displayed on his myspace blog ( Looking more like B-Real than B himself, Citrus is pictured immersed in a cloud of smoke and burning a Chipotle-sized blunt that would make Tommy Chong envious. And like other smoke fans of our increasingly Mile High City, Sauthoff's stoked about last week's election results. "My dream of owning a small coffee shop is getting closer and closer," he writes, in an obvious nod to places he's visited in Amsterdam, courtesy of his travels with P-Funk. "Yeah, I'll have two grams of Silver ShivaŠa gram of the Nepali Cream and a Vanilla Latte, please."

Kicking with Dr. Funkenstein, Sauthoff developed more than just an appreciation for the kind bud. He also became an insatiable funk junkie. "When we were in Europe, I had a fabled funk playlist on my iPod," he recalls of his times with Clinton. "And we sat there and rolled through the countryside listening to all these funk songs. It was just likewithin two seconds he'd be like, 'Oh, that's fly. I remember that day.' It was so cool, because it was like every recording was a lesson of the funk. He would just start reminiscing about different players or whatever. I feel like I got my doctorate in funk, you know. It's been class all the time. It never stops. You never stop getting schooled out there."

Maybe not, but sooner or later you have to put your education to use. Although Sauthoff felt privileged to sit in with P-Funk over the years, eventually he found himself longing for something more. "I was playing a lot more in Parliament," he says, "but I was just the token guy. It's not my gig. I'm not in the band or whatever. And I just realized I was that close to being a rock star, and I quit to be a tech. And I'm still a hell of a musician. And I don't know, the fire got lit back up underneath me. I'm just like, 'This isn't enough, George.' I don't want to try and take anybody else's job or anything like that. I'm just going to try and take what I've learned and do something with it."

So in June, Sauthoff returned to Denver long enough to put together a scorching, twelve-piece funk band of his own. From what I've heard, U.S. Pipe is pretty damn good for white-boy-driven funk -- which I generally detest. It resembles 24-7 Spyz' take on P-Funk, only without being filtered through Bad Brains. And the act has gotten good response at the handful of shows it's played thus far, the most memorable being a headlining set at Lilt, a lesbian-centric festival held at the Foxhole this past summer.

"We had hundreds of lesbians screaming 'Pussy!'" Sauthoff exclaims. "It was great. There was a baseball game going on down the street, and I was like, 'I want all them baseball mugs to hear you yelling "Pussy!"'"

I'm sure the Atomic Dog would be proud. Some members of his band have already put their stamp of approval on the project; this Friday, November 11, when U.S. Pipe returns to Herman's, P-Funk's Rico Lewis, who has signed on to sing and play keyboards, will be joined by bandmate Lige Curry, who's slated to guest on bass. But even though Pipe will play some Funkadelic tracks, this isn't P-Funk, the Denver chapter.

"We do some Funkadelic stuff," Sauthoff says, "but not stuff that people are used to hearing. We do 'Can You Get to That' and 'Pussy' and early stuff that people don't hear all the time. I don't want to do 'Flashlight' and 'We Want the Funk' and those things. There's other bands to do that. You know, I want to pay homage to them, but I'm not trying to be a cover band or anything like that.

"I'm actually trying to quit George," he concludes, "and have this be my main stuff."

Looks like Sauthoff is ready to get high on his own supply.

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Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera