The California Honeydrops are a good-time band with an unmistakably Californian style, despite drawing on influences like Delta blues, gospel, and Motown. While frontman and trumpet player Lech Wierzynski sings and plays trumpet, he's joined by Johnny Bones on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Lorenzo Loera on keys, and Beau Bradbury and Ben Malament on tub bass and various percussion, including washboards, jugs, and drums. Their latest album, A River's Invitation, has been described by one critic as "a fabulous, feel-good, fun-fest album of joyous musical partying."
And their performance style can only be described as trying to get a party started. "The whole point is to erase the boundaries between the crowd and us," Wierzynski says. "We don't make set lists. We want requests. We want crowd involvement, to make people become a part of the whole thing by dancing along, singing, picking the songs and generally coming out of their shells."
This year, they're excited to be touring as the opening act for the great Bonnie Raitt, with whom they'll be playing at the Fox Theater in Oakland their hometown on April 23. The show's sold out, but you may find some tickets popping up on Craigslist or elsewhere. (And, despite the band's party-making ethos, the Bonnie Raitt crowd necessitates a sit-down show, so sadly the floor at the Fox won't be open for bouncing around.)
Wierzynski spoke to SFist via phone, from his house in Oakland.
For those who don't know, how would you describe your music?
I would say it's a mix of a lot of West Coast rhythm and blues, and a lot of New Orleans music as well. Those are the primary influences it's good music to dance to and have a good time to.
You got your start with the band in Oakland, but you're originally from Poland?
Yes, I was born in Warsaw, but I'm the only member of the band who's not from California. I came here about 11 years ago after college [at Oberlin] with another of the founding members of the band [Ben Malament]. We played a lot at BART stations, a lot at Macarthur, Rockridge, and Ashby. That was our main gig at first, just being street musicians. We also played a lot at the Castro Muni station. We played all over, on Fourth Street in Berkeley, just wherever the money was good.
When I first came out here I started working with some older R&B musicians. I played with a couple of guys form Johnny Otis's old group, Shuggie Otis's dad, and there was a band I played in for a bunch of years with a lot of older cats. But eventually I wanted to start my own band. This band was started about two years after moving here [in 2007], and it was because I really wanted to get back to street playing.
And you've been touring with Bonnie Raitt, how's that been going?
That's been great. She's gotta be our biggest fan, or at least our most important fan. She's such a sweet person. We get to watch her every night and she's such an amazing performer. There's so much to learn just by watching her and listening to her play. And we've had the opportunity to play in front of these huge audiences who've never heard our music before. So we've been loving life. And we've been jumping up on her set sometimes, and we've had some of her band members come up and play with us during our set. It's been great.
What are some of your favorite cities to play in?
There's a lot of great cities with a lot of great people. Northern California, it's always great here. People love to party, people love to sing along, and it's easy to get people loose and having.
New Orleans is a great city to play where people really know the music. But you never know where you might have an amazing gig. You might just have an amazing time playing on a street corner. I think spontaneity is the key to making great music, and that can happen anywhere. You can duck off into the woods at a festival and just have this amazing time playing there, you never know.
Where in the Bay Area have you played recently?
The last couple shows were at the New Parish and at the Freight & Salvage one show for the partying children and one for the sit-down crowd, you know. Keeping 'em separate so they don't get mad at each other. And we did a CD release for two nights in September at the Fillmore. I enjoy the bigger venues and the smaller venues the only shows I don't enjoy are the ones where people are just standing around talking.
What can you tell me about the new album?
It's been out for a minute now. I really like it. It's my favorite one that we've made so far. We recorded it all at home, in my living room in Oakland, and it has a homemade feel. We're a band that doesn't have a record label and we raised money for original album using Kickstarter and playing fundraisers at the Cheese Board in Berkeley. Nowadays we have management and stuff but we're still independent and want to keep it that way.
It's maybe the most innovative album that we've made. People think of us as sort of a retro band because of the sounds we use, but people who know music can hear that there's a lot of stuff in there just in the way we lay our beats and the bass lines, and just the way we put the music together that's actually pretty new.
I think it's cutting edge but most people think our music is retro. Just because we don't use any synths or computer sounds or whatever, people think of our sound as retro. You might see though, if you really listen, that there's a lot going on in the songs that hasn't really been done before.