Personnel: Junior Lowe, Travis Wammack (guitar); Harvey Thompson (flute, tenor saxophone); Aaron Varnell (alto saxophone, tenor saxophone); Ronnie Eades (tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone); Harrison Calloway, Jr. (trumpet, trombone); Clayton Ivey (piano, organ); Freeman Brown (drums); Mickey Buckins (percussion).
Liner Note Author: Alec Palao.
What the Funk Brothers were to Motown, the Fame Gang were to the famed Fame studio down in Muscle Shoals, Alabama: the band behind the scenes that brought all those great records to life. Like the Funk Brothers, the Fame Gang was known by that name largely to insiders, and there were several iterations of the lineup over the years. The one captured on Ace's 2015 compilation Grits & Gravy: The Best of the Fame Gang is its third incarnation, one that existed when the '60s turned into the '70s, one that featured guitarist Junior Lowe, guitarist Travis Wammack, keyboardist Clayton Ivey, bassist Jesse Boyce, drummer Freeman Brown, percussionist Mickey Buckins, trumpeter/trombonist Harrison Calloway, and saxophonists Ronnie Eades, Harvey Thompson, and Aaron Varnell. It was also the only group to actually release singles under its own name, and they're all here on this 25-track collection, along with a host of unheard material, all as good as what saw release. Every one of these cuts is an instrumental, so the Fame Gang often seems like a greasier, funkier variation of Booker T & the MG's: the bandmembers share a foundation of tight Southern groove, but the Fame Gang will open their rhythms up, sliding into funky breaks and also textures so smooth they seem nearly spacy. Overall, though, Grits & Gravy captures a band that is all about riding the rhythms and their interplay -- natural, infectious, kinetic -- which is what makes this collection of little-heard sides so enduring: it's all about how this world-class band played together. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine