“I’m on a mission from God,” Taye Cannon deadpanned before breaking into laughter. “Well, maybe not exactly, but it kinda felt that way at first, and it still does sometimes.”
Ok, so the Blues Brothers reference is a little cringe-worthy, but it’s an apt description for the path Cannon traveled assembling Austin-based ROXY ROCA, although the Blues Brothers story starts off in jail, and Taye’s starts in, well, Alabama. Close enough.
“I grew up in the deep south immersed in my dad’s music — Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, James Brown. Basically, if it had a groove, my dad had it. When Motown 25 hit the TV it was all over — I knew this was what I wanted to do. I remember staying up all night with my cousins, emulating James Brown and Michael Jackson in our grandfather’s carport.”
Things didn’t work out the way he expected, at least not right away. Teenage years, rebellion, and punk rock created a detour for the fledgling belter. “I couldn’t really sing yet, but I made up for it with volume and conviction.” Cannon took what he learned about showmanship from James Brown and combined it with his raw aggression and parlayed it into a successful run fronting Austin darkwave pioneers Mocktigers. The thrill of performing was just what he imagined it would be, but something was missing.
“I started telling people I wanted to be a soul singer and I got a lot of sideway looks, like, ‘Really? Where is this coming from?’ They all knew me as the crazy frontman from Mocktigers that screams himself hoarse night after night. They didn’t know this other side of me. So, things kind of stalled for a while.”
Then, a chance meeting changed everything. “I said, ‘Hey, do you want to start a soul band with me?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’” Cannon is talking about veteran Austin guitar slinger Errol Siegel. “I thought, ‘Man, that was easy, who’s next? Well, Errol and I both knew Roger (Wuthrich) from previous bands and it turned out he was into it too — he just said, ‘Anything you want to do, I’m in.’ I knew these guys were great players, so I had no doubt they could do it. For whatever reason, they saw something that made them think I could too. So, we were on our way.”
One by one they recruited players for their “mission.” Nik Bouklas on tenor sax, fresh from Greece. Bob Villwock on keys, just in from CA. Tom Hays on trombone. Ryan Allen on alto sax. Most recently, the band welcomed Johnny Lopez, long-time drummer for Grammy-winning Grupo Fantasma and Brownout. “We just started connecting the dots, figuring out who we knew that had a passion for soul music, the chops to play it right, and the desire to be poor,” explains Siegel. “We knew this was going to be a labor of love, which is really just another way of saying, ‘You better love this, because we sure as hell can’t pay you.’”
After a year of recruiting, woodshedding, and writing, ROXY ROCA made their debut at an ACL Festival after-party. The wait was worth it. The band exploded out of the gate firing on all cylinders. “We felt like we had one chance to prove ourselves so we knew we had to leave it all on the stage that night.”
Since that night, the buzz has spread quickly, leading to more high-profile shows with B.B. King, Fitz and The Tantrums, Mayer Hawthorne, Orgone, Honey Island Swamp Band, Brownout, The Monophonics, Maneja Beto, T-
Bird and The Breaks, and others. The band was an official showcasing artist at SXSW 2012 and 2013. This year’s showcase at Lustre Pearl, called the “Best of SXSW 2013″ by NYC-based BlackBook Magazine, was a major funk/soul event with sets from ROXY ROCA, Ruby Velle and The Soulphonics, The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker, The Diplomats of Solid Sound, and more.
The band continues to hone their chops and develop their sound. They recently wrapped up production on their new record, recorded at EAR Studio in Austin with producer Lars Goransson at the helm and are looking forward to its release later this summer.
So, what’s on the horizon for ROXY ROCA? Cannon doesn’t even blink. “Straight to the top. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t really believe I could. I told you man, I’m on a mission from God.”
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