A Conversation with Ricky Rouse ......by Chuck Haber
There have always been a cadre of musicians flowing in and out of the Parliament/Funkadelic thang. The Funk Mob is just that. A Mob. Musicians, singers they come and go. Some stay for months others for years. Go to a PFunk show these days at some point your gonna hear somebody ask “Who’s that new guitar player?”
Ricardo “Ricky” Rouse maybe new to you on stage with P-Funk, but if you listened to any popular Soul; Rock n Roll, RnB, Funk, House, Hip Hop or even Pop music in the past 30 years you’ve heard him before. You just didn’t know it.
Ricky Rouse grew up in Detroit, a musical child prodigy. When he was three he started to play guitar. He quickly learned how to read music and play the piano. When eleven year old Stevie Wonder signed with Motown, Ricky Rouse was his guitar player. He was seven.
Ricky has played on over sixty platinum albums in just about every genre of music except country. He has toured with a virtual Who’s Who of artists. To list them all would take up a least a whole page but artists like Stevie Wonder, Bobby Womack, Bohannon, The Dramatics, Chaka Kahn, Irv Gotti, and Dre only scratch the surface.
“When I was in Junior high Ricky already had a ridiculous reputation,” Clip Payne told me. “ I went to North and he lived across town. The Ricky Rouse Club was the band he started in High School. He had girls with pom poms doing the Ricky Rouse Chant like the Mousekateers. R-i-c K-e-y Rouse, before he walked on stage. He would be rolling around the floor, playing’ with his teeth. All the haters in my school couldn’t stand him.”
When I told Ricky what Clip said he laughed.
“I had asthma as a kid so I couldn’t play sports. I put that athletic stuff onto the stage.” he told me. “I took things that Chuck Berry and then Jimi Hendrix were doing an put my own twist on it.”
When Ricky was just fourteen three things happened that changed him forever.
“In 1969 I saw Sly then around 6 months later I saw George, just after he crossed over into the Wild Thing. It blew me away. I was into George since the early Parliament stuff but that Funkadelic show changed my whole thing.”
I asked Ricky in what way did Sly and George change things for you. What did they do that made it so different?
“Funk had always been a part of the blues, Ray Charles is funky, Otis Reeding, Screamin Jay Hawkins were funky. Elements of the blues had funk in it but James Brown was the first to do straight up funk. Then came Sly and George. They changed it up. Sly took the Funk and made it psychedelic and pop. Then George came and took it to another level. He went everywhere with it on a massive scale. The vocals, the horns, the bass lines, the guitars it was all funky.”
The third earth shaker was Jimi Hendrix. Like many fourteen year old guitar players in 1969 and the millions since. “Jimi just blew me away. I got lost in the Hendrix thing for a while.
A lot of people heard Hendrix and went out and got guitars and learned to play a Hendrix tune but Ricky was different. He knows the entire catalogue. The playing part was easy. That came natural. Letting him focus on the esthetic. Ricky loved where Jimi was taking it both in sound and style.
“ I was into Eddie Hazel and Jimi Hendrix but I really fell in love with Jimi. We shared the same influences, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Steve Cropper (Booker T & the MG’s). I knew where he was comin’ from, so I was able to take some of the things he was doin and incorporate them into my style.”
In 1972 Ricky dropped out of high school to go on the road with Undisputed Truth (they had the hit, “Smiling Faces”). He has been touring and recording professionally for a wide variety of artists ever since. He hooked up with Death Row Records in the early 90's, quickly becoming the studio guy for Dre, Snoop, and Tupac.
“ Dre was doing the MTV awards and was putting together a band. His stuff is all based on P-Funk so he wanted to put together a Funkadelic type band. I was in LA and a protogee of mine told Dre about me. When he heard me play he hired me on the spot. That’s how I started doing Gangster Funk with the Death Row crew.”
That started us into a conversation about the differences between Gangster Funk and Hip Hop and what P-Funk and Sly were doing.
“Gangster funk lines are a little different from what George was doing...... its not as progressive... cause the kids can’t hear a lot of music. They just hear a big beat and one or two changes. It’s all about the beat, about the groove... Hip Hop is a BASIC thing with a whole different sound. It has a street thing. I couldn’t be too musical, with a whole lot of changes like George and Sly.
Though it’s all based on P-Funk, what they [Dre] consider gangster is a different type of line, cause it’s a different generation of funk. What was funky in 75 is different than in 95. I would take that. Tweak it and was able to create whole new gangster funk lines. I did a lot of work with the Death Row camp.”
The work was pretty good too.
Dre’s “The Chronic” spent 8 months on the Billboard Top 10 album chart. It put the West Coast on the map and forever changed the sound of Hip Hop ushering in a new style called Gangster Funk, G-Funk.
Snoop Dogg’s breakout album “Doggie Style” has been certified 4x Platinum, over 9 million sold to date. Critics call both albums ground breaking. “The Chronic” and “Doggie Style” are on Source Magazine’s Essential Hip Hop Album List as well as Rolling Stones “Most Influential Albums of the 90's.”
“Dre’s stuff comes straight from Pfunk. Sometimes he had a definite line. Other times he would come up with something and I would come up with something...he knew basically what he wanted. Dre is a genius producer. He don’t play any instruments but he knows what he wants to hear.. Tupac almost always had a track ready....but when they came to know me they would let me create some stuff.”
Looking over the different albums Ricky did with the Death Row camp, He received writers and/or production credits on a lot of material. Beside Snoop and Dre some of those albums were monsters. A couple of the Tupac tracks Ricky co-produced have been in recent hit movies.
“I made more money with the Hip Hop boys than I ever made doing R & B or Rock n Roll. I’m talking buying a house and buying a car money. At one point I was making ten thousand dollars a week. I’m still getting paid from the stuff I did with them.”
Most of the fans think that Ricky is one of the so called “Newbies” in the Pfunk camp, but like in so many instances, when you do a little digging, you find that the person’s association with the Funk has been a long one. Ricky is no exception.
“I was on the road with Undisputed Truth and met Garry and Boogie in Toronto. Before they were with George. They were still in United Soul. I was 17, Garry was 18 and Boog was 19. We locked up then.”
Old School Funkadelic fans are appreciating the Ricky Rouse addition to the Funk Mob. It has brought a lot of the Funkadelic classics back into the live show mix; I Got A Thang, Good Ol Funky Music, I Wanna Know If It’s Good to you Baby. I Betcha. He plays them note for note and remains incredibly faithful to the original compositions
“I met Eddie, Tiki, Tawl and Billie up in United Sound recording studio in Detroit. When I was working with Bobby Womack or doing some stuff with the Dramatics they would be cutting in the other room. Then when Garry and Boogie joined the band, Garry would invite me to sit in.
I probably know the old stuff a little better than Byrd or Michael cause I was sittin there with Garry and Eddie when they were doing it. I would be one of the guys hanging out that they would grab to do something sometimes. Garry and I came up with the guitar line for Bop Gun. I’d been into Funkadelic since like 1970 so the stuff from between 70-76 I know very well. I know where it was comin from.”
This is a particularly dirty version of the Pfunk guitar army. Dirty in the sense that Mike “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, Garry Shider and Boogie Mosson are all kick ass guitar players in their own right. Adding Ricky Rouse to the crew is just a Dirty trick. Most bands would kill for a guitarist who can play like any one of these guys, Imagine what they would do for four of them.
Each one brings a distinct and different feeling to what they are playing. Ricky brings a blues flavor, Michael has a hard rock edge, while Garry and Boogie each bring their own version of the Gospel thing to it. You can get lost following one or the other as they weave their way through a song. RonKat Spearman also has been a pleasant surprise on guitar. He’s got his own style and is making it work.
“That’s right, that’s right” Ricky agreed, “ but I don’t just bring a blues feeling to it, I bring a rock edge too now... Except its more in the Jimi Hendrix vein, using feedback and distortion. Kidd Funkadelic brings that crunchy heavy metal style to it which is a whole ‘nother thing.”
Ricky popped back onto the Funkadelic radar in 1994 when Pfunk was playing the Hendrix Tribute in Seattle. The big concert organized by the Hendrix family once they won the rights back to all of the Jimi Hendrix Catalogue.
From all accounts it went something like this.
Ricky just showed up. Nobody really knew him up in Seattle. They let him jump on stage for a song. The place went nuts. He ended up playing almost an hour and half. He was rolling around on the floor, playing with his teeth, behind the back. He did it all right in front of Al Hendrix, Jimi’s dad. The crowd lost it. When he walked off the stage everybody, both player haters and new fans were asking “Who’s that guitar player?
“Everybody backstage from Detroit played it off,” Clip told me. “ We played it cool. ‘Oh, that’s just Ricky Rouse. You don’t know about him? He’s from Detroit. He’s been doin’ that for years.’ Ricky turned em out. He walked away with the crown that night for sure.”
“I really clicked with them [P-Funk All-stars] at the Jimi Hendrix show up in Seattle at the Bumpershoot. I played with the Funk, Buddy Miles, all of them for about an hour and a half. It was the greatest gig I ever did. Me and G locked up then. George had always thought of me as that little kid who could play guitar. After that he started calling me for sessions and stuff.”
The first time I got turned onto Ricky Rouse was in 1999. We were in New York City working on tracks that would eventually end up on How Late. Clip and Garry were in a studio down on 12th Street working on “The Last Time Zone”. George was uptown on 48th Street doing over dubs. I walked in one time to drop off some tapes. George sat me down and played Viagravation for me.. There was a guitar track that was wailing, way back in the mix, giving it some dimension. Whoever it was, was tearing it up. All I could tell was that it definitely wasn’t Michael or Byrd. “Who’s that guitar player? I asked
“That’s Ricky Rouse,” G said with a smile. “You don’t know anything about that do you?
I didn’t but I got schooled pretty quick. Clip filled me in on Ricky’s discography, taking care to make sure I knew that Ricky also was from the center of the musical universe, Detroit. DJ MajicJuan hooked me up with an instrumental version of The Chronic. I found a new appreciation for Hip Hop. Later on that summer Ricky showed up at the House of Blues in LA and jumped on stage with Pfunk. He was ripping up guitar solo’s playing behind his back and between his legs. He almost knocked Byrd over when he started tumbling across the stage. What he was doing was impressive but more amazing to me was he didn’t miss a note. Not one.
“George would ask me to come and sit in with the band. I would only do a few shows here and there because I was still out on the road with Chaka Kahn. We hooked up more in the studio, I did a lot of stuff on the How Late album. Then he called me and asked me to come down to Philly to work on his new solo album.”
Most of the guitar work on the new George Clinton solo album “The Gangsters of Love” is Ricky Rouse along with appearances by Carlos Santana, and Garry Shider. When Blackbyrd McKnight decided to go on hiatus, George once again asked him to come out on the road.
“George kept telling me he thought I sounded real good when I sat in at that anniversary show in Berkeley in 2007... I had just left Chaka Kahn after winning a grammy and being her musical director for eight years. This time when George asked me to come out with the band, I said yeah...I’ve been in and around the funk for years, but this is the longest period of time I’ve spent with the Mob.”
You never know how fans are going to react to a change in band members. Blackbyrd McKnight had been with Pfunk since the late 70's. Anyone stepping into that spot had to prove themselves.
The first time I saw this incarnation of the band I was excited. They were really playing with some fire. Tight as hell, breaking out seldom heard Funkadelic classics. The vocals sounded crisp. The band was getting along fine on and off the stage from everything I could see.
I knew it was going to work when a real friend of the band, someone who has been around them forever, looked at me during a show, started shaking his head. “You know Byrd is my boy, I love ‘em,” he said.”But this new guy...he’s incredible. What’s his name, Ricky who?
Ricky has been busy during PFunks off days. He did some tracks for American Idol sensation Fantasia’s next album. Blue Train a new band he formed with Mothers Finest Bass player Jerry “Wyzard” Seay has been in the studio recording their debut album. There is even talk of reforming the Ricky Rouse Club.
“I like to keep busy. I wanna put something down on Clips’s new stuff he is doing for the 420 Funk Mob...He played me some of the tracks. I’ve also heard the DRUGS and Cacophonic stuff. He’s a great producer in his own right.”
Ricky has been on the road and in the studio with some of the most iconic figures in the music industry for almost 40 years. Everybody from Screamin Jay Hawkins and Solomon Burke to Bohannon, Stevie Wonder, Toni Braxton, and Dr Dre. I was curious to find out how P-Funk ranks against some of the other bands he’s been in.
“Out of all the bands I’ve ever been in, playing with P-Funk is the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. For the first time I get to be the BAD ASS guitar player in a band that actually calls for me to be just that... I would do my freaky stuff with Chaka but it’s not the same. You know what I mean?
Here it’s different. George lets me play as loud as I want, as long as I want to. I get to do all my freaky stuff..I really get to be THAT guitar player. Have that attitude. George encourages it, that’s what he wants.
It’s a great feeling, standing next to Michael playing.. waiting until George let’s me go so I can EXPLODE.... For me playing in Parliament/Funkadelic is like being in the Black Rolling Stones.”
The next PFunk show you’re at and you hear somebody ask. “Hey who’s that guitar player with the White Strat? Just turn, flash them your biggest acid grin and tell ‘em, “That’s Ricky Rouse, The best guitar player you never knew you heard before.”
Look for Ricky’s MYFUNK page to go online. You’ll be able to check out some of his new stuff and find out about all the old stuff. Become an official member of the Ricky Rouse Club... Coming soon to MYFUNK