The Relatives are the personification of a well-deserved second chances in an unforgiving music world. Originally rooted deep in the Dallas scene, the 1970s saw the band of psychedelic funk mavericks attempting to take their sound out of the church house and into the vibrant night clubs. Regional success was had, and they managed to cut numerous vinyls, but their progressive sound didn’t find a home under the steeple or in the dance halls. Whether it was because they were ahead of their time or not is debatable, but what isn’t debatable is that a much-needed resurfacing of the past occurred when some fortunate record collectors at Heavy Lights Records stumbled upon one of their old 45s while crate- digging.
That discovery lead to a direct connection with the band, which led to working on a track that would lead to a live performance in Austin, a compilation album and ultimately an entirely new record of material from a band that had been put to rest for over 30 years. The extraordinary story is only overshadowed by the music itself, and the reputation these old schoolers have built touring the world the past three years. Telluride Blues & Brews managed to snag the group for what will be just their second time ever, playing the State of Colorado. Frontman Rev. Gean West took some time to dip into their history and tell us about what he and the guys are all about these days.
After over 30 years of being on hiatus you released the Don’t Let Me Fall compilation. What happened that caused you to release that project?
The guys over at Heavy Light Records are old record collectors, and they looked me up after coming across one of our vinyls made back in the 70s. They liked what they heard on that particular song, and wanted to use it for another record project they were putting together. So when we got with them on that, they saw we had even more material, and they decided to put the whole album out by itself.
Did you have any idea at the time that it might lead to getting the band back together to record a brand new album and start touring again?
No, at that time we didn’t do it in order to get back together and become a group, but when we went to Austin to autograph Don’t Let Me Fall for them, we also performed a song. The city accepted us so well that we decided we should have another go at it. I have always had a love for the stage, so it has felt real good being back up there.
When you first started playing funk music it was during the genesis of the genre’s popularity, and now it has once again surfaced with bands from that era and new acts representing the sound. To reference your song “Things Are Changing”, have you seen changes in the music itself since the 70s, and how people receive it now?
Unfortunately for us, I think we might have been a little ahead of our time, or at least that is what people have said. And maybe it wasn’t that; maybe it was just that the right people weren’t acquainted with us. We started doing this in churches, and the older people at that time were set back on it. The younger people enjoyed it even then, though, and now it seems people are more open to our sound.
Western Colorado has seen a few stand-out Texas funk rock acts recently, including Mingo Fishtrap and Wesley Pruitt Band. Tell me about your unsuspecting state for the genre producing these great acts lately.
Texas has always had good music, but these bands are more ambitious now. They aren’t as laid back as they may have been in the past. They have always wanted to bring that beat out, but they were fitting the people, and didn’t want them to frown on them. I get with a lot of professional groups, and they have told me they just wanted to sing what their hearts feel, but the people wouldn’t accept it, so they decided to stay with the flow. Now that the sound is more accepted, these artists can put their heart in it more and take the music beyond the state.
Other than sharing a state with him, how did you connect with Jim Eno of the band Spoon to produced The Electric Word? What was it like, working with him?
We met in Austin through Black Joe Lewis. Jim came to hear us play live one night, he enjoyed our music, and after that we became friends. He took an interest in helping us capture the roots of our sound and stay with that style we were trying to push back when we started. That sound is actually what attracted his attention towards us.
Have you thought about re-establishing the West family tradition of bringing in young traveling musicians to play with you, like what happened with Aretha Franklin and Lou Rawls, back in the day?
Yes, it has actually run through my mind, and there are times where I would love to start doing it.
Your music is often described as gospel, mainly because of some of the lyrical content. How do you balance your message without getting overly religious, but still getting across what you want to say?
That has been something we had to address in the early days. We wanted to reach across the aisle – not just in the church-house, but to make music that can go beyond. We designed the music that way, and worked on it for a long time to get it where we wanted it. All music is music, no matter where you hear it, and it has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with the person that is playing it, no matter where they are.
After you play these next few shows, what’s next for you guys? Any chance of a third studio effort?
First we are looking to go back overseas, possibly to Australia. We are also looking at doing some shows in Mexico, if they become available. As for recording, we have started to make plans for putting in work on a new album. The label is on board to do that with us; we just need to work on those details. We might even play one of those new ones there in Telluride.
The Relatives play on Sunday at Telluride Blues & Brews main stage at 11 a.m. For tickets and info visit tellurideblues.com