For this band spotlight, we’ve turned our attention to the twin cities, and soul and funk warrior, SONNYBOY, a.k.a. Sheldon Riser.

What does it take to have Rolling Stone declare, “…one of the best unsigned bands to come out of Minneapolis since Prince and The Time.”

SONNYBOY isn’t one to be restricted to categorization or industry labels, Sonnyboy is known as an urban misfit on the musical scene. A multi- layered artist whose talents have taken him all over the world, Sonnyboy is a musician, singer, composer, producer, and bandleader. With five independently produced albums to his name, his latest work is The Barfly Theory is thirteen tracks of “Rock N’ Soul mixed with some good old funk.”

Taken in total, Sonnyboy musical genius reveals a mastery of soul, funk, rock, and hip hop. The listener might recall just a few great artists whose talents Sonnyboy respects: Sly & The Family Stone, Prince, The Isley Brothers, Jamiroquai, Erykah Badu, Maroon 5, and Cee-Lo.

Early on, it was Sonnyboy’s well known Blues musician uncle, Sonny Green, who inspired him to explore the genre. Born in Monroe, Louisiana and raised in the Baptist churches of Milwaukee, Sonnyboy learned to play multiple instruments at an early age, and did so with a traditional gospel/R&B slant. From Milwaukee, Sonnyboy moved to Minneapolis. With only his guitar and the clothes on his back, Sonnyboy journeyed into what he had been told was forbidden devil music: funk, reggae, rock, and hip hop. And he did so in the middle of the Prince- led Paisley Park music scene.


Included below is an extensive interview submitted by Cynthia J. Smith (Did we mention that we love submissions?) and tour dates, and other goodies. So without further ado:


Why Sonnyboy chose to do it the hard way.

By Cynthia j Smith


Cynthia: … I finally sat down with Sonnyboy and got to chat with him about his music, his life in Minneapolis, and why he chose to do it the hard way.

Sheldon Riser: Many artists moved to Minneapolis during late 80s and 90s looking for a chance to follow their dreams of success in the music business, but not many can claim to have been part of the Prince Music scene in the way Sonnyboy has. I produced 5 independent albums before being an independent, was even considered an option by most musicians. With the band Sonnyboy, I fought for what I feel is missing in today’s music, individuality.


Cynthia: Last year you dropped your long-awaited CD, The Barfly Theory, why did it take two years after Psychedelic Ghetto Vibe album’s release?


Sheldon Riser: To be honest, I just wanted to take my time and do something great. Not knocking my other albums but I wanted to do something that I got into every song on the album myself, this way I would play the whole album live. Also, I wanted to better my skills with the instruments I play. So I stayed at home and practiced. I wanted this album to be based on strong songs. I attempted to make a record like [artists] used to make in the ’70s. They had incredible messages. I was really trying to create a lifestyle; I was really trying to do that.


Cynthia: What’s up with the album’s title?


Sheldon Riser: [Laughs] Well, I been playing clubs and bars for a very long time. I’m trying to say that, as I have had many good and bad experiences touring in these places, I have met some very interesting people and learned a lot about life and the world around me through just talking and meeting people. If you look at the cover it’s got the names of many of the club/bars I have played in Europe, Asia and America over the years. I guess you can call it my theory of understanding life….

Cynthia: You did the album on you own indie label, ArtSoul Entertainment?

Sheldon Riser: Yes, because I didn’t want it to have an expiration date. I can release singles off the album and push them as long as I have the budget. It is a singles music market now, so you can release as you want or need to. As an independent no one is pushing you.


Cynthia: Did you want a major record deal?


Sheldon Riser: I wasn’t chasing them down for one, mainly because it’s really difficult to get what you want out of it. I’m a Soul/ blues player. I’m big into organic music or music that’s produce for musicians playing instruments. When I started Sonnyboy everything on the radio was pretty much not about that. the A&R people want to keep their jobs [Laughs] they don’t take a lot of chances. When I started talking to some labels, I could see that everything about what I do musically they would want to change, if I got a deal. I wasn’t having that [Laughs].


Cynthia: Some people say you got your start with the group Mazarati, is that true.


Sheldon Riser: No, I was playing with the guitarist Craig Screamer from Mazarati for a while and he was trying to put the band back together with me as a keyboard player. We rehearsed quite a bit but it never got off the ground….. I really got started with Mallia Franklin of P Funk, she put me in her band as a keyboard player. I didn’t make the first audition (man that hurt) but I was not going to be punked [Laughs] so I went back for a second audition a year later and got the gig.


Cynthia: Did you feel like you had gotten in over your head with Mallia?


Sheldon Riser: At first, because Mallia was a drill Sergeant [Laughs] she works the hell out of her musicians. She was a lady, but when she dealt with her bands, it was like you were dealing with one of the brotha’s… She would say, that’s not my F””””” music you better play my Sh”’ right and if you try to quit on me I’m going to kick yo A”””” [Laughs] or have somebody do it….


Cynthia: Did you always know that you wanted to be a musician?


Sheldon Riser: Yes, I knew really early on what I was going to play music. I was 8 or 9. I had this small organ in my room and I would play it for hours. I listened to my father’s records all night and try to play the songs on the organ. Then my dad had this guitar that he got from somewhere, I think it was a Lespaul, he had it under the bed, I would wait till he went out and played it. Man, if he would have known [Laughs] it would have not been pretty.


Cynthia: Did you grow up around music?

Sheldon Riser: My mother and father played all kinds of music around me. I was a church boy, so I learned how to play for the most part in a Baptist Church. I like everything from Mozart to Muddy Waters, Sly Stone to Aerosmith. You name it, I love it, if it’s done well.

Cynthia: What was your defining moment with music as a kid?

Sheldon Riser Well there have been a number of defining moments. I was around 10 or 11, and I’d seen this guitar player jamming on his front porch at a block party. He was playing some Jimi Hendrix and Sly and The Family Stone Songs. I was like that’s what I want to do, I couldn’t stop looking at this guy playing….. Then my Uncle Robert C Riser use to take pictures at all the concerts and he took me to see Rick James, Prince and Roger and Zapp, my life was changed, I could think of nothing else but playing music. Then the one that sent me over the edge was Steve Wonder, I was gone [Laughs] his music cracked my head for life.

Cynthia: Where are you from?

Sheldon Riser: I was born in Monroe, Louisiana. My parents moved to Milwaukee WI for work when I was about 5 or 6 years old. They split up after my mother moved back to Monroe to take care of my grandmother, I was around 13 then. We went with our mother so I spent a lot of time in Louisiana. But I was getting in trouble fighting all the time, so mom sent me back to Milwaukee with my dad.

Cynthia: Is it true that you moved to Minneapolis with a back pack and a guitar?

Sheldon Riser: Yeah. I dropped out of my second year in college {I don’t advice it kids} because my friend that was living in Minneapolis at the time told me he could get me into this band that was on Prince’s Palsy Park Label, I was like, WOW!, I’m out, [Laughs]. My dad was beside himself and throw my clothes out of the car and said have fun on your vacation, you’ll be back soon. It’s been a long vacation [Laughs].

Cynthia: What?

Sheldon Riser: My dad was a DJ for years and I think he only seen the bad part of the music biz, he wanted me to have no part of the musician’s life.

Cynthia: On the very first Sonnyboy album, did you sing at all.

Sheldon Riser: Yeah, I sang lead on a couple of songs but it was Joe Johnson for the most part. At that time all I wanted to be was a producer/ keyboard player for the band. Morris Hays, was listening to the demo’s of the songs and he was like man I like your voice better than your lead vocalist, I was like hummm, bro I just wanted to be a keyboard player man. But he kept saying he thought I should sing lead……

Cynthia: So you actually didn’t started singing all the lead vocals until the album LoveChild?

Sheldon Riser: Yes and it was weird recording the vocals, running into the booth, running back to stop the tape and running back into the booth. I recorded the album between Minneapolis and New York over a year 1/2.

Cynthia: When the group Sonnyboy changed were you surprised at how quickly you adapted to your new role, as lead singer?

Sheldon Riser: Yes, it was a strange transmission for me, because I had never been a front man for a band before, it’s like you’re the center of attention on stage and if something goes wrong people are looking dead at you, I was like ok Shel this feels a bit different.

Cynthia: There was a quote from Rolling Stone magazine, calling Sonnyboy , one of the best unsigned bands sense Prince and the Time. How did that make you feel?

Sheldon Riser: I was amazed because I’m a fan of both Prince and The Time. I remember the band sitting in the living room on the house that the band lived in at that time and just going WOW, now we got to really live up to this, see you at rehearsal tomorrow [Laughs]. At the time we were hoping that it would lead us into more recognition from industry taste makers but all it really did was help our peers recognize us. Soon after that Prince had us come down and play a couple of late night parties at Paisley Park Studios. I think he was trying to pick off some band members [Laughs].

Cynthia: Did you actually meet Prince?

Shel: No. Not on those Paisley Park Studios gigs, I have met and hung out with him on a few occasions

Cynthia: I have heard people say that there were a lot of artist wanting to be like Prince during that time, do you think you wanted to be like Prince?

Sheldon Riser: I don’t know about being like Prince, but hell ya, I wanted the opportunity to be and do great things with my art, like Steve Wonder, Miles Davis, Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield, Earth Wind and Fire and Prince. I’m a guy that comes from nothing and everyone with nothing wants to be, do and have something, YEP, I’m one of them… I want a lot of people to know my feelings, my ideals, my wrongs, my rights though my art, so yes, Prince has done great things and a lot of artist want the opportunity to be great and do great things as well. The pursuit is not easy but if you love it, you do it… Everyone seen Minneapolis as the Motown of alternative black music, a brotha could be seen with a guitar and not just be part of the backup band, we wanted to be a part of that. At the time New York or LA was too scary for me, I didn’t know anybody and it was one thing to be 400 miles from home as opposed to being 1000 miles.

Cynthia: You do songs about politics; do you think people want to hear songs about politics?

Sheldon Riser: I cannot write the same songs I wrote 10 years ago, I’m an adult and I have to write music based on my understanding of life or it’s not my art. It would be me selling you something I don’t believe in or care about for money, I don’t do that. I do write about love when Im in love, lose, sorrow and sex when I feel like it’s appropriate. But I will not do a whole album of one thing or the other, I feel many different things at different time’s in my life, that’s the way I write music. I can’t please everybody all the time, so I just please me first, so I like talking about politics in my music sometimes…

Cynthia: I hear that you are involved in the Black Rock Coalition based in New York.

Sheldon Riser: Yeah guess, I have done something’s with them but not as much as I would like. I wish they would do more…..

Cynthia: What’s going on with The New York UnderGround Soul Tour?

Sheldon Riser: I have been working on this Ideal for a couple of years, it’s not something that’s going to be done easily so I have to have the right people working with me, that takes time. But I’m starting to turn up the heat on it again, we may be trying out the first party soon….

Cynthia: Are you working on any new recording projects at the moment?
that is a funny question if you have friends

Sheldon Riser: No I’m mostly out promoting the latest album, I’m loving just performing and playing with my band. I love to tour, so for now, I have recorded enough music for 3 albums. I just need to take a break and enjoy playing the music from the 5 Sonnyboy albums I already have….

Cynthia: How many members are there in your band?

Sheldon Riser: There’s 4 of us, were the ghetto Beetles for now [Laughs British accent] and its funny but we all get on pretty well with each other I might say old chap [Laughs].

Cynthia: For people who are on the outside looking in, some might think, ‘you choosing to do this the hard way?

Sheldon Riser: Well, I love the art of making great music. I’m going to be here even when the people who are in it for the money leave. It’s because the money ain’t there like it used to be. I love the art; I’m in it for good or bad. Fame was not what attracted me to music; it was the music, the beauty in melody, the synchronization of rhythm, the warmth of harmony, and the emotion that it all creates. Yes, I would love the world to know my music but there are things I just can’t sacrifice for that… So I’ll go the other way around, the long way or the hard way, I guess…

Cynthia: Tell us something weird about yourself.

Sheldon Riser: Weird? Strange? OK, honestly, I love crazy clothes, I would be a fashion designer if I could, I love 60s, 70s, and even 80s style clothes. Also I think I’m a guitar, keyboard and even shoe junky, I need rehab man [Laughs]. Oh ok and I hate flying, I have to knock myself out to fly, If I don’t sleep soon after I get on a flight man I’m a mess [Laughs].

Cynthia: [Laughs] Yeah but you fly all the time.

Sheldon Riser: Ya Im knocked out all the time [Laughs] man I never get use to flying, I will drive somewhere in a heartbeat. Put me on a bus, train in a car but flying, I can’t deal with that turbulence. One time I was coming from Amsterdam and the flight attendants laughing at me by the end of the flight, because I got on and didn’t wake up until New York, she goes, that must have been some kind of vacation.

Cynthia: [Laughs] what’s your trick? How do you keep that perfect dread fro?

Sheldon Riser: Perfect, it ain’t perfect to me; just wash a wear hair, nothing wrong with a nappy crown…

Cynthia: I hear you lived in Europe for some time? Where were you living?

Shel: No. I mean I spent a lot of time in Amsterdam – 3 months at a time, but I’m there quite a bit.

Cynthia: Well we know what people go there for, are you a big weed smoker?

Sheldon Riser: No not at all (not saying I don’t smoke) but there’s more to living in Amsterdam then smoking weed, I have met some really cool people over the years and it’s nice to spend time with my friends. I think people see music a little different there as well. I mean, I’ve performed all across Europe and the love for organically produced and performed music is alive and well. People that like Techno, House or Drum and Bass still get into live music it’s kind of weird [Laughs] I expected people to just be into their thing and that’s it, as they do here in the US.

Cynthia: Your sound is yes more retro but it has a very contemporary quality to it as well, how do you do that?

Sheldon Riser: I don’t go into the studio thinking about trying to make a retro sounding album; I just like making music that has a long shelf life. There are artist today that are doing great things and their climbing the hill with me so I’m sure we influence each other, that’s how it should be. I think that contemporary quality that your hearing is just me, learning from everybody doing great artistic music these days…..

Cynthia: On a personal note, are you married?

Sheldon Riser: Oh no left hook [Laughs] no I’m not, but ammm, you got me on that one [Laughs]

Cynthia: You got a girl friend or friends? [No response, just the sound of Shel plucking his guitar, and a really really bad boy smile.



11.17.2011: 4519 Santa Monica Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90029 The Little Temple
11.19.2011: 1601 Fillmore Street San Francisco, CA 94115 The Boom Boom Room, opening for The Dead Kenny Gs
11.20.2011: BarFly Theory Europe Tour!!!!!!!! To Be Announced!!!!!!!! BarFly Theory Europe Tour!!!!!!!! To Be Announced!!!!!!!!
02.01.2012: BarFly Theory Australia Summer Tour!!!!!!!! To Be Announced!!!!!!!! BarFly Theory Australia Summer Tour!!!!!!!! To Be Announced!!!!!!!!
02.25.2012: 30 Lafayette Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11217-1486 BAM, Brooklyn Academy of Music


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