Chicago-based funk and soul outfit Bumpus has been a mainstay in the Midwest for a couple decades now and it’s easy to see why- from their inception in the early 2000s up to now, almost two decades later, this band has been pumping out nitty-gritty stylings that draw comparisons to Sly & the Family Stone, Parliament, and other legends of the funk.
On Friday, February 8th, Bumpus will trek from Chicago to Kalamazoo to perform a show at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe and Brewery. LMNR had a chance to catch up with James Johnston, the band’s de facto spokesperson, and get a little insight as to what really makes Bumpus bump.
LMNR: Tell us a little about Bumpus. How long have you been an entity? Where did the name come from? Who are some of your influences?
JJ: The blueprint for Bumpus really comes from Sly & The Family Stone. The original members of Bumpus were all obsessed with Sly’s 1973 masterpiece, “Fresh.” We play funky music, we feature different voices throughout our show, and we shine the spotlight on each member of the band in every performance. We started straight out of high school and have had 3 distinct versions of the band, but we’ve been a band for over 20 years. As for the name, many people think it has to do with A Christmas story (“The Bumpus Hounds” being the main source of consternation for the protagonist’s “Old Man”) but our original name was Natty Bumpus and the Booty Wompers. That name lasted for exactly one show.
LMNR: Chicago is a well-known hotspot for musical endeavors stretching back over a century. How did you end up there?
JJ: Most of us are born and raised in Chicago or in the midwest. The music scene has changed a lot, but in our genre (funk, soul, jazz), it’s probably never been as strong as it is now. The musicians in this town are elite. Incredible things happening every week.
LMNR: As a funk/soul band from Chicago you must’ve shared the stage with some pretty well-known names. Tell us your favorite memory interacting with one!
JJ: Probably our favorite time sharing the stage with another act was when we played with Maceo Parker (James Brown’s Saxophonist). His show was just pure fire and his band was just incredible. Our favorite artist at that time. He brought us up on stage during his set and had us joining in leading a call and response with the crowd. We’ve played with him several times since then, but the first time was truly special.
LMNR: The lineup has fluctuated over the years. Discuss how this current lineup is different from the others, and how your musical vision has evolved.
JJ: Well when we first started, we were extremely raw. We loved funk music, but we didn’t all even play the instruments that we ended up playing in the band. We had two guitarists, so one of us switched to saxophone. We had a keyboardist, but no bassist, so the keyboardist became the bass player. That first version of the band basically learned how to play music through playing 1000 shows as a band. The second iteration of the band brought in a trio of female vocalists and a keyboard player. It was more of what we had envisioned from the beginning, but still with a majority of the original crew. Bigger sound. More able to execute big vocal and horn parts, but never extending solos or jamming. The latest iteration of the band moved from mostly self-taught folks to people with some real training. Most of the band has a bachelor’s or master’s degree in music. We can extend songs a lot more now, but I still wouldn’t put us in a jam band category. We still believe in songwriting over everything else. I’d say this version of the band is the most energetic and powerful live out of any iteration. Every show is a new experience. But by far, the biggest change is that Tina is the lead singer on our new record and the power and grit in her voice just drives everything. It’s her story we sing about now.
LMNR: Tell us about a funny or touching story (or both!) from a tour.
JJ: We played the Broadway Oyster Bar in St. Louis a few years ago and it was an especially wild and crazy show. There are nights where you build a special vibe with the audience and things just get chaotic. It was one of those nights. Woke up in the morning to a voicemail from one of our friends saying that “Bumpus was such a hot band that we they burned the place down.” Literally. The outside part of club caught fire overnight and partially burnt down.
LMNR: What are your plans for 2019 and beyond?
JJ: We just released a record last year and we’ve played a bunch in support of that record. This year is a mix of writing, recording with a healthy dose of shows throughout the summer. Most of our shows are in the Midwest (Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana).
LMNR: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
JJ: There’s not really another band out there doing what we’re doing right now. We can lean into vocals or instrumentals equally. Maybe it’s the combination of ages in the band (25-45) or the fact that we’ve been together for a long time, but it’s a very cohesive show that can dip into the origins of funk in a genuine way at one moment and then depart for something completely unique and new in another moment. Every show is new, but draws on something classic.
UPCOMING BUMPUS TOUR DATES:
02/08 – Bell’s Eccentric Cafe w/s/g Lushh
03/22 – The Knickerbocker Saloon
03/23 – Bokeh Lounge
07/11 – Founder’s Brewing Company
07/12 – TBA
07/13 – Union Street Station
07/14 – Glen Arbor Arts Center Sleeping Bear Dunes Lake Shore Glen Arbor MI
08/03 – Albany Park Block Party
08/23 – Harborfest, Marquette, MI
08/24 – The Braumart, Iron Mountain, MI