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Sing a simple song: Rudy Love Jr. talks music, family legacies, impact of Sly Stone ahead of Riverfest performances

Rudy Love Jr.JPG
Madison Cartwright
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Courtesy of Rudy Love Jr.

Wichita's Rudy Love Jr. will perform with the Love Family Band this Saturday at Riverfest on a bill that pays tribute to his father, Rudy Love Sr.

Saturday, June 11, should be a memorable day for Wichita musician Rudy Love Jr. and concertgoers at Riverfest.

Love will perform with the Love Family Band, which will celebrate the legacy of his talented family — including his late father, Rudy Love — and then serve as a guest performer with The Family Stone.

The headliners are, of course, one part of the hitmaking outfit Sly and The Family Stone. With the group's leader and composer living a life out of the spotlight, the core group continues to celebrate the legacy of songs such as "Dance to the Music" and "Everyday People." The band is populated by players who have both familial and musical ties to founding member Sly Stone.

Rudy Love Sr. played with Stone, appearing prominently on the 1975 album "High On You" and remaining a close friend of the musician. Love was also a friend of late musician Mike Finnigan, whose son, Kelly, will perform at Riverfest on Saturday night as well as a member of Monophonics.

Finnigan, an Ohio native, came to Kansas in the 1960s on a basketball scholarship at the University of Kansas but quickly found that music had a stronger hold over him than sports. He moved to Wichita and, in the late '60s, performed with The Serfs and, later, The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood (often cited as an early example of jazz fusion).

The elder Finnigan's career included stints with legendary artists such as Etta James, Taj Mahal and Bonnie Raitt, among others.

Saturday's performance will further emphasize the bond between the Finnigan and Love families as well as their undeniable impact on Kansas music.

Rudy Love Jr. recently spoke with KMUW about his family's musical legacy and the continued impact of Sly Stone's compositions.

Interview Highlights

How did it come about that you're going to sing with The Family Stone?

As you know, I've been working with Adam and Jesse Hartke [for some time]. They're responsible for so many of my best shows over the last year. [Adam] called me and said, "I have a crazy idea: Why don't we have the Love Family play, open up a show, then we get Monophonics in and then you jam with the Family Stone?" I thought I was still dreaming, still asleep. It felt like a fever dream. I said, "Adam, I would love to do that, man." You know, he's pulled off some crazy stuff before. Dad and Mike Finnigan were such good friends. Dad was in the Family Stone. We lost both [Mike and Dad] last year. Adam and Jesse thought they would pay tribute to them. So they called in heavy hitters.

I talked with Blaise, the musical director for Family Stone and he said, "We've got a good plan for you." So I'm just along for the ride. Until I'm on that stage on June 11, I'm not going to believe it. The only thing missing from this dream is [having my dad there].

But yeah, so it's a dream come true for me. Childhood dream.

Let's talk about the relationship between your dad and Mike Finnigan. Did their friendship go back to the '60s?

Dad used to carry Mike Finnigan's B3 organ. What he told me about Mike — and I never had the chance to meet him but I talked to him on the phone once — … was that he was so impressed by Mike's musicianship and the general cold-blooded nature that Mike had. [Dad] was a fanboy. He followed him, but they were friends. They were good friends. They played a lot together.

One thing that has come up about both of them in conversations that I've had is that they always had time for younger musicians. It's important when you're coming up to feel like someone is looking out for you.

Dad never stopped giving me the information he had. When you're around someone and you see that same spark in them, the same thing lights you up. When you play music and you see that in someone else? It's hard not to be excited. I'm not a very good teacher. I don't think dad ever considered himself a great teacher. But he was a giver. You want to give that information as freely and readily as possible.

There are books out there about professionalism but nothing beats coming by that experience for yourself. At the same time, it's great when someone who has been there before you can give you some guidance. Sometimes they're not even aware that they're doing it. It can be something real small that they say and it comes in handy later.

For me, that was Dad and Uncle Bob. I was a young kid and my uncle would joke about making us go to school. Like, you go to Oklahoma City to play and you come back with three dollars. They'd say, "This is the road. That's how it is."

It strikes me that what you're doing and what your dad did with music has the commonality in that it really has to be played live. The songs are there, the template is there but the mood of the room, the night you're playing the song, all of that can influence the performance and change the direction.

Both me and Dad change lyrics, change melodies, change tempos, chord progressions depending on the night you see us because life happens. Something happens on that day that sends you down a certain path. I think that's why I enjoy live music so much. I enjoy the controlled space of a recording studio, but [live] I don't ever play things the same way twice. I learned that from Dad and from the whole family. It's always a different experience.

Let's talk about Sly and the Family Stone. I knew the hits when I was a kid but about 15 years ago, I got this boxed set that had all the [Epic label] stuff. And I realized I had no idea how deep that music ran. I think about Sly and realize that if he were born maybe 200 years earlier he might have been a "serious" composer.

Truly.

Yeah, there's pop music, but there's a lot of stuff going on in the music.

One of the most valuable lessons Sly taught me was that … those early records, the compositions, the arrangements, all that stuff was so intricate and so complex. I played him a song that I was happy about. Dad said, "Show it to him." I started playing it and that was back when I thought that in order for it to be interesting it had to be complicated. [Sly] played the first chord of "Hot Fun in the Summertime" and said, "It wasn't until I was able to give the listeners something that they could digest [that they really got the music]. Give them that and they'll love you. Then you can take them on whatever journey you want." He found a way to be simplistic in his execution.

It's all well thought-out. And you're right, he's a Beethoven or Mozart character. The Howard Hughes of funk.

People make a lot of him being reclusive and whatever and I just have to wonder, like, when you have that kind of genius, how are you going to deal with the rest of the world? You have all that music in you and you still have to get up and make pancakes and do all the normal life stuff. It has to feel like interference on some level.

There's an interesting parallel between Dad and Sly. Sly reached that level of hyper-fame that will make you want to hide away. Dad never got to the point where it was overwhelming like that, but he had to show up in order to make a living. He turned it into something beautiful because he made everyone that he was around feel like they were just as important — if not more important — than he was.

Sly's a thinker. He's a heavy dude but you get around him and he's cool. At some point, he got real disaffected, jaded by being good at what he did and being appreciated for it. And I think it made him not trust as many folks. It's happened to people who are less talented as well. It's just the nature of the beast.

Sly is a genius but he was surrounded by geniuses. Greg Errico [drums], Jerry Martini [saxophone], Cynthia Robinson [trumpet, vocals], Freddie Stone [vocals, guitar], Rose Stone [keyboards]. Listen to Freddie's voice on some of those records. They created this wave that can knock you down.

That's a great point because a lot of times people that are composing specifically for people in the band. "I've got this keyboardist who can do all this crazy rhythmic stuff. I'll write something that will show that off."

Yeah, you allow them to do their thing. That's kind of the way my band operates. I write something and arrange it but once I give it to them, it's theirs and they do something with it I couldn't have. There's a magic to it. There's a little bit of trusting your bandmates and [recognizing] the personality that happens when they're playing their instrument or singing. Once you get around the right people it's like wildfire.

So you're going to be up there playing and Kelly Finnigan will be there with Monophonics. Is there a chance you'll wind up playing with him that night, too?

That would be another part of a dream come true because I'm such a huge Monophonics fan. "Falling Apart" is one of my favorite songs. I've been listening to it for 10 days straight. If that happened, it would be so cool. I haven't met him yet so the best I can hope for is getting a chance to shake his hand. That's the whole thing: Show me the son of a great man who is a great man and that's a great man. He's a role model for me. Kelly's a bad dude.