Drumming Up the Funk
George Penn Jr. is no rookie to the local music circuit. Currently, he plays drums with three bands: funk band, Ripejive; blues rock band, Electric Woodshed; and Grateful Dead tribute band, The Dead Reckoning. But, if you’ve been on the scene for awhile, there’s also a good chance you’ve heard Penn play with a few other well known groups. He has drummed with the likes of the Floorboards, Corey Harris, the Sol Creech Band, and Jah Works, a roots reggae group out of Baltimore.
Penn was also one of the founding members of the funk-rock band The Yams from Outer Space. The Yams got its start in 1986 on the campus of Radford University and played locally, as well as up and down the east coast, for numerous years. In addition to featuring prominent musicians like Penn, Mike Kirby and Dylan Locke, The Yams had sound man Matt DeFilippis, who now runs sound for a little known band, The Drive-By Truckers.
“Kirby and I started The Yams. Other than my dad, he was my main mentor in music. He was Frank Zappa meets Eddie Van Halen. He’s the man that turned me on to all the deep, deep rock and funk music. Then there’s Matt DeFilippis. He’s the man. He’s really made it. The three of us were the three amigos back in the day. I still live vicariously through Matt and he’s been partly responsible for keeping my fire burning. I’ve seen some amazing shows because of him, and also have had the opportunity to ride on the tour bus with the Drive-By Truckers. Those guys are incredible.”
Of all of Penn’s bands, currently Ripejive is the most active. The Meters, Lettuce, and Galactic are just a few of the noted influences for this four-piece group that plays a number of local spots, including 622 North in Blacksburg and Martin’s Downtown in Roanoke. Ripejive also played the Virginia Beach Funk Out this past May and will be at the Camp Barefoot Music & Arts Festival this August.
“I’m the old man in the band and am fortunate to be with these young guys who are deeply rooted in funk and jam music. We take funk and fuse it with a little Phish, Panic [Widespread], and String Cheese [Incident] that add that flavor of fun.”
As a veteran of the local music scene, Penn shared his thoughts about its current state.
“We have a beautiful band scene that’s growing and developing. We could use a few more bands recording, traveling and representing the area. We also need more people supporting live music. Don’t be afraid of the unfamiliar, listen to all types of music. It’s hard for venues to book cool bands when people don’t show up. Get out there and put a little effort into it.”
In addition to Camp Barefoot, Penn has a few other big upcoming shows. Ripejive will be playing Martin’s Downtown on July 22, then The Dead Reckoning will be at The Harvester on August 6, for its Jerry Garcia celebration.