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The Big Dam deal
Peppy, 12-member band responsible for making sexy, party music, but not for making the babies that may result from listening to it.
Clayton Aronowitz describes the music he and his 11 bandmates in The Big Dam Horns play in simple terms.
“If you really want to describe us to anyone,” says the band’s guitarist, “you just say that we are a big band that plays ‘Pony’ by Ginuwine.” Yes, “Pony.” That bump-and-grind R&B tune with its vocoded bassline and lyrics that spell every move out: “Girl, when I break you off, I promise that you won’t wanna get off.”
Now imagine that mid-1990s hit with a horn section reinforcing its sexy foundation. Still down and dirty, but with the weight of horns — the double team of saxophones, trumpets and trombones — behind the tune’s starting and stopping groove. Call it babymaking music. The Big Dam Horns do, even cautioning on their Facebook page that the Little Rock band is “not responsible for any ... babymaking resulting from listening to The Big Dam Horns.” Later, Aronowitz lays out the goal of the band: “To get people laid. We’re kind of like the naughty version of Tom-FM.”
Now, all of this is not saying The Big Dam Horns play nothing but highly sexualized music. Some of their tunes are provocative. Others are just party tunes. Take Ace of Base’s smash hit “All That She Wants.” In the able hands of The Big Dam Horns, the manufactured eurodance of the tune is replaced by the punch of horns, shifting “All That She Wants” from the clinical sound of the studio to a Saturday night in a back-alley R&B club. The song becomes less blips and beeps and more heart and soul.
There are other genres The Big Dam Horns play, but mostly the band transforms its pop, R&B and hip-hop cover songs into soul-stirring, bopping blasts of horn-infused music, bursting with jazz, soul and blues touches with a rock ’n’ roll bedrock.
“We want people to say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe they are playing that, and they are playing it very well,’” tenor saxophonist Elliott Griffen says. “We can play almost whatever we want because we have some talented, talented writers here, and we’re just trying to have some fun and play some good music.”
The Big Dam Horns are 12-members strong. Maybe that wasn’t exactly the number Aronowitz was shooting for when he started forming the band a year ago, when he says he knew that if he were starting “another cover band the only way I would do it is with a full horn section.” Nine members was where he thought The Big Dam Horns would top out. But he started calling and messaging people, combining former members of bands such as 42 and Nexus, and a dirty dozen is where The Big Dam Horns ended. And yes, everywhere presents the problem of fitting 12 band members on stage.
Here are the members of The Big Dam Horns beyond Aronowitz and Griffen. There are two vocalists, Lia LaFollette and Aaron Gilliam, and Joseph Fuller is on keyboards, Erika Pope is on drums and Cody Graves plays bass. (Full disclosure: Graves works at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He sits roughly 10 feet from me.) Then there are the horns. Sean LaFollette joins Griffen on the saxophone, playing baritone sax, and Jerry Joyner and Chris Smith play the trumpets, and Brandon Ellis and Jesse Rich play the trombones.
The members of the band, ranging in age from 25 to 35, each attended Henderson State University in Arkadelphia at one point. All played in either or both the university’s Showband of Arkansas or the school’s jazz band, NuFusion. Most have some sort of background in radio. All play multiple instruments. And all this musical passion is found in the cover songs of The Big Dam Horns, from early jazz standards to “Gangnam Style” by Psy, rechristened by the band as “Big Dam Horny Style.”
When the band first got together, the idea was having a Tower of Power kind of act. Then came “Pony.” “The first song we played that really turned for us was ‘Pony’,” Graves says. “It was the one that changed us.”
And now, the band plays tunes from “Whatever You Like” to “Crazy in Love” to “Spiderwebs” to “Super Bass” to “Gimme Some Lovin’.” The band’s setlist includes 45 tunes, and the band is working on between 10 and 15 new tunes right now. There’s not much The Big Dam Horns won’t tackle.
“We’re that jukebox,” Pope says. “We’re responsible for making sure that every person [at the show] hears at least one song that they like and can sing along to. Music is in all of us.
“We can take a song, like ‘Super Bass,’ and turn it into something musical.”
If a song sounds like something people can get down to, The Big Dam Horns are game. And even if it doesn’t sound like something people can get down to, The Big Dam Horns can make it into something people can get down to. The tunes of The Big Dam Horns are covers but not in the usual way. These are covers with the added punch of a horn section, even when the original song might be minus the horns.
“I think what makes this band unique is there’s really nothing else like it in the area,” Ellis says. “There are plenty of good cover bands, plenty of good original bands, but you don’t see horn bands [as cover bands]. Even though we are a cover band, our sound is unique and the way we do our shows is pretty entertaining.”
SEE THE SHOW
Saturday, The Big Dam Horns play Cajun’s Wharf, with the music starting at 9 p.m. There’s a $5 cover for the 21-and-up show. The band will have T-shirts for sale for $15.