Former Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns forward Wayman Tisdale was a special, special person.
How many folk are talented and fortunate enough to become stars in two professional environments? Basketball and music demand such high skill levels and the competition is so fierce.
For those who didn't see Tisdale play ball, he could be an unstoppable low-post force. His flipper, as he called it, was a left-handed jump hook that was so effective that people like me criticized him for not using more. Shoot, everytime he touched the rock would have been enough for me.
The answer to the aforementioned question about multi-professional excellence is very, very few, but Tisdale did it with a flow of smooth in his hoop game and jazz game.
He died May 15, 2009 but last Sunday night his spirit was alive, bumpin’ and fonkin at Harlow’s Nightclub in Sacramento.
The occasion was a celebration/CD release party of Tisdale’s posthumous project called Wayman Tisdale – The Fonk Record featuring Tiz and the Fonkie Planetarians.
And trust, there is very little smooth about The Fonk Record. The CD, which I’ve been jamming and sharing since the day I received it from producer/bassist Derek (DOA) Allen, is straight funky to the core.
Tisdale is a self-admitted country boy from Tulsa, Oklahoma so out of respect for my man, with who as a Kings beat writer, I spent day after day after month after month. So I roll in this piece with 'fonky' instead of 'funky.'
Much love Wayman’s longtime friend and ace-boon-coon (since we’re making it fonky), drummer Arthur Thompson was the co-producer.
Thompson was down with Tisdale like pores to skin.
“Art was with him when he took his last breath,” Allen said.
The Fonky Record couldn’t help but be dirty, nasty and stinky personified with contributions from the ultimate funkmeister Parliament/Funkadelic orchestrator George Clinton and legendary keyboardist George Duke, who also firmly straddles the funk-jazz line.
So get your toilet paper, handi-wipes, towelettes or whatever your choice before succumbing to Tisdale’s Fonk Record.
A number of prime-time musicians on the club’s stage turned a quiet evening into a funkafied, hot, sweaty, basement party minus the crib.
It was a party that back in the day likely would have moved a neighbor to call the police and tell them to make those loud people go home. Where were John Witherspoon and the late Bernie Mac when you needed them?
If you were without a handkerchief, face or body towel, you were under dressed and ill-prepared.
Actually there were so many big-time musicians and entertainers on the stage, the mentions were too numerous to make, but the appreciation of talent and time given by all only could be understated.
Former Sly and Family Stone and Graham Central Station Rock and Roll Hall of Fame trumpeter Cynthia Robinson could have been legitimately accused of trying to bring the club into ill repair with her nocturnal funkiness spraying throughout the joint.
She took me back to 1968 or so when I saw her and Sly on a 90-plus degree summer day at Harlem’s Mt. Morris Park. I was sporting my knit shirt, silk and wool pants and playboys (shoes). If you don’t know about that, you’d better ask somebody. I was hot as hell, but cooler than cool waiting for Sly to show up an hour and a half late, as usual. Then they turned out the joint.
It was kind of late Sunday evening when former Tower of Power lead singer Lenny Williams took the Harlow's stage and broke into his soulful and inimitable style that has stood and over-run the test of time.
Even with the likes of saxophonists Mike Phillips and Kim Waters, percussionist extraordinaire Sheila E, actor-bassist poet and entertainer Malcolm Jamal-Warner, keyboardist/bassist/singer ChuckII Booker, Sacramento bassist (DOA) Allen performing in a ridiculously funky and soulful jam session, two stars of the night shined more brightly.
Those were Regina Tisdale, Wayman’s wife, and his daughter, Danielle, now an Atlanta resident. They continued the legend and legacy of class and style Wayman had established as a major basketball star. And Danielle jumped on the stage and blew as well.
The night began with TV Judge Judy bailiff Petri Hawkins-Byrd emceeing the festivities and providing an introductory funk education to those who didn’t know.
For Gina, the night was another step towards closing a circle after losing her husband to leukemia at the age of 44.
Mrs. Tisdale spoke of how she and husband often discussed how badly and determined he was to take his hugely successful smooth jazz in another direction if only for one project.
“We grew up in Oklahoma listening to Charlie Wilson and the Gap Band and Funkadelic and Wayman always dedicated part of his shows to soulful funk,” she said. “He wanted to get as funky as he always has been and many people didn’t know.
“When Wayman was going through chemotherapy sessions, he’d be sitting down and clowning around with the funky stuff. He’d be clowning so hard, there were times if I wondered if he was serious. But he’d say, ‘No, baby, I’m going to do this.’ “
Wayman would take his wife into the studio connected to their home and share just how serious he was.
“I’d go out there and listen and say, ‘Wow, this is something real. This dude really is serious.’
Allen talks about how the project was put together through sharing and exchanging computer files across the country.
He spoke of Tisdale thinking of the concept of donning an afro wig, sideburns and high heels. He’d walk down Hollywood Blvd. into the offices of record executives, let them see the gold tooth in his mouth and put his music on for them to see.
“He would introduce them to the Fonky Planetarians in that way,” said Allen, who in addition to working as the project’s producer, over the years had performed the same role on other Tisdale projects.
There was a reason why Allen and promoter Mike Dailey decided Sacramento was the spot to introduce Tisdale’s Fonk Record.
“Wayman’s whole professional music career started here in Sacramento,” Allen said. “(The late) Robert Brookins played a major role in convincing Tis that he could do this. He clearly was able to transform from basketball star to jazz artist, but his love of funk always was there.”
Allen said getting three performers – Duke, Clinton and singer Ali Woodson - to contribute to the Fonk Record was integral to Tisdale.
“The thing was that we never had all of these cats in a studio at one time,” Allen said. “And it was no thing to get Duke to contribute, but Clinton, that was something different.”
Allen said he and a few folks literally had to chase down Clinton, whom shall we say, can be a bit unpredictable.
“We went to Reno and hunted him down. George had given Tis his word and I knew we had to hook it up,” Allen said. “We couldn’t have done it without the help of Ray Grady, who had long worked with Clinton.
On a video associated with the project, Allen and his people can be seen literally stopping at gas stations and randomly asking folks if they’d seen Clinton. In fact, if you know of Clinton’s unusual flair for independence dress, et al., once you’ve seen him it’s clear he won’t be confused with anyone else on this planet.
Clinton, a Plainfield, New Jersey, has said he’s not of this world and as a lifelong Funkateer, I’m convinced.
At the same they were chasing down Clinton, Allen, with the help of a Sacramento engineer, Brian Porter, was trying to secure studio space to do their thing with Clinton.
“There was a spot called Granny’s House Studio in Reno where Fleetwood Mac and Michael Jackson had done some work,” Allen said. “So we tried to hook that up. We couldn’t find the joint and figured we’d go to where the concert was that night and talk to some stage hands and roadies. We’d gone to one big house in a residential area and knocked on the door for about 15 minutes before we decided to go to the venue.
“Once we got there, they told us we needed to hook up with this big ol’ brother and talk to him about his studio,” Allen said. “We hooked up with him and he said it was cool, but he needed $2000 a day.
“We couldn’t do that and we decided on a price of $300. He said he’d let us use his studio and on the way there, we noticed we were going in the same direction we’d just come from. He took us to Granny’s House Studio, the same big house where we’d been banging on the door.
“We ended up paying him a little more than the agreed upon price. We hooked up with George. He did his thing and it all worked out. We all had to feel that Wayman was there the whole time.”
The completion of the project was something Allen felt had to be done. Tisdale had passed on and the day after the funeral service, Allen approached Tis’ wife about the project.
“Derek was in the kitchen and told me he wanted to finish the project because Wayman wanted it so badly,” she said. “He told me to take my time and do what I had to do and let him know.
“I said at the time, ‘Absolutely,” Mrs. Tisdale said. “Give me a couple of months and then we get talk about it and start handling the details.”
Mrs. Tisdale said she was amazed by what she’d heard.
“I really began to believe we’d get it done after I heard the fourth cut or so. And I was amazed by how good Ali Woodson (a former singer with The Temptations) sounded. Like Wayman, he’d had throat cancer, but he sounded so strong and forceful. At first, Wayman had wondered if he should even ask Ali because he was sick.”
Woodson, like Tisdale, passed away before the project was completed.
Mrs Tisdale said, “But we talked about how music had helped Wayman get through some very tough times after his chemo treatments and how this might have that same effect for Ali.”
Indeed Woodson’s performance on ‘Been Here Before,’ is one that has made me repeat the cut over and over and his passionate, from-the-heart words regarding his love for Tisdale and how he’s always been there for him.
Regina said she received the completed project a couple of weeks ago, but initially didn’t listen to it
“I was giving them to people but I didn’t listen to it,” she said. “I couldn’t until last week. I was laughing and crying. There was a bitter-sweet excitement. It’s just like (Sunday night). It was bitter-sweet because it was like Wayman was there.”
Regina said she hadn’t been to Sacramento in far more than a decade.
“Even seeing his buddies was something special,” she said. “Wayman always was going to think you were a good cat until you proved otherwise.”
Yes, Tiz and the Fonky Planterians and the Fonk Record are all special.
And during these times of athletes speaking of legacies and legends, Tisdale has established another level to which they can aspire. However, most of them might want to put on some MC Hammer because they can’t touch this.
More information on the project, the cartoons, the video and all that can be found by googling Wayman Tisdale for a start.
Two things are for sure. If you weren’t at this party, you missed a stoned cold blast. Secondly, Wayman didn’t miss it. You could feel him.