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An evening with Michael Cooper

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His group’s music has kept people dancing for decades.

His romantic solo hits have made fans fall in love over and over again.

And fortunately, he is bringing all of those songs to Indianapolis this weekend.

Legendary R&B/soul musician Michael Cooper will appear for a special concert Saturday, April 18 at the popular Cloud 9 Bar & Grill, 5150 W. 38th St.

Cooper is best known as lead singer, guitarist and founder of the legendary band ConFunkShun, which scored numerous hits on the R&B and pop charts in the 1970s and ’80s, including “Ffun,” “Shake and Dance With Me” and “Straight From the Heart.”

Cooper’s strong baritone voice is known for its slight twang, and can be best heard on classics such as the blistering funk jam “Chase Me” (1979), and the Quiet Storm ballad “Love’s Train.”

For fans, Cooper’s singing style was the perfect complement to the high tenor vocals of Felton Pilate, the group’s other lead singer. Cooper’s guitar playing also drove the rhythm of monster ConfunkShun grooves and his solos delivered the emotion of songs like “Let Me Put Love On Your Mind.”

Cooper later left ConFunkShun for a successful solo career, and from 1988 to 1992 the released the smooth, radio friendly favorites “Shoop Shoop (Never Stop Giving You Love),” “To Prove My Love,” “My Baby’s House” and “Dinner For Two.”

Cooper and Pilate reformed ConFunkShun in 1993, and the group still maintains a busy touring schedule of appearances at “old school” concerts. At the same time, Cooper has continued to release well-received solo projects, with the most recent being 2006’s “Are We Cool?”

This week, the Recorder caught up with Cooper and asked him about ConFunkShun’s new album, and the great Indianapolis musician who inspired him:

Are you looking forward to returning to Indianapolis?

Michael Cooper: Absolutely! We try to be in Indianapolis at least once a year, either as ConFunkShun or Michael Cooper. Indiana has always been really good to us in terms of record sales and support for our music. We always like to get back there and perform.

Is there a new album on the horizon?

Yes, ConFunkShun will release a new CD in August or September. We’re in the studio now recording, and I’m very excited about it. Right now, the tentative title is “ConFunkShun: SGM (Sound of Grown Men).”

Will the album sound like the classics or like today’s music?

Well, a little bit of both. We are going to stay competitive in terms of incorporating today’s sound. If you look at some of the R&B acts today like Raphael Siddeeq, Eric Benet, Maxwell, Usher, Robin Thicke and others, it’s pretty much leading back to the old sound. We will offer a little bit of everything, so it will be a well-rounded album. But we will not sell out, go all out hip-hop and try to have every 25 year old we can find to be on the album. We’re going to be 100 percent grown men in our lyrics, the execution of our music and in the message that we want to portray. We will come out swingin’ hard but we’re gonna’ let you know there’s some weight behind the punch!

Both your singing and playing skills have been essential to the ConFunkShun sound. Who influenced your style on guitar?

My entire guitar groove came from Wes Montgomery, who was of course from Indianapolis. My brother was an avid jazz listener and one of his all-time favorites was Wes Montgomery. I used sneak into his apartment and sit and listen to “California Dreaming,” “Tequila” and all the stuff by Montgomery. My first instrument was drums, but when I learned guitar and began to feel my way around, I gravitated toward his sound. I’ve had my Jimi Hendrix moments, but Wes Montgomery is the primary inspiration.

What or who sparked your interest in music?

My father pretty much steered me in the direction of music. Although he didn’t play an instrument, he was always playing his records. When I was kid, I was into the big bands led by Count Basie and Glenn Miller and the Bill Black Combo. As I got older, I continued to listen to older music. I only really listened to current music to stay competitive and be able to write something to make sure that we were out there swingin’ hard. But in my leisure time, I listen to the classics.

Where does the inspiration for songs like “Love’s Train” and “I’m Leaving Baby” come from?

Each song that is penned by ConFunkShun or myself generally has an element of truth or is completely true. For example, “Love’s Train” is about a triangle relationship, with a girl and two guys, me of course being one of the guys. “I’m Leaving Baby” is the answer to “Love’s Train” because the relationship broke up and I left. I literally wrote exactly what was going on in my life, when it came to slow songs. When it came to up-tempo material, I was writing for the clubs, dance floor and radio. But the ballads reflect what’s going on.

Any words for fans who have supported ConFunkShun and your solo projects?

One hundred percent from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everyone for their support. We view it to be our jobs to continue to bring the music, both live and in the studio. Regardless of how we get the music to you or where radio stands, there’s always the Internet so we will be able to get music out to the people any way we can. As long as we’re standing up, sound good and can deliver a good show, we’ll be there. We appreciate and love everybody and ConFunkShun is here to stay.

Did you know?

n For 12 years Michael Cooper worked as a deputy for the San Bernadino County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Department.

n ConFunkShun’s music has been sampled by artists such as Lil’ Wayne, Keith Sweat and Dru Hill.

n Between 1977 and 1986, ConFunkShun released eight Top 10 R&B hits and numerous Top 20 classics. Their most recent charting hit was 1996’s “Throw It Up.”

Catch ‘Love’s Train’

n Who: Michael Cooper

n Where: Cloud 9 Bar & Grill, 5150 W. 38th St.

n When: Saturday, April 17 at 8 p.m.

n Tickets: $20. May be purchased at Cloud 9; The Work-N-Man Clothing store, 3740 Lafayette Rd.; Players Modern Clothing, 5917 E. 38th St.; and Harold Penner Men’s Fashion, 3919 Lafayette Rd. For information, call (317) 297-4424.

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