The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown founder John Heintz thought the magic of jam sessions shouldn’t be restricted to festivals, sit-ins, or other one-off opportunities, because when the right combination of seasoned musicians is put together, they can pull music out of the ether, music that fuses the individual voices of the players and takes them into exciting, new sonic territory.
His idea that such musical interactions should extend beyond the live setting was born out of a jam at a festival in 2007 that Heintz, a bassist, took part in that included members of New Orleans bands Galactic, Papa Grows Funk and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
“That was a life-changer,” Heintz, who is based in Los Angeles, said. “I saw the interaction with the crowd, I saw the interaction with the players on stage and just felt like that was an excitement and an energy that would be really hard to duplicate if you’re an established band with the same set of players. But if you were to stage a studio setting where you had players from all different bands … that excitement [would be] there about the newness of it all you could really capture some amazing moments.”
Heintz, who had spent about four months on the road with The Lee Boys in a tour management capacity, utilized his contacts as well as those of his friends in Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band to bring the idea to fruition.
That December, with the help of Booty Band’s JP Miller, he gathered 35 musicians from 17 bands to stay at a house on Royal Street in New Orleans to write and record what would become The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown Volume 1. There were members of Parliament-Funkadelic (including the late Garry “Star Child” Shider and the late Belita Woods), The Funky Meters, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, The Lee Boys, Galactic, Dumpstaphunk and more. In what was essentially a weeklong house party, the musicians wrote the majority of the first album the first few nights, jamming in the living room. Heintz’s crazy idea proved itself not-so-crazy.
“The vibe and the energy that fed off the camaraderie of everyone being down there really led to a positive batch of music. You could feel the dynamic of the songs, the fun we were having,” he said. “It really blew us away how natural it all felt and how the music really wrote itself.”
Following those recording sessions, the Godfather of funk himself, George Clinton, opened his studio up to Heintz and Frank Mapstone, a producer and musician who contributed to the project, to finish it up. Clinton also contributed lead and backing vocals to a number of songs on the album, which was released in 2012.
[Photo via John Heintz – with George Clinton]
Eight years later, with 2018’s The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown Volume 2 under his belt, Heintz has greatly expanded The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown’s roster and is preparing BONG Volume 3 along with some special one-off releases. The more than 100 tracks currently in production feature the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith; Philip Lassiter, a renowned jazz trumpeter and former member of Prince and the New Power Generation; former Jamiroquai bassist Stuart Zender; Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins; multi-instrumentalist Jack Irons, a founding member of the Chili Peppers and former member of Pearl Jam; Jason Hann of The String Cheese Incident; members of Ozomatli; Jake Cinninger of Umphrey’s McGee, who plays on a track with Chad Smith, Matt Slocum of Railroad Earth, keyboardist Justin Powell of Ali Baba’s Tahini, bassist Bubby Lewis, who has worked with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, and Delta Nove‘s Bobby Easton, Nic Chaffee and Eric Hirschhorn; and many more, including a number of jazz musicians. Currently in production is a track with Larry “Ler” LaLonde of Primus, Jack Irons, and Norwood Fisher of Fishbone on bass—the first time members of Fishbone, Primus and the Chili Peppers will be on a recording together.
[Photo via John Heintz – Norwood Fisher (Fishbone) and P-Nut (311), Studio 606]
“It has become one of those things where the players really, really enjoy doing these sessions because there’s nobody breathing down their necks [telling them to] play a certain way,” Heintz said. “The common response is, ‘man, we never get to do this anymore, just be able to play.’ Everyone who has been a part of the session has a friend who wants to be a part of it.”
As Heintz has upped the roster of musicians, so too has he up the production. After seeing Dave Grohl’s 2013 documentary, Sound City, Heintz knew he and Mapstone had to mix Volume 2 on the soundboard featured in the film. The custom Neve 8028 analog mixing console, one of only a few in the world, was purchased by Grohl for the Foo Fighters’ Studio 606. That console was used to record myriad legendary recordings, including Nirvana’s Nevermind and Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut.
“I was like, ‘that’s the board we’re gonna mix Volume 2 on. I have no idea how that’s gonna happen,’” Heintz recalled. “Sure as s**t, that’s the board we mixed Volume 2 on.”
Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown Volume 2 featured Taylor Dayne, Fred Wesley of James Brown and the Horny Horns, and members of Earth, Wind and Fire, Kool and the Gang, Parliament-Funkadelic, Graham Central Station, Dumpstaphunk, Fishbone, Booty’s Rubber Band, and more.
Much like they did for Volume 1, more than 20 musicians gathered at a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina to write Volume 2. Another session in Los Angeles wrapped up writing and recording.
Mixing the album at the Foo Fighters’ Studio 606 opened to the door to a number of musicians featured on the material currently in the works. Heintz did about 25 sessions at the studio over the years after mixing Volume 2. Someone at the studio made the intro for Heintz to Chad Smith, who had been there earlier in the week before one of Heintz’s sessions. Before Heintz even had the chance to contact him, he got a message from Smith: “Hey, wanna jam?”
[Photo via John Heintz – with Chad Smith]
On this latest round of BONG material, Heintz is sending the same drum track, including some of Smith’s, to different groups of musicians to see what they come up with.
One musician who recently put his imprint on a song in the works is Nick Etwell, a trumpeter who works with Mumford and Sons and leads British jazz-funk group The Filthy Six. Derrick Johnson of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band connected Etwell with Heintz, and the two met in 2018 when Etwell was in L.A. with Mumford and Sons. He loved the idea as soon as he heard about it.
“The idea of putting lots of people in lots of different bands together is always a great thing,” he said, “that kind of melting pot of ideas and the alchemy that comes from different people from different bands coming together.”
Etwell first played live with BONG in 2018 at Utopia Fest in Texas, where he shared the stage with Leo Nocentelli of The Meters, among others, to perform a variety of BONG originals, Meters songs and P-Funk songs.
[Photo via John Heintz – The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown, Utopia Fest 2018]
The way Etwell recorded his horn lines—sending a file back and forth with Heintz—is how BONG has been operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the live entertainment industry is essentially at a standstill, being a studio-based project that isn’t tour-dependent has allowed Heintz to keep it moving.
“With everybody home, and the scramble of people looking for work, it has led to a lot of people being readily available and excited to have something to work on,” he said. “[It’s nice to have] everybody joining together and creating to have something positive to put into the world while s**t’s in shambles.”
As he eyes the future of The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown and prepares his next batch of releases, Heintz, 43, hardly has the time to reflect on how far his crazy idea has come. He has a wish list of artists he hopes to collaborate with in the future: Nile Rodgers, Mike Patton, the surviving members of Rush, Jimmy Herring, Warren Haynes… and the list goes on.
But make no mistake—although he’s hesitant to sit back and revel in his accomplishments, Heintz believes in the power of the music he’s producing.
“I really feel strongly that the music that is coming out of this camp is really top-notch. It’s some of what I feel like is some of players’ strongest material that I’ve heard them do,” he said. “The quality of the stuff is un-f**king-believable, and I can’t take credit for that. That’s the sum of all its parts.”