Skip to content

Greyboy Allstars Get It Together

Karl Denson – saxaphone, flute, vocals (Leads Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe)
Robert Walter – Keyboards, (Robert Walter’s 20th Congress)
Mike Andrews (AKA – Elgin Park) – guitar (producer)
Chris Stillwell – bass, (session player)
Zak Najor – drums, (Bonics)

It’s been five years since The Greyboy Allstars, the band that broke the danceable jazz and boogaloo style back in the early ‘90s, released their last record LIVE, showcasing that their 1998 sold out tour.

The boys are back in town and ready to relive those tunes, and introduce fans to some new grooves as well. If your memory is fuzzy on the Greyboy Allstar name, you may have heard of the Allstar musicians – Karl Densen, Robert Walter, or maybe Elgin Park and Chris Stillwell who have both been involved in producing soundtracks in their individual careers.

Still living in their original hometown of San Diego (although he admits he’s rarely there), Robert Walters gets us up to date on where they were five years ago compared to where they are now, and what’s in store for the future.

Kaffeine Buzz: It’s been quite a while since you guys have played out together. What have you been up to?

Robert Walters: In Greyboy Allstars, we were touring constantly. We were just too much in the same thing, kind of a pressure cooker. We needed to take a break and do other things. Recently, I think everyone’s just been missing it, and can appreciate the chemistry we had.

KB: So how did the communication start between you guys in terms of getting back together?

RW: It all happened at one of Karl Denson’s gigs in San Diego. We all just happened to be there since it’s our hometown. We decided to play a couple of Allstars tunes at the beginning of the set. So we got up and just tried to remember some stuff, and we hadn’t played together at all for a while.

KB: How did that go?

RW: It felt good to play, so we all just said, “Why don’t we try to do this some more.” Now the biggest problem is coordinating with everybody’s schedule, because we’re all doing so many different things. But whenever we can, we’re trying to do it.

KB: When did that take place?

RW: About a year and a half ago. We did a couple shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco right after that. Then it’s just been hit and miss, maybe ten shows, and right now we’re doing more than we’ve ever done.

KB: What other cities are you going to be touring?

RW: A few in San Diego, then Boulder, Denver, and Ft. Collins. We’re talking about doing more from here, like a real tour.

KB: Well, this goes back I don’t know how many years. But when you first starting doing your San Francisco gigs, you would also play this club in San Jose called the Ajax Lounge.

RW: Oh yea! The Ajax Lounge! That was the real beginning days of the band.

KB: We used to listen to you guys in that little, tiny room with an even smaller stage space. I don’t know how you all fit, actually.

RW: That’s cool. What’s interesting is that’s where we met our manager that is still with us today. We always talk about how that was the first steps we took. We had played in San Diego a lot and toured in Europe before we even tried to tour in the states.

KB: Is that because you expected the people in Europe to be more into what you guys were doing?

RW: Yea, at the time. This was like, in the mid ‘90s. So there was a big scene for the kind of music we were doing. Karl Denson had kind of name going on over there with more straight ahead jazz records that he put out in Europe. Plus, DJ Greyboy’s records were big in Europe too. So it just seemed like the obvious place for us to go to get started. We ended up playing to, for lack of better words, an indie crowd. In the United States, there wasn’t a big club scene or record collector scene for that kind of music at the time. Even now, it’s a niche group of people who are fanatical about it, and it tends to be those that are into rock music, or into the Dead or whatever. But in Europe, they were all into what we were doing.

KB: I think around the time you guys were coming out was the time that acid jazz was coming to the surface, bands like US3 and such.

RW: Yea, we played in England at the Jazz Café, places around Italy and Germany. There were bands like the James Taylor Quartet that were big, and Brand New Heavies at the beginning. But our thing was more like old funk records, which was definitely an influence on the DJs in England.

KB: That’s the thing. At the beginning, I thought DJ Greyboy was part of the group, but he was just involved with you guys, or Karl, on the label side and in other ways.

RW: He was sort of like a mentor to us. He turned us onto a lot of music, and at the beginning of the band, he was sort of our musical director, “You’re playing too much here, this intro is too long or it’s not long enough,” type of thing. Coming from a musician standpoint, to have a DJ involved was valuable; to sort of tailor things to a dancefloor and making sure everything was communicating our ideas. We had a tendency to do a free for all, come up with crazy parts and be more technical sounding, and he would sort of trim the fat. As time went on we came more into our own, arranging things ourselves, and he got into other things, getting into hip-hop really hard. So we went our own direction, but it did give the band a real clear direction at the beginning and define what we were trying to accomplish with our music.

KB: Do you guys still stay in touch?

RW: We still talk all the time. Sometimes I do work on his records and he does work on mine

KB: Are you guys writing any new material then?

RW: Yea, we’ve got some new songs that we’ve been working on. Even in the last couple of days we’ve got more. We hope that by the time we’re in Colorado we’ll have ‘em all down.

KB: How is this new stuff different from what you did four or five years ago?

RW: It’s the same genre and our influences are all the same, but we’ve grown as composers and musicians. I don’t know…just in the writing…the trick in this kind of music is finding your own voice. It’s basic American music that has been done for a while, so you have to find your own way to do it, which is a challenge.

KB: It seems like now, today, you have this type of reverse approach to your music. Whereas most bands have side projects, which they do in the spare time, you have your side projects at the forefront and do your band in your spare time.

RW: Originally, the concept was that everyone was going to make their own records and then Greyboy Allstars was just all of us. Kind of like the Blue Note label idea where you have a revolving group of musicians playing with each other, where jazz musicians are constantly making records with other different musicians. Plus, I think it enriches the overall music in a lot of ways for everyone doing their own stuff.

KB: It would allow for a lot more freedom too.

RW: Exactly. It also keeps things interesting so you’re not tired of it. You’re not just doing one thing at any given time.

That’s one thing that these over ambitious guys will never have to worry about. For Robert Walter’s and his 20th Congress band, he’s planning on more touring and working on a new album for this year, along with pursuing the Blue Note method for collaborating with other musicians.

As a whole, Greyboy Allstars are looking forward to the numerous gigs they have going here in Colorado this weekend, having felt the musical appreciate from fans both as a band and individually. They play Thursday, February 5 at the Fox Theatre in Boulder; Friday, February 6 at the Gothic Theater in Englewood; and Saturday, February 6 at Aggie Theater, in Ft. Collins.


Sign up to our newsletter and get updates to your mailbox