The 1990s in Winston-Salem was a different place and a different attitude than its modern-day counterpart. When I was in college from 1995-1999 and even after in the early 2000s, the first question I asked myself every week was “who is playing Ziggy’s this weekend?”
Ziggy’s was a venue located on Baity Street immediately before the cul-de-sac across from the LJVM Coliseum. Ziggy’s stood for decades and built a musical reputation for the city of Winston-Salem. It’s amazing when national acts such as George Clinton, Government Mule, Everclear, 311, and the Black Crowes regularly added a stop to their tours at a wooden shack with a tarp roof tucked back in a wooded area that held around 600 people at capacity. That is pure reputation and tradition in every sense of the words. The old Ziggy’s is described down to the very last detail of the restrooms in Matthew Aberdeen’s book “A Series of Bad Ideas.”
What you could see at Ziggy’s and other venues across the Carolinas such as Amos’ in Charlotte and the Purple Gator in Myrtle Beach were the bands that cultivated the “Carolina Sound.” The Carolina sound is the epitome of middle of the road rock, but with lyrical hooks that are guaranteed to make a listener hum in the shower. Bands like Athenaeum, Far Too Jones, Collapsis,& Cravin Melon are all perfect examples of bands from the Carolinas that had that sound. Not too hard, not too soft, no 12 minute guitar solo, but straight to the point rock n roll. This somehow always fit perfectly on a sweltering summer night in Winston-Salem at Ziggy’s coupled with their best selling beer; the Foster’s “oil can.” When Ziggy’s was forced to shut its doors in 2007, the door was shut in a sense for the Winston-Salem music scene as well.
Since that time, it has been extremely difficult for a local band to really expand their following and gain notoriety without that “Mecca” of local venues to perform. However, over the past few years one band has risen from the ashes of what was once a flourishing music scene, gained a local following, and has been packing any bar, pool hall, or private party they’ve played.
Fuhnetik Union has accomplished just that. It’s all about the elements and the formula. It’s very easy for a band to fail and to go nowhere quickly. These bands can be spotted a thousand miles away; some unorganized jam band with a terrible front man, some blues band whose only element is a decent guitarist that can play a solo, or some trash metal foursome that has no dynamic or clue what a musical crescendo is. Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth explained this in the best way I’ve ever heard when she said; “That kind of music is only fun if you’re the one playing it. It’s designed for the musician and not for the listener.”
Playing for the fans and listeners is how Fuhnetik Union has built such a large following in the Piedmont Triad area. With a mixture of covers and a very strong portfolio of originals, Fuhnetik Union (better known as F.U.) puts on a live show geared toward the audience and not themselves. It says a lot when you can see people in the crowd singing along to and being turned on in the same way to F.U. originals such as “Panic” and “I Tried” as they do a blistering cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Guerilla Radio” or Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” Although recorded in the infancy of the band with a couple of different members, the track “You Don’t Know” remains, to me, a standout single with a catchy hook that I’ve caught myself humming many many times. It’s a musically simplistic 4-chord track that has the recipe for a radio hit: a memorable melody, a perfect tempo, and it’s about something that everybody understands-having a good time. Musically itself, it’s a fun song about having fun. It wouldn’t make much sense to make a dark and brooding metal song about having a good time would it? That’s the difference in engaging a crowd and having to retreat into mediocrity as most bands do.
F.U. is a 5-piece band that has a perfect mix of influences from straight rock to funk to reggae to blues and back. The lead vocalist, Jai Wilkins, brings a unique stage presence that most bands don’t have. What if someone that looked like Bob Marley, sounded like Marvin Gaye, and had the charisma of Vince Neil sang for a band like Social Distortion? That’s the dynamic Jai brings to Fuhnetik Union. Jai plays to the crowd and keeps them involved. For example, the last time I saw them play in July, I yelled “Digital Underground” from the back of the bar and Jai immediately heard me yell and proceeded to break into the first verse of “The Humpty Dance.”
When it comes to bass, F.U. has an extremely talented band member who when I interviewed for this article popped off a list of bass heroes that have influenced him. This in turn made me appreciate his playing a little more. Tere Everhart’s influences include Ben Harper, P-Nut from 311, Steven Perkins from Jane’s Addiction, and Bootsy Collins. Most bass players sport a 4-string bass, but Tere elevates it up a step by playing 5- and 6-string Ibanez basses.
Fuhnetik Union isn’t afflicted (as a lot of bands are) with a lame drummer. Being a drummer myself that has played with F.U.’s lead singer Jai in another band, I can see the positive chemistry that drummer Casey McDaniel brings to this band. As a drummer, it’s very hard to learn an important lesson: play what fits the song, not everything you know how to do. Casey McDaniel, originally from Mocksville, NC and heavily influenced by Chad Sexton of 311, does this wonderfully. He puts the punch in the songs when needed, throws down some intricate “meat” when called for, and lays down a simple beat when it’s needed. Casey is a truly talented drummer that fits the F.U. unit to a tee.
When it comes to a guitarist, Sonny Russo is a guy that every band wishes they had. Sonny was born in New York and moved down to North Carolina when he was younger. Sonny told me in an interview for this story that his “main musical hero is Jimi Hendrix because of his visionary style, guitar prowess, and his desire to constantly evolve and challenge boundaries-both his own and that of the listener.
I feel that F.U. captures this spirit in our original music and I’m proud to be a member of such an amazing and talented group of guys. We are brothers and friends first and foremost, and the support and love of our families, friends, and fans is second to none. They are our “Union” and the driving force behind what we do.” When learning that the “Union” in Fuhnetik Union’s band name was a reference to the loyalty of their fans and supporters, it further solidified to me that this band plays for audience, and not themselves.
With the following that F.U. has produced, they are at the forefront of a music scene that if it wasn’t already completely dead, it was taking its last gasp of fresh air. F.U. has been packing people in places that aren’t even designed to house live bands for a few years now and the demand is continuing to increase. That “buzz” combined with the re-opening of the legendary venue Ziggy’s in a new location in downtown Winston-Salem, are the ingredients needed to resurrect the music scene that dwindled to nothing and is on the upswing to return to the thriving market it was in the 1980s and 1990s.
Fuhnetik Union Booking: Please contact Tere Everhart at (336) 247-3674 or via email @
firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com via social networking outlets
reverbnation.com/fuhnetikunion or facebook.com/fuhnetikunionlive
Dustin M Pardue
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