In a roundabout way, Janis Joplin is responsible for the birth of the Good Foot, a Kansas City soul band.
“Tim (Braun) and I met when we played in ‘Love, Janis,’ that off-Broadway musical that came to Kansas City,” said Adam Wagner. “He played guitar, I played sax. After that we started hanging out and talked about doing some other project.”
That project would be the Good Foot, now a seven-piece ensemble that started out as a cover band but is slowly building a catalog of its own material. Saturday night, the Good Foot is performing at the Uptown Theater as part of Carnivàle du Soul, the crown jewel in the city’s Mardi Gras celebration. The Hearts of Darkness headline.
Both bands will be releasing their split 45 rpm single, featuring “Numeration” by the Hearts and “Bad Way,” an original Good Foot song that shows the band’s many influences.
“There’s some Sly the Family Stone in there,” Wagner said. “The bridge is so Motown, so Diana Ross and the Supremes, and there’s a little Curtis Mayfield, too.”
“Bad Way” is one of five original songs the Good Foot is working into a repertoire of about four dozen old-school soul tunes from the Temptations, the Jackson 5, Gladys Knight the Pips, Al Greene, Stevie Wonder, the Isley Brothers and others.
“It’s music we all grew up with but didn’t necessarily listen to all the time,” Wagner said. “It was around, on the radio. We decided that a lot of bands weren’t doing it and there’s a demand for it. It’s music people can have a good time with and dance to.”
Wagner was a music student in the UMKC Conservatory when he and Braun came up with the idea for the band. The horn section changed personnel early, but for most of the past three years the band has comprised Wagner, Braun, Quentin Schmidt, Nick Howell, David Conarroe, Nick Rowland and vocalist Julia Haile, a fellow Conservatory student.
“The initial plan was to get some songs under our belts and then start doing our own things,” Wagner said. “We started out doing fairly standard songs, lots of big hits, then started digging deeper and doing lesser-known artists.”
The Good Foot’s first gig was a cover-band competition in Westport. The band was so new, it didn’t have a name yet.
“It was one of Jim Kilroy’s Cover Wars,” Wagner said. “I’d called him and said, ‘I have a concept for a band. We’re not ready yet, but we will be.’ About three days before the show, he called and said, ‘I need a name.’ So I called and texted people in the band asking for suggestions. I got lots of joke answers or no answer at all. I thought we needed a name that would tell people what we did even if they hadn’t heard us. Who better than James Brown to do that?”
So he pulled a name from the Brown classic “Get on the Good Foot,” and the band went to Blayney’s and stepped in to the Kansas City music scene.
“We only knew five songs,” Wagner said. “We did our five songs and said good night. They tell us, ‘You have more time. You can play more.’ And we were like, ‘Uh, no we can’t. That’s all we know.’ And then we won the competition.”
These days they know enough material to fill a four-hour show. On a Sunday morning, Haile and Wagner are sitting in YJ’s Snack Bar, and Haile’s voice is showing some slight wear from the night before, when the band had a late and long gig in Springfield.
She is the face of this dynamic band, its focal point. She delivers the melodies and the lyrics — what people remember most about those famous songs. She treats those songs with respect but gives them her own twists.
“There are certain points or moments in a song that everyone loves,” she said, “or a certain way something is done that becomes that song’s signature. I try to honor those moments, and then in other places add my own spin.”
In the process of learning so many classic songs, Haile said, she has become more deeply acquainted with them.
“Even though you may have been singing these songs before, you don’t always notice some of the finer points of the lyrics,” she said. “I’ve discovered things about some of these lyrics, things you realize when you break them down and appreciate their poetry.”
Likewise, after learning four dozen or more classic songs and playing them so much, the band has absorbed a lot of knowledge about the mechanics of great songwriting, Wagner said. “Learning all those songs and just digesting all that music has helped us with our own songs. It’s all more instinctive now.”
“Bad Way” shows some of that learning and some of those influences. It’s a horn-fed, easy-groove soul number that sounds like it was born in the early ’70s.
“It kind of sits back and rolls along,” Haile said. “It moves, but you’re not chasing it. When we play it live, most people look like they’re trying to figure out if they know it. And then we can see them getting into it and feeling it.”
Wagner said the goal is to keep writing songs and adding them to their sets, staying true to the sounds of classic soul but giving those songs a blend of modern and old-school flair.
“When we started we wanted to do justice to the style that was developed by so many amazing bands before us,” Wagner said. “There were certain elements we knew we had to have and standards to live up to: a horn section, a great drummer, a great singer, a great bass player. Then we wanted to create something that would be acceptable.”
They’ve got that down pat, he said. “We don’t even rehearse the covers,” Wagner said. “They’re automatic. When we rehearse, it’s to develop new ideas. We’re at the point now where we are starting to feel very comfortable stretching out and trying new things, even dropping some jazz into our own songs. We’ve accomplished what we set out to do. It’s great to be part of a fun, talented band. We got the music thing down. But now, everyone is kind of thinking, ‘What’s next?’ You can be a cover band any time. So we’re working toward finding what we sound like and who we are. And we’re getting closer every day.”Also this weekend
The RecordBar is hosting the third annual Rock Benefit, a fundraiser for the local Leukemia Lymphoma Society. Five bands will perform: Dream Wolf, Think Like Computers, Manbear, Echoes From Airplanes and Vehicle. Showtime is 7 p.m. A $10 donation will be taken at the door. It’s an 18-and-older show. The event is organized by Missy Anderson, a team captain for the society’s annual Light the Night Walk.
“I lost my grandmother to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in March of 2006,” Anderson said. “She and I were extremely close, and I had a really hard time dealing with losing her.”
She got involved with the society’s Light the Night Walk for a few years. And then: “I wanted to do something more. I have always loved music. It’s a big part of my life in many ways; my husband is a musician. So, I decided to put those two together.”
The society is not officially sponsoring the Rock Benefit, but it will receive all of its proceeds.
“I chose RecordBar because, honestly, I just love that place,” Anderson said. “Steve Tulipana (co-owner) has been really supportive of the whole event and even donates gift certificates for the raffle. I thought that by having this benefit show (there), we could also reach out to a younger crowd and help make them aware of these deadly blood cancers. They’re doing what they usually do on a Saturday night — hanging out and catching live music — but on this night, it’s all while learning about and supporting a great cause.”Two for the early birds
The DooDads are throwing their regular kids-welcome after-work party at 6 p.m. Friday at the RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road. Admission is free. The DooDads perform music for children that is highly suitable for adults, who are welcome with or without children.
The Brick, 1727 McGee St., is throwing a happy-hour show Friday featuring John Statz and Dollar Fox. Statz is a singer/songwriter from Denver whose latest album, “Old Fashioned,” was produced by Bo Ramsey, former guitarist for Lucinda Williams. Dollar Fox is a five-piece Kansas City band that includes singer/songwriter Tommy Donoho. Highly recommended for anyone who likes music in the folk/Americana/alt-country vein.