too funky

by Alyssa Robinson

July 31, 2009

For 31-year-old Kris Craig, leader of the revered soul/funk/R&B group Stepchyle, life is all about living, breathing and making music.

Having naturally taken to both piano and guitar at the age of three, Kris quickly became known for his musical talents early in life. In fact, Kris made his debut into the music industry at the age of 13, playing bass and guitar for hire.

After high school Kris attended music college, majoring in guitar, at Grant MacEwan in Edmonton. There, he met and jammed with a number of musicians who later made it big in the industry, like drummer Ryan Vikadel from the hit group Nickelback.

Over the years, Kris has networked himself and played for many well-known musicians including Joël Fafard, Rory Allen and WCMA award-winner Brad Johner, just to name a few.

Kris also enjoys hosting his own 2-hour show, "2 Funky", which is broadcast weekly on Regina's local 91.3 CJTR radio station, where he spins a playlist full of old-school and fresh Canadian funk music.

Having teamed up with American-raised blues legend George Taylor in his early teens, Kris has been able to live out one of his dreams and create Stepchyle. Although Stepchyle has been a concept for years, their first self-titled album was just released this August.

As the Stepchyle album is quickly becoming a hit across Canada, it has gained recognition from a number of notable industry icons, such as renowned blues artist Jack Semple, who has designated Stepchyle as 'the best soul/funk band in Western Canada.'

Kris and I discussed how he was able to become a key player in the Canadian music industry, both as a solo musician for hire and with the Stepchyle band.

How did you first become involved in the Saskatchewan music industry?

Honestly, I practiced guitar a lot. When I was 13 I played my first professional show with the Gord Almer Big Band. I was replacing Benny Mercado, their bass player, who was retiring. It was amazing to be playing bass with some of the greatest old horn players around at their Legion gigs. Right from the first tune the dance floor was full. It was then and there that I became totally hooked on music.

Where did you meet George Taylor (the band's lead singer/songwriter)?

I met George when he first started playing in Regina with the House of Payne (a Calgary-based band) when I was about 16. At the time, I was playing in a group with Mike Thompson and Kelly Craig called Bluezown. We hooked up with the House of Payne playing in a jam session at The Plains (hotel). From there I ended up playing with the House of Payne.

Can you tell me about George's musical background?

George was born and raised in Florida. It was there that he started his career and spent about nine years fronting an R&B/funk band called Tutch. When he lived in the U.S., he played for a number of bands and artists including Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool and the Gang, Albert Collins and Teddy Pendergrass. George also played with world-renown blues artist Lucky Peterson. In 1990 Lucky brought George up to Canada on tour. George decided to move to Canada when he met a lady from Calgary, who was from Regina. Shortly after, George started the House of Payne.

What types of projects have you worked on with George?

I'm stilling playing in the House of Payne with George. Stepchyle has been a separate project of ours for about 10 or 11 years now. Stepchyle and the House of Payne are really the same group; they just have two different styles. The House of Payne is Chicago-style blues and R&B, while Stepchyle is more on the soul side of things.

Who are your musical influences?

There's so many, it's hard to narrow it down. George really likes to listen to Prince a lot. I've been a fan of Stevie Wonders since I was a really young kid. I've always admired piano players and guys like Donnie Hathaway and Billy Preston. But, basically anything R&B I try to get my hands on.

How has Stepchyle's musical style changed since you first began?

It's always changing and growing. When you grow up the music always grows up with you. And, that's one of the thrills. Right now we're getting a lot of fresh attitudes and ideas from some of our newer players. They add to a lot of the creative flavour of the band. We can see a lot of change in the tunes we're working on for the next CD already.

What steps did you go through when recording your current self-titled album?

In May 2002 the album was recorded in the span of two weeks. Since we had a limited amount of time to work in the studio we had to have a lot of our pre-production done before we got there. So, it was mainly a matter of laying down the tracks properly. A lot of it was done live off the floor as a rhythm section with four pieces ­ piano, guitar, bass and drums - then we layered things. Our horn section (saxophone, trumpet and trombone) was done with three players in one room, playing together on one stereo microphone. It was a nice way to record. The music sounds very fresh and alive.

Did you experience any challenges in the studio?

No. I've been doing studio work for years now, so I've learned how to work in a studio efficiently. I've also been doing a lot of recording projects on the side for other artists.

Do the songs on your album carry a certain theme?

George is our main singer and songwriter. He really sings and speaks from his heart. I can tell his songs have come from a lot of life experiences. The last three songs on the album are bonus tracks ­ they're original House of Payne songs.

When do you plan on releasing your next album?

We recorded our Casino Regina CD Release show this August. We're planning on putting a DVD of that out early next year (2005). During this year, we're hoping to get all the pre-production in place for the next album.

What have you done to market the band and your album?

Having a CD really helps to back-up up your rep and get your music out there. Whenever people hear us and have a good time, they don't forget us. We apply for a lot of music festivals and try to get in touch with some bigger venues so we can continue to reach more people. We're also going to be on CTV's "Good Morning Canada" soon. It'll be great to have that national exposure.

What do you enjoy most about performing?

It's a joy to play music for other people when you see how happy it makes them. You feed off the crowd as much as they feed off you. And if they feel it, the band feels it even more.

What is the most challenging thing about being a musician?

It can be difficult for a 7-piece band to make a decent living playing in nightclubs because nightclubs don't want to pay you more than they pay their 4-piece bands. It's not an easy life, but it's a good life and a happy life.

What are your short-term and long-term goals as a musician?

I plan on being a musician for the rest of my life. It's pretty much the only thing I want to do. As long as I'm succeeding in making a decent enough living and still enjoying it, I'll continue what I'm doing. As a band, we would like to become more of a concert band rather than just playing in nightclubs.

What advice do you have for aspiring young artists wanting to enter the music industry?

Don't worry about anything but your instrument, whether it's your voice or an instrument. It sounds simple, but it's really important to learn how to play your instrument properly. Stay dedicated and practice hard.

By Alyssa Robinson for SaskMusic. Originally published December 2004.

This article is posted as initially published. For reprint/usage permission or any other questions, please contact SaskMusic.

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