Rick James, the Buffalo-born funk legend, was often seen posing with his gorgeous white Rickenbacker bass -- most notably, on the cover of his mega-hit 1981 albm "Street Songs." James wasn't primarily a bass player, though; he was a songwriter capable of playing many instruments, and he composed principally on piano. Though James sketched out many of the bass riffs that would make him famous, most of them were augmented, interpreted and performed by another Buffalo native, funk bassist supreme Oscar Alston.
As bassist with James' Stone City Band, Alston toured and recorded with James throughout his commercial heyday. In the process he made his mark on history, doing for '80s funk what his idols, Motown bassist James Jamerson and Funkadelic four-stringer Bootsy Collins, had done for R&B in the '60s and '70s. Sadly, he received little credit for his efforts. James, for reasons that, Alston told Bass Player Magazine in 2004, had more to do with control than money, never gave Alston and the Stone City Band credit for their contributions to his music, which were considerable. Alston, who'd by then become a devout Christian, parted ways with James and his drug-fueled lifestyle in 1983, quit the music business altogether, and eventually returned in the late '80s to concentrate on gospel recordings.
Alston reconnected with James in 2004, shortly before he died, and a James/Stone City Band reunion tour was in the works at the time of James' death.
Alston will perform many of the hits he crafted with James, and tell stories of their heady times together, inside the New Golden Nugget, 2046 Fillmore Ave., on Saturday. He'll be joined by guests Tee-Nyce, DJ Hassan and others. Alston's new disc, "Some City Friends," will be available at the show. Tickets are $15 advance, through Doris Records, 286 East Ferry St., and the New Golden Nugget box office. Admission at the door will be $20.
This gig offers a rare chance to see a genuine funk legend up close and personal. In addition to his work with James, Alston has performed and recorded with the Manhattans, the Mary Jane Girls, Teena Marie and the Temptations, and he'll likely be pulling from this considerable repertoire during Saturday's show.
For more info, check out www.oscaralston.com.
-- Jeff Miers