To those who have seen the California Honeydrops, it may come as a shock that the young frontman, Lech Wierzynski, was born in Warsaw, Poland. The son of Polish political refugees raised in Chicago and Washington DC, Lech was exposed to a wide range of musical influences. “When my dad was growing up in communist Poland in the 40’s and 50’s, old American music was illegal and therefore very cool,” he says. “He passed on the love of old stuff to me: everything from Louis Armstrong to Sam Cooke.”
Like his early influences, Lech has the unique ability to carry a tune casually, conversationally and powerfully as well. But the California Honeydrops are not just another throwback band. “My brother and I had to assimilate to modern American society,” Wierzynski explains, “so we loved all the popular stuff on the radio too, especially Hip-Hop, R&B. Knowing music was our way of proving we were American.” After studying ethno-musicology at Oberlin College, Wierzynski arrived in Oakland, California in 2004. There, he couldn’t help but to continue expanding his musical horizons. “At first,” he recalls, “I played mostly on the street, and then as I got more established I started playing a lot of blues and soul music in clubs and touring. There is a rich heritage of that music here in the Bay, and I was lucky enough to play with a lot of older musicians who taught me what it was all about.”
When Lech was ready to combine all his influences into one cohesive sound, he formed the California Honeydrops. By the time the band put out its first tip jar, at an Oakland train station, Lech had already established himself in the Bay Area music scene. “I had gigs, I wasn’t starving,” he explains. “But I wanted to get back to how I started out, playing on the street with friends, having fun, and putting smiles on peoples faces.” With these goals in mind, the California Honeydrops were formed. “Things got going really fast,” remembers drummer and founding member Ben Malament. “People who had seen us on the street were offering us all kinds of gigs. Before we knew it we were a working band, playing clubs parties, and dances all over.” In just few years time this group of street performers would be selling out venues across California and bringing its infectious sound to festivals across the US and Europe.
With a background in West African and New Orleans drumming, Ben Malament has provided a funky rhythmic backdrop to Wierzynski’s soulful vocals and soaring trumpet playing since their subway busking days. The addition of saxophonist Johnny Bones brought to the band his influences from time working with Eddie Palmieri, Nell Carter, and Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums, to form the core of the group. Growing bigger and gathering steam, the Honeydrops have expanded from an acoustic street trio to a full band: piano and keyboards, electric bass, and additional percussion round out their sound. Beyond the band’s shared musical vision remains a greater purpose: to make people dance, sing, and enjoy themselves. The Honeydrops’ music speaks not just to the heart and soul, but also to the body; people have no choice but to dance. Drawing heavily on Southern soul and Bay Area R&B with a twist of New Orleans second-line street music, the Honeydrops defy genres. Their style may not have a name, but one thing is certain: The California Honeydrops don’t just play music. They throw parties.
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