Locally brewed Coffee Black

A history-in-the-making of Shoals soul and funk

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The Shoals is an area that is so deeply rooted in musical history. Artists like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Joe Tex and many others have come and produced amazing music right here in the area. We as locals know that some of the most amazing music comes from local bands, some relatively unknown.

Coffee Black is one of those bands.

Originating in the summer of 2017, pianist and vocalist CJ Anderson brought together bassist Damyon Jolley, guitarist Matt Pettie, drummer Michael Rogers and auxiliary musician Angelo Sandoval to create the fantastic smooth and groovy tones found throughout all their music. I met with the band during one of their rehearsal sessions to ask them a few questions.

Where did the name Coffee Black come from?

CJ: Have you ever seen the movie Semi-Pro? Well André 3000 is one of my favorite rappers and he is casted as Clarence in that film. His character changes his name every other game that they play and Coffee Black was one of them, it was a funky name and it just stuck with me.

Fun fact 1: CJ, while explaining the inception of the band, said, “We all played with pizza (at Pie Factory in Florence) so playing music just followed right after.”

Wait did you all work at there at one point?

CJ: Yeah, Pie Factory is actually where Coffee Black was formed.

Damyon: And don’t forget, you got the job at ‘Pie’ just so you could get that keyboard you have now.

Did you all meet at Pie or did you know each other before?

Angelo: Everyone pretty much knew everyone already, but I met CJ while working there. I had kind of known who he was but I had not had the opportunity to meet him ‘til working together.

What genre of music do you categorize the band to have?

Michael: Probably a mixture a soul and funk.

Angelo: Sunk.

Matt: Stop.

[all laugh]

Who inspires the music?

CJ: Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Queen, Earth Wind & Fire, The Beatles, of course…. Anything with a groove, soul or funk, to be honest. The groovy bass lines, electrified piano riffs and lively horn lines are what draws me the most. That style of music and fashion is just something that we try to bring to the band as much as possible.

Damyon: Yeah, he wants us all to wear bell bottoms at some point. Matching bell bottoms, bedazzled shirts and platform shoes.

Fun fact 2: CJ has brought a lot of fashion trends to the table, including dashikis.

What were your biggest challenges as a band?

CJ: Travel, putting your own money into it, and the fact that you definitely have to have a product when trying to get a following.

Angelo: And trying to fine tune that product is difficult but it’s fun.

CJ: We were doing some restructuring for quite a while. We started off as a four-piece, added a fifth member, then had to reconstruct the band. Then we added in horns so adapting to all those changes were a challenge.

Angelo: We did a lot of moving around. Like at one point Michael was playing guitar and drums, then I was on auxiliary and drums, and then we tried to get a new drummer but that didn’t work out so we’re right back to doing all that again. We ended up putting Michael back on drums and then we brought in Pettie.”

CJ, how do you feel culture and black history have affected your taste in music?

CJ: Well James Brown has a song that I want us to learn that is very much a ‘Say it Loud, Black and Proud’ mentality. All my favorite artists are black. And it’s not just because I am black, but it definitely helps because this is the music that affects me the most, because I relate to it. Blues and funk [emerged] from a time of being oppressed. Being told you’re less than a person because of the color of your skin is something that has a deep connection with me, so culture has been a huge influence on me.

Coffee Black has an EP that was published in 2017 that can be found on Spotify and Apple Music along with some work on YouTube. They said a new album is in the works and is set to drop in April 2019, so make sure to keep an eye out for that and any shows announced on their Facebook page.