When Rick James died in 2004, he left the people who knew him with a lot of memories.
One friend was Jermain Hill, a Buffalonian who went on to manage a record store in California, part of a chain called Peaches Records and Tapes. Hill remembers the day James lost his temper in the store.
“Rick and a couple of guys came in the store and saw a George Clinton album that had a caricature of Rick,” Hill said. “He tore up the album. He was kind of livid about George. He was always colorful in his words.”
Hill, who was friends with James from their childhood days in Buffalo, caught up with the funk master later at his hotel. “He apologized,” he said. “I think he was kind of misinterpreted. “He was quite a character, very fun-loving, very giving.”
Whatever other descriptions might apply, James is not the kind of artist to go gentle into that good night. The devil-may-care funkmeister loomed large while he was alive, and his songs still reverberate.
That’s why the Stone City Band, the group he formed in 1978, is back on a roll.
The big, brash ensemble, now based in Las Vegas, is on its “2013 Funk ‘N Roll” tour. And its first stop is Buffalo. The tour plays the Tralf on Friday.
Formed in Buffalo in 1978, the Stone City Band can be heard on such historic James hits as “Fire and Desire,” “Give It To Me Baby,” “Mary Jane” and, of course, “Super Freak.”
Something in those songs still calls to people, Hill said. “It’s universal. It has no color,” he said. “I think one of the main things is that punk/funk basically puts the fun back in the music.”
That’s what’s missing in most music these days, he reflected. “There’s no fun. It’s disturbing and depressing. It’s nothing that’s uplifting, that makes people want to smile. Especially in hard times – we’re going through it at this juncture. We’re putting smiles on people’s faces, making them party and dance.”
Hill pointed out that James’ hits were well-crafted. “He had great orchestrations. He blended the sounds, combined elements of rock, funk, Caribbean, had a gumbo of different sounds. He had classical stuff in some of his stuff – ‘Fool on the Street,’ ‘Hollywood.’ He was very well-versed in combining different genres of music.”
The idea of putting the band back together came to Hill and to James’ family and friends as they gathered after his funeral.
“We had a little powwow,” Hill said. “One of his plans was to take the band out on tour. One of his acknowledgments was the band never got the respect it was due. He wanted to put together a tour in 2004. Unfortunately he passed away and it never came to pass.”
In 2005, the reassembled Stone City Band played the Sphere in downtown Buffalo. “That went over well,” Hill says. “The guys were excited, and people loved the show. We thought we were off to the races. I think everyone thought we would go straight to the top.”
Nothing is simple, he sighs. But the future looks bright. “We finally got the right musicians together. We’ve been fortunate to keep the music going. It hasn’t been easy.”
Friday’s lineup features drummer Lanise Hughes; lead guitarist Tom McDermott; Nate (Guido) Hughes on percussion and vocals; Levi Ruffin Jr. on synthesizer and vocals; and Billy Nunn on keyboards and vocals. Jimmy Ali, of P-Funk, will be on bass. Lead vocalist is Randall (R2) Bostick.
What: Rick James’ Original Stone City Band
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Tralf Music Hall, 622 Main St.
Tickets: $25 advance, $35 day of show