Introducing Brown Sabbath: Black Sabbath, but funky

"Black Sabbath were inherently funky", says Beto Martinez, guitarist with Austin-based funksters Brownout. "They've definitely got the groove going".

The Black Sabbath catalogue might sound like an odd target for a group more used to playing Latin soul, rare groove and funk, but Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath is a rare thing indeed: a heavy rock tribute album from a band schooled in another genre that doesn’t sound like a novelty, and doesn’t back away from the aggression of the originals. In short, it rocks. And it’s definitely got the funk.

It helps that Brownout aren’t wet-behind-the-ears novices. Seven of the eight members of Brownout also play with the Grammy-award winning Grupo Fantasma, who’ve backed Prince on a number of occasions, as well as the likes of Spoon, Daniel Johnston, and James Brown/Funkadelic/Parliament sax player Maceo Parker. They know what they’re doing.

So how did a funk outfit from Texas end up covering War Pigs and The Wizard?

“Black Sabbath was some of the first music I was into”, says Martinez, who grew up in Laredo listening to Tejano and Mexican music, but got into rock at high school. “We had a residency at a club called Franks in Austin, and we decided to do a different sort of theme every night. One night was a James Brown night, where we did the Black Caesar album as Brown Caesar. We did a breakdancing night called Brownout II: Electric Boogaloo, a hip hop night entitled Fear Of A Brown Planet, and for the last one we were brainstorming and someone threw out Brown Sabbath. It sounded great, and the response was awesome.

“We started out just covering the stuff, then added more on top as we went along. We didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, but it came out pretty good. Mark Gonzales, our trombone player, did a great job of arranging the horns, and making them sound like they’d always been there. They fit perfectly, and that’s great: actually being able to add to songs that people know so well.”

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The band have recently finished a west coast tour in the US playing the Brown Sabbath set, performed at the famed Austin Psyche Festival, and the album premiered on US Radio network NPR.

The record deserves the praise it’s received. The horns give Into The Void a sleazy, lurching swagger, while N.I.B. starts with funky drummer snap before the familiar crouching riff arrives, then turns into a sweltering, Santana-style funk blowout. Alex Maas from Austin psyche band Black Angels handles the vocals on Hand Of Doom as greasy horns slither and soar, while the band’s version of The Wizard, all rattling percussion and fat brass blasts, performs the neat trick of taking the song in an entirely new direction without losing any of the original’s ferocity. “We didn’t want to water anything down, and as a guitar player there was no way in hell I was going to go soft”, says Martinez. “I still had to bring it.”

After all the excitement generated, you might think this could turn into a full-time job, but that’s not going to happen. “We’ve been opening every show with a Brownout set, just to remind people who we are”, says Martinez. “We’re not setting out to be a tribute band. It’s something we decided to do, and the reaction has been great, and we’re having a whole lot of fun doing it. We get to rock out, and for me, because it’s the music I grew up with, it’s so munch fun. We’re loving doing it, but it’s not what we’re going to do it forever.” Get acquainted while you can.

_Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath is available now, on brown vinyl, from Bandcamp. _

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.