The internationally renowned Hot 8 Brass Band from New Orleans is one of the most enduring and innovative groups in the Crescent City lineage that dates back to Congo Square in the 1880s. Despite traveling the globe often, at home they are among the most popular — and visible — funk-style brass bands to participate in community parades and funerals. Their albums have all been issued on the U.K. label Tru Thoughts (which is normally associated with the music of DJ culture and soul and R&B). Several of their tracks have been remixed by well-known producers and DJs and issued as EPs. The band, whose lineup changes often but always retains its four core founding members, can feature as many as ten members. Their funk style blends elemental influences from the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth brass bands, contemporary R&B, rap, and bounce. Their unique sound is due to creative original songs and ideas composed or introduced by its members.
The band was founded in 1995 when sousaphone player Bennie "Big Peter" Pete successfully merged the best players from the Looney Tunes Brass Band and the High Steppers Brass Band. They included trombonist Jerome "Baybay" Jones, Harry "Swamp Thang" Cook on bass drum, and Wendell "Cliff" Stewart on saxophone; trumpet players Terrell "Burger" Batiste, Alvarez "B.I.G. AL" Huntley, Raymond "Dr. Rackle" Williams, and Jacob Johnson; trombonists Jerome "Baybay" Jones, Keith "Wolf" Anderson, Jereau "Cousin" Fournett, Demond "Bart" Dorsey, and Joseph "Shotgun Joe" Williams, with Dinerral "Dick" Shavers on snare drum.
That early lineup was shocked into change in 1996, when 17-year-old trumpeter Johnson was murdered in a home invasion. In 2004, the year before Hurricane Katrina — which changed all their lives forever — trombonist Demond Dorsey died of a heart attack and his section member Williams was shot and killed by the NOPD. His death remains under independent investigation over a decade later.
New members were recruited and Hot 8 soldiered on, becoming ever more popular on the NOLA scene. They issued their debut long-player Rock with the Hot 8 in 2005 on Louisiana Red Hot Records. The set featured a version of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" that was picked up on by several DJs for remixing and made its way north into dance clubs. The track has become Hot 8's de facto anthem.
After the devastation left by Katrina, Hot 8 became with involved with SAVE OUR BRASS!, a local grass roots project that brought music to evacuee shelters and temporary trailer parks, as well as supporting Katrina-displaced brass bands and brass musicians with funding, supplies, and instruments to replace the ones they lost. They also became an integral part of Finding Our Folk, an organization directed at displaced New Orleanians in an effort to reunite communities of the Gulf Coast diaspora created by the storm.
Hot 8 was featured prominently in Spike Lee's 2006 HBO documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (they also were an integral part of his sequel, If God Is Willing and the Creek Don't Rise in 2010). The same year, their snare drummer Shavers was shot and killed while out driving with his family. Still the band refused to quit. In the aftermath of his death they became (and remain active) in the Silence Is Violence organization, and with Save Our Brass, which supports and supplies Katrina-displaced brass bands and brass musicians with funding and sometimes instruments to replace the ones they lost. In an effort to reunite communities, Hot 8 undertook the organization's Finding Our Folk Tour, which was directed to and attended by many displaced New Orleanians.
In 2007, Will "Quantic" Holland got hold of a copy of a remix of the Hot 8 cover of "Sexual Healing" and played it during a DJ set in New York — it received enthusiastic audience approval. As a result, he also spun it for Tru Thoughts label bosses Robert Luis and Paul Jonas who, impressed, went in search of the group and its music. They signed Hot 8 and later in the year issued their "Sexual Healing" single. Limited to 500 copies, it became a rarity almost immediately. They followed it up with a reissue of the band's Rock with the Hot 8 debut. It received positive reviews globally and the label put the band on a European tour in early 2008. To accompany these shows, the label released a second single, a cover of Snoop Dogg's "What's My Name." A collection entitled Hot 8 Remixes was issued later in the year.
The band began touring internationally, playing their own gigs, and opening for artists including Lauryn Hill. Their annual performances at Jazz Fest were released by local labels in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, Tru Thoughts released the band's second long-player, the autobiographical Life & Times Of.... The album featured a stellar host of originals — some of which have become staples of the NOLA brass band scene's fakebook — and well-received covers, including a dynamite version of the Specials' "Ghost Town." Hot 8 kicked off 2013 with the January 1 issue of the digital singles for "Homies" and "Milwaukee Fat," which were both included on their simultaneously released third album, Tombstone. The set was dedicated to former bandmembers and other departed friends and musicians. Despite its somber title and subject, the music was far from funereal. Live at Jazz Fest 2013 also appeared that year.
The unit undertook U.S. and European tours and festival dates as headliners in support of the studio album. It kept them busy for the rest of the year and into 2014. They celebrated their 20th anniversary with Vicennial: 20 Years of the Hot 8 Brass Band, in 2015, a set of brand new tracks and newly recorded versions of repertoire tunes. Tru Thoughts also issued the Sexual Healing Remixes, an album's worth of versions by Ibibo Sound Machine, Maddslinky, Werkha, Space Captain, J-Felix, and others. It also included an a cappella take of Hot 8's version. A single combining a cover of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" b/w "We Shall Walk Through the Streets of the City" was also released. The band was also featured on "The What Stop (Work out Your Hips)" single by DJ Jubilee.
In May 2016, the Can't Nobody Get Down EP was issued. It featured three new tracks including the title number, the funky dance jam "Take It to the House," and the uptempo party revisioning of Stevie Wonder's "That Girl" — it also included two more remixes of "Sexual Healing" by Wrongtom and Roy Cooper, precursors to On the Spot, their fifth full-length. The set offered a host of originals including "8 Kickin It Live," "Get It How You Live," and "Bottom of the Bucket," as well as the Wonder cover, a steamy reading of Sade's "Sweetest Taboo," and the standard "St. James Infirmary." Released at the end of March, the set debuted strong on digital and streaming charts. ~ Thom Jurek