Nearly 30 years later, Soul Phonics have still got soul

Thursday, September 3, 2009

In an era that produced Marvin Gaye, James Brown and the Jackson Five, there was one group that brought the funk and soul home to the heartland. From Chicago to Memphis, Tenn., and all along the Mississippi, the Soul Phonics entertained crowds large and small with its huge sound and stage presence.

The group had 11 members, give or take a few guest spots, when it started in the 1960s.

"When it started, we were all in junior high," said singer Tylon Wilson. "We were probably playing in clubs we weren't even old enough to get in. But we were pretty good."

Wilson said the band continued to play through high school and until he was in junior college. Almost all the members will reunite Friday and Saturday for two shows in Cairo, Ill.

The Soul Phonics started in Cairo and met in the home of Catherine and Fred Wood Sr., whose home was filled with teenagers and music as the Soul Phonics practiced and developed their set lists. Their son, Larry Wood, played bass in the band and his older brother, Fred Wood Jr., managed the group.

During the Soul Phonics' career, they were featured on local television stations when local talents were highlighted during the Jerry Lewis Telethon. They played in clubs in Cairo, Chicago, Carbondale, Ill., and Cape Girardeau and became a staple for proms in the Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri area.

"We were nestled down in little Cairo, Ill.," Wilson said. "It was truly a great time growing up, though. We felt like and were sometimes treated like celebrities."

The Rev. Bobbie Garrett, founding vocalist and trombonist for the Soul Phonics, remembers those times.

"Being in chorus and marching band in high school, [playing with the Soul Phonics] was an incentive I couldn't resist," he said.

Performing onstage was something Garrett always enjoyed. He said once he was showing off on a trombone solo on "Make it Funky" at a show in Martin, Tenn., and his slide came off and bounced around the dance floor.

Funny moments aside, the Soul Phonics will soon grace the stage again. It has been nearly 30 years since the members have been on stage together.

The Soul Phonics are playing two reunion shows on Labor Day weekend. The first is at 7 p.m. Friday at Cairo High School for the all-class reunion. On Saturday the band will play a concert open to the public from noon to 3 p.m. at St. Mary's Park in Cairo.

The Soul Phonics plan on doing a gospel set as well as some of their favorite soul numbers they covered in the early days.

It might not be the last time the group plays together, Wilson said. "Who knows, it may be beginning of something."

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