'Wyzard' Mother's Finest And Beyond
Amongst the great artists of the often un-sung musical genre of Funk-Rock, including Funkadelic, Fishbone, Bad Brains, 2-4-7 Spies, Living Color, The Isley Brothers, Meshell N’degeocello, Follow For Now, David Ryan Harris, Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsy’s, and even blues artist like Buddy Guy, prolific Funk-Rock band Mother’s Finest is truly a legend and the foundation for all who followed.
WWF was privileged to talk with bassist, vocalist, and song-writer Jerry “Wyz” Seay formerly of Mother’s Finest. Wyz was with Mother’s Finest from their beginnings in Miami, FL, their move to Atlanta, and the numerous brilliant albums and legendary high-energy performances through-out their 40+ years in the music business. Mother’s Finest has a world-wide following and global notoriety that quietly eclipses most bands in their genre. They have established an almost cult-like following that spans continents, and when you hear the music, you immediately understand why.
Wyz, along with guitarist Gary “Moses Mo” Moore, vocalist and founder Glenn Murdock and the spirit-wrenching vocals of lead-singer Joyce Kennedy, have together created music that will stir your soul and lift you higher. Mother’s Finest has out-lasted many of the greats over the decades, and has maintained the finest level of artistry and creativity through-out almost 50 years in the constantly shifting ocean of the music business.
Wyz was kind enough to give us some great insight into their legacy, and the reasons for Mother’s Finest’s incomparable longevity in Funk-Rock.
WWF: Hi! How are you doing today?
Wyz: I am doing fine except I have a tooth that’s driving me nuts; I gotta go to the dentist tomorrow, but everything else is marvelous!
WWF: Sorry to hear. Hope you feel better. We were reading an interview you did some years ago and it said you hit the road when you were 13 with Jackie Wilson! I was like oh my goodness, and we also know that your brother is a musician, so tell us about your roots in music. How did you get started? Did you come from a musical family? How did you become so amazing?
Wyz: Thank you so much! That’s awesome to hear you say that. I am actually writing a book; I am on my last chapter, and it has been the most amazing 5 year process. It is my life story, and I had to interject the times I was living in as I was writing it, and I hope everybody can get the same excitement. But as far as my history, yes I am from a musical family; 12 children, 6 girls and 6 boys, and everybody was musical!
My mother and my father, every child sings and plays at least one instrument and we were from the church down in Miami where I grew up. It’s an amazing story. You know, from the first time I could even walk, I used to walk down the halls of the house I lived in and there would be a guitar against the wall, and I would strum the strings, or I would pass the piano and run my fingers down the keys, and I would pluck the strings on the bass, so it was normal to me to always be surrounded by instruments. So eventually, I picked one up and I just started playing it, and that’s how it pretty much started.
WWF: And how did you wind up on the road with Jackie Wilson at 13?
Wyz: Ok yeah, so my oldest brother Frankie was a guitar player and he was playing with Jackie Wilson at the time. Another brother of mine, his nickname was Lunch (laughter), was supposed to play a summer tour with Jackie Wilson, and he was trying to avoid being drafted. He was right at the age, and he fought it off and fought it off, but then he was drafted into Vietnam.
WWF: Oh no.
Wyz: Yeah and my brother Frank, he was kinda freakin’ out because he had to let Jackie Wilson’s organization know that the bass player had fallen out so he said, Jerry, you know you can do this. I was young, but I could play, so my brother got me that gig. I remember going to the first rehearsal, and Jackie’s musical director was a brother from New York, and we rehearsed out of Miami, and you know he kept giving me the side-eye, cause he was thinking, what is this little kid-
WWF: This little boy!
Wyz: I know! But you know I was in there tryna be grown, and I dressed up appropriately for the day and everything, and after about the 2nd song he looked at me and smiled, like, yeah ok, we can do this. But yeah, so I was playing Lonely Teardrops and Danny Boy, Baby Work Out, you know all of those Jackie Wilson songs I was a huge fan of. Jackie came to the last day of rehearsal and that just blew me away, to hear that voice, and you know, the perfect hair (laughter), yeah, he was something to see. You know, he influenced Elvis Presley greatly.
WWF: To put it mildly!
Wyz: You know! Michael Jackson got a lot from Jackie Wilson.
WWF: Oh definitely! Definitely. And the way Jackie would hit some of those high notes.
Wyz: Aw! I mean Jackie’s voice, so operatic, but soulful.
WWF: Oh yes, that’s such a good way to put it, operatic, but soulful.
Wyz: All the octaves that he would hit? And he would go down into the low voice? That’s what Elvis used to emulate from him, when Jackie would go down into the low voices. Elvis Presley took all of that.
WWF: Absolutely. All right so let’s fast forward from that amazing start as a little boy, how did you wind up meeting Mo, Joyce and Glen?
Wyz: Such a cool story. It was like something that was universally going on. That same brother that went to Vietnam came back after the war and was living in Miami again. I was in Florida playing in a band called Tommy Strand and the Upper Hand, which was like a horn band, like Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Chicago and stuff back in the late 60’s. Joyce, Glen and Mo had come to Miami with a bass friend of mine named John McIver, and they came down from Ohio to play some gig that John had set up.
When they got to Miami he ditched them and went to do something different, and they were stranded down there with nothing to do, trying to find some gigs. So my brother Frankie’s band, and my brother Lunch was playing with them (they actually convinced Lunch to play with them because they didn’t have a bass player), so he played with them and with Frankie all night, and at the end of the night they asked him to come out with them, you know they were just a Gypsy band. My brother was like no, I just got back from the war and I need some time to acclimate to being regular, so he did not want to go out on the road with somebody who is barely making any money.
So he said, go check out my brother, he’s playing over at this place on Miami Beach. I was 17 and they came over to see me. I remember that night, that whole back-drop of me playing at the Hump Room, like matter of fact, right before they came to see me, Jim Morrison, the lead singer from The Doors was in the club that night. He was in Miami for that indecent exposure trial (laughter), yeah it was a famous trial for when he pulled his pants down.
WWF: And pee’d on the crowd, yeah I remember that from the movie!
Wyz: So at the end of the day, he would come out to the Hump Room to hang out. Ted Nugent was playing on the other stage with Iron Butterfly, it was like, it just made the scene, and I remember seeing people flood the doors, and out of the people flooding the doors, I couldn’t help but distinctly notice Joyce, Glen, and Mo. They looked so cool! And at that time, I was a huge fan of Sly & The Family Stone, and Band of Gypsy’s had just come out. And I was like, man this is what I wanna do. I wanna do music like Band of Gypsy’s you know. I wanna be that kinda artist.
I just became obsessed, you know, that’s the way for me. And you know, I was playing with Tommy Strand and I made lot’s of money, but it wasn’t satisfying. I was a kid who you know, money wasn’t my top priority. I wanted to do things and I wanted to go see the world. So when we finally met, they told me what was going on. We talked and went out and eventually went to a place where Mo, the guitar player, and myself, started playing and it was just instant magic! And then Joyce came around and she started singing a little bit, and I said, ok this is what I need to be doing. And it started, that was August 1970, and we were in Miami, and so yeah I left that lucrative gig, and my mother freaked out. She was like what the hell is wrong with you?
WWF: That’s what mom’s are supposed to do!
Wyz: I know! I had just graduated high school. I was in a position to be a gypsy. I wanted to GO! So we got into this big DeSoto that we had. We threw the equipment in the back, and man we played every nook and cranny in FL for months; I mean Pensacola, Jacksonville, Tampa, and that’s basically how we started. We stayed in hotel rooms—it was only a trio; Mo on guitar, me on bass, Douglas on drums, and Joyce and Glen singing. And the band was in that set-up for the first 4 or 5 years, so it was easy for us to move around.
WWF: Now, I wanna ask you about the name, Mother’s Finest. I mean clearly, you all are the finest musicians, had the name already been chosen at that point? Can you give me a little insight into the name Mother’s Finest?
Wyz: It was confirmed at that time, that we had wanted to call ourselves The Motherfuckers,
WWF and Wyz: (huge laughter)
Wyz: (laughter) We were smoking a joint! And somebody said, you know, this ain’t gonna fly, you know we talked about being on TV and the radio, and you know the church ladies…
so then you know we threw some other names around and Mother’s Finest became the choice.
WWF: That’s awesome! That’s great!
Wyz: So you know, we kept the initials!
WWF: Exactly! Exactly. So what took you from Florida up to Georgia?
Wyz: Well, we had played all over FL, and we were in Pensacola, which is over in the left pan-handle, and this manager we were working with had fallen out and we knew we had to make a move, and somebody mentioned Underground Atlanta. This was in 1971 and that name just made us say whoa, we gotta go there! So we were able to get a gig in Underground Atlanta in a venue called Sgt. Peppers, probably closed down in the late 70’s, but it was a cool venue. I thought Underground Atlanta was gonna be like a furry brothers freak fest, home of hippies and everything, but it was actually underground!
WWF: How did your name come about?
WYZ: The name, Wyzard came from a combination of being from Miami which is called “The Magic City” and for making magic happen inside a groove ( especially in the early 70s psychedelic substance days ).
WWF: We see that you all were first signed to RCA, they shelved your 2nd album. We saw Glen & Joyce in an interview and he was mentioning something about how when you all did get into the record business, that at some point they tried to force you to change your sound, and they asked you to be more “urban” and we were wondering if that had anything to do with why that 2nd album was shelved; was it what Glen was talking about in terms of you all being pressured to change?
Wyz: Well you know, what was strange to me is that record was re-released in 2006 and it was recorded in ’74, sat on the shelf all those years! When I heard it I kinda freaked out because I remembered all those grooves and how the songs came about. It was like a time-capsule.
I mean and yeah, we were pretty stubborn; we had like a real renegade attitude, almost a punk band attitude, and like our motivation wasn’t from success as much as it was from fulfillment through ourselves. Like I remember as a band going to see Woodstock the movie, and Sly & The Family Stone came on—blew everybody’s mind! That was the highlight of the movie to everybody in the band. It was so powerful! And you know Hendrix and The Who, and Joe Cocker and everybody else was amazing!
But the whole spirit of that is the roots of Mother’s Finest. You’ve gotta be an artist that means something, that makes a difference. And you know the only way you can do that is by being true to yourself. You can’t do what’s already been done. You’ve gotta do what you were born to do.
WWF: Yeah. And the key I guess, is knowing what that is. It is clear that all of you all were very clear on your direction in life.
Wyz: That’s one of the secrets to life. I speak to a lot of people in their 20’s and they’re like “I don’t know what I wanna do” I mean I was so blessed—I knew what I wanted to do when I was 7 or 8 years old, and it was gonna be something in the creative world.
WWF: It’s so rare that artists are excellent at their craft, and also make good business decisions, and it just seems like you all were just continually able to make good business decisions. How did you all know to make all these good business decisions for the band?
Wyz: You know to be honest with you, we were watched over by some power above us. I mean like one of the biggest decisions that we made, one of the best, is that to this day, we still own all of our publishing. I was even talking to George Clinton, and he doesn’t even own his publishing anymore, he sold everything off . Well George’s perspective was, ‘I got so much more with the name of the band and the legacy of everything. They outweigh that.
And I kinda get it, but a band like MF and me to have that, it’s like Real Estate you know, it’s your land. So we kept that. As far as the label choices, after we had the RCA contract, it ended up really weird. We hated the business after that because we hated the way the record turned out, and we actually left that situation telling ourselves that we were never gonna sign with another label again.
So we were approached by CBS, and we actually dissed them the first 2 or 3 times they came to us. And then, we wised up and realized they were talking about Epic Records, and we were like, you know that’s the label that Sly is on …
Wyz: … and all of our favorite artists were on Epic. So we said, ok! Let’s do this one. and that was the best move that we made, to be with CBS, that was the best label out of all of them. They let the band be free they never tried to talk us into boxing ourselves up. There was one part of that where uh, but it was a blessing in disguise, the brother from CBS in NY came to us one day and said “When yall gonna do something for the brothers?”
I was thinking we already were, you know? But yeah we had to go deeper. That led to the Mother Factor (1978) album, the one with Love Changes and a lot of cool songs; it was more funk oriented. We worked with Skip Scarborough, who was a brilliant producer—he worked with EW&F, Bill Withers, and a lot of cool people. We did that record cause every time we used to go to CBS you know we would always end up on the Rock floor, and the brothers upstairs would be like, come on you know, you gotta give us something!
And we came up with that record, and it was great! We did the next 2 or 3 years touring America and the world, like with P-Funk, EW&F, Brothers Johnson, Heatwave, Commodores….
WWF: And did you get good reception from those audiences who were coming out to see Soul Music? Did they like it?
Wyz: You know what, this is a story I gotta tell you. We played a show in Washington, DC at the Capital Center on a Thursday night. We played there with Ted Nugent and Aerosmith. We came back on a Sunday night with P-Funk and Bootsy Collins. We played the same show, and got the same reception! It was like over the top!
That’s when I realized we were very unique as a band. I couldn’t think of many, maybe 1 or 2 bands I could think of that could do that, maybe Sly & The Family Stone in their day, cause I mean even Hendrix played to an R&B audience and it didn’t really satisfy them, it was like ‘guitar land’.… and R&B people, they want like the groove, you know. So things like that really opened my eyes.
WWF: And I mean, because of Joyce’s voice, she just has that gospel, oh my goodness, just that amazingly powerful voice, I think she’s kinda like another ingredient as to why you all were able to appeal to both of those crowds.
Wyz: And the groove.
WWF: Absolutely, absolutely yeah.
Wyz: Yeah that groove with power.
WWF: I have a feeling that if Jimi had shown up with Band of Gypsys, it might have been a different reception.
Wyz: Well you know, Jimi was chasing, trying to satisfy that need. He wanted to be able to play for a Black audience, and that was as close as he got with Band of Gypsys. Even though that was still too electric for the average Black person, but I mean everything he did was satisfying to me. But for like, the masses, he was still too electric even in Band of Gypsys, but that was as close as he would get, it was an amazing piece of work though, Gosh!
WWF: Can you briefly describe one of your more memorable concerts?
Wyz: The Champagne Jam in Atlanta, GA at Georgia Tech’s Grant Field. The two jams we played, 78’ and 79’ were most awesome … especially 79’. “Another Mother Further,” had just come out and the 60,000 folks sang every word to “Piece Of The Rock” adlibs and all … We rattled Grant Field that day.
WWF: It’s hard to imagine a phenomenal band like MF would have low-lights to share, but often time that’s what makes great bands. Did Mother’s Finest ever experience any low points?
Wyz: Oh Yeah … We were on a Black Sabbath- Ted Nugent- Mothers Finest tour. Philly was the first gig … I nailed the vivid visual in my book … I was able to recall it in complete detail- those kind of gigs you never forget. But the short of it is:
We hit the stage in the Spectrum by flashlight … packed house 20 thousand screaming fans … The lights would come up on the downbeat of the song and the audience would see the band for the first time … We opened with “Fire” and it was rocking extremely hard … we closed the song with a huge power chord that reverberated off the arena walls while a dozen flash boxes exploded.
And where there is usually a roar from the crowd … there was complete silence- We went into the next song and the booing started … first from the rafters then down to the floor… everybody in the joint must have been booing and we couldn’t finish the second song … we had to leave …. Humiliating and spirit crushing … there’s nothing like getting booed off the stage …… in hindsight it was a classic experience that I grew from. You can only imagine the hesitancy of having to do it again in Chicago on show two … we played the ending chord to “Fire” the flash boxes exploded … and there was a roar from the crowd …. It was just Philly. All the other shows were business as usual.