Four Finger Five. Sounds like a bit of a misnomer for a band that has only three members (each with the standard number of digits), and that’s what makes it a fantastic moniker for a group that continually confounds any attempts at categorization.
Incorporating myriad genres, including jazz, soul, rock, and pop, this trio from Muskegon, Michigan, has concocted a truly unique style, deftly taking the classic triumvirate of guitar, bass, and drums and building a sound that is at once innovative and creative, while feeling as familiar as a thrift store coat.
“We wanted a sound that is vintage, reminiscent of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but presenting it in our own way,” says lead vocalist/guitarist Joe Sturgill.
Consisting of Sturgill, bassist Mike Phillips, and drummer Steve Harris, Four Finger Five has steadily cultivated a fiercely loyal following through regular live performances. Sensing that it was high time to produce a full-length album, Four Finger Five embarked on a sojourn to Terrestrial Records in Portland, Oregon, resulting in their eponymous, first full-length album, to be released in February 2008.
Featuring collaborations with world-renowned saxophonist Karl Denson and veteran jazz/funk/jam pianist Anthony Smith, Four Finger Five presents a band that is young but confident, demonstrating tremendous talent with all aspects of the songwriting craft and a willingness to leave traditional conceptions of jazz/rock/soul combinations at the door.
“It’s been a real progression,” says Harris. “We wanted to keep a raw feeling to the album, but have more refined tunes, things that are catchier than some of our previous stuff. We’ve been able to get out of the “jam-based” mode that we started in and have become much tighter as a unit.”
Indeed, the band had its genesis in a jam session in which Harris served as the mutual friend, bringing Sturgill and Phillips together for a loose session in 2003, and much of their earlier live performances featured a sound that resonated particularly well with the “jam band” crowd. While Four Finger Five features several tracks that clearly reveal the band’s jam-based roots, it displays incredible diversity, bringing an air of culture to blue collar rock and urban pop/soul by using jazz to bridge a gap between the two long-isolated genres.
Key to their success of blending various styles to create a cohesive and meaningful sound is the band’s almost magical ability to apply their impressive talents in a manner that fosters a group mentality, while simultaneously allowing individual members to showcase their skills. The result is a powerful musical synergy. Sturgill’s mellifluous vocals are penetrating without overshadowing the instrumentation or backing vocals, immediately conjuring images of Traffic-era Steve Winwood. Harris somehow balances computer precision, the restraint of jazz, and Keith Moon-era rock n’ roll bombast. Phillips’ utter command of the bass is instantly reminiscent of Victor Wooten, which is hardly surprising as Phillips and Wooten have shared the stage on more than one occasion.
Shortly after completing Four Finger Five, the band produced the acclaimed, five-song Enormous Pocket EP, a live studio recording that brilliantly showcases the band’s range, improvisational skills, and unpredictability (released on the Terrestrial label in May 2007).
Four Finger Five is preparing to travail around the country in support of their new albums, and the band is looking forward to introducing their music to fans nationwide.
“We haven’t got the chance to tour much, but it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge,” says Sturgill.
At the rate these gentlemen are growing and maturing as a team, it’s a guarantee that they are going to return from that tour even tighter and more talented than they are now, inspired and ready take the next step in what seems a constant upwards journey.