Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

A passion for jamming: How three college bands were born in Tuscaloosa


Tuscaloosa has become something of a band breeding ground, thanks to its young population and good mix of large and small venues. Tuscaloosa’s own CBDB began creating a strong fan base through regular performances at Moe’s BBQ. The Shakes, more familiarly known as Alabama Shakes, started off by performing at the dimly-lit Egan’s Bar on the Strip.

Mother Funk, MURPH and Sunday Night Special perfectly depict the University’s student band formula. The band members have grown the Tuscaloosa music scene between classes.

In 2012, five members of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity at the University formed Mother Funk. The band began as a group of guys 
exploring the possibility of forming a rock band in order to make money and 
pursue a collective interest in playing music. Following a variety of successful gigs, a name was decided upon and the band formed.

Despite having relocated to Nashville after graduating from the University, Mother Funk has a deep understanding of the pursuit of performance opportunities in Tuscaloosa. Starting as a cover band, Mother Funk played various venues to create a 
substantial fan base before writing 
original music.

“We played everywhere in Tuscaloosa before we started to make any substantial cash, but it was well worth it,” said A.C. DeMoss, lead singer for Mother Funk. “Word of mouth was a huge player for us, and as we started to see bigger and more legitimate shows, we were able to develop our image more professionally when we began the creation of ‘Coastal,’ which gave us the idea to create our sticker or mascot, Jarvis, which we plastered everywhere.”

In 2013, Mother Funk opened for Dispatch at the University’s annual Costa Greekfest. In 2014, they released a debut album, “Coastal,” giving the band the opportunity to open for widely-known artists like Corey Smith, Wiz Khalifa, Moon Taxi and The Revivalists.

Since graduating from the University, the band members have altered slightly and 
currently they perform as a four-piece. The band has relocated to Nashville, where they practice and record with plans to release a new album and embark on a 
fall tour.

“We started as a cover band, but when we became bored of that, we began to write a bunch of our own stuff and here we are with our album ‘Coastal,’” DeMoss said. “Recently, we’re running into a 
problem of people wanting to hear our stuff more than covers at our shows, which is a 
surreal feeling.”

MURPH is five-piece band made up of five current UA students, covering an array of genres and artists from Drive-By Truckers to Ice Cube. Similar to Mother Funk, MURPH began as a small group of guys jamming in the Sigma Nu band room, which led to a few gigs and ultimately the formation of the band.

“Our first gig was Troy, Dirty Pearl in Troy,” said Alex Tillery, guitarist 
for MURPH. “It was my family’s 
restaurant and we played there. The next place we played was Moe’s and then our big 
breakthrough was Red Shed. We walked 
in there and were not expecting the line to be all the way out to the strip.”

Now, MURPH plays at Red Shed once a month to cheering crowds 
performing original takes on a variety of covers. Because of the expanse of 
musical talent, the band is capable of being 
experimental in playing. The band consists of Alex Tillery on guitar, Tate Thomas on guitar, Will Miller on bass, Aaron Grant as lead singer and Fred Harwell on drums.

“Sometimes it’s like musical chairs,” Tillery said. “I mean three of the five of us sing. We got four guys that can play guitar, Fred kind of can. Will’s played drums. We’ll play the mandolin sometimes. Aaron will play the harmonica.”

With these various instrumental capabilities, the band remains unrestricted by a specific genre, giving them widespread appeal. They’ve played various fraternity darties, date parties and recently, they played the MBA formal.

“It started with a lot of us reaching out,” Miller said. “After a while, places started to ask us. It helps to have connections at bars and stuff, like I used to work at Moe’s and another bar. And then we have a buddy who works at Heat, so we got hooked up there. And then other places would call us, like the Red Shed or rush chairs for date parties that have seen us at bars.”

Depending on the specific event or expected audience, MURPH tailors their set list accordingly. The band has created a list of songs to pull from, which has been named the “word bank.” Songs get added to the list if they pass through approval from all members.

“We have a whiteboard that we use sometimes,” Thomas said. “It took us a year and a half to get the whiteboard. Typically if we find a song we all agree on, there’s a pretty good chance that the crowd will like it because it’s been through all the filters of genre tests. That’s kind of our process.”

MURPH plans to eventually release original music. They have a live session video, but plan to release it with four or five new songs. Until then, the band 
continues to perform in Tuscaloosa, 
adding to its fan base and providing unique covers that excite audiences.

“‘Waiting on the World to Change’ has gotten the most people to dance on 
elevated surfaces,” Harwell said.

Sunday Night Special is one of the more recent players on the Tuscaloosa music scene. In the fall of 2015, two of the band members, Will Hamilton and Fran Pecci began to play guitar together. As they began to gain momentum, one of their friends, Ben Cox, approached them about playing drums for the band.

“We just had fun with it and started 
jamming together about once a week,” Pecci said. “This year rolled around and our social chair asked us to play for one of our parties. So we were like, ‘Alright, sure.’ We practiced for two weeks before 
performing, got everything together, played, and ever since, we’ve just been a band, I guess.”

The band practices in their fraternity’s band room, allowing them to work with a sound system, which has aided in their transition to various venues in Tuscaloosa.

Sunday Night Special has performed at their fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, Red Shed and Bear Trap. Although they have jammed together for over a year, they only began functioning as a band about four 
months ago.

“The first few practices, we didn’t know what the hell we were doing,” Pecci said. “We were just making noise pretty much and then we just kind of played 
whatever we felt like playing. We just looked up songs that we always listen to and 
wanted to learn. We just started making a list and eventually we learned the songs on our own and then we would meet once a week or twice a week and played the song together until we got it down.”

These practices have resulted in a 20 song set list that they play with ease. They branch off the list often as the 
audience shouts requests at the band. 
When taking requests, the band rely heavily on one another to figure out how to perform a new song on the fly. Improv is easily incorporated into the 
band’s performances.

“Other than basic country songs, most of the guitar stuff is going to be all made up on the spot,” Hamilton said. “You just kind of learn different scales and stuff. You can kind of get the main riff of the song and just go off of that. It’s a lot more fun and you don’t really have to memorize as much to be able to do it.”

Sunday Night Special is also 
working on original music while finding new performance venues in Tuscaloosa. The country rock band has found a place in the Tuscaloosa music scene through playing covers of classic rock songs, such as “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix, a Sunday Night Special crowd favorite because of Hamilton’s guitar solo that includes 
playing with his teeth.

Recently, the band participated in Be Positive Foundation’s Battle of the Bands fundraiser, in which they won 
the competition.

“Seeing people that were better than us play right in front of us and 
competing against us, that was really cool,” Pecci said. “I can off the top of my head think of like 10 bands that are just college kids on campus. We’re not the only ones at all. I mean everyone’s getting into it so I think it’s great.”

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