Jim Funk rarely, oddly enough, gets into a funk. At least a musical one.
Sure, there was that initial panic when COVID-19 hit “that I was going to be homeless.”
But, as creative as the musician and vocalist is, he landed his bank account safely through the pandemic tornado.
“When it started out, I found the whole thing very odd and disconcerting with total uncertainty,” Funk said by phone.
Because Funk could play anything and perform as a solo, duo, trio or that left-handed bass player in a Beatles tribute band, he secured enough webcasting work to keep the bills paid on his Pleasant Hill home.
Now, as venues slowly put the folding chairs back out, Funk’s flooded with offers.
He’s got four Farmers’ Markets he plays solo. And duos galore, from Funk’n Fleming with long-time buddy Tom Fleming, to a still-to-be-named configuration with acclaimed rock guitarist Jeff Tamelier, to his “Two of Us” McCartney-Lennon duo with Drew Harrison of the Sun Kings.
There’s also his trio or quartet appearances with Jeff Campitelli’s “Camp Jeff,” typically at Lucca’s Beer Garden in Benicia, or his guest appearances with Harrison’s Beatles tribute band, a permanent gig Funk had for four years.
Vallejo’s about to be Funk’s home-away from home thanks to a flurry of gigs at the Vino Godfather Tasting Room on Mare Island.
This Sunday, Funk performs mostly British pop with Fleming. And, in a big-time show confirmed during this interview, Funk returns to Vino, joining drummer Prairie Prince and virtuoso rock guitarist Stef Burns on Aug. 28. The following day, Aug. 29, it’s back at Vino Godfather, this time with Harrison.
“The hardest part is coordinating my schedules with all these people,” Funk said. “With the lockdowns lifting a bit, everybody is getting deluged with calls. Most of the weekends are already gone. I got booked crazy-fast.”
Because of the obvious McCartney-Lennon song list with Harrison, “I don’t hit the Beatles too hard with the others,” said Funk, who has a particularly good time doing Farmers’ Markets as a solo act.
“I end up doing a bunch of songs I wouldn’t do otherwise,” he said. “Cat Stevens … James Taylor…some Dylan songs. Tunes I don’t play with anyone else either because it’s too complicated or the wrong format.”
Admittedly, having the extensive song list with so many configurations “keeps me from getting bored,” Funk said.
Born in New Jersey, Funk did time in Chicago before heading to the West Coast. He anchored to Martinez “many years” before settling into Pleasant Hill about three years ago.
Not unlike most musicians, the early goal was to have a recording career, Funk said.
“It turned out to be a much taller order than you ever realize, which I discovered at 21,” he said, having known he could sing in his teen years.
“I had a nice-sounding voice but I didn’t know how to sing,” he said. “It took a few years to reach a professional level in my mid-20s.”
Though adept at the whole performing thing, it was the intricacies of the business part of the music business that confounded Funk.
“I didn’t have enough ‘game’ in the other areas,” he said. “I didn’t have a functioning band nor did I live in Los Angeles, which is where I should have been. There were a lot of aspects to the business of music and I was not good at any of them.”
But boy, could he play and sing. Ask any of his colleagues.
“Jim is by far the best pop singer around and nails the British invasion stuff better than any other yank. Total professional with great tone, timbre and always prepared to put on the best show,” Campitelli said.
Funk, said Burns via text from Italy, “is one of the most talented ‘undiscovered’ singes I’ve ever heard. He’s a wonderful musician and a great guy.”
Harrison said it was “vocal magic for us from note one” when he and Funk first did the Lennon-McCartney production.
“He’s a very talented musician, has a great ear, and our vocals fell in place with little effort,” Harrison said, adding that “it isn’t just a McCartney tribute vocalist by any stretch. Jim has a unique gift, a pure, sublime voice, a sweet timbre, and is soulful. He can sing almost anything he wants.”
Granted, “it’s gotten easier now,” Funk said. “My reputation is a little more fully-developed.”
Because of support from industry stalwarts like Burns and Tamelier, “I’m not introducing myself from scratch,” Funk said. “I don’t have to struggle to get gigs as much as when I was younger.”
Beyond the ability to choose the duos, there’s the financial cost of playing in a full-on band, Funk emphasized. The pay per player “hasn’t gone up a dime” in 30 years.
“If you can’t make a living, then it becomes a hobby like being in a bowling league,” Funk said. “You do it for the love of music, but it’s twice as much work for half as much money. That’s what working band musicians face now.”
Funk left the Sun Kings more for creative than financial reasons, he said.
“When you’re in a tribute band, the expectations are that you play it note for note. With the Beatles, it’s beyond that. It’s a religion,” Funk said. “You’re coloring by numbers. People are expecting what they heard in 1964 at their prom.”
Though enjoying his four years with the Sun Kings, it was time to call it, Funk said.
“I love the Beatles’ music and I was becoming tired of it,” he said. “Playing by rote started to wear me down and I didn’t want to be tired of the Beatles music. I wanted to still like it. I started getting burned out.”
Doing the McCartney-Lennon thing with Harrison is a different bird, Funk said. He’s allowed some freedom and chance to banter to the eerily-Lennon-like Harrison.
“He looks like Lennon and he has the Lennon voice,” Funk said. “We have a great stage rapport. We get to do songs that nobody really does and they’re super fun.”
It was Fleming that introduced Funk to Harrison in 2009 at Fleming’s home recording studio.
“He said, ‘You should hear this guy do Lennon.’ Tom knew what was going to happen,” Funk said. “We started singing and looked at each other, ‘Oh wow.’”
While the Funk-Harrison duo gets booked a handful of times every year, Funk keeps busy with all the aforementioned projects and make-shift groups as a hired gun.
While there’s “no requirement to be close friends,” there needs to be “civility, good humor, and respect” for Funk to be part of the equation, he said.
One more thing. The versatile musician’s namesake genre: funk.
“Can’t play a lick of it,” he said.
Jim Funk’s schedule includes: “Funk’n Fleming” 30th Anniversary Show with Tom Fleming, this Sunday, 2 p.m., Vino Godfather, 500 Walnut Ave., Vallejo; Stef Burns, Prairie Prince and Funk, Vino Godfather, Aug. 28; “Two of Us” with Drew Harrison, Aug. 29, Vino Godfather. For more, visit vinogodfather.com. Funk is solo at Pioneer Tap Room, Fairfield, July 22.