Over the course of the History of funk, there have been some bands that have went on to icon status, and others that had the pieces to break big, but couldn’t seem to get a great jump out of the gate. Con Funk Shun is in the latter category, as they have been able to pin some great funk tunes, but just couldn’t quite make the leap to icon status.
Con Funk Shun began life in 1969 as “Project Soul,” as Vallejo, California natives Louis A. McCall Sr. (drums/percussion/vocals) and Michael Cooper (rhythm guitar/lead vocals) formed the group in high school with dreams of reaching stardom.
Two years later, the band added Cedric Martin (bass), Danny “Sweet Man” Thomas (keyboards), Karl Fuller (trumpet) and Paul “Maceo” Harrell (woodwinds). But things would really come together for the group when they added Felton Pilate (vocals/multi-instruments), and when the band was completed, they changed their name to “Con Funk Shun.”
In 1973, the band pulled up stakes in California and moved to Memphis, Tennessee to work for Stax Records group The Soul Children. It was here that the band would gain the attention of Estelle Axton, who saw more potential in the band than just being session musicians, and she signed Con Funk Shun to a deal with her Fretone Records label and released their first album towards the end of ’73 titled Organized Con Funk Shun.
The group didn’t generate much chart action from this album, but it was important because it led to a record deal with Mercury Records in 1976, where the band would be at for the next 11 years. The change in labels did wonders for Con Funk Shun, as their debut LP for Mercury, 1977’s Secrets, became a hit and went Gold.
Their next three albums only continued their luck streak as 1978’s Loveshine, 1979’s Candy, and 1980’s Spirit of Love all repeated the same fate as Secrets on the strengths of such singles as “Ffun” (their first chart-topper and first to chart in the Hot 100), “Shake And Dance With Me” (#5 R&B/#60 Hot 100), and the forever-funky “Chase Me” (#4 R&B).
Although the group was successful, tension was beginning to build among the band members due to creative differences, and by 1983, it was to the point where it was beginning to affect their sound. After that year’s surprisingly dry ballad “Baby I’m Hooked (Right into Your Love)” went to the Top 10 of the R&B charts (#5), the band had trouble keeping hits on the board.
In 1984, after creative differences reached a boiling point, Felton Pilate left the group, and without him, the group began to go array. Con Funk Shun would manage to get a few more singles on the charts, their highest being 1985’s “I’m Leaving Baby,” until they left Mercury in 1987, and instead of shopping for another deal, the group decided to call it quits.
The group hasn’t gone away though, as they continue to have such booming hits as “Love Train” and “Bad Lady” get tremendous airplay on urban adult contemporary radio stations, and the band has even reunited to play at oldies festivals, which means the Love Train is still grooving right along to this very day,