Damon Wood

The Smoking Section

May 3rd, 2007
Downloads
Video

The Smoking Section was a funk/R&B/rock outfit that played prolifically in the San Francisco Bay Area between 1988 and 1991.

Origin

Promo Shot. L-R: Anthony Hawkins, David Hawkins, Damon Wood, Adrian Isabell, Robert B.O.B. Smith.

Sometime in the mid-80s I started playing in a Top-40 R&B cover band called (ironically) Square One (“The Ultimate Band of the Future,” according to our “manager”). The band was adequate for what it was, a way to pay some “dues” with a weekly show at the Lucky Lion on Hegenberger Road in Oakland. The main thing the band had going for it was a particularly bad-assed bass player named Robert Smith II, or BOB (“Bob On Bass”), and later a terrific latin percussionist named Adrian Isabell (who had played for a time with Tremaine Hawkins of the Hawkins Family Singers). The three of us gravitated toward one another and proceeded to attempt to rent ourselves out as a rhythm section for hire (B.A.D.). We played in probably 4 or 5 more bands together over the next few years. The Smoking Section eventually was formed in 1988 when I met David Hawkins (formerly of The Naked Into, eventually of Engine 88, no relation to the Hawkins Family Singers), and we began to play together with Matt Bernstein (brother of trumpeter Steven Bernstein) originally on bass. Later, Matt was replaced by BOB, and soon after we were joined by Adrian; finally we found a singer named Tony Lippert, who was, strangely, a step-child of the Hawkins Family Singers. We wrote a bunch of songs, recorded a demo at Dancing Dog (whence we met Dave Bryson and Damien Rasmussen) and played our first show at the Nightbreak, out at the end of Haight Street.

Funk Footsteps

TonyGeorge_400.jpgSmoking Section ~1990, front L-R: Anthony Hawkins, Robert BOB Smith, Dave Hawkins; rear L-R, Scott Jensen, Kenny Brooks, Damon Wood.

The Smoking Section assumed the mantle of the Berkeley Funk Band Du Jour, following in the footsteps of the Freaky Executives, before eventually being succeeded by the Mo’Fessionals. We had a raw, high-energy stage show, and it seemed that we went from off-night opener to weekend headliner pretty quickly. Our first really big show was at the I-Beam opening up for De La Soul, who were on their initial ascent following the release of 3 Feet High and Rising. We probably peaked a little early in terms of performance accomplishments when we opened two consecutive shows for George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars at the Warfield. These were the first shows in which we included a horn section, aka the Knee-Deep Horns (all formerly of the Uptones): Kenny Brooks on sax and Scott Jensen on trumpet (later joined by Adam Beach on baritone). Adrian sat in with the headliners on the second night, on their request. It seems like we mostly played with a small group of bands who were lumped together as, irritatingly, the “Bay Area Thrash Funk” movement of the time: Psychefunkapus, the Limbomaniacs, Fungo Mungo, Mr. Bungle, and of course Primus, with whom it seemed we played a hundred shows all over California. At one point we attracted the attention of Boz Scaggs, who took us under his wing for a while and produced a demo. At the time there was a bit of an industry buzz around us, but nothing ever panned out in terms of getting the band signed, and so we began to languish.

A typical I-Beam calendar in mid-1990. Smoking Section on Friday the 13th!

A typical I-Beam calendar in mid-1990. Smoking Section on Friday the 13th!

Emptying the Ashtray

pfunkFillmore1989.jpgIrreconcilable differences induced us to part ways with our singer, Tony, in early 1991. We underwent a fairly major refactoring with a new singer, Anthony “Zenbox” Chunn (half of Puck & Natty, with Stephen Jenkins), Josh Jones on percussion, and no horns, which lasted about 6 months. Following that, Dave and BOB and I collaborated as a power trio with Manny Martinez of Psychefunkapus for a little while, before playing one final show with Tony (which included a spontaneous appearance by Kenny Brooks): a New Year’s Eve engagement, ironically at the Nightbreak. One month later Dave and I started another band, which we eventually called Engine 88.

Facts

Personnel

  • David Hawkins – drums, background vocals, keyboards
  • Tony (Lippert) Hawkins – lead vocals (1988 – 1990)
  • Adrian Isabell – percussion, background vocals (1988 – 1990)
  • Robert “BOB” Smith – bass
  • Damon Wood – guitar, background vocals
  • Scott Jensen – trumpet
  • Kenny Brooks – tenor sax
  • Adam Beach – baritone & tenor sax
  • Anthony “Zenbox” Chunn – lead vocals (1991)
  • Josh Jones – percussion (1991)
  • Manny Martinez – lead vocals (1991)

Releases

The Smoking Section never officially released any product. We recorded a few demos, which made some rounds in cassette tape form.

Smooth ‘n’ Nasty Engineered by Dave Bryson and Damien Rasmussen at Dancing Dog Studios, Emeryville, CA 1988

  1. Big Fish
  2. Driving
  3. Masses

Finer Than Blue Engineered by Ann-Marie Scott and Eric Knight at Alpha & Omega Studios, and Ron Rigler at Different Fur Studios, San Francisco, CA 1989

  1. Red Idea
  2. Water’s Edge
  3. Blue Day

Smoking Section Produced by Boz Skaggs Recorded at Different Fur, 1990

  1. Driving
  2. Toxic
  3. Bitch

Songography

Some titles of songs recorded and unrecorded, in no particular order.

  1. Big Fish
  2. Driving
  3. Masses
  4. Red Idea
  5. Water’s Edge
  6. Blue Day
  7. Toxic
  8. Bitch
  9. My Lips
  10. Old Man Jackson Brown
  11. Sex a’Loose
  12. The Way I Feel
  13. BBQ
  14. The Song After BBQ
  15. Judy
  16. You Want
  17. Train of Pain
  18. Circus
  19. Snake In The Grass
  20. Sweatbox
  21. Pioneers
  22. Cherry Blossoms
  23. Rich & Famous
  24. The Punch

Friends

Though we never officially toured, the Smoking Section played with a lot of local and touring acts, including but not limited to (list in progress, as memory serves):

Amadafair
Average White Band
Brutilicus Maximus
Capture the Flag
Curveball
De La Soul
Dizzybam
Double-D Nose
Fungo Mungo
Furious George
George Clinton & The P-Funk Allstars
Hobo
Hugh Harris
Limbomaniacs
Mano Negra
Mo’Fessionals
Monkey Rhythm
Mr. Bungle
No Doubt
Ohio Players
Primus
Private Culture
Psychefunkapus
Smokin’ Rhythm Prawns
Spatula Ranch
World Entertainment War

Downloads

The Smoking Section produced a series of demo recordings between 1988 and 1991. Smooth & Nasty (recorded swiftly at Dancing Dog in Emeryville CA in 1988) was the first, and got us off to a decent start with local Bay Area bookings. Finer Than Blue was recorded in 1989 at Alpha and Omega in San Francisco over a series of late night spec sessions, largely fueled by inspiration and ginseng.

These are audio-in cassette-to-digital transfers.

Smooth & Nasty

[128kb MP3]

Finer Than Blue

[128kb MP3]

*Not included on original “release”.

Live @ Slim’s

Exact date unknown at this time, but likely late 1990. Lineup includes v.2 of the Knee Deep Horns, featuring Scott Jensen and Adam Beach. Opening for Mano Negra.

And now…

…in Low-Def Small-O-Vision, The Smoking Section, live at Slim’s, opening for Hugh Harris, 1990-ish.  (Here’s a link to the YouTube playlist.)

Intro: I Wanna (Go Up In Ya) / Big Fish / ….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0-2154ePno

Toxic

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIpaAyl8fyc

Judy

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t72k8F98DiY

The Way I Feel / You Want

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51kLReYjjvo

Water’s Edge

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=do50ofRk0fY

Bitch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56u1TlnSw70

Masses

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvLfU3VWs38

20 Comments Comments»

  1. David Kirkendall says

    Hey Damon, kickin it here with B.O.B chekin’ out your website. Good job. Some of this stuf would hit right now! Hit me back when you get a chance. david.kirkendall@comcast.net

    July 4th, 2007 | #

  2. anna says

    Damon,
    It’s been a super long time but I was one of the Smoking Section devotees a hundred years ago.
    Crazy. Everytime I heard Third Eye Blind, I thought of you guys and the injustice of it all.
    If you ever play in L.A….

    July 10th, 2007 | #

  3. Eric says

    plop

    August 2nd, 2007 | #

  4. Adam Beach says

    Damon,
    Eric Din posted “Big Fish” on mp34u.com http://mp34u.muzic.com/posting/4813
    a page I frequent. What a surprise!
    That was an extremely stressful time in my young life (school/working 2 jobs/no girlfriend to speak of… and I think I was in at least 2 other bands at the same time I was with the Section) and too much of my memory of it has blurred. Soon after that time I “made it big” with another Bay Area band which became a virtual tax write-off for a major label that dropped us after the first CD. By ’94 I just gave up on music entirely — until 10 years later when Din re-recruited me for the present incarnation of the Uptones (something even back in 1990 I thought would never happen in a million years!).
    Thinking back on it, I remember you as one of the most serious, hard-rocking, talented, and innovative guitar players I had ever been around, really. You were working on incorporating deep Public Enemy grooves into this huge wall-of-sound funk rhythm guitar thing that was, in my opinion, way way bigger than anything those other Area funk bands were doing.
    Hope to see you around sometime here in the present.
    Cheers,
    Adam

    August 8th, 2007 | #

  5. Piero says

    Piero, from your dark and murky past my friend, reaching out across the musical abyss!

    peace,

    Piero

    August 9th, 2007 | #

  6. Josh Garey says

    Damon!

    Remember a band called Private Culture? This is Josh from that band; we opened for the Smoking Section once or twice, and we were always great admirers of yours. I think we also kind of new each other from even earlier days, via Jef & Gavin and our high school band, the Telmarines. Anyways, great to see you’re still playing and living in Berkeley. Douglas & I have picked up the pieces of Private Culture after all these years, and have formed a new incarnation called Sun House. Check it out at sunhousemusic.com if ya like. We were even talking about covering your song “Driving” some day.

    Be well,
    ~J

    August 28th, 2007 | #

  7. Manny Martinez says

    Fuckin’ A Damon!!! I feel old. But I remember havin’ a blast!!!!
    peace

    June 27th, 2008 | #

  8. Isa says

    i was a smoking section groupy back in the day – such an amazing time of having so much great local music to dance your ass off to on the regular. The download link requires a login – can you make them more available? I think I still have the demo with my favorite song – waters edge…

    I saw Tony at a Psychefunkapus reunion show in San Rafael quite a few years back – he seemed to have his head more together and 3 daughters to boot!

    July 8th, 2008 | #

  9. Damon says

    Thanks, Isa. I fixed the link.

    July 8th, 2008 | #

  10. DJ Luvcheez says

    First things first…..Holy crap!!!!!!!! A friend sent me the link for The Smoking Section downloads. I downloaded Big Fish, haven’t heard it in 15 plus years, cranked it up and I remembered every word. lots of great memories of you guys playing live around the Bay Area.
    I live in Chicago now and i miss the great music scene in the Bay. Second, does anybody have any music from a band called Miko and the Boombox?? Miko played with prince for years left and had his own thing called the Boombox, same funky kind of sound as the section. I had tapes but they are long gone… Thanks for the great music Damon

    July 15th, 2008 | #

  11. ryan greene says

    i started making graphic designs for your band in like, 88 or so with glue and construction paper and I gave you one at the festival at lake merrit. I am now a musician who followed you and tony at berkeley square all the way to the cover of the sf weekley as a multimedia artist with a new cd (see the fifth element article by eric arnold) I owe my showmanship and love of music bassed design work to you! thanks!

    August 3rd, 2009 | #

  12. vanderwal says

    Wow! This just took me straight back to 1989 to 1991 when I lived in the Haight and would get a Tuesday phone tree stating The Smoking Section was going to be playing somewhere that night and then call 3 or 4 others. Every night was a new great show of tight funk music. Then there was the sadness when The Smoking Section moved to LA to try and find a record deal and came back to play at DNA Lounge (?) quite angry, but put on a killer show. I also caught the reunion show at Nightbreak on New Years eve (?), which was good to see.

    I now live in Maryland and get back to SF often, but am still continually talking about The Smoking Section. Deep thanks for posting this page and providing MP3s! I became 23 once again this evening. Now hoping to catch Curtis Bumpy on one of my next trips.

    October 27th, 2009 | #

  13. Damon says

    Thomas, thank you for sharing this most excellent memory with me. Phone tree? Dang. 23 was good. Say hi if you make it to a CB show, and be well.

    October 27th, 2009 | #

  14. Dale Geist says

    A friend of mine, Craig Kepler, who worked in a law firm with David hipped me to the SS early on. We caught a bunch of your shows together, and I turned on some other East Bay fans to the band. Saw your last show at the great rock dive Nightbreak. (David went on to date a longtime girlfriend of mine soon after we broke up!)

    February 14th, 2011 | #

  15. Damon says

    That Dave, what a scallywag. I hope you had fun at the Nightbreak all those years ago. Thanks for the memory Dale.

    February 14th, 2011 | #

  16. Ryan Greene says

    I was extremely influenced by this man and his band. I would love to cover some of these songs. Call me up. ~ “Ryan Greene has long been an energetic force in bridging the gap between the live musician community and the beats & rhymes contingent…a versatile and talented artist with interesting musical ideas.” — Eric K. Arnold for SF Weekly.

    Ryan Greene ?Graphic Designer (Pre-press, printing & design) ?Music Producer/Promoter ?510.938.6314

    May 14th, 2013 | #

  17. Linda Atkins says

    I LOVED the Smoking Section. It is amazing to hear this music again and remember those wonderful shows. Thank you so much for putting all this here!

    November 8th, 2014 | #

  18. Bertram Ladner says

    What a well put together page, i was just trying to remember bands I really liked and this was one of them. Good job, thanks for all the info.

    B

    December 6th, 2015 | #

  19. jace peck says

    this is awesome. i had a copied cassette of smoking section back in 90-91 i have spent the last 20+ years thinking about those jams, playing what we could figure out with my old bands back in Napa. I hope you’ve had lots of success, thanks for doing this page.
    jacepeck

    February 8th, 2016 | #

  20. Damon says

    Thanks Jace! It’s always good to hear from the old crowd. Hope you’re doing well and the tracks are bringing it back to you.

    April 13th, 2016 | #

Leave a comment

RSS feed for these comments. | TrackBack URI

This site is perpetually under construction.