by Harlan McCarthy, Special to The New Tri-State Defender
Keyboardist Ken Booker and Vocalist Ken Gilliam are not just two men that share the same name. For the past year, the two have been rehearsing with their new music group, The Eight.0 Band.
The Eight.0 Band (pronounced “eight point OH), based here in Memphis, is comprised of seven talented musicians with an infinite passion for entertainment. The group performs original music written by the bandmembers as well as covering classic R & B and neo-soul music. And they’re set to perform Saturday, March 2 at 7 p.m. at the Center for Southern Folklore on Main Street.
I sat down with the band’s founders, Booker and Gilliam and other bandmembers in Kingsway Productions in Midtown to find out more about the band.
Booker is originally is from Detroit, Mich. He began his musical career at 12, playing the saxophone at church, though he now primarily plays keyboards. Booker credits Detroit’s diverse music scene as a major influence for the start of his profession.
A graduate of the same high school as award-winning vocalist Anita Baker, Booker credits “Hitsville USA” as a major inspiration.
“A lot of my classmates were relatives of Motown stars,” Booker said. “I went to school with one of the sons of ‘the Pips’ of Gladys Knight and the Pips. And I stayed around the corner from where Marvin Gaye lived. The music was so influential from the gospel aspect to the R&B.”
Booker recently relocated to Memphis to raise his son. That’s where he met Gilliam, who was performing with a band called “Soul of Stax.” The two became fast friends and collaborators, and after leaving Soul of Stax, they decided to start their own band.
Gilliam, a Memphis native, said his family provided his musical foundation.
“Growing up I would hear my mom sing and she would lead our family in singing. That’s where I learned to sing,” Gilliam said.
Similar to Booker, Williams began his music career in church choirs and gospel groups. From his gospel roots, he would go on to sing and write for the group “Especially for You,” but a record deal fell through and Williams put music aside. He rediscovered his passion for music singing karaoke while serving in the military. From there, he played in local until meeting Booker.
Other members of the Eight.0 band include Memphis-based and church-rooted musicians Wanda Caldwell, Faith Tyus and Gregory Williams,
A former member of “Soul of Stax,” Caldwell earned a scholarship to the University of Arkansas Pine-Bluff. After her studies at UAPB, she joined the Memphis Symphony Chorus which she served as one of two minority women in the chorus.
Tyus graduated from Overton High, which is where she said she blossomed musically. After attending Philander Smith College and performing in the Little Rock area, she came back to the Memphis area. That’s where she was “discovered” by Booker and Williams at the Veterans Administration Hospital karaoke night.
Similar to Tyus, Williams (affectionately known as “Gifted Gregory”) was recruited to the group when Booker and Gilliam heard him singing at the VA Hospital karaoke night. Not surprisingly, Williams said his studies at Stax Music Academy played a major influence in his musical career.
Rounding out the band are instrumentalist Brandon Mitchell and drummer Courtney Caldwell. A Whitehaven resident, Mitchell plays bass guitar and saxophone for The Eight.0 Band. He joined the new band after his previous group disbanded. Meanwhile, Caldwell embodies the band’s passion for notoriety and success.
Eight.0 is looking to build an audience beyone Memphis into other major cities. The group is also scheduled to record a new album of original material in the coming months. Former radio host Leon Griffin sees special potential in the group.
“They’re about touching the people and the experience,” Griffin said. “The Kens set a great example.”
(Check out The Eight.0 Band in concert alongside the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy this Friday, March 2, 2019 at The Center for Southern Folklore, 119 S. Main St. Memphis. Start time is 7 p.m. For more about the band, visit: facebook.com/MUSICbyEIGHT.0)