To the 17th Floor and up

By Gus Bode

Back in 1988 a band was formed in Joliet, Ill. But, this band was not like many others out there. It combined R & B with funk to create a sound that many people had not heard before.

This band, 17th Floor, originally had seven original members, but after a series of changes only two of the originals are still with the group. It all began with Greg Thompson on drums and his brother Aaron on bass guitar. After lengthy auditions, the group was finally completed, and the seven men of the 17th floor started embarking on a series of tours around college campuses all over the Midwest. The rest is history.

To the surprise of many, the 17th Floor (which will be performing at 10 p.m. Thursday at Pinch Penny Pub) was becoming a fan favorite on virtually every campus they went to. Superstardom was inevitable, and in 1991 the famed female trio TLC discovered them while rehearsing in Atlanta.

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They had finally been discovered and were asked to go on tour with veteran musicians to the likes of M.C. Hammer, Jodeci and Boys II Men. Naturally, they accepted and TLC hired them on the spot. After a few short months, they had gone from performing in crowded fraternity and sorority houses to sold-out stadiums and arenas.

Although it was a good experience as far as being around music industry heavyweights like TLC and Jodeci, the business aspect was not as good. Regardless, drummer Gregg Thompson looks upon the period with positivity.

“It was the best learning experience ever, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but the business part of it was bad,” Thompson said.

After the tour was over the group returned to performing at small venues, but they were better than ever. They incorporated the things they learned from the tour with the things they had always done. They continued touring college campuses, but this time they even appeared on a six-month tour in Japan and Taiwan.

When they returned, a new artist on the scene contacted them. He was a young, inspiring R & B artist named Usher. He had seen them perform and was impressed with the shows they did and the effort they seemed to express. He asked them to assist him with work for his upcoming tour. From that point on they rehearsed with him for his acclaimed “My Way” tour. They were even granted the opportunity to perform with him on the Fox Television Network’s Keenan Ivory Wayans Show.

Since then, the group has not changed that much musically since they started performing live. But, the studio is a totally different story.

Vocally, they have tried to maintain the complex vocal arrangements they are known for, all the while attempting to step it up a notch. On the performance side, the group is known for its raw energy and hyped stage presence. In fact, the group never performs a ballad during their performance. They simply want people to have a good time with the energy of a dance party.

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In an age where the sound of music lacks the complexity that original artists like Prince and New Edition had, groups like the 17th Floor hope to restore what made music special.

“Music is not too complex these days. It’s simply a computer doing most of the work,” Thompson said.

With so many hip-hop groups out there, it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. But, the 17th Floor is taking great strides to make sure they stand out among the rest. For a brief period, the group lost a member, bringing its number down to six. Recently, the seventh slot was filled by long-time band friend, Andre Miles. Miles will be with the members of 17th Floor Thursday at Copper Dragon.

For sound samples and more information on 17th Floor, go to www.the17thfloor.us. If weather conditions worsen, the show may be moved inside Copper Dragon, located next to Pinch Penny Pub.

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