Funky Pork Songs

By now most of us are familiar with DJ Le Spam and the Spam Allstars, one of Miami's hardest-working and most celebrated music ensembles. Headed by Andrew Yeomanson, the cast includes percussionist Tomas Diaz, alto saxophonist A.J. Hill, guitarist Adam Zimmon, and trombonist John Speck. And now, we have the Bacon Bits. Assembled by Speck in January of 2003, the Bacon Bits are a rollicking combination of Latin funk rhythms and soulful rants led by Speck's bluesy trombone improvisations and loose raps.

Could a local music scene be growing around pork products and their many derivatives? Though Bacon Bits certainly share some similarities with Spam, the differences are just as evident. Both bands are built on a jam aesthetic and a Latin funk sound, but the former plays actual songs, albeit performed in a loose and playfully raucous style that complements its leader's personality of laid-back Seattle native by day, shirt-waving provocateur at night.

"There's definitely certain commonalities to [the Spam Allstars]. Partly the reason why I've been with Spam is because I believe in that kind of vibe: mixing DJs with Latin music, with a little bit of the funk, the hip-hop, putting it all together," says Speck at his home in the Design District. And with catchy tunes like "The Funky Chicken Song," the Bacon Bits are all about having a good time and entertaining the audience, which makes dancing to their music hard to resist.

For the 26-year-old Speck (whose surname actually means "bacon" in German), the adventure began in 2000 when he left his native Seattle, abandoning his regular gigs as a sideman with various salsa, acid jazz, and neo-soul bands for what he thought would be a salsa oasis of sorts in Miami.

"It was appalling actually. I had these dreams of coming down here and just working and playing salsa music all the time," explains Speck, who is perplexed by the city's lack of salsa bands in spite of its huge Latin population. "And then I got here and found out it was pretty much dead. It was all about Mango's and the synthesizers and the dancing girls and if I didn't get a prosthetic apparatus I was gonna be out of work."

Speck spent the first two years here programming salsa for XM Satellite Radio. At night he would take his axe to the Marlin Hotel, where he sat in on Bacilos's early gigs. It was there that the trombonist caught the ear of DJ Le Spam, who extended an offer to jam with the Spam Allstars and, eventually, permanent membership in the ensemble.

But after five years of collecting beats and composing songs, Speck decided that it was finally time for the Bacon Bits. "It was frustrating playing my [home demos] for people. No one really believes you unless you bring it out," says Speck of his inspiration for forming the group, which made its debut at this year's Localpalooza. "It was time to say 'I got something to offer, too.' If you like it, great; if not, that's okay too."

Speck says the band is slowly forming around a conglomerate of musicians that includes DJ Safe Stadick; guitarist Kevin "Buffalo Brown" Sanchez; percussionist Little Ray Romero, Jr.; Jesse Jackson on baritone sax; and Lucille Cherry and Fanesha Fabre, better known as the Rice and Beans Girls, on backup vocals. The immediate goal for Speck and the Bacon Bits is to record an album and take the group out on the road.

"And so I'm letting it form itself," says Speck. "I compose the beat for the most part, and the tunes, and have been writing the lyrics. It's an opportunity for me to bring out some silly songs and give that a try, because I had never really given that a try before. It's still very much a work in progress."

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John Anderson