Grooves from Vulfpeck's orbit
by Patrick Dunn
From the January, 2020 issue
Guitarist Cory Wong is something of an unassuming rock (or, to be more precise, funk) star. He's almost always seen in a colorful striped shirt and a letterman's jacket bearing his cheeky "Wong's Pizza" logo-his manner is unpretentious; a little nerdy, even. But his gentle demeanor belies his formidable musicianship.
The New York-born, Minnesota-raised Wong is an alumnus of St. Paul's McNally Smith College of Music and a frequent collaborator of Vulfpeck, the beloved quartet of U-M alumni whose eminently danceable funk grooves have drawn international acclaim. Like most musicians in Vulfpeck's orbit, Wong is technically adept. His jazzy early work spotlighted his nimble guitar solos, and his wah-wah-laden shredding is still a wonder to behold in the funk idiom where he makes his home these days. But funk lives or dies on its syncopated rhythm chords, and that's where Wong shines the most. This is a man who can keep a seemingly infinite groove going-and if there's even a little bit of movement in you, your hips will heed the call.
Talent of Wong's caliber attracts similarly outstanding supporting players. He's worked with several of Prince's former collaborators, including the horn section known as the Hornheads, as well as with Mark Lettieri, guitarist for the popular jam band Snarky Puppy. There's also always a decent chance, especially in Ann Arbor, that one of his Vulfpeck brethren will join him on stage-as vocalist/guitarist/drummer Theo Katzman did at Wong's Blind Pig show last January.
No matter who's backing him, you can always expect a tight band and a warm, collaborative spirit among the players. Though Wong's name may be the one on the ticket, he's a generous front man. He gives each musician ample time to shine and interacts with the band just as much as he does with the audience, almost always with a grin on his face.
Wong's technical craft and joyous funk hooks make for an impressive, irresistible combination. He recently joined Vulfpeck onstage for the band's sold-out headlining gig at Madison Square Garden, and Robust and raucous crowds turn out for his solo shows across the country.
Cory Wong plays the Blind Pig at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. January 31.
[Originally published in January, 2020.]
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