Time Capsule of Funk

 

Words by Jillian Lambardo

Have you ever lost a piece of yourself? Joe did. After his brother’s passing, the music they created together — a testament to their bond — vanished

 

Billie D. Senger III, a Baltimore native born in 1957, nurtured a passion for music from a young age. Honing his skills on the guitar before taking center stage as frontman for his own band, LEAF, in 1979. This is where the story of the Senger brothers and their musical journey truly begins.  Recognizing his younger brother Joe’s potential, Billie ensured Joe got his first drum set, solidifying the band’s core. Despite their age difference and Billie’s struggle with bipolar disorder, they shared a unique musical connection that transcended their challenges.

 

Fueled by their admiration for rock and funk legends, Billie and Joe transformed their Baltimore home into a vibrant musical hub during the 1980s.  The energy of their diverse neighborhood seeped into their sound as they experimented with a four-track recorder.  This culminated in their debut 45 RPM single, “Food Stamps/How Do I Know,” released in late 1982, a perfect embodiment of their dual rock and funk identity.

 

They formed a band called LEAF (Love-Everyone-Always-Forever) that focused on original music with social commentary. The brothers weren’t afraid to get unconventional, sometimes setting up drums on the first floor with the guitar relegated to the basement.  Despite this physical separation, their musical connection was undeniable.  They consistently started with the foundation of guitar and drums, building their sound layer by layer.  This collaborative approach, fostered by their tight musicality, is what allowed them to blossom as a band.

 

 “We did not use clock tracks to keep timing 30 years ago,” said Joe, “we just relied on God-given talent and time.”

 

Mainly creating music based around funk and rock, their songs touch on drugs, gun violence and racism. Joe sees that there is still a need for these to be heard 30 years later. One song in particular, “Jew and a German” Billie wrote to shock people and draw awareness to the obscurity of calling people these names. While the drugs in their song “Too Many Junkies” connect more to the crack crisis of that time, there are other drugs that have taken their place destroying lives in today’s climate. 

Joe moved to Florida after a while, keeping up with his brother periodically. Until one day the line went silent. Joe realized he hadn’t heard from Billie in months, so he immediately flew to Baltimore to check in. The melody of his life took a turn; something wasn’t right. Joe visited the shop next to his brother’s apartment and asked if they had heard from Billie. It was then Joe became aware of his brother’s demise. 

 

The news hit him hard: His brother was gone. The landlord, claiming there was no next of kin, had sold everything of Billie’s: recordings, instruments, basically Billie’s life. Desperate, Joe took to Craigslist and a local music magazine, hoping to find these lost relics. Fortunately, he got a hit and immediately flew to Baltimore to meet a man who had the tapes and was willing to give them to Joe. They met at a bar in Towson. Filled with gratitude for this unexpected connection to his brother, Joe offered the man a drink or a meal. But the exchange was abrupt. The man simply dropped off the tapes and left. Stunned, Joe was left with no answers, only the silence where questions about his brother should have been.

 

Joe’s musical journey began at 14, drumming alongside his brother. Without his brother by his side, it was difficult, but he rekindled his passion for playing. One of his most popular projects was playing with Coast Friends of Funk (FCF of Funk), releasing an album with them in 2015. He then released “Up Yo Game” featuring Joy Denise (vocals), Danny Bedrosian (keyboards), and Jesse Cruce (guitar). Recording “LEAF,” however, reignited a fire within him, a desire to return to his roots of writing and producing.

The recording process of the album became a reunion of Jacksonville’s music scene.  Longtime collaborator Kenny Hamilton, known for his work with JJ Grey & Mofro, added a soulful saxophone line to “Without You” after Joe envisioned it during a mix session.  Childhood friend Shawn Pfaffman, who plays keyboards with Joe in their band Flo ‘N Grits, brought his signature Hammond organ sound to a couple of tracks.  These local legends joined the project alongside Rick Grice, whose production on “Ding Dong” immediately impressed Joe with its Red Hot Chili Peppers vibe. Grice’s enthusiasm for the project solidified the choice, not to mention his background aligned perfectly with their commitment to social commentary and artistic diversity — values Joe and Billie championed throughout their careers. With a few more surprise guests from the Jacksonville area waiting in the wings, the album promised to be a vibrant mosaic of the city’s musical talent.

“Listening to the music today and remixing in the studio just takes me back to a time when I really felt we had something, something different and something that could break through,” said Joe. “This needs to be heard.” 

 

This album acts as a bittersweet tribute to the good times, the bad times and the memories that connect them for the rest of their lives. To him, it feels as if he is working with his brother again on something new. 

“We’re still creating together,” Joe commented. 

Inspired by many who recognized the unique narrative of the Senger brothers’ rediscovered music – a story involving a deceased brother, a ruthless landlord, a prized 45 record achieving collector’s status and even a London compilation. To weave a complete tapestry of this journey and include all perspectives, Joe embarked on a mission to interview key players from over the years including musicians to the original engineer, Carl King, to the unsuspecting record store owner who inadvertently spread the music globally. 

To learn more about the upcoming album or to hear more about the bands mentioned, visit fcfoffunk.com. 

About Jillian Lombardo

Jillian Lombardo is a senior at the University of North Florida majoring in multimedia journalism and minoring in psychology. She hopes her career will lead her to investigative reporting or war correspondence. Jillian’s ambition is to help people lead her to a career she sees as a fourth branch of government, a voice for the people and the inside scoop on current events they have a right to understand.