By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
"We'll play anywhere we can get the message out," says Donnie. "When the message is in the music, we can turn it over and get young people to come and accept what we're doing. Bring 'em down to the front of the stage and let's go with it. When it all comes together and it's all in sync, oh man, it's like a rush."
As if to exorcise any misconceptions the crowd might have had about gospel music, the Joy Boys kicked off the show with a version of Parliament's "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot." A devotee of P-funk progenitor George Clinton, Donnie sees a clear distinction between the gritty funk of Clinton, James Brown or Sly Stone and the current variety of slick R&B.
"I'm not a fan of 'contemporary' gos-pel," he says. "I like music that's real and down-to-earth. We're fixing to incorporate some P-funk in some of our music. I've listened to a lot of Clinton's music. All of his guys say they come from the church, and I can hear it in their music and their singing."
Born and raised in Nashville, Donnie and Darryl are the youngest of eight children. Their parents each stand at around 4-foot-10, but Donnie and Darryl are the "only small-statured ones" in the family. Donnie says that didn't create problems growing up.
"Actually, we never knew we were different," he says. "You had your fat kids, your skinny kids, your tall kids, your short kids."
Having sung together for as long as they can remember, Donnie and Darryl began rehearsing as the Joy Boys in 1982. Raised on "Sunday-morning choir" music, they began emulating groups like the Gos-pel Keynotes and the Mighty Clouds of Joy.
"I've always admired quartets," says Donnie. "I always wanted to be performing onstage, and I knew we had the talent to do it." In the past 16 years, the group has shared stages with some of the biggest names in gospel, including the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Canton Spirituals and the Jackson Southernaires. But it was an early-1990s show with the Keynotes that changed the group's fortunes. The Keynotes' drummer introduced the Friersons to a representative of Baltimore Records, who put out the Joy Boys' first album.
Since that time, the band has crisscrossed the Eastern U.S., gaining a reputation as a fiery live act in churches, high schools and festivals. "We never dreamed we'd get this big," Donnie says. "We still have a lot of growing to do, but we've made great strides."
Over the years, the Joy Boys have gone through numerous personnel changes, something Donnie attributes to the brothers' reputation as tough band leaders.
"We try to stick to what we believe," he says. "We have rules, and the rules apply to everybody, from us on up. We have to stick to our morals, and there are certain things we won't deal with or can't accept: No drinking, no drugs, and you have to have a strong conviction and belief in what you're doing."
Donnie's outlook on music and life is both realistic and holistic. While he refuses to "kiss butt" ("I'd rather sit buck naked under a bridge") and is determined not to "get raped" on the band's next release, he truly believes that everyone was put on this Earth to get along.
"If I'm thirsty and you've got a glass of water, pass it to me," he says. "I don't believe in pretending I'm someone I'm not, and I don't like people who do that.
"When you play music on this level, you're doing it for real," he adds. "No one is making a lot of money. We've been blessed, and we want to share the message."