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Dam-Funk's Cousin Turquoise Summers Is a Funk Survivor

Turquoise Summers
Turquoise Summers
Photo by Steen Kevett

[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]

The funk started flourishing after Turquoise Summers was released from Washington, D.C.'s Walter Reed Hospital. It was 2009 and the Army reconnaissance operations specialist from Corona had spent the previous 18 months recovering from life-threatening injuries.

During the modern funk maestro's second tour of Iraq, an improvised explosive device fell out of a tree and landed on the truck of the soldier born Phillip Riddick, then 23. (He was riding in the gunner hatch.) It left him without vision in his right eye, shrapnel embedded in his arm, and a ravaged spinal cord requiring serious rehabilitation.

But if you didn't know about his war injuries, you'd never guess seeing him today. His disposition is sunny and his physique is ready for Muscle & Fitness magazine. When we meet at a Silver Lake café, he's rocking a blue RVCA button-up and matching loafers - looking like a pro skater with a rigorous bicep-curl routine.

"Recovery was hard. I was mostly alone and Walter Reed was all bricks and snow. Nothing like this," Riddick says, gesturing to the abundant sun and languid pulse of vernal L.A.. "But this is the best mentally and physically that I've felt since the accident."

He doesn't add "musically" to the previous sentence, but it certainly applies. Riddick's latest release for Omega Supreme Records, March's Shades EP, lives up to the phosphorescent Valhalla implied by his moniker, Turquoise Summers.

It arrives on the heels of last year's debut, A Touch of Turquoise, the funkiest record from L.A. since the emergence of his first cousin, Dam-Funk (born Damon Riddick).
 
For Turquoise Summers, funk was both genetic and a seed waiting for germination. He grew up in Long Beach and Norwalk, where many of the people keeping the flame alive were Mexican-Americans bumping Zapp and The Gap Band in low-riders.

"It was straight choloville," he says with affection. "I saw the funk not from the black side but from the Mexican side."

After moving to Corona as a teenager, he became steeped in breakdancing and underground hip-hop. Upon high school graduation, his army vet parents encouraged him to enlist. While he was in training school, 9/11 occurred and his deployment to the Persian Gulf became imminent.

But before being sent overseas, Riddick learned to be a chemicals specialist at a base in Kansas. This barracks stint also brought him into contact with a recruit who taught him how to make beats on an MPC.
"It's one of the reasons why I have no regrets about joining. I might never have learned to make music," Riddick says.

Beatmaking wound up being a major consolation during his extended convalescence. But his approach to music shifted radically after his reconnection with his older cousin circa 2010. Dam-Funk's collaborations with Ariel Pink and Snoop Dogg remained years away, but the Stones Throw recording artist was already in the process of his one-man funk defibrillation.

"He invited me to [weekly club night] Funkmosphere, and I was instantly converted," Riddick says. "I started sending Dam music, which I now realize was terrible. He didn't co-sign me immediately because he wanted me to earn it. I kept doing it, and slowly but surely started to get it."

The lineage between kinsmen is readily apparent, but Turquoise Summers staked out his own soil: hydroponic patches of iridescent keyboards, and grooves so smooth and levitating that you'd think your Celica had been hover-converted.

He's currently studying music at Norco Community College, which has quickened the rate of evolution.
If Dam-Funk resuscitated a once-moribund genre, Turquoise Summers is evidence that its next generation is thriving and fearless, willing to live and die for the funk.

"I want to give people a special feeling when they hear my music," Riddick says. "It's recess. ... It's riding down the street on your BMX. ... It's modern and nostalgic all at the same time."

Turquoise Summers performs Friday, May 16, at Mission Tobacco Lounge in Riverside.

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