Greg Rettig and Stephen Baumgardner have been friends for a long time. And like so many of the musicians who inhabit Savannah's ever-evolving scene, they've played in multiple bands ... sometimes in tandem, sometimes not.
“Me and Stephen have been together with so many musicians for about six years,” Rettig explains. “And it’s pretty ridiculous. Every two years, we play two shows. And then break up again. Then it would be me and him, and a new band.”
These days, Rettig plays guitar in Sins of Godless Men, and bass in Wave Slaves. And, he says, he’s the new bass player for Jeff Two-Names and the Born Agains (“Apparently, I was abducted into their band without my consent”).
As Basik Lee, Baumgardner is a sought-after DJ and rapper. A founding member of the hip hop aggregate Dope Sandwich, he is also a poet, singer and dancer, and many other things for which he is justifiably known and beloved in the community.
Together, these two have a new project. Ambrose—named after the drummer’s dog —is a four-piece rhythm ‘n’ blues band.
Well, sort of. “Everybody has so much to bring to the table, I don’t even know if you can box it right now,” Baumgardner explains. “When people ask ‘What kind of music do you play?’ we just say, well, it’s R&B.”
Interjects Rettig: “That covers it. Yeah, he raps sometimes, and sometimes we play pretty hard, but most of the time we’re trying to be smooth.”
Rettig is the band’s bassist, Derrick Burgess plays drums, and Jim Schaffer doubles on keyboards and horn.
Ambrose plays April 10 at Barrel House (the former Retro on Congress, aka the former Mercury Lounge) and April 11 at Congress Street Social Club.
Some may not realize that Baumgardner is a hell of a soulful vocalist. He is Ambrose’s frontman and pivot point.
“I love singing,” he says. “Honestly, the funny thing is, I used to sing in gospel choir during high school. Before Dope Sandwich, I was in a singing group and we were going out to Cali with this independent label. Just when I got out there, I stopped singing and started rapping, and that’s when I came back. I used to always rap with friends, but when I came back here I started thinking of it differently. And that’s when I ran into everybody in Dope Sandwich.”
Baumgardner, who also plays guitar, has been doing more singing than rapping lately, although a hip hop strain has made its way into some of Ambrose’s music. You just never know.
Both of these guys enjoy the unpredictable nature of their band. Burgess and Schaffer are longtime Savannah fixtures, too—in fact, they’ve each played with Rettig and Baumgardner in different configurations—and both musicians like to shake things up.
“I hadn’t played bass in years before I started playing with Stephen again,” Rettig says. “But when I started playing with Derrick the first time around, it was just a really good fit. And I don’t know, with playing bass, if I’ve ever played with a drummer I liked playing with more. That I could synch up with, and read him. And me and Derrick can read each other.”
Offers Baumgardner: “That’s how I feel about playing with Jim. Literally, from the first time, I would sing songs to him and he would just start playing along. And that became our thing—‘Yo, I got this idea,’ and I would sing it, and he’d just take off.”
There are two songs to listen to at ambrosetheband.bandcamp.com. There will soon be more.
“I think our closest game plan is make songs, record songs,” says Baumgardner. “We’ve got a lot of stuff we play around with that we’ve polished up by now. No matter what, I want to record it just to hear it.”
After this week’s pair of shows, Ambrose will share a bill with Whaleboat at the Jinx May 3.
More stuff this week
• This booking came in late, but hot dog! Dig Atlanta’s 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra, a funky eight-piece ensemble with horns, at Hang Fire Thursday, April 10. The bill also includes Crazy Bag Lady and White Treasure.
• The SCAD Savannah Record Fair happens Saturday, April 12 at Poetter Hall, 342 Bull St. As a veteran of many years of rare-record and memorabilia shows across the country, I have to say this one isn’t much, unless you’re a college student on the hunt for dollar vinyl ... but in Savannah, it’s all we’ve got. Seek and ye just might find. Dealers come in from various southeastern locales. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., it’s free, and sales are cash only.
Ah, but there’s more! Cusses and the Electric Sons are playing a pre-fair “block party” from 3 to 5 p.m. Friday (April 11) outsider the SCAD Museum of Art. Bring a blanket and sit on the grass.