As the sun beats down on Claremont McKenna College’s McKennaPalooza on Green Beach March 6, Bill Clinton’s Clinton is called up amidst rappers, DJ sets and pop cover bands. A group of seven lanky individuals climbs onto
the stage, facing outward to the shirtless, tanked and bikini-clad audience.
Little did the crowd know that a volcano of funk was about to explode in their
Claremont College’s own Bill Clinton’s Clinton, a funk band made up of Pitzer and Pomona students, is a local favorite, performing everywhere from Groove at the Grove to the Kohoutek Music and Arts Festival.
Two members, Ben Desnyder PZ ’16 and Nicky Phelps PZ ’15, sat down with me in Pitzer’s McConnell Dining Hall for an
intimate talk about their band’s past, present and future. I asked them to
introduce the band with one-liners about each member, and the results were
“Danny Bennett [PZ ’17]: plays trumpet, biggest muscles this side of
“Willy ‘Wetwipes’ Deheeger [PZ ’17]: plays the piano, he tickles the
ivories, and was in a boyband in his past life.”
“Kim Rodrig [PO ’17]: plays the saxophone, great soloist, great
smile, terrible golf player.”
“Sammy de Rosa [PZ ’16]: plays the bass; she’s the bread and butter
of the band.”
“Lawrence McDonald [PZ ’15]: plays the drums; he keeps it hazardously
“Belle Tuttle: beautiful voice, spiritual musician.”
“Justin Dixon [PZ ’16]: good guy, good voice.”
Individually, they are unique musicians, but they are cohesive and focused as a collective. They weave the sounds of each
instrument together with a playful precision that somehow feels as rehearsed as
it does improvised.
The band officially came together through a series of
inebriated jam sessions on the Pitzer mounds.
“We’ve been jamming together for a long time,” said Phelps, who plays the drums. “But one day we decided to
bring some charts, slap some bass, put some horn lines in and put it all together.”
How did they procure the name Bill Clinton’s
Clinton? Phelps pointed to a post-performance conversation for the name’s
“Someone asked what the name of our band was, and I was really baked
and said Bill Clinton’s Clinton, and then that went down.”
I followed up, asking
what about the band’s music reflects Clinton as a political figure: “Nothing,
absolutely nothing,” Phelps said.
The music the group plays covers an extensive set of styles and
influences that range from 1960s Memphis R&B/soul music, to Motown, to West
Coast funk. Desnyder, the band’s lead guitarist, explains the band’s curating
“The way we choose our songs is democratic in the sense that if we
don’t have fun when were playing it, we cut it,” Desnyder said.
Their goals and motivations as a band are entrenched in one
“We wanted to bring
the funk back, some music with craftsmanship,” Desnyder said. “But the funk never left, baby. The
funk is bigger than us. We are part of a long line of
funkadelic funktron funk-transformers.”
As musicians at the 5Cs, members of Bill Clinton’s Clinton cite a drive to satiate what they label an empty hole.
“There is a lot of music on campus like, ‘I’m going to bring my ukulele
up there or DJ some dubstep,'” Phelps said. “That’s cool, but sometimes people want to hear
some ‘feel it’ music, some real boogie-down shit. Get the people to stop looking
at their phones and take their pants off.”
Perhaps the most special part of the group’s live show is when
they bring beloved Pitzer dining hall staff member Gary Lewis on stage to belt out Tower of Power’s “What is Hip.” Lewis is well-liked as a friend and an emotional supporter to many of the
students who pass through the Pitzer dining hall, and his affable spirit
translates right to the stage.
“I think my favorite performance was the one with Gary on
the apron,” said Deheeger, a pianist. “It was so awesome to see everyone shocked by Gary’s brilliant
Lewis said he has just as much fun with the performance as the audience does.
“It’s made up of an eclectic group of guys who really have a feel for my
music,” he said. “I feed off the energy of the band. They have a groove that a lot of
other bands don’t have.”
Both audience members and performers testified that Bill Clinton’s Clinton’s
music has a therapeutic quality to it. Soulful guest singer Belle Tuttle found
a boost of confidence performing alongside the band.
“I’m not actually that
comfortable getting up in front of people, but because they’re all so fun,
funky and tight musically,” she said. “I love to get up there and get loose.”
Catch Bill Clinton’s Clinton’s on stage at Pitzer’s annual Kohoutek Music and Arts Festival April 24.