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Samuel L Cool J: Gospel Claws' Joel Marquard Unleashes His Retro Soul Supergroup

Plenty of bands profess bizarre origins, but few are quite as violent as Samuel L Cool J. According to the Phoenix-based group, lead vocalist Haendel Balzora and rhythm guitarist Joel Marquard teamed up after assassinating each other's respective gang leaders, "Bernardo" and "Tony." Instead of the electric chair, an extremely sympathetic (or one might say progressive) judge sentenced the pair to months of community service. Specifically, they were tasked with freeing the world from "hatred and anger by writing and performing music that could get people on their feet — shakin' those hips."

The story almost seems plausible. A throwback to Motown and vintage R&B with a dash of soul and gospel for flavor, Samuel L Cool J certainly has the power to getcha groovin'. Featuring a whopping 10 musicians from all corners of the Valley — including three female backup singers, Jason Roedl (of Mergence), drummer Bob Hoag (of Flying Blanket Recording Studios), bassist Mitch Freedom (Wooden Indian), lead guitarist Alex Tighe (Ladylike), and a saxophonist — Sammy L might qualify as a local supergroup.

Even that's not quite as large compared to Marquard's 13-member Through & Through Gospel Review. Naturally, Samuel L's immense size can make scheduling practice times difficult, not to mention that Balzora, responsible for the band's sultry vocals, lives in Los Angeles. But to Marquard, who writes the tunes, it's all worth it when it comes together.

"Haendel, he's a good-looking dude. He's a stick of dynamite. It's just like, when someone comes along like that, you kind of have to [start a band]," Marquard says over the phone. "Why wouldn't you try and get a band together with that guy? It's almost like the universe, er, or the Department of Corrections, putting us together."

However, Marquard is worried the punny name might doom the band, acknowledging that he has a history with bad band names. "The first band I was in, Dear and the Headlights, was spelled weird [and] just kind of overly complicated. Then Gospel Claws, everyone thinks it's like a Christian band," Marquard says.

"[But] Through and Through Gospel Review, that one's good," Marquard adds with a laugh.

The name was spawned as a pitch for an HBO show about the exact kind of band Samuel L became, a joint idea between filmmaker Grant McCord and Balzora. McCord, who notably directed videos for The Technicolors and Sundressed, also was behind the camera for Cool J's "Slip and Slide," a black-and-white retro spectacle complete with antique cars and a Mad Men dress code.

Having nothing to do with the famous Wham-O playground toy other than the name, "Slip and Slide" is a bluesy ditty lead by a slick drum and bass routine. Common Wall Media is releasing the single on a 7-inch split single with self-described "desert soul" band Black Carl, also from the Valley. Hoag recorded the track, as well as "Killing Me," which Marquard hints probably will come out a little later. "Ever since I wrote 'Slip and Slide,' I knew that [Hoag] would knock it out of the park as far as recording it," Marquard says.

This will mark Samuel L Cool J's second release this year, after putting out seven retro-stamped tunes (mostly demos) on Vol. 1, a cassette on DIY label Rubber Brother Records. Hopefully, this means there will be more releases this year. Marquard says he has a lot more songs already written and half of another gospel album completed. As difficult as it may seem to put this whole project together, it appears that Samuel L Cool J is just getting started.