The Austin-based ten-piece collective of musicians known as Hard Proof began by studying the blueprint of Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 band, as well as funk and jazz from the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. Founded in 2008, Hard Proof features members of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, The Calm Blue Sea, Cougar, Ocote Soul Sounds, Spanish Gold, and several other notable Austin acts.
While their self-titled album was well received on its 2010 release, there seems to be universal agreement that their live shows are something not to be missed. Austin taste-maker Laurie Gallardo of KUTX radio may have put it best: "This local nine-piece ensemble always puts on an electrifying live show, an absolute blowout of non-stop percussion action and blasting brass, bringing the best of both worlds to the stage by mixing classic styles and plenty of their personal panache to own the show."
As if they weren’t busy enough between Hard Proof and their other bands, the Hard Proof Horns have found work as sidemen with such notables as Spoon, Antibalas, Gary Clark Jr., Spanish Gold, Broken Social Scene, the Walkmen, Dave Matthews Band, Band of Horses and others.
In 2013, Hard Proof released their first vinyl, partnering with Canada's Kept Records for the Dragon/Tere 45 that they tracked with Adrian Quesada of Grupo Fantasma and Brownout. In 2014 Hard Proof released a Cassette Store day cassingle, and played the Austin City Limits festival after a successful East coast run. In 2016 the band released a 100% analog 45rpm LP produced by Jim Eno (Spoon) at his own studio for his Public Hi-Fi imprint.
Hard Proof’s next full length will come out in early 2017 on Modern Outsider Records featuring production from Chris “Frenchie” Smith, a few weeks after they play Austin’s new Sound on Sound Fest.
What the critics are saying about Hard Proof:
"The task of any Afrobeat ensemble is to first prove that they're well-versed in the classics and then bring something new to the conversation. Austin nine piece Hard Proof Afrobeat does exactly that on a stirring self-titled debut that kick-starts with 30 seconds of hard funk fury and closes with a mournful jazz melody over sparse percussion that only loosely operates within the framework of Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. From the dark psychedelic marauding of "Stolen Goods" to the Ethiopique groove of "Jimma", Hard Proof crafts moody instrumentals that lean more toward Budos Band than Antibalas. A rumbling baritone sax churns the hypnotizing crawl of "Mahout", while the brass (which splits time with Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears) blows hard on "No Consideration" and freaks out on "M.E.N.D." The best of the band's brooding grooves border prove Afrobeat is alive in Austin. This debut is Hard Proof." -Austin Chronicle
"Hard Proof Afrobeat are not the only Austin band with international aspirations, but the average band fronted by a jazz studies major has only a ﬁghting chance of being half as good as this Fela Kuti-inﬂuenced but genre-busting supergroup of strong performers. Including players in Black Joe Lewis And The Honeybears, Echocentrics, and Calm Blue Sea, Hard Proof excels in putting on high-energy, dancey shows that betray a careful ear toward a diverse subset of musical styles and approaches." -The Onion AV Club
"Austin nine-piece Afrobeat outfit Hard Proof hardly need to prove themselves as a great Afrobeat group, their music stands for itself. Their debut album came out last fall, and it is filled with instrumentals informed by the group's great sense of melody and rhythm." - KUT's Texas Music Matters
"What is appealing about Hard Proof is [sic.] the elements of jazz, funk and African rhythms that they fuse together to create a unique sound. While there are many talented musicians in Austin and an equal number of great bands, Hard Proof offers fans something out-of-the-ordinary in terms of the local music scene." - Greg Ackerman - Austin Concerts Examiner (examiner.com)
Stephen Bidwell - Drums
Tommy Spampinato - Percussion
Tony Cruz - Congas
Joe Sokolik - Bass
Aaron Sleator - Guitar
Gerardo Larios - Guitar/Keyboards
John Branch - Guitar
Joe Woullard - Bari Sax/Flute
Jason Frey - Tenor Sax
Derek Phelps - Trumpet