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Gerry Van King ...


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street music | portrait | musician | See All (3) »


Documentary | Music




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1 May 2003 (USA)  »

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A timeless, funkified tale of one man under the groove
29 August 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Austin, Texas is home to one of the largest populations of practicing musicians in the world. Its neon-drenched main strip, Sixth Street, nightly serves up virtually anything a connoisseur of groove could desire.

Despite all the bands and shows and touring groups, one of the best-known musicians in town doesn't play in any club. His name is Gerry Van King, a funkified street musician who everyone calls "The King of Sixth Street." He's been singing and playing rhythm on his bass for nightly fans long enough to become a local legend featured on billboards, radio shows, and local papers.

The King of Sixth Street, a documentary film by Charles Burmeister, follows King's mission to survive and create his first full-length album. We're with King on his crowded sidewalk spot, where he's delivered the righteous message of the groove to an adoring public six nights a week, every week for over a decade. His fans include boisterous university students, local bartenders, South by Southwest Music Convention attendees, tourists to the state's capitol, and Austin's own musicians. All find themselves spellbound by this high-spirited man wearing a crown and playing a battered bass guitar with a cheap electric amp. King finds that not only does Austin, his adopted hometown, love him, but MTV gets hip to him as well, dedicating an entire page to him in their official Video Music Awards Book.

At 44 years old, King is proud of what he's done and how he's done it. But he's itching for his big break. Between getting robbed on the street and trying to keep up with child-support payments for his teenage son, Marcellus, King has to make ends meet on a nightly basis. A slow night means he can't make his rent or his payments. Homelessness and the country jail haunt his hopes for success. When a Fort Worth based record company takes a shine to him during their yearly SXSW foray, King believes his dreams are finally coming true. What ensues is less than dream-like. Clashes with the producer and an ongoing battle to get his fair share nearly defeat him and the album he's trying to make.

But King's determination drives him on. His optimism is sometimes otherworldly. He says he knows he'll make it someday. It just seems to be taking longer than he thought it would.

The King of Sixth Street is a timeless, funkified tale of one man under the groove. Gerry Van King is a Parliament-Funkadelic disciple who takes it on the chin and keep on playing come rain, poverty, and biblical plague of crickets. "The funk is it's own reward," says King, and you better believe the man knows what he's talking about.

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