Covers have existed since the creation of modern music, sometimes with the secondary artist achieving the same acclaim as the one who performed the original. Whether done for sheer attention, as many singers who came up through YouTube have done for their own spotlight, or delivered in homage, a good cover can often be used as a tool to sustain the legacy of a classic hit.
This is what Silk Sonic’s cover of Con Funk Shun’s “Love’s Train” accomplishes. The remake was released as a bonus track on the duo’s debut album, An Evening with Silk Sonic, throughout which Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars shared modern takes on the funk and soul sound made popular in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“This is one of Silk Sonic’s favorite songs originally recorded by the group Con Funk Shun,” the duo explained when they announced the cover’s release on Instagram. “We love this song so much we wanted to sing it for y’all.”
The song, which tells the tale of a steamy love triangle, has its own storied history. Released in 1982 on Con Funk Shun’s 10th studio album, To The Max, “Love’s Train” was never released as a single. “We were preparing songs for the To the Max album, and I had written a song called ‘Baby Please Come Home.’ And that was the original version of the song, so I submitted it,” Felton Pilate, an original member of Con Funk Shun, shared with VIBE during a mid-April phone conversation.
He continued, “Mike [Cooper] heard the track. He said, ‘Man, I’m hearing something a little different.’ So, he asked for a copy of it without my original lyrics. And then he came up with another set of lyrics, which are the current lyrics. And I just think my first reaction was like, ‘No man, this not going to work. These lyrics suck, man. I like my version better.’ It actually took about a week before the other group members were able to convince me, ‘No, man! This has the feel.’ The original version was a softer, more laid-back thing. Michael’s version was full of hard, gritty emotion, and that really helps to sell the song.”
While never released as a single, “Love’s Train” went on to become one of Con Funk Shun’s fan-favorite tracks. During our 30-minute chat, Felton Pilate went on to share his thoughts on the magnitude of the record, the surprise of Silk Sonic’s cover, his decades in the music business, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VIBE: Did you think that this song would blow up the way it did or become big enough to even be remade in 2022?
Felton Pilate: I had no idea that anyone… Beyond my wildest dreams, that someone would go back and cover it. Dru Hill did a version of it, and I was initially surprised when that happened, surprised and honored. I have to add that every single time. I’m honored. But Con Funk Shun knew that it was a strong song. I think the record company asked us which single… They wanted to put out a single, and they asked us, “Okay, do you guys want to put out ‘Ms. Got the Body’ or ‘Love’s Train?’” And naturally, we said, “Love’s Train.” The company said, “Okay, great. ‘Ms. Got the Body’ it is.” I mean, they totally ignored us and went with something else, which actually worked out well for us because of the fact that you couldn’t purchase a single. People had to go buy the album to get it, which helped the album sell. So, oh well. It worked out fine.
How did the latest cover by Silk Sonic come to be? How did the group approach you guys for that?
They didn’t. This was a total surprise. The standard procedure is that they normally contact the publishing company, who isn’t required to tell me because the idea is that if someone wants to record a song, the publishing company says, “Of course you can,” because you generate some more money. But no, the first time I heard about it was on the morning of Valentine’s Day. So, it was a total surprise.
And what was your initial reaction?
It was… Oh, wow! Oh my God. In this specific case, since it was Bruno Mars and Silk Sonic, considering how big they are… My usual reaction whenever someone has covered any of my songs is, Oh my God! This is great. But in this case, it was like, Man! Gratitude and humbleness. This is wonderful.
You and Michael Cooper were both able to meet Bruno Mars and Anderson in April. How did that go?
Through a long, loopy process, we were able to (laughs)… I mean, trying to get ahold of them personally is like trying to break into Fort Knox here. And through a long, lengthy process we were able to contact, I think, their management, who put us in contact with their tour manager and finally got it set up. Through the grapevine, we found out they were just as anxious to meet us as well. We went to the show. We were supposed to meet them before the show. And Mike and I and our wives were sitting there in the room, anxiously [sharing], “Oh my God, this is great.”
And I have to share with you that although I have been a professional musician since 1972, I still appreciate meeting stars, and I’m still excited about meeting other big artists. I’m like, “Oh man, this is so cool that they took the time,” and after about five minutes, the door bursts open. Bruno Mars bursts in, drops to his knees, and sings, “If by chance…” I mean… that was a wonderful moment. We just had a few minutes to just talk. I had a chance to say thank you. I didn’t get as much chance to talk to Anderson .Paak as I would’ve liked because [of] time, but I had a few minutes to actually just talk about music with Bruno, for a few minutes, and it was a wonderful experience. Very pleasant. Wonderful guys, wonderful guys. I can’t speak highly enough about them.
Silk Sonic’s version is slightly changed from the original. What do you think about the new production and the new kind of sound they gave your song
I appreciate the fact that, although they added some Silk Sonic spice to it, they managed to capture… No, I’m not putting that right. They managed to keep the original emotion, and the energy behind it, which is great since they’ve had 40 years to check it out. But they and their producer, D’Mile, did a great job of going back and studying the original parts of the original and getting it accurate. And then after that point, it was to add their little twists and turns and stuff that, if we’d have had another shot at covering our own record, stuff that we might have added. But I’m glad that they did, and I find it interesting that these guys went back and got a song from 40 years ago.
With Con Funk Shun, and you as an individual, what are some things we can expect going forward here in 2022?
I am working on at least one of three or four different projects. I’m finishing up my second solo album, so I’ve got most of the material for that done. I’m working on the Con Funk Shun Christmas album, which we started last year. Due to some unforeseen delays, we weren’t able to get it out for Christmas, but… Well, that was the bad news. The good news is that we had time now to write some more songs and put that on the album, which will be available toward the end of this year. And then there’s the regular Con Funk Shun album. We already have several songs recorded. A song called “Smooth” at this point is the forerunner. It was the first song that I wrote, so I’m excited about that.
Oh, [I] won’t tell you the title, but we are returning the honor. Silk Sonic recorded Con Funk Shun’s song, and we will include a Silk Sonic song on our CD.