IMAGINE naming your band Tony! Toni! Tone'! -- without having an Anthony in the bunch. To make matters more confusing, there are really six guys in this three-named, high-tech, high-fashion funk group. And they're all somehow related.

"Yeah, {guitarist} Raphael and {bassist} Dwayne are brothers," says drummer Tim Christian, 23, patiently sorting out all the family ties. "And I'm their cousin, and {keyboardist} Ice Cream {Antron Haile} is my cousin. {Bassist} Elijah Baker is Raphael's cousin. And {keyboardist} Carl Wheeler is Raphael's cousin."

The Oakland group is hot right now: Their single "It Never Rains (In Southern California)" -- not the 1972 Albert Hammond tune -- hit No. 1 on the black singles chart this week, and crossed over to the pop charts at No. 66. And on Christmas night, Tony! x 3 kicked off their second big package tour of the year -- this time as headliners. They're due at Capital Centre Sunday with the Holiday Blitz Jam.

Tony! Toni! Tone'! can sample and rap and kick the new jack swing with the best of their contemporaries. But T 's got something the rest of that pack lacks, and that's R&B roots. Their 14-song, self-produced, near-platinum sophomore album "The Revival" is rich with R&B echoes, tapping into vivid memories of the brightest lights of Oaktown's R&B constellation -- Sly Stone, Larry Graham, Tower of Power, to start. Of course, these guys own all the up-to-the-microsecond electronics necessary for a '90s unit. But at bottom, it's down-home dirty funk that drives them (plus a few Earth, Wind & Fire-styled ballads), a sound the Tonys call "greeeeeeezy beat."

"That's the sound that evolves after the chicken grease leaks into the keyboards and the barbecue sauce gets into the drum machines," says Ed Eckstine (son of Billy Eckstine), the A&R exec who signed the group to PolyGram Records.

"And that's why we call it 'The Revival,' after all," Christian says. "We're bringing back those sounds, that feeling."

Though the guys have mixed emotions about their troubled hometown, those Oakland roots go deep. "All of us are from church," Christian says about their early musical training. "And you know, you have older brothers and sisters, and you can't help picking up on what they're listening to."

This family affair incorporated for real four years ago, after the core trio of Christian and Dwayne and Raphael Wiggins toured in Sheila E.'s band.

"We played with her for around a year, and that helped us out a lot too, with presentation, how to put together a show -- a whole lot of things you should know," Christian says. "And at the same, time, that was Sheila E., and that was a trip, too!"

While playing with her, the guys caught the ear and eye of his Purple Majesty Himself, but they turned down an offer to join Prince's band (which they alluded to on 1988's "Born Not to Know," singing "Things are getting crazy, but I ain't wearin' Paisley!").

Visual funk is almost as high a priority for T

as the backward-and-forward looking sound. "You see, how we dress, that's a big part of it," Christian says. "You never want to look like the rest of the groups. You want your own identity."

Christian describes T 's identity as "outrageous. We always change and try to go left at all times, never go straight. On top of the clothes, on this tour we have lots of production and visual effects -- it'll just be tony, let's just say that."

The group is even toying with the idea of opening its own boutique, Christian says. "And a Tony! clothing line -- a lot of people want to wear our clothes."

Hey, if Spike Lee can do it . . .

Actually the clothes made the men, in a way. The name of the band comes from an informal society the guys formed in their teens. "It was kind of a club we had, and the way that you got in is how you looked," Christian says. "You had to look 'tony' -- cool and kinda down. We kinda got the word from the movie 'Scarface.' He was always saying, 'Tony, Tony, Tony.'

"It's a good name," Christian says. "Everytime you say it you have to say it hard."

TONY! TONI! TONE! -- Appearing Sunday at Capital Centre in the Holiday Blitz Jam, also featuring Salt-N-Pepa, Poor Righteous Teachers, Junkyard, the Trouble Funk Band Reunion, Troop, DJ Kool, Hi5, Samuelle, and Father M.C. Call 202/432-0200.