Arrow-right Camera

Entertainment

Best In Blues Can Be Measured By The Roomful

Fri., Feb. 2, 1996

Roomful of Blues is a nine-piece blues band that hails from the lily white state of Rhode Island.

Got a problem with that?

Rhode Island may not be a hotbed of the blues but it’s hot enough, apparently, to have given us Roomful of Blues, one of the country’s most durable - and exciting - blues institutions.

The band plays Thursday at Bolo’s, a new blues club in the Valley.

A quick listen to the group’s newest CD, “Turn It On! Turn It Up!,” should be enough to convince you its 26-year tenure is no fluke.

The record was good enough to catch the ears of the Grammy nominating committee: It’s up for an award this year in the Traditional Blues category against such greats as Charles Brown, Lowell Fulsom, John Lee Hooker and The Last Real Texas Blues Band Featuring Doug Sahm.

Of course, we all know that Grammy committees don’t always make the best picks, so if you need further proof, consider this: Big band great Count Basie made a habit of catching the bluesmen whenever the two outfits played the same town.

“The hottest blues band I’ve ever heard,” Basie raved.

But then calling these guys a blues band is like calling Deion Sanders an athlete - they do it all. A big influence on their music was the Kansas City territory band sound that spawned Basie along with hundreds of other great jazz players of the ‘30s and ‘40s.

But then, another great influence is the Chicago Sound, and once you start talking Chicago, you’re getting into the great blues-rock explosion of the ‘60s.

All of it shows up somewhere in the music of Roomful of Blues.

“Turn It On! Turn It Up!” ranges from the jump-blues of B.B. King’s “Blind Love” to horn-drenched version of Basie’s down-and-dirty “I Left My Baby.”

The record currently resides at No. 5 on the blues charts, up there with Clapton’s new one and posthumous releases by Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Roomful was started by Duke Robillard in 1967 and in the intervening years a host of stellar blues players passed through the portals, including Curtis Salgado and the Austin, Texas, belter Lou Ann Barton.

Such musicians as Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan have made it a point to play with Roomful when they could: Vaughan did so many impromptu dates with the band that a number of bootlegs are in circulation, credited to “Stevie and Roomful.”

It’s such a good band that Pat Benatar hired them en masse to back her on her 1991 blues record, “True Love,” and Canadian star Colin James hired the horn section and drummer John Rossi for his 1993 record, “Colin James and The Little Big Band.”

There’s good reason to believe the current lineup is the equal of any in Roomful history, though: Beginning with 1994’s resurgent “Dance All Night” and continuing with “Turn It On! Turn It Up,” they’re playing with new confidence and vigor.

Much of the credit goes to Sugar Ray Norcia, the group’s new vocalist (as of ‘91) and harp player. A belter in the style of a Joe Turner or Jimmy Rushing, he blows a first-rate harp, too. Behind him, the big band just cooks.

Most of all, Roomful of Blues is known as a dance band non pareil, which it will no doubt prove again on Thursday at Bolo’s.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ROOMFUL OF BLUES Location and time: Bolo’s, 116 S. Best Road, Thursday at about 9 p.m. Tickets: $12.50 $(15 day of show); limited reserved seats are an additional $5. To charge by phone, call 891-8995.

This sidebar appeared with the story: ROOMFUL OF BLUES Location and time: Bolo’s, 116 S. Best Road, Thursday at about 9 p.m. Tickets: $12.50 $(15 day of show); limited reserved seats are an additional $5. To charge by phone, call 891-8995.



Click here to comment on this story »