Corrections or additions?

This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the August 16,

2000

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Heavy Juice & More at the Musconetcong River

Greg Piccolo, a founding and longtime member of the

horn-heavy blues and classic R&B group, Roomful of Blues, has a brand

new bag. Piccolo says his more recent ensemble, Heavy Juice, is not

what you’d call a straight-ahead blues band.

On "Red Lights," their latest outing for Fantasy Records,

Piccolo and Heavy Juice take a broad brush and expand the boundaries

of a variety of blues-based musical forms. There’s an R&B/rap track,

"Money," and a Texas roadhouse blues, "Rockin’ Chair,"

with fat guitar overtones, and there’s even a calypso-flavored pop

tune, the title track, "Red Lights."

Fans of the touring band — no, make that the institution —

known as Roomful of Blues need not worry though, because one listen

to "Red Lights" and you can hear shades of Roomful of Blues

— a band that has lasted more than three decades, though not

always

with the same members. "Moondog Boogie" is a saxophone-heavy

dance number on "Red Lights," and Piccolo, who plays guitar,

saxophones and sings, has a reputation for putting on energetic live

shows.

Patrons of the Musconetcong River Blues Festival are in for a treat

this Sunday, August 20, when the blues festival set in the small-town

park five miles north of Clinton makes its second annual outing. Music

begins at noon, and Piccolo and Heavy Juice will hit the stage at

7:30 p.m. Also in store: food and crafts vendors, a children’s area,

and a youth stage.

Sunday’s lineup also includes a bevy of area talent. Opening the

festival

are BC and the Blues Crew with Beverly Conklin and her band serving

up a swinging mix of classic blues, rhythm and blues, and blues-rock.

Also featured is the New Brunswick-based Barbecue Bob (Pomeroy) and

his Spare Ribs performing classic blues and the occasional Hank

Williams

tune. The Razorbacks, a rockabilly band from the Manville area, have

been on the club scene in various forms since the early 1980s. IKO

IKO perform a blend of blues and R&B that is heavily New

Orleans-influenced.

Sam Cockrell and the Groove are the other national act on the bill.

Cockrell, a soul-blues vocalist who lives in Chicago, recently

finished

second at the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge, a

grand battle of the bands held every year in Memphis. Cockrell and

his band have one album, "I’m in the Business," but it’s a

recording that is as raw and energetic as their live performances.

Greg Piccolo began the long and somewhat risky task of forging his

own reputation as a bandleader when he left the security of Roomful

of Blues in 1994 and formed Heavy Juice. His 1995 debut, "Acid

Blues," is an eclectic album that stretches the boundaries of

modern blues.

"As much as I loved Roomful of Blues," Piccolo relates, "I

have this personality that loves doing different things. I really

am striving to make what I do as cohesive as possible, yet I’ve got

to figure out a way to touch on all the styles I want to do without

it sounding like two different bands."

Born in 1951, Piccolo began his career at age 13 as

a vocalist and saxophonist around his native Westerly, Rhode Island.

Longtime Roomful of Blues guitarist Duke Robillard — who now leads

his own successful solo career — was a huge influence almost from

the start, Piccolo recalls.

"I was 14 when I first met Duke. He was a couple years older than

me, and I really respected him musically. He was sincerely into the

music [blues] from an artist’s point of view. If I had a guru in my

younger years, I guess it would have been Duke. I still don’t know

any better guitar players than him."

Piccolo was just 19 when Robillard asked him to play saxophone for

Roomful of Blues. Gradually, as the band developed a following around

Rhode Island and Boston, Roomful of Blues would accompany visiting

bluesmen from Chicago and Texas at their Boston and New York shows.

Indeed, a glance at Piccolo’s session history indicates he’s played

saxophones on albums by Jimmie Vaughan, Colin James, Ann Rabson, John

Mooney, J.B. Hutto, Mitch Woods, Tinsley Ellis and Pat Benatar. With

the Roomful of Blues horn section, he accompanied a short who’s-who

in the blues world in the 1970s and ’80s, including the Fabulous

Thunderbirds,

Lou Ann Barton, Ron Levy, Ronnie Earl, Hubert Sumlin, and the late

Stevie Ray Vaughan.

As a guitarist, Piccolo takes much of his inspiration from Robillard

and Robillard’s influences that include people like Aaron

"T-Bone"

Walker and B.B. King. As a saxophonist, however, Piccolo takes his

musical inspiration from musicians who rose to prominence before 1955.

The late 1940s and early ’50s were a grand time for classic blues

and a then-emerging form called rhythm and blues.

"Illinois Jacquet, Red Prysock, Arnette Cobb, Buddy Tate, Lester

Young, Coleman Hawkins — I love all of them to this day,"

Piccolo explains, while rattling off the names of these long-departed

blues and jazz saxophonists. "Depending on the mood I want to

set, I’m always trying to emulate a certain kind of feeling from those

players."

— Richard J. Skelly

Second Annual Musconetcong River Blues Festival, Hampton

Borough Park, Route 31, Hampton, 908-832-0156. Greg Piccolo & Heavy

Juice, Barbeque Bob & the Spareribs, Sam Cockrell & the Groove, BC

& the Blues Crew, IKO IKO, Andy Wahlberg, and the Razorbacks. Tickets

$15; children under 12 free. Sunday, August 20, noon to 9 p.m.


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