Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the August 16,
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
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
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
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
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
Sam Cockrell and the Groove are the other national act on the bill.
Cockrell, a soul-blues vocalist who lives in Chicago, recently
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
"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
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
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
— Richard J. Skelly
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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