Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard Skelly was prepared for the November 29,
2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
The Fins’ Roadhouse Blues
To call Benny "Hi-Fi" Suriano a perfectionist
is an understatement. By day he works as a program manager for New
Jersey Transit and is part of a team of engineers working on
of the $448 million Secaucus transfer project in the Meadowlands,
a project that is to be completed in a few years. On weekends the
guitarist seeks perfection with his band, the Fins — a project
that may never end.
The Fins recently released their second album, "Superstar,"
a self-produced, self-released CD. In September they celebrated with
a CD release party at one of New York’s most prestigious clubs for
blues musicians, the new B.B. King’s on West 43rd Street.
The eight-piece, horn-heavy band plays classic roadhouse blues. As
a follow-up to their 1997 recording debut, "Bluesprint," the
band has expanded the parameters of modern blues by employing their
longtime drummer, Eric Addeo, schooled at Rutgers in New Brunswick,
to write songs for the band. Suitably, "Superstar" showcases
clever originals in the style of the great small big bands led by
Louis Jordan, Aaron "T-Bone" Walker, Illinois Jacquet, and
others who once toured, or in the case of Jacquet, still tour, with
a horn ensemble.
"Bluesprint," didn’t include any original tunes, just great
arrangements and interpretations of classic blues from B.B. King,
Walker, A.C. Reed, Albert Collins, and Albert King.
"We wanted to focus more on showcasing some of our originals,"
Suriano explains from his office at New Jersey Transit in Newark,
moments before catching the train back to his hometown of Edison.
He has a master’s degree in engineering from Georgia Tech, and it
was there that he seriously got into playing guitar.
When he returned to New Jersey from Atlanta in 1990, he says he had
a vision to create a band with a horn section not unlike T-Bone
bands or, for a more recent example, Roomful of Blues. Since then
he has built the Fins mailing list to some 2,500 fans.
"Eric Addeo wrote lyrics to the originals we have on the new album
and Angelo Mancuso [bassist] and I kind of contributed our musical
ideas to those lyrics," Suriano explains. "We spent many
in planning and pre-production, and we made a lot of tapes and
of those tapes in my basement studio. And then we would give it to
our guys to do charts," he says, referring to the band’s horn
section, which may change from gig to gig.
"Once the horn charts are done, it’s easier to perform and easier
to record," he explains. The band recorded at Eric Rachel’s Trax
East Studios in South River. Rachel, a Spotswood native, isn’t a guy
you’ll see out at clubs a lot, because his studio is almost constantly
"Our standard operating procedure is to put a lot of time into
new songs before we go near the studio. The studio in my basement
is great for all the pre-production," Suriano adds.
All three core members of the Fins — Hi-Fi Suriano,
Mancuso, and Addeo — had input into the shaping of the songs.
Another key member of the group is organist John Pittas of Middletown.
Regular members of the Fins horn section include Steve Jankowski and
John Berry on trumpets, Jack Stuckey and Alex Harding on baritone
saxophones, and Ralph Bowen and Joel Frahm on tenor saxophones.
"We all had input into the shaping of the songs and getting the
music to a form where it was in the vein of what we do," Suriano
says. "Lots of times, we ended up simplifying arrangements,
good blues is a simple music, and soulful music. So from time to time
we’d have to step back and ask ourselves, `What are we doing
The Fins have created a niche at clubs and festivals around New York
and New Jersey, and in the last year, performed at the Chicago Blues
Festival in June, as well as festivals in the Florida, Puerto Rico,
Idaho, Switzerland, Spain, and France. Addeo, who works as an
with a jazz booking agency in New York, handles the band’s bookings,
often a chore because of the fickle nature of the club circuit. Addeo
has learned the ins and outs of securing gigs for his eight-piece
band and has also networked enough in the jazz and blues worlds to
know what festivals and clubs are worth going after.
All Suriano’s major influences are represented on "Superstar."
They include "T-Bone Jumps Again" by Walker, "One More
Kiss" by Johnny "Guitar" Watson, "Gator’s Groove"
by Willis "Gatortail" Jackson, and Earl King’s "Trick
Bag." "When we do cover tunes, it’s out of respect for the
masters who first performed them," says Suriano.
"When you hear Duke Robillard play a tune, he pays tribute to
the master he’s covering, and he doesn’t change things all that
he says. Robillard, a legendary guitarist and better-than-average
songwriter and vocalist, co-founded Roomful of Blues back in the late
1960s. He has long since left that band to lead bands under his own
name, but, like Suriano, he’s as much as a student of the music as
he is a performer.
"We see ourselves carrying on the swing and jump blues
Suriano says, "and while I’m well versed in a more heavy blues
guitar style, that allows the flexibility to take gigs as just a trio
"I model the Fins after a myriad of guys who took on the little
big band approach," he says, adding vocalist Wynonie Harris always
traveled with a small big band, meaning a full complement of horns.
"It used to be the big bands were led by guys with horns,"
he says, citing Benny Goodman and others, "but coming out of the
swing era, the guitar became a lead instrument as opposed to just
a rhythm instrument. Basically, T-Bone Walker and Charlie Christian
were two great electric guitar players who used it as a lead
T-Bone with blues and Charlie Christian with jazz."
To be sure, the Fins occupy a unique, sizable niche on the tri-state
blues scene, and in recent months, through the efforts of Addeo, the
band has taken its music to new audiences outside the tri-state area.
"We play with a lot of feeling and energy and that’s what sets
us apart," says Suriano. "Technically, there’s a hell of a
lot better guitar players on the scene than me, but I do learn very
quickly, so what I may lack in technical ability I make up for in
the feeling we put into our live performances."
"By reading album liner notes and books, you commit yourself to
knowing where this style of music came from, because you’ve got to
know where it came from in order to play it right and carry on the
tradition," he says.
— Richard J. Skelly
Brunswick, 732-246-3111. $5 cover. Friday, December 1, 10 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.