By Lou Durnbeck
Last night blues fans in Windsor, Ontario, were treated to an awesome display of musical virtuosity by Sugar Ray & the Bluetones during an evening celebrating Sugar Ray’s contributions to the Blues over the past 40 years. Sugar is well known for his sweet singing voice (and personality) and his stellar command of the blues harp. His induction into to CSBS’s Hall of Fame is a richly deserved honour that he accepted with humility and gratitude – and then he and the Bluetones rocked the house with two sets of real-deal blues that had the crowd jumpin’ and cheerin’ all night long!
The Bluetones lineup includes Sugar Ray on harp and vocals, Mudcat Ward on bass, Anthony Geraci on keys, Neil Gouvin on drums and Mike Welch on guitar and vocals. I understand this is the original lineup of the Bluetones from years ago, save for the very capable and inspiring “Monster” Mike Welch on guitar who has taken the spot once occupied by Ronnie Earl (Horvath). These guys are all expert bluesmen and musicians, true artists of the blues (and beyond), with decades of experience playing with a who’s/who roster of blues royalty with appearances on countless recordings of their own and as support for other major artists. Today this band is working hard to keep the blues tradition alive and inspiring a new generation of blues & roots musicians everywhere.
Perhaps most inspiring to me, is the very obvious love of the music and love of playing together in this band that each of the members demonstrates on and off the bandstand. A more easy-going and approachable band you’d be hard-pressed to find. Friendly and open, they all exude a comfortable professionalism that makes it a real pleasure to talk with them about music generally, blues specifically or just whatever you like. No prima donnas here. With Sugar at the helm of this cast of talented performers, Sugar Ray & The Bluetones may well be the genre’s foremost ambassadors today – and they have so much fun doing it!
“Evening” is the band’s most recent release, and they played a number of tunes from that CD last night. The title track was played with such feeling and soul it gave me goosebumps! The set lists were a virtual blues encyclopedia ranging from ballads and shuffles to down-in-the-alley Chicago blues styles as well as a fair share of jumpin’ – East Coast style, and even a T-Bone! It was a great night of blues to mark Sugar Ray’s induction and no doubt was left that he deserves all the accolades coming his way!
True masters of the art of the blues, the band is set to go back into the studio early next year to record so keep an eye & ear open for that.
– Lou Durnbeck