Category Archives: Local Bands

Funk Time: William Thompson Funk Experiment Brings the Party with Shine Time

by Matt Robert
This article originally appeared in the Thursday, June 7, 2013, issue of Worcester Magazine.

Though the origins of the William Thompson Funk Experiment are low-key and comical, there’s nothing to laugh at with this solid, grooving outfit. Though the band maintains a laid-back attitude, it is a tight, expressive funk band that draws on lots of styles – both the expected and unexpected – to create a sound rooted in the traditions of funk and reggae, but cognizant of present styles, too.

The band, says guitarist Nick Sergeant, started out in the suburbs of Worcester as WTF, or “What the Funk,” and was long referred to by various plays on those initials. They had their eventual name handed to them at a Tammany Hall show a while back when a friend spontaneously announced them to the audience as the “William Thompson Funk Experiment.” The band rolled with it, and it’s been their name ever since.

William Thompson Funk Experiment brings its alternative, psychedelic funk to Tammany Hall in downtown Worcester for one of only a few area shows on Saturday, June 8.

Sergeant says that the band members bring a lot of variety to the stew. Though, he says, their collective favorite groups are Deep Purple and Ween, he also notes the influence of funk bands, like Lettuce and Parliament/Funkadelic, as well as cerebral rock groups, like Pink Floyd and Tool. Then, there’s the jazz background of the two members who attended Berklee. Last, he says, front man Nico Ramey brings some hip-hop and R&B flavor.

“Ocean Jam,” from last year’s “Shine Time,” sums up the band’s approach pretty well, bookending a rocking funk jam with a chill, ambient groove. Guitarist Nick Sergeant negotiates each vibe, offering ethereal whale calls and glistening, chorused chord fills in the mellow jam, and a balls-out wah-wah solo in the funk portion. Keyboardist Justin Bradley demonstrates high-level chops and intimate familiarity with vintage keys sounds, laying down chunky, spaced out Rhodes and wild synth pitch bending, with tones right off of ’70s records, by the likes of Pink Floyd, Herbie Hancock, or Weather Report.

Combined with Elote Villanueva’s soaring soprano sax soloing, and the faraway, freakout lyrics of front man Nico Ramey, twisted with digital delay, the tune really cooks, with great band interplay, big chops, and wide dynamics. It is a sonic delight.

The rhythm section of Adam Casten (bass) and Tim Hetu (drums) is just what you’d expect – and want – from a funk band: tight, dynamic, and potent.

The live act is a stoner party on stage, with steady dance grooves and a broad sonic palate of horns, keys, guitar, dubstyle rapping, and plenty of histrionics and ear candy, perfect for club music and perfect for the dancing Tammany throng, which loves WTFE.

It’s no surprise that the band has made its biggest impact in front of festival crowds, and has become a three-year regular at the Strange Creek Festival in Greenfield, Mass.; last year’s Open Road Festival in Worcester; and the Camp Cold Brook Festival in Barre (the band plays it on June 21).

Sergeant says that the band does best in front of the varied crowds that festivals tend to draw and that they’ve picked up lots of fans in that environment. It’s easy to see how someone who might not be attracted to funk per se might hear things to enjoy in WTFE’s sound, which, as Sergeant says, mixes reggae, hip hop, metal, and jazz, among other things. Musicologists, as well as dancers looking to be swept away, might both enjoy the heady, yet sophisticated blends.

“Make Choices,” for instance, has a soundscape akin to “Ocean Jam,” but with Nico sounding more like Sublime’s Bradley Nowell rapping over a mid-tempo funk groove, hating on haters. Sweet swelling horns polish the arrangement, which mixes loads of ear candy, chunking and wahing guitar and steady, percussive Rhodes over high-watt, walking bass and complex, but meaty drums.

Sergeant says that the band broke out several new songs at the recent Strange Creek show, which fans can expect to hear at Tammany, too. The band, he says, which makes the rounds of southern New England venues, is conscious of overplaying the Worcester area, and books their dates carefully. In fact, the Cold Brook Festival is the last event they have booked at the moment, so, get out and hear them when this opportunity arises.

Catch WTFE live on Saturday, June 8 at Tammany Hall, 43 Pleasant St. at 8 p.m. The band’s album “Shine Time” is available online at cdbaby.com/cd/williamthompsonfunkexper and at shows. You can learn more and stream tracks at reverbnation.com/williamthompsonfunkexperiment.

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Talkin’ Jazz: Galindo/Phaneuf Quartet Releases Top-Shelf Jazz CD

by Matt Robert
Article originally appeared in the May 29th, 2013, Worcester Magazine

Back when I used to work in musical instrument retail at the Worcester branch of a New England chain, a kid in his late teens came in and started fiddling with some guitars. Seeing that he had chosen a nylon string classical-type, I opened my pitch with, “So, are you looking to learn classical guitar?” I was wholly unprepared for his response, which was, “Well, I mastered jazz, so I thought I would take up classical.”

I decided to leave him alone to master classical on the showroom floor.

Listening to the most recent release by the Galindo/Phaneuf Quartet, I now have that too-late response to that innocent youth’s comment: “Mastered Jazz? Okay, then, listen to this!” The Galindo/Phaneuf Quartet is what mastery of jazz sounds like, though the musicians here play with pious and disciplined seriousness and an absence of hubris and cliché that only a lifetime of devotion to craft can teach.

Talkin’ Horns,” released this year, is a 12-track exploration of modern jazz in its totality, the type that emerged post-World War II, when the music transitioned from hot to cool, no longer acting as motivation for dancers, but as serious concert music.

Shockingly, the CD, recorded at Wellspring Studios, in Acton, Mass., was captured in one evening – nearly one and a half hours of really sophisticated stuff!

“Basically we ran through it in one night,” says Galindo by phone last week. “Every tune we recorded, except one, were all first takes. We usually did two takes of everything, but when we went back and listened to the stuff, we found the first take had the most fire and was overall the best.”

This is a startling revelation, considering the complexity of the work, both in terms of its intricate bebop heads and intuitive and dialedin free-jazz improvisation, which are balanced perfectly throughout.

“I mean, everyone can play well and knows the kind of material. There’s a lot of compositions, but there’s also a lot of improvisational interplay happening within the album,” says Galindo, “and these guys are some of the best at it.”

Indeed they are. These are musicians at the top of their field, a rarefied air of outrageous technical, historical, and intuitive musicianship, honed over decades in clubs, studios, and big stages around the world. Galindo alone, in addition to working on the Berklee faculty, has played with a who’s who of popular and jazz artists far too numerous to begin to name here.

“Talkin’ Horns” brings the combo to life with stunning fidelity and dynamics. The performances sound gorgeous, with lots of air and room. Over the mostly-original dozen tracks (except Duke Ellington’s “Angelica” and Bill Warfield’s “Kill Flow”), the quartet plays “Real Book” jazz, setting the tone with complex bop heads and then clearing space for wild improvisational jaunts that bring to mind the buoyancy of Charles Mingus and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the modal complexity of Thelonious Monk, and the hot and cool, but always risktaking soloing of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane.

The latter is thanks to Mark Phaneuf’s alto and soprano sax work, which shows a generous Bird influence, and the killer rhythm section of John Lockwood, on acoustic bass, and Bob Gullotti, on drums, who swing hard, create beautiful bridges between head and solo, and continuously pave an extraordinary road over which the horns solo. The interplay is phenomenal, the instruments intuiting and coalescing serendipitously in spontaneous composition.

Overall, it hearkens to the classic small combos that dominated the ’40s and ’50s. With liberal use of big intervals, a wide range of pleasant and jarring tones, and time-bending segments that evoke a ’60s film soundtrack for episodes of psychosis, the band paints with a broad palate, always executing with mastery, precision, knowledge, and sensitivity to the composition and the other instruments.

Jeff Galindo’s trombone work adds a refreshing, warm and playful sound, as an instrument that has been essential to jazz history, though not often in as central a role as heard here. Galindo really explores the full range of the horn, from the woozy, boozy passages in “Sola Power” to the blazing runs and elephant roars in “Broadway Excursions.”

The tenor sax work of George Garzone, who appears on five tracks, adds warmth to the rich horn blend, creating further harmonic complexities that bring to mind Miles Davis’ Gil Evans’ arrangements.

This is heavy jazz – really serious music. Lovers of Michael Buble and Kenny G need not apply. This is the hard stuff, for jazz fans, not tourists.

Galindo, the recipient of a 2013 Worcester Arts Council grant, hopes to use the benefit to bring more of this kind of important jazz to Worcester. Despite a rich music scene, he says, jazz is hard to find around town. He plans to change this by bringing some of these top-shelf musicians to Worcester, such as the group’s performance last week at Volturno Pizza, in the old Edward Buick building on Shrewsbury Street.

Check out http://www.jeffgalindo.com or http://www.reverbnation.com/jeffgalindo for information and updates, and download a copy of this stellar CD at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/talkinhorns.

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Hear Now: Kim Jennings Releases New CD, “Here Now,” at Amazing Things Art Center

http://media.worcestermag.com/images/470*247/Jennings_Kim_story.jpgBy Matt Robert
Originally appeared in the May 2, 2013, Worcester Magazine.

Local singer-songwriter Kim Jennings may not have picked up the guitar until after college (her instrument of choice since then), but she has had a lifetime of music; and she may be young, but she hasn’t wasted any time pursuing her dreams.
http://media.worcestermag.com/images/Jennings_Kim_5420.jpg

Kim will celebrate the release of her sophomore effort, “Here Now,” with a concert at the Amazing Things Art Center, in Framingham on Friday, May 10, with fellow singer-songwriter and Massachusetts native Jesse Hanson opening the show. “She’s a phenomenal, young songwriter, multiinstrumentalist,” says Kim.

“So, we’ll do the whole thing: vocals and harmony singers and electric guitar and the full drums and all that good stuff and piano and all that – everything,” she says, adding that she’ll feature the “songs on the CD and probably…a couple of more acoustic songs from my last record.”

This rising star has been busy. After a childhood filled with music, she attended Harvard, where, as a member of choral and a cappella groups, she honed her celebrated voice, and performed all over the world.

Since graduating, she has released a four-song independent demo, “Draft,” in 2008, and a 13-song debut CD, “My Own True North,” in 2009; has won the 2010 Pulse Worcester Music Award for “Best Female Vocalist;” has been a fixture on the local circuit, including gigs at the prestigious Club Passim, in Cambridge; and last year completed a mini-tour of the pacific northwest.

If all that weren’t enough, this industrious folkie started her own record label, Birch Beer Records, with friend and fellow artist Dan Cloutier, which now has a stable of about five artists, including Kim, Dan, Levi Schmidt, Oen Kennedy, and Tom Smith, and has released about 12 albums.

But that’s not all! Kim and Dan also founded “I Support Local Music in Massachusetts” (the Facebook page has over 13,000 likes), a clubhouse for local musicians and supporters, with opportunities for writers who can contribute reviews, etc.

The CD release party will feature Kim with a backing band, a direction that follows from her new CD, which branches out from the strictly acoustic “True North”, and into new textures and emotions, many of them veering dangerously out of folk and into rock, backed by Dan, who adds rich, evocative flute and electric guitar; Eric Anderson, doubling on bass and drums; and Eric Salt, who adds percussion, while handling production duties, as well.

“We started the recording process back in October,” Kim says of “Here Now,” “but I’ve been writing music since my last CD came out in 2009. My first record is very acoustic driven whereas this one is much bigger sounding, with a full band and that sort of thing, with a lot of variety. There’s still some acoustic, but it’s much more of a bigger sound.”

“We wanted to do some live recording to get that really organic feel for the music. I wanted it to sound just really authentic and natural and so we were able to do great live drums with electric guitar and a number of vocal tracks as well as my acoustic guitar with piano recorded live.”

At the heart of the new CD is Kim, the folk songwriter, and the tunes still ring with the plain honesty of folk, shunning the platitudes, posturing, and sensationalism of commercial rock. She stills sings beautifully and delicately about things like the home she has built with her husband and child (“I Love You So”) and the innocence of playing outside in the snow (“Angel in Snow”), both of which glow with aching lead vocals and crystalline harmonies, and beautiful acoustic instrumentation.

With “Here Now,” however, she also explores edgier modes, such as on “Valley of the Shadow,” which is driven by fuzzed guitar and crisp drums, while Kim explores Old Testament trials and her pursuit of peace; and the pure rock of the opening track, “Get out of My Head,” on which she sings the regrets of a rocky relationship, while Dan invokes Middle Eastern motifs with tremolo and distortion. Several other tunes rock out, providing a nice balance of energetic numbers and ballads, while maintaining a tonal consistency throughout.

“The song that ended up being the title track was written later in the game,” Kim says. “The song is called ‘Here Now’ and, to me, there’s a sense of people wanting to find a place to belong; people have questions about what choices we have and sometimes we may make choices that are not always the best for us. You come from a place of asking questions about your life and where are you and a lot of it comes down to you want to feel like you belong somewhere.”

The Amazing Things show will benefit a charity organization close to Kim’s heart: “I’m doing a birthday fundraiser for an organization called Carrying Water,” she says, “which does fundraising projects for clean water in developing countries.”

After the event, she says, she will be “working on booking and balancing the rest of life. I’m planning another trip out to the Northwest. A little bit of travel, a little bit of touring and playing out as much as I can.”

“I’ve got a big book of film contract people and I’m trying to wrap my head around how to get some of the songs placed in that way,” she says, “and I’m playing out a bunch locally and figuring out where the music can go.”

The show, she says, will show “how my music has really evolved will be really fun for folks to see. It’s a departure for folks who haven’t seen me for a while, so it will be really fun for them.”

Don’t miss the CD release show for Kim Jenning’s newest album “Here Now” on Friday, May 10 at the Amazing Things Art Center, 160 Hollis St., Framingham at 8 p.m. amazingthings.org.

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Musta Got Lost: J. Geils Band Embroiled in Lawsuit

By Matt Robert
Written for “Transformations,” the W.P.I. alumni magazine, to accompany an article on members of the J. Geils Band that attended W.P.I. in the 1960s. The article never appeared.

Despite the serendipitous meeting of John Geils Danny Klein, and Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz as young coeds at W.P.I. in the late 1960s, perhaps the members of the band now wish that they had attended law school instead. The legendary good time party band set out looking for a love, but, like many who make it big, has found that love stinks and that maybe one-time friends really do look at the purse.

A lawsuit, filed by the sanctuary-seeking Mr. Geils, charges the other band members (including his former college mates) for performing under the band name – his name! – without him.

“The simple back story,” says Mr. Geils’ attorney, Chuck Grimes, a specialist on intellectual property rights, “is that Mr. Geils was born and raised with this name, J. Geils, and in 1967 he started performing under the name, and started a group, The J. Geils Blues Band,” which, he says, has “always been known as the J. Geils Band.”

“And now,” Grimes adds, “the other fellows got the idea that they own the name, not Mr. Geils. As you can imagine, that was rather disconcerting to Mr. Geils, and that they would go so far as to – frankly – interfere with his efforts to perform as himself – never as the J. Geils Band, but as himself.”

Adding insult to injury, Geils felt, the other band members “took upon themselves to…appear…without him in an Adam Sandler movie [Grownups 2. Adam Sandler is reportedly a big fan], and now they’re on tour as The J. Geils Band without him [the band embarked on the “Houseparty 2012” tour in late August], and they’ve never done that before.”

Everything had been a house party, according to Grimes, throughout the ‘70s, until the band experienced big-time success with the release of a string of gold records, beginning with 1978’s Sanctuary and climaxing with 1981’s massive pop-crossover Freeze Frame, which reached #1 in the U.S. and went platinum. That’s when they met with a Detroit Breakdown, he says, and advisors were brought on board to form a corporation and coerce group members into signing shareholders’ agreements.

The other band members now contend that Mr. Geils, in signing the agreement, ceded rights to the band name, which Grimes says is not so.

“A shareholder’s agreement doesn’t transfer rights from Mr. Geils,” says Grimes. “It says that we’ll operate together as shareholders.” The trademark, he says, is the linchpin and the prevailing legal factor. “It’s his name! He has the trademark rights in it,” says Grimes.

Grimes sees it as an open-and-shut case for Geils, citing that, upon registration of the band name by the remaining members the U.S. Patent/Trademark office asked, “‘Is this the name of a living individual? Do you have his consent to register his name?’”

“Could there be any more clear indication?” Grimes asks.

Grimes remains unsure how long the litigation will drag on, whether it will ever go to trials, or whether band members will play together again. He says that it depends on “how much bad blood” remains among band members “when all of this clears.” Overall, though, he says he just wishes that everybody could “figure out a way to play nice in the sandbox.”

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To B or Not to B? Worcester’s Big Eyed Rabbit Won’t Be Pinned Down By Titles

By Steven King

by Matt Robert
photo by Steven King
Originally appeared in the January 31, 2013 Worcester Magazine

“I’m not going to say the B word,” says guitarist/vocalist Jon Short about Big Eyed Rabbit, the trio he shares with bassist Jeff Burch and drummer Duncan Arsenault. Listeners may be tempted to categorize them under that genre that starts with a B and even draw comparisons to that two-piece Akron band named after the ebony part of a piano and that Detroit duet named after a stripe.
The band, which plays a bill with local jam outfit WHAT at Green Street’s Lucky Dog Music Hall on Saturday, February 9, is protective of its identity and careful about how they are cast in print. But Big Eyed Rabbit, which does draw at least some of its form from the conventions of that music, is only blues the way the Black Keys are blues, or Medeski, Martin and Wood or Dub Apocalypse are jazz. Then again, it’s hard to play guitar-based music in America with the 20th century right in the rearview mirror without knowingly or unwittingly paying homage to blues.
Titles aside, though, Big Eyed Rabbit plays a loud, joyful and visceral stew of John Lee Hooker groove built on Jeff’s deep bass and Duncan’s swinging, forceful drumming, underpinning Jon’s analog tube amp growl, rife with open-note harmonics and reliable alternating thumb-picked bass notes, while he sings about matters of love or relationship entanglements.
The story is in the behind-the-scenes aspects of the band: the vetting process that brought this particular lineup together, the approach to the stage act and recording, and a general philosophy that, though backed by unshakable conviction on the part of the band members, can nevertheless be difficult to articulate.
“I wanted to be able to stand up and play electric and stretch out,” says Jon, “but I needed my thumb to be able to be where it needed to be and I needed to find the kick drum.”
The band’s origin goes back 10 years to when Jon and Jeff played together in a “funk-jazz” group called The Late Messengers. “I pretended that I knew how to play keyboards with [Jeff] on bass it worked out all right,” says Jon.
The rest of the story happened at The Dive Bar, where Duncan’s Thursday night series became sort of a Minton’s Playhouse for Worcester, bringing together a growing circle of varied players in a low-risk cauldron that patiently produced numerous lineups, several of which have since been concretized into stable bands.

“Jon came to do many Thursdays,” says Duncan, “and … sometimes Jeff would play bass … and it was becoming apparent, the more we played, that, boy! When Jeff is there, when it’s that combination, something different happens that – you can kind of just tell when a band is sort of clicking.”
“We did a lot of gigs here,” says Jeff, “and even played the Open Road [Festival], I think it was a couple of years ago, and didn’t have a name yet, and then it was even probably a good six months after that that we decided, you know what, we should probably just put a name on it.”

“The thing for me,” says Jon “– when Duncan first called me to come down here to do Thursdays, I said, ‘I’d love to, but no bass player and no rehearsal.’”
“I was sincerely interested in developing that kind of organic relationship with another musician, and that’s one of the things that I felt I had developed with Jeff,” Jon adds. “That was a part of growing those legs back with The Late Messengers … It was about the experience of being there, about playing.”
“I don’t think that we ever really talked about stuff, or that we ever really had to have conversations about stuff,” says Jon, noting the chemistry the three felt when they played together.
“I think the only conversations that I have with Duncan sometimes is, ‘Hey! This song, tonight, that groove that we had, that’s the one,’” adds Jeff. “All of a sudden it clicks and it’s like, ‘Yeah! That’s the one.’”
“That’s essentially the spirit of the Thursdays in the first place,” adds Duncan. “Within the first verse we’ve said enough to each other musically that we know where we’re going to go.”
The band first appeared as Big Eyed Rabbit “at The Lucky Dog the weekend after Scott [Ricciuti] died,” says Duncan, in April of 2012, but Jon says that he knew well before “that these were the guys I wanted to play with. I was set … When I get to play with these guys it’s something else for me. It draws something else out.”
With a gig booked for Vermont’s Tweed River Music Festival for the summer of 2012, Big Eyed Rabbit needed a recording. Pressed for time, they rented The Lucky Dog for a night and brought in friend and engineer Paul Dagnello of the band Huck, who scrambled to rent the best gear he could find. They spent the night cutting essentially live tracks in the empty club, a radical departure in this day of albums produced with the benefit of limitless tracks and editing on digital workstations.
The result is a six-track CD of spirited romps through warm, hugesounding grooves that form a pretty good representation of the band’s live sound: reckless, confident, and youthful, and at once new and fresh and utterly familiar. They aren’t so much looking back or looking forward, but looking around, making use of years of acquisition of a musical catalogue, chops, and ears.

The CD is indicative of the age and experience of these musicians – fulltimers with a lot of collective years in the business, who have brought a lot of high quality music to the local scene and have, through the age-old process of hard work and continued effort, arrived in the same place at the right time to create a shared musical vision that embodies their musical and extra-musical philosophies.
And that’s the kind of relationship anybody can understand.

Catch Big Eyed Rabbit at Lucky Dog Music Hall, 89 Green Street on Saturday, February 9 at 9 p.m.

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Great Scott! Ralph’s Show Features Music of Huck, Childhood, and Pistol Whipped

by Matt Robert/ photo by Louie Despres

Originally appeared in the December 27, 2012, Worcester Magazine.

“The main concept of this was that it isn’t really a memorial, it’s a celebration of music,” says Paul Dagnello, bassist with late local legend Scott Ricciuti’s longest running band, Huck, about the show Saturday night at Ralph’s that will bring together three of Ricciuti’s most enduring musical projects: Childhood, Huck, and Pistol Whipped. “The focus is on the music. The memorials were very visual for people. This is going to be the audio portion of that.”

Ricciuti’s untimely death in a car accident in April devastated a massive fan base that included among the most ardent fans a sizable core of local musicians, artists and club owners, and left a gaping hole in a scene in which Ricciuti played an outsized role, performing most nights of the week in one ensemble or another, or appearing solo. Numerous emotionally charged memorials were held – the most notable at Vincent’s – and a variety of tributes have occurred since, but none to this scale.

“We could have done a week’s worth of events,” says Dagnello. “He was involved in so many different things…[but we] kind of just whittled it down to those three bands.” The choice to feature Huck, Childhood and Pistol Whipped (and not Friday Farewells, A Pony for My Birthday, or Preacher Roe), Paul says, is that “those were probably the ones he was in the longest,” recalling that Childhood was together for about 10 years, and Huck for 17 or 18 years. Finally, Dagnello says, “It’s a good representation of his different types of songwriting, plus a decision just had to be made on what was possible to do for a night where it wouldn’t get too out of control.”

This event—sponsored by longtime Scott Ricciuti patron, Orcaphat Records owner, and executive producer of Huck and Pistol Whipped’s CDs, Colin Butler (“He was there in the studio with us every single day,” says Dagnello), and organized by Ricciuti’s friend and collaborator, Bee’s Knees (and Friday Farewells) guitarist Michael Thibodeau — faced several obstacles.

“I know, for me, and I think for Danny [Lucas, drummer with Childhood and Huck, and Ricciuti’s longest running collaborator], it’s the first time we’re going to play since…in a club or live. We all have a very hard time doing this, says Dagnello, further citing less obvious and more pragmatic difficulties, some of the material is simply hard to recreate.

“Childhood [is] kind of figuring out how to do Childhood with just the surviving members,” he says, “whereas Duncan [Arsenault], Jeff [Burch], and Scott were the core members of [Pistol Whipped]. And then with Huck [as with Pistol Whipped], we lost our lead singer, our guitar player and our front man, so I know it’s been difficult — beyond just the emotional — dealing with that: How do we actually play a show without a third of our band.”

“We were gonna need help,” he says.

“For this show,” Dagnello says, “Huck is going to have nine members. We have two guitar players playing the whole night, and then we have a couple people filling in vocal duties, and then I’m probably going to do a couple songs up on vocals.”

Additionally, the show will feature (including the numerous Huck extras) several special guests from Ricciuti’s rather large circle of peers, though organizers are loath to reveal them.

“In some ways we want it to be a surprise,” says Dagnello, “because we don’t want it to be part of the promotion for the event…because, as far as we’re concerned, on that night they’re in Huck…. The people that are involved are doing it because of their love for Scott and their love for his music, their friendship. As far as Huck is concerned, all those people are in the band that night, they’re part of the band that night.”

Recreating the original sounds, even with a roster of talented fill-ins, many of whom were familiar and even devoted to Ricciuti’s music, or intricately linked with its production, also proved a challenge.

“We kept everything as close as we could [to] Scott. He had a specific way of playing guitar; he had a specific way of singing and that’s hard to replicate, but the guys working on this are definitely trying their hardest to emulate that, because it’s part of our sound,” Dagnello explains. “Not having Scott there playing guitar, it’s not going to sound just like Huck. It’s going to sound close, but it’s still not going to sound like it.”

“[Ricciuti’s] vocal range, and the power behind it, was tough for people,” Dagnello says. “Danny and I and someone like Roger [Lavallee, who, as engineer at Tremolo Lounge Studios, produced most of Ricciuti’s career output] and somebody like Colin Butler, we’ve sat with these songs for hundreds of hours—recording, playing and everything. And it’s kind of like bringing these people into this world that they’re brand new to. So, they get to see more of Scott than the prior four got to see.”

Lastly, players had to grapple with a notebook of deeply personal lyrics whose genesis was the intimate bonds forged over decades of intensive, and mostly glamourless, work and play in clubs, rehearsal rooms, vans, studios – friendship, love, loss, mistakes, and hopes.

Dagnello notes the particular challenge faced by those who “are going to have to sing the songs. I think the hardest part was all of us all having to sit down and read all of these lyrics….To actually sit back and take these groups of songs, read the lyric and tell the story of the lyric definitely hit a lot of us…as pretty tough. Scott was definitely a magic worker with words. So, that was a real tough part with everybody.”

Even the venue has significance, though, this choice, too, proved hard, as Ricciuti, over the years, could have had his number retired in just about every music room in central Massachusetts. Organizers ultimately chose Ralph’s, though, because, as Dagnello says, “as far as Huck…and Childhood…was concerned, Ralph’s was one of our homes. I think [Huck] played Ralph’s more than any other club. There’s a connection with Vincent [Hemmeter, owner of Ralph’s, Vincent’s, and Nick’s]. He was good friends with Scott. Erick [Godin, owner] from the Lucky Dog was good friends with Scott [too].”

The $10 event will feature Pistol Whipped at 9:30 p.m., Childhood at 10:30 p.m., and Huck at 11:30 p.m., as well as a rolling soundtrack between sets of Ricciuti’s prodigious recorded output.

“We’re going to be playing all of the other stuff that Scott has been included on, like the Pony for My Birthday stuff and the Preacher Roe stuff…Huck songs we’re not playing that night, Childhood songs…and possibly unreleased Pistol Whipped material.”

While no CDs will be made available at the event, those wishing to purchase Ricciuti’s music can visit “Scott’s website where they can go song by song and pick and buy whatever they like,” says Paul. “Everything is online.” Scottricciuti.com.

Catch the celebration of Scott Ricciuti music on Saturday, Dec. 29 at Ralph’s Diner, 148 Grove St. at 8 p.m. Tickets $10.

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A Nice Little Bar Turns 15: Vincent’s, Worcester, Celebrates 15 Years in Business

“It was a really ugly place, but I knew it had a lot of potential,” says Vincent Hemmeter of his eponymous bar, which this week celebrates 15 years.

“We’re just going to celebrate on that day,” he says of the milestone that falls this Sunday on Christmas Eve Eve. The show, featuring local electric blues act Big Eyed Rabbit, begins at 7 p.m. “Jon [Short – solo bluesman and front man for Big Eyed Rabbit] plays every Sunday, so it’s kind of cool to have Jon’s band play there. We’ll have some special things going on. We’ll have some giveaways. We’ll have some food.”

The neighborhood bar, tucked up on Grafton Hill past the CSX rail yard on Suffolk Street, enjoys a quiet popularity with a certain offbeat, musically inclined crowd – many of the same who patronize Hemmeter’s other bars, Ralph’s Diner and Nick’s. They like homegrown music and Hemmeter has given it to them.

“I pretty much stuck to what I liked,” he says. Over 15 years, in fact, Vincent’s has cultivated an excellent reputation for live music. The current schedule has delta blues with Jon Short on Sunday nights, where he’s been in residence for over 11 years; Zack Slick, playing old-timey and folk on Wednesdays; and crooner Cara Brindisi with the Feather Merchants on Thursdays; plus a rotating slate of talent from around the state on Fridays and Saturdays, except on the second Saturday of each month, when The RoadKill Orchestra appears.

A high-quality stable has been the hallmark at Vincent’s since the beginning. “Dennis Brennan used to play every Wednesday with Duke Levine and Kevin Barry,” says Hemmeter, “and Troy Gonyea played every Thursday. [Michael Thibodeau, John Donovan, and Scott Ricciuti] played every Tuesday. Night Train – Jeff Berg and Troy. Yeah, I was lucky to have a lot of good music.”

Fittingly “the first person that played was Scott Ricciuti,” says Hemmeter. “We were close friends. Since the place is so small, I said, ‘You’re going to play acoustic,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m playing acoustic.’ So, acoustic, to me, meant you sit down in the corner with an acoustic guitar and it’s not amplified. Well, he came in with his amp and all this stuff, and we had a big laugh about it.”

Though it’s hard to think of Hemmeter today as anything but a bar owner – THE bar owner – in Worcester, his journey has been long. “When I started working at Ralph’s [in 1986] I didn’t even drink,” he says. “I never worked in a bar before, I didn’t bartend, so I pretty much learned everything [from Ralph Moberly]. I learned a lot from Carol [Moberly], too. I ended up taking over the booking there, and I pretty much did all the hiring and fi ring and took care of all the money.”

“I learned right away that I enjoyed doing that,” he says. “I like old bars. So, I just traveled around and took ideas from a lot of other bars and made a place that I would want to hang around at, the same way Ralph did.”

“I thought that [it] was a nice little bar and it had a lot of potential. It was in rough shape and it needed to have a big facelift. It had a dropped ceiling and paneling, and it didn’t have a back bar. I had just closed on [the building], and I had a lot of renovations to do, so we were working pretty much around the clock. I had a lot of help from a lot of my friends.”

“I had bought a back bar from Ralph’s years before – the bar that was in Bowlers [the short-lived, cavernous club co-owned by Ralph’s and the original owners of the Dive Bar]. Ralph had bought that out of an old hotel in Connecticut that was probably from the ’40s.”

“The bar that you sit at…was brick. I bought this paneled room out of a mansion off south Main Street – a beautiful oak-paneled room from the 1800s. So, I covered over the brick, and did over the top of the bar [with the infamous lacquer-coated pulp-fiction paperback covers]. But the back bar, all it had were a couple of shelves, a bunch of knickknacks and a few bottles.”

“[The walls were] all covered up with some paneling. I ended up buying a whole room of tongue and groove from the guy that was the postman for that area, right around the corner on Norfolk Street. So, I had to go into his place and take it all down.”

But he did it, and opening day was December 23, 1997. “We were working around the clock just to try to get it open, because David Clark, the company across the street, would always shut down [for the holiday] and they would have their employees go over to that bar…and they wanted to still do that. So that was my rationale for working hard to get it open as fast as I could.”

Weekends, he says, were “pretty busy right away,” though “it took a while to get the weeknights busier. “I worked at Ralph’s and Ralph’s was a really popular bar…so I had a pretty strong clientele of regulars who came to see me at Ralph’s. I had the opportunity that they’d at least come down and see me once to look at the place and try it out, and, if they liked it, they’d come back hopefully. Lucky for me, they did.”

Hemmeter’s winning formula, evident at all three of his bars, is to know (and be a part of) your crowd, to know your way around a bar, and to know music and understand and respect musicians, all things Vincent’s does well. Because of this, musicians want to play there. Stu Esty, whose RoadKill Orchestra plays monthly at Vincent’s, says, “There are always great folks on both sides of the bar, an amazing menu, [and] a fourseason smoking lounge. All this and a photo booth combined with bizarre taxidermy? What’s not to like?”

Longtime bartender and Vincent’s fixture, Frank Inangelo, who says that he “started working there about five months after they opened,” says that “it started as a couple of shifts bar backing, and 10 years later I’m bartending five nights a week and booking some of the area’s most talented performers.” Frank says that he loves “the diversity of the crowd” and that “it’s like a company that runs three shifts: you have the afternoon crowd; then, around 4 p.m., the after-work crowd comes in; and, finally, around 9 p.m. the night shift is ready to have fun.”

Though Frank expresses great regard for all of Vincent’s live acts, he remembers most fondly “Dennis Brennan playing Wednesday nights about 10 years ago with Duke Levine, Bill MacGillivray and Kevin Barry. It would be jam-packed just to hear those great tunes and amazing players” and “the great nights with Scott Ricciuti, whether it was with Huck or his weekly Tuesday gig with Michael and John, or Pistol Whipped.” Of the current crop, he notes the Feather Merchants on Thursday, which he says “are the latest to impress me every week. Cara, Mike, Chelsea and Chris have been able strike a balance of great musicianship with broad appeal.”

Way back when, bartending at Ralph’s, Hemmeter was saving his money and “looking for the right place.” Thankfully for us, he seems to have found it.

Stop by Sunday night to continue the tradition of great music in a warm environment and to congratulate Vincent Hemmeter.

Vincent’s, 49 Suffolk St., Worcester.

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