August 18, 2006
A band is usually only as popular as its members. It’s rare to see a group like Roomful of Blues — with a lineup that’s transformed on a regular basis over nearly four decades — remain popular and respected.
“People view us as a band,” says guitarist and band leader Chris Vachon, who joined the band in 1990. “After 38 years, you’re going to have a number of people coming in and out of the band. It’s like one of the big bands — Woody Herman or any of those kinds of bands back in the day. There were always people coming in and out, but they always tried to keep the concept the same, and that’s what we’re trying to do.” Of course, it’s a little easier to preserve a band’s sound when that sound has always been playful, fluid and experimental. Based in lively, horn-plentiful jump blues, Roomful has been known to explore the reaches of the blues genre, and even add jazz, rock ’n’ roll and swing music to its party-ready mix. The band’s latest album, 2005’s “Standing Room Only,” blends sizzling originals with exuberant covers such as Roy Brown’s “Up Jumped the Devil,” and Little Milton’s “She Put a Spell on Me.” The band plays all its material live in the studio — rather than fussing with a bunch of overdubs. Vachon says the band rehearses enough to nail the songs. Besides, Roomful’s fans are always trying to relive the live experience. “I think a lot of young people may hear the term blues and go, ‘Ughhh, I don’t wanna get into that,’” Vachon says. “There is a lot of down sort of subtext, but there’s also a ton of other stuff that is really up, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that if they haven’t explored the style.” Roomful of Blues will perform in the parking lot of the recently-closed Classics (See Page 14 for more about the closing) to celebrate the Pikes Peak Blues Community’s Birthday Bash. The local club is turning three. Vachon says he was a fan of Roomful before he was a member. He first fell for the blues when he was 12. “I had been playing for a few years and a friend of mine turned me on to a couple B.B. King records that I pretty much wore out,” he says. “Back in the day most people were doin’ Top 40, and obviously you had to learn off the records to the tee. I never really cared for that too much — too much work! So, I kind of gravitate towards more of an improvisational type of music, like blues and the swing stuff. You don’t have to do it exactly the same every night.” Over the years, Roomful has boasted members including Duke Robillard, Lou Ann Barton, Ronnie Earl, Ron Levy, Sugar Ray Norcia, Al Copley and Fran Christina. It’s earned Grammy nominations and collaborated with the likes of Big Joe Turner, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Earl King. Vachon says he doesn’t think the band will last forever, but it sure has been a good run. No one’s quite ready to throw in the towel, especially now that things have gotten so comfortable. “We have a bus that we bought about two years ago,” he says. “That makes it easier. As long as the bus isn’t broken down, and the air conditioner’s working, we’re doin’ pretty good. The guys like doin’ what they’re doin.’ Everybody likes to play and everybody likes the style of music that we’re doin,’ so it’s really not all that hard to deal with. I mean, we don’t have a lot of personal problems.” details Pikes Peak Blues Community Birthday Bash featuring Roomful of Blues, Brickyard, Jill Watkins Band, Kim Ciara & The Third Ear Orchestra, Spicy Soup, Jake Loggins Band, and Tempa & The Tantrums When: Noon, Sunday Where: The parking lot of Classics, 5943 Delmonico Drive Tickets: Free, 685-1861, ext. 42