You know, the blues will take you from A to Z. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry. It’ll do everything for a friend—that would be you—short of paying your bar tab. And it’s ground zero for all that music you think is hipper than the blues. Not a believer? Well, it’ll turn an atheist into a zealot.
“We’ve played gigs for people from teenagers to you-name-it how old and they all just really got the groove from the music,” says Blues On First vocalist-harpsman Nick Greco. “They just dig it. It’s universal music; it touches everybody. I believe that.”
Amen, brother Greco. Pass the bottle, would ya?
Blues On First (Greco, guitarist Paul Blandford, bassist Bo Gravino and drummer Fred Marcin) is Salt Lake’s resident blues band, leaders in a small yet vibrant section of the local music scene. Formed in 1994, BOF was originally the house band at the Old Bottling House, the main attraction on Fridays and Saturdays and the chassis of their Sunday night blues jams. Now, with Rick Welter’s Tempo Timers having called it a day, the band steps up to fill the void, moving asses at every blues-friendly club in the state, plus a few festivals, with their incisive interpretations of blues classics, standards and rarities. Local blues fans couldn’t be more delighted; Blues On First both knows their stuff and struts it.
But Blues On First wants to reach a new crowd. Don’t get ’em wrong—they’re happy as pigs in … well, you know … to play for seasoned blues fans. But one thing they really dig is poppin’ cherries, laying the blues—real blues, like Freddie King, Elmore James—on new ears, specifically those whose blues experience encompasses only Clapton, Stevie Ray and the Allman Brothers.
Says Greco, “I think there’s a lot of people that get to a point where they wanna look back and they discover blues. Younger people start figuring out that all music they love came from blues and it makes me feel great, when they listen to our stuff and say, “I love it! It’s fantastic … it moves me.”
But sure enough, job one is the show, providin’ the groove that makes bodies move. You’ll hear as much at their packed gigs at the Owl Bar and the Dead Goat Saloon. Greco’s voice is liquid blues, 136-proof; his harp-blowin’ spot-on in a Sonny Boy Williamson tune. Blandford’s Strat spits tasty licks, and Marcin (a former Tempo Timer) and Gravino lay down dangerous grooves. Sometimes they even blow themselves away, as with a particularly inspired set that was captured—unintentionally—on the band’s Live at the Dead Goat Saloon (BluesOnFirst.com).
“We were just archiving and initially had no intention of releasing the recording,” says Blandford. “We were thinking that this was just another normal gig,” says Marcin. “No one in the band ever realized what we were doing would eventually wind up being a live CD.” Greco finishes: “But we found the groove for 10 songs and [after listening to the soundboard tapes] somebody said we oughta burn ’em and we all agreed.”
They’re proud of the disc, but one gets the impression it’s the next show that turns them on. The next crowd, the next new recruit, the experience itself. The thrill of taking a crowd on a blues journey from A to Z. Whoever “one” is, he’s right.
“For me,” says Blandford, “to be a part of a show is essential. I think one of the reasons that blues is a popular music is because people are invited to take part and to respond to it. There’s a communication going on. It means nothing unless it means something to the listeners. You have to drink it, inhale it and let it envelop you, lights down, volume up.”
As a parting shot, Gravino issues an invitation: “Come try it out for yourself—then you can get a clear picture. Bandages not included!”
Blues On First, Dead Goat Saloon, 119 South West Temple, Saturday Aug 31 9:30 pm.