is a New England treasure. With over 30 years on the road,
Roomful is still one of the country's hardest working Blues
bands. Coast to coast people nod their heads in agreement
when you ask if they are fans of Roomful.
They have won
a number of awards over the years. Since 1983, Roomful of
Blues has been nominated for four Grammy Awards, in theTraditional
Blues and Contemporary Blues categories, the most recent
for Turn It On! Turn It Up! in 1996. They were voted Blues
Band of the Year in 1996 and 1998 in the Down Beat International
Critics Poll. In 1998, 2001, and again in 2002, Roomful's
horn section, led by veteran sax man RichLataille, won the
W.C. Handy Award for Best Instrumentalist.What is "new"
about Roomful? Let me start by mentioning what is not new,
the band is still as vibrant and exciting as ever.
Original band member,
Rich Lataille is still swinging on tenor, and has written
a cool instrumental about his friend Bob Enos, called "Where's
Bubba?" with some Pink Panther style trumpet from the
man himself. Rich wrote the song because they always have
a hard time finding Bob (who is usually out smoking a stogie)
when they have to go back up to play. BobEnos is still adding
his ultra cool accents on trumpet and even chiming in on
a song or two with Chris Vachon, lead guitarist. Chris is
very happy with the new lineup, singing a couple of numbers
and keeping tight with the rhythm section. Their new bass
player, Brad Heline, is an accomplished musician with many
years of Blues under his belt. You may remember him from
Susan Tedeschi's band. Brad is working hard and looking
like he is really enjoying himself. That is one important
part of being together as a band, it is vital that the musicians
are enjoying themselves and eachother, it makes for a more
are really happy playing together," Chris Vachon told
me, "this particular group is great and it is fun to
go to work. I can't even call it work right now, it has
been so much fun."
There are three new Marks. Mark Defresne, on vocals and
harmonica, Mark Earley on baritone sax and Mark Stevens
on piano. Let's start with Mark Defresne, on harmonica and
vocals and front man for the band.
Ray left the band a friend of Mark's, Roger Neighbors, who
owns The Grand Emporium in Kansas City, Missouri, encouraged
Mark to send us a package, but we had just hired Mac Odem."
Chris Vachon explained.Mark remembers "I had my own
band in Seattle and we opened for Roomful in Tacoma WA and
later I got a call from Bob Bell asking if I might still
be interested." Mark had always been a Roomful fan
and he always wanted to be in the band. His wife, also a
big Roomful fan, encouraged him to do it. They are working
on moving their lives from Seattle, Washington to Rhode
I am really enjoying the band. I like the traveling, and
the camaraderie in the band is really good. Things are going
well, everybody is really excited. We all get along and
are pretty close.Musically, we are on the same page. We
all want success for the band and everybody wants to add
new material and at the same time, we all love the old songs
of the past. We are slowly developing our own musical personality
over time." Mark Defresne said, thoughtfully.
Mark is an interesting
guy. He has a mind like a trap, and he is the trivia king!
He is also a record collector. "I started out my musical
education listening to R&B and Soul music, because that
is what I was exposed to as a kid, but I have been expanding
my repertoire over time.
I started playing harmonica I got into the acoustic Blues
of Muddy, Sonny Boy, and then expanded into the four piece
Chicago Blues band sound- Magic Sam, the Kings, and at the
same time I have always loved the Swan Silvertones and The
Blind Boys of Alabama as well." Mark told me.
one of my tunes for the band, 'Two For The Price Of Ten,'
which I recorded with Kid Ramos and members of Hollywood
Fats' band." Mark stated. Now fronting Roomful, with
his comfortable rapport with the audience and good sense
of humor, Mark is a great addition to the band with his
harmonica and strong three octave voice.
worked in a record store for years and is bringing some
is involved and very interested in Roomful, he's really
into it, in his heart." Chris intimated. Chris also
told me that the band is happy to have a harmonica back
in. "We really missed it. There were a couple of real
popular tunes we couldn't do without harp, and they are
back in, i.e. 'She'll Be So Fine' written by Chris, which
made some real headway as a hit on the radio." Two
of the Marks have contributed a wonderful boogie woogie
number called "Check Bouncing Boogie," with the
words provided by Mark Defresne and the killer boogie woogie
piano by Mark Stevens, their new piano player.
is one of the really talented young bucks (from New England)
who have made such a big impact in the Blues scene, all
over the country. He and Troy Gonyea went out to the west
coast, a number of years ago, to play with James Harman.
Highly sought after, they made quite an impression on the
west coast boys and toured with Kim Wilson, but that's another
story. Mark joined Roomful a couple of months ago, and has
already injected some of his youthful vigor into the band.
Mark Earley is
the new baritone and tenor sax player. Originally from Ohio,
Mark started on alto at age of ten, and first worked professionally
traveling with the Guy Lombardo Band at the age of nineteen.
Mark moved to Boston in 1995, spent two years honking and
walking the bar nightly at Jake Ivory's on Lansdowne St.
and then spent five years with John Keegan and Madhouse.
As a longtime fan of Roomful of Blues, he feels really at
home in their legendary horn section. Jason Corviere is
their new 24 year old drummer, there is plenty of punch
in his performance! Jason comes from Swanton, VT where he
learned drums at a very young age, from his father, and
has played with Eddie Kirkland, Johnny Marshall and Soul
singer Lou Pride.
we have a stable new group, we wanted to do a recording
and we will have a CD available at the web site, and at
gigs, for our fans."
It is a recording
of great covers, for example, a tune that Joe Turner did
called 'You're Driving Me Crazy,' with a big horn arrangement
thing going on, kinda like going back to where we were 6
years ago with a bigger band sound. We also did 'Stranger
Blues' by Elmore James... it came out with a garage band
sound, it is so raw." said Chris enthusiastically.
band is only traveling about 220 days a year because things
have thinned out. We used to do about 300 nights, but alot
of clubs have dried up, since 9/11. It is very necessary
for us to travel because we couldn't make a living around
here, with a band this size.' Chris told me.
being in CA it is quite different, they weren't as effected
by 9/11 as the east coast was. There is more attendance
out there. We have noticed a big difference in the NY crowds,
but it seems like there are half as many people, as before
9/11. The bad economy doesn't help, either."
The Midwest has
also been slow. But we have done alot of work in Virginia
and Washington DC area, and that area has been great."The
entertainment industry has its ups and downs just like any
other business, but Roomful has thousands of loyal fans,
they are still indemand. The wheels of their big bus keep
rocking and rolling them to their appreciative fans all
over the country.
Chris added "We
have a brand new web site going up. Go check out all the
new stuff and get our CD when it is ready. We hope everybody
will come out to see the new band and they will enjoy what
we are doing as much as we do!"
Shonk- Publisher, The Blues Audience newsletter