PATRIOT LEDGER.com – By 1990, Rhode Island-based Roomful of Blues had enjoyed 23 years of success, playing their swinging mix of blues, rock, jump blues and R&B, while earning five Grammy nominations and delighting audiences near and far with their powerful live performances and their rich and true recordings.
A few notable members (Greg Piccolo, Rich Lataille, John Rossi and Doug James) remained from their early years, but quite a few had come and gone, including founders Duke Robillard and Al Copley, and distinguished featured members Ronnie Earl, Ron Levy, Porky Cohen and Curtis Salgado. A lesser band might have packed it in, but 1990 was also the year that Roomful of Blues welcomed Wakefield, Rhode Island, native Chris Vachon into the fold as their new lead guitarist. By 1997, he would also become their bandleader.
The band is now it is 50th year.
After considering why Roomful of Blues has continued to make music for so long, Vachon’s response is simple.
“We like doing it and we just keep getting gigs. I guess I really don’t think about it,” he said. That might be because he is too busy writing, playing, arranging, producing or recording to pay too much attention to the band’s longevity or legacy.
He says he has always focused on what he needs to do rather than what has been done.
“When I joined the band, I was too busy trying to learn all of the songs and figuring out what to do. I really didn’t worry about who came before me or being greater than anybody,” Vachon said.
Besides, Vachon arrived with his own experiences and abilities, including playing with horn-toting swing blues bands Eight to the Bar and B. Willie Smith.
“I’ve played blues since I was 14, and was always involved in that kind of music. So, it was a nice fit for me. We did a lot of work (in those bands) and it kind of prepared me,” Vachon said.
But he wasn’t prepared for the travel.
“When I got into Roomful, we drove three times as much (as the other bands).”
In addition to finding space on the bus, Vachon had to find his place in the then 10-piece band (it’s now eight). It can be difficult for a lead guitar player to work with so many other musicians who can all solo.
“That was the first thing I had to learn, to listen and back up the solo, basically to play within the ensemble. You have to focus on the song and not about playing crazy stuff,” Vachon said.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When you play in a smaller band, it’s OK, but it just doesn’t have the same kick.”
A band that has been around for so long has a lot of material to draw from for live performances, and that can be a challenge.
“I had to learn songs they had been doing for a long time,” Vachon said. “We still do that. We retain the old stuff and add new stuff as we move along. We’ve made a bunch of records (most recently for the venerable blues label Alligator Records). It’s just a huge amount of stuff, and you can only know about 100 songs at a time. We’ve done a lot more, but if you haven’t played them in a while, you have to go over it again.”
These days, Vachon says he is most proud of his work producing and playing on the band’s albums, both live and in the studio, including their most recent efforts “45 Live,” “Hook, Line and Sinker,” “Raisin’ a Ruckus,” “Standing Room Only” and “That’s Right” with Alligator. He has also written about 20 songs that the band has recorded.
Today’s Roomful of Blues lineup includes original horn member Rich Lataille on alto and tenor saxophone, Phil Pemberton on vocals, Mark Earley on baritone and tenor saxophone, new member Chris Anzalone on drums, Rusty Scott on keyboards and John Turner on bass. Trumpet player Doug Woolverton recently left. Trumpeter Carl Gerhard – who has played with Phish, Entrain, the Navy Band and others – is the newest member.
“Our main main concern is to play our best and represent the songs the best we can,” Vachon said.
Music preview ROOMFUL OF BLUES 8 p.m. Jan. 6 at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive, Norwell, $26, 781-871-2787, www.companytheatre.com
By Jim Dorman