THE PATRIOT LEDGER – Guitars rule the roost at the Finn home in Whitman. Jon Finn has been a professor at Berklee College of Music for three decades, teaching guitar in between a busy performing schedule with his jazz-rock fusion Jon Finn Group and various other projects, from working with theater, TV and movie soundtracks to guesting with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. You have probably heard his guitar on the NFL theme song on TV broadcasts.
Wife Juli Finn is a six-string powerhouse in her own right, and stays more than busy with her own teaching schedule, online projects and singing with bands such as The Experts, the 1970s cover group that also includes Jon. There is clearly plenty of variety in the musical styles the duo delve into, and their latest project is a deft compendium of both of their interests.
“Tribute,” the new album from Jon and Juli Finn, has been released to all the streaming platforms such as iTunes and physical copies will soon be available through Juli’s website, julifinn.com. The album is a collection of Bonnie Raitt songs, mostly from early in her career. The Boston-bred Raitt is someone Juli has always seen as a musical role model, an artist as noted for her vocals as her guitar mastery, and a superb songsmith as well.
“Doing this album was definitely a challenge,” said Juli Finn. “I wanted to do a tribute to Bonnie because she’s has always inspired me and here she is today, still releasing new albums in her 70s and sounding and playing as great as ever. I had really studied her early work and fell in love with the tunes.”
Berklee College of Music roots
Juli is a graduate of Berklee College of Music, and she is pursuing her master’s degree in songwriting from the school. One class required picking a favorite songsmith and researching their work and career. Raitt was an easy choice for Juli, and the more she delved into her Raitt project, the more she wanted to sing and play those songs herself.
“The idea for doing an album of these songs was a no-brainer,” said Jon Finn. “I loved the idea and then of course I was hearing Juli absolutely doing killer versions of the songs right out of the gate.”
Like many such tributes and some cover bands, the concept was not to re-create every note Raitt sang and played. The Finns and their band did not set out to become a Raitt tribute act. They wanted to do Bonnie Raitt music their way.
“If people want to hear Bonnie Raitt, my feeling is that they just put on Bonnie Raitt records,” said Juli. “I wanted to go for her general feeling, her relaxed, laidback vibe, but then do it our way. We brought our band together (bassist Joe Santerre, drummer Larry Finn – no relation – and keyboardist Rich Cesarini, the former Fat City Band member) and showed them the tunes we wanted to do. And then we just played them over and over, figuring how to do it as ourselves, but in the spirit of Bonnie Raitt.”
“The impression I always got is that Bonnie learns a tune, and works it up over time, with a very organic approach,” said Jon. “We tried to work the same way. It was interesting to see how close to Bonnie’s versions we could get. But we’d just play the tunes a few times to get them down and then stretch out into the directions we’d naturally take.”
A ‘feeling of spontaneity’
The Finns’ recording process was also more about feeling than technology. For one thing, the band was all in the same place at the same time and there were no overdubs.
“Eventually all the tunes will have videos available,” Jon said. “A big part of our work was simply performing the songs enough times to make sure we got a good performance collectively. There’s a certain art to having all the people in one room and all playing together. So many records I’ve played on in the past, you play and then go back and clean it all up afterwards. We worked here to make sure, for instance, that I could play what I want to play without making any mistakes, but also to maintain that feeling of spontaneity.”
“Of course, we wanted a balance, a variety of Bonnie Raitt tunes,” noted Juli. “I wanted to choose songs where I could bring something to the table worth listening to and not just copy Bonnie.”
The album includes such Raitt staples as John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” and Chris Smithers’ “Love Me Like a Man” and Mike Reid’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” but also deeper cuts like Raitt’s own “Give It Up or Let Me Go,” and Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues.” Juli Finn’s own original “Dig Deep” is in the same style and reflects her view of music and life.
“I love listening to Juli’s take on these songs,” said Jon. “She’s not imitating Bonnie Raitt, but doing it her own way.”
While the music is already available online, the Finns and their band will have an album release party on June 2 at The Cave at the Red Lion Inn in Cohasset. They just returned from playing a weekend of shows in Stow, Vermont, with The Experts.
“Our album release at The Cave will include playing the whole album plus music from all of our other bands,” said Juli.
Aside from their performing schedule with their various bands, Juli teaches guitar out of her Juli Finn Academy and has weekly ukulele classes online. Both guitarists teach private lessons and Juli will also be joining a Berklee summer online program teaching the instrument.
oth Finns love performing and have multiple outlets, so fans should look for those gigs too. Many South Shore music fans have probably seen Jon stop in at various blues jams or open mikes to sit in, most notably at the old Mari’s Place jams with his good friend Russ Costa, of Quincy. Some of those humble jams included Costa’s blues and soul, Finn’s fusion dynamics, and searing fiddle from BSO violinist Gerry Mortis, a cross-genre brew that was truly unforgettable.
“We are talking now about doing a week in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in August with The Experts,” Jon said. “That’s a vacation spot for the upper-upper class, so it is a lucrative gig and it’s always fun. Aside from that, we’ll be playing around this area all summer.”
By Jay N. Miller