“Ordinary Man,” the new release by Evanston’s South Boulevard Band is a hot, solid R&B tune. Dudley Fair’s vocals are nuclear-powered; guitar and horn sections are enthusiastic and professional and their solos are nice, tight and jazzy; and bass and drums are upfront and down-to-business.
It is upbeat but definitely blue:
I’m an ordinary man
In an ordinary way, oh yeah –
Got my ordinary job,
Got my ordinary pay.
My woman thinks I’m rich spendin’ money by the pound –
I love her so much, but man, I’m losin’ ground…
And the bridge, with its touch of rueful humor,
perfectly represents the era:
Got my money talkin’, yeah, b***t walkin’
It’s an economic war, me and my credit score, yeah.
All of South Boulevard’s original songs are the result of group effort, the band says. Every member contributes lyrics or brings in a groove to add to the evolving song, they say, and this is true of “Ordinary Man.”
“Ordinary Man” is already getting some good airplay on internet radio stations in the United States and in Europe. It is also easily accessible on Amazon, CDBaby and through their own website (www.southboulevardband), which offers an extensive introduction to the band, their music and the members themselves. But it is a treat to oneself to head over (virtually) to www.myspace.com/southboulevardband and listen to complete tunes, among them covers of Robert Cray’s “Consequences,” James Cotton’s “Hard-Headed Woman,” and B.B. King’s “Still Called the Blues.”
The title of the new R&B tune just released by Evanston’s South Boulevard Band is “Ordinary Man,” but these musicians are anything but ordinary. Every one of the band’s eight members has years of experience playing rhythm and blues, jazz, rock, and blues all over the United States, Canada, and abroad.
They have been together for three years. As a group, they are tight and on target, a real pleasure to listen to – or get up and dance to – on an mp3 or when they’re performing at the Custer Street Fair, C.J. Arthur’s in Wilmette (as recently as Dec. 3), or at the House of Blues. They broke attendance records at their most recent summer Starlight Concert in Evanston, and it is no surprise: They are just that good.
They are also a fascinating bunch of guys. As a group, their musical education ranges from the totally self-taught to a PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of Chicago, and it works like magic.
South Boulevard Band’s robust rhythm section is made up of bassist Steve Flugum and drummer Steve Capillo, who have known each other since they were kids here in Evanston and have played music together for 40 years. As boys, they say, they would get together and “play rock in Cappy’s basement, blues in Flugey’s.”
At ETHS Mr. Flugum first played trumpet, but switched to bass. He played in the orchestra for a year or two; he says that, to play the music he went on to immerse himself in, he had to unlearn how to read music and learn to play by ear. When he graduated, in 1971, Flugey went to Vancouver, Canada, looking for work. He found his first job in music working the band at a strip club: “That was my ‘college education,’” he says, somewhat wryly. He played all over Canada before returning to the Chicago area.
Mr. Capillo had piano lessons as a kid, then clarinet. His parents were not musical, he says, “but supported it.” The year before he started high school, he got a drum set, and during his freshman year at ETHS he taught himself to play. “I grew up playing,” he says. “That’s how I learned. I took my drums all over the place. Jammed all over the place.” He graduated the same year as Mr. Flugum, and, while already working, took lessons with Frank Donaldson, now of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble and Corky Siegel’s group Chamber Blues.
Nuclear-powered lead singer Dudley Fair (“His nickname is Savoir,” says Mr. Flugum, with a grin) is another lifelong Evanstonian. He graduated from ETHS in ’67; having had a lead part in the school’s huge musical production, YAMO, (“Got a full page in the yearbook!”) is a big memory. Mr. Fair worked at ETHS for 30 years as lead custodian in the gym department while living his musical life. He was a “viaduct singer” and has been part of an a capella choir at Second Baptist Church on Benson for over 20 years.
After high school, Mr. Fair says, “My university was the Regal Theater on 47th Street – the original! And Lamplighters. Saw James Brown [and others]. They put heart and soul into their music. They felt they were entertainers. … All that was stage antics, but it let the crowd know they felt what they were doing. [I learned] that the dancing – priming the audience to your thing – is part of the show. That was the school I went to.” He says this is part of South Boulevard Band’s appeal – they get people in the right frame of mind to enjoy themselves.
Though the band’s plans are for a full-length CD to be out by spring – they have six songs recorded and two ready for the recording studio – much of the art for South Boulevard Band remains in the performance. “We’re trying to perfect a show too – not just play. If you’ve got a show, people are going to remember you,” they say. Mr. Fair adds, “Showmanship is number one, especially in what we do.”
Each of the band’s two guitarists, Willie Shields and Chris Discher, who both play rhythm and lead, has his own distinctive style. Mr. Shields’ is more of a “southern, old-school, blues-jazz style,” says Mr. Flugum. Mr. Shields says, “I developed a life-long love of music in my delta hometown of Indianola, Mississippi.” He moved to Chicago as a teenager (also a graduate of ETHS), and has worked with “popular local bands” since. Mr. Discher, who is from Roselle, has more of a rock/blues style. He, Mr. Shields and Mr. Fair were in the band Flashback Chicago together before South Boulevard.
The horn section, composed of Miles Tesar, alto saxophone, and Bob Fried on baritone sax, and sometimes Chuck Parrish on trumpet, is a tight, imaginative, powerful little section. Mr. Tesar grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., where he studied music at Western Michigan University. Mr. Fried grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He says he “began his more serious musical studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music” in the summer of 1975, and afterwards focused on jazz performance at the Berklee College of Music. His grandparents were musicians, he says. (A grandfather, for one “played saxophone in big bands back in the 1920s and ‘30s to help support his studies as a CPA”).
All of South Boulevard Band’s members have recorded professionally. They have played with a huge number of Chicago and other-area musicians, in countless venues and events. One of their favorite events, they say, was when they were booked for the House of Blues for the NWU Lurie Cancer Center’s 2010 cytokine researchers conference event. “There was real energy,” say Mr. Fair and Mr. Flugum. The “scientists were really rocking it!” adds Mr. Capillo.
Mr. Flugum tells about another recent summer gig was at the S. 63rd Street Festival. “We were playing James Brown’s ‘Too Funky in Here,’ the crowd is really into it, and there’s a workman doing down the street, you know, with the lunchbox and the uniform. He’s walking and he just breaks into dance for awhile and then stops – like the Teaberry Shuffle – and goes on his way.”
This is a band that perceives itself as having a definitive Evanston identity. They may play Chicago blues along with their R&B, but Evanston is where the band’s roots are planted. As Mr. Flugum says, “We’re Evanstonians for the most part. For a hell of a long time.”
And Evanston should run – not walk – to hear them.