Jon Butcher proved a good fit for Parker Wheeler’s 27 year old Sunday Night Blue Party at the Grog in Newburyport, Massachusetts last night. Butch fired off plenty of old school rock and blues licks, bluesy phrases, and even some of his modern takes on everything.
The opening instrumental workout was a jazzy, funky excursion with a thumpy backbeat. Butcher chimed in with something fierce on his guitar, his line cut through the sonic atmosphere, asserting itself, something primitive, unfettered, leaping swiftly forward and around the groove. Bass player Steve Monahan played seriously deep bass notes. Amadee Castenell served up a hypnotic flute line which Parker Wheeler matched with his sly harmonica melody, creating a dual lilting melodic clip.
Wheeler busted out a perfectly bluesy vocal on “Every Day I Have The Blues while Castenell blew a big melody out of his saxophone. Butcher found the right moment to bust right in with a biting, hefty guitar line, a phrase drenched in blues idioms.
Bass man Monahan sang lead vocal on quite a few numbers last night. His first vocal number was Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” which he tuned into a rollicking, thumpy rendition with his forceful low end work. Butcher played that familiar rhythmical lead guitar line with heavy country accents that made them ring out higher pitched with just the right tones. Meanwhile, Sunday night regular Tom West tapped out a country flavored honky tonk piano melody that added a lot of color to what was going on.
Monahan sang Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” using his timbre to keep it flavored in yesteryear. Butcher showcased his interpretative ability as he added a sharper tone to the oldies sound without losing the original flavor of the Berry approach.
Wheeler was clearing having fun belting out the lyrics to slow boiler blues “She May Be Your Woman.” His delivery was deep down soulful, accompanying himself with bursts of harmonica. His harp matched wits with Butcher’s guitar line, each keeping it sweet, emotive. Butcher next got to sing lead vocal on “Some Kind Of Wonderful.” His switchy guitar riffs pushed the entire groove forward, and he showed that his vocal still has that gruff, larger than life, rock and roll bark. He also lead the combo through that classic rock staple with a strong stage presence. If that wasn’t enough Butcher power, he supplied a lot of the soul for “Ain’t No Sunshine.” One could feel the emotive force of this song in his voice as it bounded out of the PA. Castenell, too, added a whole other heaping bowlful of soul.
Monahan resumed lead vocal duty on “High Heeled Sneakers.” He laid down a fun, thumping bas line, cruising through the tune with oldies aplomb, capturing the energetic flavor of the tune. Monahan was a plus when the band went into crowd pleasure “Right Place Wrong Time.” Next, “Lollipop” found the entire band playing in tight precision even as they slapped out the tune with unbounded, live wire sizzle.
Butcher’s husky voice carried well on the old Buddy Holly classic “Not Fade Away.” Pulsating behind Butcher was the rest of the combo, especially Wheeler, blowing a harp line like a power push through the busy tune. Butcher then brought a lot of depth to the Sam Cooke gem “Bring It On Home To Me.”
By this point in the show it was clear why Parker Wheeler has kept his Sunday Night Blues Party going strong for 27 years. He and his various combos keep people dancing. Hence, funk, oldies rock and roll, and blues numbers that have beats and grooves people can move to. He also throws in a good handful of slow dance numbers for couples and or pairs about to become couples that evening. It’s a tremendously fun and lively Sunday evening. It’s hard to imagine anything in that Newburyport, Newbury, Amesbury area having anything else as much going on during that 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. time slot.
Speaking of fun, Tom West’s rollicking piano line on “Sweet Home Chicago” became one of those numerous bright, energetic moments that made the audience happy. The second set began with Castenell blowing a large brassy sound out of his sax. This inspired Butcher to take off on his own flight of fancy lead guitar phrase, his higher pitched line was inspired and inspiring.
The other aspect of Wheeler’s Blues Party appeal is how he keeps throwing in pleasant surprises. Having a special guest like Jon Butcher wasn’t all that dazzled last night. Connecticut blues belter-harmonica player Ed Peabody had shown up to make his own magic. Peabody turned the Blues Party into a wild frenzied sound with Porter Wagoner’s “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane.”
Shortly after, Butcher unleashed a Hendrix-esque lead guitar phase that spiraled upward while growing wider, creating waves of sound. Segue into Monahan belting “Crosscut Saw” before Butcher growled “Baby With The Red Dress On.”
Drummer Steve Bankuti, who kept the beats pounding and the groove chugging throughout the night, put in a solo during “Unchain My Heart.” He combined twisty turns in the direction he was drumming with heavy smacks for perfect emphasis. Butcher eventually played over him in a mellow guitar style, giving a mellow spirit surrounding the groove when the rest of the band returned to the Ray Charles classic.
Parker Wheelers’ Sunday Night Blues Party was, last night, another of his many weekly successes. The danceable numbers, high flying musicianship, band camaraderie, and audience enthusiasm all came together, once again, to create a terrific evening out.