Songwriting is an important component for members of the Shuga Beatz, the Bloomington-Normal rock/blues/R&B sextet. Important enough to mention such on the group's website.
Vocalist and saxophonist Diana Calvetti remembered her first stab at songwriting some 30 years ago.
“I woke up at three o’clock in the morning and I had this song in my head. So I got up and wrote it down,” said Calvetti.
That song still gets a workout with Shuga Beatz.
“It’s called ‘The Hysterectomy Blues,’” said Calvetti, recalling she was “probably blue about something” at that hour in the morning.
“It was an inspiration. And there is no other song on the market called 'The Hysterectomy Blues,’” said Calvetti.
Calvetti, fellow vocalist Sandi Smith and guitarist/vocalist Pat Sheridan are the group's principal songwriters. Sheridan said his songwriting began over 40 years ago when he was a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, a school known nationally for its outstanding music program, when he met up with buddy Robin Wink.
“Rob was a songwriter out of Florida and we would just sit around the living room and write with his brother. It just got into my craw from there,” said Sheridan.
As with most people, life happened after that and music was put on the backburner. It wasn’t until 2008 when he was fired from his band and Calvetti’s band broke up that serendipity happened.
"So we were sitting around twiddling thumbs and we hooked up and started a project. The idea was to play again, but also to have something to take these songs out the door. Everybody in the band has their own version of a similar story of songs stacked in their head and a history of stuff that’s been sitting there on the table. And then ‘bam’ it just came out,” said Sheridan.
“Long Time From Sunday” is another song with a 30-year history.
“I wrote that when I was 28 and had no clue what I was writing about," said Sheridan. “That was one back in the 80s that just dropped on the back burner. As we were finishing our first CD, I said, ‘I need a blues song to fill on there.'"
Now it’s a long way from Sunday
I just can’t take you from my mind
I see your eyes in every mirror
You stalk my each and every dream at night
- "Long Time From Sunday" by The Shuga Beatz
What did he think he was writing about?
“I was writing about people having troubles,” said Sheridan. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I was digging out of hurt and life experiences that I hadn’t had yet. And I didn’t know how apropos that was until 20 years or so later. That song was the easiest to do on that CD, and my favorite.”
When the revival of the Bloomington-Normal music scene is discussed, venues including the Castle Theatre, Nightshop, Six Strings Club, and Jazz UpFront are often mentioned in the same breath. But there are other venues featuring live music that cater to especially local bands, including but not limited to Cheeks, Baxters, Gill Street Bar, and the Windjammer. These are haunts Shuga Beatz can often be found when they’re playing in town.
“All those venues have their own audience,” said Calvetti. “You can always count on performing at those places and having a good audience. They’re important to the music scene because it gets music out to people who don’t go to the Castle, or Nightshop.”
“What I find interesting is that you do see a lot of original music in town,” added Sheridan. “We’ve had some musician friends who moved to Dallas and places like that, and they want to hang themselves because they can’t do their original work anymore."
Sheridan said Shuga Beatz intentionally mix covers with their originals.
“And we intentionally make the covers sound different than the original to give us some fun and flavor,” said Sheridan. “In my view, if you want to be a full original act, you have to be doing that (music) full-time.”
In addition to being one of the three lead vocalists in Shuga Beatz, Calvetti adds what Sheridan calls “spice” to Shuga Beatz with her bari-saxophone. Calvetti said she picked up the instrument in sixth grade and played through her sophomore year of high school before setting it down for 32 years.
She picked it up again after her children were grown.
“I wanted something to do with my time and get involved with musicians and enjoy the music,” said Calvetti.
“What I really like is that traditionally you have the tenor saxophone,” added Sheridan. “And you have some jazz musicians who can just fly on the instrument, which is always fun. But she comes out with a bari-sax about as big as she is … that thing has a groove and punch to it that is pure fun. I absolutely love that thing.”
“It’s a 1962 King Zephyr,’ said Calvetti. “And it has a bell on it that is lower than most, so it brings a tone that is different.”
“It’s always in tune and fat and she walks around the crowd with that thing,’ laughed Sheridan. “It’s a lot of fun and it adds so much.”
You can see Shuga Beatz and many other bands this weekend at the Sugar Creek Arts Festival in uptown Normal. Shuga Beatz play Sunday afternoon at 2:30 on the Broadway Stage.
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