Peoria's The Smokers Blues Band hopes its blues-rock music can be part of a broader scene helping unite deep political divisions among Central Illinois music fans.
The band will be sporting its new album “Coming To Your Town” when it returns to Jazz UpFront in Bloomington on Saturday, Oct. 27.
Band members Dan Galletti and Brett David stopped by the GLT studios to talk about the sophomore release, which Galletti said is a departure from their eclectic 3-year old debut album.
“These songs are more concise,” said Galletti.
The title track is a straight up blues rocker with a plea for people to be good to each other.
“Given the political climate we live in, I wondered what we could do as a band to make a simple statement, not political in either direction. It’s kind of a throwback to the 1960s … (the song) made me think of that era. Brett and I have always enjoyed that era of music. So that’s what it is: a protest blues song,” said Galletti.
Like many groups, TSBB is careful about wading into overt political statements, but David said band members are aware rhetoric needs to cool.
“It’s very similar to what we’ve seen in newsreels and news stories,” said David, as Galletti chimed in that history seems to be repeating itself.
“The music is usually good for that,” said David. “People will sometimes take a moment to stop what they’re doing just to listen to what’s going on. If anything comes out of this album, it would be nice if we were a little nicer to each other, and spend more time working on making the world a better place. Instead of going with the flow and saying something needs to be done without offering any ideas on what needs to be done.”
“Drinking For Two” follows the title track on the album. It’s bitterer lyrically than the kumabya of “Coming To Your Town,” and musically it has a southern rock tinge. Galletti and David said the song actually was intended to have a Keith Richards-like start. David suggested a throwback to the 1960s including more vocal harmonies would improve their blues-rock sound.
“It was a Lennon-McCartney thing we’ve been doing since we first met each other as teenagers and came together as songwriters,” said Galletti.
The once vibrant central Illinois blues scene seems to have fallen on hard times, at least in Bloomington-Normal.
“It’s diversifying, and that’s not such a bad thing,” said Galletti. “Blues has always had a following, but it’s never really been mainstream or commercial. Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Kings (B.B., Albert, and Freddie) really had commercial appeal, but for the most part it’s always been more of a roots-based genre.”
Even in Peoria, that waning of blues interest can be seen in the morphing of the longtime Labor Day Weekend blues festival along the Peoria Riverfront. Promoter Jay Goldberg rebranded the weekend the Peoria Blues & Heritage Festival a few years ago, and included more diverse roots music to the lineup. Galletti thinks the change could actually benefit blues in Peoria.
“If you can pull in a wider audience with other music somewhat related to blues, there is some crossover effect, the blues bands will get that exposure to true blues and that can develop a fan base even further,” said Galletti.
The Smokers Blues Band has expanded its touring range to outside central Illinois, including regular stops in Missouri, Iowa, and even Chicago where they have played twice at Buddy Guy’s Legends, a venue they consider a blues Mecca. And they’ve now met Guy, though the circumstance was unorthodox. It’s a great story, and one they tell often on stage during their original song “The Rumor.” Apparently Guy was taking in their show from the bar area, liked what he heard and unknown to the band, joined them onstage.
“Someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I thought it was one of the band members, so I turned around and said, ‘What do you need?’” said David in the annoying voice he remembered using at the time. “I turned around and was staring right in the face of this blues legend.”
He said they were touched how Guy make his impromptu stage appearance and subsequent stand in with the band more about The Smokers than about Guy himself.
“He was addressing the audience and telling them about us,” said David. “He pointed out the tip jar and that audience members needed to fill for us. It was a very humbling experience to see someone in that lofty position do that.”
“We’re at the apex” said Galletti of that memory. “It’s all been downhill from there,” he laughed heartily.
The Smokers Blues Band returns to Jazz UpFront in Bloomington on Saturday, Oct. 27. Showtime is 8 p.m.
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