With more than 30 years on the music scene, Roomful of Blues is still playing fresh music.
For the Long Haul
Roomful of Blues has been on the blues band scene long enough to qualify as a musical institution, and as a member of the group since 1971, Rich Lataille has blown his sax through his share of lineup changes. Great players such as Duke Robillard, Sugar Ray Norcia and Greg Piccolo may have come and gone, but Lataille says 30 years swinging with the same band is still not enough.
"I got the chance [to join] and I'm still here," Lataille, 48, says with a laugh.
For some musicians playing in long-running bands, or for those playing in worn-out revival groups, a lengthy career might mean repeating the same old hits night after night. But Lataillie says the Rhode Island-based Roomful of Blues has never had this problem. The revolving cast of players keeps things fresh, and new players bring new input.
"I feel like I've been in two or three bands," he says. " The repertoire might be [large], but I'm probably the only one who knows them all."
Founded by Robillard in 1968, Roomful was originally a four-piece group. Blues horn caught Robillard's attention in the early '70s, and Lataille was hired as part of the group's first horn section. Roomful remained a regional band through the mid-'70s gigging around New England and making the occasional foray into New York. After the release of the first record in 1976, the band got a taste of national and critical recognition, but it was never an easy go. Roomful of Blues was a jumping blues band in a disco-crazed era.
The band stayed focused during the following years, building a reputation through one-night jobs and national festivals. Downbeat Magazine tapped them as best blues band three times in the late '90s, and the horn section is a W.C. Handy Award-winning group. Lataille says the nine-piece band has evolved and persevered over the decades because the players work as a unit and one member's musical identity never becomes the focus.
"We consciously try to keep that," Lataille says. "Everybody puts some input into the band." Lataille admits this sometimes gets "chaotic," but the chaos makes for variety and an ever-emerging, blues-based musical journey.
The band's new release, due in June, is a case in point. "Watch You When You Go" reveals a range of styles that touches down in Chicago, New Orleans and Kansas City. From cut to cut, hard blues, '70s R&B, a Texas shuffle and jazz-pop grooves emerge in arrangements that give keyboards, guitar and horns an equal shot. Singer Mac Odom scorches and croons with a soulful shout. Lataille says this version of the band is blessed with its tightest rhythm section in recent memory.
Hitting the road in the big tour bus, Roomful of Blues plays about 200 gigs a year. Following its show at the Boulders Wednesday, May 23, the band is off to California in June.
"I'm here for the haul," Lataille says. "Doing what I like to
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