Big Al and the Heavyweights mix electric blues and N'Awlins party music into a tasty musical gumbo. 

Crescent City Shuffle

Big Al and the Heavyweights
Dogtown Lounge
Sept. 23
9:30 p.m.

Drummer Al Lauro, leader of Big Al and the Heavyweights, lives in Nashville strictly for business reasons. When it comes to playing his mix of blues and Mardi Gras mambo, his family's New Orleans and South Louisiana roots nurture his musical soul.

Speaking by phone recently from his east Nashville home, Lauro describes the band's guitar and harmonica-driven sound as a good-time stew simmered into a tasty musical concoction of electric blues and New Orleans street-party music. It's miles from the typical fare produced by Music City's cookie-cutter music industry.

"We call it gumbo party blues," the congenial Lauro drawls. "We don't want to be trapped in any one category. I don't want to wind up in the Cajun [CD] bin."

The band's second release, "Hey! Hey! Mardi Gras," captures the four-piece band's intent, Lauro says, and that intent is simply to get listeners out of their chairs and jukin' on a hardwood dance floor. Tim Wagoner sings and plays guitar with passionate restraint while Harmonica Red brings to the band the tone he's developed through years of live gigs and sessions with the likes of Zachary Richard, Gatemouth Brown and Little Feat. Bass player Calvin Johnson and Big Al's drums dig a deep, steady groove. Most of the tunes are band originals and Lauro says they strive to keep it rhythmical, simple and raw.

"[The harmonica] keeps you away from sounding pretty," he says with a laugh. Lauro has been pushing one form or another of the Heavyweights up and down the road since 1992. Previously, he ran the roadhouse circuit with country bad-boy David Allan Coe and played in the Unknown Blues Band with future Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes before forming his own group.

"That's when I went more into my Louisiana thing," the 40-year-old Lauro says, adding that the current group takes its swampland influences farther than some past Heavyweight lineups.

The band's efforts have been rewarded with featured spots on Dan Aykroyd's syndicated blues radio show and, although it didn't win, the Nashville Entertainment Association nominated "Mardi Gras" for 1998 Blues Album of the Year.

The band is on the road for "200-plus" shows a year roaming from Minnesota to Massachusetts to Texas. There are the favored Louisiana venues in Lafayette, Mandeville and New Orleans, but Al says East Coast gigs are often the best. In the East, fans crave the syncopated beats of New Orleans that they don't often hear live. That's not the case in the Crescent City.

"If you want to make a livin' [in New Orleans], you ain't," Lauro says. And, of course, making a living is what it's all about. Lauro plans to keep the Heavyweights rolling for at least another decade and he notes that age affords certain bonuses for a blues party band that many pretty boy rockers miss.

"The older you get [playing blues], the cooler you are," he says with a laugh. "Longevity is what it's all about. So we're looking forward to it

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