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Big Boss Blues – Local Spins

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Local Spins Artist Spotlights

The seasoned blues, soul and authenticity of West Michigan’s Big Boss Blues: The Local Spins Artist Spotlight

  • by
  • April 2, 2014

With decades of professional musicianship in its ranks, the two-year-old Big Boss Blues has quickly made its mark on the region’s blues scene. (Podcast, video)

Honest, Earthy, Genuine: Big Boss Blues on Local Spins Live (Photo/Anna Sink)

Honest, Earthy, Genuine: Big Boss Blues on Local Spins Live (Photo/Anna Sink)

 

Big Boss Blues boasts a resume unlike any other on West Michigan’s blues scene.

For decades, Charles “River City Slim” Schantz has ignited Grand Rapids-area audiences with his impeccable guitar work, inspired by post-war Chicago blues, time spent in the Windy City and stints with Roberta Bradley, Backbone and others.

Big Boss Blues Trio: From left, Bill LaValley, Joe Ferguson and Charles Schantz. (Photo/Anna Sink)

Big Boss Blues Trio: From left, Bill LaValley, Joe Ferguson and Charles Schantz. (Photo/Anna Sink)

The band’s chief songwriter, bassist Bill LaValley – initially trained as a trumpet player – helped assemble and propel well-known Michigan blues outfits Blue Moon and the highly acclaimed BMF Band, based in Kalamazoo.

Drummer Eric Busch of Kalamazoo has studied classical and jazz percussion, performed at Lincoln Center and Birdland with jazz ensembles, played the International Blues Competition with the BMF Band, and is currently finishing up a bachelor’s degree in music therapy.

Veteran harmonica player and singer Joe Ferguson, of Battle Creek, formerly of the Loaded Dice Band, Unleashed Band and Smokestack Lightnin’, has opened for the likes of the Kinsey Report and Buddy Guy.

TALENT, PROFESSIONALISM AND PLAYING ONLY ‘GOOD SONGS’

“The talent is there, the professionalism,” LaValley says. “These guys are ready for whatever I throw at them. We might play a museum or arts council one minute, then Billy’s Lounge in Grand Rapids with a giant P.A. (system). When I do booking, I’m looking for people who might appreciate blues wherever it is.”

On Wednesday, Schantz, LaValley and Ferguson filled the studios of News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW) with that talent, performing an acoustic version of an original song, “Treat Me Like a King,” on Local Spins Live. Listen to a podcast of the entire show here, with a video of their performance below.

LaValley pressed Big Boss Blues into service in 2012, after leaving the BMF Band and getting asked to join Schantz and others for occasional basement jams. He recognized the potential of the seasoned players “and started booking gigs before we had three sets” of material, LaValley says. “That lit the fire under everybody.”

Big Boss Blues at Rockford Brewing (Photo/Local Spins)

Big Boss Blues playing Rockford Brewing Co. (Photo/Local Spins)

Since then, it’s been full steam ahead: Big Boss Blues rapidly established itself as a regional blues force, and now performs seven to nine times per month at venues across West Michigan.

The band produced a five-track demo last year at Broadside Recording in Kalamazoo, with plans for recording a full-length album of original songs written by LaValley.

The band produced a five-track demo last year at Broadside Recording in Kalamazoo, with plans for recording a full-length album of original songs written by LaValley.

Influenced by the classic blues of the legendary Albert King, Howlin’ Wolf, Freddie King and Little Walter, the group boasts a refreshing versatility that allows them delve into R&B tunes and their own material for full-bore, crank-it-up sets, not to mention playing laid-back trio shows.

BLUES ‘WITH A LITTLE SOUL AND R&B’

“It’s a blues band with a little soul and R&B mixed in for good flavor,” says LaValley, whose songs include hints of funk and rock.

Adds Schantz, who also sings: “We only play good songs. We are a blues band, but we don’t pretend to have any sort of authority in defining what’s blues and what’s not. We do mostly blues, but certainly American R&B is influenced by the blues and we do some of that, too. … We still have the sensitivity of swinging old blues with a more modern sound.”

Official Sponsor of the Local Spins Artist Spotlight

Official Sponsor of the Local Spins Artist Spotlight

For Schantz – whose son, Karl, plays drums for Grand Rapids’ Jim Shaneberger Band – Big Boss Blues represents another step in a musical journey that began when he fell in love with the blues as a drum-playing teenager in the late 1960s.

“There’s something so authentic about it,” he insists. “There’s an honesty, an earthiness, a genuineness … that I’d probably never heard in music before.”

Big Boss Blues plays New Holland Brewing in downtown Holland at 10 p.m. Friday, Saugatuck Brewing Co. in Douglas at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Gun Lake Casino in Wayland at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Later this month, the band plays Rockford Brewing Co. in Rockford at 8 p.m. April 11, Malarky’s in Grand Rapids on April 12 and LB’s Lounge in the Louis Benton Steakhouse in downtown Grand Rapids at 8 p.m. April 18.

For more about the band and to sample more of its music, visit its ReverbNation website.

 

Email John Sinkevics at jsinkevics@gmail.com.
Copyright 2014, Spins on Music

FS ~ 4/7/2014 – 4/26/2014

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