Blind Billy & The Spectacles

Blind Billy & The Spectacles
At Tequilas Bar and Grill, December 7, 2007

By Georgetown Fats
December 2007

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When Tequilas Bar and Grill opened up on Route 1 in Danvers several years ago, it was the place to go for both blues aficionados and novices alike.

The restaurant served good Mexican food at a reasonable price, the service was adequate, and the bar would make a good pour with Cabo Margarita. In addition to the quality drinks and Mexican pub grub served out of this local watering hole, the Thursday night blues jams hosted by the Joe Mack Band would feature the best in blues for North Massachusetts.

And then, it all fell apart. The food dropped to a level just above Taco Bell, the service in the club section dropped significantly, they no longer stocked Cabo in the bar for a premium margarita, and they finally replaced the Joe Mack band blues jam with an adult contemporary cover band. Now if you are looking for a blues club, there is really only one reason to pay a cover for this club - when the management at Tequilas books Blind Billy & The Spectacles.

The Spectacles consist of “Tommy C” Carroll on lead guitar, David Gagnon on bass and vocals, and the latest Spectacle, Neal Dike, on drums. They are a tight three- piece band capable of filling tired cover tunes such as “Hey Joe” and “Take Me to the River” with life.

The Spectacles started as a boogie-woogie blues band more than four years ago out of the Ipswich area, and have gradually worked more classic rock into the repertoire. Though they have added classic rock tunes, The Spectacles have not lost their focus.

Fans travel all around Massachusetts to see them perform because The Spectacles bring the house party environment with them. With Tommy C providing soaring lead guitar solos and Texas blues-influenced rhythm guitar, Gagnon supplying soulful lead vocals over his funky and intricate bass lines, and Dike rounding out the rhythm section, they form a very formidable trio.

These gentlemen understand what their audience wants, and willingly supply the house party sound track throughout New England for 50 nights a year. The Spectacles have an innate ability to get those who love to dance - and those who should not dance - on the dance floor. The tempo of cover tunes are kept upbeat, with Gagnon’s voice and charisma, and Tommy C’s guitar lines setting the scene. A set usually starts with an instrumental, a few classic rock tunes, and then an introduction for lead singer and harpist Blind Billy Mitchell.

Blind Billy is a character. Part front man, part politician, part traffic cop, he seems to enjoy networking with the crowd while listening to The Spectacles almost as much as playing for the assembled crowd. He stresses that the name of the band is “Blind Billy & The Spectacles” - and it is clearly not lip service. But when he steps to the stage, it is clearly about the blues. With a vintage harp mic in hand, and only a touch of crunch from a Fender Bassman amp, Mitchell’s tone and precision from the harp has a William Clarke-like feel. When Mitchell sings, the influences of Slim Harpo and Kim Wilson are apparent. From the opening number, Little Walter’s “I Had My Fun” Mitchell’s voice won’t make you forget the greats, but it is clear he is the genuine article. Though he is a family man and has a day job, Blind Billy is not just a frontman , he is a bluesman.

From there, Blind Billy & The Spectacles kicked into the John Lee Hooker classic, “Dimples.” As with most tunes all night long, the tempo is kept upbeat and danceable. One part of the crowd sits and works on their drinks, while another group hits the dance floor to move.

With a little rap and acknowledgement for the crowd, Blind Billy & The Spectacles take it up just a few more notches with two made famous by the great Sonny Boy Williamson. “Bring It on Home” and “Help Me” were kept more like the originals, but were not played note-for-note.

The first set comes to a close with renditions of “Tore Down,” “Stormy Monday” and a blistering rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” featuring another ripping solo from Tommy C. Guest performers are teased for the second set, as the guys head off for drinks and cigarettes.

The second set opened with an instrumental that brought the assembled dancers to their feet, and then Gagnon breathed life into two more classic rock standards. “Evil Ways” had just enough soul, and showed Gagnon’s range on vocals, while “Honky Tonk Woman” had the crowd hooked right from the opening cowbell riff.

As Gagnon mugged for the crowd, Blind Billy goes into his roll as traffic cop. Billy & The Spectacles have a revolving door for guest musicians. The first two to join The Spectacles is their second call guitar player, Glen Riley, and Paul Elliott taking a turn blowing the harp and providing lead vocals.

The Stevie Ray Vaughan classic “Pride and Joy” gets a treatment, and Riley’s adding of some slide guitar accents takes the song to another level. From there “Cross Cut Saw” featured both Mitchell and Elliott exchanging solos. With Mitchell playing distorted harp through his bassman amp, and Elliott playing with a clean tone through a vocal mic, the jam hit a crescendo with Mitchell and Elliot playing simultaneous harp warbles to cheers from the crowd. Though it was clear both Elliott and Mitchell both enjoyed playing off each other, it was certainly enjoyable to be a member of the crowd.

As Mitchell sent Elliott off the stage to applause, he introduced and directed tenor sax player and vocalist John Muise to the stage. After setting the mic for Muise’s horn, Mitchell headed off again to mingle with the crowd.

Muise’s turn on the vocals for “The Thrill is Gone” and “Kansas City” didn’t quite meet the level of other vocalists for the evening, but at that point the bar was set so high, Muise couldn’t be faulted. Clearly he is a tenor sax player first and foremost. When Muise took turns on a few solos, he effortlessly made his horn growl and sing, ringing out throughout the nearly packed house.

The second set closed with Billy joining the band for renditions of the J Geils standard “Cruisin’ for Love” and James Cotton’s “Boogie Thang” which shows Billy’s strength both as a lead vocalist and harp player.

A third set promised more guest appearances, and dancing past midnight. In short, though the band intended on playing through the wee hours of the morning, they were going to outlast a good portion of their fans.

And that’s how a night with Blind Billy & The Spectacles shapes up: a tight boogie-woogie blues band matching boundless energy with a high caliber of musicianship.

Though you will not find a deep track in an evening with Blind Billy & The Spectacles, you will find a band that knows what the fans want and are happy to oblige - a genuine house-rockin’ time.

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