Trio puts its own spin on rocking Chicago blues

Trio puts its own spin on rocking Chicago blues
February 10, 2011
By Roger Levesque
Edmonton Journal

Chris Avey enjoys the space that his blues trio The Avey Brothers allows, but he's not so consumed with power trio antics that he loses track of what's important.

"The trio works out great because you do have a little more freedom to do what you want," says the guitarist-singer from Iowa. "But it's kind of a double-edged sword. I'm really more about songs. I don't want it to turn into a guitar-wanking festival because that can lose a lot of people's attention."

The Avey Brothers are serving up their brand of rocking Chicago blues with some interesting regional twists through Saturday at Blues On Whyte.

"I wouldn't say we're a traditional band in any way but I like to keep that genuine aspect, to keep one foot in that area to see how far you can drag the other foot. I'm also influenced by the music of Louisiana, almost that funeral dirge beat, and it's kind of a refreshing change to do some of that music, kind of swamp rock."

Chris's older brother Mark handles the bass while Wes Weaver sits in for regular drummer Bryan West on this tour.

The band has been getting more attention since the release of their second independent release Preacherman late last summer, but that only hints at the years they've put in on the music scene in and around their birthplace, the Quad-Cities area on the Iowa-Illinois border.

Chris was mostly into harder rock bands when he got his first guitar at 16. A few years later, friends of his brother Mark asked both brothers to join their cover band, and they played in a few bands together.

Along the way, Chris found himself watching some television clips of a recently deceased Stevie Ray Vaughan. Like many other players, he was inspired to look further back into the blues tradition. Before long, Chris knew he wanted to focus on blues music.

When marriage saw Chris relocate to Phoenix, he wound up working for one of that city's top blues acts, Big Pete Pearson, for two years. A return to Iowa brought him back together with his brother and the formation of the Avey Brothers Band in 2008 was followed about six months later by their recording debut Devil In My Bed.

While that first album had been made rather hastily to get the band's name out there, the trio took a lot longer to finish the more polished followup Preacherman. It features an almost all-original set of songs and a wider range of blues influences and styles.

A career highlight came when the trio entered and won the Iowa Blues Challenge two years in a row. That got them to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis where they made the semifinals in 2009 and the finals in 2010. That has boosted their touring opportunities to include around 150 dates a year now.

Chris says that they like to round out live sets with a few covers, but the trio keeps it pretty obscure with older numbers by the likes of Buddy Guy or Tab Benoit.

The Avey Brothers play Blues On Whyte through Saturday, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. nightly with a $6 cover. You can also catch them as part of the Saturday afternoon jam sessions starting at 3 p.m.


One day a few years ago, reedman Johnny Griffith and guitarist Nathan Hiltz were talking about their love of classic Blue Note label organ bands from the 1960s, wishing they had the right musicians to re-create those sounds. Suddenly ingenuity struck. Could Hiltz also play bass on the foot pedals of an old Hammond organ?

You can hear the result Friday at the Yardbird when the Toronto-based Griffith-Hiltz Trio takes the stage with one of the more unusual but very accessible sounds in trio jazz.

Griffith plays alto sax and bass clarinet, sometimes both at the same time as the late Rahsaan Roland Kirk used to. Hiltz plays electric guitar and doubles on bass pedals (no organ) wired through a MIDI system in a fashion they refer to as "foot piano." Drummer Sly Juhas fills out the grooves.

All together, they can sound like a lot more than three musicians, shaping their own balance of old and new.

"Our influences are really coming from the 1950s and '60s and those old Blue Note records," admits Griffith. "It's only recently that we started to incorporate more contemporary stuff. Sometimes we call it rock 'n' roll jazz."

All this comes out on the trio's first full-length album, Now And Then. They even hired guest multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson for the sessions with the request that he also had to play two instruments -- vibes and piano -- but not at the same time.

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