Review by Fred Rudofsky
Scotty Mac & the Rockin’ Bonnevilles must have gone on a vision quest in the desert recently because they were channeling sounds, rhythms and choice tunes last Saturday night (April 6) at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Troy.
Sure, they had to compete with a contingent of Syracuse University basketball fans watching the Final Four game on one of a half-dozen screens, a group of middle-aged divorcees at the center of the bar having a podcast about their ex-husbands, and a batch of twenty-somethings on a pub crawl dashing in and out.
It did not matter…
This band was playing in a transcendent realm of musicianship and good-time mayhem. Here was a band playing music that laughed with you, not at you, no matter how pessimistic your take on the world might be.
I had gone simply to enjoy the music, but the music fan and reviewer-persona quickly merged, and thus I was suddenly scribbling notes (between the occasional cold beverage) on whatever scraps of paper I could find. I arrived just as the band was blazing through “Division 2,” a swinging original jump-blues about a Delmar man’s run-in with the law for some trumped up infraction – maybe insolence is the better word.
Next, they were dousing Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would” with barbeque sauce, lighting a match to it, creating a Yardbirds-style blow-up jam. Pete Vumbaco played drums with a rare combo of manic precision and abandon; Ted Hennessy roared into one of several harmonicas that ought to file for workman’s compensation; and Johnny Ellis had his bass going note for note with Scotty Mac, as though they were friends in rival gangs.
After a superb Slim Harpo medley, they called up local soul legend Jill Hughes to the stage and she had the crowd – yes, even those divorcees – taking notice when she sang the bawdy song of female empowerment, “Use What You’ve Got (Don’t Worry About Your Size).” The Shadows’ “Apache” changed the pace quickly, setting up “13 Women,” Tom Waits’ “Heart Attack and Vine,” a very Sun Records-styled take of “Fact of Fiction,” an original about the sordid ’90s, both locally and nationally. A warp-speed “Check for a Pulse” was next, and it seemed like the perfect soundtrack for watching the hopes of the Syracuse fans in the bar quickly fade away. “Graveyard for the Blues” bemoaned with humor the typical scene a 21st century blues band may face; Hennessy was in full-throttle sarcastic mode and playing otherworldly harp.
Tommy Love was cajoled into joining the band in mid-song, and singing whatever they had in mind for him -powerhouse snippets of Led Zep’s “Communication Breakdown,” the Stones’ “The Last Time” and the Who’s gem Baba O’Riley,” followed quickly by a full take of “The Kids Are Alright.”
The second set began sometime after midnight. Even so, the energy level was just as high as during the first set. A swinging “Dinosaurs in Heaven” extolled the virtues of slow-cooked BBQ, and ought to be used by the Dinosaur franchise as its theme song. A rare uptempo take of Little Walter’s “High Temperature” braced by Willie Dixon’s “29 Ways” showed off the Bonnevilles’ deep love of Chicago blues. Fan favorite “Bring Back Roosevelt Franklin” was a serious trip into funky town; Ellis and Vumbaco were locked into monstrous groove, and the guest appearance of trumpeter Kevin Hendrick gave it a “Miles Davis-plays-the-Muppets vibe”, as Hennessy quipped.
After a fine take on Presley’s “I’m So Glad You’re Mine”/ “Heartbreak Hotel,” SM&RB dug deep into the Sun Records vault for Howlin’ Wolf’s “All Night Long,, a great showcase for Mac’s Ike Turner-meets-Paul Burlison riffing. Tommy Love came back up for an inspired run on Cream’s “Strange Brew”; everybody in the house was smiling during that one. Howlin’ Wolf’s “Goin’ Down Slow” closed out the night, and offered even long-time fans the rare sight of Hennessy and Mac trading verses, and Hennessy’s introducing each member of the band with an off-the-wall bio that would look perfect on a plaque.