Tas Cru: Keeping the Blues Alive
Story and photographs by Wanda Callagy
After settling a little upon their return from Memphis, the members of Tas Cru & the Tortured Souls are off and running to various new projects, but one wonders if the Rum Boogie Café will ever be the same.
Guy Nirelli had traveled from the Buffalo area, and Dick Earl Erickson came from Utah, traveling the path down South with gigs and events for the Keeping the Blues Alive program that Tas Cru keeps going. They visited with Wichita Blues Society members, recorded at the Juke Joint Chapel at the Shack Up Inn and performed at a wide variety of venues from KOLR-TV in Missouri to the Drop Zone in Leslie Arkansas.
In Memphis, the band played three nights at the Rum Boogie Cafe – one night with the Memphis Blues Society, and they opened up the Blues Foundation’s week-long International Blues Challenge by holding an all-night jam with proceeds going to Generation Blues programs, which offers opportunity for music scholarships, camps and lessons.
Steve Kirsty, Sonny Rock and Jeremy Walz all joined Tas Cru, and Patti Parks added her sultry tone to the mix, as part of the Mess Around Town Tour.
Kirsty enjoyed his week there, meeting many international musicians. Part of it is seeing some of the faces you may have met last year. “It was really great, having a little more time than last year,” added Kirsty. His week of blues adds to his long repertoire of jazz and jazz/funk tunes that usuually plays. Walz was able to judge some of the events, as he did last year, and remarked on the talent he saw. “I enjoy seeing faces again from last year and playing with them,” said Walz. “But lots of new people, too. Lot of Canadians!”
As for the Beale Street venue, “I love that place,” said Nirelli. “I love the guitars hanging from the ceiling, and it was a great stage, great people,” he added.
Since his return home, Nirelli’s recorded for a new CD by his wife, Patti Parks. Erickson is back in Utah, playing harp in his band, which highlights his bass-playing son and a daughter soon to be playing drums for him. He learned his harp playing skills from his father, who was a “harp-playing cowboy,” and he and his wife, also a musician, want to instill these musical family values. “Tas gave me a wonderful opportunity to be able to join the tour South and for the week there,” he said. “It was just great to be around all that music.” And Cru is back home working on his new album, Keep the Money, although he and the band are headed down south again in May.
Cru has been doing the Tuesday evening jam to kick off the annual International Blues Challenge for more than eight years and sees not only the networking opportunities as a strong factor for the success of the trip. Another important factor is that musicians and visitors can take in any number of workshops while in town for the featival. “That opening night was important to get all those players up there, and it was important to educate everyone and get them involved with Generation Blues. That night raised over $2,000 for programs.”
Sonny Rock gives Cru credit when it comes to getting the programs out to the community, especially the youth. And he was proud when his friend received the Keeping the Blues Alive Award as Educator of the Year.
“What can I say? It’s a great week, and you’re surrounded by great, great talent. It humbles me to have the opportunity to play there,” said Rock.
“This band fits together well,” adds Cru. “Everyone works to have a good show, have a good time. That opening evening is the event when anyone can get on stage. It takes a lot of coordinating to make it run well, and to make sure everyone gets to play. I give Jeremy a lot of the credit, as he managed much of that.
“This is all important to get to the kids.”