|(Sugar Ray Norcia)|
In 1991 just as singer and harmonica player Sugar Ray Norcia was signing on with the Roomful of Blues band, the latest swing dance/music craze was taking over the US. Luckily Roomful and Norcia already possessed the horn and jump blues credibility to fit right in with the retro crowd of the day.
“We started out in a small cramped van but finally graduated to a tour bus,” Norcia said. “Roomful of Blues did 250 dates a year in those days. I was with them for 7 years and they were some of the best times of my life. My last show was New Year’s Eve 1999.”
Prior to Roomful Norcia had been playing harp and singing for over 10 years with his own jump combo, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, but this new gig pegged him primarily as a vocalist.
“Understandably with a horn band like Roomful you aren’t going to get the opportunity to play harp much,” Norcia said in an interview before a recent sound check in Wilmington, DE. “I played two harmonica songs per set if that. Above all I wanted the world to see that I could harp.”
West Michigan music lovers have a chance to hear one of today’s best singer/harp players when Sugar Ray Norcia joins Hank Mowery & the Hawtones wsg Nick Moss May 1, at Billy’s Lounge in Grand Rapids.
Over the years Roomful has processed some 55 band members. More than just another hired gun, front man Norcia wielded extra clout.
“When I joined Roomful they hadn’t made a record in 6 years,” Norcia told #TMGR. “I was instrumental in getting them back in the studio and getting the recording ball rolling. I’d say we had good success.”
But what Norcia longed for most was a return to a band where his harp playing reclaimed prominence. He says he feels most comfortable with a smaller band who knows their way around the intricacies of the singer out front. That is one reason why Norcia showed no hesitation in accepting a recent offer to play with the Nick Moss Band from Chicago.
“I didn’t even bat an eye, didn’t even think twice,” Norcia said. “Nick and I played together a bit in Chicago at Buddy Guy’s club Legends. We’ve passed paths many times throughout the years. I know he’s played with some of the same people I have like Jimmy Rogers.”
So similar is their influence and experience there was no discussion about which material to cover for a recent East coast tour “we just got together and went,” Norcia says.
The legend of home town backing bands is among the richest of blues traditions. The local guy accompanying distinguished visitors is storied practice. So if a first-call backing band is what Norcia expects, such a band he will get in the form of Hank Mowery & the Hawktones. Mowery’s been working hard at this band stuff; he is currently paid up on all his dues. His fellow Hawktones boast experience with harp heavies like Dennis Gruenling, Jim Liban, and Gary Primich. Nick Moss fills the role of honorary Hawktone this particular evening.
Norica and the Bluetones spent their youth welcoming to the East coast and playing behind Chicago blues luminaries Otis Rush, J.B. Hutto, and Hubert Sumlin. With recent opportunities to tour with current Chicago blues bands he says his musical world feels more complete.
Sugar Ray Norcia, Hank Mowery & the Hawktones CD release party for Excuses Plenty wsg Nick Moss, 9:30 p.m. Friday at Billy's Lounge. $7
The band plays the 8th annual White Lake Blues Festival, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Howmet Playhouse (Whitehall, MI) see www.killerblues.net/ for more info