Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A big blues band based in Providence RI, formed in 1967 by pianist Al Copley and guitarist Duke Robillard, and still making waves over 30 years later. The lineup in the late 1980s was Greg Piccolo, vocals, tenor sax (b 10 May 1951, Westerly RI); Rich Lataille, alto and tenor sax (b 29 October 1952, Westerly); Doug James, baritone (b 21 August 1953, Turlock CA); Porky Cohen, trombone (b 2 June 1924, Springfield MA); Bob Enos, trumpet and vocals (b 4 July 1947, Boston MA); Ronnie Earl, guitar (b 10 March 1953, NYC); Paul Tomasello, bass and vocals (b 17 November 1951, Boston); John Rossi, drums (b 13 November 1942, Providence); Junior Brantley, keyboards (b Carthage MS). They had broken up briefly in 1970, re-formed with Piccolo and Lataille; Rossi replaced Frannie Christina (who went to the Fabulous Thunderbirds) and James joined '71. They gigged with Sil Austin, Red Prysock, Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson, B. B. King, Maria Muldaur '73 (gave her 'It Ain't The Meat'), played the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, first long residencies at Brandy's in Boston, Knickerbocker Cafe in Westerly. First gigs with Count Basie were in '74; he paid them high compliments and came to see them whenever possible; their 'swing era' began as they met critics Helen and Stanley Dance, who introduced them to Helen Humes, who came out of retirement to sing with them. They played the Roseland ballroom with Basie in '77.

Doc Pomus helped get a record deal: first LP was Roomful Of Blues on Island. They opened for Professor Longhair '78 at the New Orleans Jazz Festival; released album Let's Have A Party '79 on Antilles; Robillard left (see his entry); Earl and Cohen joined: Cohen had played with Tony Pastor '42, then Charlie Barnet, Casa Loma Band, Boyd Raeburn, Lucky Millinder (including a tour of South as one of three white sidemen), also Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw '49-50, with Max Kaminsky, Bob Wilber, etc; played dixieland in Providence '55-79: after joining Roomful he played in almost every state in the Union. Lou Ann Barton sang with Roomful '79-80, then Piccolo took over the vocals. The band backed Lou Rawls on a track for his Shades Of Blue '81; their own Hot Little Mama that year on Blue Flame was voted among the top ten blues albums in the W.C. Handy Awards. They brought Roy Brown to the East Coast for a tour; Enos joined; the first national tours began; they played the San Francisco Bread and Roses Festival '82 with Etta James and Tracy Nelson and club gigs with Jimmy McCracklin, Cleanhead, Big Joe Turner led to LPs Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson And Roomful Of Blues '82, Blues Train '83 with Turner (and guest Mac Rebennack) '83, both on Muse; the Turner LP was nominated for a Grammy '84, named among top LPs in the Handy Awards. Keith Dunn was hired to sing as Piccolo had throat surgery, replaced by Curtis Salgado (played on first Robert Cray LP); bassist Randy Simmons replaced Preston Hubbard (who went to the Thunderbirds); Copley was replaced by Ron Levy, who also played organ and sang. LP Dressed Up To Get Messed Up was on Rounder's Varrick subsidiary. In Texas in 1985 Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top followed the band and gave Earl a custom-made guitar.
The first European tour included London and Scandinavia; Rory MacLeod replaced Simmons. Hot Little Mama was reissued on Varrick '86 as the band backed Earl King on Glased and recorded their own Live At Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, with members of Los Lobos guesting. Salgado left as Piccolo resumed singing; Tomasello joined early '87, then Brantley, who had worked in Milwaukee and recorded with Short Stuff, joined the Thunderbirds '85. Gigs '87 included a West Coast date with the Charlie Watts Big Band. The horn section backed Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble at their Carnegie Hall debut '84, and recorded with the Thunderbirds on Butt Rockin', with the Legendary Blues Band on Red, Hot'n'Blue on Rounder, with J.B. Hutto on Slippin' And Slidin' on Varrick, and with John Mooney on Telephone King on Blind Pig. They were sponsored by Miller Beer '87 along with Delbert McClinton, the Maines Brothers Band and 18 other regional acts; there was a European tour mid-'87. Enos, Lataille, James and Rossi were still there '95 on Turn It On! Turn It Up! on Bullseye Blues, with Sugar Ray Norcia, vocals and harmonica, Carl Querfurth on trombone, Matt McCabe on piano, Chris Vachon on guitar, Ken 'Doc' Grace on bass. Cohen had left Roomful '87, replaced by Querfurth, later made joyous Rhythm And Bones '96 on Bullseye with Querfurth, Enos and the others revisiting the transition between swing and R&B, with vocals from Norcia on 'Sent For You Yesterday' and Michelle Wilson on 'Trombone Porky', followed by Under One Roof '97: some folks just can't stop having fun. Plays Big Blues '97 on Black Top was a compilation of Ronnie Earl. By 1998 the singer was big-voiced Mac Odom, a worthy successor to Big Joe Turner.