Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Conversations with . . .
Rich Rittenhouse, Doc Herling and
Bill "Chicken Wing" Smith
jam it old-school with Doc's Blues Revue
|Conversations: Looking back|
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If you've happened by the Cellar Restaurant on a Thursday night recently, odds are you've heard at least one half of the now deceased F-150 band. That's because with the breakup of F-150 — that wildly popular honkytonk honky-tonk crew — two new bands were born and have since split the weekly lineup at the Cellar, among their other area venues.
F-150 singer and acoustic guitarist Paul Clark formed his Lonesome Drifters, while singer and electric guitarist Doc Herling formed Doc's Blues Revue. If you've ever found yourself lost in a sea of musical sub-genres subgenres, the boys from the Blues Revue are here to tell you: They play Chicago blues. Recently, Doc, bass player Bill Smith and harmonica player Rich Rittenhouse — three-fourths of the band, in the absence of drummer Marc Webb — took a few minutes to talk about their blues, their inspirations and the "Orange Blossom Special."
So can you tell me about your sound?
Rich Rittenhouse: I think it’s pretty unique. We’re the only band in the local area playing the authentic Chicago blues.
Who are your influences?
RR: When I’m going down the road, I listen to about any harmonica player who Muddy Waters ever played with, because they’re all great and Muddy Waters is the blues to me.
Did you guys know Bob Margolin when he was in town?
DH: I remember him when he played down at the Old South Main Cafe, the 117.
BS: I have to say that he was a big influence on me, just seeing that someone could play that genre of music and be successful at it. He was doing it I guess since the early ’80s in this area.
RR: I saw him many times at South Main Cafe, or 117 I guess it was then, and every now and then he’d have a great harp player with him. But I remember one harp player specifically in Blacksburg that really turned my head and inspired me to really get into playing. Carey Bell played at the Cellar. He played downstairs at the Cellar and it was standing room only — you could hardly get by to walk through.
BS: What year was that?
RR: It must have been in about the mid-’80s, and it was just an unbelievable show. I was blown away and after that I started playing the harp, and it took me a long time before I could get to where I could play anything that I really thought approached the real blues. But that was my inspiration.
Who else plays blues around here? What about Scott Perry?
DH: Good player. He’s into that country blues scene, acoustic stuff. You know, down-home Delta style. He’s sorta the Taj Mahal of Floyd County. . . . He does a good job as a solo artist.
RR: Me and him had a little duo together for awhile. Actually we had a four-piece band together for a while.
Where do people like George Thorogood fit into the blues?
DH: Well, they’re sorta spreading the word around, picking up on the music and getting it out to a wider audience.
RR: It’s kinda a rock-blues thing.
DH: There’s a lot of rock and roll rock ’n’ roll influence, but, you know, those guys grew up when they grew up. Everybody’s a product of their influences. . . . Anytime you play, it’s gonna come out like you. The best thing about blues is it’s a very expressive form, and everybody’s gonna sound like themselves. You can try to imitate, you can admire the sound of somebody and try to play like them, but it’s gonna come out like you. Margolin does a good Muddy Waters imitation, I mean he can play that stuff and he’s got the riffs, but it still sounds like him. It sounds good, don’t get me wrong, but it sounds like him and not Muddy. He’s got his own sound, which is the way it should be.
What do you think about doing the blues thing in a town like this? How does that go? I mean, for most people, something sounds bluesy or it sounds jazzy to people because it rings a note somewhere for them, but that’s a world away from actually playing a form and exploring that form. And you guys are actually trying to play a form.
DH: Yeah, actually trying to get the sound and the feel of it, which is really hard to do. We’ve really had easier lives than some of the people who made that music — they lived harder lives than you or I could ever imagine.
So what do you think about that? Can you be any good without having a really hard life? It’s that classic, "Do you have to suffer to have something to say?" question.
DH: I don’t know if you have to suffer, but it helps to have some life experience.
RR: To me, with some of it I haven’t suffered through the same thing . . . but it comes out of me, because while I’ve suffered, I have not suffered in the same way that they have. On the other hand, with some of the blues I have suffered that same thing. But some of it is just so universal that we’ve all been through it.
Can you tell me a little about the F-150 breakup?
DH: They asked me to play "Orange Blossom Special" one night and I wasn’t in the mood. No, it was a good run and to me it had gone as far as it was gonna go. . . . A band goes through a certain formative stage, and then it goes through a really cool time, and then it comes to a point where, are you gonna go off to the next level or are you gonna keep going and stagnate?
You can catch Doc's Blues Revue every other Thursday at the Cellar Restaurant in downtown Blacksburg — next Cellar gig, Feb. 3.