He's happy singing the blues

He'll be on stage at upcoming Onset Blues Festival

By Ethan Thomas MPG Newspapers

MARION - If there's one person in town who's got the blues, then it's Blues Alley's frontman RC.

Immersed in music ever since he listened to his grandfather's records while still a child living in New Bedford, RC didn't find the Blues until he moved to Chicago in the early 1980's. Or maybe it was the Blues found him.

Although now the guitarist and lead singer for Blues Alley, RC actually cut his teeth in the music business at the ripe old age of 12.

While most kids his age were oohing and aahing over the new sound of rock-and-roll coming out of America and England, RC was playing drums and percussion with the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, the Tri-County Regional Symphonic Band and the Newport Symphony Orchestra. By 14, he was playing in jazz bands, honing his drumming skills in the clubs and bars in New Bedford, Newport and the Cape.

"Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to play drums. Ever since I was four years old, I'd listen to my grandfather's 78's, and he had some amazing stuff; like real, real blues" RC said.

"One time I'm listening to the radio and I picked up this tune in the middle and it was B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone" and I just said, "that's it!"

But it wasn't until a divorce, a motorcycle accident, and a move to Chicago before RC picked up a guitar and started singing the Blues.

"It wasn't until my late 20's when I started playing guitar and singing", said RC, "I had been in a motorcycle accident so I couldn't play drums, so I started playing the guitar. It was my therapy."

And once he moved to Chicago, he got ibnto a blues band and before long was playing the local Chicago clubs in between working for Washburn Guitars as a sales manager.

"After work, I'd go home, take a nap, eat, and then pick up my guitar and go play all night," RC said.

His big break finally came for him in Chicago. RC was at a club one night to see Buddy Guy and his band, when Guy's guitarist injured himself in a fall setting up before a show.

What RC thought was going to be a one-night stand with one of the greats ended up turning into a 6 1/2 month experience when, after the show, Buddy Guy's manager asked if RC could immediately begin touring with the band.

"Working and playing with Buddy was just a lifetime lesson, particularly in backing him up," said RC. "It taught me a hell of a lot. Working with him on the stage, I learned a lot about performing, entertaining, and how to connect with an audience."

Since that stint with Guy, RC has met with some of the greatest names in blues: B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Carey Bell, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton, and the late Stevie Ray Vaughn, who RC met when he was working for Washburn at a Moody Blues reunion tour in the mid-1980's.

"At the time, no one knew who Stevie was. Their first album hadn't even come out yet," he said.

RC ended up spending two weeks with Vaughn, jamming with him every chance he could at the end of each night, and discovering just how talented Vaughn was. "We would sit knee-to-knee and just jam. He was a real gentleman."

"All these local guys who are playing the blues now are Stevie Ray Vaughn clones", said RC. "It's already been done, and better. Listening to Stevie, you heard Albert King and B.B. King influences, but he didn't copy them. He was taking the music, the Blues, somewhere else."

"I've been pretty lucky, I've been on the same stage and played with people like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds."

But after countless hours on the road and in the Chicago clubs, RC decided it was time to come back home and take care of some family affairs. And once he got back, he realized he didn't want to leave again.

"It's the only place in the world where you can drive an hour-and-a-half and be anywhere you want to be. You could be on the ocean, in the mountains, at a lake, or in major cities. And here, you can hear just about anything on the radio. Jazz, blues, folk, pop, country - it"s all possible. Everything is so close, people take that for granted," he said.

While he might not be back in Chicago, RC has still been doing what he loves to do - play the Blues.

"For the last seven, eight years, that's all I've ben doing, playing the Blues," he said.

His current band, BLUES ALLEY, released it's first album, Lowdown, in 1996, a compilation of sorts of some of the blues RC had written years before.

"We recorded the whole album in one night. One twelve hour session," said RC.

That's in contrast to his latest release, Rather Be Alone, which took two weeks of solid recording and mixing.

And while Blues serves as a canvas for RC on this latest release, it's by no means just another blues album.

"I decided it was time to allow those early influences to accept my blues and wrote the songs for this record as a tribute to that New Bedford neighborhood where I grew up and heard so much different music. Music from Brazil, Cape Verde, Cuba and New Orleans. Music styles of western swing, Fado, funk and jazz."

The album's subtitle, Stories at 2 a.m., gives a glimpse into the meaning of the lyrical content on Rather Be Alone. "The songs have been inspired over the years by bits and pieces of stories and wonderful little catch-phrases overheard in clubs and bars at closing time, when waiting in check-out lines at 24-hour convenience stores, and conversations with people," said RC.

While RC handled the vocals, guitars, keyboards, upright bass, and percussion on Rather Be Alone, six other musicians are also responsible for the album's big sound.

Scott Frost (drums, percussion and backing vocals), Tommy Souza (bass, backing vocals), Pierre Patry (harmonicas), Manny DeLima (trumpet, flugelhorn), Joe Soares (trombone) and Joe Marion (tenor sax) can all be heard on the album, as can the backup singing of Debbie Guay and Jan Stanley.

"I know calling a recording an album is passe, but I feel like this is an album; like a family album, a record of the past," said RC. "It's even been mixed to sound more like a 33 LP than a CD."

BLUES ALLEY is always playin locally, and they will be playing the Onset Blues Festival again this summer. You can also get current information on the band and their upsoming shows at their website,

Rather Be Alone is available locally at Words & Music in Fairhaven, MA, Baker Books in Dartmouth, MA and all Sam Goody, Strawberries and Music World stores as well as direct from the BLUES ALLEY website.