About a month before this show I was driving around Santa Cruz, California listening to a R & B show on the local public radio station when to my amazement I heard one of my favorite songs --"Without You" by the Butanes Soul Review. After the cut played the DJ said something to the effect that he found this CD ("One Night") from an unheard of band laying around the station unclaimed, so he gave it a spin and was very surprised to hear such good R & B music -- particularly from a band from Minneapolis. He speculated that "they must have some soul up in Minneapolis." A few minutes later I was on the phone with him filling him in on the Butanes.
The Butanes -- who come in versions ranging from a trio to the ten-piece Soul Review -- are something of an enigma. Well known as "musicians' musicians" within the music business, they have for some time been perhaps the choice for touring artists who need a backing band in the Twin Cities. They've backed: John Lee Hooker; Elvin Bishop; Earl King; Robert Ward; James Carr; Jimmy Dawkins; Johnny Copeland and a host of others. As they've become known, they've taken to backing musicians at gigs in other cities -- most notably an annual foray to the New Orleans' Jazz & Heritage Festival. As their stature has grown, they have played less and less in the Twin Cities -- to the point where their local appearances have become rare. While very well known to area blues connoisseurs, the sporadic performances of the band seem to have currently left it without widespread locally popularity and resulted in a dearth of local gigs.
Thus it was that the faithful flocked to the Cabooze in Minneapolis on Saturday, January 20 to see a performance of the six piece versions of the Butanes. My pal (who had traveled from the back woods of northern Wisconsin and was deemed the "one who traveled the furthest to see the gig") arrived early enough to stake out a block of the few primo seats available. These are much like "box seats" at a ballpark and afforded a comfortable space as well as optimal sound and sight lines. The place soon filled to near capacity with a mixture of faces familiar from many prior Butanes show, unknown blues fans who are just now acquainting themselves with this group, and people who appeared to be Cabooze regulars just stopping by.
As an added treat, the gig was a "CD preview" featuring much of the material from the band's soon to be released "Day and Night" -- recorded live at the Cabooze. And for even more icing on the cake, Maurice Jaycox (lead singer of the "Soul Review" version of the band -- not expected to attend but experiencing a last minute cancellation of his band's gig) was on hand and ultimately took the stage to do the vocals on several tunes.
The band is: Curtis Obeda - Guitar, Lead Vocals; John Lindberg - Bass, Lead Vocals on selected tunes; Virgil Nelson - Hammond Organ, Piano; Dan Hostetler - Drums; Jim Greenwell - Tenor Saxophone and Michael B. Nelson - Trombone. This band has played together a long time, four of them being with the band for a dozen years. Even though the size the band that might be booked under the "Butanes" moniker might be a trio, a quartet, or a six or ten piece ensemble consisting of personnel all part of the largest lineup, each version sounds distinctly different from the others. The six piece lineup plays a tight brand of R & B flavored blues -- bluesier than the work of the Soul Review but much more soulful than the basic "Chicago" sound. A heavy dose of the "Memphis" and "New Orleans" sound is evident (hey -- maybe this is the "Minneapolis" sound?). Curt Obeda's vocal are as gritty as the sound of his upside-down Strat. As if to keep pace, the Hammond Organ of Dr. Nelson is about as "dirty" as you'll hear. The rhythm section keeps pace with an aggressive -- but unobtrusive -- line. The horn arrangements are tasteful and generally a bit subdued. The arrangements are such that the instruments compliment each other very well and the leads and solos are spread amongst the sections. The band seems to favor intense slower ballads, but frequently picks up the pace.
The band started the show with "In the Pocket" a King Curtis tune they learned just a couple hours before the show and played for the first time. After three of their "regular" songs ending with "Trick Bag" -- a tune the band no doubt learned while backing Earl King, Maurice was called up and some material sounding quite a bit like a "Soul Review" set was done. This got the crowd to the dance floor which stayed full the rest of the night. The set concluded with "Hey Pocky Way" -- a funky New Orleans standard I've always liked but never understood.
The second set was all material form the forthcoming CD (except "Happy Birthday"). "Moving On" is an Obeda original. "Double Eyed Whammy" is something of a tribute to the late Tommy Ridgley who the Butanes backed on occasion. John does the vocals on "I Got the Same Old Blues," a song penned by J. J. Cale.
The band went back to "old" material for the final set. Maurice came up again for the finale'. As is often the case with all versions of the band, the concluding song was "I Ain't Drunk."
Other than another return engagement on February 10th at the Embassy Bar in St. Peter (next door to where this writer lived for a spell as a child -- look for the plaque next time you're there) for the four piece versions of the Butanes (sans horns), the band has no gigs scheduled in the immediate future. However, with a new CD soon to be hitting the street look for at least a couple "CD Release Parties" within two or three months. Be sure to take those opportunities to catch this excellent local band!!
FULL SET LIST:
In The Pocket
Down The Drain
How Blue Can You Get/Turning Point
(Called up Maurice)
Turn On your Lovelight
60 Minute Man
Pouring Water On A Drowning Man
Part Time Love
Hey Pocky Way
Moving On (I'm Gone)
Back Door Santa
Hello Sundown/Nighttime Is The Right Time
Body & Fender Man
Double Eyed Whammy
I'll Take You Back Home
She's Better Than You
I Got the Same Old Blues
Just A Little Bit
Always A First Time
Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)
(Called up Maurice)
Fine Brown Frame
I Ain't Drunk
This review is copyright © 2001 by Mark Halverson, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.