Mick Sterling and the Stud Brothers brought their mixture of R&B, blues, rock, funk and soul to a small but enthusiastic crowd on a pre-holiday Friday night. They had much of the crowd up dancing, cheering lustily, as Mick and the guys worked their way through a show of mostly well-chosen and delivered covers. With his strong, expressive, slightly raspy and soulful R&B vocals, Mick can take any song and with the help of his talented band put their own spin on it. The great horn section really drives the band, while years of playing regular gigs, including every Sunday night for 14 years at Bunker's, has honed their sound into a tight, hip, funky R&B groove that you have to get up and dance along with to fully appreciate.
On "Ain't Doing Too Bad" the horn section provided strong, loud, solid riffs as Mick sang in his rich, expressive, textured voice with a bit of a growl. Giving the horn section a break, Mick wowed the crowd with the slow, soulful sounds of "The River Knows Your Name." Mick is an excellent showman, smiling and playing to the crowd, bringing focussed energy and enthusiasm to every song he performs. He and the band fit together so well, Mick guiding things along and making sure everyone in the large band, 9 strong on this night, has a chance to solo and shine on their instrument. How effectively the large band plays together to achieve a rich, funky, and full R&B sound was demonstrated on "Gift of Love." The slow, funky, starting and stopping riffs require tight timing among the players and they delivered, along with Mick's strong, funky vocals. Mick closed his first set with "Bump and Grind," with Brian Simonds delivering some great sultry, back-alley tones on sax and Donnie LaMarca standing and playing keyboards with passion as Mick delivered the talking lyrics with energy and soul.
The bands second set was highlighted by "Tap, Tap, Tapping on Your Window," "Into the Mystic" and a James Brown medley which gave the horns a chance to get loud and funky and Mick a chance to growl, shout, and get down like James himself. The band normally features another great singer in Mark Lickteig, who also plays the Hammond B-3, but tonight he was absent. Still, the band did a great job with background vocals and harmonizing on the refrain to "Tap, Tap, Tapping…" and on other songs. "Into the Mystic," a Van Morrison classic, was recorded by the band for their last CD, Sunday Soul Service. If you've ever heard the Morrison version, it's his vocals and the great sax solo that make the song. While stylistically quite different than Morrison, Mick captures the heart and soul of the song with his own spin and great, soulful vocals. Brian Simonds does a superb job on the sax solo here. As they do with so many covers, the band does a bit of their own thing while nailing the spirit of the song in this long, reverent, version.
Mick and the band always interact well with the crowd, with Mick introducing an old soul song by labeling Robbinsdale "Soul Capitol of the World." At least it is whenever Mick and the Stud Brothers are in town. They closed out their show with rousing covers of "You Can Leave Your Hat On" and "Blues is My Business" as people crowded the dance floor to feel and hear the music up close and personal. As Mick Sterling and the Stud Brothers showed once again, you really don't have to try very hard to get into the music and enjoy yourself when they play. Just let yourself go, dance a little, and Mick and the guys will do the rest.
The Break-Away Bar and Grill is located just off Broadway in Robbinsdale and seems to be filling an important live music void in that part of the Cities. Owner Luke Gustafson is a young man born and raised in Robbinsdale who's living his dream by running a bar and restaurant featuring live blues, R&B, and rock. Luke credits much of what he learned about the music club business to Jim and Cindy at The Narrows, where he worked for some time. The club offers a full menu, with their feature item an 8 oz. filet mingon dinner for $8.95. The club is a converted VFW with a capacity of 450, ample seating and table space, three bars, and a nice stage, sound, and light set-up. Sound is provided by Metro Sound, and the club has different sound and lighting techs. Normally the club features local blues and R&B, including Lamont Cranston, Big George Jackson, Big John Dickerson, and Big Walter Smith. Luke is going to start booking some national acts, including W.C. Clark, booked for April 3rd of next year. This is a comfortable club with a nice dance floor, good sound, and ample parking just outside the club. Check it out the next time you want to hear and dance to some great local blues.
A Brief Interview with Mick Sterling
Rich: When did you get started in the music business?
Mick: 1983. In 1984 in St. Louis I played in a full time band where I learned song writing. I was broke with no friends. In 1988 we started the Stud Brothers.
Rich: Which vocal artists have been your biggest influences?
Mick: Southside Johnny, Bruce Springsteen, and Elton John.
Rich: How long have you and the band been playing Sunday's at Bunkers?
Mick: We celebrate our 14th year this (the 22nd) Sunday night.
Rich: Why do you think you're so successful there, drawing large, enthusiastic crowds?
Mick: I think we filled a niche. Our timing was right, and waiters, waitresses, service people who are off on Sunday evening need a place to go and have fun.
Rich: I've been to Bunker's a number of times and there, as well as at other venues, you seem to have a large, enthusiastic following of young women. How do you handle all this attention and adulation?
Mick: I think we have all kinds of fans, good people who love the band. I appreciate their support and try to treat them with respect and give them the quality of music they want to hear.
Rich: Any plans yet for next year's Heart and Soul fundraiser for charity?
Mick: We're moving the date to late June so we don't have to fight the weather so much. May has been difficult the last few years. We'll still be at Bunker's, although it will be smaller scale. Next year's charity will be the Children's Heart Link. We plan to choose a different charity each year.
Rich: Doing Heart and Soul really seems to take a lot out of you. How do you handle it?
Mick: It's a long weekend; people are looking for me all the time to take care of something, just say hi, or thank me. There are so many good people that volunteer and help out.
Rich: Will your friends at Blue Sky be as involved as in the past?
Mick: They will continue to help out some. They've been great in past years.
Rich: This is like your 4th or 5th time playing at the Break-Away. How do you like playing here?
Mick: It's a nice room, great lighting and sound. We (fans and bands) needed a venue in this part of the city. We had over 300 people here a few weeks ago.
Rich: This year was your 6th straight year at the Bayfront Blues Festival. You get one of the biggest crowd reactions of any band playing on Sunday afternoon. How does the band like playing there?
Mick: We love it. It's our favorite gig of the year. We had a very long line at the autograph tent and sold many CD's.
Rich: People from out of state who hear you up there wonder why you don't tour around the country more. What about it?
Mick: We would like to do a lot more blues festivals next summer. We're a working band, we all have day jobs, too.
Rich: Tell me about the current band. People always say you get the best musicians.
Mick: We've been lucky to attract and keep some of the best musicians in town.
Our current line-up is:
Mark Lickteig Hammond B-3 Organ and vocals
Donnie LaMarca Piano
Stephen Morgan Guitar
Nick Salisbury Bass Guitar
Bobbie Vandell Drums
Pat Mackin Sax
Brian Simonds Sax
Steven Pikal Trombone
Joe DeRasmi Trumpet
Bob Hallgrimson Trumpet
Rich: How do you keep such a large band happy and get such a tight sound?
Mick: We have pro players, we feature people throughout the show. We've been playing so long together and so many gigs we know what we are going to do and how to play off each other. We have great people. And we never use a set list, we just play what feels right.
Rich: What do you find most satisfying about the music business?
Mick: It's a good job, the best one in making people happy, playing with great musicians, and being able to do benefits like Heart and Soul and help people.
Rich: What do you find most frustrating about the music business?
Mick: People (artists) who take it for granted; people who don't give the fans their money's worth.
Rich: The live music business has struggled the last few years. Both clubs to make money and bands to find decent paying gigs. What do you think the answer is?
Mick: Bands need to give the crowd their money's worth, connect with them and their emotions, but the personal connection is most important.
Rich: How many CD's has the band released?
Mick: 5 original CD's, and one live, the last one, Sunday Soul Service, recorded at Bunker's. We might do a studio CD, maybe a Christmas one next year.
Rich: What do you and the band want to accomplish in the next 5-10 years?
Mick: Play more blues festivals. Get more good gigs. The only thing you can control is the quality of your music.
Rich: Thanks Mick for taking a few minutes to share with your fans some of your life as a musician and views on the music business.
Your purchase through this Amazon.com link helps to support this website.
Simply click on the cover at left or the buy button to order this CD NOW!
This review is copyright © 2003 by Rich Benson, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, 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.
You can also help support this blues website by making a contribution (click on the banner below for details). Or mail a donation to: Ray Stiles % Blues On Stage, PO Box 582983, Mpls, MN 55458. Thanks!
Web Hosting & Design:
Web Hosting & Design.
Most affordable web hosting and design services available.
Find out how you can host your current site at Blues On Stage, or how I can help you design your own website!
If you would like your CD reviewed, please send TWO (2) copies, along with promotional material to:
Blues On Stage
PO Box 582983
Minneapolis, MN 55458-2983
E-mail Ray Stiles @ firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.