One of the region’s most popular blues bands during the latter part of the 1980s and early 90s has been reborn.
The Rock Island Blues Band, which played to packed houses for much of its run, has been reincarnated over the past several months and has begun to play venues around the region.
The band will play its first P.E.I. shows with the revitalized line-up at Peakes Quay in Charlottetown Monday and Tuesday nights.
The current line-up features original lead singer Joey Kitson on vocals and harmonica, Tom Easley, another original RIBB member, on bass, Ian Janes, on guitar, Bill Stevenson, on keyboards and Geoff Arsenault, on drums.
They’re currently touring with an augmented line-up that includes two sax players, Scott Marshall, another RIBB alumnus, and Evan Shaw.
This is a line-up with some credentials.
Between them they’ve played with Los Lobos, Colin Linden, John Lee Hooker, Dutch Mason, Hot Toddy, Rita MacNeil, Garrett Mason and many more.
The band will take advantage of the two-night stand at Peake’s Quay to host a band reunion, bringing together several former RIBB members for the first time in many years.
Kitson says he’s looking forward to playing with some of his former bandmates.
Former band members joining Kitson and company on stage for this reunion will include sax players Colin Stanfield and Barry Sorenson, guitarist Julian Spears, drummer Tommy Cottreau, Shane Cody and Heath McClure.
Kitson said next week’s shows will feature a number of the songs the band played on a regular basis in the 80s and 90s.
There are about 20 or so classic R&B, soul and blues tunes on that list, material from artists like The Blues Brothers, Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave.
The shows will also feature a good deal of material that has become part of the band’s repertoire since being reconstituted.
“We put together a master list for the band,” Kitson said. “We’re doing some of Bill’s standards, some of Tom’s standards, some of my standards. We’ve worked up a lot of material.”
The band will play three sets a night so there will be ample opportunity for everybody to have their moment in the spotlight.
The reunion has been talked about for some time.
Kitson said people who remember the band from their first go-round have been asking him for years if they were ever going to get back together again.
“Twenty-five years down the road it seemed like a good time to do this. These shows will provide a chance for everybody to celebrate the past and to hear the new band.”
He said the inspiration to restart the band came in part from a night he spent at Bearly’s House of Blues & Ribs in Halifax.
“Tom and I have always stayed in touch. He was playing at Bearly’s and I went to see him. They got me up to do some stuff. They were playing slow blues, jump blues. It was great, a breath of fresh air. I called Tom after that and asked him if he would like to get a band together. We both wanted to play with some great players and we were able to find some.”
One of the things that Kitson likes about the new band is the fact that it has three singers as both Janes and Stevenson sing.
“Having three vocalists provides a band with a lot of variety, a lot of different sounds. When Ian or Bill are singing I get a chance to play a little more harmonica. It’s great. And these guys are such a pleasure to play with.”
The Rock Island Blues Band is currently on a mini-tour of the region, playing several shows in New Brunswick before heading to Charlottetown.
They’re hoping to do a number of other shows in the coming weeks before they play the opening night of the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival in Fredericton.
“That will be our first major festival show. We’re hoping to get our foot in the door this summer and then perhaps next year we can do a number of other festivals.”
Kitson said starting up the band again is not about money.
“No, it’s not about money. We’re basically back at square one with this band. With Rawlins Cross, for example, you’re staying in nice hotels when you go on the road. With this band we’re staying with friends and family when we’re on the road. The Rock Island Blues is about playing music you like with a bunch of guys you like to play with, it’s about enjoying that big blues band sound. It’s about having a good time.”
Kitson said it’s their hope, ultimately, to re-establish RIBB as Atlantic Canada’s premier blues band.
Advance tickets for Monday and Tuesday nights are available at Peake’s Quay.