is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sofa King Deluxe's James Bellando Plays The Blues

Guitar whisperer James Bellando

In my quest for the best music for my listening ear, I've been lucky enough to run across some pretty cool bands here in the Bluegrass.  It doesn't matter if the group plays new music or classic tunes, nothing is more fun than finding the sound of a cool combination of singers able to combine layers of music with deeply human lyrics.

Recently I've noticed that Madison County is a hotbed for a such great artists, and like their musical presence, no matter how many times I drive south, the majestic sight of the Appalachian foothills is always a soothing sight to see.  That same sense of ease can also be likened to the sound of one of the area's best blues bands, Sofa King Deluxe, who deliver songs like Wild Horses and Little Red Rooster to appreciative audiences throughout the Bluegrass. However, like the foothills that are first visible when approaching Berea, there is a moment when you see them, but you can't see yet how they got there, and it gives cause to pause and wonder about just how Sofa King Deluxe's members joined forces.  According to Berea native and exemplary lead guitarist James Bellando, it all happened by happy coincidence.  

Bellando tells me, "Sofa King Deluxe was originally formed in 1999 (gosh has it been that long?) when a group of guys just started showing up at an acoustic guitar gig and it sounded pretty good. We all said, 'Hey we could be a good blues band!'  We got a weekly gig on Thursday nights playing at an upscale restaurant. The music didn't fit the establishment at all, but they kept us coming back because the crowd kept growing and growing. It was a strange phenomenon. This was in Richmond, Kentucky. Soon, we were getting asked to play all kinds of parties and the band grew a following. We started this band by accident!"
James Bellando, lead guitar; Jack Smith, rhythm, and
Matt Noell on bass

"We ended up winning the Kentuckiana Blues Society's best unsigned band, and got to go to Memphis to compete in the International Blues Challenge. That was great and we made a lot of friends. After that we were playing all the time at clubs and private parties. We did the Festival Circuit for a while, playing the Master's Musicians Festival for two years in a row, KET came out and did a special on us, which is still aired sometimes, I think. These days we do Clubs and Private parties, and play down in Florida several times per year, during Bike Week, etc. -- and we are available!"

Sofa King Deluxe's songlist includes:
Chicken Train
Cover of the Rolling Stone
Cadillac Asembly Line
Sherry Baby
Wicked Games
Black Magic Woman
Break Down
St. James Infirmary

"We ended up taking a break from playing as a band from 2003 - 2007. After that, Jack Smith and I decided to re-form the band. The current lineup is as follows: James R. Bellando, lead guitar and vocals, Jack Smith, rhythm guitar, blues harp and vocals, Matt Noell, bass and vocals. We have literally had over twenty drummers, kinda like Spinal Tap. Currently we are working with Eric Shields, and more recently, master percussionist, Glen Quiggins."

Although it's hard to put a label on Sofa King Deluxe, Bellando emphasizes that "first and foremost we are a blues band. After so many years, we have really broadened our horizons, and we play music that moves us. We do play many classic Rock covers, R&B, a little Southern Twang, as well as some Americana type stuff. Now I know that sounds very eclectic, BUT, somehow or another, it all seems to work. I suppose our   interpretations of these various genres seem to process the music and make it distinctively our own. I would say our sound has a smooth, vintage type feel, that is right at home in many different environments. We pay homage to many of the greats. We do a number of original compositions, and those seem to fit in seamlessly with our set. We have a Facebook page, where we stay in touch with our friends, just search Sofa King Deluxe!"

I was curious about the first song James ever played, and on what instrument.  "The first song I think I ever learned was a Bob Dylan song, Love Minus Zero I think it's called. I learned that on an old Martin D-35, which belonged to my father. I really started on folk music, then the Eagles, until I got corrupted with Kiss and ACDC.  It's been Spiral Dynamics from there on out!'

Of course, I also wanted to know if he were stranded on a desert island and had to choose only 4 albums, what would they be?  Bellando's choices are as varied as his repertoire: 

The Beatles, Abbey Road 

Sweet, Desolation Boulevard

Pink Floyd, The Wall, and

Chris Whitley, Living with the Law.

In answer to a request for his bio, i.e., who he is, where he's been, where he's going, he replied, "Oh, Kim...My name is James Bellando, I work as Marketing/PR Director at Man O'War Harley-Davidson, I have three wonderful daughters. I have been through a lot, I think, in terms of the temptations of living the life of a professional musician. I have run my own ad agency for more than a decade. I have spent much time, and still do, studying philosophy, religion and esoteric writings. This would be my secret hobby, I suppose. I am continually searching for a broader understanding of human motives, beliefs, and relationships with the divine. As sappy as that may sound, it is not something that I could ever contrive!" 

Also, James, do you have a secret talent -- one that you will share with my readers? "I do have a secret talent... it is whispered about in the hushes and shadows of Ladies Night Out, and written about on women's room walls, in clubs and dives throughout the South East."

Since he artfully dodged that question, I must confess that I'm aware of a rare skill Bellando has that I've seen with no one else.  James can pick up just about any guitar or stringed instrument and make it sound like B.B. King.  This toy "Rock Star" guitar I bought a long time ago is pictured at right (I hope) -- it's a little red plastic number from which it is seemingly impossible to coax a good sound. I don't know how James does it, but somehow he tunes all the strings, makes a pick or slide out of a household item, and then lays down some incredible guitar licks.  It's a testament to his musicianship and to his disinterest in boundaries that oftentimes constrict and restrain others in their musical interest.  In fact, I think that's what best defines James Bellando as a guitarist and singer - his talent knows no end, he's always open to new vistas, and the possibilities are limitless.  

You can experience Sofa King Deluxe at the Tin Roof, Lexington on May 3rd,  and at Paddy Wagon, Richmond May 13th

I hope you have a chance to hear Sofa King Deluxe soon.
If and when you do, let me know how much you love their sound!

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