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OnCampus Weekly.. FEB. 6/04

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bluestoonsSomething to crow about

The Rooster Band takes flight
with its second serving of hot blues

by Dennis Urquhart

Something old, something new and some fine blues – the U of C’s own house band covers it all in their second CD.

The Rooster Band features U of C professors, instructors, alumni and some of the city’s top club musicians. The band was hatched as a way to help the U of C connect in a fun way with its music alumni and local community.
Four years later, the Roosters are flying.

They are playing on average almost once a week – in local clubs and at high-profile U of C events such as convocation and Campus Fair.

And next week, the Roosters celebrate their second CD, Bluestoons, with a launch party at the Grad Student Lounge on Feb. 13.

roostersIn contrast to their first CD, which was recorded in the Rozsa Centre and Jack Singer Concert Hall, Bluestoons was recorded in the style of the old Chess Studios recordings, says guitarist and U of C music professor Victor Coelho.

Chicago’s historic Chess Studios recorded seminal blues artists – like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf – whose impacts on modern music still resonate today.
To capture that Chess sound, Bluestoons was recorded in a home studio in Bridgeland – with the drums in the living room, the sax in the kitchen and everybody else scattered throughout.

“ I think of the first album as eating at a fine restaurant and this album as having a family dinner – everybody’s laughing and talking and shouting across the table,” Coelho says. “We wanted to do an album that had that appearance of just having fun, rather than one that was overly laboured.”

Bluestoons captures well the band’s love for improvisational playing. It was also recorded quite quickly, adds keyboardist and U of C art professor Paul Woodrow.
“ Basically we turned up at the studio at six o’clock in the evening and left at 11,” he says.

A highlight on Bluestoons for both Coelho and Woodrow is My Eyes are Green, written by vocalist Mohini Cox. The band had never played the song before and recorded it on the first take. “Mohini just said, ‘OK, 12-bar shuffle in G now,’” Coelho says with a laugh.

Woodrow adds that most of the tracks were either first or second takes.

Overall, Bluestoons features new takes on old blues standards as well as dashes of jazz, R’n’B, rock, funk and even a few classically inspired guitar licks. The album also covers tunes by the Beatles and Rolling Stones, plus an obscure, Hush-era Deep Purple song.

When he’s not cranking up his Fender amp with the Rooster band, Coelho happens to be an internationally renowned lutist and scholar of Renaissance music. He also teaches courses in music history and literature.

In 2002, Coelho enlisted Woodrow to help him teach an undergraduate course on the history of the blues, which included students working in groups and composing their own blues songs (even if they didn’t play an instrument).

“ Some of the students were really good,” says Woodrow. “I really enjoyed that course.”

Woodrow is a self-taught keyboard player.

Like many British musicians of his generation, his love for music was inspired by American blues and jazz artists. He started out learning boogie-woogie tunes and progressed to jazz. He spent his youth playing in jazz trios and a blues band and traveled across the U.K., even gigging once at The Cavern in Liverpool and sharing bills with American blues masters like Jimmy Witherspoon and Little Walter.

When touring became “too much like a job,” Woodrow quit playing, moved to Canada, and eventually began teaching art at the U of C in 1971

Today, Woodrow’s passion for music has been renewed by the Rooster Band, simply because the band has stuck to its philosophy of having fun.

“ We realized that the best thing for this band is to keep a very casual and fun perspective,” adds Coelho.

The band’s line-up is essentially the same on Bluestoons, minus co-founding Rooster, Gord Ross, a U of C master’s grad and guitarist, who is now in Toronto working on a PhD.

Instead, U of C alumnus Dave Morton moves into the line up. “Dave is such a tremendous vocalist and a sweet, sweet guitar player who plays a lot of styles. He brings a lot to the band.”

This summer, Coelho hopes the band will play some festivals and tour Europe, where he will be a visiting professor and working on another recording project – a lute recording of 17th Century music.

“We’re still, in the end, a band that makes its home at the U of C. We rehearse here, we play convocation and we have a big following on campus,” says Coelho, adding that the band also plays social events at some academic conferences, including a few events hosted by the U of C’s gastrointestinal research group.

“ I see it as musicology meets mucous-ology,” quips Coelho.


les paul