By Andrea Serna, Art and Culture Writer
Blues is a strong tradition in Long Beach.
On Labor Day weekend the blues returns to Long Beach with the New Blues Festival at POA Park. Long Beach band Boxcar 7 is on the lineup.
Lay out your path towards the dance floor cuz it’s going to be hard to sit still when Boxcar 7 is on the stage. They are a good-time band and they are not afraid to let the world know.
The big-band sound of the seven-piece group has caught on in Long Beach. They are a familiar presence in the local music scene. They first started to catch the attention of blues junkies about five years ago. Now, they have developed a hard core following in town.
The band combines the classic sound of 60s soul music with the 40s style of jump blues. Popular in the 1940s, the movement was a precursor to the arrival of rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll. Prominent figures included Louis Jordan, Lionel Hampton, Big Joe Turner, Helen Humes and T-Bone Walker. More recently, there was renewed interest in jump blues in the 1990s, as part of the swing revival. The band professes an admiration for the big-band blues style. Their band performs with characteristic classic style old-school bandstands. Singer Scott Griffith performs with a vintage chrome plated microphone that fits his immense physical presence.
“We don’t treat our music like most of the other bands in Long Beach do,” ax player Mark Sample said. “Most bands [performing locally] are four-piece or five piece. Most of the venues in town have stages that are too small for our band. We just decided we aren’t going to do it like that. We are going to do it like how it was in the old days, when the bands were really big.”
Another major influence on the band was the 1991 movie, The Commitments. The film tells the story of the travails of a music promoter to form the “World’s Hardest Working Band,” The Commitments, and bring soul music to the people of Dublin, Ireland. Sample says the band patterned their own style based on the film.
Boxcar 7 has not performed in Dublin, but they have worked hard to bring soul music to Long Beach and beyond. Recently, the band played at the prestigious NAMM show in Anaheim, the biggest music industry convention in the country. The band had the hard core rock fans swing dancing in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel.
The members of the band all have deep credentials in the music biz. Gerry Tschetter plays piano and organ, and Johnny V plays trumpet and flugelhorn. Johnny V has worked with Slash, Eric Clapton and Percy Sledge. Saxophonist Mark Sample completes their horn section. Robert Lopez plays lead guitar and the rhythm section consists of bassist Jim Keena and Andrew Shreve on drums. Recently, they added another member, John Earvin on trombone. Earvin toured for 20 years with Rick James when he was younger.
Griffith has been around the Long Beach music scene for many years. He got his start in the punk scene. Burned out on the blusterings of Biaffra, Ving and Rollins, he found solace with Otis Redding, Ray Charles and Al Green. Along the way back to humanity, Scott encountered Muddy Waters and a Howlin’ Wolf, who set him down that path to meet ol’ Robert at the crossroads and set a spell. Griffith likes to feel the root emotion behind each piece and tries like hell to convey that to everyone within earshot.
“Our main thing is that we want our music to be a fun party” Sample says. “We don’t turn our noses up at fun. We are just out there to have fun and have a really good time. We are not really blues purists. We are more of a good time soul band. That’s our style.”
The roots of soul music traces back to artists such as Little Richard, who was the inspiration for Otis Redding. Fats Domino and James Brown were equally influential. Fats Domino originally called himself a rock ’n’ roll performer, while James Brown was known as the “Godfather of Soul.” Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett echo throughout the music of this group. You don’t have to listen too hard to hear all these voices in the music of Boxcar 7.
Samples said they like to stay close to Long Beach because their fans are so supportive here. After The Blues Festival you may want to find yourself searching for their next gig. The band says that they built much of their following at the El Dorado in Long Beach They are also regulars at Harvelle’s on the Promenade downtown, the Gaslamp on Pacific Coast Highway and Kobe’s Steakhouse in Los Alamitos.
You can keep up with the band on Facebook, or visit their website at Boxcar7.com.
Venue: LBPOA Park
Location: 2865 Temple Ave., Long Beach