On Sunday afternoon, in front of a packed house at Windsor’s Rock Star Music Hall, the region’s most polished blues band takes another giant step in its musical journey. Not to rest on its accumulating laurels, it pauses for a well-earned time out from its relentless practice makes perfect to celebrate the release of its long-awaited CD.
Most of the 519 Band’s just released rocking blues tunes were born in Memphis, the home of the blues. To that American city the band traveled in 2015 to compete in the International Blues Challenge, after winning the right to be a contender to represent the Canada South Blues Society.
Without question the trip was a seminal moment. With a good showing against some of the world’s best, the group steels itself with a practice and play regime that has made it one of Southern Ontario’s indisputable tightest bands. This was fully evident at Rockstar Music Hall with the group bringing life to its recorded music and adding new tunes in preparation for a second trip to the recording studio.
Founding member and bassist Rob Balint tells Eyes on Windsor the band’s religious approach to dedicated weekly practicing, in its own space, has given it more than enough songs to fill a few more CDs. One of the most impressive was its version of the Rolling Stone’s famed Satisfaction.
The song was not a replicated play but a masterful stroke of music genius in which it turns the rock standard on its ear with a solid blues foundation while at the same time adding subtle hints of Keith Richard’s Satisfaction guitar licks.
It is this willingness to experiment and augment while adding new material that has given the band a sound all its own, something it calls Southern Ontario Blues.
It is also very willing to work with others. Its new CD had help from a few friends including guitarist Kevin Blok and percussionist Mark Plancke. But the real coup was sharing a sound stage with the legendary American-born Canadian soul and gospel singer Tobi Lark who adds her presence to two cuts on the CD.
Balint beams with excitement when he talks about Lark and her roots in the blues. “She and Aretha Franklin started out together,” he says, “as backup singers with none other than BB King.” Even better, Lark was in the house during the 519’s performance.
With the CD all nicely sealed in cellophane, where it certainly won’t stay long for the band’s legion of fans, the 519 is concentrating on radio and blues program airplay. Initial efforts are showing considerable promise.
Current line up consists of Balint along with the nation’s most personable blues singer and guitarist, the irrepressible Jamie Thompson married at the hip with one of the fastest fret players around, lead guitarist Ryan Thompson and backed by skilled skin beater John Zuliani, extraordinary saxophonist Dave Belch, keyboard wizard Brian Jones and the quiet master of the harmonica Gilles Provost.
Songs on the CD are I Got the Blues, the Blues Got Me, What Good is A Man, Blues Down in My Soul, Chicken Heads, Shakey Ground, Skin Deep, Maggot Brain and a perennial favourite, Back Door Santa. It is however, only a sample of the magic of hard work, good writing, exceptional playing and, to say the least, a band that is having a lot of fun.
Getting the band together for a group shot at Rock Star is quite the exercise for Eyes On Windsor photographer Eric Bonnici. Drummer Zuliani describes it as the art of herding cats, pulling the band away from its fans.
For more information about the 519 Band please visit: https://www.the519band.ca
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.