After 20 years of playing bars and clubs, Naugatuck native Scott Spallone aka “Big Daddy” (He describes himself as heroically proportioned), thought his bar days were over. He looked forward to playing auditoriums and town greens. Then he joined the Rubber City Blues Band (RCBB).
“It’s only because this band is as good as it is I’m black in the bars,” he said.
After seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, Spallone was sure he was going to be a guitar player. Then, in the 8th grade, his parents fooled him. They bought him an electric base.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
Since then, Spallone has stayed active in music his whole life, a talent he attributes to the domination of the right hemisphere his brain.
Spallone said he never expected the band to reach the heights it reached. The band was thrown together to help with a fund-raiser, he said.
“We really started to become a tight, well-oiled unit,” Spallone said. “Every gig, you can hear an improvement.”
The band began as an offshoot from the Naugatuck Community Band Jazz Ensemble. In 2007, it started out as a fun get-together for musicians, a kind of glorified jam session, said Charley Marenghi, a sixth grade Naugatuck teacher who plays trombone with the RCBB.
One thing led to another, and Marenghi and the others took it to the road, playing open-mic nights at the Red Door in Watertown.
Rubber City had something other bands didn’t – a five piece horn section. They play with an ensemble you would normally see on a big stage.
The band blasts right through three and a half to four hour sets of music, all on real instruments – no synthesizers or computer beats.
“It’s an in your face, powerhouse kind of band,” Marenghi said.
There are only three or four other bands in Connecticut who play the same type of music, according to Marenghi.
The band was warmly received by its audience, he said.
“People stand and they listen and their mouth drops,” Spallone said, “It’s really something to behold.”
The day singer Lee-Ann Lovelace joined the band was the moment they from just fooling around to really getting serious about it, Spallone said.
“She’s a pusher…that’s just what we needed,” he said.
Lovelace sings professionally with bands all over the region.
“From there on we have just been non-stop,” Marenghi said.
The band plays anywhere from twice a weekend to once a month, depending on members’ availability. They played 34 shows last year. They play at venues all over the region, including the 2008 mayor’s inaugural ball, the Duck Race, and local bars.
“We like playing for these local groups to try to generate interest. It’s just giving back to the town that we got a lot out of,” Marenghi said.
The group plays a lot of charity events, including Jimmy Jam in Prospect and several Relay for Life events.
“It’s good for the cause. Also, it gets us some exposure at the same time,” said Erik Krueger, the band’s guitar and backup vocals.
In 2009, Rubber City was elected best blues band in the Hartford Advocate Band Slam Poll. Alto and baritone saxophone player Cole Christie was elected best horn player in Connecticut at the Hartford Grand Band Slam in 2008 and 2009.
A lot of people have come in and out of the band, but most members hail from Naugatuck, which is why they picked the name ‘Rubber City,’ after Naugatuck’s historical ties to the rubber industry.
The band plays show band rhythm and blues with songs from the Blues Brothers, Aretha Franklin, Soul Man, Motown, Knock on Wood, and Dancing in the Streets – basically anything from the late ‘60s to the early ‘90s.
“We play all the great horn bands of the last century,” Marenghi said.
They also play Chicago tunes – almost every hit they’ve ever had, Marenghi said.
The play list, with about 125 songs on the books, reflects the band, he said.
Spallone helps Kreuger to arrange the band’s music.
“That is probably what I take a lot of pride in is writing out horn charts,” Spallone said.
Some of the music was purchased and adapted from the Naugatuck Public School big band. It’s important for the band to have strict arrangements.
“On a gig, you’re getting paid for it so you’ve got to nail those charts,” Spallone said.
They try to keep the audience dancing and smiling.
“We enjoy it when other people enjoy it…This is our form of recreation and entertainment for ourselves, not just for our audience,” said Marenghi.
Rubber City isn’t in it for the money. The band offers a lot of bang for the buck, said Marenghi. They have to charge the same as a four-person band but divide it between 11 members.
All the members of the band have been life-long musicians ranging from semi-professionals just in it for fun, to music teachers, to former army band members, to full time professionals who do this for their living.
Drummer David Wilson spends the time he’s not on dialysis (he’s next in line for a kidney transplant) doing freelance work in jazz trios and musicals. He also sets up rehearsals and books shows for the Rubber City Blues Band which he started with his old friend, Marenghi.
It just sounded like a good idea, he said.
“The stars were aligned with the musicians we had and we went with it,” Wilson said.
The group spans nearly a half-century of experience, with members ranging in age from 35 to 73.
Wilson, 35, said sax player Al Krasnow, 73, acts younger than he does.
“We mesh so well that it just works,” said Wilson.
Lead trumpet and vocals Bob Delagrange, said band members were drawn together because of their love of performing.
“We really feed off the crowd. We get a lot of energy from our audience and we like to give it back,” Delagrange said.
If there’s one thing that all the band members can agree on, it’s that the band is a lot of fun.
“It’s amazing that 11 people can get together and stay together. We all get along real well and have a great time,” said Krueger. He came back to his native Naugatuck and the music he loves after about a ten year break for college in the sunshine state.
The band’s biggest challenge is finding locations big enough to host it, Delagrange said. He said the band’s goal is to broaden their reach geographically, play larger venues, and expand their (already large) music portfolio. He said they plan to stick together for a while.
“Everybody’s having a good time right now. There’s no reason to stop,” Delagrange said.
Check out the band’s next performance Dec. 23 at 8:30 p.m. at City Limits Café in Waterbury. There is no cover. They will also play New Years Eve at Waterbury Elks Club, and hold a fund raiser for the YMCA and the Field Turf program at Naugatuck High School in late January or early February.
You can check out their music online on Facebook or www.myspace.com/rubbercitybluesband.