Life in the music world, at least for its more fortunate inhabitants, offers opportunities for both rewards and rewarding experiences. The name Roomful of Blues has been registered in the music world for 36 years now, expertly creating what guitarist/band leader Chris Vachon describes (after having a five-word limit imposed upon him) as, “jumpin’, swingin’, butt-rockin’, dancin’ blues.” (Yes, “butt-rockin’” qualifies as one word.) Those efforts have netted the Providence, Rhode Island-based band a fistful of W.C Handy Blues Awards.
Last Sunday, the band was edged out of a Grammy by Buddy Guy in the Best Traditional Blues Album category. The nominated album, That’s Right!, mixes songs from such fairly well-known names, at least in blues–and R&B–conscious circles, as T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, and Little Milton with obscure jump-blues tunes rescued from wherever it is that obscure jump-blues tunes are held captive. If, like me, your knowledge of jump blues pretty much begins and ends with Jumpin’ Jive, Joe Jackson’s celebration of Louis Jordan, then the Roomful of Blues catalog is the place to turn for earning continuing education credits. Of course, jump blues is only one part of the curriculum.”We like to think that we cover much of the genre,” Vachon says. Now in his 14th year with Roomful of Blues, Vachon falls third in the current line-up behind trumpeter Bob Enos with 23 years and alto and tenor sax man Rich Lataille with 35 years. In that period, Lataille has had more than 50 bandmates and played on more than 20 albums, including recordings backing genuine legends such as Big Joe Turner, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, and Earl King.
But sometimes it can be the actions that occur outside the limelight that have the most impact. On Feb. 15, Roomful of Blues will be in the Triangle for an event a bit less star-studded than the Grammies, but arguably much more enriching. “It’s an honor,” offers Vasson. “We can’t wait to play Bella’s Ballroom Bop.”
“Bella” is Annabella Terenzi, a four-year-old from Apex who was born with a spinal cord injury that left her with no feeling or muscular control below her waist. Bella’s parents, Lenny and Karen, have enrolled her in a therapy program created by actor Christopher Reeve and the physicians he’s been working with since he was paralyzed in a horseback-riding accident. The program involves specialized equipment and a great deal of traveling–areas where the Terenzis have encountered some obstacles. “We got our second round of denials for our insurance claims, and I wasn’t about to go through a third round,” explains Lenny Terenzi. “Every once in a while, in a fit of anger we’d say, ‘Well, if insurance isn’t going to pay for it, we’ll do it ourselves.’ So we finally just decided to do it ourselves.”
Out of that decision, Bella’s Ballroom Bop was born. The idea to organize a music show came naturally to Terenzi, a veteran musician who played guitar in the late Mighty Lester & the Blues Kings and now leads Hi-Fi Royale.
Picking the headliner for the show came just as naturally. Roomful was an obvious choice, Terenzi says. “Because if they’d do it, that pushes it into the big time.” The relationship between Terenzi and Roomful of Blues began a few years back when he sent an e-mail to Vachon to ask about some chords in a song that the band had recorded. “I was a fan first,” recalls Terenzi. Then Terenzi, a home-based Web and graphic designer, learned of a management change in the band and cold-emailed Vachon to ask if he could take on their Web site pro bono. After meeting with the band at a show in Virginia, he signed on as their Web guy and became friends with the band.
While raising funds is obviously a goal for Bella’s Bop, raising awareness is another. Along with the swing dance lessons and visits from Cotton the Clown–this is a family event, with no smoking and no alcoholic beverages–information will be shared about the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and Clay Aiken’s Bubel/Aiken Foundation.
When Roomful of Blues recorded That’s Right! at Raleigh’s Osceola Studios, Vachon and the rest of the band got to meet Karen and Annabella, and it was impossible not to be charmed. “Karen is such a nice person, and Annabella is such a smart, beautiful child,” he says. “It’s really great for us to feel that we have a part in helping her and her family, and hope it helps them get the care Annabella needs.”
Tickets to Bella’s Ballroom Bop with Roomful of Blues and Hi-Fi Royalle cost $15, children under 16 get in for free. www.bellasbop.com