I may be talking with The Blue Shivers, but this evening the Sitwell’s Coffeehouse room temperature = a sauna.
“How much clothes can we take off before we get arrested?” drummer Dave Palermo asks. His wild hair shifts when he laughs. Like a fiery Muppet.
“This year, we’re not going to jail,” Bryan Westerman (keys, acoustic guitar, vocals) pipes in. He points to Roxy (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and adds, “After I met her, I came out and jammed with these guys at a couple shows, and we went to jail.”
After one rowdy show in Middletown, Westerman got lost, pulled into a random driveway, hit a parked car, and he and Roxy got thrown in the slammer. Westerman chuckles. “We wrote a lot of cool songs from it. We’re better people for it I guess.”
And that cozy cell must’ve been warm. Now, Roxy and Westerman are married.
Her nails are black. She has thick hair, sleepy-sexy eyes and her laughter is as catching as a spreading inferno. Growing up near Ft. Wayne, Ind., Roxy says there was “nothin’ to do but corn … and corn.” Roxy’s Dad was a pastor; she was enmeshed in church music and opera. Later picking up guitar, she played with The Roxy Blues Band, moving to Cincinnati in March of 2007.
Roxy’s voice is strong, sizzling, Gospel-driven — Janis Joplin’s version of “Summertime” will come to mind. But Roxy’s sound is more open, slightly less throaty. You’ll also hear Aretha Franklin. You’ll hear gutsy Soul. I bet she’d spit. On Joplin, Roxy says, “I’d never heard a woman sing with such passion and emotion. I wanted to be like her in a lot of ways.”
Practicing, Roxy wore boas, singing for the mirror.
Palermo says, “Roxy’s got talent, man. She sings from the soul and you don’t find that in everybody. It’s just natural.”
At the heart of the finger-blistering piano solos, Westerman grew up east of Athens. His Dad was a Bluegrass musician. Westerman’s blue eyes are kind, lighting up like a flame’s center when he speaks. Studying composition at Miami University (and formerly of The Zen Lunatics), Westerman started on mandolin and trumpet, then hit the keys in high school, punching out songs. Looking around the table, his smile spreads, blazing. He says, “Then I met up with these guys.”
Ryan Hickey’s deep voice crawls out of his throat. His black hat sits backwards on his head, hiding part of his long, curly brown hair. On his feet, brown Vans. A serious soul, the lead guitarist rests his chin on his pale hand. From Cincinnati, Hickey took lessons from Kelly Richey.
Hickey was “doing the guitar-slinging, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix stuff” when he started a three-piece with Palermo and bassist Mark Boltin.
With grey hair, a shaggy beard and glasses, Boltin’s got that peaceful, “I’ve been there, done that and came through it alive and better” look. Starting on horn, attending Boston’s Berkeley College of Music, he later switched to bass. From Greenville, Ohio, he brings in Classical, Jazz, straight-up Rock and Bluegrass.
With coal eyes, dark brows, and a mustache, Palermo can hold a stare. Some tattoos are visible. Surely some aren’t. Quick to move and speak, he looks like a drummer. Originally from Louisiana, Palermo toured the Southern circuit for years. He’s played with legends such as Rockin’ Tabby Thomas, one of the best-known Blues musicians in Baton Rouge.
Palermo moved here after Katrina hit. And something about a lady.
With a smoky Southern drawl, he says, “I love my music. It keeps me here. If not, I’d be gone. I smoke Bluegrass. I play everything. I know everything. I’ll spontaneously jump on stage and start playing. Been doing it since I was 3 years old. That’s what I do.”
In December of 2007, the five-piece gelled, soon playing the Cincinnati Blues Festival, giving stage life to their soulful songs. From there, they ventured into everything from dirty love tunes to Motown. From scorching Jazz keys to traditional, sweltering, porch-rocking Mama’s Blues. In one year, The Blue Shivers created 30 original songs, winning recording time at the Cincinnati Blues Challenge.
Hickey explains, “We’re not afraid to venture into other styles, but we’re not afraid to use the Blues if that’s what we need to project the sound. We all have a degree of experience with bands and we listen to each other.”
Palermo returns from a smoke. “It’s strange how quickly it comes together. You’d have to be there to see it.” Roxy nods, agreeing. “We always leave (rehearsal) closer to our dreams coming true.”
Westerman fixes his fedora. Quiet, Boltin grins secretively.
Next step, the studio for a full-length CD. As for the live version, they all agree — no trouble, no tricks, one take, rapid fire.
THE BLUE SHIVERS (myspace.com/blueshivers) play Boswell Alley in Northside this Saturday.