“It’s our interpretation,” says vocalist/guitarist Dorsey from the patio of the Northside home/rehearsal space he shares with his girlfriend, JDBR keyboardist/ vocalist Kristen Kreft. “We want something that sounds new but that comes from an old place.”
Further clarification can be found on the debut Blues Revival CD, Get Right Church, currently in stores and online. The disc is a stunning evocation of the energy and diversity that the Blues Revival — Dorsey, Kreft, bassist Mike Gregory and drummer Andrew Karas — brings to studio and stage alike, fueled by every imaginable Blues influence and translated with a raw, soulful edge that incorporates Psychedelia, Hard Rock and chicken-wire roadhouse energy.
“I think you have to break apart where everybody comes from musically,” Kreft says. “Mugsy (Gregory) comes from Punk and Country, so he adds something other than traditional Blues. I was trained in musical theater and come from an R&B/Soul thing. Josh has a whole AC/DC love of Hard Rock and then Andrew (listens to) Hip Hop. You add that all together with the core idea of the respect and the love and the desire to play the Blues.”
After stints with Heevahava and The Thirteens, Dorsey assembled his own group four years ago, starting as a Delta Blues-directed duo with drummer Adam Shelton that he christened simply the J. Dorsey Blues Band.
“It started out with the idea of being a working band, a band that played as much as it could,” Dorsey says. “Kristen joined, then Mugsy. Adam split and we got Andrew and it just evolved into more original stuff and a more original sound, just taking it to the next level sonically.”
As the physical and conceptual composition of the band shifted, the quartet began to think differently about its sound, presentation and influences.
The one thing that didn’t change was the band’s work ethic.
“Let me tell you, they were a working band when I started,” says Gregory, wryly. “The first goddamn gig I played was at Junie’s (at the Southgate House) for like three sets; I thought I was going to keel over. I’m not used to that kind of work. I’m a 40-minutes-and-you’re-off kind of guy.”
With the recording and release of the CD, the idea of shifting from Blues Band to Blues Revival took shape. In fact, the change is multileveled.
Dorsey and his brother had a band in their native Pennsylvania called Big Daddy’s Blues Revival, and Dorsey renamed his band as an homage to that group. And, as Kreft points out, there’s the dual meaning of revival (“As in trying to revive the Blues,” she notes while pantomiming CPR), perhaps the better choice since Blues Resuscitation doesn’t roll off the tongue.
“We decided we needed something extra,” Kreft says. “When I hear ‘Blues Band,’ I think of exactly what we’re not. I think of smooth Blues or cruise-ship Blues, and that’s not what we do. We write our own songs. It clearly has the flavor of every influence, but it’s not been smoothed over. We’re keeping it raw and bringing back the dirtiness and the realness of what the Blues is supposed to be.”
Perhaps the most crucial ingredient in the Blues Revival is each member’s breadth of experience. The band’s raw sound channels their individual résumés, from Dorsey’s Thirteens/ Heevahava gigs to Kreft doing her own burlesque cabaret thing as well as backing vocals for Kenny Smith, Abiyah and Pearlene. Gregory has a rich history with bands like The Reduced, Human Zoo, The Thangs and The Thirteens among many others, while the younger Karas did time with Airwave (his parents’ band), The Nati Kings and The Lab Jackets, as well as Hip Hop production for Moxy and the late B Chubb.
“Josh has exposed me to all kinds of craziness that I never knew about before,” Karas says. “I’ve dug pretty much all of it.”
“And he’s turned him onto some good music, too,” Gregory says.
There is an element of sad sweetness to the release of Get Right Church. The disc opens with “Old Gods,” an unrecorded track written by the late Sam Nation, friend and bandmate to both Dorsey and Gregory before his untimely passing in a car accident three years ago. Dorsey and the Blues Revival gave the archive track their characteristic spin as a tribute to their fallen comrade.
“I’d known Sam since he first moved to the area,” Dorsey says. “We were best friends and roommates and always played music together. That was a song he wrote when he first moved here. He never played it with The Thirteens, but I always remembered it being cool. The whole make-it-like-a-Stones-song was because we both loved that kind of Stones/Faces kind of stuff, and I just wanted to try to make it so he would approve if he were here.”
J. DORSEY BLUES REVIVAL plays the MidPoint Music Festival at 11 p.m. Saturday at the Southgate House Ballroom. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get MPMF details here.