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Make that another round of Blues Funk: Blinddog Smokin’ returns to Five Rocks
August 20, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez

The Grammy nominated Blinddog Smokin returns to Gering on August 26 in a featured fundraiser by Soroptimist International of Scotts Bluff County.

Silver-haired front man Carl Gustafson, is known as a storyteller, and his compatriots the band members of Blinddog Smokin’ are like kids around a campfire.

“All the songs – all original music – have intriguing tales,” said the band leader of the Grammy nominated L.A.-based Blues Funk group coming to Gering for a second time to play at Five Rocks Amphitheatre. The band will light up the stage on August 26, and for a good cause. Soroptimist International of Scotts Bluff County is raising funds to support programs benefitting women and girls in our community.

“The music is made up of our stories, the way we want to tell them,” Carl said, in a low gravelly voice. “You don’t hear any cover tunes. Our music is profound, that’s the most important part. The grinding way we play gets us those big powerful rhythms, the dynamic swells, the lyrics – the stories are the reasons for the songs that people get behind. It has an emotional impact on the listener.”

Last year, after Blinddog Smokin’ played music from its 2015 CD “High Steppin’” at Five Rocks, band members considered that concert to be one of the two most fun shows they ever did. “That was the consensus,” Carl said. “The interaction was about as good as it gets. That kind of exhilaration is a rare human occurrence when you can have that kind of high at a concert. The other concert was at Blues venue the Zoo Bar in Lincoln, Nebraska. So, I guess you could say, Nebraska holds the two top spots.”

The band also plans to film this year’s performance. “We’re going to put a lot of money into the biggest, best video we’ve ever produced in the band’s entire 24-year history – three cameras, 24 audio tracks – so concert goers, be prepared to do a lot of yelling and screaming, and come on down to the stage.” The band’s premiere video two years ago was produced by actor Al Pacino’s daughter Julie. Scottsbluff’s Becky Hughes McMillen and her media company, Insight Creative Independent Productions of Scottsbluff, plans to produce this latest one.

As a Grammy nominee in 2015, the band has walked the red carpet and recorded with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dr. John, and has played in venues in every state, except Maine and Alaska, which Gustafson said, are on “the band’s bucket list.” One summer, they crisscrossed the country, including Canada, prompting “Southland Blues,” a California-based publication which follows popular Blues bands, to place them on the cover, calling Blinddog Smokin’ America’s Road Warriors. In 1998, the band played 320 gigs in 1998, spending only two weeks of the year at home. “It’s hard to keep a wife or girlfriend unless they’re part of the band,” Gustafson said.

Continuing their travelling ways, the band will travel to Wisconsin, Kansas and Wyoming in the few weeks prior to arriving in Gering.

The band came into being because of “a unique opportunity,” Carl said. “There was some huge contest in Denver in 1993 put on by the Department of Defense. The winners went on tour for two months to play 44 gigs in a 49-city tour of the Mediterranean,” Carl said. “Myself, and three other guys decided to enter, though we weren’t a band. We got three songs together and won the contest, beating bands from all over the Midwest. We went on a fantastic tour, making stops including Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Greece, Crete, Sicily, Germany, Spain, Lampadusa, Italy (Rome and the Carnival in Venice). That’s how Blinddog became a band. “I’m the only one left from the original band,” Carl said.

The band’s name was a different story. In 1986, in a film called “Crossroads,” actor Ralph Macchio of Karate Kid fame played young guitarist Eugene Martone who broke an old musician named Willie Brown aka Blinddog Fulton, a Blues performer, out of an old folks prison with the aim of tracking down a song written by Fulton’s associate and Blues legend Robert Johnson. The latter had purportedly sold his soul to the Devil. “Well, we couldn’t just be Blinddog. So, we asked how people described the band, and most people said “that our ‘band is smokin’.”

Gustafson is joined by Chicago Chuck Gullens, Roland “Junior” Bacon aka Roland Pritzker, Mo Beeks, Chris White, Chalo Ortiz, Linda Gustafson, and Fabian Chavez.

Chicago Chuck joined at 22 in 1994, and has been with the band since. He was playing with the University of Wyoming marching band, and symphony orchestra when Blinddog recruited him. Carl said Gullens quit college in his senior year, and never looked back.

In April 2000, Junior Bacon joined after the original bass player was injured in an automobile accident. “We ran bass player ads in music magazines, and he auditioned,” Carl said.

In 2008, Mo Beeks, 70, joined. He played keyboards with Ike and Tina Turner, then later with BB King, and he was the band leader for Chaka Khan when she started her singing career. “He has one of the most beautiful voices,” said Carl, who turned 70 on August 16. “In the life of a musician, they say you age three days in one night, so make every hour count,” he said.

Beeks, as the keyboard player, was nicknamed the ‘comp king,’ which, in music terms means he compliments what everyone else is doing. In Carl’s words, “he fills in the gaps, giving rise to a fatter sound.”

Seven years ago, two other members joined Blinddog. The band recruited guitar player Chalo Ortiz, 31, from L.A. His experience included playing in the same neighborhoods as Los Lobos and Santana, and he has on occasion played with those groups. “He’s our East L.A. Homeboy,” Carl said.

In the same year, the band picked up a second bass player in Chris White who also sings and dances. Also hailing from L.A., Carl said “he runs everything. We nicknamed him Captain Do-It-All because he runs all our tour management.”

Four years ago, Linda Gustafson, Carl’s wife, joined the band as a backup singer, and dancer as “the battery of the band. She gives us a big lift with her energy, and a big beautiful smile.”

Within the last year, Fabian Chavez, 23, was added. “Another LA homeboy. He and Chalo, when they want to do a Latin number, we give them the floor,” Carl said, adding that Chavez composes, plays saxophone and clarinet, percussion, drums, sings and dances.

About two weeks ago in Boulder, Colorado, the band wrapped up recording its latest not-yet-released CD “Blinddogify,” which contains eleven new, original, tunes. The band will perform some of the songs live for the first time at Five Rocks. Titles include Amarillo Slim, Hooked on the Look, Bit by the Dog, and Going Down Below, which Gustafson described as “a song about struggling with human nature to do the right thing – a really dramatic song.”

Carl and bassist Bacon, who write most the band’s songs, look forward to performing a song called Blind Faith, which Bacon will sing publicly for the first time at Five Rocks. “He’s a beautiful singer, and no one had realized it,” he said.

All the music is based on stories from our experiences travelling the world. Carl said, “Performing in 28 countries, we’ve seen a lot.”

The gate opens at 6 p.m. for food and spirits provided by Steel Grill and Mac’s Gourmet BBQ. A preshow will begin at 6:30 p.m., with the Blinddogs taking the stage at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the gate. Tickets are available at ABC Nursery, KNEB, Star-Herald, Platte Valley Bank (Circle Dr. and Gering locations), Gering Citizen, and from individual Soroptimist members.
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