In the Pocket with THE BLUE OG’s • Best Blues Band of 2020

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Review Music Awards,   From Issue 898   By: Robert E Martin

25th June, 2020     0

One of the many pleasant surprises at this year’s 34th Annual Review Music Awards was the earnest support from fans and voters to The Blue OG’s, who secured the honor of being voted Best Blues Band in the Great Lakes Bay Region.  

Although newcomers to the scene as the band was formed only one year ago; their selection was not surprising in the sense each member has helped define and shape the sound of the Mid-Michigan area for many decades.

Drummer & vocalist Tom Dolson cut his teeth back in the early 1980s with such seminal groups as The Flies and Johnny & the Boomers; and has proven himself a formidable force in the world of Blues working with such local luminaries as guitarist Matt Besey and Drew Pentkowski in the TNT Blues Band, most recently performing with Michael Brush in The Fabulous Retreads and John Krogman in Rustbucket.

Bassist Dr. Jack Nash and powerhouse guitarist Dennis Gottlieb have also performed in the region for several decades, Nash working with The Blues Fusion as well as Question Mark & the Mysterians co-founder Bobby Balderama in The Robert Lee Revue, while Gottlieb enjoys an equally storied past, having worked with Tim Grefe and most recently helping shape the sound as guitarist for The Fabulous Retreads.

The idea for The Blue OG’s (OG, by the way, stands for ‘Old Guys’) germinated when Dennis and Tom were working together in The Fabulous Retreads. “Tom and I got to know one another pretty well during the Retreads,”explains Dennis, “and then everything started drifting apart with that group, so Tom came up to me and said ‘Let’s do something.’ Jack showed up one night when we were playing at Bourbon & Co. and sat in and after that we all decided to pull a blues trio together.” 

The band’s first gig as The Blue OG’s happened at White’s Bar on a Sunday afternoon from 3 to 5 PM. “Maybe a couple tables showed up, but then each week it started growing with more family and friends showing it up,” continues Gottlieb. “Eventually it go to the point where everybody was standing around the walls it was so packed.”

What makes the sound of the band so powerful is that lean configuration of a musical trio, which requires focus, professionalism, and experience to properly pull off. With the tight and seamless rhythm section provided by Dolson & Nash, guitarist Gottlieb has the latitude to soar upon the foundation laid out for him.

“Basically, we’re a hard rockin’ old school classic type of blues music,”, reflects Gottlieb when asked how he would distinguish the band’s sound. “Plus, I don’t like to do songs the same way every time and prefer flying by the seat of my pants. Every song we do will not sound identical to the way we did it before.”

With such a lean configuration and a fat sound, this also allows latitude for featuring several guest musicians, who often stop in on a Sunday to perform and sit-in with the trio. “We have a lot of people come to sit in with us during our performances,” notes Dolson. “Johnny VanBenschoten, Denny Cox, Ron Tucker, Mel Curry, Annie Lutenske, and Jeff Scott have all stopped by at various times to perform with us, which also adds to the overall sound.  It’s just a fun gig.”

As for musical influences, Dennis Gottlieb says his guitar playing is mostly informed by the ‘3 Kings: Freddie, B.B., and Albert King, adding that he also enjoys Little Milton quite a lot. Tommy Dolson cites early Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall. “A lot of the rock stuff I listened to when I was a kid I didn’t realize was Blues influenced until I started listening to Muddy Waters. And the only rock drummer I really liked was John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. Apart from that my main influence was Buddy Rich. He’s the greatest drummer of all time. Nobody is as good as him.”

Jack Nash points to earlier Blues artists as Paul Butterfield and Duck Dunn.  “I started playing guitar when I was 14-years old and studied under Jack Bruske at Gridley Music,” he notes, “A few months later I was with this band that wanted to do material by The Ventures and needed a bass player. I started playing bass on guitar and then ditched the guitar and got an actual bass.  But I really do love Duck Dunn because he knew what his job was. He wasn’t a bass player trying to be a lead guitar player. He stayed in the pocket and that’s what I try to do. I grew up on hard blues, so it’s the only thing I like to play.”

 “One thing I feel distinguishes our sound is that there is nothing forced about it,” notes Dennis. “It’s .a natural sound, which I feel is why people respond so strongly.”  Nash confirm this notion: “It sounds good and feels good because all the parts are flowing together.  I sat in with Tommy back when he was playing with TNT and feel that Tom and I know our jobs. The drummer and bass player are the rhythm section, so I think of myself as part of the percussion more than as a guitarist. I see where Tom is going and then compliment it with different chords and stuff.” 

With the COVID lockdown in effect over the past several months, the group is attempting to use the down-time proactively. “Jack and I have been working on songs,” states Dennis. “We’re figuring out Frankensteinby Edgar Winter.”    I can’t sit and play my drums at home sessions because nobody wants to sit and listen to that,” adds Dolson, “so I’ve been using an electronic drum kit to keep my chops up. I put on my MP3 player and listen to whatever new material I want to learn.” As for Nash, “I have a bass at my office and a computer, so I go back over songs on Tom’s set list and have been polishing them up.”

What about originals? Has the group got any of their own material set to unveil to fans?  

“I’ve written a couple of songs with TNT Blues Band, but haven’t approached the OG’s about doing them,” states Tommy. “One song I wrote with John Krogman, and I wrote a couple back in the day with Bruce Crawley - both nice songs. One is called Life Ain’t Worth Livin’ and the other is called ‘Last Side of the Sun’. Two happy songs by Tom Dolson about dying,” he smiles.  

As for Dennis, he says his specialty is coming up with riffs as opposed to songs. “I’m like Don Felder of The Eagles - I just do the riffs while the other guys put the songs together.”

“I hope we can get back to the live shows,” concludes Dennis. “It’s exhilarating playing with these two guys. We’ve gotten pretty good after 50 years of practice!”




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