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Minivan Blues Band Returns

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When the Minivan Blues Band hits the Hi-Tone Café stage this weekend to celebrate the release of its second album, Dancing With the Devil Once Again, it will be an event a long time in the making. The eclectic local roots band debuted in 2003 with the album Lifelong Turbulation and went into Easley Recording in 2005 to record a follow-up album.

As with many other local bands, a fire at Easley forced a change of plans. The band was able to salvage some of its Easley work, which it took to Willie Mitchell's Royal Studio for mixing, but that material never surfaced. Then, in 2007, singer/guitarist Joe Schicke moved from Memphis to Fort Collins, Colorado, for graduate school.

According to Schicke, the band has only played a handful of gigs since his move, but the recent "reunion" shows went well enough that the band decided to record a set last fall at the Hi-Tone Café, recruiting friend Dawn Hopkins of Beale Street Caravan to help.

"We lost our drummer about three days before the show," says Schicke of the November 2009 gig that ended up becoming the band's second album. "But the practices had gone really well. When Dawn came out before the show and asked if it was going to be a CD, I said yeah."

And so it was. The Minivan Blues Band captured on this live document is a little different from the version on Lifelong Turbulation, though the personnel is mostly the same.

"We were a more acoustic band back then," Schicke says. "More of a folk band. We've turned into more of a rock band now. But we still have an acoustic element. We may do an acoustic set [at the release show]."

With Schicke sharing songwriting and/or vocal duties with bandmates Jonathan Ciaramitaro, James Ray, and JD Westmoreland, the band draws on blues, bluegrass, and classic rock. Harry Peel came on as drummer shortly before recording the album and remains.

"We just like old, American-style music, though we come from slightly different places," Schicke says. "JD comes from more of a jazz background. I played in Memphis blues bands. I played on Beale Street with the Reba Russell Band. Jonathan is more into country blues. And James is probably the most modern in that he really likes stuff more from the 1960s and '70s."

With the diverse roots-music approach and the multiplicity of vocals, a key influence seems to be classic-rock stalwarts the Band, though the Minivan Blues Band lacks the same piano/organ musical foundation.

Their music is mostly original, but the band tends to draw from local and regional sources for outside material. Dancing With the Devil Once Again opens with Willie Mitchell's "That Driving Beat" and brings back Mississippi-bred bluesman J.B. Lenoir's "The Whale Has Swallowed Me Whole," which also was featured on Lifelong Turbulation. There's also a cover of Memphis alt-rocker Lorette Velvette's "God Forsaken Town."

"I'd never heard of Lorette Velvette," Schicke says. "Jonathan came up with that. He likes her and [her band] the Hellcats. He listens to that kind of stuff. I really like the song."

The new album's release — and release concert — coincides with Schicke's spring break, though he sounds as if he'd like to focus more on the band.

"I've got about a year left [in grad school]," Schicke says. "I would really love to move back, because I miss Memphis music."

The Minivan Blues Band celebrates the release of Dancing With the Devil Once Again Friday, March 19th, at the Hi-Tone Café. Showtime is 7 p.m. Admission is $7.

Music Notes: Memphis organ master Charlie Wood has spent much of the past couple of years in England but will be home this week for a rare local concert. Wood plays the Memphis Jewish Community Center Thursday, March 18th, at 6 p.m. Dinner will be provided for the cost of $15 for center members and $20 for nonmembers. There's a $5 cover charge for the concert only. ... Goner Records is having a Grizzlies "watch party" at the Hi-Tone Café Wednesday, March 24th. The team's West Coast road game against the Golden State Warriors will be on the club's televisions, and live music will be provided by Jack Oblivian & the Tennessee Tearjerkers.

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