The weather is seasonably chilly this December 9, 2016 evening in New Brunswick, NJ. As we leave the warm glow of our restaurant on Albany Street, put on our gloves and hats, and make our way down blustery George Street, we enjoy the festive outdoor Christmas decorations, the live music coming out of the pubs, and the hustle and bustle of people as they get ready to celebrate the holiday season.
When we arrive at New Brunswick’s historic State Theatre, we feel a tinge of excitement as we see the bright marquee announcing tonight’s performance by the iconic jazz-rock band, Blood, Sweat and Tears featuring American Idol finalist Bo Bice.
Inside the lobby, fans of this group’s incredible catalog of music are lining up to enjoy the latest incarnation of a band that’s been popular for nearly a half-century. And, in fact, it’s been precisely 49 years since drummer/music producer Bobby Colomby and several of his musical friends started Blood, Sweat and Tears — one of the first groups to successfully blend the musical styles of rock and jazz.
The idea for Blood, Sweat and Tears was originally conceived by keyboardist Al Kooper in 1967. Kooper had been toying with the notion of forming an electric rock band that would include horns and use jazz as the basis for their sound, just as groups like The Buckinghams and the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra had recently begun to do.
In New York City, Kooper found three musicians interested in working with him on his musical experiment — drummer Bobby Colomby, bassist Jim Fielder, and guitarist Steve Katz, in addition to a top-flight horn section including jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker.
The new group signed to Columbia Records, and the name “Blood, Sweat and Tears” reportedly came to Kooper after a performance at NYC’s Cafe au Go Go, where a cut on his hand left Kooper’s organ keyboard covered in blood.
BS&T released their debut LP, Child is Father to the Man, in 1968, an album which is now considered one of Rolling Stone Magazine’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
One thing that Child is Father to the Man didn’t have back in 1968, however, was a hit single to get AM radio airplay and help drive sales. For this reason and more, Kooper and Brecker left the band in 1968 and Colomby and Katz went to work on developing a new lineup of musicians for the group. For their lead singer, they chose dynamic Canadian vocalist David Clayton-Thomas.
With this new edition of Blood, Sweat and Tears featuring Clayton-Thomas, Colomby, and Katz, the group released its 1969 self-titled album, Blood, Sweat and Tears. The album’s first single, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” catapulted to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and also lifted the album to the top of the Album chart.
More hits like “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die” followed, and the rest is history — over the next half-century, Blood, Sweat & Tears went on to become one of the most popular touring acts of all time.
But does the group still contain any of its original members?
“Not a chance,” recently stated Colomby, who last performed with BS&T in 1976, but still oversees the musical direction of the group.
“I think of this band like baseball’s Yankees,” explains Colomby. “When you’re at a Yankee game you’re not going to see Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, or Lou Gehrig. What you do come to expect is a team of top-notch players upholding a tradition of winning. That’s the Yankee legacy. It is what people expect from BS&T as well… brilliant musicians, singers, songs, and arrangements.”
All told, it’s estimated there have been approximately 140 members of Blood, Sweat and Tears!
The current line-up of the band includes such talented musicians as Dylan Elise on drums, Glen McClelland on keyboards, Ric Fierabracci on bass, Dave Gellis on guitar, Brad Mason on trumpet, Dan Levine on trombone, Ken Gioffre on sax and flute, and Carl Fischer as musical director and lead trumpeter.
In addition, on vocals, Blood, Sweat and Tears currently features a southern rock singer with a great stage presence whom audiences everywhere recognize from his appearances on TV’s American Idol — Bo Bice.
According to Colomby, “During the early years of… American Idol, I received many phone calls from friends telling me to check out singer Bo Bice, saying that his was a fresh voice and that he did a masterful job singing ‘Spinning Wheel.’”
“Many of my more musically knowledgable buddies also suggested that I ask Bo to join the band. I’m pleased to say that’s exactly what happened and by the reaction of audiences world wide, it was a great match.”
And by the reaction of the fans here at The State Theatre in New Brunswick, they heartily agree!
As Blood, Sweat and Tears hits the stage running with a powerhouse version of their 1970 hit, “Lucretia MacEvil,” the audience cheers, particularly when they first hear the resonating voice of the group’s lead vocalist and frontman, Bo Bice!
Gone is the long hair Bice was known for during his days on Season 4 of American Idol when he came in second to country singer Carrie Underwood, but he still has that big expressive voice.
Egging on the crowd with the “MacEvil” lyric, “What you gonna do?,” Bice points to BS&T’s stellar horn section as their brilliant cascading horn riffs trumpet out through the State Theatre auditorium.
“Children of all ages,” Bice announces, “Welcome to Blood, Sweat and Tears!”
Light streams in shafts and bounces off the gleaming BS&T horns as they’re featured groovin’ to the rhythm section on a tight instrumental piece. Then, Bice settles in to chat with the audience, telling them that New Brunswick’s State Theatre has been around since 1929 — “a little bit older than me,” he jokes — to the crowd’s applause.
Moving on to a mighty version of “Go Down Gamblin’,” the band features ace guitarist Dave Gellis. As Gellis performs, his playing seems to drift off into another dimension as the rest of the band feeds off of his solo, sturdily backing him up to the audience’s delight.
Next up is Carole King’s “Hi De Ho,” a Top 20 hit for BS&T in 1970. Hearing the signature brass fanfare at the beginning of the song gives the crowd chills. Then, commanding the stage with his larger-than-life voice, Bice makes this classic song his own, finding his own “piece of the sky” with this audience of adoring fans.
Reminding the crowd that Blood, Sweat and Tears has been together “since 1967,” Bice — who was born in 1975 — quips, “If you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t there!” Then, after telling the audience some of the history of the group — for instance, about their 1969 performance at Woodstock, and announcing that, coming up in 2017, the band will celebrate its Golden Anniversary — Bice goes on to proclaim that in his opinion, this musical group has had some of the “greatest rhythm monsters” of all time.
And as if to prove a point, the group moves on to a highly rhythmic — and bluesy — version of the Child Is Father of the Man tune, “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” on which audience members’ heads bop — some with their eyes closed — as they groove to the playing of this talented new roster of players.
As Bice sings with his heart and soul, “I love you baby, more than you’ll ever know/More than you’ll ever know,” the crowd claps and cheers. Then, instrumentalists Ric Fierabracci on bass and Ken Gioffre on sax take over, creating an interplay where they growl together — the talent from each musician pouring out from the stage, inspiring the crowd.
Coming up next is a stellar version of Traffic’s “Smiling Phases,” Bice’s staccato voice punctuating the lyrics, “You’ll be amazed at the gaze on their faces as they sentence you,” clearly communicating his interpretation of the song’s message: “Life is what you make it!”
Moving through shifting meters and textures, the band runs away with the tune as keyboardist Glen McClelland enthusiastically rocks — a bit too literally, however! — as to everyone’s shock and amazement, his tower of keyboards comes crashing to the ground!
At this point, drummer Dylan Elise immediately goes into an impromptu extended drum solo as four roadies take the stage in an attempt to reconstruct McClelland’s keyboard set-up.
Twirling his drumsticks like a juggler, Elise plays his heart out as the audience members — together with the rest of the band — enthusiastically cheer him on!
After a few moments, the keyboard set-up is fixed and all of the instrumentalists — including McLellan — come right back into the song like clockwork starting with the familiar horn fanfare. Ironically, they are immediately followed by Bice who reenters the tune singing, “Get yourself together/Give before you take/You’ll find out the hard way/Soon you’re gonna break!”
Telling the audience, “He destroyed it! He did a ‘Hendrix’ to his keyboard. This is rock and roll!” Bice and the band move on to a soulful version of their blues number, “Mercy,” Bice dancing on stage with his mike stand “begging for mercy.”
Bo announces to the crowd that, over the years, Blood, Sweat and Tears has been “nominated for ten Grammys” and “won three.” He introduces saxophonist Ken Geoffrey, now featured on flute, and accompanied on guitar by Dave Gellis. Together, they perform a stunningly beautiful version of the opening number from Blood, Sweat and Tears, ”Variations on a Theme By Erik Satie (1st and 2nd Movements).”
The audience is entranced with this rendition of a classical piece which transitions into BS&T’s famous cover version of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.” On this number, Bice soulfully sings punctuated by a swirling organ pad and tasty brass licks. Then, the group switches things over to a samba beat and features solos by Dan Levine on trombone, Carl Fischer and Brad Mason on trumpets, Ken Gioffre on sax, and Dan Levine on trombone, not to mention solid rhythm playing by drummer Dylan Elise and guitarist Dave Gellis.
“I need some help with this next one,” announces Bice. With audience members’ hands clapping and feet tapping, the group launches into a thrilling cover version of Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die,” Bice authoritatively singing, “And when I die and when I’m gone/There’ll be one child born in this world to carry on, to carry on.”
Segueing straight into BS&T’s monster hit from 1969, “Spinning Wheel,” the band performs an amped-up, yet stunningly accurate live version of the original recording. As the crowd wildly approves, Bice explains, “This is not a prerecorded show! We don’t play with a track, Jack!”
Moving on to their final song for the evening, Bice announces, “We love the fans who have kept us on the road for 50 years,” going on to reveal, “I’m a Blood, Sweat and Tears fan, too!” to which one excited audience member cries out, “We love you, Bo!”
To conclude the show, BS&T plays a song which earned them a gold record back in 1969 — “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” — the audience smiling as Bice croons just for them, “I’m so glad you came into my life.”
Following a rousing standing ovation, Bo and the group return to the stage with a soulful cover version of The Allman Brothers’ Southern rock classic, “Midnight Rider.”
The crowd at the State Theatre goes wild and Bice excitedly thanks them, saying, “Tell them to have us back!”
Going on to note, “There are lots of songs that people think Blood, Sweat and Tears wrote… but they didn’t,” Bice then jokingly imitates a generic fan when he rhetorically asks himself, “Are you gonna play ‘25 or 6 to 4’”?
As the audience chuckles, Bice and the boys play a song from 1970 which, purportedly, was the fastest-selling single in Warner Brothers Records history — Bice saying, “We’re gonna take it for a ride.” At this point, they perform a knock-your-socks-off rendition of The Ides of March’s “Vehicle,” taking the audience “everywhere” they “want to go” — notably straight to their feet!
With smiles on their lips, the happy audience exits the theater, talking about their experience enjoying this newest line-up of Blood, Sweat and Tears talent.
“It was FUN!” exclaims Robert who traveled all the way from Kingston, RI, for this evening’s performance.
A longtime follower of the group, Robert received a message from his wife, Kathy, this morning saying, “Can you get off early today? We’re going to New Jersey!”
Kathy loved the concert, too, declaring, “Bo Bice was awesome! They all were, really!”
Lori and Chris are a couple who reside in nearby East Brunswick, NJ. They were just married six months ago and their wedding song was Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.” As a result, they decided to come to this concert to hear “their song… live.”
And just how was it?
“Incredible!” asserts Lori. “I mean… what’s better than hearing ‘our band’ singing ‘our song’ just for us?”
And Chris chimes in, “It was fantastic! The brass is so dynamic and exuberant, and Bo Bice has an incredible voice — he really kept the crowd going!”
We also chat with a few of the members of Blood, Sweat and Tears who weigh in with their own personal opinions regarding this captivating night of music in the Garden State.
Guitarist Dave Gellis, for example, tells us about his “Jersey connection,” revealing “I love New Jersey! I LIVE in New Jersey!”
Gellis, who says he’s “toured the world many times over with Blood, Sweat and Tears for the past 31 years,” explains that he just retired from the band in March. This evening, however, he was asked to come back and “fill in” on guitar.
Although there are no original members of the group touring today — “they are in their mid- to upper-seventies now,” explains Gellis — Blood, Sweat and Tears has featured a “workshop of musicians over the years.” According to Gellis, these musical talents have included such legends as Jaco Pastorius on bass and Mike Stern on guitar.
“They get the brightest, most sparkling players,” he affirms, because, for this organization, “it’s all about the treatment of the music — keeping the flame alive.”
We additionally chat with lead singer Bo Bice who talks about performing here at the State Theatre saying, "This is a beautiful venue — there’s so much history to it — and New Brunswick is a cool little town, too.”
Lastly, as we make our way out of the warm venue back onto chilly and festive George Street, we come upon BS&T trombonist Dan Levine standing directly below the bright State Theatre marquee.
“I love playing here in New Jersey,” exclaims Levine. “It’s great!” going on to emphasize with a twinkle in his eye, “New Jersey is the BEST!”
For more on upcoming performances by Blood, Sweat and Tears featuring American Idol’s Bo Bice please go to bloodsweatandtears.com. For more on future events at the State Theatre — including Melissa Etheridge on Jan. 13, 2017, Air Supply on Feb. 26, 2017, and The Beach Boys on March 31, 2017 — please go to www.statetheatrenj.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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