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CRAMMED HEAT : The Massive, Jumping Sound Packed Into Roomful of Blues Is Real Star Power

May 02, 1991|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

Roomful of Blues is one band that has no problem living up to its name.

Actually, Houseful might be more appropriate.

For more than 20 years, the versatile nine-piece band from Rhode Island has been earning respect in blues, R&B and roots-rock circles.

Known for its five-man horn section and its accomplished piano and guitar soloists, Roomful musters a massive, jumping sound that is an authentic extension of rhythm and blues music's roots in the swinging, rocking big-band styles of the '30s and '40s.

The Roomful style actually ranges through many rooms, from big-band swing to straight-ahead Chicago blues, from bouncing New Orleans R&B rhythms to flat-out '50s rock 'n' roll.

That versatile approach has allowed Roomful to keep some varied and illustrious company. Doc Pomus was a Roomful fan and co-produced several of its albums. Stevie Ray Vaughan was a frequent jamming partner when his and Roomful's touring schedules coincided. Stevie's older brother, Jimmie, admired Roomful so much that he kept hiring Roomful veterans for his own band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

The T-Birds' current lineup includes three Roomful alumni--founding guitarist Duke Robillard, drummer Fran Christina, and bassist Preston Hubbard. Cesar Rosas, David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos all turned up to jam on Roomful's most recent release, a 1987 live album.

During the '80s, Roomful made a habit of collaborating with some of the seminal figures of R&B music, recording albums with saxophonist Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer Big Joe Turner, and Earl King, a key player in the development of New Orleans R&B music. Each of those albums received a Grammy nomination in the best traditional blues album category.

It thus comes as not too big a surprise that Pat Benatar, trying to make the leap from pop-rock diva to blues singer, would turn to Roomful of Blues. Benatar and Neil Giraldo, her husband and record producer, hired the Roomful horn section, and the band's drummer, John Rossi, to lend her new "True Love" album some punchy swing, not to mention an air of authenticity that someone without blues credentials might well want to cultivate.

In a recent interview, Roomful's leader, Greg Piccolo, said that the collaboration is working two ways: Giraldo is producing the next Roomful album, with an eye toward landing the band a major label deal. Meanwhile, Rossi and the Roomful horns are getting ready to back Benatar on her upcoming tour.

While Roomful has toured tirelessly over the years, its show at the Coach House marks the band's Orange County debut.

Who: Roomful of Blues.

When: Friday, May 3, at 9 p.m. With Canned Heat featuring Harvey Mandel.

Where: The Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano.

Whereabouts: San Diego Freeway to the San Juan Creek Road exit. Left onto Camino Capistrano. The Coach House is in the Esplanade Center.

Wherewithal: $17.50.

Where to call: (714) 496-8930.

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