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VALLEY WEEKEND | ROCKTALK

Blues Band From Windy City Blows Into Town : Howard & the White Boys, winners of a KLON national talent search, play in the style of Buddy Guy. They perform in Studio City this weekend.

February 08, 1996|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An honest-to-goodness Chicago blues band is coming to Smokin' Johnnie's in Studio City this weekend.

Howard & the White Boys were the winners of KLON-FM's 1995 National Blues Talent Search and earned a slot at the station's Long Beach Blues Festival last year alongside Otis Rush, Dr. John and other big-name acts. But that's nothing new for this Windy City group.

The band plays regularly at blues man Buddy Guy's Chicago nightclub, Legends, where it has opened for many top blues performers. The group has been together since 1988, when the members first met at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. The band consists of singer-bassist Howard McCullum, guitarist-harpist Dan Bellini, drummer Jim Christopulos and guitarist Rocco Calipari.

"A lot of blues bands are just one guy and some sidemen," says Bellini, who also doubles as business manager for the band. "We're unique in that we're a real band, everything is democratically voted on."

The relatively young group (all the members are in their early 30s) has been influenced by such artists as B.B. King, Albert King, Freddy King, Albert Collins, James Cotton and George Smith, but they pattern themselves after Buddy Guy, Bellini says.

"We have the same approach to the blues as Buddy Guy," Bellini says. "We're striving to do what he's doing. The way he plays a set, the energy and the styles of blues he plays. And we appeal to the same type of blues fan."

Howard & the White Boys released their first CD, "Strung Out on the Blues," in 1994 on Mighty Tiger Records, a Los Angeles-based independent label. The band is currently touring Southern California, will go to Hawaii, and then it's back to Chicago.

Bellini still sounds excited when he talks about when the band started playing alongside some of the blues giants whose records he had listened to when he first started playing guitar. After playing at Legends the first few times, Guy started going onstage to jam with the band, Bellini says.

"That still freaks me out--'I'm tradin' licks with Buddy Guy'--it's an incredible experience," Bellini says.

* Howard & The White Boys at 9 p.m. Saturday at Smokin' Johnnie's, 11720 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. No cover. Call (818) 760-6631.

A Safe Place: Margot Rose sees the monthly songwriters series she's started at Ovations in North Hollywood as serving two purposes. First, it gives the audiences a chance to hear what's new in local original music in an informal setting for a reasonable price. And second, it gives songwriters like herself a safe place to work on new material before a live audience.

"It's more important for me to have a place that's friendly and supportive to work out new material," Rose says. "The L.A. music scene can get really nuts. You need something positive like this. It makes you able to face the other dragons."

Rose and two other women songwriters, Lisa Harlow Stark and Teresa Tudury, are slated to perform this Friday. Rose is an actor as well as a songwriter. She originated the role of Alice in "I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road" in New York and came with the show to Los Angeles in the early 1980s. Since then, she's had a busy career as an actor, working in local theater plus feature films and episodic television. During that time, she has also worked as a singer-songwriter in various clubs in the Los Angeles area.

The performers being showcased are not booked on the basis of industry interest or word-of-mouth on the street, but rather are judged by Rose to be playing interesting, enjoyable and thoughtful music that's not available at Tower Records.

* Songwriters Margot Rose, Lisa Harlow Stark and Teresa Tudury will perform their own material at 8 p.m. Friday at Ovations, 12747 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. $10 cover. Call (818) 506-1277.

Keep On Running: For Spencer Davis, who's playing at Mancini's on Sunday, a lot of good things are happening in 1996. Island Records is releasing the Spencer Davis Group's catalog on CD and Davis himself is scheduled to record a live CD in England in May. He says the gig at Mancini's is "the start of a mad dash across the world" that will keep him busy for several months.

Davis started an R&B-based rock band in Birmingham, England, back in 1963. Beside Davis, the group featured Pete York on drums, Muff Winwood on bass and Steve Winwood on vocals and keyboards. By 1966, the band had had mega-hits with "Keep on Running," "Gimme Some Lovin' " and "I'm a Man." In 1967, Steve Winwood took his soulful vocal stylings and left the band to form another, Traffic.

Various Spencer Davis groups continued to record into the '70s and beyond, but none equaled the early achievements of the band with Winwood.

Did Davis realize back in 1965 that the music they were creating was going to endure for over 30 years?

"I had absolutely no idea," Davis admits. "What really impressed me was 'Keep on Running.' I knew that would be a hit."

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