Feel-good music

Bo Bice and Blood, Sweat & Tears still making people so very happy

Special to the Union Leader
December 13. 2017 12:49PM
Former “American Idol” vocalist Bo Bice, second from left, has been fronting the band Blood, Sweat & Tears, which is headed to New Hampshire for a Plymouth show tonight. 
If you go...
WHO: Blood, Sweat & Tears

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center, 39 So. Main St., Plymouth

TICKETS: $55 and $65

INFO: flyingmonkeynh.com; 536-2551

In 1969, Blood, Sweat & Tears produced its biggest hit, reaching No. 2 on the charts with a song called “Spinning Wheel.”

The title is a nearly perfect illustration for the jazz-rock band, which has continued to roll and evolve through 50 years of existence with a rotating cast of more than 150 musicians.

While the band has incorporated some of the era’s most talented musicians, longtime manager Larry Dorr attributes the sustained success to the songs.

“It’s the legendary songs,” Dorr said. “These were songs that were hits in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and so much was going on in the world. It was just a point in time where so much history was being made. This is a band that was formed with great musicians, but from day one it was never meant to be the same band every day.”

The latest cog in the wheel is singer Bo Bice, best known for his appearance on “American Idol,” where he finished as runner-up to Carrie Underwood during the hit program’s fourth season in 2005.

“The star of the show is the music,” Bice said of the band. “We’re just the vessels. There are nine of us on stage. We all share in the responsibility of giving people a great show.”

The band was formed in 1967 by a number of big-name musicians, spearheaded by Al Kooper and Bobby Colomby. Blood, Sweat & Tears released its debut album in early 1968, but caught fire with its second release of that year, a self-titled follow-up featuring new vocalist David Clayton-Thomas. The album, which spent six weeks at the top of the charts, featured “Spinning Wheel,” as well as the Top 5 hits “And When I Die” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.”

Over the decades the band has included a number of notables, including guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and some preeminent horn players such as Lou Marini and Jon Faddis.

Colomby, who no longer plays with the band but is involved in its management, has compared the group to the New York Yankees — a franchise with decades of history and great players. That paradigm can also lead to debate among fans as to which incarnation is the best.

“Every fan has his idea of what he calls the favorite band,” Dorr said. “It’s very personal to them, but no one has yet come up to me and said the original band is far better than this band. They have their favorites but they love this band, too.”

Bice performed “Spinning Wheel” during his season on American Idol, putting him on Dorr’s radar, but it took a few attempts to recruit the soulful singer.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to reach out one more time,’ and his manager called back and said, ‘I talked to Bo and he wants to talk about it.’” Dorr said. “We decided on doing five shows, and now it’s going on five years. He has brought a whole different stage performance and a whole different vibe. It’s a younger crowd because his fans come out. He’s just a great front guy.”

What was originally scheduled to be a short engagement has turned into a long-term relationship for Bice and the band.

“When I got the opportunity four years ago, it was like ‘Hey, would you like to come up and do some shows?’ I thought this was awesome, getting to play with a group I idolized,” Bice said. “Three (shows) turned into five, five turned into 12 and 12 turned into, well, we’ve literally been around the world twice in the last four years.”

Part of what audiences appreciate from the band, according to Dorr, is its reverence and adherence to the original recordings. He said sometimes a group that’s been together for so long will tend to reformulate songs in an attempt to freshen them up for the performers. But with Blood, Sweat & Tears, the band members change, so frequently that song retooling hasn’t happened.

“We keep the big hits exactly how they are on the records,” Dorr said. “We don’t deviate from how they were played. People got married to ‘You Make Me So Very Happy.’ It’s a wedding or anniversary song for a lot of people. When you come to see Blood, Sweat & Tears, you’re not going to see guys that were there in the ‘60s and ‘70s but you’re going to see the best guys available. You’re not going to see musicians that are bored. You don’t have musicians who go through the motions.”

Playing with Blood, Sweat & Tears has given Bice an opportunity to dabble in new genres. Although he said he’s always loved the horn-based classic rock groups, he’s best known as a southern rocker or country musician.

“There’s definitely a difference — cross-pollinating the genres,” Bice said. “Being on stage with Blood, Sweat & Tears, we’re a very balanced band. It’s not a guitar-driven music. With the piano, organ and the horns, the bass is very uniquely placed. It all works together.”

Bice has rubbed off a little on the group as well. His version of “Midnight Rider” (a 1970s Allman Brothers Band classic) has become a staple of the live show.

“That’s our No. 1 requested tune on the show,” Dorr said. “On the rare night we don’t do it, we hear about it the next night.”

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