Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blues Orphans

Blues Orphans (2008) from Pittsburgh Live Music

The Blues Orphans is a misnomer for this gang of musicians. Oh, they do a mean lick when it comes to playing bluesy material; They were voted Pittsburgh's Best Blues Band by the readers of the City Paper four times in the past seven years. But at heart they're an Americana roots band.

Their sets cover the blues, jazz, country, bluegrass, zydeco, rockabilly, and rap. Heck, they even do a rap version of Roger Miller's "King of the Road." As Bobby Gabig told JE Rosenfeld of the City Paper, "We're like the birds in the trees. We just sing."

The heart of the band are brothers Bobby and Andy Gabig, who grew up in the Rosslyn Heights neighborhood of Carnegie, where they shot hoops with old B-Ball coach Skip Prosser.

But roundball wasn't their passion. They grew up in a musical family. Their grandfather and uncles played country & western and Irish music, and the brothers have been students and performers of music as long as they can remember.

The brothers started their career riding the rails around the country, busking and performing in San Francisco, Montreal, Chicago, New York, and New Orleans.

In 1974, they began to gig as a group; it took them until 1979 to actually come up with a permanent name. They became the Blues Orphans after a bar customer called them "just a couple of blues orphans." It was a good enough description of them.

In 1983, they came back home and hooked up with their bass-playing cousin Roy "Bones" Fitzpatrick, who joined the band (He passed away in 2009).

The band roster now is: Dave Yoho (drums); Andy Gabig (harmonica, backing vocals); Nelson Harrison (trombone); Bobby Gabig (guitar, vocals); Mark Custer (trumpet); and Joe Briggs (upright bass).

They're all, like the Gabig's, pretty serious musicians. Dr. Nelson Harrison has played with the Count Basie Orchestra and the Boilermaker Jazz Band; he's now a member of the Roger Humphries Big Band and the Pittsburgh Jazz All Stars.

Yoho also leads his own bands, The Heard and Yinzide Out. Custer is a classically trained trumpeter and is a member of the River City Brass Band. Briggs studied bass in college and has played music ranging from bluegrass and jazz to classical. Eclectic group, eclectic sound.

They've released four CDs over the years. The first pair are "Neighborhood Beat" (1997), followed by "Schism 'N Blues," (2003).

In 2005, they recorded "Corn Creek Travesty," in which the Gabig brothers and Fitzpatrick formed a trio calling themselves The Blue Opry Brothers. The record is a mix of country & western and Irish music performed as a tribute to their grandfather, Leo Fitzpatrick.

The latest is 2007's "Root Rot," released on their Staggerin Fitz Music label.

The Gabig brothers not just practitioners but historians on the sounds of Americana roots music. Bob and Andy ran a kid's workshop entitled "The Influence of Blues in Appalachian Music" during the Pittsburgh Blues Festival. It focused on the connections among artists such as Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry to exhibit the link between the blues and mountain music.

Check out the paper and find the current Blues Orphans gig (They're regulars at East Ohio Street's Park House). Hey, not all of it works; but in between the rare clunker is a lot of sweet sounds that cover the gamut of American music.

They may jam band a four hour set for you, and if any other musicians are in the house, rest assured they'll be on stage sooner or later, sitting in with the Orphans. They put on a show that shouldn't be missed.

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