Following The Soul And Motown Revue Band, A Decade of Soul
Janelle “Lady Jae” Jones, one of the three lead singers in the band, A Decade of Soul shouts out “soul is in the house tonight” and it sure is. I’m in Lucille’s Grill, the smaller, warmer of the two rooms at B.B. King on 42nd Street in NYC and I am joined to a long line of people (strangers who have become fast friends). We hold hands, sway our hips, wave our arms, gain more people in our ‘line’ as we weave in and out around the tables, and the bar area and sing along to the band’s uplifting rendition of the O’Jay’s Love Train. “We need more love and peace in this world,” says Big Daddy Bruce Wayne, the main lead, who has also been the anchor of the band for the past 12 years. As we round the stage, he breaks into the verse, “let ride, let it ride on through.”
Some of the staff and the regulars like me, feel the bittersweetness of the evening as we sing along, knowing that the end of the song not only means the end of the musical performance for that night but that in two weeks on April 28, 2018, will be A Decade of Soul’s final show after a 10 year run as the resident band at B.B. King and the closing of the 42nd street landmark where some of the biggest names in rhythm and blues and soul have performed.
B.B. Kings Blues Club and Grill is one of the great music venues and tourist attractions of the city, but it has created, in Lucille’s Grill, a lively yet intimate space, where a wide demographic go to sing, dance and get transported back to the days of their youth.
A Decade of Soul is not your ordinary cover band. Although their 10 year run is a tribute to songs that span earlier tunes of Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Sly & The Family Stone to the hits and acts of the Motown Years, they have a distinctive sound that respects the originals they are performing, yet they have something extra. This band evokes the heartbeat of the soul and an energy that brings you back or makes you want to just get up and sing and dance. Richie DePaul, the manager and drummer knew he wanted something different then what was out there and went to the management of B.B. King with the idea of a true dinner show, with a video screen that flashes slides of the original acts, The bands offer anecdotes and slices of the culture and history as they lead into a song. During their twice-nightly shows on Friday and Saturday evenings, I have met people from all over Europe, South Africa and India. I have watched people get engaged, celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and have shared with them the emotion and nostalgia that is wrapped in the heart of soul music.
If you think this is an open love letter to A Decade of Soul, it just might be. As a journalist who has covered everything from films to relationships to fine jewelry, I need to admit that my objectivity might be overtaken by the fact that I have been coming every weekend (except while away on business trips) for the past two and a half years. I never expected this to happen. I went to see the band play on the recommendation of a friend who knows my love for old-school rhythm and blues and sweet soul music as much as my willingness and joy to be able to get up and dance. After that late show on frigid Saturday night in January, I was hooked. I went back the following weekend and have been showing up every weekend since. I have gone after toe surgery and still found a way to dance, with laryngitis and still sung along. I have met and befriended many of the other regulars. As Big Daddy Bruce Wayne so eloquently explains, “soul music captures every human emotion and if you are there to hear it, you feel it. It can be happiness or pain, or sometimes both at the same time or all tied up in a single note.”
The first time I heard “Lady Jae” belt out Midnight Train To Georgia, I felt the heartache of one of the earlier break-ups in my life, and before I knew it, tears were streaming down my eyes. I wasn’t the only one crying in the crowd. The weekend my recent ex got married and Jae sang Aretha’s “Aint No Way” I felt the sadness, and then the release of being in a room where songs like this offer relief and bring you back into the moment of the music. I have since realized that while Jae honors Gladys Knight or Aretha Franklin (in a spin-off show) she has a voice that is so powerful and dynamic in its authenticity that whatever artist or song she is covering, she makes you feel it right down to your toes.
No matter what the label—Atlantic, Stax, Chess or Motown or whatever reference—Philly, Memphis or Detroit, the entire band pays homage to different sounds while putting its own spin on each song. When Big Daddy sings Marvin Gaye’s medley of What’s Going On and Mercy Mercy Me, he has a way of bringing the audience together, even if they didn’t live through the time when the songs were first released. He makes you immediately feel the relevance and significance of the songs today, and he brings a warmth that resonates comradery amongst the crowd in need for a new time of change.
Prentiss McNeil, who joined the band five years ago, was originally with The Drifters for 27 years and serves up oldies but goodies such as Under The Boardwalk and Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher with the reverence and good vibes that they are due.
Speaking of Higher and Higher, Will Van Sise, guitarist for the band does a solo on this song that brings in other genres as well as gets the crowd clapping and stomping and lifts everyone up out of their seats! All of the members of the band are the real deal. The sax player Connell “Red” Thompson, the youngest, has grown as a performer in the last few years since I first heard him. He has come into his own and shows control and a unique spirit when doing solos or accompanying Big Daddy on Try A Little Tenderness—exciting the crowd with his offhanded playful sex appeal. There is Bob Scarpulla on trumpet, who has played with groups such as Cameo and is also a jazz musician, but he can seamlessly transform into different styles when solo-ing on the more expressive, gospel sound of Chain of Fools. Rob Jack’s bass adds a beat that is funkier than thumping, all raising A Decade of Soul to a whole different realm than “your weekend bar band”.
All of this leads to a Soul and Motown revue that was DePaul’s original idea. The fact that he has kept the band together for almost 12 years and at B.B. King Blues Club and Grill for 10 is no small feat in the comings and goings of the live music industry. A Decade of Soul doesn’t just bring you back. It makes you come alive. The fact that they are performing songs we know, love, can sing along with and share widely across social media platforms is a testament to their staying power and the band allegiance to each other, the music, the friendship and their fans.
As Richie DePaul recently said, “you can pack the house but you need to gain your regulars who will keep coming back.” He and the band have done just that.
Watching the regulars and the different crowds each week, I can see they are feeling it all deep down like I do. When the band hits the first few notes on The Jackson Five’s I Want You Back, it’s one of the crowd pleasers and even those tentative about dancing through the earlier parts of the show smile, sing loudly and get out of their seats and dance. And when Sly and the Family Stone’s Dance to The Music comes on–all I want to do is get up and groove like I did when I was so very young and danced late at night in my room alone to my parent’s LP. Give me Rock Steady and Sex Machine and I will be the first one jumping up out of my seat, followed by the rest of the room.
But there is also a whole other side to the feeling of losing something that has become such a huge part of New Yorker’s lives. B.B. King Blues Club and Grill is also the place that brought some of the classic blues, R&B and soul bands to Manhattan and to 42nd street through it’s grittier days to the changes that have made it one of the biggest tourist attractions of the city.
Before B.B. King even went up in Times Square, I saw the legend of B.B. himself play during New Orleans Jazz Fest, along with some other greats like Percy Sledge who sang When a Man Loves A Women dedicating it to his wife in the audience.
At the club in what is known as “The Big Room”, I have seen some of my favorite legends before they passed away: Etta James and Wilson Pickett to name just a few. I have also seen Aretha Franklin, Al Green, The Isley Brothers, Mary Wilson, Martha Reeves, Aaron Neville, Valerie Simpson, Larry Graham and disco legends Gloria Gaynor and Jody Whatley and the list goes on.
But back to A Decade of Soul. Talking to the staff of managers, waitresses, waiters and bartenders and watching them get into the music—dancing on the bar and singing along with the crowd, I am saddened that this love for the band will all be at a standstill in two weeks.
But where the music will go, I will follow to sing, dance, feel, and…. get aboard the Love Train that is A Decade of Soul.
And I have a chance soon after their last night on April 28th at Lucille’s Grill at B.B. King.
They are performing a Motown Revue brunch at another legendary club, The Blue Note on Saturday, May 12th at 1:30.
Hope to see you there and share in this hopefully continuing journey of keeping A Decade of Soul’s music live and alive.
Follow them on IG @decadeofsoul and on Facebook A Decade of Soul and their website: decadeofsoul.com
(Every now and then I use my platform to write about different passions of mine in addition to jewelry. This is one of those times)