By Jeffrey B. Remz, July 2000
fter years of late nights, slogging through set after set in the bars, members of The Spurs are no youngsters.
The oldest member of the Western swing/honky tonk Boston-area band is hitting 50. The youngest is 33.
But they feel there's something to be said for age. And there is a lot to be said for their first album, "Go Boy Go," a fine mix of the two musical styles on the small Nashville-based Spinout Records label. The disc contains both covers and originals, instrumentals and vocals.
"This is a dream come true," says lead singer Roy Sludge, aka Allan Sheinfeld in a telephone interview from his Cambridge, Mass. home.
Steel guitarist Frankie Blandino, the old-timer of the group, says, "Everybody sees and knows what they're doing. There's no bullshit going on. There are no people crawling on their hands and knees drunk out of the place. It's a good bunch of guys."
And that translates into the playing as well for the band which also includes fiddler Rich Dubois, drummer Stan Kozlowski, bassist Johnny Sciascia and guitarist Jerry Miller.
The sound is your typical Western swing in the tradition of Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant (The Spurs cover the West-Bryant composition "Hillcrest") and honky tonk.
"I got interested in playing steel guitar," says Blandino. "We (Stan Kozlowski and Johnny Sciascia, who Blandino had played with in three other bands) knew a lot of good players. I said if we get the guys together - I'm the weak link in the band. I've only been playing steel for two years - Allan is kind of an undiscovered talent, and Jerry Miller's another guy who is just a monster. If we get those two guys, put it together with us and find a fiddle player, we'll have a cool band."
Blandino says he became interested in western swing end of country several years ago.
"We actually sort of played half-assed western swing a few years back with some other guys from in town," he says.
"That sort of piqued our interest in it, and we wanted to keep going."
"We always listen to that kind of stuff," Blandino says. "Being that I'm interested in steel guitar, I listen to a lot of it. Steel guitar is a main ingredient of that kind of music. I was interested in learning how to play steel."
"I know there's nobody doing this," says Blandino, referring to the Boston area. "We wanted the instrumentalists. It's a jazzy thing. You need guys who can play."
The Spurs formed just two years ago. Blandino, Sciascia and Kozlowski worked together for about a decade with The Premiers, surf band The Fathoms and the Crank-Tones, a rockabilly band.
The group hooked up with Spinout because The Fathoms once opened for Los Straitjackets, whose lead singer is married to the owner of Spinout.
"When I told them I had a western swing band, they said, 'we'll put it out,'" Blandino says. "I said, 'oh really. You haven't even heard it.'"
Sheinfeld, who used to play with his sister in a Boston country band, The Country Bumpkins, says the covers were "basically snatched from our play list. We went over them with a fine tooth comb. 'That one is too rockabilly. That one is too recognizable." We thought (the cover songs) best represented the band."
The title track is a Cal Smith song. Other covers are Cole Porter's "What's This Thing Called, Love?" Paul Howard's "Drinkin' All My Troubles Away" and Ferlin Huskey's "Slow Down Brother."
Blandino picked the Porter song. "I heard the Texas Playboys do it. It's on one of those Tiffany transcriptions. I thought it was a cool tune. Frank Sinatra's done that song."
Blandino wrote four originals, Sheinfeld two, and they wrote one song together.
Blandino says he has no problems writing instrumentals.
"I do most of my writing with a guitar," he says. "If it's a steel instrumental, obviously I'm writing it on the steel. If I write a song that has lyrics, that is a regular tune. I write it on guitar. I've been writing songs for years."
Blandino says he finds the writing process easy. "All you have to do is get me and Jerry together in a room. I give him the basic skeleton of a song and sort of a melody line, and then usually he'll put a harmony to it on his guitar. Basically when we get together with the band, everybody puts their two cents in (arrangement-wise) and embellish it here and there. That's how those instrumentals are born."
One of the best originals is the honky tonker "Alcohol of Fame." Blandino composed the song "a long time ago. it was sitting on a tape somewhere in the draw, and I never used it. I never had occasion to use it. I was never in a kind of band that could play it."
The Spurs are one of many bands that the sextet is associated with. Sciascia, for example, plays with the Tarbox Ramblers, who released their debut on Rounder earlier this year. Blandino gigs with D.D. & the Road Kings, a Providence blues band. Sheinfeld also plays music full time.
As for the Roy Sludge moniker, Sheinfeld says the name was leftover from his Country Bumpkins day. "Any sort of country project that I do, I use that name," he says.
Not exactly a pretty name.
Once upon a time, Robert Duvall starred in a movie about a down-and-out country singer by the name of Roy Sledge. "I just turned into Roy Sludge," says Sheinfeld, er, Sludge, who saw the flick about 20 times.
Sheinfeld has one of The Monkees to blame for his interest in country.
"The reason I got into country music at all is because of Mike Nesmith," he says. "After he quit The Monkees, he formed the First National Band. Some of it is very very traditional. Some is almost psychedelic country...My sister and I discovered that in the late '70's and just want bananas from there. We started backtracking and discovered where the originals came from."
At least some band members see The Spurs as their time in the sun.
"We want The Spurs to be our main band, but we don't want to play for cheap money," says Blandino. "We want it to be a good deal when we play."
For the moment, the band rarely plays out, about every six weeks.
"Since everybody else is doing so many different things...when things come up, they just take them," Blandino says.
When The Spurs gig, they get a diverse crowd, according to Blandino.
"When we play with a rockabilly band (The Cranktones), it used to be a greaser crowd came out," he says. "With this band, greaser fans come out, swing fans come out. Older people come out...It has much a much broader appeal. People kind of get knocked over by it because there's a lot going on. It's tight, and it's pretty well rehearsed."
"We're looking to let it fester for a month or two and see what happens," says Sheinfeld.
Photo by John Miller