After 25 years and many incarnations, the Soulard Blues Band – arguably the hardest working band in town – still tears up the town one show at a time.
It is not every band you run across that has a mission beyond just steady giggin’, but then again, as one of the longest-lasting acts around – and with nine straight wins in the “Best Blues Band” category in a popular local poll – the Soulard Blues Band is not just any band.
As bassist and sole remaining founder Art Dwyer will tell you, “Our mission always is just to leave things around a little better than we found ’em.” That ethic applies equally to song arrangements, the mood of the audience and the entire musical scene in this city that birthed such towering talents as Miles Davis, Johnny Johnson, Henry Townsend, Oliver Sain and many more.
And from all appearances, the mojo is working: the blues landscape in St. Louis now is “better than it’s ever been since we started out, playing in the intersection of Menard and Geyer with absolutely no cars or people coming by to cause us to have to move,” Dwyer says.
He formed the Soulard Blues Band in 1978, “just a long-haired guy in blue jeans and sandals,” motivated in part by memories of the St. Louis of his childhood, when clubs with names like Shalimar and Oasis and the Peppermint Lounge and Sadie’s Personality Bar jumped with live music and people “dressed up looking flashy” any night of the week, and fifty cents’ cover got you in to Ike and Tina Turner’s set at the Club Imperial.
This town has always been alive with world-class players in neighborhoods all over the city,” Dwyer says, and the rest of his band’s roster bears him out. Guitarist Tom Maloney, guitarist Bob “Bumblebee” Kamoske, trombonist John “Wolfman” Wolf and drummer Leroy Wilson create music from both originals and standarts that manages to let each player shine without sacrificing the song to overblown solos. Indeed, that’s one of the goals in group’s frequent rehearsals, says Dwyer:”We are in the business of supporting each other in playing, to play in unison with each other.” And in so doing, blending seamlessly into the fabric of a city with a deep history in the blues.”
Amanda E. Doyle, Where Magazine
St. Louis – 2014
Meet the Soulard Blues Band
“Maybe the real reason the Soulard Blues Band continues to win Music Awards year after year, though, is the group’s refusal to let a strict definition of the blues limit their musical horizons. Like jazz, blues seems to have infinite shadings and variations. And SBB has always been able to mingle musical genres with the best of ’em.”
2014 RFT Music Awards
“One day, dear reader, the Soulard Blues Band will be no more. It’s just a fact. And one day you’ll wonder why, despite all the opportunities, every other day of the week you never saw this Saint Louis institution in its prime – and no, the band’s prime aint over – if somehow you’ve never danced your ass off when Art Dwyer lays down a bass line as smooth as crushed velvet, or when Marty Abdullah sings his phrasing on “Kansas City Blues” or “Dust my broom”, or when Tom Maloney plays a solo that would make his mentor the late great Benny Smith smile, well you really should don’t take this band for granted. Pay respects soon they’ve been earned.”
2005 Riverfront Times Award for the "Best Blues Artist"
“There have been some serious changes in the St. Louis blues scene over the past year. Perennial local favorites Oliver Sain and Johnnie Johnson have passed on, leaving us richer for having known them and their music, yet indisputably poorer in their absence. The departure of Sain and Johnson also prompts once again a nagging question: With so many of the music’s elder statesmen no longer with us, who’s going to carry the torch? For RFT readers the answer is clear, and it hasn’t changed in more than a decade. The Soulard Blues Band has been the favorite local blues ensemble in our music poll more than a dozen times now, even when Sain, Johnson, Tommy Bankhead and many other departed giants were still working regularly on St. Louis stages.”
2004 RFT award for the “Best Blues Artist”
2003 RFT award for the “Best Blues Artist”
2002 RFT award for the “Best Blues Artist”
“If there’s one thing proven by the Soulard Blues Band’s string of consecutive wins as Best Blues act in the RFT Music Poll, it’s this: Never underestimate the power of a brand name. For their ninth straight win in the category, the SBB has triumphed over a field that includes legend such as Johnny Johnson, Oliver Sain, Henry Townsend and Bennie Smith, all musicians whose reputations extend beyond St.Louis to the nation and the world. That the SBB reigns again as RFT poll winners in 2002 is a testament not only to the group’s musicianship but to its tenacity, longevity, work ethic and, well, to having established a name that’s familiar to even the casual blues listener.
Anchored by bassist/raconteur/bon vivant Art Dwyer, the SBB has preserved on the local scene for close to a quarter-century now, weathering good times and bad and enduring many personnel changes along the way. (Among the band’s more famous alumni are singer and character actor Jim Byrnes, a regular on the TV series Wiseguy and Highlander, and Larry Thurston, who’s done several tours as vocalist for the Blues Brothers Band.) They’ve established a solid following for their gigs at Broadway Oyster Bar, the Great Grizzly Bear and the other clubs around town and have taken their act on the road throughout Missouri, Illinois and the wider world, even recording one of their albums live in Stuttgart, Germany.
As the SBB’s style has evolved over the years beyond straight-up blues to include R&B and soul, as well as touches of jazz, zydeco and funk, they’ve remained a constant presence on the local scene. It may be true that in some circumstances familiarity breeds contempt, but for SBB and St.Louis blues fans, familiarity would seem to breed contentment.
May 15-21, 2002
2001 Slammies award for Best Blues Artist
“What’s just as impressive as the eight straight wins is the fact that the Soulard Blues Band has been together for almost a quarter-century. Formed in 1978 by Art Dwyer who was soon joined by Jim “Ribtips” McClaren, SBB evolved naturally from late-night/early-morning jam sessions that mixed these young musicians with veteran talents such as Henry Townsend, Doc Terry, Tommy Bankhead and harmonica player Big Al. That connection to the essence of the St. Louis Blues tradition has been a vital element in SBB’s longevity. Despite a number of personnel changes along the way (at one point, the group even expanded to include a horn section and backing vocalists), SBB has remained true to its roots.
Blues may be in its name, but the Soulard Blues Band brings a distinctive touch to just about any musical style around. As Duke Ellington used to say, there are really only two kinds of music – good and bad. Evidently, SBB has found the secret to producing the good kind – year after year after year.”
2000 Slammies award for Best Blues Artist
2000 Riverfront Times Music Poll Best Blues Artist in St. Louis
1999 Riverfront Times Music Poll Best Blues Artist in St. Louis
1998 Riverfront Times Music Poll Best Blues Artist in St. Louis
1997 Riverfront Times Music Poll Best Blues Artist in St. Louis
“What we might call the St. Louis Blues has a thick history and a peculiar character. It often employs ensemble playing on ragtime and early jazz, a sound where horns and ribald vocals are central. The Soulard Blues Band has it’s own place in this barrelhouse style. Their music is a tribute to longevity. They know how to appeal to and work all kinds of rooms, and they can jump in the nastiest of liquored up conditions.”
1996 Spotlight Magazine Issue #143 Tops in Town Poll - Best Blues Band 1996 Riverfront Times Music Poll Best Blues Artist in St. Louis
“The Soulard Blues Band just ran away – far and fast – with this category, as they did last year.”
1995 Riverfront Times Music Poll Best Blues Artist in St. Louis
“The Soulard Blues Band takes home the Slammy Award for the 2nd year in a row, underscoring the group’s status as one of the linchpins of the St. Louis Blues Scene. They seem to have been around forever and like their home neighborhood, Soulard Blues Band has a down home feel that has stood the test of time. “Mister Donut Blues,” an original regional hit by Brian Casserly and The Soulard Blues Band, has been selected for the first ever compilation of the Best of St. Louis Blues released by Blueberry Hill Records.”